1. What is the ebook Otherworld all about?
It’s a supernatural thriller about hyper-dimensionality, ufology, serial killings, and demon possession. But beneath all of that, it’s about a fallen man’s emptiness and his search for something beyond himself to answer the big, vague questions: why am I here? Does what I do matter? Does life have any meaning? Is there any way not to die? The story follows a magazine writer named Mike whose life is falling apart around him, and who gets sucked into the charismatic energy of a college professor who claims to interact with travelers from another dimension.
2. What major themes do you address with this title?
The primary theme is the search for meaning. Every character is trying to fill a void. Mike has the nagging fear of death stemming from a traumatic experience in his early childhood. Separation from his wife just seems to bring that memory back to the surface. But the other main characters—a police captain and a pastor—are both broken people handling their brokenness in different ways. All of these guys end up thrown together through a series of events involving UFO sightings, murders, and demonic activity, so it’s not as cerebral as it all sounds! But I’ve tried to write a supernatural thriller with a literary sense to it.
3. You’ve cowritten a couple of ebooks with Matt Chandler—why the shift to fiction? What do you hope to accomplish in the genre?
Well, the shift for me in my writing life was actually fiction to nonfiction. I started out as a writer wanting to be a novelist. Otherworld is actually the first book I ever wrote. It’s the book that landed me my agent. It’s well-seasoned from 15 years sitting on a shelf after being turned down by some publishers back then. I had no time to put writing energy into fiction, so I started turning my sermons and research into a nonfiction book, which ended up being my first published manuscript, Your Jesus is Too Safe. That opened more opportunities for nonfiction, but I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. I grew up reading fiction and still do, and it’s something I still want to pursue. I do hope my publishing future allows me to flourish in both worlds.
4. How has your past writing influenced this fictional title?
Since it was the first book I wrote, I can’t really say. There are parallels in my writing style, however. I think that in all my books, I try to write in an ecstatic, exaltational way. I don’t just like to read books; I like to read good books. I like to read the work of writers who have developed their craft, who elevate the text through their text, who have a poetic sense. This is why I like literary novels more than typical genre novels. In my nonfiction I try to write in a non-dry way, in an affectionate way, in a way that is from and to the affections. I tried to do this with Otherworld, too, even though it’s a genre novel. I wanted to give it a literary weight, not just plow through plot details.
5. What do you want readers to take away from Otherworld?
My main hope is that they come away thinking it was a really good story—that it was a fantastic way to waste time. I also hope that they come away with the idea that Christian fiction can be written in unique ways, that perhaps the field of Christian fiction has some future to it beyond all the stuff that contributes to the stereotypes.
6. How does your faith play into this book?
I cannot help but write from a Christian perspective. It is impossible for me to set that aside. But for some, a Christian perspective means to sanitize and to tidy. For me, it means honesty and authenticity. Not all of my characters end up unscathed. That doesn’t happen in real life and it’s not good for Christian fiction to pretend like it does. It’s not honest. But I’ve also tried to write in such a way that “Christian fiction” isn’t on the book’s shirtsleeves, if you understand what I mean. C. S. Lewis once said that the best Christian books have their Christianity latent. I don’t know if I entirely agree with that, since I think even very explicitly Christian works can be written in masterful, engaging, powerful ways that don’t insult or pander to the reader. But some Christian fiction appears to be written with a message or theological point first, and the story as a veneer has been thinly painted on. We call that “propaganda.” What I’ve tried to do is write a good story. Obviously my faith is going to inform how I tell that story, but I’m not trying to write a message book.
7. What’s next for you? Will you continue writing thrillers?
I’ve got four nonfiction books with Crossway coming out over the next three years, as well as another assist with a Matt Chandler book from David C. Cook, who published Otherworld. My hope is to use this book as a springboard back into my first love. Last month I picked up that half-written novel I put aside when we started church planting and started finishing it. And the second novel I wrote, still unpublished, is in my estimation the best thing I’ve ever written. I’d love for that book to see the light of day. Both of those books are thrillers in their own way, but not quite as fantastical as Otherworld.
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