by Jeff Reynolds
How many of you can see a relationship between missions and writing speculative YA fiction? My guest, Laura Popp, can and she'll be telling about her book Treasure Traitor. Also a note
Laura Popp: I started writing for young adults when I was a young adult, at about 15. Now I'm 26, and I'm still hooked. From a missions standpoint, I consider them my "people group." I can’t think of a more confusing or exciting time than being a teenager. The world (or the universe, in Treasure Traitor's case) is wide open. Their career, education, life partner, dreams. They're searching for their identity. It's my prayer that they will find their identity in Christ. To do that, I have to speak their language. Teens hate being preached at and being told what to do and believe. Therefore, fantasy is ideal. I can get across a message in metaphors rather than beating them over the head with a Bible.
JR: Could you tell us about your novel Treasure Traitor? (I know. One of those questions with an obvious answer. Any chance you'll say no?)
LP: Here is the info from the back cover:
In a universe torn by war, two governments vie for power: the elemental Kingdom and the telepathic Hierarchy. Hierarchy women with animal bonds think nothing of sacrificing their beasts’ lives to protect themselves.
Except sixteen-year-old Renagada. The bond with her carrion-eater bird Acha is two-sided, and she knows his mind as much as he knows hers. When Rena overhears her parents plotting to kill Acha because of superstition, she must leave her fiancé and home of sheltered luxury to flee with Acha into the desert. Peril awaits them at every turn, and someone is tracking them…”
The Christian element comes in with the characters' names. Renagada is a "renegade" from the planet "Hamartia" (sin). To save Acha, she travels to "Village Charis" (Village of Grace). She's committed a terrible sin at the beginning of Treasure Traitor and fears eternal punishment from the vengeful gods of her world. In Village Charis, she learns about a being named King who died for everyone in the universe, and by trusting in Him, our sins are canceled on the eternal scale.
JR: As well as writing, you've done a lot of missions work. What was that like, and how did that work with people of foreign languages translate into your story? (Pun intentional.)
LP: Ha, ha, that's a good question! As a beginning writer, people always told me "write what you know." Since I write science fiction and fantasy, I wondered how that's possible. I've never flown a spaceship or met an alien! But I soon realized that even though I couldn't live on another planet, I could live in another country. I wanted as many different perspectives on the world as possible so I could create my own worlds. After a trip to Malawi, Africa, I felt God calling me to share the kind of hope they had, despite having nothing, with a nation that had everything, but didn't know Christ. So I lived in Japan for two years as a missionary and English teacher. I had the privilege of being there during the earthquake/tsunami, and despite the devastation, I got to see God's love shine through and several come to Christ.
As for people of foreign languages being "translated" into my story, Renagada's native language, Kakra, has high and low forms based on Japanese. In other words, there are three ways of speaking: superior to inferior, same level, and inferior to superior. (Of course, I render all their speech in English and simply give a nuance of how their language sounds. For example: "The stars blessing on you, wayfarers," for the speech of superior to inferior.) Other than the language, though, Renagada's people are based largely on Indian appearance and culture, since I spent 10 days and then 3 months there on a mission trip. When foreigners try to speak her Kakra language, I imitate how my English as a Second Language students sound when they try to speak English. They leave out words like a, an, and the, forget to make words plural or past tense, mispronounce things, etc. For example: "You go buy flower yesterday?"
The Kingdom is more European in its inspiration, but it's not a flattering comparison. The Kingdom Seekers are the imperialists, the conquerors, the crusaders. Only a few of them, such as Charis, the leader of Village Charis, wants to share about King to People of the Hierarchy like Renagada. It's sort of a wake up call to the church to rethink how we do missions. Why do we expect foreigners to to build big Western churches and sing our Western songs? Fortunately, things are a lot better than they used to be. You'd be surprised, though, how many people get Western culture and being a follower of Jesus mixed up.
JR: Sometimes a story takes you where Christian publishers and readers are a bit squeamish, and my hunch is that may be truer when writing for teenagers. Did you face that kind of dilemma with your story, and how did you resolve it with your publisher/editor/agent?
LP: Yes, I definitely faced that. There's a couple of places in Treasure Traitor where Renagada doesn't make the best choices. I wanted to be realistic. Nobody can relate to a perfect character, and besides, the only perfect person died and rose 2,000 years ago. Renagada makes two particularly bad decisions, one in the middle of the book, and one towards the end, and the publisher almost made me change both. We did rework them a bit, but my editor was for me keeping them in. Together we were able to show the publisher that they were essential to the plot and the growth of the character. What's important is that the character learns from her mistakes, makes a decision to live differently, and moves forward.
JR: What's next on the horizon? Both regarding your writing and any future missions trips?
LP: Treasure Traitor is the first in a trilogy. We're shooting to have the sequel, An Honest Assassin, out by next November. Other than that, I’m working on two other series right now, Dargon the Human Slayer (a secular middle grade fantasy trilogy) and Children of Light (an adult Christian fantasy), plus a Christmas picture book with my dad, 'Twas the Year of the Census.
As for missions, I currently teach English as a Second Language for the YWCA, and I count that as my mission since I'm around foreigners who need to know Jesus all day. I'm also trying to develop my speaking platform. So far I've only been able to present at Christian organizations, but I'd like to get into secular schools in both the U.S. and abroad. I think God might be calling me to go back to Japan eventually, possibly to teach at Okinawa Christian school (since most of the students are actually non-Christian), but that's not clear yet. Right now I feel called to focus on my writing and teaching here.
JR: Thank you for your time, Laura, and hope you have a blessed day.
LP: Thank you, Jeff! It was great writing to you. I'd be happy to answer any questions or comments from your readers, or they can email me at laurapopp (at) ymail.com. I'm running a special. Anyone who orders a copy of Treasure Traitor can mail it to me, and I'll sign it and mail it back, free of charge!