Today, I welcome my good friend and fellow Christian Writers Guild fiction track graduate and finalist for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild 2009 Operation First Novel contest, Jonathan Wakefield. Jon's debut novel, Fatal Reality, a fast-paced thriller, is on the shelves at Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and probably at a lot of other places by now). It's published by OakTara Publishers (www.oaktara.com). Following the interview, I’ll post my review of this thrilling novel, but first, let’s find out a little more about Fatal Reality and its author.
Jonathan, can you give us a little background on your journey to publication?
My journey—similar to that of many authors—was long, challenging, and rewarding. I can trace my initial interest in writing all the way back to third grade when my teacher surprised me by reading my poem “Family Sounds” to the class. In fourth grade, I started writing fiction regularly. I’ve never stopped.
I was so passionate that I even tried to write my first novel, fully (and naïvely) intending to get published, in seventh grade. I quit after fifty pages, but the goal of becoming a published novelist had been established. Twenty-three years later, it has finally been met.
While Fatal Reality is my debut novel, it’s actually the eleventh I’ve written. I’ve spent many years studying the craft of fiction to be able to write something that someone might want to read.
As for the premise, the popularity of reality shows has always intrigued me, so when the idea of one being hijacked in view of the entire world hit me, I quickly grew fascinated with the possibilities. Within a few days, the entire novel had written itself in my head, and I knew I had to get started. Six months later, I was finished.
As you know, I entered it in the 2009 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and, like yours, it was chosen as a finalist. I didn’t win, but I did gain the interest of an agent, who ultimately submitted Fatal Reality to OakTara and landed me a publishing contract.
Fatal Reality is a hard-hitting thriller that is sure to make Christians think (and a few Christians cringe as they recognize themselves). If you had to choose one thought your readers take away from your book, what would it be?
A theme running throughout Fatal Reality is the importance of being honest with ourselves and each other about who we are and our shortcomings. I want readers to finish with the thought that we rob Satan of his power when we face those shortcomings head-on and thereby allow God to turn them into our greatest strengths.
Because you and I were fellow Craftsman students, I know you studied with the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. What made you decide to go with a Christian writing program? Would you do so again? Would you recommend a program like this to beginning writers--or others who might be farther along their writing path?
I didn’t become a Christian until after college, which was actually about the same time I started seriously training as a writer and seeking publication. It didn’t take long after my spiritual awakening to learn that God was the one who’d implanted in me that insatiable desire to write. Knowing him personally gave my writing a purpose, and from then on I intended to glorify him with every word I wrote.
Soon thereafter, I came across an advertisement for the Christian Writers Guild and decided to give one of their courses a try. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve since taken two more courses with them and grown tremendously as both a writer and a Christian in the process. The Guild taught me how to write with a biblical worldview, giving me the confidence to attempt something that’s really quite intimidating. Words are powerful. The Bible—God’s Word to us—has transformed countless lives. So if I’m going to attempt to use the same tool to reach people with his message, I had better be sure I know how to use it properly. I would certainly do it all again, and I would encourage anyone at any point on their writing journey to do the same.
How long was Fatal Reality "in production," i.e., have you had this idea in mind for a long time or has it evolved over several years?
As I mentioned, concept to completion encompassed only six months. I normally take longer than that, but the Operation First Novel contest deadline was looming and I really wanted to enter.
What in your daily life influenced you in writing this book? Was there a particular event that tipped the scales--when you knew you had to write this book?
For a while I had wanted to write a novel about a reality show with a Christian protagonist, because I thought it offered a lot of good possibilities for moral dilemmas for someone who tries to live by biblical standards. And I love a good thriller, so as soon as I got the idea of turning a reality show into a race for survival, I knew I was on to something.
In the book, your protagonist, Kyle Borders, is a well-respected Christian leader who faces nearly insurmountable odds for survival while coming face-to-face with his personal demons. When you were putting this book together, what part of the plot came to you first--the reality show or his personal problems?
The reality show came first, but his problems quickly followed. I’ve actually never had a story lock itself in place in my mind so quickly before Fatal Reality. It just materialized in a way that seemed to fit perfectly for me. That’s part of why I was able to write it so quickly—once I had the story set, it didn’t need much reworking.
I know fiction isn't the only writing at which you excel. Can you tell us more about Jonathan Wakefield and what you believe in passionately?
How did I know you were going to ask me that? J Yes, I do have a wide range of interests, both within fiction and beyond. The eleven novels I’ve written have actually spanned five separate genres.
I’ve also done a lot of freelance copywriting and editing, some for profit and some for charity. I’ve written and edited everything from scientific papers to grant proposals to marketing materials.
I enjoy article writing as well. I’ve written for a variety of publications, including technical journals, newspapers, Christian magazines, church newsletters, and political blogs.
Writing about politics is something I’ve become quite passionate about, especially in recent years. I used to think that as a Christian I should avoid the topic because it might distract from my attempts to spread the gospel; but I’ve come to realize that the Bible has much to say about government (the word “king” and its derivations—such as “kings” or “kingdom”—appear over 2,500 times in the Bible), so Christians should as well.
But I want to make it clear that my political writings are entirely separate from my fictional writings. Fatal Reality doesn’t carry a political message or address politics in any way. It’s a straight-up thriller driven by spiritual and cultural themes.
And finally, Jon, where can we learn more about you, your career, your books, and your writing journey?
The best place is at my website at www.jonathanwakefield.com. You can find all the details about Fatal Reality there as well as information on any events I may have scheduled. And if readers have any questions for me, they can contact me through the form on the website. I’d love to hear from you!
Thank you, Jon. I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about you and your writing in the future.
Long before I actually read Fatal Reality, I had a feeling it would blow me out of the water. I've known Jonathan for a few years now and he's always struck me as an earnest Christian who takes his writing as seriously as he does his walk with Christ. I couldn't wait to read the novel written by this talented man. I'm happy to report I was not mistaken in my assumption!
Jonathan Wakefield's debut novel, Fatal Reality, is based in the not-too-distant future and among other issues, addresses the sad state of much of today's television programming (reality shows, in particular). It explores the scenario of a well-known Christian leader who competes in what he thinks will be a 24-hour race to the finish line. Because it will be aired through a live feed, Extreme Mortality, the biggest reality show ever, will give Kyle Borders the perfect opportunity to live out his faith for the whole world to see. Unfortunately, it will also give Daniel Vats, creator of the groundbreaking show, an opportunity to not only kill at will, but also expose Kyle Borders for the man Vats believes he really is.
What follows is a fast-paced thriller that engages and entertains the reader while at the same time guiding him to important moral and spiritual points. The plot twists and turns through the pages much like the desperate contestants who dash through the jungle in the fight of their lives. Wakefield's characters--each one a hard-nosed individual chosen to compete based upon his or her strengths and expertise--are portrayed with skill and an eye for the varied weaknesses all human beings are capable of displaying. Wakefield carefully peels away the bravado and exposes their greatest fears.
Wakefield writes with great skill and plots his book well. Around each corner (and page after page), he reveals the ugly, naked truth about the harm human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.
Wakefield admits he took a risk writing this book, but in my opinion, it was a risk well worth taking. You will too.
Until the next time...