INsites: Learning Curve

Welcome to the world of Well -- Chris Well, that is. It's a wild world, indeed, filled with cops and robbers, comics and cinema, views and interviews. He calls it Learning Curve, but it's a bit more like a pop culture infobahn. Between penning his wildly popular new book, Deliver Us from Evelyn, being a contributing editor for CCM Magazine, and manning the helm of StudioWell, he managed to assemble 68 Listmania Lists at Amazon, containing such eccentricities as HAYAO MIYAZAKI: PAGE TO SCREEN, Quirky Crime Thrillers and CARY GRANT: BIGGER THAN LIFE. And if that weren't enough, he appreciates bands like Project 86 and P.O.D. Rock on, C.W! The caffeine ravaged staff at Decompose recently had a chance to camp at the Curve and toss annoying questions at the webmaster, which he returned with uncanny ease. Fasten your carseats, kiddies, and enter the world of Well.

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MIKE: So how does it feel to be highlighted by Decompose? No doubt, your career will never be the same, right?

CHRIS: I have a feeling Decompose is going to put me over the top. (I turned down Letterman for this, so it better.)

MIKE: Uh, right. So what's your religious background, Chris? How'd you get to where you are spiritually?

CHRIS: Back in Illinois, I was raised going to small-to-medium-sized Methodist and Baptist churches. Here in Nashville, I am a member of Bethel World Outreach Center, a non-denominational church that is both very studious and yet has much enthusiasm for serving the Lord. Once a month, I serve in Bethel's children's church service, where, over the three Sunday morning services, we have something like 250 or more kids in Kindergarten through fifth grade.

I am also influenced by a lot of reading. At a young age, I was a voracious reader, and from elementary school on up through college grew up on C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer and apologetic works such as Werner Keller's The Bible As History and Josh McDowell's More Than a Carpenter. So I have come to cherish the fact that we Christians do have a reasonable faith. Sometimes it may seem like we do have not a lot of reasonable Christians, but we do have a reasonable faith.

I always loved the fact that Thomas doubted and was rewarded with proof.

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

CHRIS: The short answer is that I started blogging as a way to draw attention to my novels. Originally, "Learning Curve" was the name of my blog at CCMMagazine.com, and the intent was to write about my new journeys as a first-novelist. But I grew tired of talking about myself, and would drift into other topics in the media and promoting other novelists.

When I started writing the media column for CCM Magazine proper, "Sightings," I changed the name of the CCM blog to match it. I relaunched "Learning Curve" as my private blog, once again with the intent of writing about my new journeys as a second-time novelist. But -- and I think you can see where this is going -- I grew tired of talking about myself and often drift into news and commentary on such topics as fiction, writing, media and TV on DVD. And promoting other novelists.

MIKE: What are you hoping to accomplish with Learning Curve? What would you like the average reader to come away with?

CHRIS: With "CCM Sightings," I cover a lot of news regarding Christians in the media. "Learning Curve" has become the companion blog, where I share media news that does not necessarily fit on the CCM site.

Ultimately, it is telling readers about stuff I like. (It's how I got started writing about Christian rock in the first place.)

The end result is that "Learning Curve" is a combination of info and advice for writers, plus breaking news regarding authors and TV shows and DVDs and mystery fiction. And, of course, those happy moments where it all intersects, such as Monk: Season Four, coming to DVD in a convenient box set this June. Or the fact that Disney's The Little Mermaid is coming to DVD in October or that Get Shorty is now being made into a Broadway musical. When I hear about stuff like this, I have to tell somebody about it, so I jump on and blog about it.

MIKE: The subtitle of your blog is a Scripture: "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men" (Prov. 22:29). Why do you quote this verse and what does it mean to you?

CHRIS: That verse is such an excellent reminder that you have to do the work before anyone will notice you. Too many wannabe writers look for shortcuts. Don't buy the lie. Whatever it is that you want to do -- writing, music, woodcutting, whatever -- you have to work at it and become good at it before you will be successful at it.

MIKE: Your site addresses a wide range of topics -- from music to movies, novels to comics, TV, trends, analysis, and lots of stuff in between. Why should Christians be concerned with pop culture? Isn't there a danger of becoming enamored with trivia or, at worst, worldly?

CHRIS: The great men and women of the Bible demonstrate for us the importance of learning the language and the customs of the culture around us. From Esther to Daniel to Paul, they learned to speak truth in the vernacular of the culture in which they lived. And Jesus commands us to go out into the world and serve as salt and light.

MIKE: 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?

CHRIS: There is truth in beauty. If the Lord thought it worthwhile to create the beauty of nature all throughout the universe, regardless of whether any human eyes would ever see or not, then clearly the example is that there is a worthwhile intrinsic value to the art itself. To denigrate the art for the sake of a "message" is to make it less godly.

Only God can make a tree, but any idiot can chop it down and make a sign out of it.

That said, any "message" should bubble out of the artist and into the work in a natural and unforced way. I do not claim that I have attained this level of craft -- it is possible that sometimes my good intentions might leak out and interrupt the story -- but this is where I hope I am headed as a novelist.

MIKE: You're a fan of comic books and give them a lot of play on your site. Why? Many people think of comic books as juvenile entertainment. How would you rebut that?

CHRIS: Well, as Detective Charlie Pasch explains passionately in Deliver Us From Evelyn, "comics" is as valid a medium for expression as film or prose or any of the visual arts. When a comic book store employee is falsely arrested for selling adult materials to a minor, Charlie is the only one who notices that there is a problem with the report -- the utter absence of proof that any minors were involved. The entire story (and the real-life case that inspired it) was built on the outrageous viewpoint that any art form is unsuitable for communicating grown-up ideas.

Mind you, I do not condone gratuitous content or pornography -- but these should be dealt with in an honest and fair manner. To combat them with a lie is just as immoral.

MIKE: How important is a "web presence" to authors nowadays? What advice would you give to a new author regarding blogs and websites?

I am still trying to figure that out, to be honest.

The Web is the greatest source for disseminating free information in history -- no hard costs, no physical limits, no geographic borders. Someday, my postcards for Forgiving Solomon Long will be gone or boxed away in the closet. The FSL website is available to surfers around the world for free as long as I keep the site up.

One bit of advice I would give to authors is to cross-link as much as possible: When you make a permanent link from your site to someone who, say, has a review of your book, that brings more traffic to both parties. This is especially helpful if novelists partner together to send readers both directions.

The principle of "bow tie theory," so called because of the pattern on the graph, is that the more you cross-link with others, the more traffic you get in return. Those who never link to anyone else simply drop off the chart altogether.

MIKE: Your profile describes you as a novelist and magazine editor. You oversee Studio Well, Learning Curve and do reviews for CCM. You update your site often and, on top of all this, you're a married man. How can you possibly keep up with all these things and still crank out great books? What have you learned about time management that has helped you effectively juggle everything?

CHRIS: I wish I had an answer! To be frank, the load is wearing me out. I am hoping to keep the pace until some others can step in and help. (It is an enormous help that my wife is quite supportive.)

To answer specifically regarding the blogs, it helps that I can keep both going by simply passing on info and linking to other sources. If I took the time to write original essays, much as I would like to, I could never keep the schedule with my various fiction projects. As such, you can be sure I will continue to keep you updated about such earth-shattering developments as Pinky and The Brain coming to DVD.

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

CHRIS: More author interviews. More news and links regarding DVDs and comics and mystery fiction and other media.

And, of course, when I have news of my own, my blog readers will be first to know. There are a few different announcements I am dying to make right now, but I need to wait until the right time...

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So there you have it folks, Chris Well: Mr. Learning Curve himself. High fives all around! And Chris, please do keep us up on Pinky and the Brain.


Sandy Cathcart said...

thanks for the great interview! I loved Forgiving Solomon Long, and it was nice to get to know Chris a little better. Great questions.

Mirtika said...

Oh, you've interviewed Nifty Chris!

I linked to Chris pretty much as soon as I found his blog. I super-enjoyed both his novels, and I like that there's a Christian out there who isn't ashamed to say that comic books can be terrifically done--in terms of story, not just art.

Plus, how cool is it that his wife's got a comic strip thing going? Come on!

But he's right about links. If you love a blog, link it on the sidebar. Support it with that small gesture, I figure, cause it's easy to be lost in the huge place that is blogdom.

I love the way I happened to mention Chris today on my blog, before reading this interview. I chose Chris as my choice to pen my fantasy comic book, in partnership with John Cassiday, where all the X-Men get saved, baptized, and go on a whole different kind of supermission. :D

Hey, Chris, love ya, bro.

Thanks ,Mikey, for the 'Insite'.


Ame said...

Great interview, Mike!

"So I have come to cherish the fact that we Christians do have a reasonable faith. Sometimes it may seem like we do have not a lot of reasonable Christians, but we do have a reasonable faith."

Very interesting . . .

Jules Quincy Stephens said...

I didn't even read the interview. Didn't have to. Anyone who posts a picture of Pinky & the Brain is OK with me.

(But now I'll go back and read the interview.)