Monday, July 20, 2009

The Enclave - Interview with Karen Hancock

Time for another CSFF tour, and I'm excited to feature The Enclave, the latest book from Karen Hancock, of Return of the Guardian King fame. This book is set in modern times in a genetics research facility in the desert near Tucson. Researcher Cameron Reinhardt is glad to have a final chance to prove himself in his field at the exclusive Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute. Lacey McHenry is looking to move past tragedy in life and find a future. After a lab accident triggers a series of strange events, the two are forced together to confront an even greater mystery.

I'm very pleased to have an interview with Karen Hancock today. I'll follow with a review and other thoughts on Tuesday and Wednesday. Even though the interview is long, take time to read it, and you can find links to my other tourmates below it. For more information, check out her website and blog.
1. The Enclave as a science fiction/suspense novel is a departure from your last four books, the fantasy series The Guardian King. How was the process moving from a world of your own creation into more of "the real world"?

It really wasn’t all that much of a change. I had to do a lot of historical research for my Guardian-King fantasies and then a lot of thinking about the resultant world-building to ensure it all made sense within itself and within “how people operate” in general.

For The Enclave, I had to do research as well – on underground living, the construction of skyscrapers, research facilities, etc. I could draw perhaps a little more from my actual life experiences, but I did that a lot even in the fantasies (and in Arena as well) so the change wasn’t that noticeable.

The hardest part was the spiritual aspect, because when you start talking about Jesus directly, some people get riled; when you start bringing up scriptures, talking about doctrines, people say you’re preaching. There’s always a danger of getting carried away in that area, of course, but even if you don’t, you still may be accused of doing so. I just had to go with what I thought God was leading me to do and accept that some readers were not going to like it.

2. There's a lot of scientific detail in The Enclave. Will you describe your research behind the book?

My research for The Enclave was wide-reaching, as I alluded to above – archaeology, building construction, research publication protocols, mythology, Nephilim, Afghanistan, cults – in addition to the science. It helped that I have a degree in Biology. I also worked as an animal technician in college, so some of Lacey’s experiences were drawn from my own (the escape of the frogs, for example). However, though I studied genetics as part of my degree, the field has advanced tremendously in the interim and continues to do so at such a pace there’s a danger of one’s book being obsolete before it even gets into print. Therefore, to brush up on things I bought a copy of my friend Edward Willett’s Genetics Demystified to use as my base reference, and relied on the Internet for the rest.

One thing I reminded myself of constantly, though, was the fact that I was writing a novel about people involved in genetics research, not a genetics textbook. Readers were not going to want to wade through a lot of scientific technicalities, so I tried to keep my scientific details clear, spare and to the point – just enough to make my premises understandable and believable without bogging down the story. Whether I succeeded or not will probably depend on the individual reader.

The Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute that provides the setting for my book is based upon a real research facility north of Tucson, known as Biosphere 2, which was in the news in the 80s. Like KJ, the Biosphere had cultish roots and practices. Not only did I follow the controversial project through the local news reports (which I saved for later reference) I read participant Jane Poynter’s memoir, The Human Experiment: Two years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2. Poynter was one of the eight people who spent two years sealed inside it, and her book provided a wealth of information and ideas.

I also read a literary novel on cancer research (Intuition by Allegra Goodman) which not only gave me more information about life in a research facility, but provided illustration of how to integrate the scientific material into the story in an interesting way.

3. There's a lot in the media lately regarding new developments in cloning, stem cell research, and genetics. What does The Enclave have to speak about this?

The developments in those areas are opening the doors to us being able to literally recraft our own bodies and much of the life around us. Many are concerned now about how genetically altered food will affect our health, but there are also a wealth of innovations in the genetic alteration of animals, not only for food but for producing other things like medications, antibiotics and other substances that can be used in the manufacturing. There is talk of producing designer children and Michael Crichton's recent book, Next, even presents a number of grotesque possibilities of genetically altering organisms for use in advertising!

All of this recalls the events in Genesis 11 where instead of scattering as God had commanded them, the people gathered together to build a city and a tower that would reach into heaven. Were they trying to literally get into heaven or were they just going to make sure, in human power, that if God ever sent another flood they’d be ready to deal with it? I don’t know. Maybe both, but their motivations undeniably echo the temptation Satan put to the woman in the Garden to eat the fruit so she could “be like God.” (Which was in turn an echo of Satan’s own original motivation/sin to be like Him, as stated in Isaiah 14:13, 14)

What did God have to say about the unified activity of mankind on the plain of Shinar? “Behold they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”

With the explosion of advances in science we’re seeing these days, particularly in the field of genetics, we’re moving into a similar situation. The Enclave suggests that just because we are capable of doing whatever we purpose to do as a race, doesn’t mean that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s obviously not or God wouldn’t have put such a sudden and thorough stop to it the first time.

4. In reading your blog, it sounds like there was a real struggle in the process of writing The Enclave. Will you please share the take-away message you got from creating this book?

God’s the one who’s in control, not me, and He does things in His own way and timing. My job is not to try to guess where He’s going, not to try to take control and solve all the problems, but only to be available to His leading and at peace with the fact that it’s His gig, not mine.

5. The CSFF Tour has a lot of aspiring writers in its ranks. Do you have any advice for those of us attempting the writing life as well?

Read as much fiction as you can, in a variety of genres. Write a lot. Read as much as you can about how to write and how to write fiction. If you can find other writers who are also seeking to learn the craft, consider working with them in a critique exchange situation. It’s best to have a number of exchangees so you can see how others respond not only to your work, but to others’ work as well.

Beyond all that, though, seek first and foremost the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, not as unto men. Do not seek the favor of men but of God and do not let the pursuit of the goal of writing and getting published take you away from your relationship with Him. If you strive to please men, you will not be a bond-servant of Christ. Remember that God’s ways are not our ways and His version of success doesn’t often look like ours. What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, yet lose your soul in the process?

6. I know the writing process always takes the story in unexpected directions. What was one aspect of The Enclave that especially caught you by surprise?

The fact that the story ended up being more about Cameron Reinhardt than Lacey – though perhaps I should have guessed when the first two words of the story that came to me were his name. I had no idea of his military history when I started, especially not that he had problems with post traumatic stress syndrome. When the first flashback burst into the story I was completely blindsided.

7. Can you give us a sneak peak into what you have coming next?

My tentative next project is a science fiction novel I began developing right after Arena sold. Set on another world completely unrelated to our own, it has a Romanesque culture whose set-up echoes the seven churches of Revelation. Of course there will be action, adventure, romance, heroes, hidden identities, underground cities, aliens, terrorists… and faith.

Unless the Lord sends me off on another track, that’s the book for which I’ll soon be sitting down to assemble a proposal. I have started the world-building, developed a number of the characters and written several chapters. Because the second book of my contract was just a “second book” not a specific second book, Bethany House will have to approve the proposal before I can actually call it my “next” book. Stay tuned to my blog for further information.

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Heather R. Hunt
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Elizabeth Williams


  1. Anonymous11:01 AM

    Nice interview, Jason. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I really enjoy hearing about the things that surprise a writer as the story is coming together. I've added your site to my tour blogroll.

    Fred Warren

  2. Fantastic interview, Jason! I added you to my list of participants.

  3. Great interview. Thanks. I truly loved this book.

  4. Excellent interview. I'm so glad you asked about the next book.

    I'm also glad to learn that Cam really wasn't supposed to be the protag. I thought he was, but when I looked at the beginning again, I thought, Opps, my bad. Protags usually start the story, so it must be Lacey and I missed it.