I interviewed Ariel Paiement, an author of Christian speculative fiction (including fantasy and science fiction). She tells us about her life, her faith and her new novel On Twilight's Wings in the video below.
Her social media:
There are countless motivations to create stories. We all have had notable experiences in our lives and there are people with exceptional creativity that seemingly pull adventures out of the ether at will. But let’s flip that around: are there times when it’s better to not write? Yes, absolutely. Keep in mind that these are just my opinions, but let’s explore a few of those reasons.
Reason #1: If it’s going to hurt people
Some people might argue that this is a good reason. I would disagree. The art of the pen (physical or digital) has been used to inflict harm throughout history. From trashy “tell-all” books to modern journalism, dating back to even some of the classic works of William Shakespeare, written words have attacked living people’s character, distorted events and cast doubt. Some writers have been motivated purely for political reasons or just out of spite. Regardless of the grounds, those words have damaged and even destroyed lives.
Most commonly, this is done out of a sense of vengeance. I know a thing or two about revenge. For too many years, it consumed and darkened my thoughts. We have all been wronged by people in our lives, sometimes terribly so.
But do you know the worst part about revenge? Figuratively-speaking, it’s a double-edged sword. As one holds onto it, hoping to bring “revenge” to fruition, it cuts into you. And the longer you hold that sword, the deeper it cuts. It slices away who you could be and replaces it with a bitter and miserable version of yourself. It lies to you. It makes you think you’re doing something good. It tells you revenge is “justice.” But Justice is supposed to be impartial and fair. Revenge plots in secret, hiding its true intentions until it springs its trap. It hopes to catch its prey unaware because it can’t fight fair. Revenge is a coward. And in my view, so is the writer who uses their craft for that purpose.
Reason #2: If you’re the only one who’s going to care
We all have memories of experiences that were special to us. But what might mean a great deal to you or I might not mesh so well with others. For example, in elementary school each year, we had a “Track and Field Day” where everyone went outside and participated in sporting events. I was really bad at most sports because of my poor depth perception, but there was one thing I enjoyed that day: being goalie when we played soccer. It wasn’t because I was talented at the position. It was because I spent ninety percent of the time waiting around. When players got close and went for a goal, all I had to do was try my best. Sometimes I blocked the ball and sometimes I didn’t, but I made the effort and it was appreciated. That said, I’m probably the only person who remembers any of it. It’s good for a few sentences as a quick memory, but not enough to craft a whole story. It doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. There’s no “hook” or “payoff” in the end. It’s just an interesting bit of autobiographical trivia.
Stories need to resonate with people, so they can relate to it. Now, I could take that same small paragraph of trivia and shape it into something fictional to give it some life. Maybe I could show how the kid that wasn’t good in sports met a friend or a coach who inspired him/her to surpass their limitations. Perhaps that kid persisted in their efforts to improve and became a local sports hero. Later in life, he/she became a coach that inspired someone else who went on to become an Olympic athlete. That story could really go somewhere, because it’s both interesting and moving. It’s a “full circle” story about “paying it forward.” That’s both the hook and the payoff.
Reason #3: If you’re not enthused about it
Writing should be fun, a passion that can’t be denied. It should make you lose track of time as you weave words into a tantalizing tale. It should be on your mind when you wake up and as you close your eyes to sleep. It should be a friend, not an enemy.
If a writer is not fired up about their art, it shows in the completed work. For example, if a writer feels like they “have to” produce words to get some money or meet a deadline, they will probably finish something but it won’t be anywhere near their best. If it’s a novel, it will probably be disappointing to the readers, who can tell when a writer is plodding along (the novelist's equivalent of treading water) or recycling old material with new or existing characters. In the end, it will not even satisfy that writer. They may go so far as regretting that they made that book.
These are only three reasons, I’m sure there are more. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing stories, either. I just believe that we have to look at why we do what we do. The pen can be a sword or it can be a beautiful bouquet of flowers. How it’s used is entirely up to you.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a dreamer. As a kid, I dreamed of being a cartoonist, someday working for Marvel or DC Comics. As a teen, I dreamed of being a journalist then a musician, even recording a solo studio album. In my early twenties, I thought I might make it big in a rock and blues band. Nearing my thirties, I dreamed of reducing or eliminating weight-related prejudice in the world. In my forties, I decided to start writing novels in hopes of someday being published. And now, that dream is coming true.
To realize a dream, you have to believe it can come true. You have to have hope. You have to understand that you have value as a person. I was fortunate when I was growing up, since my parents, especially my mother, taught me to believe in myself. She repeatedly assured me that I could do anything I set my mind to. My father's life proved it to me. He was also very inspiring. I am well aware that many people are not fed such encouragement. This can lead to a lot of self-doubt, anxiety and potentially overwhelming fear of failure. Those feelings cause some people to delay or even sabotage their own dreams.
The little bit of advice I would offer to anyone who was not encouraged by their parent(s) or faced neglect or abuse in their formative years is this: There is still hope. God believes in you or He would not have made you. He let each and every one of us be born into this world, as challenging and cruel as it can be at times, for a purpose. He can help all of us achieve something special and meaningful. He just wants us to trust Him.
The song I included above tells the story of how I wished to fall in love. I knew I wanted to get married and have a family someday. That dream began when I was ten years old. I wrote “(There’s Always Time For) Dreams & Wishes” in 1990, after I’d experienced my heartbreaking first love. But I wasn’t discouraged. I knew if I fell in love once, I could fall in love again. I wanted to find someone who would share that love and make a commitment with me.
A year after I wrote that song, I met the woman who would become my wife. We had to fight for our love, being an interracial couple in Central Texas during the 1990s. But we persevered and did marry in 1995. Even so, it took the Lord to solidify that matrimony and give it a lasting foundation. My wife and I gave our lives to Jesus Christ and invited His Holy Spirit into our hearts -- and our marriage. This year, we celebrated twenty-three years of that union. We have three wonderful children, two sons and a daughter. They are the realization of my dream and I will be forever grateful to the Lord for them.
Time and reality taught me that some dreams are more realistic than others. As a kid and teen, I might have been interested in Star Trek and science fiction but I knew I was never going to be an engineer like the USS Enterprise’s Mr. Scott or a military captain like James T. Kirk. My medical issues made military service impossible and I did not have a passion for number-crunching or other related skills. I was more about creating stories: comics, news stories or songs.
And by the time I attended college, even my dream of being a journalist was shattered. I saw for myself that, even in 1991, what made the “news” was too often determined by political and business reasoning than the idealistic pursuit of the truth. And that's what I had always thought journalism was about, it drove my passion. Still, I never quite gave up my journalism skills, I just found different ways to use them. I contributed articles and design skills to an e-zine for years and then hosted or co-hosted podcasts and conducted interviews.
Dreams have a way of hanging on, even against tough circumstances. They only die if you let them.
Something I have come to understand recently is that all dreams have a price. It will always take time and effort. Sometimes you have to start over to reach what you want. Sometimes the cost is in relationships. It depends on the dream and the individual. To achieve my dream of being a novelist, I had to hand over my talent to God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It was never really “my” talent anyway, only what the Lord imbued me with.
When I sought the Lord through earnest and daily prayer, asking Him to inspire me, that is what changed my course and started me down this path. It started with the Mindfire novel in 2013. I knew my characters and the various comic book plots I had created over the years, but it was the Lord who organized everything and helped me focus. By the time I finished the editing in 2016, it had transformed from an interesting but admittedly so-so first draft to a powerful novel. Mindfire had something to say. And it stood on its own as something new and unique. However it might be received once published next year, I am proud of it.
I repeated the process with Jordan’s World. Only with this novel, I was starting from scratch. I had to lean on the Lord even more, every step of the way. And He blessed. Jordan's World has a different message than Mindfire but it points to the same God. And the two Jordan sequels will be handled the same way.
So, what am I trying to say here? You can dream, but be careful. Ask yourself what your dream will demand of you -- your time, your relationships with those close to you, your money -- or will the cost be to your soul, who you are as a person? Will it change you for the better or worse? How will you balance your dream with real life?
It takes confidence to follow a dream. What have you placed your confidence in? If it's only yourself, that's very risky and could exact a high price. Only God and His Son, Jesus Christ, can provide the inspiration, confidence and security to achieve lasting happiness. They can do anything, so the fulfillment of a dream is hardly a challenge. And when you place Them first in your life, they may give you a new dream that was better than what you originally wanted.
Matthew 7: 8 - 15 (KJV) “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Matthew 7: 24 - 27 (KJV): “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
The complete Jordan trilogy will be published by Ambassador International! This will happen one book at a time, of course.
Actual release dates for "Jordan's Arrow" and "Jordan's Deliverance" are still to be determined. "Jordan's World" will premiere Summer 2019.
As I get more information, I will keep you updated.
Writing can fulfill many purposes. Obviously, people create fictional stories and relay facts in books but that only shows you the end product. It’s what goes on “behind the scenes” during the writing process that can truly be fascinating. “The pen is mightier than the sword” has a degree of truth to it. Writing can be a weapon, if one chooses to use it that way. Or it can heal the deepest wounds.
I was born with amblyopia, a medical condition better known as “lazy eye.” Left untreated, it can lead to blindness. My parents had me undergo multiple corrective surgeries and physical therapy from shortly after birth through the age of twelve to strengthen that eye. Until that was remedied, I had poor depth perception, which made me terrible at sports. I experienced a lot of bullying from other kids, especially boys, particularly when I made any attempt to play sports.
Not wanting to be insulted or hurt, I isolated myself from most kids. I even taught myself not to react emotionally. My parents had taught me that fighting was bad and not to fight. So instead, I controlled my emotions as best I could. Between the ages of six to perhaps ten, I would come home from school and watch cartoons like most kids but I challenged myself to not laugh or get excited. Even with Saturday morning cartoons, which I really enjoyed, I made myself not react. I showed my emotions with my family and closest friends; otherwise, I was quiet, usually just observing situations. I wasn’t even aware that I had become a quiet student. No one prompted me to do any of this. I instigated it myself, probably to protect myself from even potentially being hurt.
Not surprisingly, I developed a lifelong disdain for sports of any kind (with a mild exception being soccer). Time and the Lord have lessened this feeling but I have no illusions about ever becoming a sports enthusiast.
Back on topic, I started reading and enjoying superhero comic books when I was eight years old. By the time I was ten, I had actually become something of a critic, knowing what I liked and disliked. One friend remarked “if you don’t like them, why don’t you make your own comics?” And at that time, in my little kid brain, I decided that was a great idea! I wrote and drew a comic book with original characters that formed a superhero team and fought supervillains. Then they began having relationships. In time, they even got married and started having kids.
In a unique way, I started living vicariously through my comic book characters and their experiences -- their triumphs, their tragedies and everything in-between. I started calling my comics my “therapy.” And in a sense, it was. By the same principle, if I was going through something challenging in my own life, some version of it would often find its way into my comics.
When I gave my life to Christ in January 1996, I had been married for a little under a year and was a new father. It gave me a new perspective. By 2007, my wife and I put together the “Due East” Christian webcomic about a multi-racial family trying to come back together and heal after a separation and divorce. While I had never experienced divorce, I knew plenty of friends and even a few family members who had. I understood some sense of how damaging it was, especially to the children. Because of the sensitive nature of the story, my wife and I had to lean on the Lord through prayer to tackle such a topic. We also sought His help with how to share our faith through a webcomic.
In 2013, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and make my first 50,000 word rough draft in less than a month. Through prayer and persistence, I took many of the characters from my first superhero team comic and some of the early stories and re-tooled them to work together to create Mindfire (coming Summer 2019 from Ambassador International). Along the way, a lot of elements of my personality and even my life ended up in that novel. It was exciting, terrifying and cathartic, all at the same time.
I think this is true in everything I write. Whether intentional or not, I imbue each novel with bits of myself. And in doing so, it is also a healing and release, opening my words up to intrigue as well as criticism.
But now, I don’t write just for myself. I try to reach people with a message of hope in the salvation and deliverance that Christ freely offers. I want to share the Healing only He can bring. I know what the Lord has done in my life. Now I want to pass it forward.
Maybe I’m strange but I’ve never minded working on multiple stories at the same time. That may have started with my years developing comic and webcomic stories, always planning ahead. Since becoming a novelist, I find that some of it is necessary.
Unless you intend to only write standalone short stories or books, an author must have some idea where they are going with their works. Is there room for a sequel? Should this be a trilogy? A series? Just how much story is there for this set of characters and any new supporting characters you may introduce later?
Between 1980 and 2000, I developed many (homemade) comics series, limited series, annuals and special editions, just like Marvel and DC Comics. I just never sold them. They were hand-drawn and lettered on copier paper and made into twenty (or more) page issues, stapled together and collected in a folders then boxes. I would look back through them from time to time to maintain consistency in the characters’ look, story and development.
Sometimes, I would get burned out on one series and deliberately switch to working on a different one for a while. Or I would deliberately make a crossover story, mixing-and-matching elements and characters from different series. This would inspire me to try new things and give me new ideas for existing series and characters. I would later experiment with this, coordinating between not only mine but others' webcomics in what would become the award-winning "Off Hours" webcomic. It was a series I developed with two other writer friends that ran from 2007 to 2010 and involved 26 comic creators from four different countries.
In 2013, “Mindfire” was created as a standalone novel. It was also a test to see if I could actually complete a 50000+ word book. And I did. My next project was “Jordan’s World.” I created the Jordan as a series, specifically a trilogy. By the time I finished the first book, I had the title for the second and some idea where I wanted it to go. As I wrote the second book, I went through several titles for the third until finally reaching a satisfactory one. Once I finished the first draft of the second Jordan book, I had a good idea what I wanted to do in the third.
Along the way, I was inspired to try writing Christian steampunk. I developed an idea and characters, somehow already knowing it would become a trilogy.
Once that my (and my wife’s) personal editing on the second Jordan book was nearing completion, I was feeling that old ambivalence towards the third book. I wasn’t quite burned out but was getting there. So, I switched gears and threw myself into the first steampunk book for a solid week and that really helped accomplish two things: I got to delve into a new set of characters and story elements, building a new world, if you will. And at the same time, it gave me just enough of a break and diversion to inspire me anew for the third Jordan book.
What’s more, I instinctively know I can switch back and forth between these two books at any time and not lose focus on either. In fact, I’ve been developing an idea for another book! Quite frankly, it’s exciting.
One might ask “how do you keep track of all these characters and story elements? Wouldn’t that get confusing?” I make a point to keep detailed notes about my stories and can refer back to them at any time. Also, once I’ve begun writing a story, I can use it as reference. These things tend to build on one another. Another thing I’m grateful for is having a photographic memory. It’s not as pinpoint as it was in my late teens and twenties but it still allows me to visualize a scene or remember something I’ve written or said before and work from it.
Every author has their own way of storytelling. I realize mine is somewhat complex but it’s surprisingly fun and what ultimately matters is how it comes across to you, the reader. I endeavor to make stories that are worthy of your time and attention -- or at least will entertain you. Time will tell.
What makes a fictional work "Christian?" Is anything off-limits or "taboo?" Now, I realize this is topic is subjective, but I will share my opinion. I think any work that declares itself “Christian” should have a few things in common:
It should glorify God, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This should be the motivation for any Christian writer. A Christian book can be elaborate, exciting, funny, thrilling or even touch on things considered “dark,” but in the end, it should point to the Holy Trinity and give praise. There is hope, love and life in them.
They are not fairy tales or moral equivalency stories, somehow no different than any other religious or principled figure on planet Earth. They are alive with power and holiness, moving and shaping not just this world but the entire universe. They are not limited or finite. They simply are. And they deserve praise, worship and devotion for what they have done (and continue to do) for us. As Christian writers, we should be seeking Their Will for our lives and how to best represent it through the talent we have been given.
It should acknowledge Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. There are many ways to write a story. But a Christian story needs to point to Christ and what He did for all of us. He was born into this world, suffered temptation and persecution, was tortured and then nailed to a cross for the sins of the world. He died and was buried in a tomb. But on the third day, God raised His Son from the dead. He was seen of many witnesses over many days before He ascended back to Heaven. Now, He sits at the right hand of God awaiting the day of His return.
To a Christian, these should be indisputable facts. And not only according to the Bible, but the living power of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit working in our lives!
It should convey that the only way to attain salvation and eternal life with God the Father is through His Son, Jesus Christ. In this world, there are many people claiming to have the solutions to life’s problems. Every year, new trends and philosophies develop. Humankind has always been inventive, seeking answers to all kinds of questions. But whether someone (or a group of people) provides technological, psychological, medical or intellectual remedies, they cannot provide a permanent, all-in-one explanation for the only questions that have persisted throughout time:
How can I find true, lasting peace?
What happens to us when we die?
Will anyone ever love me?
The answer is the same to all of these questions: salvation through accepting Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives provides that love, peace and the confidence that we will be with Him in the presence of Almighty God when we die.
In Romans 10: 8 -13 (KJV), the Bible says “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
A writer doesn’t have to quote the scriptures all the time to make this point. They can use the actions of their characters or paraphrase through their words or the general direction or outcome of the story. As creative individuals, the Lord can show us how to best glorify Him. We just have to let Him. And that also means listening to the Holy Spirit, which will guide us and let us know if something is not edifying to the Lord.
I am no preacher but I know these things to be true in my life. I am a Christian who is also a writer. And these are the principles I live by when I write.
Thanks for reading this.
Another short update: I have learned that both "Jordan's World" and "Mindfire" are tentatively planned for ab Summer 2019 release. They will be published by Ambassador International either on the same day or within a short time of one another.
I will continue to give what updates I can as I get them. I'm just delighted to see both of these books on their way to print, eBook and audio formats!
I'm pleased to announce that Ambassador International (AI) will be publishing my 2016 novel Mindfire! I do not have a release date yet but I wanted to let everyone know.
I originally wrote Mindfire as part of the 2013 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) event over the course of three weeks. Then I took a couple of years to edit it. After that, I created the cover and self-published the book on Amazon.
Now that I am with AI, I will be pulling the current version from Amazon so it can undergo additional editing and presumably get a new cover. I'm excited about the new possibilities this opens up!
Here is the synopsis for Mindfire:
Twenty-year-old Leia Hamilton discovers that she can move things -- and set them on fire -- with her mind, a result of her father being a former superhero and her mother, the deadliest of supervillains. Unlike other superhero-related novels, the focus in Mindfire isn't on secret identities, costumes or evil plots endangering the world. Instead, the female protagonist's self-discovery and adaptation to her circumstances take precedence. This novel is also a psychological thriller, delving into mystery, alive with action, unafraid to show love and explore spirituality. But at its heart, Mindfire pulls you into a diverse world of human and superhuman heroes and villains, unapologetically revealing who they are and why none of them are perfect.
Leia's father and step-mother tried to hide their past from her until she was ready: a time when they were part of a team of superheroes. That team disbanded two decades ago after a series of tragedies but that didn't prevent their problems from being passed on to their children. Making life and death decisions with virtually no experience and incredible power, some of Leia's choices have terrible consequences. For Leia, this leads to a personal crossroads and a search for redemption.
I will add updates as I learn more. Stay tuned!
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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