I often wish I could talk to an author after I read a book and ask for details or background around a certain scene that intrigued me. So I jumped at the chance to talk with Mike Lynch, co-author of After The Cross.
Mike visits with us from San Francisco. He has an impressive line up of books previously written (Dublin, When the Sky Fell, American Midnight, and The Crystal Portal) and if you visit his website you can find links to many short stories as well. His next novel, Love’s Second Chance, is scheduled to be released by Ellechor Publishing in 2013.
Mike, thank you for joining me and taking the time to allow us to get to know yo and your book one step deeper.
JJ: I found the story line of Helena, the mother of Constantine, very interesting in the book. I did not know the historical basis for this plot line and I actually googled it. It was fascinating to read about her life. I have read in other interviews that this is actually where the journey of this book began for you. Can you elaborate for us what intrigued you about this historical fact and how it led you down the path of a fiction plot.
ML: I have a passion for history, and regularly watch the History Channel. Several years ago there was a documentary about Helena, the mother of Constantine. He was the Roman emperor who declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. When Helena converted to Christianity, she had a desire to visit those places she read about in the Bible, and decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 327 A.D., which is no small task considering she was in her late 70's at the time. While she was there she allegedly found what she considered to be the cross of Jesus. It was kept in Jerusalem until it was captured in battle in 1187 A.D. by the Muslim general, Saladin. Nothing is said about the cross after that time. Watching that documentary got me thinking about the cross. I wondered about the different kinds of reactions people might have if they were told it had somehow survived to our time, and the impact it had on their lives. And thus the story was born.
JJ: How much research did you need to do to approach the life of a linguist or archeologist? Was this an interest of yours before this book?
ML: I was actually a history major in college, so I've studied a lot about the past over the years. I already had a general understanding about what linguists and archaeologists do, but knew more was needed. I went to some websites that gave me some really good information that worked its way into the book. It's hard to say how much time this took me overall. As Brandon and I were writing the story, if we needed a some details that were required for a particular scene, we looked on a site or two, found what we needed, and included it in a piece of dialogue or described what a character saw. For example, at the beginning of the story there is a scene between Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas. As the two of them talk, Caiaphas looks about the room and sees some Roman swords. Rather than just say "sword," we used the word "gladius," which is what they were called 2,000 years ago. Details like that give any story a little more credibility.
JJ: I absolutely loved the plot line of the big mistake that Colton endured in his professional life and how he has spent years trying to come back from it. His friendship with William brought him through a lot of the stigma, thankfully. Many times, believers are struggling in their lives to find forgiveness and/or renewal from their past. Can you address this issue from the stand point of your fictional character Colton, and the impact his error had on his walk as a Christian?
ML: Yeah, Colton really messed up in the story. Unfortunately, it's those kinds of mistakes we make we have to live with years later. I think fictional characters should reflect the way real people are. It's what makes them real, versus two-dimensional characters. All of us, despite our best intentions, take short cuts and do not act honorably at times. That is what happened to Colton. He made a deal he knew was wrong, but the allure of money and fame were too tempting, and he hurt a lot of people as a result, himself included. He has spent the last 10 years trying to make up for it, but with not much success. When the opportunity comes along for him to be a part of the "Cross" team, he sees it as his last chance at redemption amongst his peers. That's one of the things I appreciate about Christianity. We all mess up, but God is there to help pick up the pieces and give us another chance. That's why I think Colton's mentor, William, has such a powerful impact on his life. He didn't abandon Colton when everyone else did, which works itself out in powerful ways in the story. For example, one of the people that did him wrong was Mallory, who he is forced to work with on the Cross team. It would have been easy for him to be bitter and angry toward her, but chooses to forgive her for the things she did to him. Much of that is based upon the forgiveness he experienced with God and William.
JJ: That was my favorite story line - what's yours?
ML: One of the more interesting moments in the story for me comes in one of the flashbacks. It focuses on Father Jerome, a kindly priest who lives in the 1400's, whose job it is to oversee the Royal Library in Constantinople. He is a lover of books, and relishes reading the works of Socrates, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and other great writers from antiquity. Unfortunately for him, the city is about to be invaded by Ottoman Turks, and his beloved library will almost certainly be destroyed. With the end upon him, he cannot bring himself to abandon all those books, what he thinks of affectionately as his children. This is someone I would enjoy sitting down with and learning from all the wisdom he had picked up after years of studying those wonderful works of history.
JJ: This isn't your first novel. Where did your writing career begin?
ML: Though I do novels exclusively today, my first book was actually a work of non-fiction, entitled, "Dublin." It was born out of a desire to write about my family's history when they left Ireland in the 1840's and eventually arrived in San Francisco in 1852. After a few years in the city, my great-great-grandfather, his wife and children moved about 15 miles east of Oakland to a small town called Dublin. There, they farmed and slowly adapted to life in America. Much of what they did over the years was lost, and I wanted to learn as much about them as I could. And so I wrote a book about them and the town.
JJ: Is writing your full time pursuit now or have you another career?
ML: Sadly, I do have a day job. I wish I could write full time and sell enough books to make a living. Until that happens, I work at a local high school as an administrator.
JJ: You co-wrote this book with a man named Brandon Barr and this isn't the first one you've done together. Writing is such a creative process and an author puts a lot of him/herself into the process. How do you do this with another person and make it such a successful outcome? Can you talk about that experience?
ML: The process Brandon and I have set up for ourselves is quite easy. We first come up with an idea for a story, the characters, their backgrounds, etc. Once the major details have been agreed upon, one of us writes the first chapter, let’s say it’s me. I then send it to Brandon so he can critique it. He then sends the chapter back to me filled with all kinds of comments and revisions, to which I critique his critiques. Once we’re both happy with the chapter he then works on chapter 2. The whole process repeats itself until we've finished the entire novel.
For us, there have been the inevitable disagreements along the away, such as deciding on the structure of a particular scene, the way a sentence should be written, or the kinds of personality traits we want for a particular character. In the end, the overall vision for the story is what matters, and to make it as engaging as possible. That always trumps the other’s feelings about the way a scene should be written or what to leave in or cut out of the story. Usually, when one of us shared our reasons for why a certain part needed to be a certain way, especially when he felt pretty strongly about it, the other would usually defer to him, and then we would move on. In the end, the story always ends up being that much stronger because we both embrace the collaborative effort.
JJ: As I read the book I was looking for a change in writing voice but I couldn't quite place it. Did you break up the writing by chapter or by character? Or other ways?
ML: A lot of people have said the same thing. They assume our voices will be so distinct they could pretty much pick out which chapters I wrote and which ones Brandon wrote. The fact is, since each chapter has been so heavily edited and revised by each other our voices are really blended into a third voice, one that is consistent throughout the book. We didn't intend for this to happen, but are glad it worked out that way.
JJ: Your website says you wear many hats (Christian, husband, father, writer, amateur historian...and Intergalactic Wise Guy). As a wife, mother, church leader, writer and business owner, I struggle to get all my juggling balls to stay in the air. What is your secret?
ML: I wish I could say cloning, but it's just a matter of making time for writing. Nights and weekends are pretty much my writing times. I also believe it's important to maintain a proper balance in one's life, especially in the area of my family. Writing has its place in my life, but it will never be as important as my wife and children. I have a responsibility to be there for them as a father, friend, and husband. I also maintain an active church life and relationship with friends. I guess it's all about managing your time to fit everything in a healthy way. Don't ask me how I do it.
JJ: Then after you have you have worn all those hats at given times, what do you do for fun? Or to relax?
ML: I love movies. Old movies. New movies. It doesn't matter to me. When I get drawn into a really good story, that's the best for me.
JJ: Any hidden talents you could show us if we were face to face?
ML: I can juggle a little and ride a unicycle.
JJ: Let's see if we can get to know you a little better. What do you prefer?
- solo writing or co-writing? co-writing
- summer or winter? Spring
- Pepsi or Coke? Coke
- ebook or traditional book? traditional book
- walking or driving? driving
- milk chocolate or dark? chocolate in any form. It's my Kryptonite
JJ: If you could go back to the early days when you first started writing, what piece of advice do you wish you'd had? Would you do anything different?
ML: When I first wanted to write with the intention of getting published, I jumped right into novels. I thought I was a good writer at the time, which was the furthest thing from the truth. I had so much to learn as a writer. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started out publishing short stories. The skills you learn telling a complete story in 10-15 pages are ones every writer needs in my opinion. You economize words, establish your characters, setting, and tone very quickly, and figure out the most effective way to wrap up the plot. Novelists in general, myself included, often overwrite description and dialogue when they are not limited by page numbers. It is quite easy to be self-indulgent, which usually diminishes the overall story. When it comes to writing, less is more.
JJ: What do you want your readers to get out of the book?
ML: The cross is a very powerful symbol that has represented the church for 2,000 years. People have many different views of what the cross means to them. In our story we have one person who sees it as the instrument by which the sins of mankind were forgiven so we can have a relationship with God, another sees it as the means of healing his wife who is dying of cancer, another sees it as a threat and wants it destroyed, and another who sees the cross as her ticket to fame and fortune. I think people generally view the cross in roughly the same way. In the end, Brandon and I focused on the simplicity of the cross, and the message it represents—that God came down in the form of a man, lived a sinless life, and through His death and resurrection on the cross, made salvation available to all mankind. It’s not the actual cross that did this, but what Jesus did on it.
JJ: If Jesus' cross were found today, what kind of impact do you think it would have on people?
ML: That’s an interesting question. If Jesus’ cross somehow survived, and we could somehow verify its authenticity, it would be a momentous discovery indeed, perhaps eclipsing the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The problem for us is what happens after that. Where would the cross go? Who would be the caretaker of it? The Catholic Church? The Orthodox Church? A Protestant church? A neutral entity? Would it go to Rome, Jerusalem, or some other place? It is an artifact that many people would claim as its own, and I'm afraid it would divide people more than it would unite them.
On a personal level, I think it would drive many people closer to God. Can you imagine what it would be like to actually see, and perhaps touch, the actual cross Jesus sacrificed himself on so that man would be reconciled back to God? It would be a powerful moment indeed. Of course, I believe many others would contest the authenticity of the cross, or the purpose it served. And so in the end, it comes down to what each person believes the purpose the cross served, and its place in their lives.
JJ: Where can people find your books?
ML: The best place to look is my website: www.mikelynchbooks.com
All my books are listed there, and the links where anyone interested can buy them
JJ: Anything you would like to add and share with us?
ML: I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to share my story with your followers. It is much appreciated. Keep up the good work.
JJ: Thanks Mike and we look forward to your new release nest year.
So, if you haven't yet, you should check out Mike's website and definitely read his book!