So over the past few trips to the confessional, I’ve been telling the story of all of my various writing projects. I never really intended for the Geek Confessional to be my authorial autobiography, but it’s kind of turned into that. Hope you don’t mind.
Anyway, while I was in high school, I was an avid science fiction reader. More specifically, I was all about licensed Star Trek novels. I don’t quite know why that is. I’m sure that I read a lot of other stuff. I was a voracious reader. But when I think back to my high school years, all I can really remember reading were Star Trek novels. Well, that kind of changed one day when I went into my local Christian bookstore. I’m sure I was going to the back of the store to see if they had any new Christian music tapes (yes, this was in the heady days of audio cassettes, when CDs were a brand new thing). On my way, I happened to walk past the Christian fiction section and I spotted this book:
Now I don’t know why I bought it. I think I had heard from someone that it was a good read. But for whatever reason, that day I purchased a copy of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and that was that. It set me on a course that only recently played out.
For those of you unfamiliar with this book, it tells the story of a small town besieged by the forces of darkness. Demons are swarming into this town, which has been targeted to become the epicenter of a New Age cult of sorts. So God dispatches His angels to oppose them with the help of a scrappy young pastor and a newspaper owner. It’s a fast-paced, rollicking adventure and it set fire to my imagination. I had no idea that there could be stories like this with such explicit Christian themes. By this time, I had written several books. But because of what I had just encountered in Peretti’s story, I decided to try my hand at Christian fiction.
The results were….interesting, to say the least. In the course of a couple of years, I produced basically four books, all of them what could be called Christian speculative fiction. And all of them were simply awful.
The first was a three part collection of novellas I creatively entitled “What If?” The first part was the a Peretti-esque take of the fall of Lucifer. The second part dealt with the question of how aliens might factor into Christianity. And I think the third part was a really awful allegorical fantasy.
While the first part (the cheap knock-off of “Paradise Lost”) is entirely forgettable, I wanted to touch on the other two parts. The second part, with the aliens, was an interesting story. In it, I hypothesized that God would send Jesus to each and every alien world, to die and rise and so on and so forth. Or maybe He only did it once due to it being a galactic civilization. I can’t really recall. The point is this: the alien Christians were being persecuted by a vaguely New Age cult, so they sent one of their number to find help. He wound up crash landing on Earth, where he met an Air Force chaplain (who, coincidentally, served at the same base as the father of my smart-mouthed teenage Sherlock wannabe that I talked about last time I was in the confessional, but more on him in a sec). When the chaplain realized that the alien was essentially a Christian, he went back with him to save his people from oppression through the magic of textual comparison: the alien’s version of the Bible was almost word-for-word identical with the human Bible save for the proper names of God, Jesus, and the different locations.
Now when I started writing this story, I really liked it, but after I got done with it, I realized that I had stumbled into what felt like Mormon-esque theology, so I decided that I should scrap the story. And since the third part of the story, the allegorical fantasy, was ballooning out of control, I decided to throw out the Paradise Lost rip-off and just write a full length fantasy entitled “Judah the Warrior” or some nonsense like that.
The result fantasy novel was extremely pretentious and a vehicle for my own ego. I was certain that I had stumbled onto a best-selling idea that would be (and I kid you not) read by high school students as part of their coursework in future generations.
Yes, I was that delusional.
After finishing off the Judah story, I decided to try my hand at the novella collection again. I once again entitled it “What If?” (which is why my memories of these books is a little fuzzy; I can never remember what was in which one. What I’m sharing is the best reconstruction I can manage), and it was three parts. In the first part, I told a Peretti-esque story of Jesus’ life, only this time, it was from the perspective of the angels and demons that followed Him around. The less said about that train wreck, the better.
But for the second part, I returned to the idea of aliens coming to Earth. Only this time, since I didn’t want to create a Mormon-esque theology, I had the aliens come to Earth looking for help in defeating…well, I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. Basically it was a con artist who tricked an alien race into worshiping him as a pantheon of gods (very similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Devil’s Due, now that I think of it; I suspect I may have “creatively borrowed” from it). The alien recruits the same Air Force chaplain from the first version of the story, only this time, my smart-mouthed Sherlock wannabe teenage detective goes along for the ride to unravel the mystery.
For the third part, I took a stab at writing End Times fiction. This was years before Left Behind would hit the scene. I cast a bunch of my church friends into the story, giving them all code names as part of an underground church movement that opposed a New Age empire that had come to rule the world. When I showed this entire book to my youth pastor, he was a bit skeptical of this part in particular, pointing out that my story didn’t adhere to any sort of eschatological framework.
In spite of that criticism, I was bound and determined to get this one published. By this point, I had learned about these mystical creatures called “literary agents” and decided that I had to get one. So I looked in the phone book and discovered that there was only one literary agent in Minneapolis. So I dutifully sent him a query (not the full manuscript, thankfully!) and waited for the contract to roll in. Understandably, the agent sent me a postcard rejection form and that was that.
But I wasn’t quite done yet. As I had the last time around, I decided to scrap the first two novellas an expand on the third. I wrote another version of the story, detailing the rise of the New Age empire and how my friends and I wound up under its foot. I put in more of my friends, including my high school crush, into the story and…well, that’s it. I think I might have a copy of this one lying around somewhere. One of my friends kept a copy I gave her and she returned it to me a few years ago. I don’t know what happened to it. Hopefully it was destroyed.
That brought me through my senior year in high school. I had churned out a bunch of stories and was starting to drift in the direction of Christian fiction. But once I graduated from high school, that momentum sort of stalled. Rather than keep going, I started writing stage plays and movie scripts (which I’ve talked about in the confessional in the past). I also wrote a series of stories about a group of genetically enhanced soldiers created to put down a revolt on Mars. But for whatever reason, my nascent Christian fiction career had seemingly come to an end.
It would receive a jump start in my final year in the Seminary. But that’s for the next time I’m in the confessional.Author @JohnWOtte shares about his earliest attempts at writing Christian fiction. Click To Tweet