Interview With Coleman Luck–Aubrey Hansen

Vinyl Scratch ACEN 2014 portraitHowdy!  I’m Aubrey Hansen.  Some of you may know me already–spec fic writer, holyworlds.org alumni, screenwriter, sarcastic blogger, etc.  Yeah?  No?  Well, maybe you’ve read my (indie spec fic, woo!) books, Red Rain and Peter’s Angel.  Still no?  Whatever, nevermind.  Here’s my blog that I never post on–you can read about me later.

Why am I here?  Well, as established above, I’m a spec fic writer, which makes me qualified to post on a blog like Vaguely Circular.  Furthermore, I’m an indie author, and a rebellious and nontraditional one at that, which makes me doubly qualified to post on a blog like Vaguely Circular.  And furthermore furthermore, I had connections with another published spec fic author who wrote a very nontraditional spec fic book that was incredibly inspirational to me.  Considering this blog bash is all about being inspirational and not quite circular and all that, you can see why Katie asked me to write a post.

So here I am, hosting an interview with my favorite modern author, Coleman Luck, author of Angel Fall.  When I first read Angel Fall, it shook my world.  I had never read anything so terrifying or edgy (I used to be a little skittish with my reading choices), no anything so inspiring and revealing.  That book tore down some of my preconceptions of “Christian” fiction and impacted me spiritually.  Plus, it was just a great read in general.

Some time later, I had reason to contact Coleman via email.  I was still a new author at this point, and since Coleman had been traditionally published by big name Zondervan, it was a like contacting a Hollywood movie star for me.  Imagine my ecstasy when Coleman actually replied and then took the time to personally converse with me over multiple emails!  As if I needed more reason to make him my writing “idol.”

Anyway, enough fangirling.  Not surprisingly, Coleman continued his tradition of being nice to me and agreed to answer my nosy interview questions.  So sit back and enjoy some words from my writing inspiration…

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Angel Fall by Coleman Luck If someone (like me) asked you to describe Angel Fall, how would you, without quoting the back cover copy, describe the book to them? What genre would you put it in?

Well, first of all, I hate the whole concept of genre.  It is nothing more than the iron fist of modern marketing crushing the brains of writers, forcing us down boringly redundant paths. Genre is one of many gifts that Satan has for us. If you had never heard the word “genre”, you’d just be concerned about writing a good story, one that fascinated you and let it fall where it may.  Instead, we become slaves to the marketing categories of the utterly whorish publishing business. (And so-called “Christian” publishing is a bastion of whoredom.) We write stories for genres and markets.  The possibility that there might be actual readers who would, God forbid, fall outside the agreed upon marketing niche never enters our consciousness, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. If the niche is YA and called “speculative fiction” that defines the entire creative approach. (What, in the name of all that is evil, is “speculative” fiction?  Tell me what non-speculative fiction might be, slavishly practical fiction? If you accept such a meaningless label, then YA must stand for You Ass.) The word “genre” gives the whole desiccated system a pastiche of pseudo-sophistication, a spoonful of sugar to make the reek go down. Let’s dispense with the term.

I’m well aware that when you dispense with their categories, the Forces of Gray (and by that I don’t mean old people, I mean those who drain the color and life out of everything they touch) that control publishing (and all of culture) become very confused.  They wander stupidly from office to office mumbling to each other trying desperately to find a consensus on how to categorize your work.  They jam it into one smelly little box after another.  When it doesn’t fit, being color blind and tone deaf, they continue wandering and mumbling. When the Forces of Gray don’t know what to do with your work that is dangerous, but it’s a risk that we need to take.   The only categories I half-willingly accept are children and adult, though even these really mean nothing when you have a great story.

So to your question: When I think of Angel Fall, I think of it as a “journey story”.  To be more specific, a kind of modern Pilgrim’s Progress, though I don’t want to imply that it’s to be compared with the great classic.  It’s a story for brokenhearted young people who can’t find their way home.  (Yeah, yeah, I know.  That’s on the back cover.)  I really don’t like to describe the book. I just can’t encapsulate it, an unpardonable marketing sin.

As a longtime fan of your book, I’ve always wondered–where did you get your original inspiration for the story?

I have no idea. I can tell you the source for some of the motivation to write it.  It was about 1980.  My children were small and I read books to them.  I read a novel by a well-known writer.  Three quarters of it was set in this world and it was wonderfully written. Then I hit the last quarter, which was set on another world and it just fell flat.  I thought it was awful, a terrible way to end.  The new world didn’t work. I asked myself, can you do better?  At the same time, I was selling my first scripts to Hollywood and writing scripts for hire. I was learning that there is little creative freedom in the entertainment business. I knew I needed an outlet where I could write anything I wanted, so I started Angel Fall (which was entitled Wind Sunday until it went to Zondervan).  I started writing it for my children and reading a chapter to them every month or so.  Then I got into television and all of it stopped.  Ultimately, it took 25 years to complete. And thank God it did.

41P9WXwzgHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_How did you keep your inspiration going while working on the book? What sources gave you new ideas and motivated you to keep writing?

Inspiration?  I really don’t know what that word means when it comes to writing.  I’m a professional writer.  When you write for television forget inspiration.  They want it Thursday and they don’t care whether you are inspired or not. Two hundred people will not be amused if you tell them, “I don’t have a script for you this week because I wasn’t inspired.” Writing is a discipline.  You make yourself do it.  You rewrite until it is the best you can do within the constraints. I don’t believe in writer’s block. That’s an excuse for lazy, uncreative people. Your imagination is a wild horse, not a pig swilling at a trough.  Tame the beast.  Don’t let it run you.  Make it go where you want it to go and when you want it to go there. This really does work.

When I need ideas, they come on demand.  At the beginning, when I was young and starting to tame the horse, it wasn’t that way.  I needed to sit and listen to music on headphones and let the visions arrive.  That hasn’t been necessary for many years, thank God.  When you are producing a television series and chaos is all around you 24/7, you are guiding other writers and you have your own script that you MUST finish and turn in in two days and you’re only half done with no ending in mind, forget headphones. I say all of this with one proviso.  Sometimes we are going through experiences that are so painful or even shocking that our minds won’t focus.  If that’s the case, let the horse rest.

Where do I get ideas in my stories?  First, prayer.  I pray constantly for wisdom and understanding. I believe as creators we are to co-labor with the Holy Spirit and that is pure joy.  Let me tell you something, He leads you to take risks.  Second, my characters tell me what they are experiencing. I’m on the journey with them. In Angel Fall, I never knew where we were heading until we got there.  Now that’s the way it is with novel writing.  When you are writing a screenplay the game is the opposite.  You beat out every plot point before you begin. Young writers come up with awful scripts because they won’t do the necessary work before they start writing page one. They’re so anxious to get into the script that they don’t work out the problems.  Instead, they crash into them and try to fix them as they go.  But there aren’t enough pages in a screenplay to do that, which leads to multiple drafts that get worse and worse.

As far as fertilizing the story brain is concerned, I’m constantly reading, but not novels. If you’re going to read novels, read the great ones.  Read Tolstoy and the other Russians.  Read the great Christian novelists (and be clear about one thing, they’re all dead). Charles Williams was a tremendous influence on me and there have been others.

Always, I’m reading about all the strange things that are going on in our world.  I’m reading in mythology, the occult, the esoteric, odd science, weird psychology, magic, mentalism, hypnosis (I am a mentalist and a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at The Magic Castle in Hollywood).  I’m reading about what the Powers of Darkness are doing to destroy people’s lives right now. Most of all, I’m studying the Bible. I am a Bible teacher. My father was a professor and chairman of the Bible department at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a school I attended. If you call yourself a Christian writer and you don’t study the Bible on a serious level, you may be a writer, but don’t add any other descriptives to it.

You want ideas when you need them?  Stop reading other people’s mediocre novels even if the writers are your friends. (Especially if they are your friends.)  And don’t ask them to read yours. Subconsciously, this kind of incestuous activity establishes an acceptable level of incompetence.  If you’re writing is a notch above your friend’s (and we always think it is) then everything is fine. We can all be mediocre (or worse) together and feel really good about it, congratulating each other into ever deeper levels in the turgid morass of our storytelling.  If you want someone to read your novel, go to a real person not another writer.  I love to get food servers in restaurants to read and comment on my work. I ask them tough questions about what they read. There are some really bright people working in restaurants.  With the warmest and best of intentions, your little coterie of writing buddies will drag you down.

Now a time or two, I have been in small writers groups where we read our work to each other.  The comments were sweet, but meaningless. It was good motivation to get the work done. The ultimate motivation over the years were the young readers, including my own children who became and adults, who read the unfinished work and told me they would kill me if I died before I completed the stupid book. Also, I just couldn’t imagine leaving three young people lost forever in a horrible world. I cared about them.

 In my mind, your book falls into a very unique genre–I would describe it as surrealist fantasy with allegory and horror elements. Your book is intense, but also very beautiful with deep symbolism and complicated themes. What made you choose that “genre”? Was it difficult to write?

Okay, we’ve dispensed with genre.  I didn’t choose one. I have to say that I wrote Angel Fall in layers of joy and pain because that has been my life.  I grew old writing it. Over the 25 years, I think I re-wrote each chapter about 40 times. I would lay it aside for years, then pull it out and rewrite and expand. I would rewrite because life was teaching me things, most of all, Jesus was teaching me things. A person who reads Angel Fall at 14 will understand one level.  A person who reads it at 60 will understand a much deeper level.  At least that is my hope. That could never have happened if I had finished the whole thing at 32.

In my opinion, very few writers are able to do anything of real value before the age of 40.  I think this is because before you reach older years you just can’t understand the horror and beauty of a broken heart that is being healed by God, but will never be fully healed until Heaven.  You can’t understand what it means for your life to be broken bread and poured out wine as Oswald Chambers describes it.  Until you have willingly allowed God to break and crush and pour you out in the middle of suffering, you have little to say. What should young writers do? Write, but be humble about it. In ten years you will read what you are writing now and understand what dreck it really is. Ten years more and it will turn your stomach to look at it.  That’s perfectly all right.  Writing is a lifetime endeavor. Learn the craft now and let Jesus do whatever He wants with your life.  He’s in the deepening business.  I hate to say it, but I don’t think I’ve ever learned much of anything except through pain.

Most of all, if you are brokenhearted at this moment, praise God for it.  Forgive those who broke it and let God use it.  Under the Power of the Holy Spirit, broken hearts can be the key to great writing. And if you don’t have a seriously broken heart yet, don’t worry one is coming. Always remember, you aren’t done writing until you are a little embarrassed about what you think your writing reveals about you.

9781845501020When you originally brainstormed the book, did you set out intending to write an “allegory,” or did that develop naturally from the plot? What was your goal and purpose with the book as a whole? What did you want readers to take away from your book?

I never “brainstormed” it. (Come on, Aubrey, that sounds like something out of a 1960’s boardroom.)  I think allegory is a pejorative term created by ham-fisted critics who don’t like to be confronted with truth. So often, to categorize is to marginalize. I wanted to write a story about the cost of redemption and the depths of sin and evil. I wanted to show the results of choice. I wanted to take three young people with broken hearts from a broken home and, by the Grace of God, see them go through suffering and in that suffering to be healed. I wanted to show how the Enemy works through beauty, terror and subtle lies, not just ugly little demons sitting on your shoulder.  I wanted to show the horror of what our world is by traveling to one far away, but also I wanted to show the glory of what our world will be.  Without ever using His Name, I wanted readers to meet Jesus who appears in the humblest forms and in the middle of our deepest sorrow takes us in His arms.

Lastly, do you have any advice for other speculative fiction authors, particularly those who are interested in bringing allegory or religion into the story?

God help us, please don’t set out to write allegory or bring “religion”. What do you really care about enough to give your life for it? Write about that?  And if you don’t care about anything enough to give your life for it other than fame and money, go to Hollywood. Suffering is waiting for you there.

In 1978, I enrolled in USC grad school. I wanted to learn how to write a screenplay and back then you couldn’t take a class at every community college in the entire world.  The first night of my writing class, the professor came in and he was drunk.  For two hours, he spilled his guts in front of all of us.  He had a long list of television credits. He had made a lot of money.  But his wife had left him, his family was broken and he was brokenhearted.  After that first night, we never saw him again.  The next week there was a different professor.

That first night was a gift.

Coleman LuckColeman Luck has been a Hollywood writer and executive producer known for such TV series as “The Equalizer” and “Gabriel’s Fire”.  His Hollywood credits are available at: www.imdb.com.

Coleman is a mentalist and a member of the Academy of Magical Arts at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. His first novel, Angel Fall, was published in 2009 by Zondervan, a subsidiary of Harper/Collins.  His second novel, The Mentalist Prophecies – Book One – Dagon’s Illusion, was published in 2013 as was his third novel, The Singing Place.

Coleman is also the author of the non-fiction books, Proof of Heaven? A Mental Illusionist Examines the Afterlife Experience of Eben Alexander M.D. from a Biblical Viewpoint and The Curse of Conservatism. All of his books are available on Amazon.

Coleman studied at the Moody Bible Institute, received his undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University (magna cum laude) and did graduate study at NIU, the University of Southern California and Simon Greenleaf School of Law.

As a U. S. Army infantry officer, Coleman was given the following awards and decorations for combat service in Vietnam:  the Bronze Star for valor, the Bronze Star for meritorious service, three Army Commendation medals for valor, the Air Medal for combat assaults by helicopter and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Coleman and his wife of 47 years, Carel Gage Luck, a fine artist, live in the mountains of central California. They have three adult children and four grandchildren.

Visit his website: www.colemanluck.com.

All of Coleman’s personal papers relating to his Hollywood career are available for examination in the Special Collections section of the Wheaton College Library, Wheaton, Illinois under the title, The Coleman Luck Collection.

Giveaway Details

Wow! First of all let me extend sincere thanks to Mr. Luck and the tremendous amount of time he obviously took to participate in this interview! When Aubrey told me she had four pages of material I thought “Silly girl, you asked too many questions. We’ll do a Part I and a Part II.” Then she sent me the interview and I immediately changed my stance to…whoa! That was thorough!

So! Are you intrigued about AngelFall yet? Good! We’re giving away a copy! How do you enter? Well, good question! Mr. Luck obviously had a lot to say on the subject of inspiration, genre, and the reason we write and create. Now it’s your turn to voice your opinion on the subject. Do you agree or disagree? Were you inspired? Did any one thing in the interview catch your attention and make you think deep thoughts on the subject?

To enter you need to participate in the discussion. To help spark the discussion I’ve posted a few sample questions below. You do not need to answer every question–pick one or as many as you like. Alternatively post a discussion question you would like to see fellow readers answer! Or, the third option is, answer one of the questions posted by a commenter before you!

Please note: We will not be forwarding any of your question to Mr. Luck. If he happens along and participates, well and good, but this is intended to be a discussion among commenters.

The possibilities for conversation are endless, but we will only be counting one entry per participant.

The winner will be randomly selected on Friday, July 25th. Entries must be submitted by midnight, local time, the night before. This contest is open internationally. The winner must claim his or her prize no later than Sunday, July 27th or a new winner will be selected.

Discussion Questions:

Mr. Luck feels very strongly that you shouldn’t get feedback from your (writing) peers. Do you agree or disagree? What have you found to be the best method of getting critique for your work?

In what way has your heartbreak or personal journey influenced your writing or craft? Do you find you write better during times of personal turmoil? Does your art help you find some kind of meaning in the pain?

What are your thoughts on genre being a series of “smelly little boxes”? Do you agree or disagree?

Can you define “desiccated,” “pastiche,” and “pseudo-sophistication” without looking them up?


Comments

Interview With Coleman Luck–Aubrey Hansen — 9 Comments

  1. Answering the first question–I think it’s very good advice, yet in my limited experience my writer friends have been able to give me balanced feedback and help me grow a lot. Also, Inklings? I think they did fine. I think writers should endeavor to help each other with honest critique, but it’s important for us to seek feedback from “normal people” too.

    For the second question– It has been more than an influence for it… My own hardship has given heart to my writing without any conscious input from me.

    Third question–I think that can be a really good description. 😛 I hate how people use genres to categorize art. Art is art, and it’s awesome. I think the concept of genre can definitely be helpful, but it’s overused and abused, and consequently the art subjected to it is often abused as well.

  2. Not ‘pastiche’, but yes to the other two. Never heard pastiche before. 😀

    Frankly, I don’t agree that getting feedback from your peers is a bad thing. Several of the greatest writers ever have done so, and claimed that it helped their work. I do agree that in a lot of cases, the peer feedback groups I have experienced and heard about have had flaws and sometimes fatal ones, but I don’t think the solution is to kick out the idea entirely.

  3. I definitely respectfully disagree on getting feedback from writing peers — I’ve always personally found it foolish to try to put a story out there without getting the opinions and critiques of others. Other writers may see things that our eyes, so accustomed to the story, may miss. They aren’t attached to the story the way we are, and can spot darlings that need to be killed. I’ve always found peer feedback very helpful in my writing 🙂

  4. For the first question: I’m not sure. I think that critique from other writers can definitely be a good thing sometimes, but it can also hinder one’s own writing efforts, as you might feel judged, depending on the person who is critiquing it. Plus, writers tend to catch tons of miniscule things that readers might never find. You should always get critique from non-writers, because they represent the general populace of people who /don’t/ write and thus won’t catch half as many things as English geeks and other writers might. So I think it’s 50/50. Feedback from other writers is often a good thing, but one should also get plenty of feedback from non-writers as well.

    The best method of getting critique for my work, I’ve found, is to… well, just send someone the document and wait for them to send it back with red marks. I don’t really have a set method.

    ~

    For the second question: A /lot/. Nearly all of my stories hold whisperings of hardships I’ve gone through. Two examples – one story I’m working on, “Little Glass Girl”, has a rebellious teenage girl who got that way after her father died and her mother remarried an atheist. She retreats further and further into a world inside her head… and then finds herself falling through her mirror and into that exact world. I’ve never done that, obviously, but with a dysfunctional family and a dreamworld of my own, I poured a lot of my emotions and thoughts and logic into Leila (the character). Another example is another current work in progress, tentatively titled “Missing Nolan”. One main character is a girl with a lot of the same issues I have befriending a soldier (Nolan) who has PTSD from being in the war – something that I would definitely do if I had the chance.

    Basically, yes; I pour my heartbreak and my problems into my writing as a way to cope. I do tend to write better during such times, though I’ve rarely found meaning in the pain just by writing it out.

    ~

    For the third question: I’m not sure. I don’t like conforming to genres, not at all. So I do agree that they can definitely seem like a series of ‘smelly little boxes’ a lot of the time. I think if a writer just avoids taking genres too seriously, they can be pretty helpful at times. 🙂

    ~

    For the fourth question: No, I can’t. 😛 Sorry.

  5. Wow. My thoughts about genre are now being percolated through again.

    In what way has your heartbreak or personal journey influenced your writing or craft? Do you find you write better during times of personal turmoil? Does your art help you find some kind of meaning in the pain?
    I first started writing as a way to work through frustration. That wasn’t my ultimate ‘goal,’ but that’s why I could never quit. That, I think, may be part of why so many of my first stories were knock-offs: other stories I had read captured pain better.
    I know I’ve grown much, much stronger through every painful experience I’ve had, and I think my writing does the same. Not just because I, the author, have grown a little wiser, but because I process that way. 🙂

  6. Huzzah! Someone as irritated with the limitations of genre as I am. This has really started to grow recently as my stories have begun to slip free from the genre shackles and incorporate multiple other ones. I can keep trying to succumb to the impulse to pin the story down, but get frustrated, since it’s like trying to wrestle a buttered fish in tsunami. Even the loose term science-fantasy doesn’t quite fit it, since it doesn’t match the common description of that category. I’m already getting cold sweats about trying to explain it to agents, publishers, and readers.

    The second question? Ah, one of the requirements of writing is to be vulnerable. Personal struggles gave me something to be vulnerable about, an indifference to most of what other’s think of me, empathy, and attitude that shoves aside society’s expectations. They just stopped mattering. It allowed me to break free from the boxes and cubicles my writing had been trapped in before. It also gave me a well of personal darkness to draw from. As for writing better in those times? Not a chance. Those times I can barely force myself to eat, let alone the work required for writing. My creativity is completely stopped. Even watching a favorite movie and enjoying it is impossible. There’s no way I can drag words from my brain then.

    A question for others, what do you think would happen to your writing if you had the chance write anything you wanted without needing to think about potential readers?

  7. Mr. Coleman encouraged seeking the advice of non-writers, and I wholeheartedly agree. He pointed out problems that usually happen when you have writer friends critiquing your work, and I wholeheartedly agree with all of them. And I would add that non-writers probably tend to feel privileged to read a writer’s unpublished work (people pay for sneak peaks), whereas fellow writers critique their own work all the time and probably see candid critique as extra work (sub-consciously).

    But of course writer groups are not bad. There are writer groups where these problems are recognized and avoided.
    The Inklings, for example, was a group of aggressive thinkers, who had the self control to engage in intense debate and come out closer friends than ever. And they discussed theology, politics, education, philosophy, and everything else, as much as they discussed writing. And when they discussed writing, they were dissecting each other’s work as thoroughly as if it was their own. They also actively held each other accountable to finish their work. This is what a writer’s group ought to be (which a non-writer’s critique cannot be).

    Personal struggle… One thing I found was that in acting you must not be afraid to show emotions publicly. We tend to think of them as private things, but only emotions about private things are private. The rest must be unashamedly public (under self control, as all our actions should be).
    I do not see my writing work as a consolation for my troubles (except in the way that all work is a consolation). Instead I see it as the reason why my troubles have a use.
    I know that my stories are in developing, I do not intend to finish any but short stories before I am older.

    About genre… Genre is a system of categorization. I have found that any attempt at categorizing anything quickly becomes smelly. When people rely on their story being in a particular genre instead of doing work (when they rely on anything instead of doing work) they fail, period. Genre is not a writing technique, it is a handful of adjectives: far too few to be descriptive of any one thing.
    Their being mistakenly used for other things has made them even less useful as categories.

    I know desiccated and pseudo-sophistication, but I looked up pastiche. Nice word, and my guess was close.

    To Kaleb Kramer’s question: They would probably be more controversial! If it is possible to be more controversial than they are.

  8. Well, yes, if you are a member of the Inklings, by all means get the other writers to read your work. But you’d better have tough skin. I understand they are an impatient bunch and often use the coarsest, crudest language in shredding the work of fellow members.

    • @Coleman Luck: Exactly. That’s the kind of peer group I’d want if I could get it (or make it).

      Side note, though: they tore each other’s work apart, but they also said what was good. This is important too. If I remember the story correctly, Lewis almost decided not to write ‘Narnia’ because Tolkien disliked it so much. He got feedback from other people who said it was really good, though, and he wrote it anyway. Of which I am glad.

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