Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Interview with Author Randy Ingermanson Part Two

Welcome back to our interview with author Randy Ingermanson!

Jill: In the general market there are a number of Biblical novels written from what I call a “revisionist” point of view. These writers use the Scriptures as a back bone for their story but have no problem revising the traditional Biblical view of the characters. As a Biblical novelist, what is your opinion of revisionist Biblical writing? From a critic’s point of view, isn’t one opinion as good as another in how these characters are seen?

Randy: I’m all for revisionism—as long as it’s good history. My problem is that a lot of revisionism I see is bad history now, and it was bad history fifty years ago. A lot of the revisionist novelists I see are simply way far out of date, and so they look silly. On the other hand, that’s the case with certain traditionalist novelists too. If you want to write fiction set in Bible times, do your homework!

The problem is that what you learned in Sunday School is all too often wrong. So revising that is a good thing. What you often see, though, is a revisionism intent on demolishing faith. That’s a fairly stupid thing to do, too. What I would like to see is a revisionism intent on figuring out what really happened and why and what it means for us. That’s a good kind of revisionism. If that messes up the head of your Sunday School teacher, well then tough.

Jill: On the other hand, Christian Biblical fiction most often portrays the Biblical story in what I consider an “apologist” fashion, staying true to the Scripture where the Scripture speaks and only offering what might have been where the Bible is silent. In your opinion, how hard is it to keep to the text, yet weave in enough conflict to keep the story interesting?

Randy: That depends on which story you choose to retell. If you don’t have enough information, then you either have to make stuff up, or you end up telling a pretty sparse tale. I believe in telling a story that fits in with all the data we have, whether it comes from the Bible or not. So in my New Testament-era books, I have no qualms about bringing in things I know from Josephus, the Mishnah, archaeology, Tacitus, Philo, or wherever I can get it. And I have no qualms at all about making up stuff—as long as it fits with what I believe is the true historical account. A story needs conflict, and if you have to make up conflict, then that’s fine. Just don’t go off on some weird tangent and violate everything we know about the actual time period.

Jill: Do you have any concerns or opinions about the direction and future of Biblical fiction in the CBA? And is there anything writers who want to write BF can or should do to help promote this genre?

Randy: My concern is still that writers aren’t doing their homework well enough. Maybe I’m just grouchy, but it irks me to see bad history turned into sloppy fiction. So if you want to promote the genre, go do your homework! Then go do some more. You can never do too much research.

Jill: I read a quote once that referred to Biblical fiction as the “ghetto” of writing—as though it was at the bottom rung of the Christian fiction ladder. How would you respond to that thought?

Randy: Too true, too true! There seems to be an implicit assumption that “I want people to love the Bible like I love the Bible, so I don’t have to work hard to get the details right.” Baloney! When novelists lose that notion, then we’ll see progress. I was thrilled to see the research notes in Anne Rice’s book on Jesus, where she talked about all the books she read. She was reading the right authors and drawing the right conclusions. If you don’t like her story, go read the same books she read and tell your own.

Jill: How has God used Biblical fiction in your own life, personally speaking?

Randy: Every book I write has a personal impact on me. I live the life right along with my characters, and when they have an epiphany, it’s generally because I had one too. An example from my novel, Premonition: One of my main characters is a time-traveling physicist, Ari Kazan. Ari does not believe in Jesus, and he’s married to a woman who does. So they have their stresses. Ari does, however, believe in God—sort of. He’s very much a cerebral sort of guy. At one point in the book, Ari has a near-death experience and meets God.

The easy thing to do here would have been to have him meet Jesus and then become a Christian. I thought that would be cheating. If Ari is ever going to become a Christian, he needs to do so because he wants to, not because God pulls some magic trick on him. So in Ari’s confrontation with God, God doesn’t pull a power play on Ari. Instead, he asks Ari if he has any questions. Ari asks God about the Problem of Evil, which has troubled Ari all his life. God doesn’t answer him. Instead, God asks Ari a question of his own. I won’t tell you the question (go read the book!) There are no answers given here—but some hard questions are asked.

Now here’s the thing that had an impact on me. I wrote that chapter in a rush. I jammed it out in an hour and a half. When I started that chapter, I had been struggling all my life with fear of death. When I finished that chapter, it was gone. (Not that I want to die. I have a healthy respect for death, but death is not something looming over me anymore like it used to.) I’m not quite sure why that happened, but it did. Things like that happen when you write.

Jill: What one thing have you learned that you would pass on to writers interested in writing in this genre?

Randy: I learned that I know nothing. Research, research, research! Then go research some more.

Jill: When I’m studying the life of a Biblical character, I often wish I could transport back in time and view the scenes in real time as on a movie screen. Which Bible character’s life would you like to view in that way if you could?

Randy: Jesus.

Thank you, Randy, for taking the time to answer my questions and for being with us here on PASTimes!

Don't forget - leave a comment, enter to win the book Premonition. And don't forget to check out Randy's websites. If you're new to fiction writing or even been around awhile, he's got a lot of good resources to offer.

(Winner will be posted on Saturday.)


Cherie said...

Yes! Thank you Randy. It has been a pleasure reading the interview and learning more about your work.

Cherie Japp

Erica Vetsch said...

Trying this again...yesterday Blogger had the hiccups. :)

Excellent interview. I enjoyed it very much.

I'm curious as to what Randy would do if the historical record seems to contradict itself. (Not biblical history.)