by C.J. Darlington
Eric Wilson Interview
refuse to be preachy. I’ve heard enough pat answers and platitudes.
I want to show how faith in Jesus works in the real world, not in some
cloistered setting where everyone else nods their heads in agreement."
-- Eric Wilson
Eric Wilson and his wife, Carolyn Rose, live with their two energetic daughters in Nashville, Tennessee. The author of Dark to Mortal Eyes, Expiration Date, The Best of Evil, among other books. Eric has traveled in numerous countries, feeding his love of the outdoors and his need to explore.
C.J.: Can you give us a little background on how you were discovered as a writer? I hear writing Amazon reviews played a part.
Eric: Yeah, God’s hand moved behind the scenes in a way I never anticipated. As a hobby, I review novels on Amazon. I want to support great writers while also challenging the Christian fiction market to raise the bar (including my own writing). In 2001, an agent noticed my reviews and saw in my bio that I was working on a novel, Dark to Mortal Eyes. I’d already sent the manuscript to seventeen Christian publishers and received form rejections from them all. I was depressed. This agent, though, wanted to see the book. This had to be a joke, I told myself. Or a scam. I checked up on him, found out he had not only discovered Frank Peretti, he was also representing Ted Dekker at the time. Eight months later, he helped connect me with WaterBrook Press.
Have you always wanted to write, or did you discover your desire later in life?
I have friends such as Randy Singer who stumbled upon writing later in life and have been successful at it. How disgusting. (You know I love you, Randy.) I’ve been working at this since I was eight or nine. My family had done missionary work in Europe and Asia, so my young mind was full of foreign sights, sounds, and smells. I was always escaping into stories and imaginary settings. Yeah, I was a weird kid. I even had a stint as a superhero, wearing a towel around my neck and stopping a cop car late at night in hopes of catching a ride to a local factory, where I would block up the pollution-spewing smokestacks.
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
Oh, I was definitely a little bookworm. During our travels, especially in Eastern Europe, I was often stuck in vans or trucks for days on end. I loved reading Tintin books on those trips. I graduated to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and later The Chronicles of Narnia. Back in the US, I discovered Harriet the Spy, Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries, Arthur Catherall books (which are incredible, but out-of-print mostly), and the mind-blowing Tripod Trilogy by John Alexander. All of these fueled my imagination, increasing my love of characters, setting, and intrigue.
What about recently? What books would you say have impacted your life most as an adult? Why?
During my teens, I was a fan of espionage novels (Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre, Helen MacInnes, and so on). But To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, and Lord of the Flies blew the doors open on my view of fiction. I realized stories could be incredibly suspenseful, emotional, and thought-provoking without resorting to guns and car chases. (Not that espionage fiction couldn’t do the same. LeCarre’s The Little Drummer Girl is a fantastic novel, for example.) That’s when I began mixing stories of suspense and spiritual themes. They could go together. They could enhance each other. More recently, I’ve been rocked by the power of books such as John Dalton’s Heaven Lake, Dale Cramer’s Bad Ground, James Lee Burke’s Jolie Blon’s Bounce, and River Jordan’s The Messenger of Magnolia Street. I could go on. There are many amazing writers out there.
Your first novel Dark to Mortal Eyes was considered to be somewhat edgy for its honest portrayal of life. Were you trying for “edgy” or did the realness come about naturally as the story grew?
Me? Edgy? If you say so. Seriously, if being honest in portrayals of life is being edgy, then yes, I was trying to be edgy. Many readers want escape and entertainment. I hope to provide that, but I am dissatisfied with my own writing if it doesn’t contain the honest struggles of life. The books I read that last with me are those that face the tough questions. As a Christian, I believe Jesus is the Answer, so there’s no reason to fear the questions, no reason to avoid dealing with them.
Dark to Mortal Eyes and its sequel Expiration Date are the first two books in your “Senses” series. How did you develop the idea of basing each of the books on a different sense?
I’d like to say it was some master plan, formed from genius. Honestly, though, I just wanted to deal with spiritual themes in a symbolic way. What if your eyes were opened to see spiritual forces? What if you could touch people and feel their expiration dates, the date they were going to die? What if the sense of smell could transport you back through time to memories of the past? These are the types of ideas that sprouted up from the initial concept of following the five senses.
Any plans to write more novels in the Senses series?
Definitely. I hope to tie all five Senses books together with a historical thread, as well as with cameos from different characters in the series. I need to find a publisher who believes in it and is willing to take a risk. The next book will deal with the sense of taste—and it’s a very cool idea, if I may say so myself. The proposal is being shopped around as we speak.
What’s been the response to the books thus far?
I’ve had great reviews, great interest. My sales have been moderate, though. Partly, that’s due to my need to continue honing my storytelling ability. Partly, it’s a reflection of a market that is still trying to draw in readers who are willing to think outside the religious box. I’ve had some negative emails about the honesty in my books, but overwhelmingly I’ve had readers say they love the realistic and flawed nature of my characters.
Your characters are often rough-around-the-edges---real people struggling with real issues. As a Christian writer, where do you draw the line in how far you’ll go in portraying violent/adult situations?
There is no subject that is taboo in my mind. Jesus knows every foul deed and thought that goes on in this fallen world, and he is here, working to redeem sinners. That’s the angle from which I approach my characters. This doesn’t mean I need to wallow in their depravity. It does mean I want to provide enough information to make them believable and relatable. I hope readers will think: “If God can work in the lives of these flawed characters, maybe he can also work in me. Maybe I’m not beyond hope.”
All of your books have had connections to a historical figure or event. What made you decide to include historical events in your contemporary novels?
I never set out to make this a trademark. I’m sure I’ll write books that have no historical thread. I do have this thing, though, where I love to see how people’s lives have been shaped in the present by things of the past—generational sins, historical secrets, whatever. Most of this came from my teenage infatuation with WWII novels. Jack Higgins and Len Deighton, for example, often took historical elements and then twisted them just a tad, just enough to make a clever “what if” story.
Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?
Oh, thanks for bringing up my painful memories. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a paper-cut and pour lemon juice on it? (“Princess Bride” anyone?) Honestly, most book-signings are a lesson in humility. Very few writers get big turnouts. I never have. I’m honored to have anyone come, especially those I’ve never met before. But I always feel bad for the bookstore staff who have set up the table and ordered the books. I usually feel like the charity case, seated at the front door begging for alms. As for research, I’ve snuck into places that were off-limits and that sort of thing. Never been caught, though. Nothing embarrassing--yet.
How have your experiences in Europe affected your writing? What is the most surprising difference between European Christians and Christians in America?
As a kid, traveling with my Bible-smuggling parents in Eastern Europe, I fell in love with castles, rivers, and mountains. I saw many poor people when we spent six months in India. My writing always involves description of nature and nods toward the poor or the outcasts. Last year, I returned to Romania after twenty years. It was awesome. The country is beautiful, and the people are intelligent and friendly. In general, I would say European Christians cannot get by on easy answers and milque-toast Christianity, because their history is full of war, disease, genocide, and abuses of religious power. A secular European is not afraid to be in your face, to challenge your beliefs and thought processes. Here, we’re so worried about stepping on toes. We have a church subculture that sometimes focuses on protecting instead of preparing us for the tough issues of life. A European Christian might raise our eyebrows by smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer while discussing theological points, but he or she is equally appalled by our materialism, pride, and gluttony. We’re all parts of the same spiritual body, with different roles and things we can learn from each other.
The Christian fiction industry has grown incredibly in the past few years. What are your thoughts on the future of Christian fiction, especially “edgy” fiction?
For those who want quality fiction, with a biblical worldview, there are now more options then ever—that’s certainly true. Sadly, though, we lost the attention of most readers within the church years ago. In a false sense of spirituality, many started believing that only books which were “true” (nonfiction) were worth their time, forgetting that Jesus himself used parables (fiction) to convey very deep truths. Also, many earlier Christian novels were either poorly disguised sermons or shallow portrayals of the human struggle. As it is, most of my friends don’t even look for novels in Christian bookstores. Instead of trying to figure ways to draw them back in, I’m trying to learn how to reach out.
How do you share your faith in your stories without coming across as preachy?
A non-believing friend once told me: “You admit that you have bad days, and you admit that you still have many questions and frustrations. But still, somehow, you have this unshakeable faith in God. If anything ever convinces me to believe, it’ll be that.” This seems to be the way God works through my own life, so I suppose that same approach comes through my stories. I refuse to be preachy. I’ve heard enough pat answers and platitudes. I want to show how faith in Jesus works in the real world, not in some cloistered setting where everyone else nods their heads in agreement.
Tell us about your Aramis Black mystery series. Where did the idea come from, and how do these books differ from your previous works?
I love this character. The idea for a mystery series came from Dudley Delffs, at WaterBrook Press. He gets the credit for it. Once I came up with the character’s name, though, it was all mine. I saddled Aramis with a troubled past, personal tragedy, and a slim grasp on faith. Then, just to keep things interesting, I decided to have someone murdered before his eyes, muttering words that Aramis’ mother also said twenty years earlier before her own demise. These books are written in first-person, making them an easier, quicker read. I had a lot of fun writing from Aramis’ perspective, especially with my own gang-related past (joke!).
What’s been the hardest part about writing the Aramis Black books?
Gosh, do we have to go there? Okay, the toughest thing was that I received a rejection for the third Senses book right before I started on “The Best of Evil.” I was in a funk for a month, dragging myself to the laptop, staring at the screen, telling myself that I sucked and who did I think I was to write a story that no one cared about. Eventually, I forced myself to write—one word at a time—and it all came together.
Do you ever struggle with balancing your day job, family, and writing career? Any specific steps you take to keep the balance?
When the finances get tight and deadlines are looming, it’s tough to keep it all balanced. I doubt I’ve figured out any magic formulas. My wife and I just take it a step at a time, working as a team, and then give each other room to start over fresh tomorrow if we get it all screwed up today. My family is my God-given responsibility, and I believe strongly that to dishonor my wife hinders my own relationship with the Lord. (It’s a scriptural thing. Look it up, if you don’t believe me.) My wife is my best friend. Very supportive and understanding. My kids are a challenge, of course—they’re 12 and 14, for crying out loud. But they’re also full of ideas and energy and attitude. We actually like being together.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I have hopes of writing a nonfiction title about my own spiritual journey. It’d be messy, honest, and probably unmarketable within the Christian market. My hope is that’d it reach nonbelievers and those who have serious issues with religion. I also have ideas for a vampire series, “The Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy,” pitting good and evil against each other in a supremely spiritual battle on the human playing field. I’ll keep you posted.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
#1: For the first eighteen years of my life, I had a Catholic grandfather who refused to talk to me or the rest of my family. He was upset (understandably) because I was a child conceived out of wedlock. Finally, after years of tears and prayers, I found that relationship fully restored. He’s actually a witty, fun-loving man. Forgiveness is a real thing. #2: The first stories I wrote over twenty pages were sci-fi and fantasy. I’d love to do a children’s fantasy series someday.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading other novels. Shooting baskets. Reading the Bible. Watching Netflix movies. Playing board games with my girls. Going on dates with my wife. Hanging with my closest friends. Talking to my brother on the phone. Eating popcorn with lots of salt. Plotting new ideas for novels.
I hear you’re also a big music fan and often listen to it when you write. What are some of the artists/bands that have impacted your life, and how have they impacted you?
I usually listen to my hardest CDs while I write, to block out any other noise. I put on Underoath, As I Lay Dying, and As Cities Burn. When I was younger, the Seventy Sevens, Altar Boys, and Steve Taylor showed me a whole new way of expressing and working through my faith. Later, I discovered the genius of U2 and the progressive sounds of King’s X. To this day, music is an emotional outlet. Often times, bands put into words the things I’m feeling. To me, the most worshipful music is that which faces the struggles and darkness, yet still finds a ray of hope. Many of David’s psalms are dark and full of angst, but he usually swings back around to the truth of God’s faithfulness.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
When I have money: fresh-baked bread, a good pinot noir, and Brie cheese. When I’m low on cash: hot sauce, ice water, and a bag of apples (not for simultaneous consumption).
Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?
I deal with stress by getting outdoors, hiking, exploring, playing basketball, driving fast on sharp curves. I also love listening to loud music, wishing I could scream out my lungs in the same way. Sometimes a good mosh session at a concert helps. Mainly, I just talk to Jesus constantly, a silent, running conversation throughout the day. I need him, need his grace and his faithfulness everyday. Badly. Otherwise, I’m a mess of a human being.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A triple gingerbread latte, please. And I always leave a tip. I once owned an espresso cart, so I know what it means to get a little appreciation.
What’s currently in your iPod?
I’m still using CDs, so thanks for making me feel like a relic. The last three in rotation were: Audioslave’s “Revelations,” As I Lay Dying’s “The Long March,” and Switchfoot’s “Nothing is Sound.”
What’s next for you novel-wise?
The sequel to The Best of Evil is already in the publisher’s hands. It’s titled, A Shred of Truth, and will be out July 2007, carrying on the story of Aramis Black. Other than that, I’m just waiting for a bite from someone out there—any publisher, please. I hope to carry on the Senses series, and I also hope to find a publisher for “The Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy.”
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Go read one of my books. You know you wanna.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.