Wednesday 20 April 2011

Anthony Horvath - Author Profile

Anthony (A.R.) Horvath is an author who spends a lot of his time promoting new talent in the Christian writing market, lead by his ministry Athanatos Christian Ministries.

1. You have embarked on an ambitious writing endeavor. You are working on a series called Birth Pangs the series is to be 7 books in length. Do you have a specific writing plan and timeline for the series? If so what is the release schedule?

The original goal was to try to publish a new book every 2 years. I'm not going to make that with book 3, which looks like will have to wait until the summer of 2012, although the possibility of the winter of 2011 remains. So, that's a 3-4 year gap. Sometimes life interferes with our plans. : I hope to get back onto the 2 year cycle after that.

2. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?

That's a great question. I'm pretty ambitious in a lot of ways and it has taken some disciplined thinking and decision making to compel myself to stick to things that I think are truly important and worth while. I've wanted to be a writer from my earliest memories. I suspect writing would have been a large component of whatever I ended up doing.

3. Who are some of the authors, or what books have had the greatest impact on your own writing?

I can't underestimate the impact of C. S. Lewis. Take his The Great Divorce. When I first read it I was grappling with the Christian doctrine of 'hell.' That is, how it could be reconciled with the notion of a good, fair, and just God, and similar questions. Simply as a story, though, I was moved. Perelandra remains one of my favorite stories of all time. What the two books have in common is that they provided me with the imaginative framework needed to fit pieces of dogma together into a coherent framework. There probably isn't anything that I've written that didn't have its germination somehow in the writings of Lewis.

4. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?

Wow, give me an easy question, then! Just 10? The collected works of C. S. Lewis The Bible The collected works of William Shakespeare The collected works of GK Chesterton The collected works of George MacDonald From these five I suppose you could get just about anywhere.

5. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?

Actually, I prefer silence when writing. Preferably long stretches of silence. This has been of short in supply the last couple of years, hence the delay in the writing of Caritas (the upcoming third book of the Birth Pangs series).

6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?

It varies a little depending on the project. Much of my fiction begins with actual scenes playing out visually in my head. I will often let them play over and over again for several days or even weeks. In my mind's eye, I see the scene from the perspective of different characters. I am often surprised at how a scene unfolds. When I sit down to write it is a quest to record as accurately as possible what I saw in my mind. I wish that people could see the scenes in my head! They are much cooler than the pale representations my words achieve. After I write, there must be editing. But I hate editing. I'd rather go to the dentist. And I hate going to the dentist. I don't mind one or two pass throughs but by the third and fourth I'm about ready to let the thing fly as is and let the pieces fall where they may. I am unlike some people in that I am not particularly concerned if I get 100% grammatical orthodoxy. I figure I'd probably die of old age before I pulled that off. This is especially the case in the Birth Pangs series, where each book tops 150,000 words. Also, I have always said, "Language is my servant, not my master." Many times what a 'grammar nazi' (my affectionate term for them) would object to exactly communicates what I want to communicate. At any rate, I find nothing more satisfying than watching the text at last come into its final form- order out of chaos.

7. One of my goals in life is to find balance between body, mind and spirit. You seem to have achieved that balance in both your work and your life. What do you do to maintain your balance?

I'm not sure that I've hit that balance but I'm certainly trying. It is also a heck of a lot of work. Probably the most important strategy in pursuing that balance, in my own life, is by holding firm to the things that I am passionate about. They are not the things that typically make a lot of money. They are not the things that ambition can co-exist with. (My passions, anyway). So, I have to reconcile myself with living the life I live that comes with following those passions. Contentment. But it is really not as easy as that in practice.

8. What does your typical day or week look like for our mind, body and spiritual development? Do you try and keep to a specific regime or schedule?

I would like to keep a regime or schedule. I think I would benefit from it. Real life thwarts it at every turn, though. Still, there are some things that we could call typical. In the morning I'll wake up, check the news, check my email, send the kids off to school, and then reply to the emails that came in overnight. Then I sit down to read, write, proofread, or research. I get about an hour or so of that in and then have to deal with other obligations for a bit and then after lunch get another couple of hours. This isn't a lot of time for being productive, but I am assisted greatly by the fact that I can type pretty fast, on the order of 70 to 90 words a minute. If I have a story idea in my head, and it's ready to pop, I can have it done in thirty to forty minutes. This is why I've produced more short stories lately than full length ones, because I can pump out one of those and be done with it in under an hour. That doesn't mean that the other hours aren't productive. I'm constantly thinking. I'm 'writing' in my head. It's those scenes playing over and over again in my mind, as I mentioned before. If I'm driving down the highway I'll call up a scene for review. After the kids go to bed at night, I read. When I wake in the morning I almost always have a whole series of things to pump out in the few hours of good 'silence' to work with.

9. One of the greatest strengths in your books are the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?

That's a really good question. I think I'd have to say, "Yes." Some characters are reflections of people I know. Others are composites, and still others created whole cloth. Often a character will have its own identity (ie, entirely my creation) but will have one specific trait that I have observed in 'real' people. Sometimes, that trait is something that I have observed in myself. A good example is Aiken's father, who it appears did nothing half way. Everything he did, good or bad, was done at 100%. I definitely see that in myself.

10. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?

Yes, that's very similar to my own experience. Each one of them has a whole back story to them and it isn't uncommon that I've devoted days and weeks of mind wandering to watching the 'scenes' of their lives unfold. As a way of example, one of the characters in Caritas appears very briefly, yet I have on my hard drive a 25,000 word novella I actually sat down to write, detailing much of her story. I am speaking of 'Grandma Jazz.' (I suppose it wouldn't kill me to throw that up on Kindle). In Spero, there is a scene where the character named King sits down in a park in Cairo and an old man sits down on a bench nearby- there is a whole story for that man residing in my head, but in Spero the sum total of his interaction in the story is that he sits down, rests for a bit, and is gone when King next looks. So, each character has the courtesy of full existence within my mental universe, even if I don't have time to record it in typed out words. That said, one weird thing (weird given the above) is that after I've committed a scene, story, or book to paper, it is no longer in my mind anymore. It only comes back into my mind again when viewing it from the perspective of another character or book that intersects it at that point.

11. Your books are classified as literary apologetics. From your perspective can you define that term for us?

'Apologetics' is 'defense' and is typically meant in the sense of defending Christianity. 'Literary apologetics' is the defense of Christianity through literature. My books may be classified like this, but it isn't always intentional. Some times I'm just telling a story. Still, I have found that I can sometimes get ideas across better in a story than I can through proposition. Since my goal is communication, if it takes a story to do it, I'll do it. (Example, my short story "Polite Company.")

12. There is a big difference between being an author who is Christian, and writing Christian fiction. What drives you to have such a strong theological focus in your own writings?

I suppose it's as simple as the fact that I really believe what I'm selling. I believe Christianity is true, top to bottom. I don't really intend to write 'Christian' fiction most of the time. I just write. However, like all writers, I'm informed by the experiences and reality I'm immersed in. My experience of reality is that it is infused with many real things that are not directly presentable to the senses. We know they're there- we brush up against them, or we feel their passing- but we can't put our finger on it. Something more is going on, but we are incapable of nailing it down. I think all my writing is an attempt to put words to this sensation and argue that this sensation is not a fabrication of our mind, but rather represents something real about the fabric of our reality. It's the imprint of something supernatural upon us and as both readers and writers we get a glimpse of the Creator. I am enthralled with world building. Each story is a world that I am both utterly immanent within and yet fully transcend. If I become a character within it, I incarnate myself relative to the characters of my world- fully them, fully me. The only worldview that can accommodate this is the Christian worldview and I can't keep this belief from percolating up into what I write.

13. Your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?

Well, I like the concept of ebooks as a producer. Actually printing books comes with costs. An ebook allows one to jump right to considerations of value, since you typically don't have any capital outlays in developing it further or distributing it. However, there is something about the culture of the Internet. Since it has stripped away the need in so many cases to invest so much money in distribution, people on the Net are used to having everything free. Even when they understand that there is a tangible connection between an artist's right to have compensation for their work and the person enjoying that work, they are still loathe to fork over any money for it. The temptation to turn to illegal methods is strong. One's own moral integrity is challenged, and in a society where the moral fabric is in tatters, one can expect more trouble along these lines. That said, I welcome technology's ability to cut out the middle men. For example, I have no sympathy for RIAA. I think the large publishers are next. You see, technological advances have exposed the fact that in a lot of cases the costs of production and distribution were not really as high as we were led to believe. Have the profits been shared appropriately with the artists themselves? I don't think so. Still, it is clear we're going to have to strike a balance. Producers and distributors deserve their fair return, artists deserve their fair return, and those who enjoy their services need to be prepared to pay a fair amount for their enjoyment. Otherwise, if they aren't careful, there won't be any content for them to enjoy. It's as simple as that.

14. You spend a lot of your time promoting writing contests and new works. How do you balance that vocation with your own writing?

I don't harbor any illusions that I am a great literary talent. That sort of assessment is not to be made by the author himself, in my view. When you can get feedback, you take it. It is my sincere hope that by offering these kinds of opportunities to other authors that they can refine their skills and potentially open doors for their future success, however they define it. Our judges have the interests of the writers in mind and truly want them succeed. That is why, for example, we give the anthology out to entrants, whether they win or lose. That way they can see who succeeded in our contest and hopefully learn from them. That is to say- I don't mark myself as someone who has great literary talent, but if I can help find someone who is and can give them a step up- I would consider that part of my writing vocation. Balancing my writing vocation against my most important vocation- that of husband and father- now that is a trick! As for promoting my own new works, marketing is definitely not one of my natural strengths. In today's market place, however, it is necessary. If you write and expect to be read, plan on managing your own marketing campaign. You will be the exception if you don't take point on promoting your own work, not the rule.15. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?

I agree with your university professor. I fear, however, that universities are not doing their job. More directly, I'm not sure that education in general is doing this. This would be a long answer if I gave it in full. In sum, before you can think about facts you actually have to know facts. Once you have the facts, your task is to be able to interpret them. Before you do that, you have to understand what principles you are using to interpret. What is your framework? Where did it come from? How do you evaluate positions that emerge from two mutually contradictory frameworks and happen to overlap just at that point? Schooling these days seems to be useless in these areas. Never mind facts… its how you feel. Never mind principles… how you feel about a situation or circumstance is all you need to know. Well, you can't argue with feelings and you can't reason with them, either. The number one virtue that education is trying to foster is a feeling of tolerance. I am not here trying to knock tolerance, per se. There is a big difference between the feeling of tolerance and actual tolerance. I could almost tolerate the latter. It's the former I detest. Whether or not education has any business fostering tolerance, felt or actual, is another question, but in any case it is a long way from being able to thoughtfully and critically evaluate the many mutually exclusive frameworks that are out there. It appears that in the face of the fact that there are many mutually exclusive frameworks, the goal is to try to goad people to adopt none of them and hate anyone who does. But that, I am afraid, would also constitute adopting a framework.16. In many ways you are a modern renaissance man, philosopher, educator, researcher, student, author and more. Very few people today are as well rounded as you are to what do you attribute this?

Very simply, I hate being in a position where I have to take someone else's word for something. I also think that if I'm going to express an opinion about something, I should at least try to bring myself up to speed on the issues and do some research on it. Note, I don't mean that I can't have an opinion on something without doing that kind of legwork. I mean… if I'm going to express that opinion, and defend it. Well, if you have this kind of approach to the world I suppose that means you spend a lot of time reading and researching, which I do. The other thing that I think might distinguish me from others is that I would much rather hear things from the horse's mouth rather than the jockey's. I'll take a primary source over a secondary source any day of the week and form my own judgments about it, thank you very much. I think I am a long way from being able to consider myself a true modern renaissance man and frankly had never thought of it in that way, but I guess I can see how if I continue to go the way I'm going, that will be, one day, a true description.

17. Many people have commented on how each of your books would make great films. Have any of them been optioned or has any interest in actually developing them begun?

No, and I am afraid that it isn't likely any time soon. Maybe if I actually tried to press the issue I'd discover differently, but due to the nature of the series, a movie would be impossible at this point. Each of the first 6 books will carry on from the perspective of 6 different characters or sets of characters, covering more or less the same time frame. Where one character's story overlaps with another's, you will see the same scene in both books, but from each character's unique perspective. Some scenes will appear in all 6 books, as each story overlaps. Thus, no movie could do the stories justice until it was known how each book would overlap. Moreover, in the final analysis, while each book is offered up on its own terms and written so that it can be enjoyed independently of all the others, none of them can be fully understood until all of them are integrated into the reader's mind as a collective whole. (The 7th book will start up chronologically where each of the previous 6 books all ended, and then wind them all together as one story to the grand conclusion). Since the rest of the books haven't been written, there is no way a movie could be made, and thus, in my view, no point in pushing for one to be made. But it is flattering to hear people say such things, anyway.

18. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?

I tend to read more non-fiction lately and I can't say that religious authors are much more represented than non-religious authors. In the past, I enjoyed the fiction of Frank Perretti, a Christian author, and C. S. Lewis, whom I've mentioned (but he's dead, so I suppose he doesn't count). I am afraid that I find a lot of the contemporary Christian writing I've come across to be fairly formulaic. If a Flannery O'Conner emerged today, I doubt Christian publishers would touch her. I suppose I shouldn't limit it to Christian writing. Everywhere I look I see the same formulas over and over again. I'm sure that the publishers and movie studios value that because a winning formula pads the bottom line every time. Although, it is worth mentioning that the very fact that there are winning formulas speaks to some metaphysical reality about humans and their unique place in the universe. Neither my dog or the ape at the zoo appears to enjoy any story, let alone the same ones over and over again under new guises. Still, I prefer some variation, myself.

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

Of course you expect me to say, "How to Escape from a Desert Island" but you would be wrong. My list would actually look something like this: 1. How to Survive in Comfort on a Desert Island 2. Everything You Need to Know to Make your Own Beer, Wine, Rum, and Whiskey and Grow your Own Ingredients on a Desert Island. 3. How to Keep Pirates and Bureaucrats (Pardon the Redundancy) Outside your Territorial Waters With Minimal Effort 4. Creating Your Own Fiber Optic Cable out of Ordinary Sand 5. Nuclear Generators for Beginners 6. Quantum Teleportation for Dummies (in case I ever DO want to get off the Island or have friends over) 7. 100 Things You Can Do So you Never Have to See a Doctor 8. 1,000 Things You Can Do If You Scoffed at the Orders Given in '100 Things You Can Do so you Never Have to See a Doctor.' 9. The Bible. When and if I finally left the desert island (the official word would be that I had done so voluntarily) I would write a book called, "The Incredible True Story of a Man Who Did the Impossible: He Survived- and Thrived- Without Having His Entire Life Micro-Managed by the State." They would make it into a movie. The fliers would read: "The Unbelievable True Story Banned in 195 Countries! Seen for the First Time Without Editing!"

The movie would be great. It would carefully follow a man who wakes up in the morning and eats his state sanctioned fat free cereal with homogenized and pasteurized synthetic milk- and likes it- who would proceed to the office where he would be bossed around by a series of bureaucrats- which he would enjoy- before going home, exhausted and distanced from his family, to plop himself down in front of the tube where he would watch- with glee- the carefully scripted fare that the government had sanctioned for him that night. Then the movie would show him getting up to do the same thing the next morning. In dialog they would have me saying, "All for one and one for All. My work looks drab, but I know it's for the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, and since I'm not smart enough to calculate either of those, I'm happy with my lot!" And now for something completely different.

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?

I read somewhere the advice that a young author should first strive to do anything, literally anything, before pursuing writing. I am inclined to agree, especially if they want to have their writing reflect their faith. How can you have your faith reflected in the characters and events in your story when you don't know how your faith is reflected in your own life and the events of your own Story? Living out your faith in real life is instrumental in making sure that your writing reflects the harsh realities that face the faithful in the world. That isn't to say that they shouldn't write or write for publication. I'm just saying that if you don't have a life outside your writing, your writing will not have life. But there is something more to add to that. The truth is that just because you love to write doesn't mean that your writing will be any good. I love to draw, but I'm terrible at it. I end up throwing the crayons against the wall and breaking them into tiny pieces in rage. No matter how I try, I cannot get the images in my head to the paper. Oh sure, there are some principles out there (I was taught some of them at one time, even) but it's just not my gift. Sometimes the things we love become our idol and as is always the case when we worship something that doesn't warrant it, the sacrifices we make to it go wasted. Having a life outside of your passions, whatever they are, helps you to keep things in balance and perspective. More to the point, they do not rule you but are ruled by you, and therefore cannot harm you if they do not get their full expression. Put your passions to death daily and who knows, "if, having renounced [them, they will be] restored." (Charles Williams, Descent into Hell)

Thank you Anthony for taking some time to answer our questions, I look forward to the rest of your series!

Books by A.R. Horvath:
Birthpangs Series

The Annals of Myrtle and the Blood King Series
The Warden-Watch

Books as Anthony Horvath:
Chronos and Old Facts
The Golden Rule of Epistemology and other essays
We Choose Life
Polite Company and Other Stories
The Knight in Black Tuzedo
Mordecai's Dilemma
For No Reason at All
Roots and Fruits

Author Profile and Interview with Anthony Horvath

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