Monday, June 20, 2011

Hot Buttons: An Interview with Chila Woychik... and our 100th Post!

Today is a momentous occasion here at Word Wanderings: it's our 100th Post! I've been blogging here for a little more than two years, and I want to thank each and every reader for sticking with me.

I have a special treat in store for you. For the third time, Chila (Maggie) Woychik has been gracious enough to join Word Wanderings. Today, she discussed her small press, Port Yonder Press (PYP) as well as the publishing industry in general. And, in celebration of #100, she's graciously agreed to participate in a giveaway! Details are at the end of the post.

Bio: Chila Woychik is a multi-published author, and the publisher/managing editor at Port Yonder Press, a small, multi-genre, traditional press. She lives with her husband in the lovely state of Iowa.

Liberty Speidel: Thank you so much, Chila, for joining us today. What prompted you to start Port Yonder Press?
Chila Woychik: A love of reading & writing, and a too quiet house.  My son had left for college and I was in need of purpose—the result:  a hobby that has since fluctuated between hobby and business.  Right now it’s more of a business, but it’s a job I love, so I don’t really complain too frequently.

LS: How many imprints does PYP currently have? Are you planning to roll out any more in the foreseeable future?
CW: Four imprints: one general market (speculative fiction), two Christian (one youth, one adult), and one catch-all for everything else.  I think we have quite enough at this time, with nary another in mind.

LS: What's the thing people would be most surprised to learn about during the publishing of a book?
CW: The sheer number of hours and hands involved in the process.  Publishing is laborious, especially if a publisher has more than one book in the works at one time.   A smaller press doesn’t equal a smaller outlay of time.  It still takes us as much or more time than that a larger press to cover all the bases.

LS: What has surprised you most as you've taken the reins of a small press?
CW: I’m continually surprised at the almost daily commitment I have to have to keep this barge afloat.  I’m surprised at the learning curve:  I never quite catch up with all there is to learn and do.  And I’m shocked at the difficulty small presses have in marketing their books.

LS: You've been pretty blunt about expecting excellence from writers of so-called "Christian Fiction". What direction would you like to see this aspect of the publishing world head?
CW: 1) I’d like to see the phrase “Christian fiction” dematerialize—undergo an implosion, a falling in on itself, due to its inherent lack of heart, soul, mind, and strength. 
2) I’d like to see people with a Christian worldview dedicate themselves to becoming the best writers on the planet, writing across genres and for all audiences.
3) I’d like to see followers of Christ begin to work together to develop their skills and marketing tools, and help one another in new and never-before-experienced ways to truly integrate into the entire world of writing, not just the “Christian” writing world.

LS: How do you define "preachiness" in Christian Fiction and what would you prefer to see instead? Any examples you'd like to share?
CW: I had actually planned to give an example or two on a blog post about that at one point, but have delayed it due to other projects at hand. 

I define preachiness as that which would make an unchurched reader uncomfortable in the same way a sex scene might make a churched person uncomfortable.  I see the only real purpose of “Christian Fiction” as being Christians wanting to write for other Christians, and I balk at that.  Sure, we have the right to do so, but the questions I must ask myself are, “Why? Why should I want to do that? Why not write for the larger world in general and have a potentially greater audience and impact?”  But then that would mean I would have to actually know what it’s like “out there,” actually get “out there” and mix with real people, and actually risk getting a little “dirty” as I listen to “their” jokes and swearing and hard luck tales of broken relationships and their resultant despair.  My God.  Why would anyone want to do that?  Maybe so we can love “them”?  What an amazing and utterly foreign concept to most Christians.

What would I prefer to see?  Real fiction with real characters acting out real scenes in believable ways (and yes, all that can be handled with grace; it shouldn’t have to red flag us with “smut”).  And in that, I’d like to see occasional glimpses of how or why someone would choose Christianity while on a natural search for meaning—a genuine quest for truth that leads here and there before one character comes full circle and realizes Christianity is by far the most peaceful and productive and apologetically viable of all religions.  But there’s the rub:  few Christians nowadays can actually do that.  It’s so much easier to have their character pray a prayer or indulge in a “salvation scene,” neither of which are honest biographies of who Christ really was—they don’t go far enough. 
But most books can and should be written, I think, without a noticeable Christian element at all, while at the same time, most Christian lives should be lived with a strong Christian element.  The difference is in the living of it vs the reading about it.  The most powerful witness of all is Christians who love unconditionally, lived out in their daily lives.  Quit writing about it and DO IT.

With the faux-genre of “Christian Fiction” out of the way, writers would be writing for everyone—a marvelous opportunity to let a non-preachy faith integrate into the very essence of one or more characters on the page.

LS: Many authors want to share their personal views in their writing. In your opinion, is this a good use of their energies? How should they go about doing so without being overly "preachy"?
CW: Great question.  No, I think it’s a flagrant misuse of their energies.  Just as you’d love to read a fantastic book without the intrusions of a preachy Islam or atheism or Eastern mysticism, or graphic sex scenes, so would others love to read great works by Christian authors without feeling they’re being “evangelized.” It happened in the past with a number of books which have since become “classics,” and it can be done today:  strong stories with strong characters, and no preaching, no salvation scenes, no spiritual “thread” secretly woven throughout, though our society was strongly Christian at that time.  So why didn’t we see more of the “preachiness” back then, though our society was so blatantly Christian?  Why, indeed.

Throw in a few random “Christian” this and that’s and you might as well include a gospel tract free with each book—those sort of things are little more than cheap Hollywood sales efforts; true Christianity delves much deeper than that, into the very essence of a person’s character, lived out more than spoken.  Writers of the past knew that inherently; they didn’t have to “preach.”  What’s available today as “Christian Fiction” would have shocked and sickened them, I think.

My suggestion:  get out in the real world among real people and notice how well preachiness flies.  It doesn’t.  Instead, learn what does, then emulate that in your writing.  People hate being preached at; so do I.  I despise it when writers think they can try to sneak “gospel tactics” into their books and then slap the label “Christian Fiction” on it, ostensibly to garner the Imprimatur of American Christian society—viola! Now the book is spiritual, and now both the author and readers are spiritual … God is pleased!  Umm.  I highly doubt that, though God is much more gracious than I am.  I still believe, however, he’d like to see us rise above cheap Christianity cloaked in mediocre writing, and instead strive for the highest quality books available, books that will be read across audiences, and books that are written by, yes, Christians.  Books of depth and beauty.

LS: How do you blend your job as an editor-in-chief with your role as an author published through your own press?
CW: How do I justify it, or how do I assure the same quality I demand of other writers?  I justify it by not needing justification.  I work hard at what I do, and am only taking advantage of some of the fruit of my labors.  Other writer / press owners have done the same and if I strive to write as good or better than my own published authors, I feel I’m setting a positive example for all writers.

I subject my own personal work to at least 2 qualified editors.  With “On Being a Rat,” I used 3 editors (2 not from PYP) and about a dozen readers.  I laid that manuscript out to more scrutiny than anything PYP has done thus far.  If it can be seen in the finished product, I owe much to my tremendous helpers.  Where it has failed, I take full responsibility.

LS: Which project(s) are you most excited about right now? 
CW: Just about everything coming up really:  The elven anthology, the Christmas western collection, Mary Stewart’s vampire story and Cindy Smith’s King Arthur story, as well as Janalyn’s fantasy.  Then there’s CathiLyn Dyck’s piece of nonfiction which has me more than a little psyched, and our writing groups starting in July.  I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but not intentionally.  I’m thrilled too about the great authors and manuscripts I hope to work with in the next few years.  It’s a fascinating time to be a part of Port Yonder Press and publishing.  And thank you, Liberty, for the good questions; I really do appreciate it!  I’d love to return sometime.

Liberty: Thanks again, Chila, for joining Word Wanderings for the day. You've given us great insights and plenty to think about.

Now, the moment you've been waiting for: the giveaway! Chila and I put our heads together and we're both offering a prize each for one grand prize. From me, you'll receive a $10 gift card (via e-mail) to And from Chila, you can choose any of the books currently offered on the PYP site, or any that will be released through December 31, 2011 (if you really want to wait, of course.)

Entry is pretty easy. You have one of two options: become a new follower to Word Wanderings, or leave a comment to this post. If you're a new follower *and* leave a comment, you get two chances! The winner will be selected at random Sunday, June 26th, 2011 after 8 PM Central, and announced Monday, June 27 first thing in the morning. I wish you luck!

Again, thank you, thank you, thank you to my readers for 2+ years of putting up with me, and the support you've shown as well. I wish I could hug each and every one of you personally.

I am hearing from several readers through the Port Yonder Press Facebook page that many people are having difficulty posting comments. If you are experiencing difficulty, please message me using the function with specifics so I can attempt to get this corrected. Thanks!

Until next time,


K.M. Weiland said...

Great interview, you two! (Congrats on the 100th post, Liberty.) Sounds like you've got a lot of good stuff coming up in PYP's future, Chila. Looking forward to the new releases. I couldn't agree more about the "faux genre" of Christian fiction. I look forward to Christian writers broadening their horizons and reaching out beyond their own literary ghetto. Thanks you and the rest of the PYP gang for your commitment to that vision.

imladrisnine said...

I agree, a great interview. I appreciate the clarification on the 'what do you consider preachy' question as I have long wondered exactly where that line may lie (lay? the eternal question). Happy 100th!

Liberty Speidel said...

Katie and imladrisnine:

Thank you both for stopping by! Chila is truly a wonderful person, and it was great of her to be willing to share some of her insight as a writer, Christian, and editor. She's got a lot of great stuff coming soon, and I'm very excited as to where PYP is going.

Chila Woychik said...

the comment function now works - viola!

thanks for the interview and the great questions, liberty. i appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Great interview! Chila is definitely an important voice to listen to in modern small press publishing. Good that you had her on here. :D

G.L. Francis said...

Awesome interview!
Too many publishers say "no preaching" but fail to let authors know how their particular press defines it. Chila is one of the very few publishers I've seen to give specifics about what she regards as preachiness.
Her dedication to excellence in writing is exemplary; and she practices what she **ahem** preaches! Mucho kudos!

Randy Streu said...

Great interview. Always nice to get into Chila's head -- frightening as that may be.

I like her style when it comes to what she likes to see in fiction; I tend to be the same way.

I do, however, disagree that there's no place at all for Christian Fiction -- as long as we understand what that place IS. Like much of Christian music, we need to understand that it's simply not going to reach the people you think it's going to reach. You're not going to get to the "unchurched" by tossing out theology and church jargon and just expecting them to "get it."

What you WILL do is entertain other Christians with something they can find both "safe" and enjoyable. And really, there's nothing at all wrong with that.

Susan said...

I agree with G.L. -- it's nice to see clearly what "preachiness."

Great interview and a welcome morning break for me =)

Liberty Speidel said...

Beyondthecharts: Thanks! I love having Chila here. This is our 3rd time, as she appeared here shortly after I started Word Wanderings, and guest posted last year while I was on a self-imposed maternity leave.

G.L.: Having something defined is always so helpful! I must thank Chila for putting it into words. I've often thought the same myself, although I've never verbalized it.

Randy: Even though I tend to lean more towards Chila's POV on this topic, I do understand yours. I saw a note from someone either on Twitter or the PYP FB page in the last few days indicating that in the UK, there's no such genre as "Christian Fiction", so I'd have to suppose there aren't Christian bookstores either. While I don't wish to see any bookstore go under, I sort of wonder if having more and more bookstores that offer both secular and what we'd deem Christian would better serve the public. I have a friend who's pagan, and she one time went into a Lifeway with me (I was getting a Bible for my husband for Christmas.) She was actually kind of laughing about the fact it's segregated from the Borders across the street!

Susan: Glad you were able to stop by!

Chila Woychik said...

randy - ha! on the "frightening". i hear ya. ;) sure, there's a place for everything, as long as we don't stay too long in that little "safe" area you mentioned. christianity is about safety of the soul - not too much else about it that we should expect to be "safe" in - and that's the gist of my premise - if one needs to be "safe" and rest up for a bit, do so, but then let's get off our duffs and head out full force into the places and lives of people we should be loving. but then, that's uncomfortable for most of us ... that safe zone looks a whole lot, well, safer. :)

thanks, susan, and the rest. and randy too. appreciate you stopping by to say "hey"!

Cynthia Toney said...

Great interview, Liberty and Chila!

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