Welcome to a new dimension of my blog: interviews. I’d love to highlight friends of mine who’ve written some fantastic books, books I can wholeheartedly recommend to you and your friends. As you know, I believe in clean and meaningful Christian fiction, so I’m careful about who I endorse.
My first guest is Rick Barry, an author friend I’ve known for several years. Without further ado, join Rick and me as we sip our coffee and chat about Christian publishing.
So, Rick, how did you get started in publishing your novels?
I started writing short stories and articles in my sophomore year of college. My first article was an entry in a Christian magazine’s writing contest. I didn’t win, but they offered to buy my article and called it an “Honorable mention.” That was the first time I realized I might actually have a knack for weaving words that other people would actually read. In time, though, I wanted to try a longer project, which naturally led to novels.
My initial advice to anyone wanting to publish any kind of novel is to study the basics and learn the craft. Know your grammar and punctuation rules. If necessary, keep a grammar book at your elbow until you get those rules solidly fixed in your mind. And read, read, read good novels that publishers have already purchased and printed. By filling your mind with quality stories, you help your brain to “feel” the way well-crafted stories sound. Then find some good readers who are not afraid to hurt your feelings and ask them to give you blunt feedback. You don’t want friends who will read your stuff and try to make you feel good. You need objective readers who will tell you what they like—and what they don’t like—about your writing.
What was the inspiration behind your historical suspense novel Gunner’s Run?
Way back in seventh grade I saw the movie The Great Escape. The end credits said it was based on true events, so I read the original book and was fascinated. Over the years I’ve read quite a few first-person accounts of captured Allied airmen in WW II, so my mind naturally gravitated to such a story when I decided to write a book.
What part of writing this novel was the most challenging?
I wasn’t born until twenty years after World War II ended. Many aspects of daily life, both in Indiana and for airmen in the 8th Army Air Force, were before my time. I had to research and talk to veterans who were there to gain tidbits about daily things that would imbue my work with a feel of realism. One of my favorite compliments came from a ninety-year-old man who used to fly B-24s in the war. His daughter told me that, after finishing the book, he handed it to his wife and said, “You’ve got to read this. It will bring back memories.” Then he wanted to meet me. He figured I must be his age to know about so many things he recalled. My research was solid enough to convince this veteran that I had really been there!
What has been the toughest part about being a published novelist?
The toughest part is helping to get word about my books out there where the buying public will learn about them. Publishers advertise books for only a small fraction of authors who already have a devoted following. In fact, nowadays publishers don’t even want good stories by authors who won’t get out and beat the bushes and create a social presence that will aid in selling books. So how to connect with the public (and not irritate friends and colleagues by continuously harping about one’s own books!) is a challenge for today’s authors.
What has surprised you the most about Christian novel publishing?
You never know who might read your book. I wrote Gunner’s Run with male readers in their teens, twenties, and thirties in mind. Yet, school teachers have let me know that boys as young as fifth and sixth grade have fought over who would get to read my books next in their room. I’ve also heard from teen girls, adult women, and senior citizens who have read my work. I received a complimentary e-mail from a reader in South Africa, so my books are touching people in places I’ve never even visited!
Consider the qualities that make you unique. How do those qualities come out in your writing?
I have an adventurous spirit. I’ve traveled overseas well over fifty times (I’ve lost track). I’ve kayaked, climbed mountains, rappelled down cliffs, jumped out of perfectly good airplanes thousands of feet above the ground, visited the D-Day landing beaches in France…A person who knows me well could probably spot snippets of my personality in my pages.
You know, there are a few areas about Christian publishing that are dear to my heart. What is your personal view of “meaning” in Christian fiction? In other words, do Christian novels, in your view, need to “say” something? Why or why not?
A Christian author who is truly Christian and not simply wearing that moniker for the sake of respectability will automatically write from a God-centered mindset. For a true Christian, evil remains evil. Truth remains Truth. Deeds and thoughts that God condemns as sin will be regarded as sin by the author. So even without bringing any other message or lesson to the table, a story presented by a Christian writer will automatically “say” something. For instance, my novel Kiriath’s Quest is a YA fantasy that takes place in a mythological kingdom. In the story, there is no presentation of the Gospel, no mention of God or Jesus. Yet, when I touch on themes of love, loyalty, virtue, friendship, leadership, etc., a person familiar with the Bible might realize that my treatment of these elements rings true according to the way they are presented in the Scripture.
Where do you stand on the growing trend of authors using crude language, swearing, or sensual scenes in Christian novels? What can readers expect from your books?
This is a topic that I believe some Christian writers have not fully thought through. Or perhaps their stance reflects a stage of immaturity in their Christian growth. At a Christian writers conference, a young man once announced that he had the perfect explanation for why believers could and should include all these elements in their novels: “Because it really happens in real life!” he stated with a flourish of triumph. Not good enough. Such trite replies cast aside numerous portions of God’s Word.
For instance, Ephesians 5:11-12 instructs, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” If God’s Word tells us it’s a shame even to speak the details of such sins and rather to reprove them, any believer stands on less than thin ice when he decides he can not only have fun talking about them but weaving them into his stories to share with others. Another verse is Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” How can a true believer be concerned with making sure his own words and thoughts are acceptable to the Lord, but then sit down and pen scenes geared to shoot impure images and words into the brains of readers? I have to wonder whether the level of carnality still dwelling inside some authors of faith might be greater than even they themselves realize.
What are two facts about you readers might find surprising?
Interesting question! For one, in my younger days I was painfully shy and quiet. I never wanted to be the center of attention. Yet now I often stand up and preach or speak to hundreds of people, sometimes in English and sometimes in Russian. Another fact about me: I have officially applied thirty times for the CBS reality show SURVIVOR. For me, such a competition in a tropical setting would be a blast even without the cameras, without the fame, and without any prize money at stake! Of course, if the Lord ever allows me to be chosen, and if I were to win a bucket of money, I should apply most of such winnings to worthy causes rather than wasting it all on my own pleasure. So far, though, CBS has not called me, so I’m in not in danger of that temptation. 🙂
About the Author
Rick Barry has authored two novels (Gunner’s Run and Kiriath’s Quest) and hundreds of published articles, short stories, and devotionals. He speaks Russian and has visited Eastern Europe over fifty times. His experiences have included skydiving, mountain climbing, rappelling, kayaking, wilderness hiking, and white-water rafting. He believes that all experiences in life provide fuel for a writer’s imagination. His author site is rickbarry.blogspot.com.
About Gunner’s Run
World War II is the setting for Gunner’s Run, a historical fiction novel by Rick Barry. Nineteen-year-old Jim Yoder is an ocean away from his childhood home in Elkhart, Indiana, and his pretty friend, Margo Lace. He is serving in the United States Air Corps as a waist gunner flying on a B-24 high above the battlefield. Through a strange chain of events, Jim finds himself back on the ground and trapped behind enemy lines. As Jim is running across Nazi Germany to reach the safety of Allied soil, he discovers that to survive he will have to trust the God he once rejected. This Christian fiction book is full of excitement, danger, and realistic details about World War II Europe.
Want to Win a Paperback Copy of Gunner’s Run?
What do you think about meaning in Christian fiction? Do you believe Christian fiction needs to “say” something? Why or why not? Share your opinion by leaving a comment with your e-mail address. I’ll choose a winner on August 29th.
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