Sam Pakan has been with Athanatos since 2015, after he won the Novel Contest.
Q1: Why do you write?
When I was much younger, I wrote for a small magazine located in Amarillo, Texas. We covered most events on the social calendar, including visits to our community from celebrities. I didn’t draw the assignment, but another staffer interviewed Stephen King when he came to town. My compatriot asked Mr. King that same question. His response was, “Because I have to.”
I’ve always believed his answer to be accurate for me, as well. If one doesn’t have to write, why on earth do it? It’s difficult and frustrating and generally goes unrecognized. Even when it is rewarded, there’s that inner critic that refuses to be satisfied telling those of us afflicted with the compulsion to commit our hearts and minds to paper that our stuff doesn’t work, that the intent was lost in translation, and that there are better, more productive activities to fill our brief span on earth. But when the words come, or the insight into the human condition, or the recognition of some irony or truth, those of us with this particular affliction must share that vision. We find the phrase or insight pulling us from our sleep at night or causing us to leave the movie theater in search of a pencil and paper. It’s a difficult condition to deal with, and there are no twelve-step groups available with a proven track record for recovery. The only option, I think, is to begin the lifelong process of learning the craft of writing.
Q2: How would you describe your writing method?
I’m a follower of the Chaotic School of Literary Creation. Ideas for stories or novels usually present themselves in amorphous images dissociated with a beginning or end and having little logical progression. The tension of pursuing that idea, demanding it reveal itself and go in some rational direction can be troublesome, to say the least.
But words have mystery and power, and once smitten with the need to see them arranged in such a way that they might convey a particular idea or emotion, I generally have no choice but to do their bidding.
Q3: How would you respond to the question, “Is there Christian art or artists who are Christians?”
Maybe it’s a false distinction, but I think that if a writer is motivated solely by the need to proselytize, he or she is very apt to create propaganda rather than art. Some individuals are held by a love of words, an appreciation for their rhythm and beauty, and a sense of intrigue regarding their power or the power of the story. For those individuals, creation of fiction or poetry is an undeniable thing.
If the artist is Christian, the light they walk in will inform their art. It’s inescapable. Part of regeneration is the opening of our spiritual eyes so that we see forces at work beyond physical causes and effects. It seems extremely unlikely that a Christian writer could hide those perceptions when describing the world or the characters he or she creates.
Q4: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
First and foremost, they should learn to accept criticism. Here’s the caveat: not all criticism is valid. So how do you learn the difference between good and bad criticism? You try what is suggested and see if it works. It’s a slow and painful process, but it has to be done. Just keep a copy of your original.
The thing is, even the bad critic can spot something that isn’t right. It’s just that he or she may not be informed enough to discern precisely what the problem is. And working through bad criticism is a great learning experience. Learning what doesn’t work is part of learning what does.
Second, realize that the idea or image that holds so much power for you, the writer, may not be coming across to your reader. Sure you see it clearly when you read your words, but you are conditioned to see it. That doesn’t mean anyone else will. Allow someone you trust to help you with its exposition.
Third, and this is tied closely to the second, determine who your audience is and write for them. I taught college-level literature for several years. That was quite a while back, but I still write for the brightest and most motivated of those students. In each class, there were those who loved words, who were taken with ideas and who saw through false exposition or weak explanations. The aspiring writer would do well to find those people in his or her life and write for them.
Q5: Which of your creations has brought you the most joy?
The one I’m currently working on. Always.
Q6: Which has brought you the most heartache?
The one I just completed. Always.
Q7: Is there anything you’d like to say?
I would like to expand a little on what I said in response to the question about the advice I would give to aspiring writers.
It seems to me that much of what is written today is written to those who have little desire to read fiction in the first place. Let’s face it; that’s most of the general public. And that isn’t a critical remark.
The role of literature has been so diminished in our educational system and culture that the literary arts have almost disappeared. There are many who would be thrilled by them if they were exposed, but they’ve never been exposed–at least not as adults. To try to appeal to those readers by oversimplifying themes or methods of expression will, I believe, further immunize them from the power of great stories and beautiful exposition. So much is being lost. I would appeal to young writers not to write to the lowest common denominator and thereby alienate the remaining readers or the many more potential ones, but to appeal to those who are drawn to ideas and words and powerful images. Allow those readers the excitement of spreading the word about what you have produced, and be a part of restoring what’s been lost.