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Author Talk: April 16, 2010


April 16, 2010

In this interview, bestselling author Ted Dekker discusses what went into creating the antagonist of his latest thriller, THE BRIDE COLLECTOR, and contrasts the amount of effort it takes to write about evil characters with that of good ones. He also explains how his upbringing in Indonesia has influenced his views of societal behavior --- as well as his approach to writing in general --- reflects on the need to place labels on authors, and shares details about his next book, THE PRIEST’S GRAVEYARD, due out in April 2011.

Question: In your novel, the Bride Collector leaves his victims arranged in very specific, ceremonial positions. Where did the idea come from? And how did you put yourself inside the mind of someone who is so evil, so psychotic and so certain that what he is doing to his victims is justified?

Ted Dekker: The antagonist Quinton Gauld arranges his victims as angels on the wall, beautifully made up wearing only a bridal veil, consistent with his understanding that he is sending them to God as his bride. Tapping into the mind of such a person is painfully easy for all humans --- evil isn’t so strange to any of us, I only put it on the page where most would not dare.

They say that writing about evil is much easier than writing about goodness, and it’s this latter exercise, making good as fascinating as evil, that consumes me the most. Enter Paradise, an innocent woman in the book who is for me the most fascinating character by a long shot. I adore Paradise.

Q: You portray the mentally ill characters in the book in an authentic and sympathetic way. What research was involved, and what were the challenges you faced as you described the inner workings of their minds?

TD: Having grown up in a remote culture that had a very different perception of what constituted beauty and value, I’ve always been fascinated with the relative nature of what people think of as correct behavior or the proper way of being. As such, I have always wondered if what we call at least some forms of mental illness are really just an alternative mental state that isn’t necessarily worse that what we think of as normal. What if some forms of mental illness represent in fact a superior state of mental awareness than the norm?

Armed with the question, I poured over numerous books and created Paradise, an empathetic character who we fall in love with. Much of my characterization of the cast is taken from my research. The rest came from my own experience --- after all, many consider me crazy. Seriously, who else would write the kind of books I write, but a nut case?

Then again, maybe you, the reader, are the true nut case. Hmmmm….

Q: You got your start writing spiritual novels, and have since gone into mainstream fiction with BONEMAN’S DAUGHTERS and now THE BRIDE COLLECTOR. What would you say to someone who still labels you a “Christian fiction” writer? Do faith and spirituality have an impact on your thrillers?

TD: It’s interesting how people love labels even if they mean completely different things to different people. The truth is, it’s impossible to strip someone’s worldview from their art, because one informs and shapes the other. Take Stephen King or Dean Koontz as an example. Both have written many books with strong spiritual themes, sometimes with imagery that’s more “Christian” than mine. That doesn’t mean they write “Christian fiction.” Like me, they are storytellers whose stories are informed by their own worldview. I think we all resist being put into any one box identified with a label.

Q: You had a very unconventional upbringing, having been born to missionaries who lived among the headhunter tribes of Indonesia, and you’ve described your early life in a culture to which you were a stranger as both fascinating and lonely. How did those experiences put you on the path to becoming a writer of popular fiction?

TD: I think I began to tap my imagination with more purpose and dependency than most at a very early age, being as isolated as I was. Even more than this, however, is the vast world to which I have been exposed over the years. I’ve immersed myself in the world of academia, but I also spent years walking the jungle with naked head hunters who’ve never laid eyes on a book and I’ve found both equals. Having lived in such disparate environments and survived so many extreme journeys in life, my mind has been opened to wild possibilities and these make their way to the page, I suppose.

Regarding my penchant for popular fiction, for me, the common language of popular story is far more valuable than the narrow view of the elitist in any society. I have a general dislike for any who point their fingers at another’s voice or art and belittle it. The jungle drum, though simple, is as beautiful as a grand piano and often far more meaningful. Popular fiction represents the drum beat of society.

Q: You are very interactive with your fans, both in person and online. The Gatherings you hold in various cities have had more than 500 fans attending each event, and you have over 40,000 fans on Facebook, right behind James Patterson. Can you tell us a little about how you’ve built up your community, and why you think the fans are so passionate and involved with your books?

TD: Lots of hard work. For years, I’ve been very involved with our community and it’s grown slowly. What you see didn’t happen overnight. I think what we have works because I don’t see my readers as an audience to market to, which is where a lot of artists miss it. It’s a two-way relationship. We work very hard at listening to what they want and then try to surprise them with new ideas and ways to go beyond the books. They want to be heard and to connect.

Q: What other authors do you enjoy reading?

TD: Dean Koontz. Jonathan Kellerman. Orson Scott Card. Too many others to list…

Q: What is the next book that Ted Dekker thriller fans have to look forward to?

TD: I just wrapped up my April 2011 thriller, THE PRIEST’S GRAVEYARD. It’s a story unlike any I’ve written, about a priest who kills the worst abusive hypocrites of society --- a unique kind of vigilante who saves many innocent victims. Naturally his world unravels in dramatic fashion. I love the characters that I’ve thrown into this impossible situation, and I think it will take readers on a completely different kind of ride than they’re used to.

© Copyright 2010, Ted Dekker. All rights reserved.

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