Jason Brannon has a new book out with the Crossover Alliance. His book The Tears of Nero has been making splashes in the Christian Spec Fic tradition; I virtually sat down with him and ordered coffee to see what an author like him can tell us about his process and his book.
ME: What is your book about?
JB: The Tears of Nero is about five strangers trapped by a madman on an island that may or may not contain the key to Armageddon. It’s also a book that seeks to address the question, “Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Good People?”
ME: This is the first book in a series, right?
JB: Yes, that’s right. This book is the first in The Halo Group series. Essentially, The Halo Group is a clandestine government organization that infiltrates and investigates cults, sects, and strange religious orders that may be involved in criminal activity. The Tears of Nero provides a brief introduction to The Halo Group by focusing on The Slaves of Solomon, the first cult they are investigating.
ME: Sounds like a spy thriller almost. Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
JB: As much as anything else, the inspiration for this book came from all the books I wasn’t finding in Christian bookstores. For folks like me, who enjoy speculative fiction in all its forms (especially horror and dark fantasy) but can’t find much to read besides Dekker and Peretti, it becomes frustrating to find something that speaks to you in a way that is both entertaining and morally valuable. Most of the mass-market Christian publishers won’t give stuff like The Tears of Nero a chance, and as a result, there is a huge swath of faith-based readers who want to read something a little off the beaten path but don’t want to pick up something in a secular spec-fic section that is filled with profanity and gratuitous sex. The Tears of Nero was written to fill that particular void.
ME: Understandable; many people confuse “popular” with “good.” How do you think your book pushes the boundaries of what is usually allowed in Christian fiction?
JB: In one review I received for the book, The Tears of Nero was described as a cross between “Saw” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Talk about two extreme ends of the spectrum. I think one of the things that makes The Tears of Nero unique is that it brings in a lot of influences that aren’t normally seen in Christian fiction, and that description points out the fact that the story runs the gamut. I spent nearly 20 years writing horror and dark fantasy for secular markets, and those influences seep in on nearly every page. Yet, for every bit of darkness that is in the book, I hope I have balanced it with light (or at least the prospect that there is light out there if only we know where to look).
ME: Tell us a little bit about you. It wouldn’t be a fair interview if we didn’t make you feel awkward enough. What made you want to write?
JB: The first short story I ever wrote was in my high school Creative Writing class. The tale was about a phone that could make calls to Hell and was cleverly (or not) named “Hotline.” I remember getting so much praise about the story from my friends and classmates and wondering if maybe I could do something more with my ability. Fast forward a couple of years to selling a short story called “Crawlspace” to an online magazine, and I had my first writing credit. From that point on, I had the bug.
ME: It’s the best one you can get! What are your “needs” as a writer? Tell us about your habits.
JB: I have very few writing habits. Coffee isn’t necessarily a must, but some form of caffeine usually is. Unlike some writers, I don’t listen to music or have any ambient noise going in the background. I like peace and quiet with no distractions. I can write just about anywhere if the conditions are right. Inside a car. On a plane. Coffee shops. Libraries. You name it. The location isn’t important, just an environment that is conducive to letting the muse do her thing.
ME: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
JB: This advice sometimes runs contrary to what other writers would say, but in my mind, it is okay to take a break from writing and put that manuscript in a drawer for a month or two. So many times I’ve gotten burned out/bored with a current manuscript and fallen into a sense of complacency with what I was writing. It’s better to take a break and come back with some fire in your belly than to trudge along and write something lackluster that you aren’t excited about.
ME: I’ve had that experience before. What are some of your other works? What are some you are working on?
JB: I have also written The Maze, The Cage, The Misunderstood, and quite a few others. (You can check out Jason’s website at Jasonbrannon.us) I have a sequel to The Maze completely written although I don’t know what will become of it. I am also working on a sequel to The Tears of Nero that has a working title of The Fury of Nero, Book 2 in The Halo Series (Beware the Death Angel) is about 50% finished, and I have a coming-of-age novel called Miracle Man that is 75-80% done.
ME: Sounds like a lot! Since you are a Christian author, tell us about your reasons for writing spec fic. What was your experience with religion and faith growing up? How does your faith have an impact on your writing?
JB: I write spec fic because there are no rules. Anything you can think of you can write about. Imagination is the key to this particular kingdom, and after reading books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or watching each and every black-and-white episode of The Twilight Zone I can’t imagine writing anything else.
I grew up in a Christian home. I was raised a Southern Baptist. My childhood was a good one, and my parents raised me right. Church was a huge part of growing up and shaped the person I am today. More than anything else faith made me evaluate the kinds of things I was writing (especially in the horror days). I loved scary stuff, suspenseful stories, fantastical worlds, and horrible monsters, but I also wanted to live in a way that was pleasing to God and write things that utilized my talents for that purpose. The way I write now is a direct marriage of my interests and my faith.
ME: That’s a beautiful and meaningful way of putting it. I’m hoping more readers will have a lot more of your work to look for in the near future! Thanks for interviewing today!
Have you read The Tears of Nero? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below!