Box Office Revolution: What inspired you to first write Christian books?
Bryan Litfin: “I think a lot of my fellow writers will understand what I mean when I say, ‘I couldn’t help but write.’ It’s not like I woke up one day and decided to do it. There was no single aha! moment. As a writer, you find you have a fire in your belly and it inevitably moves you to action. It’s like a woman who is pregnant: she can’t help but give birth, because that baby is in there and it has to get out! Books are like a writer’s babies—they demand to be born. My move into formal Christian publishing began with my non-fiction books about the ancient church. This is my area of academic expertise, and I wanted to share this important part of church history with everyday Christians. Writing fiction was the natural next step for me. Why not tell a story that illuminates the historical period that I know so
well? I find the era of the ancient church fascinating, and I believe others will, too. I wrote The Conqueror to show some of the exciting plot-lines that could arise in this momentous historical period.”
BOR: What do you feel is your underlying philosophy of writing?
BL: “For me, the most important principle of my writing is to write in such a way that God is glorified. As a Christian writer, that is my first and foremost aim. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t sometimes depict evil or ungodly things. I have to show sin in order to show how God triumphs over it. Yet the overall purpose of my writing (unlike a secular author) is to honor God and convey themes that will elevate His name and advance the Christian worldview. Second, my goal in fiction writing is to entertain the reader with great stories. That is why I prioritize ‘storytelling’ over ‘writing.’ Sometimes, you encounter writers who are in love with their own prose, and you can tell by how often they use fancy language. They seem to care more about their own literary prowess than getting their readers engrossed in a great tale. While I do want, of course, to use good English, my goal isn’t to win literary prizes. I try to write scenes that are straightforward, vivid, and
easy to imagine. I favor verbal clarity over verbal cleverness. (That probably comes from the teacher in me.) My goal isn’t for a reader to say, “Wow, what an elegant paragraph Litfin just wrote,” but rather, “Gosh, I can’t put this book down!” Forget about me; forget about your surroundings. Just get lost in the story.“
BOR: What do you think is the hardest part of writing a good Christian book?
BL: “The hardest thing for a Christian book to achieve is to be pious without being pious. What? Here’s what I mean. The good connotations of ‘pious’ are to be upright, clean, mature, and God-honoring. That should be a main goal in a Christian book. The negative connotations of ‘pious’ include things like legalism, hypocrisy, super-spirituality, and a holier-than-thou attitude. Obviously, you want to avoid those things in a novel. The trick is to create narratives that convey themes which honor the Lord and depict his grace and truth, yet don’t come across as preachy or fake. It’s a fine line to walk as an author. If you fall off on either side, you become cheesy, trite, pedantic, or bossy. Nobody wants to read a book like that! Unfortunately, because of these difficulties, too many Christian authors avoid deep theology and spirituality altogether. At best, they might include some vague “God-talk.” But I think a good Christian novel should truly engage with matters of the soul.”
BOR: What do you think we need to see more of in Christian novels?
BL: “Today’s Christian fiction landscape is divided into very fixed categories. Readers know what they like, and they buy it again and again. Only rarely do they branch out. This means that publishers are nervous about saying yes to stories that are different. I’d like to see them offer more novels that break the mold and become memorable as something other than just the latest entry in Christian genre fiction. The trick is getting people to buy those boundary-stretching books. In today’s competitive marketplace,
publishers are reluctant to take risks (which is understandable, because it’s real money they are risking). So, it’s up to the readers to buy novels outside their normal reading area and show the publishers that there’s a market for innovative new titles!”
BOR: What do you think needs to be improved about Christian books as a whole?
BL: “Older Christian books from a few decades ago were more ‘meaty’ when it came to the Scriptures. They really dug into the Word and expected readers to track along and engage at a deep level. Now, the common wisdom is, ‘Today’s readers don’t want so much Bible.’ However, I don’t think that’s true. People just want it to be done well. They obviously don’t want to be blasted with a Bible verse shotgun or have the author drag them into theological minutiae. Instead, they want a skillful writer to exemplify wisdom and show them the meaning of God’s Word. Christian books, ironically, need more Bible in them. The Scriptures are inspired and inerrant, and they can transform lives by the power of the Spirit. We need more of that! (By the way, this same principle applies to today’s churches and preaching, too.)”
BOR: How do you feel about Christian novel writing as being a collaborative effort rather than a ‘lone ranger’ creation?
BL: “People often imagine an author as someone like Ernest Hemingway: a solitary hermit plunking away at his little black typewriter in an exotic location. Then, after much laborious wordsmithing, the almost-divine writer submits his nearly-perfect manuscript to the publishing house. All the publisher has to do is slap two pretty covers on it, and off
the book goes to become a bestseller. Nothing could be further from the truth! An author is only as good as his or her editor. Both of them must have a working relationship built on trust and mutual respect. The writer and editor should not view each other as adversaries. The editor isn’t trying to hack away at the author’s sublime manuscript like a devious piranha biting away chunks of living flesh. Rather, the editor is a skilled artisan who wants the same thing as the author: to produce the best possible
book for public consumption. We should think of a book manuscript in medical terms instead of adversarial ones. Sometimes the best thing for the human body is an excision, or maybe even an amputation—not enjoyable, but healthy in the long run! So too, manuscripts need good doctoring so they can achieve maximum vim and vigor. Beyond the author/editor relationship, a writer today also needs to trust the team of marketing and sales people who know how to get the book in front of buyers, readers,
and media influencers. I have been thoroughly impressed with the editorial and marketing folks that I have been working with at Revell for The Conqueror. I feel like a partner in a shared project—certainly not a lone ranger!”
BOR: How have Christian books improved during the time you’ve been involved in writing?
BL: “In general, Christian writers today are less insulated from secular publishers. It used to be that Christian publishing was a separate fish tank with its own unique ecosystem, very distinct from the life and currents of the ocean. And because of that isolation, its water tended to stagnate.
Today, however, the waters are thoroughly intermingled. In fact, the big New York publishing houses now own many Christian houses as a subsidiary unit. This has raised the quality of the product because the bar of expectation is set higher. Christian writers have benefited from learning the craft of their secular counterparts. Christian publishing houses have learned the best practices in design, sales, marketing, and profitable business models. Today’s Christian books no longer emerge from a cheesy and insulated religious subculture. They are products that can stand on their own two feet alongside the best of what the secular world offers.“
BOR: Is working with Christian publishing companies any better or worse than working with ‘secular’ publishing companies?
BL: “I can see pros and cons of each. Working with secular companies could open up doors for an author’s writing to reach more people, including many unbelievers. As for me, I like working with Christian companies because I consider my writing as a ministry, not a business venture. I like partnering with organizations whose goal is to advance the gospel or to send good Christian content into the church and the world. However, the truth is, the lines are often blurred between secular and Christian companies. More often that not, a Christian bookseller these days is owned by a secular
BOR: What are your future plans for new novels? Can you tease any specific upcoming projects?
BL: “Definitely! I have some great things in store for the Constantine’s Empire trilogy. The three novels will span about eighteen years. The first book, The Conqueror, takes place in the early fourth century AD, which was a pivotal period in church history. So many important events happened in that time frame as Emperor Constantine came to power in the Roman Empire and put an end to Christian persecution. The first book tells the story of a young, strong Germanic warrior who joins the Roman army as a special forces operative under Constantine and is sent ahead to Rome to
spy on a false emperor. There he meets the Christian daughter of a senator, and they work together to help Constantine defeat his wicked enemy. The novel climaxes at the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine fought in the power of the Cross instead of by Jupiter and the gods. These two central characters continue the saga into the second and third books. The plot events include more great battles by land and sea; the establishment of the canon of Scripture; the underground worship of the catacombs; the founding of St. Peter’s Basilica; the search for the ancient bones of St. Peter; the Council of Nicaea and the formulation of the Nicene Creed which describes the Trinity; and the discovery of the True Cross and the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem by Empress Helena. I hope my readers enjoy the adventure!”
BOR: Thank you for your time Bryan! We greatly appreciate your openness and honesty in answering our questions and look forward to reading and reviewing your new novel!