One never knows what kind of books land in our mailbox for review, but Yellow30 Sci-Fi is glad that Writer’s Café Press Press sent us an advanced review copy of FLASHPOINT. Our reviewer was intrigued by the book and the author. Frank gladly answers some of our questions, and yes, Charlotte, you have to read the hard copy because audio is not availabe yet on this website, honey! So, sit back, get a cup of java or whatever and enjoy our exclusive interview with Frank Creed.
Your new novel, FLASHPOINT, puts a different spin on THE LEFT BEHIND type of books. Would you elaborate?
The biggest literary difference is sub-genre. Both are Biblical speculative fiction, but Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground Series is end-times science-fiction, while the Left Behind Series fits into the supernatural thriller category. Okay, here is the official version: while Left Behind sets the end times into our modern world, Flashpoint is a geo-political extrapolation of current events in order to better set the stage for a pre-millennial second coming. I focus not so much on the actual prophecies as much as how they will impact the lives of real people. In Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground, I merely introduce Christian eschatology’s pre-mil Unholy Trinity: Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet.
The biggest difference that stands out to reviewers is voice. Flashpoint is presented from the very sarcastic first-person viewpoint of Calamity Kid, a.k.a. Calamity, a.k.a. Kid, a.k.a. CK, a.k.a. David Williams. I love slipping into CK’s character, and describing his dark world through his eyes.
Flashpoint is set in 2036 Chicago, against the backdrop of a global government called the One State. Fundamentalist terrorism is the only threat to the One State’s absolute power. To solve this problem belief in the Word of God has been pronounced illegal and treasonous.
We meet main characters David and Jen Williams as they flee peacekeepers busting their home-church. This sparks a Flashpoint in the Body of Christ (BoC), living in the abandoned parts of the Metroplex.
Through the use of brain-wave technology (something the US military was actually researching in the mid-90s), the saints living in the underground are re-formed. They undergo a process that nudges the fallen human flesh to better alignment with the soul. In this process they have a kind of software called “mindware” uploaded directly into their brains, giving them near superhuman abilities. David and Jen Williams are uploaded, and become Calamity Kid and e-girl.
Anyone can use BW tech, but a re-formed spirit-walkin saint using God’s will instead of their own is far superior. And with the aid of non-lethal weapons, Calamity Kid and e-girl’s “terrorist” cell in the BoC set out to save their captured home church.
In building the world in FLASHPOINT, where did you glean your ideas?
There is no short answer because so much of my life has gone into Flashpoint. I wanted to write fiction since age 8, but the Flashpoint concept goes all the way back to the Iran hostage crisis. I was barely a teen when I watched the reporters use the term “fundamentalist terrorists.” This bothered me because at church I was taught the Bible was fundamentally true.
A couple of films impacted me too. Blade Runner is of course a long-time favorite. Believe it or not, Calamity Kid was born while I watched a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. I don’t recall if it was the second or third movie where Freddy Krueger attacked a group of teens in a mental hospital. One of those teens was a cartoonist. When Freddy attacked this young man in his dreams, the boy turned into his cartoon character, who wore a long duster and used twin automatic pistols. I loved that imagery and wanted to one-day use it in my fiction.
In my 20s I discovered a cyberpunk role-playing game called Shadowrun. I loved the high-tech aspects, but had no interest in the use of magic and fantasy races in a modern setting. Since this time I’ve read very little sci-fi outside of the Shadowrun series of novels. My father bought me a copy of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. I realized that cyberpunk was the perfect setting for eschatological fiction.
I’ve been a sci-fi and fantasy fan all my life, but at this time a coworker introduced me to the works of Francis Schaeffer. I began reading theology and philosophy. I saw that the ideas of the great theologians could be presented through Biblical speculative fiction. I’d long known that Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy were the only widely read Biblical fantasy and sci-fi. Novelists of other worldviews have been using spec-fic’s sub-genres. With the popularity of Lewis’ fiction, I could not understand how spec-fic had been neglected by Christian publishers. The problem I saw with Lewis’ classics, was their high prose.
It was then in the early 90s that I knew what I was meant to write. The notes I’d kept from my role-playing games became my writer’s notebook.
FLASHPOINT is cyberpunk science fiction. This is probably a new concept for some. What is the difference between the average science fiction story and cyberpunk sci-fi?
I’ve begun promoting my fiction with the term end-times sci-fi exactly because so few people are familiar with the definition of cyberpunk. Many people like it, they just don’t know what it’s called.
Cyberpunk is near future sci-fi, set in a dark high-tech dystopia (opposite of the utopia). There is an excellent detailed definition at Wikipedia.com
Granted your target audience for FLASHPOINT may be middle school to high school. But our reviewer found it to be a very fun, fast paced book. Do you think the adult readers will embrace this very unusual book?
An absolute yes. I originally wrote Flashpoint for a young adult audience, but in November of 06 my publisher kicked it back at me and told me to make the characters older to appeal to older readers. This allowed me to use a larger vocabulary, and the end product is so much better. The fact that you had to ask this question makes me think I failed in the task. Some of the reviews reflect that as well. The problem is there’s a lot of me in Calamity Kid, and I’m nothin’ more than a big kid!
Only one of about 20 reviews that my publisher has received came from a teenager. All the rest were adults: Biblical fiction reviewers, blog reviewers, and one ordained minister I met on shoutlife.com
I was floored that the minister, Jonathan, took it upon himself to rate 10,000 words of fan fiction set in the underground.
FLASHPOINT is definitely a gusty-different type of book that some might consider too racy for the Christian Market. Your thoughts?
Ah yes, the violence and sex angle. Thank you so, so much for asking this question. Terri Main, a communications instructor at Reedley College in California offered to set up my book-launch party in the virtual world of secondlife.com because she was so impressed by my use of non-lethal weapons, and high paced action without violence. We are supposed to love our enemies and ours is a spiritual battle, not a physical one. The Saints in the underground incapacitate the anti-Christian Neros. Terri understood that Flashpoint’s purpose is to inspire love and faith in the lives of readers. Terri Main also runs the wayfarersjournal.com e-zine. She has interviewed me in the Journal’s chat room, and in her virtual reality show at secondlife.com Wayfarer’s Journal will feature an article about Flashpoint in September.
And that leaves sex. Christian fiction has little problem with violence unless it’s graphic, but sex is absolutely taboo. I deliberately inserted one risqué character because of what we see on TV — and not just shows — every commercial break, every day. Products are sold with sex. Delicia Lix, an anchorwoman for the Terrorist Webwire, oozes sex appeal. She has sky blue eyes, blonde curls, and curves that make the number 8 jealous. She wears a miniskirt and struts her lies in front of the camera on stiletto heels, selling anti-Christian One State Propaganda to the masses. Delicia’s role in Flashpoint is to raise the awareness of seductive manipulation.
I really expected someone to raise this issue before now, but in 20 reviews, four interviews, and a handful of critiques, this is the first time it’s come up.
We understand a role playing game is in the works for FLASHPOINT. Care to tell us a little about that?
The Writer’s Café Press has contracted role-playing game designer Mike Roop to create Flashpoint: The Role-Playing Game. Mike has already put together a short version of the game and there are a few advance review booklets in case any gamer/ reviewers out there would be interested in a peek. There’s no final release date yet: all I know is sometime in 2008.
Mike is a great guy, doing a wonderful job. He’s created a basic system for those new to role-playing games, and more advanced rules that can be adapted by seasoned gamers. Every few weeks we speak on the phone because he wants to get the details right for the game’s setting and brainwave technology.
There is talk of supplements to update rules with the release of each Underground novel, but one step at a time.
Would you tell us a little about the Lost Genre Guild.
Christian genre fans have been starved for Biblical speculative fiction. In the last few years there have been many new sci-fi, fantasy, and spiritual thrillers released, but fans stopped looking In Christian bookstores or religion sections long ago. They’ve given up in frustration.
A year ago, I founded the Lost Genre Guild to build awareness for Biblical speculative fiction. The guild is a meeting place for fans and authors. If you Google “Lost Genre Guild”, look for our Web presence at shoutlife.com
You will find our ministry statement on our group page there.
The Lost Genre Guild’s headquarters is in a private invite-only Yahoo newsgroup. We currently have around 100 members from all aspects of the entertainment industry. If you know anyone interested in membership, I’ll hook them up. Please ask them to drop me a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is Christian Speculative Fiction?
In my lifetime, I’ve seen a silly argument about Christian fiction. One side says Christian authors should write secular fiction, and let their God-given talent glorify the Boss. The other side says we must all write overtly Christian themes and messages. I think the answer is that He’s given us all different fiction ministries. To make a distinction between these two sides, I coined the term Biblical fiction. A Lost Genre Guild member actually wrote the definition of Biblical speculative fiction at wikipedia.com
As a linguist, Stephen L. Rice (League of Superheroes, The Writer’s Café Press, 2008), was much better suited to the task. That’s how we work in the guild: one organ in the real-world Body of Christ using our talents for the Boss.
Do you see Christian Spec-Fiction becoming more popular in the years to come?
Except for Harry Potter new releases, bookstore sales in general have been slumping for years. Now the JK Rowling has concluded the series, hard times are expected. In spite of this I read in the Writer’s Digest magazine last year that religious fiction in general is predicted to be one of the top growth areas. I have heard that echo across the web since then. I do anticipate that fans of Biblical speculative fiction are in the right place and time. If you go to Jeff Gerke’s wherethemapends.com and click on his book list, you’ll find the most comprehensive list of titles I’ve ever seen. Jeff’s real name is Jefferson Scott, and I think the only novelist to have written Biblical cyberpunk before I have.
Ever since the Lord of the Rings films, our fantasy and spiritual thrillers sub-genres are beginning to break out. Sci-fi is still slow going, but I’m optimistic and mean.
Getting down to writing stuff. How long does it usually take you to do a novel?
Well, getting Flashpoint together only took 32 years.
On June 4th, I was given a Christmas deadline for War of Attrition: Book Two of the Underground. I’m about a third of the way finished in my word count. Part of my problem is I type using the Columbus method: find the key and land on it. But I just got new weapons: voice recognition software and a really spiff headset. I’m still getting used to it, but already type about six times faster. I’m doing this interview out loud!
I write new word count until I get bogged down, and I go back to the beginning and polish until I get bogged down again, etc. Flashpoint’s the advance review copy was edited professionally but had not been proofread. I believe the final manuscript has been sent to the printers.
How important is the publisher-author relationship?
Very, very, very. More on this later.
More new authors are turning to the small presses these days. How important is the small press to you as oppose to a big name publisher?
For Biblical sci-fi, it’s crucial. The web has forever changed publishing.
In the mid-90s, something like 80% of books sitting on bookstore shelves were published by traditional houses. In just five or six years, it dropped to less than 50%. Unlike the trend in any other industry I know-of, the little fish are eating the big fish here. Small independent presses that can spot unexploited market niches, quality writing, and effectively market to readers have a big advantage in an industry with inefficiencies. More on this later as well.
Most publisher these days require marketing plans from authors. What are your methods?
Marketing plans are helpful. A strategy of building a marketing infrastructure, and a plan for promotion is indeed necessary. But what looks good on paper has to be employed in reality. Cynthia at The Writer’s Café Press requires a marketing plan, but what she really looks for is a writer willing to self-promote. She has dealt with some authors who have promised to assist in marketing, then after publication, have become invisible. Promising to do interviews, appearances, and book signings is not enough.
What used to be known as word-of-mouth, then known as buzz, is now called viral marketing: using the Web to infect other forms of media. This is very important for Christian books because our subculture has its own print, radio, and television media. Plugging into all these with the Web infrastructure is crucial.
The number one reason, by far, a person buys a book is because it was recommended by friends or family. Because of this, when a publisher considers a stack of polished manuscripts, the ones that will be purchased have been penned by an author with the established Web presence.
Self-promotion is my least favorite aspect of the industry. But it’s terribly necessary, and not as hard as you think. The number one rule of self-promotion is: don’t. First, help other people with whatever talents you have, then your audience becomes interested in who you are and you can talk passionately about your craft. All you have to do is live at the Golden Rule. For example, the Lost Genre Guild has become very helpful for my own networking and self-promotion purposes, but that’s not the reason I started it. People will detect a fraud, or a spammer. Just live at the intersection of your passions and talents while giving the Boss your best and all the credit. That is infectious.
Networking. How important is that to you as an author?
One of my signature links is, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, the Web is a writer’s Whetstone.” Just like the Gospel of Christ, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I cannot believe what God has done with my fiction-ministry since I began networking on the Web about 18 months ago.
I Googled everything, and scoured Yahoo’s Christian writers groups for anything helpful.
Big and Small Screen: Action pacing– The Matrix, Alias, Die Hard, Bourne, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and yes, daVinci Code. Characters: Jack Sparrow, Hannibal Lechter, the casts of Law & Order: SVU and Miami CSI. Novelists: Orwell, Lewis, Michael Stackpole, M. L. Tyndall, PK Dick, William Gibson, Kerry Harrison, Karen McSpadden, Tolkien, Francis Schaeffer, Gene Edward Vieth Jr, Ravi Zacharias, Charles Martin, D.J. Kennedy, Asimov, Roger Zelazny, and the Left Behind concept.
Favorite books – authors.
The first book a Christian author must mention is the Bible. The Bible is a compilation of sixty-six works, that collectively communicate inexhaustive but infinite wisdom from our Creator. That ain’t a book: that is the Word of God.
Nonfiction: anything by CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, or Gene Edward Vieth Jr.
My three favorite novelists: While many people believe William Gibson or PK Dick to be the founders of the cyberpunk genre, I believe it all goes back to Orwell’s 1984. Not far behind is Michael Stackpole’s Wolf and Raven, a novel from the Shadowrun series. Last year it was my pleasure to network with M.L. Tyndall, and review of the first two novels in her Legacy of the Kings Pirates series. The Redemption and The Reliance are shelved as historical romance. A Christian pirate? I call that alternate history, and that’s speculative fiction.
MaryLu’s action pacing is all edge-of-your-seat. I am honored that she reviewed Flashpoint, and I’m beyond words that her blurb will be featured on the front cover.
Remember how you asked about networking? There ya go!
Future plans – projects.
I’ve already spoken about War of Attrition, and Flashpoint: The Role-Playing Game. Anything beyond that depends on the sales of these books. Two members of Project Underground with whom I’ve networked, are working on books 3 and 4 of the Underground, but I don’t believe the Writer’s Café Press has signed them yet.
There is a public Yahoo group called end_times_sci_fi where reviewers, artists, and fans can keep up with news.
A final word of wisdom: marry a schoolteacher. I met my wife online, on May 9, 2003, the fifth anniversary of that devastating head-on collision. Cynthia edited many things for local schools and education organizations, and offered to edit Flashpoint.
We wound-up marrying. Because it took for two years to get her Green Card, the only thing we could think of for her to make income was her editing skill. She started a business called the Writer’s Café. After years of editing and networking, she learned that the Web and trend for corporate outsourcing had changed the publishing industry forever. A small independent press could now do everything that the traditional houses had been doing for decades.
When she told me she wanted to publish Flashpoint, it was very exciting, but that excitement was tempered by an amateur feeling. Face it, being published by your wife is a short step away from being published by your mom. I gained confidence quickly as she published a fantasy anthology (Tales for the Thrifty Barbarian), and A Child Underground, the memoirs of a Holocaust survivor. By the time the Biblical speculative fiction Anthology, Light at the Edge of Darkness, was compiled in August of 06, my confidence was complete.
I may be sleeping with my publisher, but our business relationship is completely professional. She respects me as an artist, and I get the same kind of deadlines, contracts, and expectations as everyone else she publishes. We work well as a team and I expect this to be a huge advantage as together we live the crazy-paced lifestyle. Book signings are also desperately needed weekends away.
Just as everything else in my life goes into my books, how God gave me a gift like Cynthia, is absolutely unreal.
In conclusion: marry a schoolteacher!
To God be the glory.
FRANK CREED’S BIO:
Calamity Kid, here. I’m the Main Character of Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground, written by a slave-drivin workaholic who runs under the pen name Frank Creed. It’s a good thing this ain’t film, and he ain’t a director, or he’d have run over-budget a decade ago. Frank’s a perfectionist, always rewriting. Calamity do this: no-no do it that way: Calamity, do the scene again but raise an eyebrow: Calamity, fetch me some coffee: write my bio. A real jerk this guy.
Hold on, Frank’s publisher asked me to read you something – that data chip’s around here somewhere. If Frank ordered me to do this I’d tell him the chip fell out of my pocket that time he almost got me smoked by peacekeepers. Good thing for him that Cynthia at The Writer’s Café Press is a real sweetie. Cyn’s the only reason I haven’t napped Frank’s muse with a tranq round, and dumped her on a plane to New Zealand. Kay, here we go: Frank Creed’s fantasy novella, Lest Ye be Judged, is the only Biblical contribution to Tales for the Thrifty Barbarian: An Anthology of High Fantasy. He has three short stories in the Light at the Edge of Darkness anthology entitled ChairMan, True Freedom, and Miracle Micro. All are set in the same 2036-Chicago cyberpunk world of his first novel, Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground. Frank is currently 20k words into War of Attrition: Book 2 of the other underground.
Editor’s Note: This was the first interview with Frank Creed shortly before the publication of Flashpoint. Since then a lot has changed in Frank’s life and he’s big on Facebook. A second interview may be forth coming.