Robin Parrish is the author of four published novels to date with more on the horizon. His latest, Offworld, is a riveting science fiction thriller. You can read my review here. Recently Robin was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his work.
Your books read almost like movies, with a lot of action and little filler. Do you envision your stories cinematically when you write them?
Definitely. I'm very visual, and heavily influenced by TV and film, so thinking of stories as if they're unfolding on a screen is something that comes very naturally to me. There are times when I've even attempted to insert filmmaking techniques into my prose.
(Small spoiler alert.) There's a scene in Offworld where one character smashes a big rock that has significant emotional meaning to that character, and I saw it in my head like a moment where the scene slows down to slow motion, with the bits and pieces of the broken rock sort of hanging in mid-air. And I described it that way in the text, suggesting that this was how the character was seeing it, as an accentuation of the emotions he was feeling in that moment.
Your books are classified as Christian Fiction and have a distinctly sci-fi/fantasy feel to them. Science Fiction in the Christian market is somewhat rare, are you deliberately trying to write in this niche? In other words, are you a writer of Christian Science Fiction or a Christian writer of Science Fiction ?
I'm just a storyteller. I write the stories that God sees fit to send my way, whatever they may be. My worldview as a Christian will always inform my writing -- you won't find any glorification of evil, or any sex or foul language in anything I write -- but I don't shoehorn in a heavy-handed message or agenda just to suit a particular demographic. You will find lots of themes revolving around redemption, sacrifice, and other eternal values.
As far as the exact genre I write... I'm considered a "suspense/thriller" writer, but my stories are always mashups of lots of different genres. The Dominion Trilogy was predominantly a fantasy, while Offworld is written in the language of serious science fiction. I like lots of different genres, so don't be surprised if I jump around from one to another a lot. But you'll always find lots of epic, fast-paced, exciting, suspenseful thrills in everything I do.
The best way I can think of to describe my books is to say that I write stories about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Do you hate labels?
As anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows... There are days... :)
Often books change drastically in the writing, did any of your books start out as something completely different?
No, my original outlines are always how the stories unfold in the end, but the details and characters grow and adapt and change in the process. On the other hand, I've got ideas that go back to my formative years, so if any of those ever end up getting used, I'm sure they'll appear in drastically different forms than how I first envisioned them. So I guess we'll see, on that one.
About your latest book, Offworld, where did you get the idea for the story and will you be writing more books in that subtly futuristic vein?
The idea was just a flash of inspiration, as it often is. My brain kind of exists in its own little world, and always seems to be looking for ideas by seeing everyday scenarios and twisting them into something unusual. I don't really remember where I was or what I was doing when this one came to me, but I remember distinctly having the visual of a spaceship that's been away from Earth for a while that comes home, pops open the cockpit, and steps out onto terra firma to find that the entire population of the planet has vanished into thin air. Which naturally led to questions of how this could have happened. The story was built organically from that starting point.
I don't have any other story ideas at the moment that are "subtly futuristic," but I do have other science fiction ideas. Nothing I'll be doing right away, though. The artist in me desperately wants to avoid being pigeonholed, so I'll be going from genre to genre for a while.
There is an actual Ares spacecraft under development at NASA though it‘s configuration is different than the one in the novel. Is the spacecraft in the book based on an actual design?
No. I'm really glad you asked about this, because I knew someone out there would realize the names were the same! My Ares actually pre-dates NASA's by several years. It wasn't until I was waaaaay into the process of creating the story and the world and the characters that NASA announced its own Ares rocket. NASA's Ares is the booster rocket that will launch its crew to Mars. Mine is the actual vessel they ride in for the entire journey. I decided to keep mine, even though it didn't resemble the real one, because I got there on my own and I liked it better.
How much time did you spend researching for Offworld before you started writing?
Months, off and on. I always research any real-world locations I use, and this one has tons of them. Geography, roads, buildings, all of that stuff has to be accurate. I also did tons of research on Mars, lots of different futurists' ideas on what human exploration of Mars will be like, and the culture of NASA. I wanted to be especially sure that my characters came across as realistic astronauts.
I saw one reviewer that argued that these characters don't always behave with the proper decorum for NASA astronauts, but don't forget that they're facing an impossible, end-of-the-world scenario that carries with it the intense psychological trauma of isolation -- a desperate kind of isolation like none of us will ever know.
Can you talk about anything you have coming up on the horizon?
My next novel is called Nightmare, and it deals with an aspect of the supernatural that no Christian novel has ever approached. It may be the most suspenseful and intense thing I've ever written, and it's going to be a really wild ride. Definitely going to raise some eyebrows, methinks.
Got some nonfiction ideas in the can that are being shopped around as we speak, and I'm also working on a young adult fantasy series that I'm crazy excited about. Still in the very early stages of development. We'll be shopping it around to publishers soon. Probably shouldn't say anything more about it until we get the thing sold, but if it happens... man oh man, is it going to be cool.
What authors inspired you most?
Peretti and Dekker, of course. James Byron Huggins. Tolkien and Lewis. Michael Crichton. JK Rowling is a storytelling genius, and I wish I had a tenth of her talent. Don't excommunicate me for this one, but I love Dan Brown's writing style. He's brilliant at making everything -- even the most mundane things -- boil over with nail-biting tension. I don't agree with his worldview or beliefs, but his writing technique is a superb study in suspense.
Outside of publishing, I have a lot of influences in television and film. I love Joss Whedon, JJ Abrams, Ronald Moore, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (the masterminds behind Lost), J. Michael Straczynski, and plenty of others. I love the films of M. Night Shyamalan, Alex Proyas, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, Spielberg, the Bourne movies, tons of others. I still have a soft spot for the first Matrix movie.
What science fiction authors inspired you most?
Michael Crichton, again. Timothy Zahn. Mary Shelley. Neil Gaiman.
What authors are you currently reading?
I'm spending too much time writing these days to have much time for reading.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Don't keep tweaking your masterpiece forever -- take a leap of faith and send it off to some publishers, already. If you don't take the initiative to get them published, nobody's going to come beating down your door to make it happen. No one will ever care more about your stories than you do!