by C.J. Darlington
Chris Well Interview
job is to tell a story, and let the faith elements just bubble up naturally
into that. When I don’t actively shove my faith into the story,
the end result is much more powerful."
-- Chris Well
Chris Well has published three novels thus far, Forgiving Solomon Long (picked by Booklist as one of the Top 10 Christian Novels of 2005), Deliver Us From Evelyn and Tribulation House. He was an editor for Homecoming Magazine and contributing editor for CCM Magazine, and he has contributed to Thriller Readers Newsletter, 7ball, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Infuze Magazine. He co-plotted and scripted the audio drama / comic book Mammoth City Messengers. He and his wife make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.
CJ: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
CHRIS: I remember writing stories as far as back as the first grade. I spent most of grade school writing and drawing my own comic books, and then started writing short fiction in junior high. In high school, I started writing for newspapers, which led to my career in magazines. In college, I also wrote radio dramas and screenplays. But it was the magazine writing that actually paid money.
Your background is in comics and magazine writing, and yet you’re now writing novels. Could you tell us about your journey into fiction writing?
As I mentioned, my love for making up stories goes all the way back to the first grade. However, storytelling is such a hard field to break into—whether comic books, prose fiction or motion pictures—that my opportunities were all with newspapers and magazines. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to get back to making up stories again.
When the opportunity came up to write fiction for Harvest House, it took me several years to really seize the opportunity. What I have found is that no writing is wasted—the skills I sharpened in the field of magazines have transferred nicely. I know the importance of revising your story, I know the importance of cutting out the fat, and my interviews over the years have given me an ear for dialogue. The rest I am still learning. But every true artist is always on a journey of discovery.
Your stories feature detectives, cops, mobsters, hit men, media moguls . . . what kind of research have you conducted to create these characters?
Much of it is driven by what I read. Although I grew up reading a lot of science fiction, as a grown-up I have gravitated as a reader toward crime fiction. Especially books by Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, The Hot Kid) and James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, Black Dahlia). So it made sense that I would find myself writing in the genre.
As for the specifics, I get details from books and from articles and the Internet. (And for the “behind-the-scenes” stuff in Deliver Us From Evelyn that pulls the curtain back on big media, there may also be some personal experience involved.) Since the novels are set in Kansas City, I have also spent time online with the city’s chamber of commerce and Yahoo Maps.
I try not to over-research, though. Not only does it eat up a lot of time, but it also takes up a lot of brain space for all the information the story doesn’t necessarily need. It’s like spice in a recipe: A little bit goes a long way.
Christian fiction has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. What are your thoughts on the future of Christian fiction?
That’s difficult to say. The Christian market as we know it is changing -- but the label “Christian fiction” still carries a lot of unfair expectations. People who love the term expect certain elements in your story (whether it belongs or not), and people who hate the term assume certain elements in your story (whether they are actually there or not).
Of course, that is the good/bad that comes with any label. I think nearly any author is unhappy with the label slapped on his or her book—the “romance” writers want to be in the “mystery” section, the “mystery” writers want to be in the “fiction” section … everybody feels the sting when they are dismissed wrongly because of a label. (It is called “prejudice.”)
That said, I know some very good novelists who find the term “Christian fiction” to be too constricting, and want out. But I also know many fine novelists who thrive inside the category. Ultimately, it’s a question of where the Lord places you.
However, in pure market terms, I think there is a challenge for all novelists -- there are fewer and fewer places for non-blockbuster authors to find an audience. More and more of the outlets are coming into the hands of fewer and fewer people, and those few people think that books are no different from toasters; for them, the trick is sell more units of fewer models.
In this new market, there are many, many novelists -- both in the CBA and the ABA -- struggling now to find a new way to do business.
What originally inspired you to write your Kansas City Blues series of novels?
It was as simple as the contract that Harvest House first offered me. I pitched the idea for Forgiving Solomon Long, and they came back with a two-book deal. They were hoping for the second book to be some sort of continuation, but I did not have a second story for Solomon Long.
As such, I started building in secondary characters -- especially with the cops -- who could appear in future books. So I ended up creating a series of standalone novels where the main character each time is a bad guy, but when the cops show up, you remember them from other stories.
I didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out to be the same model they use for Law & Order: Criminal Intent—you get inside the mind of the criminal, but when the cops show up, you say, “OK, I know those guys.”
With the upcoming Tribulation House, the story is clearly about brand-new people. But when the cops show up … well, you get the idea.
You’ve thrust your characters into many harrowing experiences. Where do you draw the line in portraying violence/adult situations in your novels?
Nothing gratuitous. And much of the violence against people takes place off screen. Taking a cue from the movies, I have grown tired of films that leave nothing to the imagination. Plus, once you get into that never-ending cycle of competing with shock value -- ever bigger action, ever bigger explosions, ever bigger violence -- it dulls the senses very quickly. Instead of feeling more, the audience stops feeling anything at all.
My books are full of whiz-bang action (and comedy), but I focus on the characters. How they deal with the situations is way more exciting -- or funny --
Do you ever struggle with sharing your faith in your stories?
My job is to tell a story, and let the faith elements just bubble up naturally into that. When I don’t actively shove my faith into the story, the end result is much more powerful.
Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?
Actually, my favorite character hasn’t appeared yet. I can’t seem to find the right venue for him.
What kind of story would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I would love to explore different genres, from suburban fantasy to westerns. But when a novelist is still establishing his “brand,” everyone says he needs to stick with one genre until he makes a name. Fortunately, the mystery/crime category covers a lot of ground. I can be comfortable here a while.
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
I read voraciously: Collections of Isaac Asimov’s short stories and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I also grew up reading a lot of books about biblical archeology and Christian apologetics.
How about comics?
As a kid, I was only very rarely allowed to have comics. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and able to purchase them myself, that I was able to follow them more thoroughly. And at that point, I read about anything I could get my hands on -- superheroes, mysteries, war stories, westerns. All the mainstream comics.
So when was the Golden Age of comic books? (Note: Pick up a copy of Deliver Us From Evelyn to understand the full meaning of this question)
Well, it depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? (But, seriously, many critics say the real Golden Age started with Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938.)
You’re also a big music fan, right? Could you talk about some of the bands and songs that have impacted your life?
Growing up, artists like Keith Green and Resurrection Band and DeGarmo & Key really challenged me to think about sharing my faith in a culturally relevant way. By the time I was in high school, the Christian rock scene exploded with great music from The Choir, Daniel Amos (it’s not a guy, it’s a band), 77s, Steve Taylor, and dozens of others who have challenged the boundaries of “Christian music” with their passion and their wit and their artful faith and their faithful art.
In many ways, I hope to bring to my novels the same sort of invigorating possibilities raised by these sorts of artists. In the past few years, thanks to great artists like Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer, and P.O.D., the job doesn’t necessarily have to be as thankless now as it once was.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
Apparently, people are always surprised to hear how much I enjoy old Cary Grant movies. They are also surprised to learn I get squeamish about onscreen violence.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Watching old movies and television shows on DVD. And reading. (Which, of course, is all research for when I’m writing … so, essentially, the cycle never ends.)
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Pitcher of filtered water. Jalapenos. Can of El Pico coffee.
Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?
Well, I am supposed to walk every morning. Some mornings I make it.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Venti White Chocolate Mocha.
What’s currently in your iPod?
If I had one, I’d probably be downloading old time radio dramas. (That’s what I listen to when I do go walking.)
What’s next for you novel-wise?
My third novel is a sort of end-times thriller turned on its head called TRIBULATION HOUSE:
* * *
PROPHECY CAN BE MURDER.
MARK HOGAN has it all. The job. The family. A position on the board at church. All he’s missing is a boat. Not just any boat -- a 2008 Bayliner 192.
When Reverend Daniel Glory announces that the Rapture is taking place on October 17 at 5:51 A.M., Hogan realizes his boat-buying days are numbered. So he does what any man in his situation would do -- he borrows a load of money from the mob.
Not that there's any risk involved: After all, when the Rapture comes, Hogan will be long gone. The mob will never find him.
But when Jesus fails to come back on schedule, Mark Hogan finds the mob is in no mood to discuss the finer points of end-times theology ...
* * *
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Well, my wife and I are developing some new projects in the mystery/thriller vein. We are also going to be posting some new comics soon at Studio Well. Readers can keep on the latest news by subscribing to my free newsletter here.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.