Mike Duran has been on the forefront of the Christian speculative fiction charge for many years. He's seen a lot of changes, kept an eye on many trends, and watched the book world heave and flow. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself, his writing, and his unique take on the dynamic book market.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background, what are your interests, and what got you into writing?
Well, I grew up in a dysfunctional Catholic home. This was during the Vietnam War era and the Sixties counter-cultural revolution. So there was a lot going on socially and personally. My father was an alcoholic, my mother an enabler. I survived Catholic school only to get ensnared in drugs and occult experimentation. After a grueling existential quest, I returned to the faith, bloody but wise. Not long thereafter, I became a pastor and started my own church. It was quite an adventure! I pastored for over a decade before burnout and staff related issues caused me to step away. During this long sabbatical, I started looking for some creative outlets. I’d always been an artistic person. I sketched, painted, wrote poetry, etc. It was during this period that I began considering turning my talents towards writing. When I did, things sort of started to fall in place and resonate on a more personal level.
You mentioned that you were involved in ministry for a number of years. How did that experience bring you to where you are today?
For one, it showed me where my strengths and weaknesses laid. There’s a lot of demands made upon pastors. They are expected to be counsellors, therapists, mentors, administrators, vision casters, have their family in order, and, oh, preach a great sermon every weekend. Over time, I simply learned that I was better at some things than others. I loved words, studying, researching, teaching, and reading. I liked crafting sermons and found it immensely challenging to engage contemporary listeners. The other stuff, I found tedious and draining.
Also, my years in the ministry challenged me regarding the vast range of spiritual experience and phenomenon, and the tragedy and heartbreak of the human adventure. For example, once I was approached by a couple in the church who said their house was haunted and wanted me to perform an exorcism. I wasn’t ready for this. I once encountered a witch from a local coven who said she was possessed and was seeking liberation from both the coven and the spirits who owned her. There were lots of bizarre experiences along these lines. There was purported spiritual phenomenon like prophetic dreams and physical healings. Then there was the beloved member of our church who committed suicide on New Year’s Day. Along the way, I saw friends die, the spiritually dead come to life, couples divorce, friends get married, believers apostatize, and apostates return. So many things like this have challenged my perception of people and the world we inhabit. These are just a few of the things that have led me to where I am today.
Tell us about your writing journey. What are some lessons/regrets/rewards that you have gathered along the way?
That’s a tough one. When I decided to write professionally, I went all in. Shelved all my video games. Purchased books on the craft of writing. Joined an online critique group. Crafted a writing schedule. I started small, wanting to develop my chops, and began submitting essays and short stories to various publishers. The feedback was mostly positive. So I decided it was time to try my hand at a novel. This led to the acquisition of a literary agent and a two-book contract with a publishing house. But it was a lot of hard work and hoop jumping.
Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of staying with it. One of my favorite old preachers is Charles Spurgeon who once said something along the lines of, "When you're praised, don't crow. When you're criticized, don't croak." This is good advice for writers. If we're too beholden to great reviews and great sales, we're liable to "croak" if we don't get them. Being neither too inflated by success or too deflated by failure helps me just keep truckin'.
How would you describe your writing style, and who are some of your influences?
I’m a huge fan of G.K. Chesterton. His stuff is really dense and philosophical. But Chesterton is also wonderfully humorous and witty. I've always appreciated his ability to illuminate something complex with a simple image or turn of the phrase. Also, I'm a big fan of Arthur Machen. His style was more Gothic; he embraced a belief that the ordinary world hid a more mysterious world beneath it and a lot of his stories have this creeping sense of horror or transcendence. Then there's Lovecraft, whose melodramatic language and rather bombastic imagery is something I quite enjoy.
Your newest book, The Ghost Box, sees you moving away from the Christian fiction market towards the general market. What was behind this decision?
Well, there was no one single reason. I’ve grown tired of the narrow theological strictures that dominate and define much Christian fiction. More than once I've been taken to task for including something not deemed "orthodox." Then there's the argument that Christian fiction must be “clean.” This was exemplified when my first novel, The Resurrection, was published and my editor refused to allow one of my characters to tell a demon to "go to hell." I vigorously appealed, but to no avail. Also, with 80-some percent of Christian fiction titles being Amish, romance, and women’s fiction, the Christian market has little to offer hardcore spec-fic readers. As a fan of Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Neil Gaiman, Lovecraft, and Stephen King, I simply want to engage readers of the more mainstream market.
How do you feel about the state of Christian fiction today?
Geez. I've probably talked this subject to death. I have a lot of great friends who write and read Christian fiction. I think the narrative that Christian fiction has a disproportional amount of poorly written junk is unfair. However, I do think the Christian fiction industry has become bit of an insular sub-culture. So rather than engaging culture and thinking about ways to be "salt and light," we've become an echo chamber, caught up in worrying more about whether a character says "hell" than whether or not our neighbor is actually going there. In my opinion, this is backward and a terribly dangerous position. But in all fairness, many in the Christian fiction industry actually share these sentiments and, with the massive changes going on in publishing, are stretching their boundaries a bit.
Any upcoming projects?
I’m hard at work on a second Reagan Moon novel and, later next year, am hoping to publish a non-fiction exploration of the idea of “Christian Horror.”
Where can readers find you online?
My main website (www.mikeduran.com) is the best place to start. From there, you’ll find links to Facebook, twitter, and other social media hangouts.
Many thanks to Mike for stopping by. But wait, there's more! Leave a comment below about your favorite speculative fiction tale and you will be entered into a random drawing to win a SIGNED COPY of The Ghost Box! The winner will be selected December 31st. Open to US and Canada residents only.