Frank Peretti is a master storyteller and arguably the first sales superstar in spiritually-themed thrillers. To date, his books have sold over 12 million copies. In 1988, he burst on the fiction scene with THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. Within a short span of time, Peretti went from working in a ski factory to the pages of People, Time, and Newsweek. Through his invention of the Christian thriller, he set the stage for future Christian fiction sales phenomena and introduced us to all things that go bump in the night. Despite his sales success and notoriety, Peretti and his high school sweetheart Barb live simply in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
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April 27, 2005
FaithfulReader.com's contributing writer W. Terry Whalin interviewed Frank Peretti, the internationally bestselling author of THE OATH and THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. Peretti discusses the plotline of MONSTER --- his first fiction book for adults in six years --- the research he conducted for the novel, and his writing routine, which is always a four-step process.
FaithfulReader.com: It's been six years since adult fiction readers have seen a new Frank Peretti book. What have you been doing these last few years?
Frank Peretti: I've been doing plenty. Just ask Barb. I work everyday. HANGMAN'S CURSE in the "Veritas Project" series for tweens and teenagers was turned into a movie. I was involved in that project. I wrote a nonfiction book called THE WOUNDED SPIRIT (now retitled NO MORE BULLIES). I've also been the main character in a series of videos called "Mr. Henry's Wild and Wacky World." These Bible stories are values-based and the thirteen episodes appear every Saturday morning on the Trinity Broadcast Network. I may not have written an adult novel but I've been busy.
Also, sometimes the editors don't like my ideas. On two ideas that didn't get published, I spent six months on each one. For one of those ideas, I wrote a couple of sample chapters but the editors didn't like them. I still have the material and believe there is a germ of an effective idea that one day will be published.
FR: The advance publicity has kept the essence of the story under wraps. How would you summarize the basic storyline for MONSTER?
FP: One of the key distinctions for this book from my other writings is the cinematic style of storytelling. For example, the style in THE VISITATION is deeper and more introspective and partially autobiographical. Because of my recent movie-making experience with HANGMAN'S CURSE, MONSTER doesn't have the speed bumps or background information of some of my previous books. It jumps right into the action. I'd call this book an action/adventure story and not in a spiritual or supernatural sense. There are no angels or demons in MONSTER.
Throughout the reading experience, the reader is wondering about the monster and they learn that the monster appears in several different layers. The opening of the book begins with the simple premise about the monster. People are messing around with things that are best left alone. A young couple are hiking in the woods and starting a week of survival training in the wilderness. They arrive at a little cabin and it's all torn up. In the night, they decide to climb a tree and the first limb they reach turns out to be an arm --- the arm of their guide who has been killed and hanging in the tree. Because they sense something is following them, they run through the woods and the wife accidentally falls over a waterfall. Some black thing grabs her and carries her off. The husband, Reed, organizes a search party trying to find her.
A different thread of the action involves a professor who has lost his job at the university because he has dared to question Darwin's theories of evolution. The action involves footprints, hair, stool samples, and tampering with DNA to bridge the evolutionary gap between monkey and man.
FR: How does the spiritual element come into this particular book?
FP: MONSTER has the theme of questioning a basic premise of evolutionary theory about beneficial mutations. The characters are normal Christians, but the story doesn't include any preaching or casting out demons. Billy Graham doesn't make an appearance in the story. The cinematic story is aimed at a broad audience and my intention in a good story is to prod the reader to ask questions like, "Are there really beneficial mutations?"
FR: How do you conduct research for your books and in particular for MONSTER?
FP: Each book is different, but for MONSTER I spent time with a tracker who is especially trained to track human beings. He explained about compasses, lights and mirrors, plus many other details that I built into the story.
The information about DNA is complex and I turned to Dr. David DeWitt, a professor at Liberty University, to understand this subject area. Plus, I have over a dozen books that I read on the topic.
Also, I talked with a medical doctor about different effective ways to kill people. One of my characters, Sing, is a forensic specialist who determines how different people die in the storyline. Some of the actions from this character is based on my research into the medical field.
Throughout the story, my characters are tracking monsters yet facing incredible dilemmas and forced to chose the lesser of two evils. Neither choice is a good one, but for example they have to choose between telling the truth or murdering the guy. The tension and suspense make for fast-paced storytelling, but every detail is based on careful research.
FR: Tell me about your writing routine. I understand it's a four-step process for you: brainspilling, outlining, writing and rewriting. Let's go through each part in detail. How do you accomplish the brainspilling process?
FP: Some people like to call it brainstorming, but for me it's more of a spilling process. When I am working through this process, I write down any idea that comes into my mind. I do not question if it is a good idea or not --- even if it is something really stupid. I still spill it onto the page. Eventually some of these ideas begin to take hold and the good ideas begin to emerge. Sometimes I will spend months in this process of brainspilling.
FR: How detailed and involved is the next step of outlining?
FP: My outline portion of the writing process is where I lay down a timeline for the entire story in my head. I write down the different plot points. For example, in MONSTER, when the monster carries off the girl, that's the real launch for the story. The middle of the story comes with a reversal of fortunes. The heroine comes to the understanding that all of her possibilities for help have disappeared. She will have to save herself and it sends the story off in a new direction. Most novels are written with three acts or a beginning, middle and end. The third act begins when everyone in the search party suddenly discovers the missing heroine is still alive. It sets off a chase scene until the final climax of the book.
FR: When you write, do you set daily goals or a word count to make it happen?
FP: I hate the brainspilling and outlining portion of the writing process. I love to begin the writing. I use a kitchen timer and I consistently work five hours. When the timer goes off, then I quit for the day. If the phone rings or I have to let my dog outside, then I stop the timer. I start it when I sit back down at my computer. You'd be amazed at the amount of time wasted on interruptions.
I've taken over a basement bedroom for my writing and I tell Barb that I'm going down in our dungeon to get my five hours in. I know some writers use words or pages, but I use hours. Eventually, if I put in enough time, something happens. You have to be disciplined as a writer or you never get it done. Many people talk to me about their desire to write a book, but professional writers get it done.
FR: I've heard that you don't type much and that you had carpal tunnel syndrome? How do you handle the volume of writing? It takes a lot of typing to write a book the size of MONSTER.
FP: I've never had carpal tunnel syndrome. Several years ago I got severe tendonitis in my right thumb from signing a lot of books. It took almost two years to clear up. If I write with a pen for any length of time, it can still be a problem. To protect my hands, I'm using a number of technology gizmos. For example, I use a gyroscopic mouse that communicates from anywhere with my computer and saves my hands. Also, I have one of those funny bent ergonomic keyboards.
As another means to save the use of my hands for writing, I'm using Dragon's Naturally Speaking Version 8. Previously I had used the earlier versions of this program, but I was frustrated with the lack of accuracy and the amount of time I spent fixing all of the errors from it. Those frustrations have disappeared with this new version. I'm amazed at the accuracy and the few errors from using it.
FR: Describe the rewriting process.
FP: Each day when I write, I go over and rewrite the previous day's work. I make sure the text is flowing and has the right pacing. Then, when I reach about the halfway point in the writing process, I stop and re-read the first half of the book. I work on any rewriting right up to reaching the point where I stopped, then I keep that flow of words going. When the entire book is finished, I begin sending it off to my editors. Early on in the editing process, two editors were in contact with me on the phone and we were looking at building the suspense and tension and the overall storyline.
After completing this process, I worked with another editor on the actual line editing and nitty gritty of the book. We tackled the grammar and all that stuff. It's a laborious process. Then, when the book is in galleys, I read the story again.
MONSTER contains several themes. On one level the story says that evolution makes monsters of us all and removes any accountability. The logical outcome from evolutionary theory is to equate man with animals. It contains a profound human message with several levels of monsters.
FR: Tell me about the importance of monsters for you when you were growing up.
FP: Between the age of 12 and 14, I spent hours assembling and painting various Aurora models of monsters. I had Frankenstein, Wolfman, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mummy, and others. They provided hours of entertainment and enjoyment to me.
FR: What are you working on next? Will it be another six years?
FP: I hope it will not be another six years before the release of my next adult book. I didn't plan it this way with the gap between my last book and MONSTER, but it just turned out that way.
Right now I'm between books. I'm trying to come up with an idea. I've thought about writing another darkness-type of book, but I don't want to write something just because it is popular. I need to have a message in the book. All Peretti books begin with a message. Maybe I have a five-step writing process with the first step getting my message. I've been praying and seeking the Lord about what I should write, but I don't have any direction or peace about it yet. I have publishing offers (for which I am grateful) but I'm unsure what direction the next book will take.
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