What inspired you to write Dead & Godless?
Books of Christian theology and larger-than-life adventure novels are among my favorite reads, so why not combine them? I’d read novels with a Christian message, but they seldom tackled more than one or two arguments. Crafting a comprehensive apologetics resource that’s also a suspenseful journey was a challenge that I just had to take a shot at.
What other stories influenced your own?
Readers of Dead & Godless will spot references to everything from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars and The Matrix, but if I were to name one (not so mainstream) influence, it would be C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Though less popular than Narnia, the Space Trilogy is a wonderful, more grown-up adventure with some real gems of theological insight.
What was the greatest obstacle you faced in writing this book?
My biggest challenge with Dead & Godless was finding the right balance between the existential debate and the action. When writing philosophical arguments, it’s all too easy to let them get drawn out. I like short, fast-paced chapters with a good measure of mystery and suspense, and that wasn’t going to be achievable unless I kept my arguments concise. Doing so while getting the getting the key points across (and keeping the dialogue natural) was no easy task.
What do you feel is your book’s greatest triumph?
That people enjoy reading it! More specifically, I’d say the book’s greatest strength is that it confronts the tough subjects in Christian theology (such as Hell and the Problem of Evil) in an engaging way that allows readers to see traditional teachings in a new light.
Can you tell us about your new book?
Dead & Godless is the tale of Corwin Holiday, an outspoken atheist whose unplanned, yet heroic death sets off a string of surprising events when he’s assigned a chain-smoking, alcoholic angel as his defense attorney in the trial to decide the fate of his soul.
What do you hope people will take away from your writing? How will your words make them feel?
I hope that readers are entertained, as well as strengthened in their faith. And for those who are still searching, I hope Dead & Godless illustrates that being Christian doesn’t mean having to check your brain at the door.
What’s your next project?
Right now I’m juggling several plots in my head. The most likely candidate is a mystery novel centered around an exorcism gone wrong. I can’t say too much, but compared to Dead & Godless, expect it to be lighter on dialogue and heavier on action.
How did you come up with the title?
The best titles don’t just sound catchy, they say something about the plot. “Dead & Godless” came to me early on. It was snappy and direct. Plus, it doesn’t sound like a typical Christian novel, and the fact that it raises some eyebrows tends to help people remember it.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Corwin Holiday is strong in his convictions and he loves to argue. Like many proponents of the “new atheism” movement, he doesn’t see any problem with being godless and yet having a moral compass. As for his journey through the afterlife, he’s quite certain that its all an illusion – a vivid dream brought on by the last desperate spasms of his dying mind.
How did you develop your characters?
Dead & Godless revolves around two characters: the recently deceased Corwin Holiday and his angelic defense attorney Ransom. There’s a good chunk of me in both of my protagonists. Corwin’s zealous atheism and insistence upon the primacy of truth echoes my own journey of faith, particularly those formative years when I questioned why I believed what I did. Ransom draws from my theological studies, but also my shortcomings as a sinner who doesn’t always live what he preaches. He may be an angel, but he still has his vices.
Who designed the cover?
I already had a vision for the cover, and since I have quite a bit of experience with Photoshop, putting together a mockup wasn’t difficult. However, I know my limits. I wanted to hire a professional to give it that extra layer of polish. Surfing forums, I happened upon digital artist Renu Sharma (thedarkrayne.com). Working with her was a joy. She has a great artistic sense and delivered a cover that I’m very happy with.
Was it ever hard to stay motivated while writing Dead & Godless?
I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time author, and I’m not one of those writing savants who can pump out a novel in two weeks (if I did, you wouldn’t want to read it), so committing the hours wasn’t always easy. Like many writers, I’ve got a ton of half-finished books collecting virtual dust on my hard drive. What helped me stay motivated to finish this one was partly a sense of obligation. I was excited about the story, but more than that, I felt Dead & Godless had a message that needed to get out. Atheism is gaining strength, and Christian artists and apologists are needed today more than ever.
Did you learn anything from writing this book?
Definitely! I was already a theology and philosophy nerd before writing Dead & Godless, but in order to do the arguments justice, I devoured a ton of additional books covering both sides of the God debate. Authors with starkly different views, from Christopher Hitchens to Peter Kreeft, helped deepen my understanding of issues such as Original Sin and God’s wrath in the Old Testament.
Will you write other books in this same genre?
It’s almost inevitable that I’ll be writing more Christian fiction, although my next work is unlikely to be a direct follow-up to Dead & Godless. We really need more Christian writers producing not just devotional or theological works, but entertainment, and telling stories is what I love to do.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Dead & Godless isn’t short on messages! If there is one central theme that runs throughout, it’s that “the Father prefers heroes to pragmatists.” Key to grasping Christian theology is understanding that pragmatic goodness isn’t enough. We’re not called to be nice. We’re called to heroic love.
How much of the book is realistic?
There’s a saying about fiction: “It’s true, but it’s not real.” I don’t believe for a second that the afterlife plays out like a crazy courtroom drama, with angelic defense attorneys and demon prosecutors. However, the topics explored in Dead & Godless are very much rooted in questions that we all face in life.
If you could leave your readers with one bit of wisdom, what would it to be?
Don’t limit your scope of understanding. The attitude that empirically verifiable knowledge is the only worthwhile knowledge is all too common today. This doesn’t just rule out God, but also the possibility for us to know anything about goodness, beauty or love. Not all knowledge can be neatly broken down into units of measurement.
Does Dead & Godless draw from any real life experiences?
I was raised in a Christian home, but spent the majority of my life surrounded by atheists and agnostics, several of whom I still count among my closest friends. Those many years of heated existential debates definitely played a big role in shaping the story of Dead & Godless.