CFBR: How old were you when you started writing Issym?
JMH: I came up with the idea for Issym the summer after I turned fourteen. Almost immediately I began to draft it.
CFBR: What inspired you to write Christian fiction for the fantasy genre?
JMH: I enjoy reading and writing in a variety of genres. In fact, when I started writing Issym I had to put down a book I was working on in the science fiction genre. I wrote fantasy for my first book simply because that was the story I was passionate about and completed first. I hope to offer a variety of styles in the future. As far as the Christian genre, I am a Christian and it would be impossible for me to leave the biggest aspect of my life out of my writing. I think it is the most important part of all life and books are no exception.
CFBR: What was the process of trying to find a publisher for Issym like?
JMH: I did some research through the internet and one very helpful book on what publishers expect. Then I purchased a list of all the major publishers, looked for the companies that would accept manuscripts without receiving them from an agent and searched for what types of books they were interested in. I did specific research about the companies and tried to adhere to their guidelines. I learned to write a query letter, an entirely different form of writing, and had several people look it over. Then I sent it in.
Looking for Christian publishers was very disheartening. There were not many companies, less that would take work without an agent, and even fewer that would touch fantasy. The ones that would look at it seemed to have their open slots for the genre filled up very quickly. In my experience the market for Christian fantasy is big and the volume of authors and books is also large. It is the publishers that are in short supply.
CFBR: Why did you decide to start Rebirth Publishing?
JMH: The concept of forming a publishing company at seventeen scared me away for a long time. As supportive as the people around me were, forming a company is a big step and is not one to be entered into lightly. I had to be sure before I asked people to invest their time, energy and money in it. That was why I first sought out a traditional publisher.
As I did the research on the publishing world, the companies and books that existed and what my market audience (pre-teens, teens and young adults) was reading I became very sad. The filth that seemed to fill the shelves of the teenage literature section was appalling and God gave me a heart to change it. He picked me to give a just-as-exciting alternative and to ask Christian families to put down the trash.
That was no easy calling. I understood the basics of just how hard it would be. It took me a while to convince myself and other people, but Rebirth Publishing was formed in October of 2009 by the grace of God. I am glad it was.
CFBR: You have a new book coming out in November. Can you tell us a little about it?
JMH: Issym’s sequel, Asandra, Book Two of the Xsardis Chronicles, will be released next month. Issym took place on the continent of Issym. This second book will take place on Asandra so there is a fairly different cast. But Issym’s three main characters will be back. The continent of Asandra is made up of Rachel’s imagination so there will be new creatures and a new environment and, of course, a new struggle but with an old enemy—Sasha the shape shifter.
I was fourteen when I wrote Issym. I was seventeen when I wrote Asandra. I now have a better idea of writing, where I want to go and how to get there. I think this book offers the same clean fun and adventure of Issym in an even more enjoyable way!
CFBR: Did you always intend for Issym to be the beginning of a series?
JMH: When I started writing Issym all I wanted was to pick up a cool hobby. It was never even supposed to be finished, but when I went back and added the introduction to the book I fell in love with the world I had created. As the book came to a close, my mind just kept imagining and before I knew it I had the plot for both the second and third books. I was writing the sequel before the editing had been finished on the first. My characters just wouldn’t leave me alone.
CFBR: There is sometimes debate over whether Christians should be writing fiction in the fantasy/science fiction genre. What do you think?
JMH: One of the biggest initial struggles I faced was getting the Christian community to understand why I was writing fantasy. It does seem to have a bad connotation and I understand why. As believers we must hold ourselves to a high standard of purity and keeping away from the occult. Fantasy in people’s minds often has a link to impurity and the occult.
Paul says in 1st Corinthians 8:13, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” In an effort not to cause my brothers to fall, I have completely removed the use of magic from my book. ‘Special powers’ such as the ability to shape shift are not ‘magical’ but just the way God made the creatures. God and His power are paramount in my novel, not man’s capabilities. Personally, I do not have a problem with non-spell-driven magic, but I am careful to keep my books clean for readers of all ages—something I have instilled in my company. I hope this allows a broader audience to enjoy and feel comfortable with the content of my books.
CFBR: What advice would you give to young aspiring authors?
JMH: Write! Don’t be afraid of how the sentence sounds or letting people read it. Just write. Write everyday if you can, because it helps build yours skills. If you read something you like, stop and think about why you like it and see if you can plug it into your writing. Watch your friends. What things about them make them special?
Anything is possible! You are never too young to pursue your dreams!
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