Tis’ a weird kind of season. All Hallows Eve apporaches or as some call it Halloween. So, it’s fitting to be interviewing Chila Woyckik about her peculiar work, ON BEING A RAT And Other Observations. Then again, we are called to be a peculiar people. Of course this is an interview swap, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing Chila’s interview of me up on her blog in the near future.
Now on to this very unique interview…
Nike: Chila, I’m not sure how we ran into each other. I think on Facebook. I felt I’d found a kindred spirit. Many things you’ve said about Christian fiction echoed what I’d said. I love Christian authors, yet in my heart, I feel a great deal of Christian fiction writing is not as good as that in the general market. For me, it’s not enough that the book is squeaky clean. I want it to be a good read. However, I’ve seen vast improvement in Christian fiction writing in the last year or so. Groups such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) are pushing writing courses and have put huge effort into setting up critique groups for the purpose of improving the writing and polishing the manuscripts of their members. I lead one of the ACFW small critique groups and I’m proud of the contribution I make there to improve the quality of Christian fiction writing. What are your thoughts on this?
Chila: I think that’s fantastic. I’d love to see all writers everywhere, especially those who claim to follow God, begin to challenge one another to be the very best of the best. We all tend to say we strive for that—to be the best—but the honest truth is that we often stop far short of reaching that goal, for whatever reason (the biggest factors seem to be ignorance of good writing form, laziness, impatience, and for Christians, isolationism and an inability to truly relate to those not of our little circles). And I echo you in that I hold nothing against Christian authors per se—I am one! May we each write what we feel we must write, and may we focus on the writing essentials rather than our differences in style, belief, or whatever it is that tends to so often divide us.
When I started in this business 2+ years ago, I certainly had my rose-colored glasses on. I soon found that many in the Christian realm were uber-critical of just about anything being offered in what they’ve termed “the general market.” The only problem with that is what they’re offering (in the “Christian market”) simply doesn’t measure up to what’s available in the real world. And to add insult to injury, defending substandard Christian books because “they don’t have swearing and sex in them” is about as lame as we can possibly get. I’ve seen fantastic general market books that have little to no swearing and no sex, yet because they’re not specifically Christian, they’re discounted. And that’s sad. As I’ve often asked, what are Christians afraid of? Is their faith so fragile that to read a bang-up general market book with a strong modifier or two would be akin to sacrilege in their eyes? I certainly don’t see evidence in the Scriptures that God would get upset about us reading something that doesn’t have “praise Jesus” in every paragraph, or even something that happens to diverge from foundational Christian truth. No, the God I read about isn’t that way at all.
Much of the white noise I’ve been hearing from dissenters from those groups is that they simply don’t feel they should scrub their manuscripts of the gut-honest humanity that gives soul to their work. They want to write from their heart, to our current society, in a way that rings true to their target audience. So, maybe another organization needs to spring up to fill in the gap? I’m not sure. But I truly fear we compromise our creativity when we feel pressured or threatened to write in a certain way, by a set of someone else’s preconceived guidelines, especially the “spiritual” ones.
Nike: I support Christian fiction ebooks and those coming out from small houses with my online presence and via my pocketbook by purchasing and reading these novels. Again, I find that in many cases the quality of writing needs improvement. I’d like to see small press publishers encouraging authors to take workshops and to get into critique groups. I read a riveting small press novel that did get some attention in alternative Christian fiction circles. This novel was fresh, exciting, and bold in ways that eludes many traditionally published novels, but the writing could’ve used some basic work. What direction do you think small press authors should take?
Chila: I think what we all have to remember is that there isn’t, and neither should there be, a sort of “imprimatur” go-to group for Christian writers. Writing groups abound. Writers have options like never before. At Port Yonder Press, we’ve begun something called our TEAM PYP mentored writing groups. Our mentors are high-quality authors including an editor from a top-notch large general market publishing house, and a Nebula Award nominee. I’d love to see dozens of these kind of mentoring groups develop. And I suppose we’ll always have “writing that needs improvement” on all sides of the fence: whether we’re discussing books from smaller or larger presses (readers constantly refer to Twilight as an example of a NYT bestseller that contains writing that “needs improvement”). Small press owners should simply keep improving, as should everyone else. There’s not a single or easy answer for that situation, and it certainly isn’t limited to small presses.
Nike: What’s up these days with Port Yonder Press? And how did you arrive there as Managing Editor?
Chila: I started the press and continue to manage it, hence the titleJ. Port Yonder Press is a fun little diversion for me that takes up a whole lot of my time. And I’m constantly reviewing and renewing our vision to produce the best, most engaging books in a variety of genres. Now that I know my way around the process a bit, know where I’m heading, and how I want to get there to some degree, I’ve come up with a few ways and means to assist me in reaching those goals.
TEAM PYP (mentioned above) – started in July of this year. The immediate goal is to develop stronger writers, while my long-term vision for this is to possibly publish the very best of the best out of these groups, if not the first year then maybe the second. Initially, our goal is to break into the general market with compelling short stories that get noticed.
BEYONDARIES is Port Yonder Press’ online magazine set to debut this winter & will focus on all-things-writing from a general market perspective (not religiously focused at all, but writing-focused). Interviews, books, writing tips, art/illustrating tips, and more, from a fresh perspective.
What I’m finding is a need to re-educate Christians who want to be competitive in the larger “marketplace,” in the realm outside their little church groups and small reading circles. Christians are coming out of the woodwork, wanting to influence society-at-large with great writing, period, no soft-soap preaching, no “evangelistic message,” just award-winning writing. And I’m all for that!
The IndieGalaxy Publishers Association – is a loose-knit organization I recently began wherein I gather a number of small presses together for shared marketing goals and small press dynamic helps. I hope to hit this harder next year, but do see potential benefit arising from this venture.
Nike: You’ve said you’re looking for “fringe fiction” to publish at Port Yonder and you’ve given authors as reference points such as China Mieville, Margaret Atwood, and even Sylvia Plath. These are all general market authors. Is there anyone in Christian fiction writing like this today?
Chila: Not that I know of, but then, I seldom read Christian fiction anymore. I simply don’t have time to wade through yet another book that sounds and feels like so many other Christian books available. But I think a few Christian authors are probably trying. Unfortunately, it’s likely they feel a certain kind of external restraint knowingly or unknowingly put out by certain organizations, whether Christian organizations, publishers, or book distributors such as the CBA. Nothing quashes creativity like guilt or restrictions, I’ve found. Mature Christians should be the freest and most creative writers of all, able to tackle profoundly intense and difficult subjects, and unbound by all but their own consciences and understanding of truth.
Nike: If a Christian women’s fiction, science fiction, or literary author wanted to take a huge risk in their writing, what practical advice would you have for them?
Chila: Push aside everything you’ve heard (outside of basic grammar rules), and write. Your boundaries are waaaay out there, not that little fenced in area you’ve been standing in. Run and romp in the outer court and have a ball! Never violate your conscience (and there’s the rub), but know why your conscience is telling you this or that. Know beyond your church beliefs or what you’ve been told. Know beyond what that group or individual tells you. Be beyond. And write!
Nike: You have a new book out that’s on my to-read list and I’m excited about reading it, mostly because I think I’ll learn more about you. Tell us about ON BEING A RAT and Other Observations.
Chila: ON BEING A RAT is a wild and sometimes random run through a lot of universal themes, mostly from my perspective, but from what I’ve heard, readers find it easy to relate to as well. The lyric essay is one of my very favorite forms, and the heart of creative nonfiction handily lends itself to it. So basically, ON BEING A RAT takes a flying leap through life, writing, and nature via lyric essays and poems, light prose narrative and odd observations. I’ve addressed a variety of themes, but again, that’s the nature of the lyric essay: unpredictability and an almost stream of consciousness jaunt from one topic to the next. I believe the book itself will be an education for those unfamiliar with the form, and I hope to some degree it will be a good example of such. But more importantly my hope is that it will inspire writers to expand their boundaries and get at least a small glimpse of the creativity they can engage when writing in their favorite genres.
One male reviewer recently said this while reading it, “My writing was boring and flat this morning. Then I read a bunch of your book (had to tear myself away because of a word count goal) and then my writing improved greatly, flowed out, and even felt eloquent. Thanks for your beautiful writing and encouragement to tell my story while I still can.” Someone else said, “This is the most purely satisfying new author that I’ve encountered in over two years.” Very encouraging words.
ON BEING A RAT is DIFFERENT. It really is. Don’t expect it to be like anything you’ve ever read, but I do hope you get a chance to read it! J Official release date is early January, though it is currently available with the old cover on Amazon.
On a final note, I’ll be taking 2012 “mostly” off, to hone both my writing and publishing craft, to take in seminars and workshops, to learn. BUT, submissions will still be open at Port Yonder, and we’re looking for the very best soft and hard science fiction, fringe fiction, fantasy, and creative nonfiction we can find. I think I have 2 or 3 books slated for publication, but that’s all. It’s time to truly kick our desire for excellence in gear!