Andrew Klavan is quickly becoming a household name for many Christian fiction fans, including me. With books for adults and young adults as well as credits for major blockbuster movies, you’ve probably watched or read something he’s had his hand in. It’s my pleasure to share a look at his latest YA trilogy, MindWar. And if the title isn’t enough to convince you to add the book to your wishlist, I’m sure the following interview will.
Brock: How did you come up with the idea for the MindWar Trilogy?
Andrew: I'm a gamer. I've always loved games and puzzles and when video games came along I was swept away. I played Space Invaders so much I developed a swollen wrist! And as the games became more sophisticated, they became so incredibly immersive, it was like actually being in space or in a haunted house or underground. So I just began to wonder: what if the border between life and games became permeable, what if you could pass from one into the other and back again? I guess that was the start of the MindWar idea.
Brock: I too was very into video games, defeating Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog) became a daily goal for me. And in college I got into a Navy Seal game called SOCOM. You could actually talk to your team mates via headsets, which brought the game that much more to life. Tell us about the main characters in MindWar?
Andrew: The main character is Rick Dial, a guy who feels he has lost everything that matters to him. He was the quarterback on his high school football team, a real athlete-hero type. Then his car got broadsided by a panel truck and his legs were shattered. He's on crutches now. And on top of this, his father has disappeared and may even have run off with another woman. So Rick has lost his faith: in life, in God, in himself, in everything. But when he's sent as an avatar into the MindWar Realm, he has a chance to recover the hero in himself. It's just a question of whether he can find it.
Brock: Wow, that sounds pretty awesome. In three sentences what will the MindWar trilogy deliver to the reader?
Andrew: Action, first of all. Because the stories take place both in real life and in the game, there is both the sort of action you get in fantasy novels — sword fights and dragon battles and so on — but also normal thriller action with guns and bad guys and chases and so on. And, of course, you're going to follow the evolution of this young man Rick as he goes deeper and deeper into this beautiful but essentially evil place.
Brock: Andrew, can you share how you have intertwined biblical themes into the series?
Andrew: You know how it says in the King James Genesis that the imagination of man's heart is evil... and then Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that it's not just the crimes we commit that condemn us - the adultery or murder or whatever - it's the crimes we imagine — the lust and anger in our hearts. This is a story about a young man who has to confront both: the perils of the inner world and the outer one. The MindWar is essentially the war for the imagination. You have to win that before you can win any other.
Brock: And it seems this is a battle parents are trying to win every day. I hope they’ll be encouraged by Rick’s story. What sort of research did you have to undertake for the book, or was it all straight from your imagination?
Andrew: Well, I could try to keep a straight face while I told you how many video games I had to play before I could really get the hang of the thing! But the truth is I actually did have to do quite a lot of background research. For one thing, the computer world of MindWar is actually a weapon to use in the real world. The villain Kurodar is trying to imagine acts of terrorism into being. So, without giving too much away, I can say that I had to find out how some of those terrorist acts would be committed. And I really did need to get some sense of how video games work, and how computers can be hacked and polluted.
Brock: You may very well be on several government watchlists now from your research. And I guess now I could be listed as an accomplice. Oh man, who knew interviewing could be so risky. Can you give us a hint at the second and third book?
Andrew: Not too much, but I'll just say this: things get very weird in the second two books because entering the MindWar has some very gnarly effects on the brain and Rick has to start to deal with that. And there's a kind of love story you maybe haven't seen before. And some cool twists and turns. And now I'll shut up before I give something away.
Brock: Thanks for pretty much nothing! But we respect that. We want to be surprised by the plot turns and twists. You have many great releases already out and I am sure many more planned, are you a full time writer?
Andrew: More than full time! I'm usually at my desk by 7:30 am and what with phone calls and required reading and so forth, I don't shut up shop until ten at night. I used to take weekends off, but that's so twentieth century! I'm just glad you have to turn your cell phone off in church!
Brock: You just gave me a very sad chuckle of self-realization. Taking weekends off is so twentieth century has to be one of the truest statements I’ve read in a long time. Then I think about Downton Abbey and how they waited days, weeks, for information. We certainly have increased in ‘productivity’ if that’s what we can call it. Speaking of productivity and efficiency, how long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?
Andrew: About nine months, although longer for the first one because that's where you're developing the characters.
Brock: What were some of the challenges you faced when writing MindWar?
Andrew: Keeping the plot going strong in two realms: in MindWar and reality, and making the timing work in both. I had to make it plausible that there could be, say, a car chase in one chapter, and a fight with a gigantic fantasy monster in the next.
Brock: I can only imagine how hard that would be to keep your outline straight. What do you want readers to take away from MindWar?
Andrew: You know, I believe in stories as experiences. I'm not trying to send a message exactly, I just want readers to live through what Rick lives through: the search for his lost hero-self, the search for who, in the end, he really is. I hope that experience will give you something that you can use in your own life, but I think you've got to figure out for yourself what exactly that is.
Brock: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Andrew: So many ways. Before I knew God, the problem for me and for my characters was always the problem of Pontius Pilate: "What is truth?" My stories were always about lost and endangered people trying to determine what reality is so they could act. Now though, the problems my characters face are more elemental, more immediate: How do I do what's right? How do I keep my courage in the face of suffering? How do I keep my faith when everything goes wrong? In my humble opinion, my stories have become a lot stronger because their issues are more grounded.
Brock: You can’t lose when you’re writing for Him and with Him. He’s the creator and when He’s the inspiration and the foundation for our writing it has to get better! So speaking of a creator, what is your favorite color?
Andrew: I read somewhere that little boys like bright colors but when they grow up they like colors that are more subdued. So I'll say bright red.
Brock: Staying on the personal side of things. What’s your favorite holiday memory?
Andrew: Oh, man, I've had some great, great holidays. Last year, I went to Israel for the first time and walked along the Sea of Galilee. And once, on safari in Africa, I was standing up through the roof port in one of those safari busses and two separate prides of lions walked criss-cross around the bus simultaneously: nothing but lions everywhere. It was like some kind of wild dream. In Hawaii, I once walked over the hardened lava of an erupting volcano, hopping over the burning parts... I could answer this question forever.
Brock: Those are some pretty awesome experiences to have had. Do you have a favorite pasta dish?
Andrew: Now you're getting really personal. Pumpkin ravioli.
Brock: Sounds quite tasty, and not what I might have expected. Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?
Andrew: Never. It's the one thing that disturbs me. When I was a radio news writer, I used to write on two minute deadlines with three televisions blaring, teletypes clattering and the radio playing... so I'm not easily distracted. But I love music and it messes with my rhythms so I have to leave it alone.
Brock: Amazing how our brains can be trained to operate in different ways based on our tasts and likes. And lastly, but often the most fun thing to share. Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Andrew: Several, sure. But the one that always leaps to mind is: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." That's smoking stuff. It never fails to move me.
Brock: Andrew thanks for giving us a look at your latest release as well as a little more into who you are. We’ll look forward to checking with you when the next book releases.
Andrew Klavan is a best-selling, award-winning thriller novelist whose books have been made into major motion pictures. He broke into the YA scene with the bestselling Homelanders series, starting with The Last Thing I Remember. He is also a screenwriter and scripted the innovative movie-in-an-app Haunting Melissa. Twitter: @andrewklavan Facebook: aklavan