Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage


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John Aubrey Anderson Interview

by Kevin Lucia

"The ground that separates Christianity from the world is no longer a wide, well-defined expanse, it’s an indistinguishable mark hidden beneath tall grass." -- John Aubrey Anderson

John was born five miles north of the setting for Abiding Darkness, a cotton country town within a rifle shot of two rivers, a bayou, a double handful of lakes, and endless acres of woods. After graduating from Mississippi State, he flew six years in the Air Force then twenty-nine years for a major airline. And now he gets to write.

He and his wife have been married for forty some-odd years and live in Texas—about twenty miles south of the Red River. He spends the biggest part of his time writing; she’s immersed in leading a comprehensive, women’s Bible study.

They like greasy hamburgers and Dr. Peppers, most species of warm-blooded creatures (the kind that don’t normally bite), and spending July in the mountains.

Kevin: According to your biography, you grew up very near to the setting of Abiding Darkness. How much of your childhood influenced the writing of this novel?

John: The words of Abiding Darkness are steeped in memories of my childhood.

I was born and raised in Moorhead, Mississippi—in Abiding Darkness I call it Moores Point. It’s five miles north of the lake I call Cat Lake in the novels.

Before we were old enough to drive, when it was cold or rainy my friends and I hung out in the pool hall or at one or the other of the two service stations I used as patterns for Scooter’s. When the sun was out we’d spend long days on the bayou that ran through town, shooting snakes, catching turtles, and choosing up sides for BB-gun wars. When not on the bayou or hunting, we rode our bikes to surrounding lakes and rivers to camp out, swim, or fish. Tom Sawyer had nothing on the boys in Moorhead.

The people of Moorhead—some of them our respected allies, some not—watched us meander back and forth across the line between outlaws and angels while we tried to outlast childhood. The lady who used to shoot at us with a .22 for stealing her plums wasn’t numbered among our friends; although I think she missed on purpose. I drew heavily on Delta people—young and old, black and white—for my characters because they are well-known to me, and they are colorful.

On your webpage, you mentioned that “writing has transformed your life”. In what ways, in particular?

On the outside, the contrast between my life now and what it was at the turn of the century is extreme. Six years ago, I was a man who would prefer digging postholes with a Popsicle stick to being “stuck inside”. I didn’t particularly care for solitude; I didn’t enjoy “desk work”, and repetition bored me. A little over four years ago God changed me.

From the fall of 2002 until October of 2006, with rare exceptions, I was at my desk eight to twenty hours a day, writing. I wrote seven days a week . . . and what I was doing gave me energy.

On the inside, I became an observer. I talk less than before, and I listen more. I see things I would’ve missed five years ago. What I hear, taste, and smell catches my attention and marks my memory. I like this new way of life . . . and I like what it allows me to tell people.

Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey AndersonAfter retiring from your career as a pilot, what events motivated you/moved you towards a writing career? How did your manuscript get noticed?

The events that motivated me are numerous and overlapping, and the story is long. Let me give you the abbreviated version.

I spent thirty-five years in the cockpit, and ninety percent of the men I worked with were non-Christians. However, my company was paying me to fly the airplane, not to share the gospel of Christ. About the time I began to contemplate retirement, I read a novel by a famous suspense writer who used his story to promote a theory I believe to be without sound basis. This writer had one of his characters speak volumes of half-truths, speculations, and inaccuracies in defense of his questionable position; he did this while ridiculing what I believe to be true. I gave what that author had done some thought and decided I’d try to do the same thing on the side of truth. If I could make my story suspenseful enough, non-Christians would read it.

My goal, when I started to write, was for strong-willed people like my pilot friends to be so absorbed by what was happening in the story that they would not risk skipping over the small snippets of expressed truth. Too, I don’t want my readers to have to expose their minds to sex scenes and profanity in order to read suspense/thriller fiction.

What do you see for the future of Christian fiction? Many people think there should be no distinction between Christian and mainstream novels, and others wish to preserve this distinction. What’s your take on that?

People who claim to be Christians stand at “the microphone” and clamor for affiliation with the world, and Christians who don’t know any better listen to them. The ground that separates Christianity from the world is no longer a wide, well-defined expanse, it’s an indistinguishable mark hidden beneath tall grass. There is, therefore, no reason to believe Christian fiction will separate itself from what we see happening in “Christendom”. “Christian” readers will want progressively seamier scenes; publishers will want more dollars; authors will be pressured to write what the “Christians” want. Unless the Lord tarries, the day will soon come when there will be no distinction between “Christian” fiction and what’s available in the mainstream. But . . .

There will always be a core of Christian writers—a believing remnant who choose fiction and/or non-fiction as their method of ministry—who, in the face of adversity, will always adhere to a godly standard in their work.

Were you much of a reader as a child? If so, what writers and types of stories attracted you?Wedgewood Grey by John Aubrey Anderson

I was brought up in my grandfather’s home. My uncle was like my older brother, and he was a reader. When all other options were exhausted, I sometimes pulled out one of his books. I probably read most of the Hornblower novels and an occasional short story, but I remember reading little else.

You’re shopping at Barnes & Noble to pick up some books. What novels are you buying?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; To Kill A Mockingbird; Watchers by Dean Koontz; A Time To Kill and The Client by Grisham; and The Hunt for Red October.

Where do your musical tastes run?

Everywhere. I have a one-hundred piece mix on my computer that I normally let shuffle while I’m writing. It includes CCR, light classical, The Hollies, Tom T. Hall, Sarah Brighton, a dozen hymns, country and western, golden oldie R&R, Neil Diamond, Amy Grant, Paul Simon, blue grass gospel, Faith Hill, Johnny Rivers . . . almost anything but jazz.

Describe for us a typical day in your life.

I don’t use an alarm to wake up. My wife teaches an in-depth Bible study, and she’s up every morning between 5:00 and 6:00 studying or preparing or getting ready to go teach. If I need to be up for something, she wakes me.

Under normal circumstances, I get up between 7:00 and 9:00. I spend thirty minutes to an hour on my quiet time, coffee, and toast and make notes on what I’ve read.

After my quiet time, I go to a spare bedroom/my office and start writing—interrupting myself only to put out brush fires. My wife, more often than not, will have some place she needs to be during the day and will come in to say goodbye when she leaves. My next touch with reality often comes when she returns home in the middle of the afternoon and asks, “What did you have for lunch?” I’ll say something like, “I don’t think I’ve eaten,” and we’ll take time out for a “school snack” while we catch each other up on our daily happenings; hers is usually the more momentous. I’ll take another break so we can have supper together, and I’ll get back to writing things. If I get “into the zone”—and I often do—I eat when I get hungry and sleep when I’m sleepy. Otherwise, I do the eight to twenty hours a day thing, seven days a week. But . . .

I didn’t make any vows to a publisher—I made them to my wife. And God gave us children and grandchildren before he gave me this writing thing, and they come first. I don’t want to ever look back and wish I had spent more time doing the most important things.

And If I Die by John Aubrey AndersonYou mentioned the movie Flying Tigers, starring John Wayne. Which John Wayne movie is your favorite?

I like Hondo because it’s vintage John Wayne. My favorite, though, is The Cowboys. John Wayne’s character, Mr. Wil Andersen, wasn’t teaching that group of young boys how to be cowboys . . . he was teaching them how to teach their sons to be heroes.

What are some of your main inspirations when you write?

I’m motivated by the desire to tell a story that will surround the reader and expunge reality. I want that because my aim is to defend a major Christian doctrinal or apologetic point in each of my books and to wrap that truth in suspense so tangible my reader will not allow himself to skip over a single syllable.

Are you the type of person who needs to plan your work ahead of time, or do you write largely through inspiration?

I do some of both. For the most part, I sit down and write what’s unfolding in my head—it’s not unlike watching a movie and describing it in detail. At other times—maybe once a week—I’ll leave the house and find a comfortable chair in a place that serves good coffee, and I’ll spend the morning working on a stubborn scene or trying to plan where the story should go next.

Wedgewood Grey is a bit different from Abiding Darkness – it is a little more action oriented and doesn’t cover quite as long a time span. Were there any differences in the ways you wrote these novels?

I did not intentionally write the novels differently, but they turned out that way, didn’t they? It’s just that each had its own story to tell. Abiding Darkness spans fifteen years because noteworthy events in the lives of the major characters are spread out chronologically. In Wedgewood Grey, the characters are involved in a continuing, more physical struggle with the people and forces who oppose them; each day brings its own challenges, sometimes at a back-to-back pace.

A recent New York Times article mused about the fate of the printed book, especially with Google’s recent move to scan hundreds of texts to create Google Books Online. Do you believe the printed word will persevere, or will we all be reading “ebooks” in the near future?

I don’t know how near the future is, and I’m not techno-savvy, but being able to store several books on a cellular phone will be a real plus. For now, though, I’ll stick with something I can spill coffee on and not be out several hundred dollars.

Both of your novels were featured recently in book publicity blog tours; Abiding Darkness with FIRST (Fiction in Rather Short Takes) and Wedgewood Grey with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. This seems to be a growing trend; how effective were these tours in raising awareness of your works? How do you feel about the new push towards Internet book marketing in general?

I know less about marketing than I do about the future, but I fail to see how one could measure the actual effectiveness of any single marketing tool, especially blog sites. As for the push toward Internet marketing, I’m confident that that tomorrow is a soon-to-be yesterday.

What are your plans after the Black or White Chronicles? Any ideas about new novels? This series will, God willing, include six books, so I’m looking at two more years of getting the final three works finished. After I complete that sixth novel, I’d like to do a devotional book for men. Beyond that, I really don’t have any concrete plans, but sometimes I think I hear a stand-alone novel calling my name.

What’s your advice to writers trying to break into print?

First, someone has said, “Think less of being a writer and more of writing.”

Next, go back a few questions and read “. . . eight to twenty hours a day, seven days a week.” This is the most time consuming job I’ve ever had, and it’s willing to be demanding.

Next, do not do this for money. The odds are better in the lottery.

And last . . . expect getting a book published to be more fun than being handed a lifetime pass to Disneyworld.

If you had the opportunity to see Abiding Darkness or Wedgewood Grey turned into a movie, which actors would you choose to play your main characters? (Let’s pretend John Wayne is still alive.)

That’s a hard question because I’m not much into latter day Hollywood. Morgan Freeman is certainly dignified enough to play Mose. Chris Cooper is austere enough to be A. J. Mason. Regina Taylor, circa I’ll Fly Away, would be a great Pip. Old Mr. Parker’s character would be a Henry Fonda type. Old Mrs. Parker is Reba McIntire twenty years from now. Young Mrs. Parker could be yesteryear’s Vera Miles. My editor’s wife says we’re waiting on her new granddaughter to fill the Missy role.

Thanks for spending some time with us, John.

The pleasure was most assuredly mine.

Kevin LuciaKevin Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun Bulletin and The Relief Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened Horizons Vol. 3 & 4, NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus Tales Magazine, Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations, and Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s currently writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and Myspace page.