Mike Duran lives in Southern California, has been married to his wife Lisa since 1980 and has four adult children. After a number of years in the ministry Mike now works with wood by day and words by night. He has written Relief Journal and has quite a following on his blog, deCompose. Mike’s debut novel, The Resurrection is reviewed here at Unveiled. Mike has been kind enough to spend some time to let us know a little more about him.
Tim George: Mike, you were a pastor, worked in construction, are a husband, father, and grandfather. I’m going to break all the rules of interviewing, bypass all that information, and start out with the one answer that is most important to me for you to answer. What’s the deal with tomatoes?
Mike Duran: That’s easy, Tim. I was traumatized as a child. Scroll back to the first time I ever went ocean fishing. My dad, a grizzled fisherman, took my younger brother and I ocean fishing in a small boat. The seas were rough. Really rough. My brother has a notoriously weak stomach. Well, my dad ate tomatoes like apples, which he did that day. There we were, clinging to the sides of the boat while my father nonchalantly salted tomatoes and chomped away. Seeing the red juice oozing down my father’s face while my brother was barfing overboard left a lasting imprint. Hey, you asked.
Tim: I had a similar experience in 3rd grade school cafeteria. After practically forcing me to eat the big red blob on my tray, my teacher later repented. Let’s just say I gave her a reason to never force the issue again.
I had the honor to write an endorsement for your upcoming debut novel and look forward to telling my readers more about it in the weeks to come. Tell us something about The Resurrection.
Mike: I am fascinated by claims of the miraculous and people’s responses toward purported miracle events. On the one hand are those who deny that miracles occur today. They are naturalists who seek to explain everything in terms of science or psychology, and refuse to accept the possibility that God intervenes supernaturally in the world. On the other hand are those who sensationalize everything, see miracles everywhere, and turn the miraculous into a sideshow event. And then there are those of us who land somewhere in the middle: we believe that God can intervene in the world, but walk a tightrope between skepticism and sensationalism. The Resurrection revolves around a purported miracle, how people across the spectrum respond to that miracle, and two rather naïve people who are caught in the middle.
Tim: Your main character is a pastor facing a crisis of faith and, without giving too much away, the story has an ending that is somewhat ambiguous about that crisis. Why did you choose to leave things that way?
Mike: I felt it was true to that character, Tim. I think the average church-goer would be surprised how many ministers have serious questions about their faith or their calling. I’m not saying they are pretenders or agnostics. But when you work at a church, are viewed as the “spiritual authority,” traffic in theology, and live in close community with others, it is easy to encounter questions and paradoxes, become cynical or disenchanted, second-guess your calling, your motives, and your faith. Reverend Ian Clark is such a minister
Frankly, in my first draft, I wrote Reverend Clark a little different. I followed a more formulaic approach that I figured would appeal to the faith-based crowd. The problem was, it just didn’t seem real. Faith is a journey, and journeys are incremental, one step, one hill, at a time. Sometimes we die before we achieve a goal or reach a destination. And oftentimes, we are simply in transition. Reverend Ian Clark is such a person. The question my readers will have to answer is where Clark was on that journey when the book ends. I’m looking forward to hearing some of their answers.
Tim: So is The Resurrection a stand-alone story or can we expect a sequel?
Mike: This is a stand-alone novel. No sequel is in the works. Although I do have some interesting ideas about possible directions if one were to develop.
Tim: deCompose: How did you come up with that name for your blog?
Mike:I get asked that often. It comes from an essay of mine entitled “Let Us Decompose” that was published by Relevant Online when I first started writing. “Decompose” is about “composition.” More specifically the “deconstruction” of “composition.” If you think about it, all composition is really de-composition. None of us are truly original or create from genuine scratch. Whether it’s words, images, chords, or colors, all we can do is rearrange existing stuff. God is the only real Composer. We can only de-compose.
Tim: You have a knack for posing questions you have to know will stir the pot when it comes to other’s opinions about Christians and writing. Were you the kind of kid who couldn’t resist a good fight?
Mike: Actually, when I was a kid, I was far too cerebral for my own good. My fights were always more ideological than physical.
Not long ago, there was an online squabble between some very prominent Christian writers. I thought the issues being addressed were incredibly relevant and both sides had great points. However, rather than discussing those issues it turned into a turf war and eventually fizzled into a polite call for unity. Listen, I pastored a church for 11 years, Tim. These kinds of discussions and controversies are essential for long-term relational growth. However, they’re messy to work through. And if that exchange was an example, I have doubts whether the Christian writing community really wants to endure the mess.
All that to say, the questions I pose that tend to “stir the pot” are often ones that most Christian writers ponder, but are afraid to openly ask. I interact with other writers on a regular basis and we talk pretty openly about what we perceive as industry issues. But whether it’s tact, diplomacy, or fear of retaliation, most of us keep those questions to ourselves. Call me a rabble-rouser, I just think the Christian writing / reading / publishing community should talk more openly about some obvious issues.
Tim: I have been involved in that discussion on three fronts: as a reviewer, as one who works with publishers and writers to promote their work, and as an author working to become published himself. Too often I see how myopic people on all fronts are – seeing things only from their point of view. So here is a loaded question that may require a follow-up. Which fiction is written better – General market or faith based such as for CDA publishers?
Mike: That may have been an issue at one time, but not now. There are some fantastic writers of faith-based fiction out there: Tosca Lee, Mary DeMuth, Athol Dickson, Mark Bertrand, Sibella Giorella, Dale Cramer, Lisa Samson—and the list goes on. I’ve read what I consider well-written and poorly-written books in both markets, and have come to see that objection as baseless. For every mediocre “Christian book,” there’s an equally mediocre general market book. In my mind, it’s a wash.
Tim: Athol Dickson was an architect for many years and has shared numerous insights with me about the correlation between design, art, and fiction. How does your work in construction influence your writing?
Mike: There are two ways that my work relates to my writing, but neither of them are ways you’re probably implying. One has to do with career versus calling. Most writers juggle two careers and I’m learning how difficult a tightrope this can be. While writing is something I like to do, my day job is something I have to do. That dichotomy can create tremendous tension. I have to keep reminding myself that I am called as much to work construction as I am to write. But that’s not an easy balance to maintain.
Secondly, work relationships are very important to my writing. I work in a shop with 10 other men. These are hard-boiled, non-Christian guys who curse, drink, and womanize. Yet I have been “called” here. No, I’m not there to look down my nose at them or preach every chance I get. I’m there to love them. Sometimes I think we believers live in an echo chamber, a cocoon. We surround ourselves with Christian friends, Christian music, Christian books, and we lose touch with the people who need Jesus. Working around gruff, non-Christian people has helped keep me down-to-earth (in the good sense) and made me realize who I’m ultimately writing for. Plus, I cull some good one-liners from them.
Tim: “Measure twice, cut once.” Every good carpenter knows that rule. Apply that to the process of writing.
Mike: I interpret that as plotting. I am not a Seat-of-the-Pants writer and am pretty anal about not writing until I know where I’m going. That doesn’t mean I need to know every detail, but that until I have enough details, I am reluctant to start “cutting.”
Tim: What’s in the future for Mike Duran readers and where do you see yourself as a writer 10 years from now?
Mike: Gosh—I have no idea. I’m working hard to make my next book the best it can be. I’ve purposely tried to challenge myself with a bigger story, more POVs, and a headier premise. So I’m kind of tunnel-visioned at the moment. I love writing and want to stay at it, but the stories I like also tend to stray off the beaten path. So I suppose I’ll just have to see where those “paths” lead me.
Tim: Back to the tomato thing; do you think you will ever evolve beyond your dislike for the red orbs of disgust
Mike: Actually, I enjoy tomatoes now— I just hate the big beefy juicy ones. And the moment I see someone eating one like an apple, I flashback to that little wave-beaten boat.