Interview with Shawn Pollett

Each year Word Alive Press, a self-publishing book publisher, runs a competition and awards a free publishing package to one fiction and one non-fiction author. I tend to be . . . skeptical about self-published books, so when I was asked to review one of their winners (Shawn Pollett’s Christianus Sum), I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. (Please no angry emails from all the self-published authors out there–this story has a happy ending.)

Christianus Sum caused a stir by winning three awards at the 2009 Canadian Christian Writing Awards (Best Romance Novel, Best Historical Novel, and Best Suspense Novel). Word Alive Press offered Pollett a traditional contract to write the remaining two books in the trilogy. And I loved the book so much that I ended up interviewing Pollett while he was writing What Rough Beast, the next book in the series (now available for purchase).

Here’s what he had to say . . .

MK: How did you get started on your journey to becoming a Christian writer?

SP: I guess God plugged the “writer circuit” into my brain when He made me. My first published short stories and novellas were all horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, but after I became a Christian, my writing naturally shifted.

MK: Where does your passion for writing historical fiction in particular come from?

SP: When I was a child, my parents purchased the World Book Encyclopaedia, and whenever we went on a road trip, I’d pick a volume at random and rifle through it, paying particular attention to the historical articles.  Even then, history was more than just a dry recitation of “what happened when” for me.  I wanted to know what motivated the historical figures I was reading about, what caused the events that filled the history books.  So I would close my eyes and picture the people and events I had read about, talk to the characters, ask them questions, throw them into different situations to see how they’d react.  That passionate curiosity about history (my mother called it “nosiness,” God bless her!) never left me.  To this day, I still approach my characters, real and imagined, in the same way . . . and I still feel the same passion toward them that I did as a child.

MK: When I read Christianus Sum, the courage that it took to stay faithful in the face of death impressed me. What inspired you to use the value of perseverance in the faith as a theme for your books?

I haven’t always persevered in the faith, and my historical studies exposed me to the persecutions of the Christian confessors of third and fourth centuries. I felt embarrassed by the ease at which I had turned away in favour of sex and drugs, compared to the ease by which so many of these martyrs had shouted Christianus Sum, two little words for which they died.

After re-dedicating my heart to the Lord, the theme of perseverance in the faith really began to haunt me.  What would I do if I was forced to choose:  Deny the Christ or die?  Deny the Christ or your wife dies?  Deny the Christ or your child dies?  The answer?  I honestly don’t know.  Yes, I’d like to think that I would be brave and true and stand up and shout Christianus Sum . . . but the truth is, until the day that choice becomes reality rather than conjecture, none of us knows how we will react.  But that does not excuse us from the obligation to search our hearts and assess our  loyalties while there is still time.

MK: How did writing What Rough Beast differ from writing Christianus Sum?

I wrote Christianus Sum soon after I re-dedicated my life to Christ. The idea of publishing it didn’t even cross my mind until after I finished.

On the other hand, What Rough Beast was written for publication. When the dust of negotiation cleared, my publisher had set a deadline for What Rough Beast that made me gasp for breath.  I honestly wasn’t sure I could pull it off in the allotted time.  Having said that, I thrive on deadlines, and this particular deadline became a race between me and time.  I loved it!  I left daily updates on my Facebook fan page—20 pages today . . . 30 pages today—and my fans spurred me on.  It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once!

There’s more of “Shawn the Writer” in What Rough Beast, more technique. Christianus Sum was like a surprise party, while What Rough Beast was more of a gala.

MK: Can you give us a sneak preview of the third book?

It takes up the story again about a decade after the end of What Rough Beast. This time the story takes a new twist—an emperor who tried a different way of dealing with the Christian Problem.

MK: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

My goal is a good story written well. I want my readers to react emotionally—even viscerally. I also want them to join me in examining themselves. I want them to see how Christians in another time lived and how they were not so different from us. I hope I can infect my readers with passion for history. History is so much more than the boring progression of dates and events. It’s people and lives and loves and passions and death and salvation and . . . come and read and enjoy and find out for yourself!

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What Rough Beast

Would you deny your faith if someone held a gun to your head? No? What if someone held a gun to the head of your husband or wife or child? Not quite as easy, is it?

Shawn J. Pollett, award-winning author of Christianus Sum, is back with the second book in his Cry of the Martyrs trilogy, once again making his readers question their determination and sincerity in a way that we all need to do once in awhile.

In A.D. 253, Julius Valens and Damarra anticipate the birth of their first child, but their household and the church are in conflict over how to deal with the lapsi, those who denied Christ to avoid execution during the recently ended persecution. Their relative peace shatters when they learn that Valerianus—the man who sought to kill them—has become emperor of Rome.

Valerianus’ son and co-emperor, Gallienus, promises Damarra (his half-sister) that he will protect them, but Valerianus’ subterfuge soon convinces him that Christians are once again a threat. Valens and Damarra attempt to escape to Germania, not realizing that a traitor lurks in their midst waiting for a chance to turn them over to Valerianus.

Fans of Christianus Sum won’t be disappointed. Pollett once again brings to life history and the bitter struggle of staying true to your faith regardless of the consequences. For those of us who currently live in North America and can go to church and write blogs like this one without fear, he also gives us a peek into what Christians are still going through in other parts of the world.

My one major critique is that Pollett falls back on deus ex machina at times to get the characters out of trouble. I have no problem with the occasional Christian novel containing a single, well-placed, carefully chosen miracle, but I draw the line at characters turning invisible so that the enemy army runs right through them.

Still, expect to see What Rough Beast as a finalist at next year’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

What Rough Beast by Shawn J. Pollett

Published by Word Alive Press

For more information on persecuted Christians in our time, please visit Voice of the Martyrs.