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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Author Interview: Ted Dekker



Ted is the son of missionaries John and Helen Dekker, whose incredible story of life among headhunters in Indonesia has been told in several books. Through this experience, Dekker received a first-class education on human nature and behavior. This, he believes, is the foundation of his writing. After earning his Bachelor's Degree, Dekker entered the corporate world in management for a large healthcare company in California. Dekker was quickly recognized as a talent in the field of marketing and was soon promoted to Director of Marketing. This experience gave him a background which enabled him to eventually form his own company and steadily climb the corporate ladder. Since 1997, Dekker has written full-time. Dekker's body of work includes Heaven's Wager, When Heaven Weeps, Thunder of Heaven, Blessed Child, A Man Called Blessed, Blink, Thr3e, The Circle Trilogy (Black, Red, White), and Obsessed.

Interview via telephone. December 9, 2005

Gina Holmes: You’ve recently gotten back from the filming of Thr3e, in Poland. Is that right?

Ted Dekker: That’s right. Fox studios is putting out the movie in fall, 2006 for theatrical release. (limited release).

Gina: Were you on the scriptwriting team for the movie?

Ted: I was heavily involved, mostly as a consultant.

Gina: How did you learn to write?

Ted: Well, I learned in high-school and college, but we’re talking novel writing here? ‘Cause that’s a whole different entity. I learned novel writing by reading voraciously and by writing. I wrote five novels before I sold one. Also in my early years I had my stuff shredded by critique partners. That was important back then. Not that I agreed with everything they said. But someone would point out a section and say this stinks because of XYZ and I’d look at it and think, it does stink, but not because of XYZ but because of ABC, you know?

Gina: Absolutely. Do you still have writing partners who look at your early drafts?

Ted: No, not anymore. I’ve found my voice. But, I still rely on my editor looking at my rough draft for feedback. She’s great. We’ve been together on the last six or seven of my books. I rely on her input and appreciate the female perspective.

Gina: Do you do extensive plotting?

Ted: Oh yeah, I mean I’d love to just write a story and discover how it all comes out. I think King has said he does that. But, I’ve got too many twists. I’ve got huge challenges in my stories for my characters. I’ve got to know how it’s all going to work out. Otherwise I’d be wasting a lot of time on major rewrites. I write a rough draft and about half way through I start keeping a list of changes I may want to make. I don’t always need to make the changes, I see how it goes. If I need to, I do, then I take the rough draft to my editor and we talk it through.

Gina: I’ve heard other novelists say they get twenty or more pages of suggestions from their editors, do you get that too?

Ted: [Laughs]. Man, I think I’d freak. No, it’s usually just a few pages.

Gina: Have you always written thrillers?

Ted: Yes, that’s the one thing all my novels have in common. I write cross-genre, like Koontz, some with a supernatural element, some fantasy, others straight thrillers. Thrillers are really what interest me because they’re so complicated. Simple story lines like whodunnits don’t really appeal to me. Like who stole Aunt Jemima’s jelly jars. Was it mice? The neighbors? ...Who cares?

Gina: Hey, there’s my title for this interview—Ted Dekker: Who Cares?

Ted: [laughs]

Gina: Well, lots of people do. There’s a big market for them.

Ted: Yeah, lots of people like those stories and that’s cool, but they’re just not for me. I mean it takes me four months to write a book. That means I have to live with this story for that long—FOUR MONTHS. Man, I better be fascinated by it or I’ll never finish it.

Now if we’re talking about these jelly jars and maybe there’s something in them, something odd, like maybe a hallucinogenic. If you eat this special jelly, you’re transformed or transported to another world, now that I could possibly get interested in.

[Gina furiously writes down her next novel outline while Ted continues...]

Ted: The what, why, how and who make up the story. We want to know who did it. That keeps us turning the pages, sure. Why did they do it? Well, that’s somewhat more interesting. We know they’ll get out of the mess, but how? All interesting, but even the three combined is not as fascinating to me as the what. What’s going on? What’s going to happen? What will the character’s fate be? And I love to throw in lots of layers and twists. You know every few books I like to kill off a main character. I want my readers to really not be able to guess what I’m going to do next.

Gina: I’ve been told that for first time novelists, these type of books [thrillers, supernatural suspense, fantasy] are hard to place. Do you agree?

Ted: I think if I wrote Black as my first novel and sold it, it would probably have bombed. Fantasy is risky. In the CBA there are basically two primary markets. One, a very large women’s fiction segment, accounting for something like eighty percent of the books. And then we have the other stories, the kind that might even fit into the ABA.

CBA readers, many of them, are looking for a certain type of book and the majority is going to be the women’s fiction, chick-lit or romance type story. So, yes, the market is smaller.

Gina: Do you see the CBA changing from what in the past was largely conversion type stories to more mainstream or edgier subjects?

Ted: I know Westbow is doing a phenomenal job with this. I’m not really the best person to ask.

Gina: I’ve read that you have a pet peeve about fiction written by Christians being called “Christian fiction.”

Ted: Yeah. I believe artists create art. Some singers sing about rescue from sin, some sing about the beauty of lilies, or the smell of pine in a forest. Which song pleases the Creator more, the one about redemption or the one praising Him for His creation? He created the smell of pine. He created those lilies. I think both songs please Him.

You know my brother owns a hearing-aid company. When he’s fitting someone for a hearing-aid, if he’s not singing a hymn or quoting John 3:16, no one tells him he’s a bad Christian. They tell him thanks, he’s been a blessing. Isn’t it cool that we each have different gifts?

When we get to Heaven we’ll be talking about our Creator, praising Him, speaking of the beauty of His creation, the lilies, the pine, not about redemption because that will be behind us. Some people think that sounds boring—to worship God for eternity, but it won’t be. We’ll be appreciating beauty for beauty’s sake.

I think any story that doesn’t mock God, glorifies Him. An artist who paints a flower is honoring the Creator because God created that flower.

I don’t buy Christian gas, shop at a Christian grocery store, smell Christian flowers, and I don’t feel I need to write Christian fiction. I want to write a great story that will entertain and bless someone.

We have authors out there who write about huge battles between good and evil, King, Koontz, and others. I think the best person to be telling these stories is someone who understands what it’s really all about.

You know if you go to Hollywood and tell them you want to make Christian movies, what you mean and what the producer hears are two different things. What they hear from you is “I’m a bigot. I want to own guns to blast homosexuals with.” It’s the whole speaker’s grid.

What does it mean to be a Christian? To you it’s clear, but that can mean entirely different things to different cultures. In the Middle-East, you say you’re a Christian and they hear, “I hate Muslims”.

There’s an article titled, “Why Do Heathen’s Make the Best Christian Films.” That article says it all. It’d be cool if you could include the link to that.
http://www.godspy.com/culture/Why-Do-Heathens-Make-the-Best-Christian-Films-by-Thom-Parham.cfm

Gina: It seems to me at least that supernatural suspense is really gaining interest. Do you agree?

To be continued...





23 comments:

  1. Sure, Gina. You purposely cut off the interview at the question about supernatural suspense just so you could leave me hanging.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Make sure you expand your Jelly Jar story into a series, Gina. You could call it the "Jelly of the Month Club." You can have titles like "The Grapes of Wrath." Oh, wait, that's been done. You'll think of something.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's all about you, isn't it Tony? :)

    Ron, you're a genious. The jelly of the month. Hilarious. One problem, I ain't as prolific as Ted. Takes me a whole year to write a novel. So, jelly of the year? Not quite the same ring but let's be realistic.

    ReplyDelete
  4. GREAT interview...I especially like the "christian fiction" part...so true, so true. So, when's the next segment going to be posted???????

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great interview, and great article on Christian filmmaking. I have to agree that I won't see most Christian films after being disappointed by one or two on the list. Yet non-Christians get it right. Blows my mind, but if you saw the Chronicles of Narnia last weekend you watched another great example. The story of redemption and restoration laid out for all to see. All the parallels to Christ and Easter laid out without a change. It was beautifully told and right on.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That's the first time I've heard the CBA divided so simply: 80% women's stuff and everything else. Guess that puts me in the minority. Thanks for blazing a trail, Ted. And for taking "christian fiction" out of the church and giving it a pulse.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great interview, Gina. It gives me hope, since I've been told my women's fiction is edgy. You did a fabulous job with your questions for Ted. And thank you, Ted, for being so honest with your answers.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ted, do you expect to leave CBA entirely at any point in order to be available in a broader ABA market? I see your books in B&N but you're still on the "inspirational fiction" shelf of the "religion" section. It's a plus to finally have material like ours in secular chains as well as CBA stores, to be sure. Yet the "CBA author" tag can stick. I know a mystery author, Sally Wright (her work is informed by her faith and her protagonist is a believer), whose titles moved from Multnomah to Ballentine and her work is now in - what else - the mystery section, and doing very well. My point is: as long as we are in CBA, won't we bear the market tag of "Christian fiction"? Do you and your agent ever talk about this sort of thing?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Robin, et al,

    The interview with Mr. Dekker continues over the next two days. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great interview! Thanks to Gina and Ted. Can't wait to read the rest.

    The Other Gina

    ReplyDelete
  11. Gina, a very nice interview.

    I have to admit I have a hard time with Ted talking about an artist creating art in the same breath as talking about turning in a rough draft to his editor. Would it hurt to work on the craft a little more, to see if real art might not emerge?

    (Just wanted to put a little fly in the ointment).

    Becky

    ReplyDelete
  12. Gina, I love how you left off on a question....drama, suspense...you go girl!

    Ted, this is an excellent interview. Your power for turning a written phrase is what I aspire to have!

    I'll continue to buy your books whether they're CBA or ABA. The story is what counts for me! I'm also glad that you're so prolific. It means I don't have to wait so long for my next fix. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Gina - My dear mum says it's all about me. And she'd never lie. :)

    Can't wait to see the rest of the interview, and I've been hearing good things about "Showdown."

    ReplyDelete
  14. Excellent interview. I'm looking forward to the rest. Thanks Gina.
    Linda

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great interview, Gina. And great thoughts by Dekker. I respect and admire all he's accomplished. Wow. I'm always in a learning mode and trying to glean as much as I can from the "ones who've made it," whatever that means. :)

    Then I came to Dekker's comments on his pet peeve about "fiction written by Christians being called 'Christian fiction.'"

    Shoot. (I wasn't allowed to say Gosh or Darn growing up.) I LOVE saying "I write Christian fiction." I'm not ashamed of it. I'm proud of it. I'm proud of the Christian fiction market. Shoot. If a person shoots down the differentiation between Christian fiction and fiction, then why don't we shoot down the differentiation between magazines and Christian magazines?

    I used to be a feature writer for two New York Times subsidiaries. I covered everything from head lice to houseboats to you name it. But I also write for Christian publications. There's a market for both. In fiction, IMO, there's a market for both. Why shoot down Christian fiction? If it doesn't float YOUR boat, then write what does. But why knock what clearly is a calling for some (like me)?

    A good thing happening, I feel, is crossover fiction. I know. I know. That term's been around for eons. But Chip MacGregor said at the ACFW conf. in Sept. that Warner Faith is starting a new line that hopefully will reach middle America--the ones who voted for Bush (I believe he said) but who aren't necessarily Christians. That's a great move.

    I see such a huge differentiation between general market fiction and Christian fiction. With the world being so evil and so sex-crazed, yada, yada, yada, I can't see how the two could ever merge. I'm thankful for Christian fiction.

    Oh, I'm not usually this outspoken. I pray I haven't hurt anyone's feelings, because that's not my intent. I wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm The Baby Whisperer, as my daughter calls me. But I just LOVE Christian fiction.

    Ted: Yeah. I believe artists create art. Some singers sing about rescue from sin, some sing about the beauty of lilies, or the smell of pine in a forest. Which song pleases the Creator more, the one about redemption or the one praising Him for His creation? He created the smell of pine. He created those lilies. I think both songs please Him.

    You know my brother owns a hearing-aid company. When he’s fitting someone for a hearing-aid, if he’s not singing a hymn or quoting John 3:16, no one tells him he’s a bad Christian. They tell him thanks, he’s been a blessing. Isn’t it cool that we each have different gifts?

    When we get to Heaven we’ll be talking about our Creator, praising Him, speaking of the beauty of His creation, the lilies, the pine, not about redemption because that will be behind us. Some people think that sounds boring—to worship God for eternity, but it won’t be. We’ll be appreciating beauty for beauty’s sake.

    I think any story that doesn’t mock God, glorifies Him. An artist who paints a flower is honoring the Creator because God created that flower.

    I don’t buy Christian gas, shop at a Christian grocery store, smell Christian flowers, and I don’t feel I need to write Christian fiction. I want to write a great story that will entertain and bless someone.

    We have authors out there who write about huge battles between good and evil, King, Koontz, and others. I think the best person to be telling these stories is someone who understands what it’s really all about.

    You know if you go to Hollywood and tell them you want to make Christian movies, what you mean and what the producer hears are two different things. What they hear from you is “I’m a bigot. I want to own guns to blast homosexuals with.” It’s the whole speaker’s grid.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sorry for the long comment. I had copied and pasted Dekker's comments in my comment. I addressed it, then forgot to delete his comments.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wonderful interview, Gina! Good, thought-provoking stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Loved the article about heathens making the best Christian films. He hit the nail right on it's shiney little head. Interesting stuff and food for thought.

    Great interview, Ted. Looking forward to hearing the rest. Martyr's Song was amazing. Can't wait to see Thr3e. I think that's on of my favorites.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great interview, Gina. Looking forward to the rest.

    Ted started a thread on his forum about Spirituality and Stories. Interesting topic. Check it out at www.teddekker.com, board link on left side menu, teddekker.com thread.

    Off to rewrite my mystery ...

    ReplyDelete
  20. Excellent interview, I look forward to the rest.

    ReplyDelete
  21. GREAT interview so far, thanks Gina and Ted Dekker!
    Camy

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  22. Thanks Ted and Gina.

    The Heathen article was excellent.

    We have a tendency to share our Christ with others rather than the Christ.

    I work with preteens at church, most of them are bored with God. They've memorized the verses, know all the stories, and lost the awe. We've given them boxes, not God Almighty.

    Something to remember when writing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Seriously enthralled with Ted Dekker books at present and it is refreshing to discover his personal outlook that seems to say that God is not divided or classified and limited in sphere of influence.

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