Monday, June 23, 2014

Featured Author: Felix Whelan

Children of the Good has the highest Amazon ranking so far in the category Christian Futuristic Fiction, and Felix Whelan is here today to talk about it.

About the book:

If everyone on Earth stopped believing in God... Would He still exist? Would He still care?

In a near-future America that looks a whole lot like today...

A foreign-born Antichrist sits in the White House, and through the power of the Presidency, secretly rules the world...

Religion as we know it has been outlawed, and all knowledge of the old beliefs has been wiped from human memory...

A State-sponsored, New Age cult of self-worship has taken organized religion’s place, and controls the hearts and minds of the world. The Gospel of Self denies the existence of objective good or evil, and preaches moral relativism and the virtue of selfishness...

In the Midwest small town of Arkady, a luminous woman begins appearing to children. She tells them a story about a real living Evil that has taken over their world, and of an objective, loving Good that is on its way to save them. Her son – her seed is the mysterious term she uses – will crush the Evil and bring Good back to the world...

But not if President for Life Michael Oglesby has anything to say about it. When a series of prophecies appear to be coming true, with one very special little girl at their center, a hidden Remnant of believers emerge to rally around the child… While forces of darkness mobilize to destroy her at any cost...

Other books by Felix and co-written by Carol Ann Whelan

I Can't Believe It's Vegan! Volume 1 - All American Crock Pot Classics
I Can't Believe It's Vegan! Volume 2 - All American Comfort Food Entrees
I Can't Believe It's Vegan! Volume 3 - All American Comfort Food Desserts
I Can't Believe It's Vegan! Volume 4 - All American Comfort Food Truck Stop, Diner and Lunch Counter Classics
The I Can't Believe It's Vegan! All American Comfort Food Cookbook: Our Top 40 All-Time Favorites
I Can't Believe It's Not Tuna!: 55 Vegetarian Recipes for Mock Tuna Casseroles, Sandwiches, Melts, Burgers, Salads, Pasta Dishes, and More!

with Felix Whelan

Felix, this is your first novel. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I announced to my mother that I wanted to grow up to be a writer when when I was ten years old, and she promptly bought me one of those old metal manual typewriters at a yard sale and said, “Get to work!” I did, and she was very supportive of my early efforts, retyping stories for me on the sly at her day job in an insurance office, putting them in little binders with the title and “by Felix Whelan” on the front like a real book. Mom was awesome... In high school, I read one of my stories in front of an audience at a Reader’s Theater event and got a standing ovation. I was thrilled! I knew I was on the right path in life. I majored in creative writing in college, with a minor in religious studies, got a few short stories published... Then fell in love, got married, dropped out of school, and promptly forgot all about writing for most of the next twenty-five years! I had a wife, and soon a family to provide for, so off I went into the nine-to-five workforce. When I turned fifty, I started a blog called “Felix at Fifty,” subtitled “a blog about food, faith, family and finding fulfillment at (and after) fifty,” on which I tried to encourage middle-aged folks like myself to “go for it,” live their dreams, express their creativity, find fulfillment. About a year into that project, the irony was too much. Here I was cheering others on to follow their dreams, while ignoring my own... I parked the blog with a “gone writing...” sign, and got to work. Children of the Good is the result.

What’s the story behind the title Children of the Good?

I wrote the first few chapters with just the fictional town’s name, Arkady, as the working title. I had established the milieu in the story of a future without religion, and a luminous woman, the Blessed Virgin, obviously, appearing to children who had no idea who she was or what she might represent... Then one Sunday at Mass, the first reading was from the Old Testament book of Wisdom – “For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and carried out with one mind the divine institution... I had never heard that verse before. The Holy Children of the Good... It just rang and rang inside my head like a church bell at sunrise, and I knew, there’s my title. I shortened it to just Children of the Good because I didn’t think kids born into a culture with no religion would know the word Holy, or identify themselves by it.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

In January, I’ll celebrate my 20th anniversary as an office manager. It is definitely my “second half of life” goal to be a full-time author and pay the bills writing and selling novels – novels that, hopefully, get made into movies! But just to be on the safe side, I think I’ll stay in the workforce just a few more years...

How did you create the plot for this book?

The plot revealed itself in stages. I wrote the first five chapters intuitively, by the seat of my pants, as they say. Once I’d introduced the main characters and the world in which the story takes place, this near future America where the Antichrist has taken over and abolished all religion, I knew I had to flash back and fill in the story of this guy’s origin and rise to power. Suddenly I had ten or eleven chapters, and I was feeling pretty good about actually winding up with a full-blown novel on the other end of this thing... So I hunkered down and outlined the rest of the book, which I found made it much easier to write. I could focus more on the craft of writing well, in the moment with each unfolding chapter, and less on worrying about what was going to happen next in the story.

What’s your favorite line from the book?

One of my favorite “poetic description” lines is in chapter three, the first time we meet the luminous woman. She appears to a group of third graders at a secret cove off the town lake, at night, where all these kids have snuck out and gathered to see if the woman they’ve heard about is real and if she’ll really appear:

A white form the size of a dog drifted toward them on the water, and became a swan as it neared the shore. It did not step up onto the land, but rather halted abruptly, craned its long neck and stretched its ivory wings, then simply vanished as the campsite exploded into light.

Cool, huh?

Very. Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Neil Coleman really endeared himself to me in the course of writing this book. He appears the first time as a nine-year-old kid in that scene by the lake. Then we meet him again and really get to know him when the story jumps forward to when he and John Harper, the novel’s central character, are young adults in their twenties. When we meet Neil as a child, he’s a tough as nails abused kid on his way to growing up hard and mean like his old man. But that lake encounter with the woman changes him, and when we meet him again, as an adult, he’s an awesome young man, smart, competent, brave, humble. He was a lot of fun to write.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

Neil Coleman is based on a real kid named Neil that I knew growing up. His dad really did beat him with a razor strap and terrible things like that. He would show us the welts on the playground. But it was a small town in the seventies. We kids didn’t know what to do about it, or that we could do anything about it, or should even try. And our parents, the school, everybody just looked the other way. It breaks my heart now thinking about it. The Neil Coleman you meet in Children of the Good is my prayer for the Neil I grew up with. May his life be so blessed.

Is your book based on real events?

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on what the meaning of what the word "real" is... One common criticism of Children of the Good is that, for a book set fifty years in the future, the world portrayed is not very futuristic. People drive Fords and Buicks, they talk on cell phones, have big screen TVs, watch funny animal videos on their home computers... All anachronistic present day elements I included in the book very much on purpose. I set the story in the future to make room for the Antichrist's rise to power, and for the establishment of the Special Schools, essentially a global system of prison camps for children that exist to "reprogram" kids caught thinking or behaving religiously into "self-esteem narcissists" with a grand sense of entitlement... But I'm not really making a prediction about the future, here. I'm setting up an allegory about the present. The New Age philosophy the Antichrist imposes in place of Christianity and other world religions is called The Gospel of Self, and it's based in large part on Ayn Rand's famous "virtue of selfishness." It places the center of the human moral compass squarely on one's personal ego and "self-esteem," on what I want, what I need, what I feel... me... me... me... That's the philosophy that rules this "near future" America... Just like, any honest observer would have to admit, it rules American culture today. My 2066 America looks, technologically, a whole lot like USA 2014, because it's really our present day values being explored in the book. The "near future" setting of Children of the Good is an allegory of  what America today has become in the wake of the "Cultural Revolution" of the 1960s – a shallow, narcissistic, amoral, celebrity-worshiping, consumerist, me me me culture that denies the existence of God, and increasingly marginalizes, and even outright persecutes, people of faith. The events of the story are fiction, of course. But the moral environment, the cultural context that gives those events meaning is very real, and very present, right here and right now.

You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?

I very much want to narrate the audiobook of Children of the Good myself. Back in college, in the Creative Writing program, we read everything we wrote out loud in class. We critiqued each other's oratory as much as the writing itself. We learned that all good writing, even fiction, even essays, even memoir, should follow the same basic rule as poetry – which is that to "look right" to the eyes of the reader, the words must "sound right" to their ears, as well. I would never publish a story or novel that I have not read aloud many times over to make sure it sounds as great as it reads. So, I've narrated Children of the Good in the privacy of my home many times, and not to boast, but Morgan Freeman ain't got nothin' on me! All I need now is a few hours in a recording studio... It's more a matter of funding than anything else. Once I've sold enough paperbacks and eBooks to pay for some studio time, watch for the audiobook!

I will! Who are your favorite authors?

My number one, all time favorite author is Ray Bradbury. I was directed to his books in the fifth grade, by a school librarian. I was ten, and Bradbury's short stories were like nothing I had ever read. He writes in a rollicking prose poetry that is really quite breathtaking in its power to evoke imagery in the reader's mind. Then, there's what he writes about... The stuff of every ten year old boy's dreams – rockets, Martians, dinosaurs, carnival side shows... I'll never forget putting my hands on Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time, that first experience of Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show steaming into town on a spooky midnight train... Green Town, the Illinois small town where Something Wicked takes place, and where Bradbury's classics Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree are also centered, grew into a kind of "oasis" in my imagination, if that makes sense, a place I carry inside me, in my heart, that I have returned to rereading at least one of those books every year for the the last forty years... That's the kind of writer I want to be, a creator of worlds readers carry inside them and remember for a lifetime.

Other authors I love, for wildly varying reasons: Alice Hoffman, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Lauren Groff, Bradley Denton, and Neil Gaiman.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, hardback from the library. My wife and son and I watched the movie version last week on Netflix, and we all just loved it. I couldn't help but watch the movie with a writer's eye. I kept thinking, "This is the kind of movie I want made from my books." So reading Odd Thomas is both a pleasure and a study. On the one hand, I'm enjoying the story, of course. On the other, though, I am studying how Dean writes, how he paces the story, how long his sentences and chapters are, how much dialogue there is VS description, how he introduces characters, and like that. I really want someday to see my work on the silver screen. Dean Koontz is a master of writing books that become movies. A wise artist always studies the masters!

For the record, I am by no means a technophobe! Yes, I check books out from the library, and I have hundreds of paperbacks on my shelves at home. But I also have 1,500 or so eBooks on my Kindle. I especially love the convenience of taking my Kindle with me when I leave the house. Getting stuck at the airport or facing a long wait at the doctor's office is far less frustrating when you have a vast library in your pocket, and access to every book ever written anywhere there is Wi-Fi – which these days is everywhere. I think eBooks are great, and they're so much less expensive than paper books. My only issue with the eBook revolution is knowing I will never while away a single afternoon scouring the shelves of a "used eBook store." I love used bookstores. I love the way they smell, and the scintillating promise of buried treasure sure to be found on the very next shelf... I will miss used bookstores terribly when they someday disappear altogether.

Heaven help us if that happens. What’s one pet peeve you have when you read?

I cannot read with noise! TV, music, conversation going on in the room around me. I suspect this is a consequence of spending so much time reading in the library as a kid. I learned to lose myself in books in total silence, no distractions. My kids can read with music blasting and one eye on Facebook, and they seem to comprehend just fine. For me, no way. I do most of my reading in the early morning, before the rest of the household wakes up.

Where do you prefer to do your writing?

After literally decades of wanting to write but never "finding the time," I finally figured out that if I was going to wait around for the right time and place to appear, no writing was ever going to get done. So, if I was serious about writing a novel, I was just going to have to hunker down and do the work, no matter how I felt about the environment or time of day. And so I taught myself to do that, in the course of writing Children of the Good. It's funny really, coming on the tail of that last question, about reading. It's a genuine paradox. I can only enjoy reading a book in total silence, in an undisturbed location. But I can write one anywhere. My "office" is a 16GB flashdrive I carry with me everywhere. Any USB port brings my office to 3D life around me, and I'm off.... I write during breaks and lunch at my day job, on my living room computer with my kids blasting the TV behind me, on a laptop in waiting rooms... If I'm bored at a party, and I spot a PC, I'm not above cranking out a chapter or two while my wife socializes. The great science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, as a publicity stunt, used to set up a desk in bookstore windows and write the most intense, amazing stories while gawkers pressed their noses to the glass. I could do that!

Would you rather work in a library or a bookstore?

Definitely a library. In Disney's excellent 1983 film adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jason Robards plays twelve-year-old Will Halloway's brave, aging librarian dad. That's my dream retirement someday: to be Jason Robards in that movie. To spend my golden years puttering around a big, old library in a small town somewhere, encouraging kids to get excited about pirates and dinosaurs, journeys into space and jungle safari's...

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

"If you don't like what you're doing, then don't do it." – Ray Bradbury. I have a bumper sticker with this quote taped to the dashboard of my truck, facing me while I drive!

What three books have you read recently and would recommend?

Rocket Man by William Hazelgrove is absolutely wonderful. I am going to read everything this guy has ever written or will write in the future, which is about the highest compliment I know how to give to a writer.

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. This novel has one of the best opening lines ever: "The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass." How could you not love every word that follows that opener?

Hope and Undead Elvis by Ian Thomas Healy. It's the end of the world and only an ex-stripper and the reanimated zombie corpse of Elvis Presley can save the day. I know it sounds cheesy, but it is so well executed, you'll be turning pages all the way to the end, and thinking about these characters for a long time to come.

What are you working on now?

The next book in the Children of the Good series. The working title, at this red hot moment, and this could change, of course, is Fruitless Works of Darkness – a reference to the New Testament Book of Ephesians. It picks up exactly where Children of the Good leaves off. Nelly Harper, Neil Coleman, and Billy Conner are on the lam, the Antichrist is still in charge and laying plans to seduce little Nelly into his service, we discover a deeper level of the Remnant in Mexico... I'm mostly outlining now, but you can count on book two to take the story to a whole new level, both as gripping narrative, and as theological exploration, from a Catholic perspective. Folks should watch my blog for previews and progress reports!

Will do! And come back when it's done and tell us more about it!

About the author:

Felix Whelan is the co-author, alongside his beautiful wife Carol Ann Whelan, of the I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan! cookbook series. They live in rural Missouri with their daughter, Kate, their son, Conner, and, at last count, twenty dogs, cats, chickens, sheep, and goats overgrowing their one-acre hobby farm. They are vegetarians surrounded by cattle farmers, Catholics surrounded by Protestants, and ex-city slickers transplanted to a town that will never completely trust anyone whose great grandparents weren’t born there... The first book in Felix’s Children of the Good series was released on Holy Thursday, 2014, by NuEvan Press.

Connect with Felix:
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Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords