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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 

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Friday, 2 October 2015

Interview with TJ Allen

I first met TJ Allen when he asked me to review his soon to be published novel, Strong Delusion. I was intrigued with description and the blending of the genres of science fiction, fantasy, eschatology with the supernatural, demon possession, spiritual warfare, angels, and demons all from a biblical worldview. If you have read my blog in the past, you will know I like to review novels from new authors and to interview them as well. 

So as I usually say, sit back, relax and let me introduce you to TJ Allen and learn what makes this author tick, his journey to published author and the background to his gripping, engaging novel, Strong Delusion. 

TJ, thanks for stopping by and talking to us about your novel, yourself as an author and a little about you as a person.  

Boy, that is a hard one, right out of the gate. I am married. My wife, Lynn and I live in southeast Alabama. We have four grown children. I am an unapologetic, born-again Christian. Jesus saved my spirit and my life. I love my Lord, my wife, my family, my church, and my country. I served six years in the military. I served eight years as an Emergency Medical Technician. I served in churches, teaching and leading for over thirty years. I love the experience of exploration and nature. I keep honeybees, chickens, a rabbit, three dogs, a varying number of cats, and any other hungry animal that wonders up to get food.

About your writing:

It's what I love to do most and yet it is the most challenging thing. I want to touch lives with it by it being relevant. I am not afraid to explore and discuss subjects that others will shy away from. I think the Strong Delusion series and book one especially shows that.

What inspired you to become an author?

I love a good story. I love telling a good story and I love knowledge. I combine this with my love of the Bible and my walk with God to hopefully touch others. I believe God creates everyone on, and for a purpose. Victor Frankl said that we should at least "detect" our purpose. I detected early in life that I love to write and communicate. It is up to me to cultivate that part of my life and purpose to touch lives and glorify the God who gave that to me.

You are a new author. How did you come to construct your novel? Authors tend to use one of the following methods:
-by extensively plotting it out (plotter)
-as it came to you (pantser, that you write by the seat of your pants) 
or was it a bit of both?

There is no doubt, I am a pantser. I once heard Jerry B. Jenkins say he keeps writing to see what happens next. I think he was actually quoting Steven King. When I heard him say that, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

How has writing and being an author impacted your relationship with Jesus Christ and vice versa?

I think it is a little of both. It is no stretch to say that I owe Jesus everything. I love to research and in the creation/ evolution debate, I have come to realize both cannot be true. The evidence points more to creation than evolution. Jesus is who he says he is or as Josh McDowell says he is either a "liar, lunatic, or the Son of God." The evidence points to him being the Son of God, who is the Alpha and the Omega. This truth, more than any other has impacted my life more than I can say here.

Do you have a favourite genre that you read?

Without a doubt, it is science fiction. I love the way Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Jerry Jenkins, and recently Donovan M. Neal takes the truths of scripture and applies them to the truth of our lives. Yes, there is some literary license. However, they are biblically solid.

What have you learned about becoming an author?

Writing a book is a lot of hard work. It is easier to do the research than to put it to paper.

Have you always found writing to be an easy or difficult feat? What have you done to improve your writing? Writing course, NaNoWriMo?

I have found storytelling to be easier to do than to write. To be honest, I thought I was a good writer until I got those first few edits. I am striving to get better by doing more research, reading better books, and reading blogs.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Well, like most aspiring writers, I have a job. Other than that, probably too many different things. I have honeybees, I cook, read, and spend time with my family.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

From Jerry B. Jenkins; 1) be thick skinned, 2) love your friends, but believe your editor, and 3) never give up if you have a passion to bring your story to print.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

I would have to pass along what I learned as stated above. I agree with it.

Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?

Several, but one group is mostly non-fiction and the other would be the Christian Sci-Fi authors I mentioned above. The non-fiction writers are James Dobson, John McArthur, Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, Hal Lindsey, and David Jeremiah, to name a few.

What tools have you found most successful in advertising or marketing yourself and your novel?

As one fellow writer told me, "You have to shamelessly market yourself." I don't know that I have gone to that extreme. However, you do have to reach out. I appreciate people like yourself who help us as authors reach people that we would not have been able to otherwise. Word of mouth, I think has been successful. A lot of that would be through personal contact, social media, and face to face. I have a great group of people that I associate with at work and at church. They are excited for me and they have spread the word as well.

Now let us discuss your debut novel, Strong Delusion. 

Despite the novel's blurb, describe your novel in your own words. 

It is a lot like the creation/evolution debate except it is more along the lines of the extraterrestrial/ supernatural debate. That is, something is going on in our world; it is either supernatural in nature or extraterrestrial. I believe the evidence points to the supernatural. If that is true, then how could that be? I believe in the case of the last days and the Antichrist that my book is a plausible explanation for that. 

On your website you state,
Once at a revival a visiting professor was expounding on such items as time resetting itself every 10,000 years and a race of man before Adam. After a few nights of "talking over the heads" of most of the congregation, the pastor asked him to stop with the theory and get back to preaching the gospel. Many of the youth of the church (as well as some of the parents) approached T.J. the youth minister at the time, to see what he thought of the professor's theory. He told them that he didn't think it was true and then posed the question, "But, how can you reconcile ancient astronauts, Nazca lines in Peru, pyramids, etc. with the Bible?" When he received no answer, he stated that "it would make a great novel. After three years of research and writing, and ten years (on and off) of re-writing, here is a possible answer in the form of the book Strong Delusion."
What obstacles did you encounter during the 3 years of researching this novel and what was the reason for the re-writes? How did you overcome these obstacles? What research methods did you employ?

My biggest obstacle was a lack of confidence in myself and my abilities. During this time, a friend of mine introduced me to a self-development/ leadership program called LIFE Leadership. It is a straightforward program designed to bring out the best in all of us. They don't promise you easy, but they promise you that it is worth it. I can testify: it is worth it. I would recommend this for anyone who is struggling in any area of their life: I realized that I had to change if I wanted anything to change. As my confidence was built and I learned better skills, I found that my writing was better and I would overhaul many of my previous works. Most of my research was through the internet and books.

In the above quote from your website, you questioned the reconciliation of ancient astronauts, Nazca lines in Peru, pyramids, etc with the Bible and that Strong Delusion is a possible solution to this, but these topics were not mentioned in the novel. Will these be addressed in subsequent novels?  

There were many topics that I wanted to include in Strong Delusion: Book One that I have included in Book Two and Book Three, so they will take up my slack as it were.

Not having any previous experience as an author, did you have any help/mentoring in the development of the plot, characters, flow, depiction of angel/demons, or the development of the supernatural, and eschatological themes of Strong Delusion?

No, not really. There was a lot of tweaking by my editor. She shot straight with me. If something was not believable, she told me. She helped me put a finishing polish on the characters and the whole work. Some of my theological friends might take me to task on some of these topics. I like what Donovan M. Neal says in the beginning of his book The Third Heaven: Rise of the Fallen Stars in that his book is in no wise scripture. However, I think he makes a very plausible opinion of how it could have been. Strong Delusion is along those lines. If the Anti-Christ is from Mars, how could that be true?

Strong Delusion has just been released. Are you expecting any criticism from readers, both Christian and non-Christian of the way you have dealt with the issues you present in this novel, such as ancient aliens disguised as demonic entities, having their home base on Mars, the romance and being unequally yoked spiritually between Hernandez and Ivey, the novel being too Christian, too much of the Gospel being preached? What would you say to some of these criticisms? I ask this as novels of this genre tend to bring out many critical attitudes and opinions of Christians (sadly!)?

Yes. I think that is part of the "being thick skinned". There is a plethora of quotes that ran through my mind when I pondered this question. Such as, dogs don't bark at parked cars and even God has his critics. Author and speaker Chris Brady says of what he does: "It's for who it's for." I agree. I think Hernandez' character has it right. On this earth and in this life, our only hope is Jesus. As far as the ancient aliens, Nazca lines, pyramids, and such, they are there, we cannot as Christians just stick our heads in the sand or ignore them. We must have a plausible explanation and I think there are several good authors out there that are broaching this subject successfully.

Your description of the Evangelical War shows some great imagination on your part! What was the inspiration for this? This is a good example of world building that I mentioned in my review. Did you find this hard to develop?

I am not sure where the inspiration for the war came from. For purely selfish reasons, I had to put off the Rapture to later in time for the book to work. I believe it is actually closer than we think. So, why would God put this off? The only answer I could come up with is if there was a revival in the land. I feel that the only way such a revival would occur is if there was mass persecution of the church. Such persecution leads to the Evangelical War. For Book One, developing the war was not really that hard since I didn't deal with specifics. For Book Three, which deals extensively with the Evangelical War, it may be a little harder. I want it to be believable.

I can understand and expect any demon that you include in a novel like this to be just like the bible describes as an angel of light or to take human form but what was your rationale to have this young, handsome, brownish-blond, blue-eyed, robed in white, humanoid figure that a few of the crew see as a flaming figure, one who appears to be on fire but is not being consumed by this fire?

The Apostle Paul describes Satan and his followers as "ministers of light", as you have said, and several times in the Old Testament even fallen angels are referred to as "Sons of God." If God's angels are pictured as fiery beings, I assumed this to be true for fallen ones as well. And they will try their best to be as alluring and attractive as possible to deceive.

Who is your favourite character? Who was the hardest to develop?

I like them all in their own way. I think I can find myself in all of them, especially in Jeremy and Hernandez. The hardest to develop was probably Major Juneau. I have a very limited knowledge of French culture and I wanted to portray him realistically.

Any of the characters based on yourself? I get an impression that Hernandez may be!

As you may have surmised from the answer above, my life could be divided into two parts. The first would be more like Jeremy and the more recent would be Hernandez.

Without giving away any spoilers, what can we expect from the next book in this series?

I am approaching this series a lot like a Ray Bradbury plot. That is, several of these books are parallel stories. Some may be sequels or prequels, but most will be parallel-quels (is that a word?). This next one (the working title is "Elijah's Cup") deals with some of the items that I did not cover in the first book. The Third Book is actually about the Evangelical War and that is the working title as well.

Other than the Strong Delusion series, is there a new project in the works?

Actually, there are about ten other books in the works. I think it would be easier to list the themes as of right now: a theological book, a devotion book, a recollection of my years as an Emergency Medical Technician, a cookbook, two children's books, and one on honeybees. The last, The Incredible Honeybee: A Layman's Guide is my venture into Indie publishing and hopefully will be out by the end of October.

What take home message do you want readers of the Strong Delusion to embrace?

It would be one of the lines that Hernandez says (it didn't originate with me, though I say it often) "Jesus did not come to earth to make bad people good. He came to earth to make spiritually dead people alive." He did this because everyone has a purpose and worth. And finally, He is coming again, be ready.

Anything else you would to say about Strong Delusion, the series, or being an author?

I am humbled by the interest I have had so far in this venture. I want my works to touch people. When they purchase these, I want them to feel like they got their money's worth. On Strong Delusion - an audiobook is in the works. The second book is done but in the raw. The third book is has begun with several chapters in.

Where can readers find you? (Links are clickable)

Website - Strong Delusion

Facebook - T.j. Allen

Twitter - @TrallBermac

Goodreads - T. J. Allen

Amazon Strong Delusion Book Page - Strong Delusion

Any closing comments?

I really want to thank my wife, Lynn for her encouragement, persistence, and belief in me when I did not believe in me and when I wanted to quit writing. I also want to thank my great network of friends and cheerleaders.

Well, TJ, I have really enjoyed interviewing you! Thank you for being
open about yourself, your writing and sharing your passion for eschatology from a biblical worldview. I am eagerly waiting for the next installment in The Strong Delusion series. I am sure you have piqued interest in your novel to those who have read this interview. 

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