Robert Cely has been with Athanatos since 2011, when he won the C.S. Lewis Award (1st Prize).
Q1: Why do you write?
I guess the easiest way to answer is because I have to. Or at least I have to if I want to be happy. Coming up with stories comes naturally to me. I am constantly imagining plots and stories and what I feel to be intriguing situations. When I come upon something that seems really cool to me, I think it would be a shame not to share it.
Writing is certainly a sacred calling. If you’re called to it you will feel empty without it. I go a few days without writing and I can almost feel it physically. It’s like something is missing or I am without a key nutrient. Sometimes I feel off and don’t know what’s wrong. Then I write for a little while and everything seems right again. I ask myself why I let it go so long and promise never to do it again. But you know how that can go.
Q2: How would you describe your writing ‘method’?
Not really sure I have a method. It all depends on how involved the plot is or how the story is flowing. Shorter pieces I usually just sit down and write. More complicated stuff requires that I plot out the major points, the lines I want to get in and what all needs to be included.
I prefer to write first draft by hand. I hate to edit, so typing it up forces me to. That way I actually write the piece twice. It’s not very efficient but I prefer my prose style when I write in good old pen and paper.
Q3: How would you respond to the classic question, “Is there Christian art, or artists who are Christians?”
My initial response is that there really is no difference. Whoever you are and whatever you believe will be expressed in your work, no matter what kind of art it is. An artist who believes in Christ will glorify Christ in his work, even if he didn’t set out to do so. I think it is nearly impossible to write against your own worldview. Maybe if you set out to do it deliberately, but even then it would be a struggle. The art flows naturally out of the artist’s being. So a Christian who is an artist naturally produces Christian art.
That being said, the rise of the Christian market and the demand for Christian-oriented material has led to a specific Christian genre in literature. Mostly this means evangelical, though it isn’t called that. Like it or not this is what is considered Christian writing. It must have an explicit evangelical lean to it, contain no profanity, little violence or sensuality, and promote clean, wholesome living. While I object to none of these qualities, I have to admit they usually make for pretty dull stories. Thus the vast majority of Christian literature feels forced and trite, and overall lacks any real power. The writer has to trust the story, the artist has to trust the vision. If it is in your heart, it will come out in your work. Jesus said it himself, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
Q4: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
If you really feel called to write then it’s something you have to stick with. A lot of people I knew wanted to be a writer one day, and I am the only one of them that is still hammering away at it that I know of. It can be frustrating. But the difficulty of breaking through weeds out those who don’t feel deeply about writing. If you love it, don’t worry about success, simply give the world your gift as it was given to you.
Q5: Which of your creations has brought you the most joy?
I am always the most excited about the project I am currently on. Right now I am working on two different pieces, one an urban fantasy, the other a more traditional fantasy. Both of these have got me optimistic. Hopefully they will be ready in the near future.
Q6: Which has brought you the most heartache?
I can’t say any have brought me anything like heartache. However, when anything I write is misunderstood or taken out of context that brings me a great deal of heartache and frustration. Sometimes readers will latch on to one detail or scene and judge the whole work on that section. Also, people will often assume the actions of the characters are somehow endorsed by me because I wrote about them. Sometimes you have to write bad guys to do bad things. If you want to make it convincing you have to really sell it. But I guess being misunderstood is just occupational hazard for the writer.
Q7: Is there anything you’d like to say?
I have a lot of fun writing, but I am also enriched by the experience and end up learning about myself and God through the experience. Hopefully that joy translates into the narrative and whoever reads my work enjoys it and is enriched by it too.