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Frank Peretti
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Frank Peretti: Creating a 'Monster'

By Belinda Elliott Producer – It has been six years since popular Christian author Frank Peretti released a new novel, but fiction fans won't have to wait any longer. Peretti's newest novel, Monster, hits store shelves this week. I recently had an opportunity to speak with Peretti about his newest offering as well as his recent experiences in filmmaking.

Your new book, Monster, has been highly anticipated by your fans. What led you to write this story?

Well, evolution is my hot button right now. I wanted to write a book that would be really entertaining and fun for general audiences -- they could be Christian but they don’t have to be. There is no blatant gospel message or anything in the book, but it does raise some interesting questions about evolution.

There are two themes that are in the book that come through strongest. Evolution walks on two legs. One is beneficial mutation, purely random, and the other is natural selection. The whole idea is that some organism, purely by accident, has a mutation in his genetic structure and purely by accident that becomes beneficial because it helps him survive better. So he survives better than all of his other compatriots that don’t have that mutation. Then over billions of years, and billions of mutations, you end up with every living thing on the planet.

Well, I am presenting a thesis in this book that there is no such thing as beneficial mutation. And in weaving this whole story together, that’s what propels the story because this particular scientist decides he is going to prove that beneficial mutations really work. So he starts messing around with the DNA of some animals trying to prove how evolution works. And of course, as in most of these pretty cool monster stories, it is the old pattern of this scientist is messing around with things that are best left. You’ve seen that in all the great horror movies.

So one thing I want to do in the book is just get people to ask questions, to say, ‘Wait a minute, do mutations really work? Is that a really viable pillar for evolution?’ We’ve been told all of our lives that it is purely through mutations that this happens. We’ve even seen it in the movies. Look at X-Men, they were all these mutants with all these special powers. The whole thing was built off the premise of evolution.

What kind of research was involved in writing this book?

I got to talk to some fascinating people. I talked to a tracker; this is a guy who actually tracks people. He doesn’t do animals that much, he mainly tracks people. He came to my house and brought over all of his tracking stuff, his mirror, his compass, his flashlight, and his tracking stick, all the equipment that he uses. And he told me all kinds of neat stories about how he would learn to discern from tracks where this person is going, whether they were running, whether they carried something, what emotional state they were in, how long they had been gone, how far ahead they were, and all kinds of fascinating things like that. I also did a lot of research on evolution.

I talked to a scientist from Liberty University, a brilliant man. He is involved in the Creation Science program there. He was fascinating because he is a brilliant professor type and when he started getting into it he got really excited and said, ‘Hey, you could do this and you could do that’ and he started kind of writing the story for me. That was a lot of fun. So there was scientific research, there was evolutionary research, and there was tracking and outdoors research. I had to do research on survival in the wilderness, what plants you could eat. And I had to research the forensics. I had a medical doctor, my doctor as a matter of fact. I called him up and said, ‘Hey, doc, I need to kill somebody and I need to find a good way to do it (laughs).’ One of the characters, Sing, is a forensics specialist. She has to examine this body to determine how the person died and that is part of the detective work she is doing. You have detective work going on, and search and rescue, and tracking in the woods, and outdoor survival, and of course you have the intriguing missteps of some misguided scientists who are trying to prove something that cannot be proven.

I want people to ask questions about evolution, but there is a deeper philosophical theme here too. The logical outcome of evolution is that it makes monsters. We turn into monsters because evolution takes away everything that makes us human in the sense of our moral accountability, our moral absolutes, and our idea of being distinct from the animal kingdom. The prime directive becomes survival. It’s not a matter of what is right or wrong, what is virtuous, what is honest, what does God think, it is all a matter of survival. When that is your prime directive, then virtually anything is possible.

Often Christian fiction is accused of being overly didactic in telling the story. How did you avoid that in Monster?

I know exactly what you are talking about and argggh! It, it makes my hair hurt! No, I want to tell a story where I would like the message to be so organic to the story that it flows right along, and people can enjoy a really good story without feeling like they are being preached at. I’m reading a book by Michael Crichton right now dealing with global warming, and he is doing a pretty good job. He almost sounds a little didactic in a few places. It is such a thin line. When you get your characters talking about it, they have to discuss it. But it’s fun if you can think of a really clever way to put it into the story so you don’t have to say a whole lot, that’s a real victory.

Have you always had a fascination with monsters and scary stories? How did that start?

I don’t know why, but I guess so. When I was a kid I really got into monsters. I talked about this in Wounded Spirit how my theory -- my aunt Lorene came up with this and I think maybe she was right -- I was really into monsters because I emulated the power that they had, their ability to control their circumstances, to scare people, to be on top for a change. Of course, that’s not so much an issue now, I think. I’m not that intrigued with monsters, per se, but I think for the purposes of this book it sure fit in really well.

Do you see yourself in any of the characters in this book?

I don’t think I see myself in this book quite as much. I think a lot of people can identify with Beck, the girl who gets grabbed by the monster, because she has this whole character arc where she finally comes to the point where she has to basically assert herself and take charge, and take the bull by the horns so to speak. She can’t sit around waiting for someone else to save her. She has to save herself. We all have to come to that point in our lives where we take responsibility for our lives, for our decisions, and what is going to happen to us. Of course, I don’t want to sound like we don’t depend on the Lord to guide us and so forth, but you can’t just sit on your hind-end waiting for something to happen. You have to be motivated. I had to sit down and write everyday. And once in a while you really do have to stick up for yourself. These things are part of life and a lot of us go through life kind of scared and timid in some aspect of our lives, just like Beck, so I think most people can identify with her character.

You have worked on several movies recently, you had Hangman’s Curse and you have been working the movie based on The Visitation. Has your work on these films changed the way you write fiction novels?

Well, it had an effect on this one. I’m thinking about doing another book of course, and I’m probably going to go back to more of a literary style for the next one. This one, I tried to write really close almost to a screenplay style. It is just like it is a movie that plays in your head. So there are not a lot of what I’ve heard referred to as “speed bumps”. In other words, the story is trotting right along and then here comes this speed bump where we have to stop the story and now we are going to talk about the character’s background, where he went to school, who he loved, who he hated, and what his parents were like, etc. And then, okay, now we can get back to the story again.

In this book I did the cinematic technique where we find out about the characters by watching them. We are going to see what they do, how they act, how they respond when they are under pressure. That’s an old adage of fiction writing, and of screenwriting too, the idea that you never really know your characters until they are in the pressure cooker. Then you find out what they are really like. It’s biblical as a matter of fact. The Lord challenged Israel by giving them 40 days in the wilderness “to see what was in your heart” like it says in Deuteronomy. So I guess that is part of the human experience; when you are put under pressure that is when you find out what you are really like.

This book has an interesting promotional campaign. There is actually a movie trailer for the book being shown in Regal cinemas during the month of April. Is this a book that you hope will cross over into a mainstream audience?

Oh, absolutely, because the secular audience more than anybody is the one that is brainwashed by evolution. They have been told it all their lives. They believe it. If I can get them to ask just one question, I’ll be happy. “You know, I wonder if mutations really do work? I’ve been told that all my life, but I’ve never seen any. They don’t happen on a regular basis; they are not observable in nature now. If we don’t observe them in nature now, how can we know they ever happened in the past?” I’d like to just get them thinking instead of just swallowing all this stuff.

You’ve written fiction, non-fiction, and screenplays as well. Which do you like best?

My favorite is wiring fiction. Movie making is just really neat and I really like doing that. I’d like to get into it more, but in terms of my role in all of this and in terms of the gift that God has given me, I had to come to the conclusion that my strength is as a storyteller, creating the story. Besides that, when you write a book it’s yours, you are not working on it with a zillion other people who all have their opinion of what you should do. When you are making a movie there are a zillion cooks in the kitchen and you don’t always get what you want to do. The story can always go in a different direction than what you would like. You compromise and there is dealing and bickering. I’m learning how to do that (laughs). When you write a book you don’t have to do that so much. There is a little bit when the editors get it, but that is nothing compared to making movies.

Your book The Visitation is being made into movie. When is that coming out?

We don’t have a set date on that. I asked the producer the other day and he thinks it may be out by next spring. They still have all the post production to do on it, the sound effects, special effects, the music, the coloration, the credits and graphics. But it is all filmed, and it is pretty much all edited. Once they get the edited film locked, then they can start adding all the other stuff.

How true to the book is it? Does it follow right along with the book’s plot?

No, it follows a lot of the present day story, the strange account of this false Christ who comes to town and so forth. Virtually none of the main character’s past is shown. In the book I delved way into his past, his story and his life and all his turmoils in trying to sort out his fate and all that, but none of that is in there. But that’s movies. You only have an hour and a half, or an hour and 40 minutes, to do everything. So it’s a whole different animal.

It’s a good movie though. It’s really suspenseful and it is really well done. We are all really tickled by it. Hangman’s Curse a nice low budget picture that worked just fine; it was good. But this one is pretty sophisticated and has some very chilling moments in it. It really sucks you in.

What future projects do you have planned? Do you have an idea for a new book?

I don’t know what it is going to be yet. With me, I have to start with a message. So it means praying and seeking the Lord. I’m in that nebulous realm between books right now. I just finished one and I need to think about another one. The dust is beginning to settle now and I’ve got all the other projects cleared up. So now I can quiet myself down and pray a bit. Maybe skip a few breakfasts you know, and fast a little bit. Just kind of sit by my computer and start writing down ideas, talking to the Lord and talking to myself.

I have to have a message first. I have all kinds of people telling me to write about this or that I should do another Darkness book. I have to hear what the Lord wants me to say. Usually I get an idea for a story that will drive that. But there has to be a message so that’s what I’m waiting on.

How long does it normally take you to write a book once you get the idea?

I have averaged about two years. It amazes me how some of these authors write two or three books a year. I anguish over that but I’m a slow writer, so that’s all I can do.

Well Monster is a great book; I look forward to the next one! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

Your welcome. I appreciate it. Thank you.


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