Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CSFF Tour - Cyndere's Midnight, Day 2

Hey! Day 2 of our CSFF tour featuring Jeffrey Overstreet and his new book, Cyndere's Midnight. I gave an introduction to the book yesterday, and listed multiple links to check out if you're curious about the unique approach Jeffrey has when it comes to his writing: other's in the tour, reviews of his previous book, Auralia's Colors, and links to Jeffrey's websites.

Jeffrey was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had, so please check out his replies below. Tomorrow I'll wrap up with my review of Cyndere's Midnight.

1. What are your writing influences?
It's tough for me to point to influences. I imagine readers will have a better sense of that than me. But I can tell you who I found inspirational while I was writing.

Annie Dillard writes about the natural world with passion, honesty, and stirring prose. Her attention to the wonders and horrors of our fantastic, fallen world are compelling, awe-inspiring, and sometimes truly disturbing.

I read a lot of poetry while I work on The Auralia Thread. I'm especially fond of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, and my wife Anne's poetry, which takes me to so many vivid places. Anne and I spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest, and I'm sure that the places we go inspire my writing more than any writers do.

I don't think many fiction writers have had much influence on The Auralia Thread. I'm sure there are echoes of Tolkien, Lewis, Macdonald, and especially Richard Adams and Frank Herbert. But when it comes to style, I often revisit Patricia McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series for the music of their language and the phantasmagoric detail of their worlds.

2. What was your inspiration for the Auralia's Colors series?
My wife Anne and I had a conversation about make-believe while we were hiking near Flathead Lake, Montana. Anne said something about how most people reach a certain age where they stop using their imaginations, stop expressing themselves creatively, and put make believe behind them. I started thinking about that while we walked through this beautiful, forested landscape.

I began to imagine a kingdom in which the people bury all of their creative expressions. And then I envisioned an artist who wandered into that culture, and who was both celebrated and persecuted for her vision. That's where it all started.

3. You are known for your work in film critique. How did your film influence affect your writing?
Film reviewing has taught me to pay attention to small details, and to cherish those experiences in which characters take you into places and situations you've never thought about before.

It has also taught me to think about beauty, and how a picture can say so much more than a lesson or an allegory. So I focus on painting pictures in prose, trying to share images instead of morals, questions instead of answers.

The movies that stick with me are those that don't preach, but instead offer me encounters with beauty and imagery that give me new insights every time I enjoy them.

I want to write a story that does that. I don't want to tell readers what to think--I want to invite them on an adventure, and let them have their own unique experience, develop their own interpretation along the way.

4. What is your opinion about the state of Christian fiction in the CBA world and culture in general?
I don't have much time to read, so when I do, I read a lot of poetry and literature that has proven itself to be timeless and beautiful.

Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. "Christian fiction" is usually notable because of the "message." It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don't want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling... and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now. That's why Tolkien, Lewis, and L'Engle's books are standing the test of time. They're imaginative, rich with truth, and beautiful.

I don't read stories because I want a message. I read because I want to have an experience. I want to use my imagination. I only get the chance to read a limited number of books in my life, and I want to read the most beautiful, rich, meaningful stuff I can find. I firmly believe that that how we say something is just as important as what we say. Christian bookstores are full of books that say good things. But many of those books say good things very poorly, or without much imagination.

If a book is well-written, many readers all over the world -- Christian and non-Christian alike -- will find that book compelling. That's why most "Christian books" are only ever read by people who shop in Christian bookstores.

5. What would you like people to know about your two current books that they may not know already?
I hope that readers will open the pages of Auralia's Colors and Cyndere's Midnight out of curiosity and a desire for an adventure.

If they come expecting an allegory, I think they'll be frustrated. A lot of reviewers have said that this is a story about Christ, or the Christian life. Fine... there's nothing wrong with that interpretation. But that's not what I was thinking about when I wrote them. You might just as well read tehm as a story about an artist's struggles and temptations, or a story about talents and gifts, or a story about beauty and what it does to us. Readers have discovered themes that have pleasantly surprised me. But I know where this story is going, and it doesn't work as an allegory.

I'm very interested in hearing what readers think the story is about. Fantasy is a mysterious genre. We learn about each other when we share our experience of a work of art. I never want to write a story that has an obvious "moral" or "lesson." Why bother? If I wanted to do that, I would just teach lessons and not bother with a story. No, I want to tell stories the way Jesus shared parables -- I want to tell a story that teases readers' minds into contemplation, that gets them arguing about what it all means. I know what they mean to me, but that keeps changing. What do they mean to you?


  1. Anonymous3:40 PM

    Good interview, Jason. I see Jeffrey thinks about theme the way you do. As you know, my take is different.

    So often writers seem to think there are two choices—good storytelling or preachy storytelling. But Jeffrey implied the third in what he said about the classical fantasy writers: "They're imaginative, rich with truth, and beautiful." Rich with truth and beauty. That says to me that would should pay as much attention to crafting truth into our stories as we do beauty.

    And truth isn't just painting the reality of the physical world (which of course any fantasy writer knows). It's internal truth and eternal truth. But I don't think you get to those places accidentally.

    I also think stories are forms of communication. Maybe people did wrestle with Jesus's parables, but that doesn't mean that He didn't have a precise purpose, a particular point, He wanted to get across in the telling.


  2. I'm glad you asked him about the state of Christian fiction and the CBA. I was kicking myself after my interview that I hadn't asked him that question!

  3. And I think our interviews complemented each other. Great job!

  4. Wow!! Great interview! -C