Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Interview with Christian Horror Author Bruce Hennigan!

It's October, folks, and what better way to celebrate the season than to settle down with a good old-fashioned monster tale. Since you've all already read my book (you have read it, right? :p) I want to direct you to Bruce Hennigan and his new frightening tale The 13th Demon in stores today courtesy of Realms Fiction!

I was familiar with Bruce as a reviewer, as he offered some fine insights into The Strange Man when it was featured in the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. Doing a little background check, I discovered Bruce was an author as well, specializing in that odd realm of "Christian Horror". When I found out a month or so later that my very own publisher had picked up Bruce's book, I was super-excited. In honor of today's release, me and Bruce sit down to talk about his book, the struggles we've shared in writing in this sub-genre, and chatting it up about Halloween, monsters, and all things kewl.

Greg Mitchell: Bruce, thanks for coming by! Tell us a bit about yourself for the readers at home.

Bruce Hennigan: I don’t want to reveal everything about myself. That might land me in an institution! After all, if you are an author you understand that there is a darkness in us that fuels our imagination for good or for bad. And, in my darkness there are monsters!

GM: Of course!

BH: Okay, so my alter ego is that of a doctor, a physician practicing in the field of radiology. I really do have X-Ray vision! It took me four years of college, four years of medical school, and four years of residency but now, I can see through just about anything! Not really. I rely on diagnostic imaging for that. But, my true love is writing.

I started writing when I was 8 and I haven’t stopped. I love to write poetry, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I live in Shreveport, Louisiana with my wife, Sherry. My son is married and getting a master’s degree in Austin and my daughter lives at home and is going to college. They know I’m not quite right so they tolerate my writing.

I have a book of children’s plays “Montana Holmes Adventures in the Bible” published by Contemporary Drama. I co-authored “Conquering Depression: A Thirty Day Plan to Finding Happiness” by B&H Publishing. Now you know where the darkness comes from! I was the drama director for my church for fifteen years and in the time wrote dozens of full length plays and over 150 short dramas as well as screenplays for many short films.

Out of my doubts and questions and the relentless questioning of my medical colleagues I have become a trained apologist through Reasons to Believe and I am a Certified Apologetic Instructor with my own denominational convention. I am also a graduate of the Arthur Murray School of Dance (something to escape to while in medical school).

GM: Your book—The 13th Demon—hits stands today. Exciting stuff! What’s the book about?

BH: I have a background in apologetics, or the defense of the Christian faith. And, as I learned all the cool stuff that makes Christianity true and rational, I wondered why hasn’t anybody written about this? One of my favorite authors was Michael Crichton and he wrote these fast paced books with a scientific core of truth. My favorite is The Andromeda Strain and next, Jurassic Park.

I wanted to write a story that used some of this information and I realized our society really doesn’t accept that evil is real or that demons exist. So, why not start with the basics. That is where The 13th Demon came from. It’s about a mysterious man, Jonathan Steel, with amnesia traveling the countryside looking for people who are under the oppression of evil; people for whom there is no rational help. His real goal is to locate a creature known as “the 13th demon”. This creature brought tragedy to the life of Jonathan Steel. He goes to help a pastor in a small town whose church has come under the possession of evil in the form of vile creatures such as giant spiders and a few other creepy things I don’t want to mention for fear of spoilers. When Jonathan Steel arrives, he discovers his nemesis is in this church and he sets out to put together a team to confront and defeat “the 13th demon”. In the process, he has to examine his motives. Does he really want to help others? Or, does he just want revenge? He discovers that the evil events in this small town are intricately woven into his past and he must confront the man behind the creature, an evil businessman who has ties to the ancient world of the Aztecs and their practice of human sacrifice. Somewhere hidden in the small town is an arcane altar craving for fresh blood! It is the Altar of the Spiral Eye. The book has elements of horror and mystery and romance and a touch of science fiction, and, oh yes, a few monsters thrown in!

GM: Wait, giant spiders, human sacrifices, Aztec cults, and an altar craving fresh blood? I'm sold! How many books have you got planned for this series? How far are you along now?

BH: When I first tried to get the book published, I ran into the typical barriers most speculative fiction writers do in the Christian fiction realm. This was way back in 1999. But, one editor really liked the story. He said the problem was, “No one in the CBA will ever publish this story.” But, he asked me a simple question. Are there twelve more demons?

I hadn’t really thought about it at that time. I was looking at a trilogy at best. But, as the possibilities of telling thirteen stories with a specific demon at the heart of the story would allow me to really explore all the cool apologetic stuff I had learned. I saw the possibility of exploring many of our modern “myths” such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, UFOs, extraterrestrial life, voodoo, Wicca, virtual reality, and any number of cool paranormal phenomena and use those elements to convey the truth of Christianity. So, there will be twelve more books. I have a five book contract and the first four books are written. The others are outlined. And, I’ve written two books near the end of the series, one that details all of Jonathan Steel’s past and the last book so I would know where I’m headed.

GM: That's encouraging to hear. I always love it when the authors of my favorite series know where they're going. Otherwise, they tend to ramble or chase rabbits. I like me some clear direction :p So, what was the inspiration behind Jonathan Steel and his adventures? Take us back to the beginning.

BH: The story for The 13th Demon seemingly came from out of nowhere. I had finished writing a non-fiction book, “Conquering Depression” and decided to take six weeks out of my writing schedule and read. At the end of that six weeks, I was going to pick up one of my two dozen novels in various stages of development and finish it. During that time I had two “what ifs” come up. What if an assassin or mercenary became a Christian? How would he change? How would he deal with his past? And, the other question was, if a Christian lost his memory, would he still be a Christian? Does the conversion experience transcend mental damage? I filed those away. Two other factors in the book were my love of apologetics as I mentioned above and my recent battle with a recalcitrant group of church members who didn’t want to relocate our church from a declining neighborhood to an up and coming area. I was the vice chairman of that committee and I was amazed at how many of our members “worshiped” the building!

The last night of my six weeks found me empty and directionless. I had not been able to get excited about any of my books. So, I turned to God in desperation and prayed for guidance realizing that I may never write anything again! I woke up the next morning with the story of The 13th Demon in my head. I started writing on August 1st and finished on the 31st. The book came out of a combination of “what if” questions, a real life situation, my desire to use apologetics in a creative way as C. S. Lewis had, and a huge dollop of divine inspiration.

And, the book would give me the chance to write about monsters! The Dialing for Dollars 3:30 Movie had a lot to do with it. I grew up in the country and every day when I came home, an afternoon movie was always shown on one of our local channels. Those films featured a monster movie from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. I would make myself a mayonnaise and mustard sandwich (we were kind of poor and didn’t have lunch meat) and a glass of chocolate milk and I would hunker down in front of the television and get the willies scared out of me.

GM: That sounds heavenly. Seriously...well, without the mayonnaise and mustard sandwich. I prefer to enjoy my horror with a glass of milk and cookies.

BH: I was always fascinated with science fiction and monsters. My scariest movie of all time growing up was Attack of the Crab Monsters where giant crabs on an island would pinch people’s heads off, eat them, and then telepathically lure the other people into the caves with that person’s voice. To this day crabs really creep me out!

GM: We’ve got something in common in that both of our books were originally self-published before being picked up by Realms. Were there any unique challenges in making the journey from self-publishing to traditional publishing? Is there anything different about this version than the original?

BH: My frustration with getting the book published came out of a lack of understanding by traditional Christian publishers of a growing market for Christian “speculative fiction”. I saw early on that with the popularity of the Left Behind series, Christians were ready for something gritty and more realistic. It took someone like Ted Dekker to break through that glass ceiling for those of us who write this kind of fiction.

My delays in getting my book published were due to this factor and having two agents in a row who dithered away my time and never did the job they promised to. One was a fraud. The other refused to represent fiction! Six years passed after the book was written wasting time with agents and a clueless publishing industry. In desperation, I decided to self publish. My rationale was to get the book out there and see if I had an audience. If the audience responded, I would have a track record. If not, I’d go back to my X-rays and be a happy, but frustrated doctor. I self published The 13th Demon in 2006 and hired a marketing firm. The book sold fairly well for a self-published book. But, I was very pleased when reviews came in saying things like “I can’t believe this is a self-published book. It’s too well written. And the cover is too good.” I knew then I had a chance. I hooked up with the Cadillac of self publishers, BookPros for my second book, The 12th Demon: Vampyre Majick and that was when one of my author friends recommended four different agencies. I contacted all four literary agencies and the best of them took me as a client. Of course, it helped I had a book by B&H Publishing on depression. But, the track record of my two self-published books gave me credibility. My new agent, Jeff Jernigan of Hidden Value Group took my third book and within a month we were contacted by Realms. Four months of back and forth and negotiation resulted in a five book deal and they wanted to pick up the first two self published books.

Now, having a contract and with some breathing room, I went back and rewrote major portions of the first two books. By this time, I had four books finished and I had a better idea where the story arc was headed.

GM: Same here. That really gave me the opportunity to go back and add little touches that would be paid off later in the series.

BH: I was able to fine tune and tweak both books. Both books are much, much shorter. That was my main frustration: being held to a word limit. I had to excise entire characters from both books to make them shorter. In fact, reading my first book now, I can see the fine scars where I did the plastic surgery.

GM: I share your pain, ha ha.

BH: I know what is missing although the story holds together much better after having worked with my excellent editor, Andy Meisenheimer. In fact, Andy did something that was very dangerous. He said, “Make it scarier!” And, so both books are much scarier than the originals and, yes, have a few more “monsters” in them!

GM: That's incredible! I think my editors would be too scared to give me that charge :p

This being the glorious Halloween season and all, I’d be remiss not to talk about some of your favorite Halloween memories. Do you have any—that is, I’m assuming since you’re writing a book about demons and monsters, Halloween is a special time for you :p

BH: My favorite year was when I dressed up as Beetlejuice. Full makeup and hair – the works! My kids were tiny and I had a blast driving through MacDonald’s and asking the girl for a Happy Meal. Being in drama and theater and having a best friend who dabbles in horror makeup helped. My favorite Halloween was the year we created a “Christian” themed haunted house called Eternity House and populated it with all kinds of evil beings from the past. We took this really tall guy and created a neck stump and shoulders to build up his height. We brought his shoulders down to his real arms and it looked like Goliath was holding his severed head. People would walk into the room and think Goliath was slumped in the corner with his severed head in his lap and then the eyes would open and he would talk! They ran like frightened sheep! Lots of creepy makeup for the demons in hell, too. We had a blast.

I still dress up every Halloween. This year, I’m going to be the Witchking from Lord of the Rings. I have a replica of the actual sword in the movie. Not the plastic one. The real sword!

GM: That's ambitious. I'm planning on going as a dime store Dracula :p

BH: I was eight and dressed like Wolfman, one Halloween. I lived out in the country and I was outside waiting for dark so we could go Trick or Treating. My brother was a taxidermist and he lived on the same property as my parents. He would take all the “offal” down in the woods and dump them out. Those scraps attracted some strange creatures. I was standing in my driveway when suddenly this cacophony of howling came out of the woods. I was paralyzed with fear! The howling grew closer and all I could think of was the wolfman was coming! Out of those woods burst a pack of wild dogs fighting over a deer skull. They had the spine and skull stretched out between them growling and howling and they were coming right toward me! I didn’t move a muscle and the dogs swirled around me, howling and snarling and fighting with each other and moved across the yard into the woods on the other side of my front yard. That was the most scared I think I have ever been. I took off the wolf man costume and I was Superman instead! To this day, werewolves frighten me far more than vampires. In 2009 we went to London and I stood at the top of one of those escalators leading down into the Underground (subway) where a famous scene from An American Werewolf in London was shot. I couldn’t go down the escalator! We walked another block to a different entrance. That is how strongly werewolves frighten me.

GM: I love werewolves. My favorite monster growing up. What were your favorite scary stories or movies growing up? How has that changed since you’ve gotten older, or has it?

BH: I guess you gather that my favorite scary stories were from those old monster movies. Frankenstein (1930’s), The Wolfman, Dracula, The Blob, those crab monsters, The Black Scorpion, the UFOs from Invasion of the Flying Saucers (You know, the one where the UFO crashes into the Washington Monument). I read science fiction voraciously and when I was old enough, moved on to Stephen King.

As I have gotten older, the movies that “scare” me do so more through suspense or psychology. I still recall the first time I saw Alien in a dark theater! That movie ruined my underwear. But, this may sound silly, but the movie that was most frightening to me in my late teens was Jaws. I had to get out of a lake in central Louisiana after I saw the movie because I was convinced there was a shark in the water! I loved Aliens but that was because it was more action oriented. I loved Jurassic Park although the book was much better to me than the movie could ever be. The Thing still haunts my nightmares and I’m debating whether or not I can take the prequel! I could go on and on. But, I would say the two books that frightened me most and that I have read more than once just to see how the author did it were The Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I still think the movie adaptation of Silence is the most faithful and well done movie adaptation to date.

GM: I get asked this question a lot, so let me turn the tables a bit: Have you experienced any push back from the Christian community over your macabre subject matter? Likewise, how does the horror community react to the overt Christian elements?

BH: Just yesterday I got this email from a local Christian radio station. I had bought an ad for my upcoming book launch “party” here in Shreveport and the person had an issue with me calling my book “Christian horror”. “You can’t do that.” She said. So, I pulled the ad.

Way back in 2000 I gave my manuscript to a fiction editor for a large publisher. I met with her in person and she was well aware of my manuscript for “Conquering Depression” and my freelance writing for an online publication with LifeWay “Extra”. She was so excited about The 13th Demon. She loved the entire concept and couldn’t wait to read the next book. But! There was always that, But! Then she went on to tell me how my book was too violent, too edgy, too far out on the fringe for the CBA. That was when I found out what the CBA was. “I love your book, but let’s face it. No Christian publisher will EVER publish this book.”

GM: I've heard that before.

BH: I ran into that time and time and time again over the ensuing six years. To his credit, my first agent who later turned out to be a fraud and was being prosecuted for it, believed in my book and thought I had a chance to get published because of the popularity of Ted Dekker, at that time a new author on the scene. But, he got nowhere. I still don’t know for sure if he ever really submitted my book proposal to publishers!

Now, what is very interesting is my second book about vampires received some amazingly positive reviews from the secular book review community. They were not put off at all by the Christian elements. Of course, I wasn’t too heavy with the “preaching”, if you will. I let my character’s Christian worldview carry the story. And, the apologetic elements were presented in a very objective fashion with convincing science or history. One book reviewer even admitted that he was going to rethink his revulsion toward Christianity because of my book! He said “If a Christian author can be this honest with his work and not back off from the reality of evil, maybe there is hope for Christianity. I am willing to reconsider my opinion of Christians.” Now that was astonishing!

GM: Wow, that is fantastic. What a testimony!

BH: I was hoping my book would have just that kind of reaction to a “cross over” market and have an appeal to non-believers and skeptics.

Of course, my greatest frustration is having my book tucked way back in the corner with the other Christian fiction books instead of being with the horror or science fiction or fantasy sections! I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

GM: I do. It's like the kiss of death. No joke, I went to my local Hastings and the "Christian Fiction" section was tucked in the very back of the store. Waaaay back there, in a tiny little corner. People who would like the horror of our stories just don't seem interested in walking to the "Christian" section of their bookstore. It's a buzz kill, I guess. Horror is often equated with rebellion and going against the norm--I sometimes fear those people see a horror novel in the Christian section and it might as well have a big ole stamp that says "Your Mother Approves of This Book" :p Not cool.

Okay, got off on a tangent! Despite those obstacles of trying to get the horror world to take us seriously, I still see that the “Christian Horror” sub-genre is really starting to grow. What do you think is the draw of these types of stories that blend fear and faith?

BH: Fear is the driving force in our culture. It has been since 9/11. Politicians have mastered the “fear factor”. Reality shows rule due to the “fear factor”. But, does our fear have a face? Is there something real and tangible to fear? We can’t put a face on terrorism. Osama Bin Laden doesn’t wander around on our streets and a terrorist could be anybody!

So, our fear has to have a face. It has to be visible so we can deal with. How to do that? Take those things we fear the most and give them a body, a voice, a visibility. I thought vampires were passé after Anne Rice wrote them to death. But, now vampires are manageable, sparkly, even loving. That which we fear can now be embraced. But, we still fear it. A little. At least we fear the evil side of the, uh, evil that is now good. See how confusing it has become. We live in a time of postmodernism and relativism. There is no such thing as absolute good and evil. And yet, God has put eternity in the hearts of all men. We know evil exists. We have a morbid fascination with it. It is there for us to see but it can’t be real.

So, we put it in our movies and our television shows and our books.

Christians are not immune to these changes. Most churches today emphasize missional work, good deeds, changing community through love. You don’t hear hell and demons and the devil preached very often. Hell is off limits! But, we know it’s there. We feel the breath of demons every day. We see the effect of evil all around us. As Christians we should have no doubt evil is real. But, Christianity isn’t what it used to be.

I think this need to explore the dark side of our nature fuels the desire of many Christians to read our kind of books that mix the reality of evil with the reality of Hope. This is one reason why I want to capitalize on that desire to read compelling stories about spiritual warfare to take the opportunity to tell Christians we have sound, evidential, rational reasons for what we believe. Don’t take what our culture holds up as “truth”. It doesn’t even believe there is truth. And, they believe that to be absolutely true!

I think you said it best. Our stories mix faith and fear. We thrive on fear. It thrills us. But, we subsist on faith. It guides us and sustains us.

GM: Great thoughts. Fear is something every human being lives with and horror is a great safe place to explore that and face it. Thanks so much for hanging out with us, Bruce. Best to you and The 13th Demon.

You can keep up with Bruce at his website at www.brucehennigan.com or find him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/SteelChronicles. He's known as brucehennigan on Twitter, as well.

Thank you everyone for reading and be sure to take a look at Bruce's book.

Also, stay tuned to this very site. On Halloween Eve, I'll be posting a special treat--the first ever excerpt from my upcoming sequel
Enemies of the Cross! You won't want to miss it! Make the monster-most out of your October, and to help you along, we take a page out of Bruce's book and look back on a classic! Enjoy!

1 comment:

jel said...

the book sounds good.

but it sounds like a day book.

sorry couldn't read the hole post.
my eyes gave out.

will have to check the book store out when i go to town :)