For the first of three posts on this tour, I am going to show you some blasts from the past. Some may recall that I owned the self-published edition of The Strange Man. To start, here is the old review of the old book:
Before I get started on my criticism of this book, I will have to say that if you plan to read this, go for it! The rest of this review contains spoilers, so I give my approval of the book now. If anyone reading this has read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, (spoilers here for it too) the ending of each book is quite similar. There are some important differences, though. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, a reclusive drunkard, comes to “save himself” through one “righteous” act. He is shown to be a Christ-figure: one who dies in the place of an innocent person. The problem with this is that man cannot earn salvation by anything he does. When I finished The Strange Man, I had to do a double-take. Dras is beaten and killed for what he was thought to have done, but didn’t. He could have stopped it, but he knew this would change Rosalyn’s mind about Christianity. I did not get this message clearly the first time through, and was struck by the similarity between the two books. Then, I didn’t recall exactly where it said he earned salvation by doing this, and re-read it. At this point, I did not find any statement, and realized my mistake. Instead of dying for his salvation, he died, not for Rosalyn’s salvation, but for her gaze to be moved from the world to Christ, who Himself would then give her salvation. All in all, this was a great book, very pleasing to those who enjoy suspenseful monster material and yet satisfying to the Christian.
Now, for the second flashback. An interview I did with Mr. Mitchell September last year!
NA: What drew you to write Christian horror?
GM: Wow, a hard question right out of the gate! That’s a difficult answer to nail
down, but I’ll give it a shot. First off, I’ve always been drawn to the “spooky”
side of life. About the only books I read when I was a kid were “true life” urban
legend/ghost story books. As for movies, I was always terrified—but also
fascinated—by Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and as I’ve said
a million times, The Monster Squad and Ghostbusters were huge, huge influences on
me. I made a profession of faith when I was eight and, one of the things that my
parents and Christian mentors always instilled in me was, if you’re going to do
something, do it for the Lord. As I began to figure out that I wanted to tell stories,
I knew right away that I wanted to tell stories about God that hopefully pointed
the way to Christ. As a writer, we’re also told to write what we know, and I know
monsters. It seemed only natural to me to write a story of faith that also was filled
with nasty, ghoulish monsters. Some people look at me cross-eyed when I say I
write “Christian Horror”, but, to me, I can’t help but to write it. It’s in my blood!
NA: What is unique in The Strange Man compared to other Christian
GM: I’m certainly no expert on what others are doing in the “Christian Horror”
genre or how I’m different than them. The books I have read seem to take a very
psychological suspense approach to the subject matter, but I like to think of The
Strange Man as a Saturday matinee monster movie from the ‘80s. Something that’s
fast-paced and fun, with lots of laughs and scares as well as the dark subject matter
of the book. But that’s sort of my approach to what I like in horror, in general.
Horror takes itself so seriously these days, and, while The Strange Man is far from a
comedy, I don’t mind having a little fun. I’m writing about monsters! What’s not
fun about that?
NA: Were there any books that you read that became inspiration or interest
in the genre?
GM: Frank Peretti was a big influence on me as a kid. When my mom dragged me
to the local Christian bookstores hoping I’d show more interest in “those kinds”
of books rather than the secular horror movies of the day, Peretti was the only
person I saw who was writing anything remotely classified as “horror” and I had
tunnel vision as soon as I discovered him. His Piercing the Darkness and This Present
Darkness books had demons and tough warrior angels and spiritual warfare and, as
a comic book/scary movie kid, that really made an impact on me. That was long
before I decided I wanted to be a writer, but it still planted a seed that told me I
could write stories about my faith, but also with lots of intense, “scary” stuff. But,
really, most of my inspirations come from the movies I watch, and that affects
my writing. Hopefully for the positive. I tend to think of my books as “movies on
NA: Where did the story idea come from?
GM: I site two main inspirations for The Strange Man. One of them is an
independent Christian movie called The Appointment. It was written and directed
by Rich Christiano. When I was bit by the writing bug after high school, my first
thought was to be a screenwriter. Over the last decade or so, I’ve been involved in
film as well as novels. Rich would probably never admit to this, but I really think
of The Appointment as a “Christian Horror” movie. For those who don’t know, it’s
about a mysterious visitor (probably an angel, though it’s never specified) coming
to this skeptic and telling her that, on a certain day, at a certain time, she’s going
to die. Then the movie revolves around her trying to investigate the Christian faith
and struggle with her own doubts, all the while wondering if it’s true. If she’s really
going to die as prophesied. The movie actually kind of freaked me out. After it
was over, my mouth was just hanging open. I think the first thing I tried to write
professionally was a sequel to The Appointment. It involved a young man (who
would become Dras) being told by a mysterious visitor that, at a certain day, at a
certain time, his best friend (who would become Rosalyn) was going to die. Then
he’d have to race against the clock, trying to convince her of the truth before it
was too late. Rich passed on the idea, and good thing, too. It was because of that
that I began to develop the script into its own thing. Meanwhile, I watched an
episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Howling Man”. It was about the deceptive
power of the devil and it really wowed me. So, I threw a devil into my burgeoning
script and, from there, the tiny germ that would become The Strange Man was born.
That was back in 1998/1999.
NA: Were there any smaller influences that came into the book?
GM: Way too many to count! Again, I’m inspired by all kinds of monster
movies. Fright Night, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, The Lost Boys, almost anything John
Carpenter. Other than that, of course, are my favorite movies of all time, Back to
the Future and its two sequels. That’s why I wanted to write a trilogy in the first
place. On the surface, Back to the Future is sort of branded as just this kooky ‘80s
comedy, but there’s really a lot of deep, powerful stuff going on in those films.
NA: Have you ever had a strange experience like those in your book?
GM: I got spooked pretty easily as a kid. Me and my friends had our own sort
of “monster squad” and we’d sneak into houses that, for some insane reason
or another, we believed to be haunted. Or we’d spook ourselves into thinking
there was a Bigfoot loose in our neighborhood. I was always scared, but I had a
thrill “investigating”. But, there was a time many years later that wasn’t fun at all.
I was fresh out of high school and was struggling with my faith and whether or
not I was really a Christian. It was really a confusing time and a traveling evangelist
really shook me up. Pretty much talked me out of my faith. I listened to him more
than the Holy Spirit and I got really scared. There was one night where I felt Evil
in the room. I can’t explain it other than to say I thought that, if I went to sleep,
I’d never wake up again. I was terrified of death and confused about where I stood
with God and it was a whole different breed of scary that I can’t even accurately
describe. But, the only way I could combat it was with prayer. I just cried and
prayed for God to help me. For me not to be so scared. Suddenly the weight was
gone. I was still shaken and had a few days of hard praying and talking to God
before I could really take hold of my faith again. But once I did, I was stronger for
it, and I’ve never doubted my salvation since.
NA: Wow. Which character was the hardest to write?
GM: Hardest to write was Isabella, Jeff Weldon’s wife. When I first started writing
her, I didn’t have much insight into women. I hadn’t really dated, I didn’t have
any girl friends. The character of Rosalyn is a girl, sure, but she’s got so much
emotional baggage and sarcasm that I felt I could relate with her on that level.
Writing Rosalyn was easy, but if I wasn’t careful, I was afraid that Isabella would
just become “the loving wife”. In the beginning, she was dangerously close to
being this June Cleaver 1950s housewife who was simply there to support her
husband—which I think is a terrible disservice to the character (and to women,
in general). I really had to dig deep and find out who Isabella was as a person, not
just as a wife. She still doesn’t get much “screen time” in The Strange Man, but just
wait. She really comes into her own in the next two books.
NA: Which character was the easiest to write?
GM: Dras is probably the easiest. Dras is me. Jeff’s me, too, but Jeff is me on
a bad day. Dras is me when I’m at my geekiest. When I’m standing the middle
of Wal-Mart and squeal for glee upon seeing a new copy of Back to the Future on
DVD with the footage from Back to the Future the Ride (and yes, I did do that),
that’s Dras. Dras is not perfect. He’s awkward and clumsy and very rarely knows
what to say. But when he’s faced with these horrible odds and realizes he will
probably fail miserably, he fights on anyway. That’s heroic to me and that’s the
kind of person I hope to be.
NA: If you could be any character in your books, which would it be?
GM: Wow, if I could be any character? I’ve never really thought of that. So much
of me is already in all the characters, but if I had to go through the experiences of
one of my characters, it’d probably be . . . Wow. I don’t know. I think I put all my
characters through the wringer—whether physically or emotionally—so I don’t
know if I’d want to be in any of their shoes! Maybe Hank Berkley, the sheriff. I
like Hank a lot.
NA: If your books were made into a movie, would you have any preferred
actor, director, composer, etc?
GM: The Strange Man began life as a screenplay. It was only after I realized that
I didn’t have any way of raising the budget to make the movie that I began to
explore writing it as a novel. Having said that, though, I really don’t know who I’d
pick now to work on the picture. At the time I began writing, Ethan Embry (from
That Thing You Do and Can’t Hardly Wait) was Dras, hands down. He’s got that
goofy little brother quality, but a real sense of “good guy”. For Rosalyn, I was sold
on Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy). Music, I probably would have picked Danny
Elfman. Director, though, I don’t know. Someone who could have fun with the
monster FX, but also drive home the “love story” at the center of the piece. But,
I will say that I would kill to have the movie filmed on the lot at Universal that
served as Hill Valley in Back to the Future. I can only imagine Dras riding on his
bike, being chased by gremlins through the streets of Hill Valley. Talk about your
dream come true.
NA: That’s cool! Can you tell us three things about yourself we readers may not know?
GM: I don’t like cheese unless it’s on a pizza. I’m afraid of chickens. I’ve never
seen The Godfather.
NA: Do you have a title, cover, or plot idea for the next book you can share
GM: No cover yet. That’s a ways away, but the title for Book Two of The Coming
Evil Trilogy is Enemies of the Cross. It’s a darker book. A lot more complicated and
shades-of-grey, character-wise. It deals with the survivors from The Strange Man.
They’re left to pick up the pieces and it’s really affecting them. There are a lot of
strains on their relationships and arguments and a couple characters go to some
really dark, scary places—emotionally, as well as literally. Plus, look for new heroes
and villains, big revelations, more action…and more monsters!
NA: Do you have any other book plans or ideas after your current series?
GM: The Coming Evil has pretty much dominated my entire adult life, so I don’t
think it’ll ever really go away. I’m sure I’ll want to revisit this world and these
characters in the future, but there was a script that I wrote just before The Coming
Evil swooped in and stole all my affection. I read that script a couple months ago
for the first time since 1998 and I really had a great time. I’d forgotten so much of
it, it was almost like brand new. I’m considering dusting it off and turning it into
a novel. Needs a title change, though. The original title was Soul Decision…then
I found out some dumb boy band came out a few years later with that name.
They’re lost to the annals of history, now, but I still wouldn’t use the name.
NA: Do you have any advice to those writing or planning to write Christian
GM: Write what’s in your gut. Don’t try to pattern yourself after anyone else—
even writers that you admire. At the end of the day, you’ve got to write what
you feel passionate about regardless of the market or what your contemporaries
are doing. If you really feel that God has given you something great, be a good
steward of that. Guard it, cultivate it, and He’ll bring about the harvest when it’s
CSFF Blog Tour
Rebecca LuElla Miller