INsites: Mirathon

She's the only person I'll allow to call me Mikey. Mirta Ann Shultz pilots starship Mirathon. It's one of my weekly rendezvouz along the cyber-highway, and Mir runs a tight, but definitely not uptight, ship. If you're looking for a wonderful mix of writerly wisdom, pop culture critique, stirring apologetics and good clean fun, Mirathon is a cool hangout. Her love for good literature is matched only by her passion for all things Sci-fi/Spec-Fic. In fact, that passion has propelled her to a category finalist in this year's ACFW Genesis Contest. Huzzah! If that weren't enough, her sister site, Once Upon a Novel, is a great place for discussing the nuts and bolts of the craft. No doubt, her appearance on Decompose only adds to her beam and buoyancy. According to Mir's profile, her mind is "a strange, crowded place." Well, get your crash helmet on and squeeze in...and join me in the mind of Mir.

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MIKE: What’s your religious background, Mir? How’d you get to where you are spiritually?

MIR: I was raised a Roman Catholic and, from first to eighth grade, I attended St. John Chrysostom Catholic School in the South Bronx. At fifteen, after moving to Miami, I converted to the Protestant side of the faith at a non-denominational, evangelical Hispanic church. I'd been invited to "Youth Ranch." Anyone still call it that? (My Spanish was never better than those years!) At twenty-one, I started going to a Southern Baptist church, and that remained my home denomination until last year. I’m sort of in flux at the moment. There's no SBC church in my neighborhood that feels homey, so we started attending CLASH CHURCH, led by Pastor Doug Giles, a godly wild man who runs with and probably would shoot the wolves with his bow and arrows. It's conservative and Evangelical and, unfortunately, I rarely attend cause I’m a nite owl and they only have morning service. Hubby loves it. I still FEEL Southern Baptist, though. I have no idea if this is where we’ll stay put.

MIKE: How did Mirathon come about? What was your initial vision for the site and how has it changed?

MIR: It's the bandwagon syndrome, I'm afraid. One after the other, my fave online peeps started blogs. I had such fun reading them that I said, "Whoa, I want me one." I've tried to keep Mirathon to a limited number of topics: writing, Christianity, films, books, weight/health issues. I'm not much into divulging oodles of personal stuff, although I have and do. Why? Well, I don’t live a life of radical thrill and adventures, so I’d bore anyone with my daily happenings. I'm also not all that disposed to airing my icky linens. I am, however, trying to become a daily writer; so the blog’s a spiritual exercise and ministry thing. The blog reminds me to write and encourage. Plus, I love books and I'm mighty fond of my own opinions. There you have it. The introverted ego goes public.

I named it Mirathon for 1.) the obvious play on words and 2.) I didn't want to do my usual journal routine-i.e., buy a new one, post a lot at first, and fade away never to use it again. No, I wanted a long-term, slow and steady type of writing-related enterprise. A Mir Marathon. . . Mirathon.

MIKE: What’s the overall aim or objective of your blogsite? What would you like the regular reader to come away with?

MIR: Let's say it's three-fold in purpose: to promote good writing, to encourage unpublished writers such as myself to keep running the race and learning the craft, and to glorify God by promoting the gospel and matters of the faith. It might even be four-fold: I'd also like to motivate myself to lose weight, as shallow as that sounds, by making public resolutions. But that's way, way back of the line in terms of importance, although my doctor might disagree.

MIKE: Your site addresses a wide range of topics -- from politics to religion, film to writing, and lots of stuff in between. What kinds of issues and news stories are you trying to highlight? What's the common thread that runs through all these posts?

MIR: There really are two common threads that are twined together: Christianity is one, the literary arts is the other.

The Christianity thread has led me to post on persecuted Christians, consumerism at Christmas, the need for donating to victims of disasters, and Islam’s threat to Christians globally. The literary arts thread includes book reviews, interviews with authors, and comments on the craft of writing.

If you notice, I try to focus on novels that have a spiritual component. I want to help new writers in the CBA, and I want to help unpublished writers aiming for the CBA, or who target the ABA but whose stories have a spiritual component.

I am especially keen on getting the word out on Christian SF/F. It should be a viable genre in the CBA , and Christians should clamor for it and support it. But we don’t. And that boggles my mind. I mean, we're the people who believe the sea parted so that the host of Israelites could stroll through to the other side, that a man who cut his hair lost his super-strength, that bread and fish can multiply by supernatural means, that giants roamed the world once, that donkeys and serpents can speak on occasion, that chariots of fire are at God's disposal, that a shade tree can grow at a moment's notice for and die just as promptly to teach a grumpy prophet a lesson, and that a man who walked on water and made the wind obey him also came back from the dead.

The fact that fantastic fiction seems dead in the CBA irks me no end. We're a natural citizenry for that country of the wondrous and amazing.

I believe Christians should be interested in the arts and promote beauty in every sphere of entertainment and communication. I love movies, books, magazines, painting, sculpture, and even the much-maligned TV. I value the rich history of the church in promoting the arts and sciences. I want us to be poetry-spouting and story-telling and movie-producing "roaring lambs." The blog is a way to remind myself to be one in that herd, and to encourage others to roar away with beauty in any sphere of the arts God calls them to, but particularly those that require word artists.

When I get blog comments or emails that tell me I’ve been helpful or encouraging, I feel fabulous. And I've actually prayed that some non-believers get a dose of truth at my site, and that it moves them toward Jesus. To this end, I occasionally post a gospel-related message. One post was actually THE gospel message. I'm not ashamed of the gospel, babe.

My mission statement would likely sound like this: To help myself and my blog readers become better writers, to promote good Christian fiction, and to promote the reality, importance, and beauty of Christianity—all with Miratude.

MIKE: I especially enjoyed a recent (March 10) entry about SciFi and Fantasy titles. You seem to have a passion for, and knowledge of, the field. How’d you get interested in SF/F literature? What are some of your personal favorite titles? And why do you think the SF/F genres are not represented more in the CBA?

MIR: I don't read as much as I used to--in general, not just SF/F. My eyes grow increasingly lousy. My ability to focus on something for long periods is diminishing. I attribute this to various health issues. Bah and humbug.

However, yes, I love speculative fiction--that general term that encompasses fantasy, science fiction, and allegory. I started reading SF/F as a teenager. My first three novels were STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Heinlein, BRAVE NEW WORLD, by Huxley, and DUNE by Herbert.

My absolute fave novel is science fiction: DUNE. It's got that whole super-powered Messiah thing that a Christian immediately goes for. It has a fully realized other world that reflects issues of our own world. The spice as oil. The Fremen as Arab desert dwellers. The Empire as Western Power nations. Ecological issues. That only goes so far, naturally, but you can see it. The magnificently imagined cultures and systems enthrall me: the religious order, with its highly trained women; the mutated navigators; the desert warriors, hoarding and valuing water above all else; the prophecies and music and chants. I find the sum of it a marvel and utterly irresistible.

I also recommend MORE THAN HUMAN, also science fiction, for the beauty of the prose and the cool idea of a composite being--a gestalt being-- made up of superhuman misfits. From the fantasy side, I loved the retelling of Sleeping Beauty called SPINDLE'S END, and I like the dark fantasies of Tanith Lee, especially her Flat Earth series. It's not for the easily offended Christian reader, though. NEVERWHERE is one of my all-time faves, a modern re-imagination of ALICE IN
WONDERLAND. Dark and funny, both.

I actually prefer short fiction to novels in SF/F. Theodore Sturgeon, Tanith Lee, Connie Willis (whose short works are a must for anyone who wants to see how well they can be told), Harlan Ellison (a hugely gifted stylist), Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Ted Chiang, Jane Yolen, James Tiptree, Jr (Alice Sheldon). All those are worth reading. I go for the lyrical or the humorous or the exquisitely crafted.

Now, why isn't it better represented in the CBA? I would like to know myself.

As I said earlier, we're a smart people, Christians. We're people who value reading, we're men and women of the Book and of metaphor and of the fantastic. We believe in things the materialist doesn't. We're used to projecting our imagination into the future. (Left Behind sold madly doing that in a heavily theological mode.) We're used to expecting the fabulous and inexplicable. Do we believe worshippers can get gold fillings in their teeth, spontaneously? We may scoff, but some of us believe. (Um, not me.) But it's not an incident many Christians would rule out, anymore than we rule out angelic intervention or a total disappearance of a tumor. We go to church and expect the blind to see and deaf to hear and lame to walk, even if we only hold such faith gently, hesitatingly, or at the backs of our minds. I believe God can rip open the sky and make it rain fire. I believe a man can sit in his feces, possessed of multiple demons. And I believe a word from a holy believer can cast out that horde and put the man back in his right mind. Coins can appear in the mouth of a fish when taxes come due. (I wouldn’t mind this happening more often after this year’s tax bill.)

So, why does the fabulous and the extrapolative lose ground in the CBA at a time when a young wizard boy sells a gazillion copies of his tales to the global market, with many of those copies bought by Christians?

First, I think there's a suspicion of things that smack of occultism. Instead of seeing metaphors in wizards and dragons, what is seen is the prohibited. I disagree with some very fine people in this matter. I don't believe that reading a novel with a sorcerer is a violation of a commandment anymore than I believe that reading a story about a serial killer makes you an accomplice to homicide. However, this mindset is part of the problem.

Secondly, science fiction requires some brainwork to enjoy. That's not an elitist statement. Unlike some genres that are cozy, safe, easy and do not require anything other than a basic reading skill and a willingness to feel; a sci-fi novel, especially a hard sci-fi novel, forces you to pay attention, to go with some complex extrapolations, and to orient yourself rather deftly and swiftly to terms that are unfamiliar and often confusing.

When I first read DUNE, I spent a lot of time flipping back to the glossary. (A fellow blogger says it impeded her reading comprehension and pleasure to do this with DUNE.) I like that learning curve. It's cumbersome, sometimes, but it's also mentally rewarding. I bet it staves off Alzheimers!

Thirdly, some people just don't "get it." They can't suspend disbelief to that extent. They don't have the innate ability to turn off the need to be grounded in the here and now. When I was in college, I took a couple of courses on 19th century English novels. In one, we read THE TIME MACHINE by Wells. The young student who sat behind me gave me a blank look after one class. "But it's not possible," she tells me. “Time travel can't happen,” she insists. "It's not real." Now, I tried to explain, as patiently as possible given my shock at this sort of response, that it was FICTION, it was MAKE BELIEVE, and the author was just hypothesizing what would happen if someone could travel forward in time. "But there aren't any Morlocks. It couldn't happen. It's not real." You can't argue with that mindset. Some people only want to read about what's real.

And yet, on the pro side: We grew up with fairy tales. That's fantasy. And SF/F films and TV shows have a track record of doing pretty well and raking in big bucks. It's easy to understand SF/F when it's visual. It's harder to get into it when it's written.

I hope we get a bunch of editors into the CBA who love the genre and push for it. Steve Laube was such an editor once, and Jeff Gerke is one still. We need more. I hope we get marketers savvy in promoting this genre so that Christians who’ve bought Rowling or aLackey or Bradbury will buy a CBA story of that kind. They need to connect the dots for Christians who read Dekker and Peretti and Jenkins, so that they see the natural segue from spiritual thriller or end-time suspense to other types of speculative fiction that has a similar feel and give a comparative reading experience. SF/F is a large playground. Lots of men read science fiction; lots of women read fantasy; and lots of young people enjoy this genre, especially after the Harry Potter explosion. Christians buy Narnia and Tolkien without fear. It's time they opened their eyes to newer tales of wonder.

MIKE: Another recent post of yours, Before You Enter That Fiction Contest: Mir's Non-Comprehensive Tour of Trouble Spot Tip-Offs (April 6), was a practical tool for writers. Tell me a little bit about your writing experience. Why are you so interested in resourcing writers? What are some of your favorite writing books and links?

MIR: I'm interested because I'm have been for years a dabbler in writing. I had one spurt of serious writing in 2002, during which I published two stories in a teeny-tiny periodical and also won or placed in contests. But my mom got ill, I lost steam, and I stopped creating. Health problems also affect focus, sadly.

After the extended depression caused by my mom's decline and death finally lifted in mid-2005, I eased back into it. I found communities online, and I started reading and learning again. And I began writing in earnest again, SF/F this time, not romance. Shirlee McCoy, a terrific lady and writer for Steeple Hill’s suspense line, offered to mentor me. I needed to be accountable to someone who’d kick my hiney verbally if I didn’t produce. (I'm so hypercritical and so neurotic, I freeze with fear, literally and can't write. I think it stinks. I delete like mad. Then I go weeks without writing. This is not a good system for anyone who wants to write professionally, ya know?) We had email woes. I didn't want to take it to the phone, and so that faded. But the fact that this published author cared to take the time meant so much to me. That she saw potential and gave positive feedback calmed my neuroses some.

I wrote stories first. I didn't get anywhere with Faith in Fiction's contest, but I won THE SWORD REVIEW's contest. I totally revised the plot and opening of my apocalyptic urban fantasy novel, and those chapters landed mea finalist spot in the ACFW's Genesis Contest.

That sort of soothes the Mir-critical-beast a bit.

I am now in a newly-formed critique group. I need it for accountability and feedback. If I can knock the fears down and get on a regular routine, I really think I could produce good stuff. Pray for me, would you?

Because I'm struggling and learning, I want to share whatever useful tips I’ve gathered. Plus, my spiritual gift is teaching. (I've been told exhortation, too, but I'm not all that clear on what the heck that is!) I can't help but teach, in almost any context. It's not always welcome. Hah.

Some of my fave writing books are listed on http://onceuponanovel.blogspot.com. Some of my fave writing links are in the sidebars and posts at Mirathon and Once Upon a Novel, particularly the post full of links for writers.

To name a few:

Stein on Writing (Stein)
Techniques of the Selling Writer (Swain)
Goal, Motivation, & Conflict (Dixon)
How To Tell A Story (Provost)
Writing Fiction (Burroway)
The Handbook of Novel Writing (Writer's Digest)
Story Architect (Schmidt)
The Writer’s Journey (Vogler)
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (King/Browne)
Hooking the Reader (Rendell-Smock)
And the introduction in Science Fiction 101 (Silverberg)

MIKE: Your site addresses the intersection of faith and the arts. A common tension faced by Christians in the arts, has to do with artistic integrity versus getting the Gospel out. Where do you see that balance? Is the first objective of the Christian artist to get the message out or be true to the craft?

MIR: The first objective of the Christian is to love God, which leads to obedience, which leads to getting the gospel out and edifying other believers. Making disciples is a commandment. The first objective of an artist, however, is to create things that have beauty and power and truth and, I would add, an individual vision of what matters. A writer has to do that with words, a fiction writer with stories. If the gospel fits into the creative vision without diluting the power or beauty or making it less an individual vision, then go for it. Amen! If the creative endeavor--the story, the poem, the novel, the screenplay—would be damaged by the overt insertion of the gospel, if the spiritual aspects cripple the structure or the beauty or the power, then you can't. Period.

If I want to include a spiritual truth, then I will. If my character needs to be a holy roller, they'll be that. But I don't think I should ditch the quest for a good story or a GREAT story--I'm not there, but, hey, one can dream--because I want to stick the gospel and half a dozen verses in a story.

I do believe that committed Christians can't leave out spiritual truth, some kind of spiritual truth, from whatever they create, anymore than I can go through a day and not think of God. It's not possible. I can't turn off whatever is in me that wakes up conscious of God and goes to bed conscious of God. I write as I live, conscious of God.

MIKE: One of my favorite parts of your site is the, For Your Brain and Soul links. You’re obviously interested in apologetics and evangelism (and we share an appreciation for Peter Kreeft’s stuff). When did you become interested in apologetics and how does it inform your fiction? What are some of your favorite books on evangelism and defending the faith?

MIR: I am a Rational. Do you know about that? It's that personality tests, Myers-Briggs. Anyway, hubby and I are both INTJs, rationals. Even in grade school, my nickname was “The Brain” or “The Computer.” I’m a rusty one now. All that as preface to this: For me to embrace Christianity, my rational faculties had to accept that the faith was reasonable, and not just this emotional leap. (I'm the gal who had a list of what I wanted in a husband and found a pretty perfect match.)

Since my conversion at fifteen, I've been reading books on apologetics. My first ones were some creationist books that my little church sold after service. Then I discovered Josh McDowell's stuff and Francis Shaeffer’s writings. As I got older, I read more of the creationist works as well as non-Protestant apologists, like Kreeft. It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I read parts of the Summa (Aquinas) and the early arguments against heresies by the Church Fathers. (The internet facilitates finding this stuff.) I eventually bought tapes and DVDs by Greg Koukl, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Robert Bowman, Hugh Ross, Francis Beckwith, Norman Geisler, R.C. Sproul, and J.P. Moreland, whose SCALING THE SECULAR CITY was one of those pivotal books for me. I actually felt my brain cells and my faith fatten up reading that difficult book.

I recommend REASONABLE FAITH and anything by Francis Beckwith, Wm Lane Craig, and Moreland. I think you value as I do the APOLOGETICS HANDBOOK by Kreeft and Tacelli. Norman Geisler’s encyclopedia of apologetics is way cool. Philip Johnson's books that argue against the philosophy of materialism/Darwinism are wonderful. I'm an old earther, btw, and a big science fan. I don't believe Earth is mere handful of millennia in age. I don't believe that the opening of Genesis is a scientific play-by-play, but it’s still right. I do believe we're created by God, different from animals in key ways that PETA would disavow, and that evolution hasn't proven its case by a long shot.

MIKE: What plans do you have for Mirathon? Anything your readers can look forward to in the near future?

More reviews. I'm known for giving honest, critical reviews. I don't just gush to make an author feel good. I'd like to up my reading time, despite the aging eyes. I’ve just this month started doing book giveaways. The books will go out next week. If anyone wants to win a Christian science fiction trilogy by Kathy Tyers or the Donald Maass workbook companion to his Writing The Breakout Novel, drop by. It’s not too late.

I'd also like to add a more personal component to my blog, because right now I’m not a big self-revelator. I want to display more of ME, warts and all. I have lots of warts, sadly, and only one is on the outside. Mike, you pose tough questions, bro. Thanks for getting my brain all warmed up. I should go write now.

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Awesome stuff, Mir! I hereby appoint you Christian Sci-Fi spokesperson. Starship Mirathon is now boarding, people.


Mirtika said...

Wow, I talk too much. :)

I really appreciate the focus on my blog and moi. I'm not nearly as eloquent as J.M., but maybe I can flush some spec fic folks out of lurkdom.


Mike Duran said...

Mir, your apologetic for Christian sci-fi/fantasy is sublime. I really mean that. You bring a passion and eloquence to the issue that is stimulating and much needed. There are "lost sheep" that only JM can reach. Likewise, Mir will reach her own unique flock. Thanks for putting such obvious energy and time into this wonderful piece. Blessings!

Meg said...

Thanks, Mir and Mike. I enjoyed reading that. Good questions, good answers, and a new bunch of books to put on my TBR list.

lindaruth said...

Great interview! Reading it made we want to write more (maybe even more fantasy). Good stuff, Mir and Mike. Thanks.

Gina Holmes said...

Great interview Mir and Mike. Mir's blog is a blessing. (Mike, you're getting more obsessive than me with your profile pic. I know for a fact that you don't have a long white Zee Zee Top beard.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Mir, you're an INTJ, like OPI nail polish and some of my favorite apologists. Who knew we had so much in common? Great interview!

michael snyder said...

Nice work, you two. Enjoyed the heck out of the questions and answers.

Victoria Gaines said...

I've visited Mir's site enough to know she's a great lady and quite inspiring (you're going on my blogroll, Mir). Thanks for great questions, Mike, and Mir, you do NOT talk too much! It was like having a chance to pick your brain, only Mike did it...

Thanks for the question about artistic integrity versus getting the Gospel out. These issues weigh heavily on my heart as a fellow writer.

Hey, pray as I get my new site rolling.

Blessings to you both,

Mirtika said...

Thank you all. And i should make a correction: I LOVEEEEEE Opi.Like is just to wimpy a word for the passion I have for the polish line.

Victoria, thank you so much. How loverly you make me feel. :) And I hope your new site rocks better than Tom Petty used to. :)

Maybe you'll be in INsites focus in the future. :D

Mir--looking forward to Mike's other interviews...

ps---the book drawings are done for now...so, sorry if you're reading this and thought you could still enter.

Mirtika said...

Oh, and just for accuracie's sake. My name is: Mirta Ana Schultz.

I forgive ya, Mikey. :) The GENESIS announcement had my name wrong, too. I'm kinda used to it.

Mirta Ana Teresa Naranjo Rosales y Montejo de Schultz

Mirtika said...

er..."accuracy's sake", that should be.