By Blake Atwood, faithvillage.com
As an author, Christian Piatt may be most well-known for his Banned Questions About the Bible series. He’s also a progressive voice as a blogger, and currently serves as the Director of Acquisitions and Author Development for CrowdScribed and as the Director of Growth and Development for First Christian Church (DOC) in Portland, OR.
His latest work, Blood Doctrine, combines his many talents and interests into a gripping tale of faith and science, a fictional yet believable book about the possibility of using Jesus’ DNA to resurrect him as a clone. We spoke to Christian about his fascinating new book. (To read an excerpt, watch a video and read what other bloggers are saying about the book, visit the Patheos Book Club here May 1-15.)
Blood Doctrine imagines the possibility of Jesus’ return to earth … as a genetically resurrected clone. When and where did this idea first captivate you?
A few years ago, when the “Jesus Tomb” story broke (an ossuary found bearing the name of James, brother of Jesus), I was intrigued less by whether it was authentic and belonged to THE brother of Jesus, and more by our apparent obsession with finding physical evidence of Jesus’ life. From relics of the cross to the Shroud of Turin, we’re always searching. Around that same time, I read an article about a 5,000-year-old date palm seed that was found and was used to germinate a viable date plant.
As I let my mind wander, I started imagining what we would do with physical evidence of his life — specifically genetic material — if it were recovered. With the capabilities being harnessed in the field of genetics, I can’t imagine someone with the proper moral flexibility wouldn’t try to manipulate the course of history in such a way.
What are the major themes of the book?
There are three storylines woven together. One takes place in the Middle east, starting at the crucifixion and following Jesus’ family following that event. A second follows Jacob, the teenage boy who lives in Denver as strange things begin to happen to him that he can understand or explain, like stigmata and mysterious healings. The third storyline centers on Nica, a reporter from the New Yorker magazine who is a religious skeptic, following some leads about this fringe group called the project who is bent on using modern genetics to invoke apocalyptic end-times.
What types of readers will most enjoy Blood Doctrine?
It’s paced very quickly, somewhere in the genre of suspense/thriller and young adult fiction. It’s not your typical “Christian” fiction, but anyone who is interested in Biblical history converging with contemporary culture should find it a very compelling read.
How much research did you have to do for this book? What scholars, authors, or books would you recommend as extra reading material?
I pulled from geneticists, anthropologists, theologians, historians and a healthy handful of conspiracy theorists. I wanted everything to be at least plausible, like the notion of Blood Doctrine itself. There are those who believe that there were supernatural qualities in Jesus’ blood, which is what made him divine. There are others who believe they possess authentic relics from the life and death of Jesus. Some theorize Jesus studied with the Essene monks in Qumran, and we all know that genetic breakthroughs are coming to our attention almost daily. So with all of these concepts floating individually out there, it was fun weaving them together into a pretty fantastical — though fairly believable — “what if?” kind of story.You’ve already written a number of books, but this is your first foray into fiction. What did you have to do differently, if anything, for this book? What was most challenging about writing fiction?
I think it’s actually much harder to do fiction well, partly because there are no limits. So it’s wholly up to the author to make the characters believable and empathetic, while also developing an utterly original story that seems all together possible at the same time. The structure of this book also is very different, in that it’s basically three stories that interweave and ultimately converge at the end. It’s tricky to pace everything so it meets up where it needs to, while also keeping track of all the clues and subtle references dropped into there narrative from beginning to end.
But I think the editing was by far the hardest part. I started out with what looked more like a literary fiction piece at a fairly hefty 108,000 words. But three editors and at least eight revisions later, we had winnowed it down to a sinewy 45,000 words. It was tough for me at first, because I loved the character development, the descriptions of scenes, the dialogue and the plot. But at some point I had to decide what was most important in all of that, and in this case, plot won out. Not that I took all the other good stuff out, but you have to make tough choices in fiction; you can’t have it all and also have a read that moves like a freight train.
The way you’re publishing Blood Doctrine isn’t through traditional publishing, and you’re not quite self-publishing either. Tell us about the journey your book has taken from being stored on your computer to being widely available as a print and ebook. Why did you opt for that particular route?
Kathy Helmers, my literary agent, loved the story, but felt that it might confuse her work on representing my nonfiction if she took on the novel. So she suggested I put it out myself. The thing is, I have seen lots of poorly done self-published books that, frankly, look like just that. If I was going to take the time and risk of doing this, it needed to be of the same quality as anything else I’ve done. So I started outlining the steps from concept to publication. It turns out there are more than a dozen, from content editing, line editing and proofreading, to registering with the Library of Congress, creating a marketing plan and developing a publicity campaign. To do it right, and to hire people like bestselling author Frank Schaeffer to help me out, it was going to take a good deal of money, which I didn’t have.
I I did a Kickstarter campaign and successfully raised about $12,000 in two months, and then I put together my “Dream Team” of designers, editors and publicity folks to bring the vision to life. This whole endeavor has been a long time coming; I started doing the research for it as early as 2006. But with the final book coming out May 1, and actually with the book already on preorder at places like CrowdScribed, I have to say this has been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in publishing so far.
What else would you like to share about your new book?
People need to remember that this is entirely fiction, and that I wrote it to entertain. I present some pretty controversial ideas, like Jesus’ body reappearing in the family tomb after his crucifixion, but it’s all a means to an end to serve the story. If, in the end, people walk away feeling provoked, entertained and wanting more, then I think that Blood Doctrine has done everything I could have hoped for.
And just as a little teaser: the story actually is set up as a potential trilogy. So if this book does well, there’s a good possibility that there will be two more volumes to follow.
This interview originally appeared at FaithVillage.com and is reprinted with permission.