Interview with Randall Ingermanson

Randall Ingermanson
Randall Ingermanson is the author of the Christy award-winning novel Transgression (Harvest House, 2000) and co-author of the Christy award-winning novel Oxygen (Bethany House, 2001) and sequel The Fifth Man (Bethany House, 2002). Here he discusses his new novel, Premonition (Zondervan, 2003).

EBG: In your new book, Premonition, we return to the story of Rivka and Ari that began in the novel Transgression. Could you give a quick recap of how it is that two modern characters happen to be trapped in first-century Palestine?

RI: Ari was a theoretical physicist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He cooked up a clever scheme for creating a “wormhole”, a portal through time. Then he hooked up with an American experimental physicist, Damien West, who had the skills to actually build the device. But Ari didn’t know that Damien wanted to travel back in time to kill the apostle Paul. By bad luck, Rivka got sent back in time along with Damien, and Ari followed them because he had a crush on Rivka. There was an accident and the wormhole was destroyed. At the end of the story, Damien was killed and Ari worked up his courage to propose to Rivka. But they are now trapped permanently in first-century Jerusalem.

EBG: What are some of the central themes and events as the story unfolds for Rivka and Ari in Premonition?

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RI: Their first problem is that Rivka and Ari have no money, so they’re depending on the charity of friends while Ari looks for work. But what kind of work can a physicist find in ancient Jerusalem? Furthermore, Rivka is feeling very much out of place because of the cultural restrictions on what a Jewish woman can wear, what she can do, and who she can talk to. As the story unfolds, Ari finds work doing engineering design and Rivka works as a midwife and both of them show an unusual talent for getting into trouble with certain Very Important People in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, Rivka is cursed with a photographic memory, and she knows every bad thing that’s going to happen during this time period. Like anyone would, she wants to prevent these disasters. But since the past really can’t be changed, she just winds up making a muddle of things. Ari is obsessed with what he calls the Problem of Evil. It’s a real problem. God allows evil people to do evil things. But worse, God allows good people to do evil things. And a lot of that evil is happening to people Ari and Rivka know right now, in the last few years before the Jewish revolt.

The story culminates with the illegal trial and execution of James, the brother of Jesus. By coincidence, this is the same James whose sarcophagus may have turned up in Jerusalem last year, just after I wrote the book. I’ve done my absolute best to show the life of the earliest church–a Jewish Christian community–in first century Jerusalem. I read Hebrew and I’ve been to Jerusalem and I hang out at a Messianic Jewish synagogue in San Diego, and I’ve tried to work all that into the story in a natural way.

EBG: I understand that a follow-up to Premonition is planned. What is the title and when is its expected release date?

RI: The tentative title is Seer Woman, and it’ll be released in August of 2004. A second sequel, Three Bullets for Ari, will come out in August 2005. Also, I should note that Zondervan has bought the rights to reprint Transgression, and it will be coming out at a date still to be determined.

EBG: Any other projects in the works that we should watch for?

RI: I am currently working on a slightly futuristic novel about quantum computing, Double Vision, to be published in the fall of 2004 with Bethany House.

EBG: You’ve written a diverse range of books from nonfiction to science fiction. Is there a “typical” Randy Ingermanson book?

RI: I write about “Life at the intersection of Faith Avenue and Science Boulevard”. As a physicist and a Christian, I have a few things to say about this particular section of town. There aren’t any traffic lights at the intersection, so we get lots of accidents. I’m the guy with the flashlight and broom trying to sweep up the broken glass and get people out of the burning cars.

EBG: Many people see science, and science fiction, as incompatible with Christianity. How would you answer them?

RI: There is a line of argument that says that modern science only became possible with the Christian worldview. Why? Because Christians believe in a rational, orderly God who created a universe that could be understood. It’s true that modern science has kind of lost sight of that viewpoint, but there are still many scientists who believe in the God of the Bible. I don’t see any unbridgeable gap between science and Christian faith. There are some serious unresolved questions, but I think those questions have answers.

As for science fiction, it’s just a reflection of those who write it. Right now, that means mostly non-Christians. But there are a number of Christian writers who are doing their best to stake out a corner of science fiction again. They are a great group of people, and I’m proud to have joined their circle.

EBG: You have a full life as a family man and computational physicist. What prompted you to begin writing novels?

RI: I’ve always liked reading novels, mostly thrillers. Back in the 80s, I somehow got it into my head that I could write as well as some of the schlocky writers I was reading. So I decided to try my hand at it. I soon discovered that . . . I was wrong. Writing a gripping story is hard! Being a stubborn kind of guy, I just kept working at it and developing my skills. After about ten years, I finally was writing well enough to sell that first book. Call me a slow learner if you want, but a lot of novelists take a long time to learn the craft. Writing looks easy, but it isn’t.

EBG: In Oxygen and The Fifth Man, you include many details about the daily lives of astronauts that suggest a lot of research was involved. How did you go about this research? Did you interview astronauts?

RI: It helped that my coauthor, John Olson, is a biochemist and that I’m a physicist. We joined the Mars Society and went to a couple of their annual conferences, where we met some of the leading experts on Mars. One of my fans lives in Houston and has a degree in aerospace. Her husband works at NASA and she goes to church with one of the world’s most famous astronauts, Shannon Lucid. When she found out we were writing Oxygen, she invited me and John to come visit. She gave us the grand tour of NASA, wangled us a long Sunday afternoon discussion with Shannon Lucid, and generally helped us learn to “think astronaut”. It was incredible. We also got a volunteer reader at NASA, a world-class planetary scientist, to read an early draft and critique it for us. At one point, I wrote a computer program to compute the trajectories of spacecraft on the way to Mars. We needed it for the storyline to work out, so I took a few weeks and wrote the software. Our editor told us we were crazy, but I wanted our facts to be exactly right.

EBG: Co-writing a book tends to be challenging, but it seems to have worked well for you and John Olson. How did you manage this task?

RI: John and I were close friends for several years, and we had come to respect each other’s writing before we ever thought of collaborating. John came up with the storyline for Oxygen and suggested we try writing it together. So we did a virtual handshake on the phone and started research. Some people would call us crazy for not making up some kind of contract, but we were happy with just that handshake. We had many long phone conversations to map out the story. Then John would write a section and send it to me. I’d write the next section and send it back. Each of us edited the other guy’s work. It all melded together so smoothly that our editor never could tell which of us wrote what. In a few cases, neither could we!

EBG: Your web site offers helpful advice for aspiring writers. Any special tips you’d like to mention here for writers of Christian science fiction?

RI: 1) Learn the craft. It takes time to learn to write, so give yourself that time.

2) Let the “spiritual meaning” of the story rise naturally out of the story. Don’t try to cook up a story to fit some grand lesson, unless you want your story to look like a thinly disguised sermon. Gack! You have to trust yourself to let any spiritual insights naturally spring out of the story. Lewis and Tolkien did that.

3) Get to know other people in the business–editors and other writers. You do that by going to writers’ conferences and meeting people. It sounds scary, but remember that editors are normal people and they rarely kill writers. Fact is, editors need writers as much as writers need editors. Also, remember that other writers are not your competition, they are your friends with whom you must cooperate in order to create a critical mass of Christian science fiction writers.

EBG: Your first book, Who Wrote the Bible Code?, clarified and defused a difficult and controversial subject. Do you anticipate writing any more nonfiction?

RI: Possibly, though I don’t have anything definite planned. John Olson and I have talked about doing a book someday on the creation/evolution question. Right now, both of us are focusing on fiction, which is what we love most.

EBG: Anything else you’d like to add for readers at the Edenstar web site?

RI: I’ve been following Christian fiction for the last fifteen years and have watched it blossom from a small field with just a few writers of prairie romances and Biblical novels. We are going through a Renaissance in Christian fiction right now. Each year, another twenty new novelists join the ranks, and some of them are first-rate. And each year, the existing base of authors gets more skilled. Overall, we have not quite reached the literary quality of secular fiction, but we are getting closer every year, and our books are clean and full of hope, which is more than you can say for most secular fiction. I’m looking forward to the day that Christian fiction will have a reputation for the highest quality. It’s a real privilege to write for the Christian market. My goal is to improve my skills with every book.

EBG: Thanks, Randy!