This week, I have something new for you guys. Throughout my blog I’ve lamented over the state of Christian fiction, mostly that it’s stuck in familiar ideas. Mark Carver will have none of that. He creates raw, edgy fiction that still tackles spiritual issues.
And in honor of his upcoming novel, Nikolai the Penitent, I present to you an interview I had with Mark about his book and writing itself.
FENCING WITH INK: Tell me about Nikolai the Penitent in your own words.
MARK CARVER: It’s a historical fiction novel set in Germany during the Black Death plague of the 14th century. This was right in the middle of the Dark Ages, and medieval Europe was gripped by fear and superstition. Nothing could drive this plague from the land, and everyone thought it was God’s judgment upon them. Traveling groups of people called the Flagellants, and one group in particular called the Brotherhood of the Cross, would go from town to town, whipping and beating themselves as penance for their sins and those of the townsfolk. My story follows one young man named Nikolai who loses everything to the plague and joins this group, hoping to purify himself and find direction in his life. The problem is that these groups quickly became mired in corruption and hedonism contrary to their original purpose, and Nikolai has to face this struggle as well. It is a very grim and brutal story that deals with guilt, self-righteousness, and forgiveness.
FWI: That’s certainly original in Christian fiction. How’d you come up with this story?
MC: A few years (and two books) ago, I downloaded a free ebook from Project Gutenberg. It was called The Black Death and the Dancing Mania, written during the 19th century. The book was a historical account of the Black Death and its effects on the world, as well as St. Vitus’ Dance, a maniacal phenomenon that crept up centuries later. There was a passage in the book about the Flagellants and their exploits, and how they were eventually condemned by the Pope for their outlandish behavior. I remember that moment so clearly: I was living in China at the time and I was on a bus on the way to work, and I thought, “I’m going to write a book about these people.” I had to finish the book I was working on at the time (Cyn) and finish the next book I had planned (Beast) so the idea had plenty of time to simmer in my imagination.
FWI: What made you want to write Nikolai?
MC: The challenge, mostly. My previous book, Beast, took place on an offshore oil rig. Prior to writing it, I knew next to nothing about oil rigs, but I managed to write a story that I was proud of (with the help of a real-life driller). I’m not a historian, though I know a few things about medieval history, but I wanted to take on the challenge again of writing something I knew little about. I had to do a lot of research, and hopefully I got everything right, but I am proud once again of what I wrote, and I’m looking forward to the next challenge.
FWI: Your Amazon profile says you write “dark, edgy books that tackle spiritual issues.” In Christian fiction, those two concepts are usually separate. What made you want to merge them?
MC: When I started getting serious about writing, I thought, “What kind of writer do I want to be?” I am a Christian, but does that mean I have to write Christian books? There are several Christian authors in the mainstream, so why not join them? In the end, I wanted my books to stand for something more than pulp entertainment for a long airplane ride. I wanted to write stories with a Christian message, but I also didn’t want to write mushy, heavy-handed stories that preached at the reader. My imagination tends towards darker imagery, and I’ve always been drawn to dark art and music and books, and since this is what was in my head already, I figured, “Why not write the equivalent of Christian death metal in book form?” Books that are dark and sometimes shocking but the Christian element is undeniable. There is a need for stories like these and I hope that I can help fill it.
FWI: What do you think of Christian fiction today?
MC: It’s easy to hate on it because what you see in bookstores is so sanitized and cheesy, but those books do glorify God and spread hope and light, and that’s great. The problem is that people think that is all Christian fiction can be. There are many writers like me out there, writers who won’t be bound by big publishers’ narrow requirements and want to write the stories they would read themselves.
FWI: How long have you been writing and what got you into it?
MC: I’ve been writing since I was six, but I didn’t get serious about it until October 2011, which is when I started by first novel, The Age of Apollyon. I hadn’t written for years and this story kept welling up inside of me, and one day I just let it out, and I haven’t looked back since.
FWI: What are your favorite books? Particularly, what books inspired you?
MC: I love the classics. Dante’s Divine Comedy is the greatest thing I have ever read, and writers like Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Golding have really inspired me. I read contemporary authors now and then but when I crawl into a classic, it feels like home.
FWI: Do you have any advice for other writers out there?
I think these days with indie publishing and social media, writers can get too focused on the marketing aspect. Marketing is important,of course, but you need to have a great product for people to buy. And it probably won’t be your first, or second, or third book. Nikolai the Penitent is my seventh novel and I’m still mostly unknown. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Just keep writing, and one day you’ll catch the eye of the right person.
Nikolai the Penitent is already available for pre-order on Amazon for only $3 (click here) and the book officially launches on July 26th. Thanks to Mark Carver for visiting his words upon my blog.
You can learn more about Mark and his books at markcarverbooks.com.