May 6, 2009

Interview: Adam Blumer's Fatal Illusions

I’m interviewing Adam Blumer, who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Kim, and his daughters, Laura and Julia. Adam works full-time as a freelance writer and editor. A print journalism graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC), he served in editorial roles for fourteen years at Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and Awana Clubs International Headquarters (Streamwood, IL). He has published numerous short stories and articles. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI) plans to release his first novel, Fatal Illusions, on March 31, 2009.

Adam, This is your debut novel. Congratulations! What gave you the inspiration for this story?

Frank Peretti’s earliest supernatural thrillers taught me that Christian novels can do more than entertain. I wanted to write something not only suspenseful but also meaningful. My prayer is that the message will resonate with readers and maybe even challenge their spiritual thinking a little bit.

The novels of Mary Higgins Clark also inspired me. I studied the organization and plot lines of her novels and wondering if I could write something as good. I also like her shifting points of view and her short, numerous chapters. (Readers might notice a resemblance.) Her novel You Belong to Me especially inspired me to try my own hand at a serial killer, “female in jeopardy” suspense tale. Because most Christian readers are women, I decided to make my main protagonist female—in fact, a pastor’s wife, a protagonist you don’t read about very often. Add to that my love of true crime and forensic science, and I was on my way.

A past experience also provided a creative springboard. A church voted to remove from membership a believer who was sincerely repentant of immorality. I began to play the “what if” game in my mind. What if the person who was disciplined got really ticked? What if he or she became mad enough to kill? I thought a church discipline scenario created an unusual motive for murder—hence one of the subplots in Fatal Illusions. I also read Ruth Brandon’s The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. This biography of the famous illusionist fascinated me and helped me develop the characterization of my serial killer. In fact, readers will discover an important plot clue connected to Houdini.

I remember getting my first contract on a western fiction story I wrote, and how elated I was at getting it. If they'd have only known, they could have gotten it for free! There must have been a giant sigh of relief from you to see that "accepted" from the publisher. How long did it take you to get your first book contract?

A long time. I spent about twenty years pursuing novel writing seriously (and experiencing some ups but mostly downs) before my book proposal for Fatal Illusions caught the eye of a literary agent. I completed five unpublished novels, mostly for youth, before I began Fatal Illusions, which I was calling Now You See Him, in the spring of 2002 in conjunction with a Writer’s Digest correspondence course on novel writing. I finished the first draft in the fall of 2005 and began contacting literary agents.

In January of 2006, literary agent Steve Laube, a well-known and respected voice in Christian fiction, responded enthusiastically to my book proposal and asked to see the entire manuscript. Of course, I was on cloud nine; the hard work and sacrifice were finally paying off. Though he ultimately declined to represent me, he didn’t merely send me a form letter so typical in the publishing industry. He sent me a two-page letter, pointing out how few manuscripts reach the stage that mine did, and gave me eight pointers on how to make the novel publishable. Energized, I followed his advice and got to work, but I still couldn’t find an agent or publisher. A year later, I contacted Kregel Publications, not about my novel but about opportunities to edit books from home. The managing editor noticed on my resume that I had written several unpublished novels and asked to see my latest project. In short, Kregel liked what they saw in Fatal Illusions and accepted it for publication in August 2007. God opened a door I never could have opened for myself.

How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that were theirs and theirs alone?

To some degree, my life experiences are always going to factor into how I create my characters. I made a special effort not to make the main protagonists just like me, though there are a few similarities. My female lead, Gillian Thayer, for example, works a part-time job as a calligrapher. In high school, I dabbled in calligraphy and won a few small awards. Gillian also loves solo piano music and Earl Grey tea—two of my favorite things. I’m also melancholy like Gillian. On the other hand, Gillian’s pastor husband, Marc, isn’t at all like me. He’s an aggressive extrovert and natural speaker who played professional basketball for the Chicago Bulls before God used a car accident to save his soul and change his life. I don’t play a lick of basketball and know next to nothing about professional basketball, so I had some research to do.

Several traits belong only to my characters. Gillian has a habit of tracing imaginary calligraphy letters with her finger when she’s tense. Marc struggles with a basketball addiction, but refrains from playing the sport due to anger issues. His daughter, Crystal, has been taking voice lessons since she was six and gets the lead role in a small-town musical. My serial killer, who enjoys listening to Broadway musical soundtracks, drives his fingernails into his palms when he’s enraged. Chuck Riley, the retired homicide detective who helps the Thayers catch the killer, is addicted to Juicy Fruit gum.

Adam, every book has a theme of some sort. What themes exist in Fatal Illusions that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?

Mainly I probe the themes of secrets and deception (or “illusions” as my title suggests, though on a secondary level). As believers, how do we lie to ourselves and to others? Do we try to hide who we really are inside? What happens if we try to live a lie? Should spouses ever keep secrets from one another? What can happen if they do? I also encourage readers to think about how they would protect their families if they faced the same type of evil the Thayer family must confront. (My serial killer cyber-stalks his victims weeks before he makes his move.) Many of the novel’s themes are areas I’ve had to work through in my own thinking. When life doesn’t make sense, how do I respond? Do I trust God, even when His ways are difficult to understand?

One minor character, Stacey James, developed in unexpected ways during revisions. She’s obsessed with Marc Thayer, a married man, and can’t seem to let him go. At one point in the story, she recalls that her own father, a pastor, abandoned his family and the ministry for another woman. God opens her eyes to the fact that by pursuing Marc she is essentially repeating the past and taking on the role of this “other woman.” But with God’s help she can break the cycle and walk away. In many ways, all of us have past experiences that can lead us down the wrong path if we let them. This theme naturally emerged as the novel evolved toward its final form.

I did a western fiction novel a few years ago, and there was a part where it became very difficult for me because the character wanted to take the story in a different direction. I suspect every writer has some difficult parts in the writing of his or her story. What were your most difficult parts to write? And what’s your favorite?

Like a Mary Higgins Clark novel, I chose a female protagonist. I believe this was the right choice, but it created challenges in making Gillian a three-dimensional character who doesn’t think like me. Among several issues, she struggles with private grief and needs a godly female mentor in her life. Describing her struggles as a woman with unique emotional needs and insecurities was often challenging. Entering the killer’s head was also sometimes difficult because of the darkness he had welcomed into his soul. Hands down, my favorite parts to write were the creepy cat-and-mouse scenes at Whistler’s Point, a historic lighthouse where the Thayers live. When a snow storm cuts off the power, Gillian find herself being hunted by the killer in the dark without a weapon and miles from help. I loved writing that part.

Adam, I am a great believer in the use of fiction to reach out to others who may not share the Christian faith. Indeed, I'm currently working on a Christian sci-fi novel that is designed, in part, to develop an interest by young people in the Bible, particularly the Revelation. What are your thoughts about fiction as a medium to reach those who either reject Christianity and thus, Christ, or who are just not really interested in it? Do you see, for example, your book perhaps one day falling into the hands of a person who is not particularly enamored of Christianity, and becoming interested as a result of reading your book?

I personally believe that Christian authors can use fiction to reach the lost. The Left Behind novels are a good example. I’ve read reports that some readers made lasting changes for Christ as a result of reading those novels. I guess the strongest evidence I have to support this argument is the example of Jesus Christ and His use of parables. He frequently used stories to illustrate biblical truths; I don’t see any reason why a Christian author can’t do the same thing. At the same time, I believe Christian authors need to be cautious when they are conveying a message, since fiction is intrinsically entertainment. The story needs to be the main thing, but I personally believe Christian novelists have a responsibility to say something redemptive in their fiction. That doesn’t mean the message needs to be overt in every book. For example, conveying the overt gospel message would be difficult in the context of a fantasy or allegory. My aim in writing my novel was to encourage believers, but I would be delighted if God used the novel to open the eyes of someone who doesn’t know Christ.

What kind of research did you need to do, if any, for the book?

I did quite a bit of research. Calligraphy didn’t require much research because I had dabbled in it in high school and won a few awards. Information about magicians wasn’t tough to find either because I had already been researching Houdini on the Internet after reading a biography about him. For serial killers, I watched a lot of Forensic Files and Body of Evidence on TV and read Mary Higgins Clark and other crime/suspense authors. One big area I had to research was police procedure since a retired homicide detective helps the Thayers catch the Magician Murderer. I researched crime scene investigation, forensic science, computer crimes (since my villain is a cyber-stalker), and other related areas. But these have always been areas of interest, so I hardly thought of the research as work. Because Gillian is a professional calligrapher of famous quotations, Bible verses, and love poems, I also had to research her literary side since that’s her lens for viewing the world.

Do you think an author has an obligation to express his or her personal theological perspective in a book, or is it permissible to allow the protagonist to be a member of a church that you, personally, would not belong?

In my opinion, this depends on the book. In a fantasy novel, for example, I probably wouldn’t convey any overt theological perspective, though I may convey some general message about God through allegory. I could see myself creating a protagonist who is an unbeliever, but by the end of the novel I would want him to see the light and experience change somehow. (I strongly believe that Christian fiction should be redemptive fiction. It should be meaningful just as our lives should be meaningful. God has clearly given believers a message; therefore, I do believe that Christian novelists are remiss not to convey some type of redemptive truth.) If the protagonist is a believer, I probably wouldn’t place the character in a church that holds to beliefs that are contrary to Scripture unless the character realized the error of his way and changed. Usually the protagonist would be confined to certain churches simply because some churches, sad to say, do not teach Bible truth.

When is your next book coming out and what is the story?

I work on the sequel, tentatively called Plagues, after my day job as a freelance editor. I can’t say for sure when the novel will be coming out. I’ll just work on it as the Lord leads and leave the rest in His hands. Readers may not realize that publication of a second novel often depends on how well the first novel does first.

In Plagues, the main characters from Fatal Illusions are reunited, this time at a Christian conference center in Michigan’s north woods, which is where all novels in my hoped-for series will be set. Marc and Gillian Thayer think they are getting away for some much-needed R&R, but protestors with placards and bullhorns shatter the otherwise-peaceful surroundings. A Bible translation committee is holding its regional meeting, and a mob is protesting the committee’s efforts to create a new and controversial parallel Bible. Was God displeased with the committee? Are the protestors somehow to blame? When a committee member turns up dead in a pile of frogs, Marc and Gillian put their vacation on hold, enlist the help of retired homicide detective Chuck Riley, and take a closer look at the bizarre plagues as they escalate in intensity.

I’m having fun planning and writing the sequel’s twists and turns, and I hope readers will enjoy reading it, too.

Thanks, Voyle, for the interview. I enjoyed chatting with you.

Thanks for the excellent book, Adam. I am looking forward to reading it and reviewing it.

For those interested, here’s a link to Adam's web site, a brief blurb from the book, and a link to where you can buy the book on Amazon.

Book excerpt:

Gillian Thayer’s calligraphy business helps to keep her mind off two small headstones in the cemetery. Still healing from the death of her twins during birth, Gillian absorbs another emotional blow when she finds a love letter addressed to her husband Marc, a pastor and counselor. But before Gillian can confront him, a gunshot shatters her already fragile world. Gillian’s family is forced to leave Chicago to escape the eye of the media. Together they seek refuge in Whistler’s Point, a historic lighthouse on Lake Superior near the tiny town of Newberry, Michigan. But they are not the only new arrivals looking for a place to lay low. Haydon Owens, an amateur magician and accomplished killer, has also come to Newberry hoping to start a new life, but he isn’t there long before he spots another potential victim.

Publisher: Kregel Publications

Web site:

ISBN-10: 0825420989

Link to Adam's Book at (Click here)

Copyright 2009 Voyle A. Glover


Cindy said...

Voyle, this was a very interesting, well-thought-out interview and I truly enjoyed it. Many of Adam's philosophies about writing in the Christian genre are my own so I appreciated him sharing them. I also believe that the Christian author can and should use his work as a form of ministry, as well as entertainment. That is my prayer for my own work.

As a still unpublished author, I was also interested in hearing about Adam's long journey to publication and his perseverance in pursuing it. His account of his characters' development, and planning the plot's twists and turns was informative, as well, and gave me food for thought. I'm looking forward to reading the book!

Good job, both of you, and congratulations, Adam!

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks for the interview, Voyle. I appreciate it!

Adam Blumer
Novelist, Fatal Illusions:
Freelance editing: