I lucked into a copy of Rift Jump by offering to review books for a small indie publisher, Splashdown Books. Grace Bridges, the owner/publisher, has similar taste in fiction to me. One day, I will have read everything she has published because I love Christian speculative (sci-fi/fantasy) fiction and I have yet to be disappointed with her offerings (see my reviews on: Finding Angel, Seeking Unseen, The Muse, The Duke’s Handmaid, Caffeine). I guess that makes me a groupie. But as a reward, I get to read and promote books like Rift Jump! Rift Jump will appeal to anyone who likes sci-fi/fantasy. Please give a hearty welcome to Greg Mitchell for joining us today!
Hi Greg! So happy you could stop by for a chat today. Tell us, do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?
Back when I first started writing professionally, I was big on making the distinction, but now I’m just simply a writer. I’m a Christian, first and foremost. And I’m acutely aware that, as I deal with people in the writing/movie business or with readers, I’m representing Christ. That has prompted me to be friendlier, more professional, and to work my hardest to turn in work ahead of schedule, polished, and as good as I can make it.
Having said that, some of my work is specifically for the Christian market—some of it is for the general market. Some of it talks specifically about Christians and the unique struggles they go through and how the Bible speaks to that—some of my stories are just about monsters and explosions and fast cars. In everything I write, be it secular or “Christian”, I try to put something meaningful in there, some sort of “theme” or a tiny light that speaks to redemption or hope or forgiveness—all things that I believe find their full fruition in Christ. That just comes out naturally in me and from my view of the world.
So, am I a Christian author, or an author of Christian Fiction? Yes. Yes, I am.
There have been many creative ways that God and Jesus have been portrayed in literature. A lion in the Chronicles of Narnia, a black woman in The Shack, Morgan Freeman in Bruce and Evan Almighty…When I think of your “Man in the Stetson,” I get this picture in my mind of Clint Eastwood. Is that the image you were trying to channel? Where did this come from?
Totally. Michael (the main character in Rift Jump) is only twelve when he meets the Man in the Stetson, and already he’s had a miserable life. He’s been conditioned as a child soldier on the streets, surrounded by addicts and killers and liars his entire life. He is completely ostracized from any sense of “right and wrong”, and his only father figure is this slimy manipulative criminal. The Man in the Stetson is a return to the kind of era “when men were men”; men who kept their word, believed in integrity, compassion, and fair dealing. Those were all things for which Michael had no reference, but precisely what he needed.
More to the point, I think that’s what we all need now. Boys need fathers who will train them, teach them how to show respect for women, how to protect the weak, how to do their jobs faithfully, and how to stand for their principles in the face of unbelievable odds. Girls need fathers for different reasons, but Rift Jump—among its many themes—is also an exploration of fatherhood as it pertains to sons. What sons need, what they’re looking for, and what they pass on to their sons. I didn’t always understand that growing up, but now that I’m a father (although of two girls :p), I see the power a father has and the awesome responsibility it is. It’s staggering, but can be really inspiring.
In Rift Jump, a piece of paper is the portal between dimensions in the multiverse (great name, by the way). What caused you to select something as mundane as a piece of paper?
I could spend this time waxing philosophical on the implications of how many adventures can be found within simple sheets of paper, but I’m just going to be honest and blame it on a dream. As detailed in the Appendix in Rift Jump, the original concept came fully formed from a dream. In the dream, I saw a sheet of paper, gently fluttering on the breeze, and when I looked into the paper, I saw glimpses of another world. Then, out of this paper, steps this wiry punk kid in a leather jacket, with a humongous chip on his shoulder and a desperate need to find someone to love him.
I love the comic book/superhero feel of Rift Jump. Have you ever thought of turning it into a graphic novel?
Actually, no, ironically enough. I’ve long been trying to work my way into the comics business, and have a number of ideas I’d like to do—but strangely enough, Rift Jump was never one of them. However, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it should the right opportunity ever present itself.
There’s a part in Rift Jump where a minor character indicates he has never heard of God. Your heroine’s response is that he is probably better off. Clearly she has some God issues, but they are not resolved in the course of the novel. Can you tell us more of what she was thinking? (Unless there’s going to be a sequel to Rift Jump and it would spoil it for you to tell us.)
As it turns out, I do have at least one sequel to Rift Jump in the works, and it focuses almost exclusively on Sara’s relationship with God, just as the first book dealt with Michael’s relationship with God. I really love the dynamic between Michael and Sara, because it’s the exact opposite of how they appear to be. Michael is the one wearing black, with the dark shadows under his eyes and the bangs in front of his face, constantly beating up things—but in his heart, he’s soft, desperate for affection, and longing to be better than what he is. Sara, on the other hand, is bright, full of laughter, wide-eyed, innocent, and visibly weak. But underneath that is real anger and jealousy, bitterness, and rebellion. She’s only seventeen and she’s seen her parents pass away and she married this physically and emotionally abusive man. Then Michael sweeps into her life and he becomes her savior and Sara doesn’t see why she needs God at this point. In her mind, God wasn’t there for her before, but Michael is here for her now. In some ways, Michael is her god—which speaks to a larger theme in the book.
Rift Jump is kind of the anti-YA romance, in that it’s got the “frail, delicate flower” who falls for the “rugged stalker-esque rebel”, but it’s a wholly unhealthy relationship at the heart of it. When I was in high school and in my early twenties, I was hell-bent on finding “true love”. I thought that finding “The One” would fix me, would make me whole, would bring me fulfillment and worth. I was clingy and co-dependant, and, praise God, He broke me of that. I had to find my worth in Him, and who He created me to be, not in some mythical “soul mate”. It wasn’t until I learned that lesson, that God did bring into my life my wife Meghan, who fulfills so many needs in my heart—but there are still those deeper needs only God can fill.
Michael is on that journey of discovery in Rift Jump. He and Sara are two teenage runaways, who sought love from their parental figures, but fall in love and believe all of their answers lie in the other. But then reality hits. Michael begins to question his thinking. Sara, however, is not in that place yet. She still thinks that Michael is the one to fix her, and if he can’t, she will. God doesn’t factor into her equation. Her search for love and acceptance will lead to some dangerous places in the sequel.
Rift Jump appears to be a departure from your typical genre. Would you classify your other books as “Christian horror”? Can you shed some light on the challenges inherent in writing Christian noir?
Definitely I would say that The Coming Evil Trilogy is Christian Horror, and not because it presents the gospel (though that’s somewhere in there, too). But it deals primarily with Christian characters and how they relate to each other within the Church, how they battle against a world that ridicules, misunderstands, and hates them, and how they respond to God. So it’s very Christian-centric, but I meant for it to be a much deeper exploration of faith and the believer’s life than just a simple evangelical tract-in-a-story.
As for the challenges, I think it’s just been up to me to make the distinction that I can talk about God freely and honestly, without having to put in a clear cut “gospel message”. When I first started writing back in 1998, with an eye towards Christian film, I was TAUGHT that you couldn’t even let a story out the door unless you had a very clear gospel presentation tucked in there. The whole narrative had to stop for this one evangelical moment. For years, I didn’t know there could be another way. In something like Rift Jump, and even later on in The Coming Evil Trilogy, there’s a lot of philosophy in the subtext, but there’s a lot of discussing matters of faith in the main text. Just as I don’t feel that we should have the Roman Road hammered into us in every story, I also don’t feel like we have to hide talking about God either. Some of my favorite types of scenes are two characters discussing God and their differing views, and then letting it stand. Leave it up to the Reader and the Holy Spirit to work it out together. I used to want the answers handed to me, but now I see the value in presenting the argument—both in word, and through the characters’ actions (the good and the bad)—and letting God do the rest. The Old Testament is written like that. You don’t necessarily have to have someone explain to you the life lessons in the account of King David—you clearly see it based on his actions and his mistakes and his attitudes and the consequences. That’s a much more satisfying approach to me, as a writer. I’m kinda in a place now where I want the reader to have to work a little harder to see all the little life-observations I put in a story.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to know?
I guess a pet peeve of mine is that idea that, just because a story is about monsters or superheroes or aliens or whatever, that it can’t be meaningful. I think a difficulty with seeing a breakout of sci-fi/fantasy/horror in the Christian market is that readers seem to think that, if it’s not about “real” people or set in the “real” world, then it’s not worthwhile. That a story about a guy with a laser rifle riding atop a dinosaur is “silly” and could in no way move them to think about their lives or examine a deeper understanding of God. I know that, with Rift Jump, people have read descriptions about the violence or the idea of alternate realities, and they sometimes think “Yuck, that’s got nothing for me”—and they may be right. But I feel like the weirder genres get pegged by just being full of “gross stuff” or “silly, imaginary things” or exploitation, and it’s assumed that they are devoid of spiritual merit. So I’d say, take a chance every once in awhile on something a little “out there”. You might be surprised.
And before you go, can you tell us what you’re working on now?
Really busy. Right now I’m slowly working through the edits on a non-fiction book. It’s a Back to the Future Timeline for Hasslein Books that chronicles all the events in the Back to the Future movies, the cartoon, the video games, etc, into a (hopefully) semi-cohesive chain of events. Also, I’m set to write the next book in cyber-thriller author Frank Creed’s Underground series. I’m trying to get some short stories in some anthologies. There’s a novel I’ve finished—a return to horror, though one could argue I never really left—that I’m shopping around. Somewhere in there I’m trying to pull together all my disparate ideas for that Rift Jump sequel. There are a couple more novels that I’m in the process of working on in any spare time I find lying around. And then I’m working on a super top-secret project that I’m not able to announce yet, but it’s a lot of work and could make for a really cool payoff. Busy!
Want to know more about Greg and his books? Check out his blog: www.thecomingevil.blogspot.com
Comment for a chance to win one of two signed copies of Rift Jump. Winners to be announced Friday morning. If I don’t already know how to get in touch with you, please leave your email in the comments section in an internet safe format: myname(at)gmail(got)com.