Into the Vast
When Adan awakes in the Institute, his memory is gone. Worse still, the scientists nursing him back to health don’t seem to know or even care who he might have been. They only seem interested in him as a research project. But as he comes to grips with the strange technology fused inside of him, he discovers that he may be the one person who can put a stop to the researcher’s efforts to re-engineer the human race. Because sometimes the only person who can see what’s gone wrong is the person who doesn’t know anything at all.
1. When and why did you start writing?*
Back in 1995 when I was living out of the country and had a lot of time to myself, the ideas for my first novel began seeping into my mind. I wrote about fifty pages into a notebook and then my circumstances changed and I moved back to the states and the story sat on the shelf for many years. A few years back, however, I joined a literature club inspired by the Inklings–C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien’s group that met for many years in England. The stories I read there once again ignited my desire to write and a couple of years after the group began, I dusted off the novel with the goal of finishing what I’d started all those years ago.
2. Why did you choose to write in this genre?
You know, I’m not actually a huge fan of the concept of “genres”. I know they have their place but they seem to be more a convention for publishers than writers. I know science fiction and fantasy are the convenient, broad terms for the kinds of things I write, but if I had to classify or describe my work, I’d call it the genre of the imagination or “imagine-lit” for short. For me this would include everything from fairy tales (the real kind like George MacDonald’s Light Princess or Phantastes) to super-hero stories to tales from the far future.
The key element is to take the reader out of this present world where we have all of these pre-conceived ideas about how things work and to take him or her into another world, a place where they are able to discover reality afresh, from the inside out, so to speak. It is often only in stories like these where we can really see courage, hope, and forgiveness clearly, isolated and undistracted by all of the routine and monotony of our daily experience.
Stories of this sort do not take us away from reality, but take us into that very real reality of the soul and the imagination which we so often neglect. In this way, they actually enhance reality, giving us experiences we might not otherwise have and showing us truths we may have forgotten or  have never even seen before.
3. Which authors do you admire? Why?
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are at the top of the list. Not only were they great writers, but based on everything I’ve read about them, they were decent men as well. Many writers aren’t people whom I’d care to have as friends, no matter how skilled or successful they are at turning a phrase or selling their books. When it comes to admiring an author, I can’t separate who an author was or is as a person from what they achieved with their writing.
I also love that Lewis and Tolkien were friends over a long period of time and that they encouraged one another as writers and as men. What a great example for writers today. They were certainly not perfect men, but there is much about them that I deeply admire.
4. What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Just write. It may sound painfully obvious, but “writer’s write.” If you don’t write, you’ll never be a writer. There’s no guarantee that what you write will be brilliant, but if you don’t start, you’ll certainly never go anywhere with those ideas in your head. If your story is really worth writing, start putting it down. And once you start, keep going. Write when you don’t feel like writing. Write when you have no idea where the story is going. Just keep putting words on the page. You can always edit it later if it doesn’t make sense.
Some of the best advice I ever read was a quote from Isaac Asimov. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I’ll paraphrase it here, “I only write when I’m inspired. And I make certain that I am inspired every morning at 9:00 am.”
5. What inspires you to write?
Ha ha, speaking of inspiration…You know, this might sound absurd, but I actually decided to become an English major in college after watching the movie, “The Dead Poet’s Society”. Not something I’d advise for everybody, but I was stirred by the grandeur of all the great writers and the poetry highlighted in that film. It made me want to sink my teeth into the great works of literature, to read from authors who were not afraid to stare into the infinite and record what they saw, who were undaunted at the prospect of tackling the great themes of literature: love, loss, courage, hope, sacrifice, and redemption.
As I began to write, the echoes of a conversation which reportedly took place between Lewis & Tolkien often came to mind. Discussing literature, Lewis said to Tolkien, “You know, Tollers, there’s far too little of what we enjoy in stories…I’m afraid we’ll have to write them ourselves.”
I sympathize with that perspective. I am not much drawn to the kinds of stories coming from the publishing world these days. They seem to me far too self-referential. What I mean by that is that even stories with fantastical elements and hints of the supernatural are often just stories about twenty-first century characters play-acting as if they lived in the future or the past or in a world with magic and trolls. They act like us, they think like us. It’s all just window dressing. There are not enough of the “echoes of Elfland” in them, as Tolkien might say, not a real sense of the transcendent in much of these works.
Too often a story will pretend to take you to another world or time but really, you’ve gone no further than yesterday’s news would have taken you. That may be fine for some folks, but I am seek a place where “the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” (Return of the King) This longing for “other worlds” is a great inspiration for me because writing then becomes the means of getting there.
6. What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself through writing?
That a dream is worth sacrificing for. I tend to be rather laid back as a person and once I started writing and began realizing what was involved, it really challenged me. I thought to myself, “Is this really worth it?” And there are still plenty of moments of uncertainty, but you hit a wall, you push through it and you keep going.
Paradoxically, after finishing the first novel, I also learned another lesson. I was so exhausted physically and mentally from all the late nights and wrangling with the text that I really had to step back and take some time off. This helped me realize that as important as a dream may be, it can be damaging if you let it rule your life. So you need some balance. I learned to pace myself and be patient. Patience is extremely important as a writer. I thought of myself as a fairly patient person before, but I realize that I have a long way to go in this area. You may have heard of the prayer, “Lord, grant me patience–just hurry!” That would probably reflect my attitude at times.
7. Who has been the biggest influence on your writing? Why?
Perhaps not surprisingly, Tolkien and Lewis. If you ever get the chance, read Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairie Stories” and Lewis’, “On Stories”. Those two essays really crystallized my understanding of why stories are such a powerful means of communication. In addition to that, they really helped me see the importance of “otherworldliness” in stories. Before I read those essays, I had an idea about what I liked to read, but I did not have a strong grasp as to what made those stories so powerful. Lewis and Tolkien really showed me the way and laid down the path. I am simply trying to follow their lead as best I can.
8. Who would you most like to thank for their involvement in your writing career?
If I had to narrow it down to one specific person, it would probably be fellow author, Julius Agh. He’s had a few short stories published and is still working on expanding his career, but the time and thoughtfulness which he has afforded my stories has been absolutely essential to getting them out the door. Without him, I’m not sure I would have ever finished that first novel, honestly. It was such a motivating factor having someone whom I knew would be there to read and respond to my work. His support and encouragement really helped keep me going.
9. How would you like to be remembered?
Speaking as an author, I hope to be remembered as someone who helped shine a light on the truth. Because I believe that when people see that, they are drawn to it and challenged and hopefully changed. I hope people have a sense of appreciation for the stories themselves. That is where I hope the focus rests, not on me as a person.
It’s my desire as a writer that a person would be better for having spent time in the stories I create. So often I have walked out of a movie theater thinking, “that was a waste of two hours of my life”. It happens with books as well. Yes, you may have been entertained, perhaps even forgotten your problems for a time, but the characters in the story didn’t challenge you in any way to think, “there is a better way–you could do better than this”. I don’t think stories have to “teach” per se, or have nice, compact messages, but they should show us glimpses of a better world, or of mankind struggling towards the light.
Of course along that journey, we may have to stare the evil inside of us straight in the eye, but there need to be some heroes who stand up to the darkness and overcome it. I mean, in literature we have these things called ‘characters’ after all and yet so few of the ones written today seem to have any. If I didn’t have that hope that my stories were in some way meant to make the world a better place then I would stop writing today. It’s far too much work to be wasting my time on otherwise.
10. What is the most fun thing about writing?
Just the creative process. When you’re writing about other worlds, you have to invent so much new stuff and that never ceases to excite me. I spend loads of time choosing names for characters, inventing names for things and places. I saw your post about inventing a board game for your novel and I think that is marvelous. I love doing stuff like that.
And describing what you see in your head is always a fun challenge. It’s also a joy to watch your characters grow as they react to events and to the actions of other characters. Again, this is all part of the creative process–building and developing your story as you go.

Thank you, DJ, for your time and the thoughtfulness you put into your answers. Thanks for participating in Featured Artist Fridays!

~ jenelle

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Jenelle Schmidt #IndieApril My Journey

[…] and at the time I was doing a “Featured Artist Friday” thing on my blog and apparently DJ volunteered to be interviewed. He had just published Into the Vast, his first book, and reading about his philosophy on writing […]


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