Kerry Nietz is the author of the DarkTrench series, beginning with A Star Curiously Singing, followed by two sequels, The Superlative Stream and Freeheads. Kerry’s most recent novel, the provocatively entitled Amish Vampires in Space dares to boldly go where no Christian fiction author has gone before. For this reason, I invited Karry to answer some thorny questions, to which he obliged.
* * *
MIKE: When I posted about Amish Vampires in Space (AViS) on my FB page, the title / concept seemed quite polarizing. Some people loved it. Others hated it. Are you finding that to be a typical response? Was that response intended?
KERRY: Most of the responses I’m seeing now are shock and disbelief, with an occasional “Yes! Finally!!” The outrage seems to have waned, thankfully, and I expected it would as more people read the book. You’d be hard pressed to paint my story as hostile or even exploitative of any people group, with the exception of vampires.
MIKE: I’ve been openly skeptical of this book, not because I’m a hater or dislike genre mash-ups, but because it seems like an inside joke, something that only Christian readers, familiar with Christian fiction and the Christian market, will “get.” As if it’s a poke in the eye of Amish readers and a Christian industry that’s catered to those readers. So, where am I wrong? I mean, why should I take this title seriously, as anything other than… a joke?
KERRY: You can take it any way you like. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t control people’s perception. Case in point: make someone of the opposing political persuasion come over to your way of thinking on any issue, even something that seems blatantly obvious. Can’t be done—especially when emotions are involved.
From what I’ve seen so far, though, mine isn’t a concept that only those familiar with Christian fiction appreciate. You can hardly avoid the Amish or vampires in popular media, especially television. So you might say that this book came out at the perfect time to have the largest reach. And I’m okay with that.
MIKE: So who is this story aimed at? Vampire lovers? Sci-fi nuts? Amish readers? Christian spec fans? When you wrote the book, what market did you have in mind?
KERRY: Perhaps I’m abnormal, but I really don’t aim my stories at anyone when I craft them. I find a concept that appeals to me and run with it. Anyone who is familiar with my books knows that they chiefly run on theme. (In fact, sometimes I spell the theme right out for you.) AviS is no exception.
MIKE: Your novel is sold by a Christian publisher and categorized as religious fiction. Tell me, what’s “Christian” about Amish Vampires in Space?
KERRY: It would be impossible to write an honest story about the Amish and not have a spiritual aspect. In fact, I think that is one thing this book shares with my earlier DarkTrench novels, in that the message grows seamlessly from the story’s setting and characters. Both are awash in religiosity. So again, it comes down to theme, and telling the story you want to tell.
MIKE: I was surprised to learn the story is not camp or satire. It’s drama. Yet the title and the cover scream (Can you scream in space?) comedy. Is this strategic? Are you worried that some readers might buy the book hoping to get Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide and get something totally different?
KERRY: Was Hitchhiker’s Guide camp, really? I don’t think so. Not in the vein of say, a Spaceballs or a Weird Al video. (Hard not to think of Amish Paradise here.) Yes, there were lots of comedic moments in Hitchhiker’s, but for the most part the story itself was played straight. And that’s what made it interesting. It was a fun space adventure.
Let’s face it, camp can only go so far before it gets tiresome, plus it has limited appeal. Unlikely circumstances played straight are far more accessible to the average reader. Especially readers who are approaching it from all different angles. That’s not to say there aren’t some nods to the title’s campiness in the book. Because there are. But they’re subtle.
I wouldn’t call the title campy, either. I’d call it truth in advertising. And isn’t that an idea that’s been advocated on your blog? Having warning labels for Christian content and so forth?
MIKE: Some people have criticized the concept on the basis that it mocks the Amish and Amish culture. How would you respond to these critics?
KERRY: It doesn’t.
MIKE: That’s it?
KERRY: Pretty much. I had a genuine Amish romance writer read my book prior to release—someone who has written dozens of books in the genre. All his suggestions were fairly minor. No major plot or character changes.
He also admitted that I’m not exploiting the culture any more than any other writer in that genre. In fact, my representation might be more true-to-life because I’m not glamorizing the Amish and their life either. Just writing them like free-willed people: capable of both good and evil.
MIKE: Satirist Dave Barry recently blurbed about your novel. The comments, to me, seem less than flattering. You’ve got to be excited that someone as big as Barry would link to your book. But are you comfortable with it being the butt of a joke?
KERRY: Actually, I believe Barry’s exact comment was “IF YOU READ ONLY ONE BOOK ON THIS TOPIC THIS YEAR, MAKE IT THIS ONE” and I heartily agree with that sentiment.
As for the other comments…
If I cared what every person who managed to hunt-and-peck a coherent statement into a comment box said I’d either be very angry or very sad. But I’m neither.
Everyone would be better off if they did the same. Ignore the noise.
MIKE: I’ve been criticized for using this blog to generate controversy. I openly admit, I tire of hearing the same thing from Christian writers and think we’ve become way too insulated. If saying something out of the ordinary or bombastic gets people here (provided it’s not purely exploitative), then why not say it? Aren’t you doing the same thing with AViS? Isn’t this a blatant attempt to generate controversy, be colorful, and give a big wedgie to the status quo? If so, I’m totally fine with it!
KERRY: LOL. Well, as I mentioned above, I don’t really think about perception when I write. It’s a good way to create writer’s block.
Amish Vampires in Space is a title that Jeff Gerke joked about at writers’ conferences for years. I just took it and ran with it.
To me, this book is more about proving that anything is possible, given a large enough imagination, and sufficient determination.
I like challenges.
* * *