Good afternoon! We’re thrilled to have Wayne Martindale, author of Beyond the Shadowlands, with us today for an exclusive interview. Remember, we’re giving this book away so don’t forget to sign up for that here.
1. Did teaching get you into writing, or writing into teaching? How’d you get your start writing?
Writing came first in that I was writing constantly for my MA and PhD, but teaching came before publication. You often don’t get a college or university job these days without publications, and you certainly don’t get to stay long without publishing. I was poised to publish a book on the British poet Percy Shelley when Jerry Root and the opportunity to co-edit The Quotable Lewis came along in the mid 1980’s. That set me on a course of publishing more on Lewis than any other writer. But as all writer-teachers will likely say, the two enterprises greatly support each other. You never do your best thinking until you have written about something.
2. Have you always been a C.S. Lewis fan? Why him? Why not Tolkien or MacDonald or anyone else? What drew you to Lewis?
I did not grow up in a bookish family. When I was a few months old, my folks moved from Oklahoma to California to improve their lot in life by picking cotton, so there were few books; I didn’t even know Lewis’s name until I went away to college. There George Musacchio, the English professor who became my mentor, introduced me to Lewis. The first of Lewis’s books I read was The Great Divorce. I had no idea I was starving for imaginative, emotional, and spiritual food until I devoured that book. I have never gotten over the experience—I was hooked on Lewis and re-engaged with Christianity. Tolkien and MacDonald are theologically rich, and Lewis owed a debt to both that he joyfully acknowledged. You won’t go wrong with any of the three as a favorite, but Lewis has more theological heft and imaginative range (though not more imaginative depth). Perhaps it’s more a case of my “first love.”
3. How does your worldview play into the books that you write? Any specific book that’s closest to you and your experiences?
No one writes in a vacuum, so culture and worldview will color every writer’s work, however objective the attempt. The same is true for the way we read. Augustine of Hippo nailed it when he said, “Faith precedes understanding.” Lewis made no bones about it: “all my books are evangelistic,” he claims. You can find the gospel even in his volume in the Oxford History of English Literature series. With Lewis and with me (and perhaps most writers), the agenda wasn’t to sell a worldview, but to tell the truth as he saw it, to write a good story (they always began with pictures for Lewis, not doctrines), then the beliefs and values come naturally as part of a writer’s normal thought processes. Lewis couldn’t be true to who he was and write with integrity without his Christian commitment coming through.
It’s the same in writing a book of criticism like Beyond the Shadowlands: C. S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell. First, I have to understand Lewis accurately and not make him say what I wish he’d said. That means clearly seeing his worldview. Lewis calls this first step of submitting to the text “receiving,” and he calls bending a text to your own purposes “using” (see his Experiment in Criticism). I try hard to receive: to be true to the subject. The judgments I make will be naturally informed by my Christian convictions. Beyond that, we all still try to find our own voices and write with personalities of our own.
When asked for my favorite Lewis book, I often say, with not much overstatement: “The one I’m reading at the moment.” Lewis has written masterpieces in at least twelve genres, so any number of books could be legitimate favorites. I think Lewis is right in judging Till We Have Faces as his best book, but his best writing, word for word, is the sermon called “The Weight of Glory.” My favorite, because it was my doorway to the imaginative world, is The Great Divorce.
4. Where do you generally write? What time of the day is your favorite? Do you set daily goals? For a book like Beyond the Shadowlands, how much research do you do before you put pen to paper?
I was a night owl in college and gravitated to evening hours for writing. But the demands of life often demand more efficiency than a few hours “when you feel like it,” so I’ve learned to write at various times, and sometimes through the day. I’ve drifted to morning as a preferred time as I’ve gotten older and wear out sooner. The place preference has changed, too. I liked casual settings and a pencil and paper, at first. But now, though some of my best ideas come when mowing the lawn or walking to work, I write mostly at my desk and on a computer (both school and home). When teaching, the time for writing is shorter, but can’t stop. When I have a stretch of time and am working on a book, I have to work all day every day to finish before time runs out. You have to build up, though, just like running or working out—you add a little endurance time every day. Your eye muscles even need conditioning. When writing Beyond the Shadowlands, I eventually worked up to about fourteen hours of writing and/or researching every day—and I would be at it weird hours of the night, too, but I only had the summer and a one-semester sabbatical to get it done.
Regarding research, there’s an important sense in which all you read and experience goes into anything you write. Working on The Quotable Lewis meant that I needed to read everything Lewis published (some sixty different titles) in less than three years, so that background came into play when I wrote Beyond the Shadowlands fifteen years later. You turn over a small library of books when writing nearly anything. As an indication, there are nearly sixty books or articles on Lewis or the subject of Heaven and Hell, and nearly fifty books or essays by Lewis in the Works Cited section of Beyond the Shadowlands . While I read a lot beforehand, the reading and writing continued together, like a weave.
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Published on 19 August, 2014. Last updated on