After reading When the Blue Shift Comes by Silverberg and Zinos-Amaro I felt I had to interview newcomer Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. I had a couple questions about the content of the book, but mostly I wanted an inside look at what it was like to finish a story for someone else, especially when that someone is one of the biggest names in all of fiction! Fortunately, he was generous enough to answer a few of my questions:
[Scott Asher] Congratulations on your first published book! It seems to me that this was a frakkin hard way to get started – finishing a book that Grandmaster Robert Silverberg (RS) admits he couldn’t! What was it like finishing someone else’s story instead of writing your own from start to finish? Did you feel any additional pressure because you were writing a conclusion to a story by someone whose work you admire?
[AZA] Thank you! This was a rare opportunity, and I couldn’t pass on it. I’m incredibly grateful to RS, Mike Resnick, and Shahid Mahmud for the chance to participate. In finishing someone else’s story, there were what I chose to think of as several advantages. I had protagonists, I had a universe, and I had some sense of what was possible and was impossible in that universe. It was also pretty easy to identify plot elements that needed resolution. And there was the issue of style; a heightened, flamboyant, self-aware voice I knew I needed to maintain. I looked on these constraints as helpful rather than limiting. I approached the project as a series of technical challenges to be overcome, and kept subdividing these tasks into smaller and smaller units until they seemed doable. I created a very detailed outline before I wrote a word of the story, and then it was 1,000 words of first draft on Monday, revise the fourth scene on Tuesday, that sort of thing. Once it was all done and I had mailed it to RS, I did feel trepidation. This is ROBERT S-I-L-V-E-R-B-E-R-G, y’a know? But he replied quickly and reassuringly, praising my work. I got the giggles and abandoned my diet of liquids and papaya seeds.
[SA] What did you have to work with from RS?
[AZA] I received the novella “The Song of Last Things” in pretty much the form it was eventually published, and a sticky note that said “Good luck, kid. Now save the universe.” (That last part isn’t true.) RS had written more of the story, and part of an outline, but he elected not to share these things with me before I wrote my sequel, out of concern that it might lead me in unprofitable directions. I’m thankful that he didn’t, though it was fun to compare notes afterward.
[SA] About the gap between inception and completion: did it seem to you that Robert Silverberg was using science in his book that was dated to 1987, like a universe that is eternal that expands and contracts eternally as he seemed to be referring to? Did you feel like you had to bring it up to our current model of expanding finite universe but somehow remain faithful to the original? Maybe I read too much into it.
[Alvaro Zinos-Amaro] I didn’t think of it that way, but rather as just one more given of our story. Robert Silverberg introduced certain problems in his novella – the voracious anomaly causing a huge collapse in spacetime being an important one, but by no means the only one – and I saw it as my task to resolve them in a way that would be both consistent with what had come before, but also as unexpected as possible.
[SA] Reading RS’s novella I started to worry that he spent so much time on the premise that he wouldn’t leave you enough time to resolve everything. RS spent quite a bit of time reiterating the vast difference between the immortals’ time in the story and ours, the differences between planets and civilizations and cultures. By contrast, it seemed like you spent very little time on these topics. Was this because he left so much to resolve in so little space or something else?
[AZA] One of the things I had going in my favor was that key world-building had been done for me, and this included setting the story in an unimaginably distant future, as you point out. On occasion I made use of certain asides to highlight that sense of immense history (like events from the Fourth Mandala, for example, and how Earth historians from the Ninth Mandala view them) and other technological abilities, but I didn’t feel like these aspects needed much elaboration.
[SA] What book(s) or author(s) influenced you, if any, in writing this story?
[AZA] RS, of course (not just this novella, but many previous works); Robert Sheckley; Cordwainer Smith; Frederick Pohl; Philip K. Dick; and others. I planted some “easter eggs” in titles and descriptive phrases that reference these writers and their works, and that no-one will ever pick up on.
[SA] What should the reader take away from the completed story?
[AZA] Probably six or seven semicolons, for I may have used too many.
[SA] What’s next?
[AZA] More short fiction, including a collaboration; a few reviews, interviews, possibly an article. I know I have a dental appointment coming up soon. And in 2013 I will tackle my first novel, and we’ll see if it wants to tackle me back.
Author Matt Mikalatos just released a new book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, which I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing. The book prompted so many questions that I just had to talk to the author. The following is my interview with him. Read the review and the interview then go buy the book. It is well worth it!
Scott: Hello Matt, thank you for agreeing to answer a few interview questions for me and my readers at BookGateway.com.
Matt: My pleasure! Thanks for taking the time to invite me.
Scott: First, I have to tell you that your book came as quite a surprise for me because I was unfamiliar with your work and because Christian books with humor seem to be so few and far between. The last one I read was (the excellent and hilarious) Stuff Christian’s Like by Jon Acuff. I don’t recall a humorous Christian fictional book. Why do you think there are so few humorous Christian titles?
Matt: Yes, Jon is the patron saint of Christian comedy right now, and to make it worse he’s really, really friendly and nice. There are a few reasons Christian humor is a bit slim. One, it’s hard to be funny. You might notice, for instance, that there aren’t many Christian sitcoms on TBN. Comedy requires thought and timing, especially in books.
Two, because of our Puritan heritage, most of us remember vividly that Bible verse which says, “Thou shalt not make humorous utterances before the Lord thy God.” We get nervous when someone talks about spiritual things in a funny way. In my defense, however, I will point out that Puritan open mic nights are side-splittingly hilarious.
Three, it’s not really marketed as a genre. You won’t find “Christian humor” at Barnes and Noble or anywhere. So, while there are some funny books out there, you pretty much have to know what you’re looking for. Jon Acuff is a great example. Then there are people like myself, Michael Snyder, Rob Stennett (Editor: see review) and Todd and Jedd Hafer who are writing funny novels, but you almost have to know something about them to find them. All that to say, yes, it’s easier to find an Amish Romance than a comedy novel in the Christian fiction world. But if someone wrote a comedy Amish romance, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we would all line up for that.
Scott: On to your book. Although I loved the monsters and what you were doing with them, one of my biggest takeaways from your book wasn’t the monsters and how we relate to them but your insights into the non-believer and their opposition to Christianity shown in the werewolf’s commentary chapters.
You wrote, “Many Christians I know have unwisely emphasized the eschatological and postmortem benefits of being “born again”… Leaving aside the fact that, in comparison to most people in human history, I already live like a king with my large house, my ability to travel enormous distances is a short amount of time, and the good that is both plentiful and prepared for me literally around the world, the description of the Christian afterlife is remarkably dull. As the fact remains that I have no intention of living a Spartan life today in the hopes of Elysian fields tomorrow…” America seems like one of the hardest mission fields in the world – probably because of our lack of lack as you described so well. In your opinion, how can Christians overcome seemingly compelling arguments from non-believers like this one above?
Matt: I don’t think our “lack of lack” necessarily makes us a harder culture to reach, but the story we’re telling about why to follow Jesus doesn’t do much for a lot of people. If I say, “Following Jesus is hard, but you’ll get to live in a mansion one day in Heaven” to people who do whatever they please and live in a mansion right now, why should they want to do that? The deeper human need (and one that is addressed at length in Night of the Living Dead Christian) is a desire to be transformed, to become people who aren’t controlled by and constantly damaged by sin. This is part of the gospel – as is eternal life in heaven – but we rarely talk about it when we’re sharing with people about Christ. We’ve reduced the gospel to “say a prayer, live forever” which is true but limited. So, in answer to the question, when a non-believer says something like, “The gospel is not compelling to me” we know that we’re not explaining it well. When someone says “Heaven sounds dull and boring” we know that there’s more to explain, plus the fact that Heaven is only this one small piece of what we get as followers of Christ. So, I think being in that relationship with people where we can talk more about what the gospel truly is and all the benefits of following Christ matters a great deal. As Dallas Willard says, we talk a lot about the cost of discipleship, but the cost of choosing not to be a disciple is considerably higher.
Scott: Of all the “monsters” in the book, it seemed the one that was least tangible but most invasive and insipid was the Christian who didn’t understand the Gospel.
You wrote, “All the signposts that Christ gave for recognizing his “true believers” seemed to have very little, in fact, next to nothing, to do with people’s beliefs.” Later you continue this line of thought with, “We believe in Jesus, we go to church, we lead semi-decent lives, but we aren’t being transformed. We aren’t changing. We don’t think the deeds matter, because we have the “fire insurance.” We’re going to get into Heaven just fine…” Reading the book we see the main characters dealing with this same issue time and again. How prevalent do you think this attitude is in the church and what do we need to do to change this?
Matt: Ha. How prevalent? I don’t know. 100%? Listen, partly this is growing pains. We are all learning about what exactly the gospel is, and what it means to follow Christ. The gospel in its broadest sense is “the good news about Jesus Christ” which isn’t something we’re going to learn by reading a thirty page booklet. Part of the work of eternity will be learning what the gospel is in greater detail as we learn more about Christ and grow in our knowledge of and relationship with him. So, for most of us, we go through a time when we think of salvation purely as a magic formula: Jesus, come into my heart. Then he does, and we get to live forever. Hopefully, as we move toward maturity, we start to learn about how Christ also desires salvation to impact our daily life, not just our eternal destiny. I think we need to talk more about this. Also, I think if we’re paying attention to what Christ is saying in scripture, it’s pretty obviously there. So, spending more time seeing what scripture says can only be to our benefit.
Scott: You wrote, “[faith without works] is ineffectual. It’s the sort of faith that fills a pew, but leads us to a moment when we are face-to-face with Jesus and show him our works and he says, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!” In my opinion, the scariest passage in the Bible is Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats because all the characters in the story are believers (Christians) – or think they are – and yet many of them are going to Hell. Most studies say that the percentage of Americans that claim they are Christians is in the mid or high 70%s. What’s the real number if you had to hazard a guess and why do you think so many people misidentify themselves as Christians?
Matt: People a lot wiser than I have passed on that question, so I won’t hazard a guess on the percentage of American Christians. But Jesus said we would know his followers by their love, which seems to be a pretty good criterion for looking at my own life and those around me. What someone believes matters, but not to the exclusion of how they act. In other words, someone who can sign a Christian creed but is a complete jerk to everyone around them makes me skeptical. As to why so many people misidentify themselves as Christians, I think it’s partly cultural (i.e. “everyone in my town is a Christian, and I grew up as a Christian”) and partly ignorance. Someone I was very close to in the past told me that his personal philosophy was that “everything is possible” and that every philosophy and religion was, therefore, equally valid. When I asked him what he called his own “everything is possible” philosophy he said, “Christianity.” This wasn’t’ a stupid person… he had multiple advanced degrees. But he didn’t know anything about the teachings of Christ. One of the things I try to remember in my ministry is that “drawing people to Christ” means sharing the gospel with self-professed Christians as well as non-Christians.
Scott: While reading your book I couldn’t help but identify with some of the monsters. I’ve been in situations where I’ve seen abuse first hand and I was struck by how realistic your portrayal of the werewolf was. Is your portrayal of the werewolf based on experience?
Matt: Hey, that’s not a personal question at all! Ha ha. Don’t worry, we’re all friends here, I can answer that. Okay, in one sense, no. The werewolf is struggling with his anger, which is causing physical abuse in the relationships closest to him. I’ve never been directly involved in a situation like that (i.e. I’ve never been physically harmed by someone close to me, or harmed someone close to me in that way). Of course I’ve been close friends with people on both sides of that equation (you have too, whether you realize it or not… it’s more common than you want to think). On the other hand, the werewolf’s explanation of his struggle to do the right thing and his constant temptation to do the wrong thing is from personal experience without doubt. I tried to turn off that politeness filter and share my deepest, darkest moments. It was painful, liberating and slightly disturbing to be honest about it. I hope readers will find it refreshing and allow them to be honest with themselves about who they really are.
Scott: Your next book is a non-fiction. Why the switch and what can we expect?
Matt: In Imaginary Jesus, I told a funny story about our misconceptions about Jesus. In Night of the Living Dead Christian I told a story about how we can overcome sin in our lives, with a lot of laughs along the way… a spoonful of sugar to help the theology go down. Starting in January I’ll be writing a non-fiction book with the working title “Take Me to the Riots” which is a book about evangelism and the gospel. I had a fiction setup for it, but as I worked with it I realized that our conceptions of evangelism are so confused that we need a little help along the way. Non-fiction can deal with the complexity of that sort of thought more easily than fiction. Having said that, as of right now, the plan for it is still unique and fun and I think people who have loved Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian are going to enjoy this book, too.
Matt Mikalatos received his BA in writing from the University of California Riverside. Like many future world leaders, he began his career as a clerk at a comic book store. Having discovered that such work caused women to shun him, Matt took control of a high school classroom and taught American literature and drama (although he was best known for his riotous “study halls”). Then Matt, in an unexpected move, joined Campus Crusade for Christ. In a moment of weakness, his best friend, Krista, agreed to marry him. He and Krista were briefly expatriated by Crusade to East Asia, where they ministered for three years. Now back in the States, Matt provides leadership to the international ministries of Crusade’s northwest region. Matt has published articles in Discipleship Journal, The Wittenburg Door, Relief, and Coach’s Midnight Diner. Matt and his wife live near Portland, Oregon. They have three beautiful daughters.(From Tyndale Media Center.)
Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. He recieved his BA in Pastoral Ministries from Vanguard University in Southern California. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on Christianity, Zombies, and anything else he wants to.
I had an opportunity to interview David Trotter, the author of an incredibly important book, Lost+Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair. Trotter was married with two children to his college sweetheart and a pastor of a successful church in Southern California when he decided to give everything up to pursue a relationship with another woman. This shocking memoir left me with quite a few questions and much more to think about. David was kind enough to provide honest answers to go with an honest book. See my review and then go buy the book – it is highly recommended.
Scott Asher: This is one of the most intimate behind the scenes look at adultery that I’ve ever seen or read. I assume that most people who have gone through something like this would want to sweep this under the rug and move on. What made you want to write this book?
David Trotter: In December of 2008, I outlined the entire book on a plane ride back from India, but it just sat there as a three page document within the protected confines of my laptop. I wasn’t ready to write about it. It was too painful. It brought tears to my eyes just to think about it. As the months passed by and my life took on a new normal, I gained courage to share my story…until one day…I started writing.
With each sentence that formed, I surprisingly experienced healing within my own heart and life. By authentically sharing my hopes and dreams combined with my rock bottom experience, I was liberated from much of the guilt, disappointment, anger, and resentment I felt in my own life. To share my story of depravity and redemption in such a raw form was healing in and of itself. I would spend focused time allowing the story to flow out of me…oftentimes closing my eyes as I typed and recounted my experiences.
The primary reason why I wrote Lost + Found (and my wife allowed it to be published) was for the benefit of others. Rather than sanitize my story, I have chosen to tell it as I remember it. My desire is for the reader to experience the highest ‘highs’ and the lowest ‘lows’ as I search for the life I always wanted. In my opinion, the power of the redemption is fully experienced against the backdrop of the depravity of my search. The response from people who have had affairs or been hurt by affairs has been overwhelmingly positive. And, it’s been amazing to hear from people who have no connection to an affair at all who have been equally inspired and challenged.
Asher: Knowing that your wife and children would have access to this book after it was published caused me to cringe several times during the narrative. You didn’t seem to hold back on any of the details, even the details about the satisfaction and quantity of sex with Samantha, and the raw language, for a couple examples. Now that this information is out there how did your family react to the full story and how do you handle your children having access to the story?
Trotter: Although my wife didn’t read the book until it was completely written, she had full power to pull the plug on the project at any point in time. She read the book in one sitting, and I know it was challenging to read about my entire experience. As she processed through her thoughts and feelings, I simply listened. In the meantime, I gave her full license to edit out any and all parts…which she did in several places within my story. The manuscript sat dormant for several months until my wife felt like she was ready for it to be made public. As you can imagine, it was a very sensitive process for both of us.
During that time, we discussed the ramifications of the book on both of our children. Since they are young (7 and 11), they really aren’t interested in the story…especially since they lived through much of it. Some day (at an appropriate age), I’m sure they’ll ask to read it, and I’ll be ready to process through their responses with empathy and compassion.
Asher: One of the creepiest parts of the story for me was when you and Samantha would read the Bible together. It just seemed so twisted to me for two people engaged in such a conspicuous and life altering sin to be discussing God. In fact, on several occasions you mention that you discussed what you thought God thought of the situation but there weren’t a lot of details about your conclusions other than He “probably didn’t like it.” So clear this up for readers: what did you think God thought of your actions and how did you rationalize your actions?
Trotter: I’m sure God did not approve of us leaving our spouses to be with one another, but I didn’t really care in the moment. Because my soul was so parched and weary, I was willing to drink ‘mud’ in order to satisfy my thirst. It nearly killed me. My mind wasn’t trying to rationalize anything…I was just trying to survive every day.
At the same, I don’t think God abandoned me…nor did I abandon God. That’s a hard thing to digest for most Christians. Samantha and I went to church each week, and we spent more time talking about God, reading the Bible together, and praying together. Just because we’re doing something that’s unhealthy and sinful, it doesn’t mean that God leaves us in the dust. In fact, I sensed God’s presence in powerful ways. His Presence doesn’t equal approval…it equals love. Believe me…I was definitely experiencing the natural consequences of my sin.
Asher: It seems like Kirk was a very important friend throughout this process. His line, something like “You can’t sin your way out of my life,” was awesome! My concern with him is how passive he seems to be in your relationship, never really pointing you in the right direction but rather it seemed like he was just along for the ride. I understand not wanting to be preachy or pushy, but doesn’t it seem natural that someone who loves you and sees you doing yourself harm would want to intercede and point you in the right direction and do you think Kirk should have nudged you in the right direction a little more?
Trotter: Since Kirk went through something very similar in his own life, he knew that correction would never have worked. It would only have driven me away from him. It’s not as though I needed someone to tell me that what I was about to do was ludicrous. I didn’t care. I was done caring. I just wanted out. In cases like mine, unsolicited advice rarely works…it usually just makes the person doling out the advice feel better about themselves.
Asher: Kirk seems like a natural selection to walk through this situation with you since he went through something like this and restored his marriage in the end. Ron and his wife, on the other hand didn’t seem like ideal mentors in this situation because, if I understand correctly, they are Christians who both left their spouses to marry each other. Ron seemed to me like the devil on your shoulder to Kirk’s angel; always showing you a way to make it work with Samantha. Frankly, I’m at a loss as to how I should, as a reader and a Christian, respond to Ron. Why did you go to him for support and in the bigger picture how should Christians respond to the Rons in our life?
Trotter: Ron and his new wife were (and are) dear friends, and they loved me no matter what…when I was with my wife, with Samantha, and even after she left. They were more interested in me than who I was with. No matter what decision I made…they were willing to walk with me. In their own lives, they experienced people who rejected them in the midst of their decisions, and they knew how important it was and is to walk with people.
This is a messy situation. Some people are willing to walk with the Rons of the world, and others think it’s their Christian duty to shun them. It’s hard, isn’t it? The other day, I had a reader ask me about God’s perspective on new relationships and marriages that come initially from an affair. I asked that question myself. “When will God be okay/approve of the new relationship?” No easy answers. All I know is that God forgives, and God wants each couple to have an incredible, intimate marriage. Would God want to equip and empower you to have the best new marriage possible? Seems like it to me. You are forgiven, and God loves you tremendously. Go and sin no more. (Sound familiar?)
Asher: I was disappointed with the angry and hurtful reactions of many of the people who you used to pastor. I believe that responding with anger and lashing out at you was un-Christian of them. But then I wonder how would someone appropriately act in that situation? Should they embrace their “fallen” pastor and his mistress? Should they lay low and pray for you? Imagine I’m someone who just heard you speak at a conference and this just happened at my church. How do you advise me to act?
Trotter: It all depends on your relationship with the pastor. If you’re a close friend, I’d encourage you to reach out to him or her. They don’t need to be reminded that it’s not appropriate. Express your care for them, pray for them, and resist the urge to gossip and slander. Trust God with the results.
If you’re not a close friend but someone who attends the church, pray and stand against anything that appears as gossip, slander, or dissension. Develop compassion for the pastor by searching for those times in your own life when you’ve lacked integrity. In the same way that you want God to forgive you in your own life, work toward forgiving the pastor in your own heart. If you don’t think your life could implode in some way, you’re mistaken.
Asher: Something that seemed to be missing in your narrative (or at least omitted from much of the story) is a reliance on reading Scripture and prayer. How much did prayer and scripture reading impact your decisions during your journey back to your wife and equilibrium?
Trotter: Although reading Scripture and connecting with God through specific times of prayer is important, I found that God used daily conversations with my three friends and therapist to speak in profound ways. You’ve got to remember that all things associated with ‘church’ and ‘ministry’ were part of the process of selling God. Reading the Bible and prayer represented the process by which I received a message to share with my congregation…and less about connecting with the Creator of the world. As I continued to deconstruct my faith (and view of ministry) and reconstruct a new relationship with God, I find myself turning to Scripture and prayer more often than ever before.
Asher: It seems at one point that you have so much going on with family, being a pastor, and multiple projects that it overwhelms you and you end up on a destructive path. When I look at where you are now you still have your family, are still a leader or pastor of a new community, and have a bunch of projects (books, website, India and speaking.) What have you learned and what steps are you taking to avoid becoming overwhelmed and burned out again?
Trotter: The key for me is to continue embracing my true identity, which is found in the context of being created by a loving God. It’s found in understanding who God says I am and what God has planned for my life. It’s not about trying to impress others or become ‘somebody’ in this world. It’s not about the adrenaline hits that come from accomplishing a big goal or completed an important project.
My wife and a few close friends are people that I’m in daily and weekly process with in terms of the state of my heart and the workload I carry. In addition, my wife and I continue to go to therapy on a monthly basis to ensure I stay on track and my wife retains a strong voice in our relationship.
Frankly, I have more time than ever before. Although I have seasons when there are intense projects on my plate, I’m enjoying life and being present with my family and friends. I love my new normal.
Asher: Who is your target audience is for this book and why does it matter? Is this a Christian book?
Trotter: I didn’t set out to write a ‘Christian’ book per se. In fact, I knew that some of the content and language would turn some Christians off, but that was okay. I really valued telling my story in a way that was authentic to what happened. I wanted people to feel the ecstasy and the pain of the story…experiencing the tension of it all.
My primary audience is anyone who feels ‘stuck’ in their life…whether they have any background with faith and spirituality at all. When we lack freedom and feel like we don’t have any real options, we can make unhealthy (and even destructive) decisions in an effort to find what’s missing. In reality, there are many options I could have taken that would have led toward health and wholeness without having to walk through hell.
May those who’ve experienced an affair one way or another be challenged to see that grace and reconciliation are possible. May those who feel ‘stuck’ know that a healthy freedom can be theirs. May those who don’t think that it could ever happen to them be warned. And, may those who are critical and self-righteous be filled with compassion.
For more on David Trotter, his book and his ministry visit DavidTrotter.tv.
Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on anything he finds funny and Christianity, which sometimes overlap.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.