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Fireproof novelist wrestles with the supernatural

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Eric Wilson’s ’Jerusalem Undead’ trilogy pits vampires vs. saints

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

Wordsmith Eric Wilson envisions his books, whether they be supernatural thrillers or  novelizations of hit movies, as mission work.

“I write specifically thinking of people on the fringes of faith, those who have either struggled with religion or who have left it or who are interested in knowing more and have spiritual hunger but aren’t going to walk through doors of a church to explore that,” said Wilson, 42, author of “Facing the Giants,” “The Best of Evil” and “Field of Blood.”

“I see my writing being missionary work but kind of in a tent-making mode (the apostle Paul made tents while spreading the Gospel), telling stories that prod and challenge people to think.”

The Nashville author will be autographing DVDs of the film “Fireproof,” as well as his book, Saturday, Feb. 14, at Sherlock’s Books in Lebanon. Starring Kirk Cameron, “Fireproof” explores a Christian marriage that is falling apart while the husband, a firefighter, samples Internet pornography, and the wife finds a sympathetic shoulder in a handsome doctor. (The film will be screened in the bookstore theater Feb. 10-15.)

Wilson’s book version of the movie, which came out after its theatrical release, spent eight weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, and he thinks both book and film were successful because they tapped into a crisis facing Christians and non-Christians alike.

“Marriages are taking a big hit in our self-centered culture, and I think self-centeredness is toughest to deal with in a marriage,” Wilson said. “The movie addresses this from both sides, the husband and wife. Christians have pointed fingers at the sanctity of marriage, but Christian marriages are falling apart at the same rate of non-Christians. This story deals with the real struggle of marriage and has inspired people in that process.”

Meanwhile, the author creates his own characters with struggles in his suspense thrillers that always incorporate history and often include supernatural elements.

The writer is currently in the midst of completing his “Jerusalem’s Undead” trilogy that involves vampirism, the crucifixion of Christ and a cemetery desecration that took place in the Holy City in 1989.

“It is really a modern version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis mixed with a traditional vampire story,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of vampire books come out recently with a post-modern approach to vampires where they are not even a question of good or evil or spirituality but just a fictional form of the monster. I wanted to go back to a traditional vampire story, more moody and not full of martial arts and eroticism.”

His trilogy, (part two, “Haunt of Jackals,” comes out in August) is set in the present day but steeped in history. The Field of Blood, the ground where Judas, Christ’s betrayer, was buried outside of Jerusalem, was broken into by bulldozers in 1989, and three burial caves dating to the first century were uncovered. Nineteen of the graves were empty.

The plot presents conflict between two sets of the undead. The good guys are the saints who were resurrected out of their tombs when Christ died, raised to protect believers. The villains are demons, creatures that Wilson calls collectors, who have been waiting for centuries “to inhabit those bodies laid to rest in burial caves tainted by Judas's blood as it seeped down through the soil.” They know that Judas’s heart was entered by Satan, thus his blood had additional enmity that had soaked into his bones.

The trilogy’s central figure is a Romanian-Jewish girl on the run from the collectors while hoping to discover her real father.

“My stories are built around characters who are struggling with specific issues externally and internally. I will pick something I am passionate about. I don’t want it to be preachy, but it is about struggles with our own weaknesses and issues of the human heart and wrestling with God,” Wilson said. “I explore the tension between heaven and hell. That really does describe a lot of my books, although it’s more the personal tension in our own hearts and minds.

“Half of my books have a Christian as the lead character, but every American has to come to terms with religion or culture. My characters are dealing with those questions but could be on either side of that fence.”   

Wilson’s faith in God became very real to him at age 4.

“My parents came out of the hippie generation and the Jesus Movement. We actually lived what the Bible said. They took in people off the streets, so we would wake up in the mornings with strangers sleeping in our living room. Following the Lord was a daily thing, not just a Sunday morning thing.”

In the early 1970s Wilson’s parents were smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe, and he was by their side, criss-crossing Europe and Asia. Yet several years later, his father ran away with a girl the same age of Wilson’s sister. It may have left a bruise but did not detour his faith.

“Life taught me that things don’t fit into little boxes like you thought,” he reasoned. “I have kind of a motto that if Jesus is the answer then why are we afraid of the questions?

A lot of times in church people are afraid to wrestle with things they don’t understand so they don’t even go there. In my early 20s I was willing to question anything and work through it. I definitely had some big, long drawn-out arguments with God.”Wilson began writing in elementary school and penned his first novel the summer before his senior year in high school. Meanwhile he had been soaking up the writings of Lewis, Tolkien, S.E. Hinton, Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre and Helen MacInnes.

After college, marrying, (still) raising children and working a variety of jobs, he finally made the break to full-time writer just eight months ago as he left FedEx Kinkos, a 4½-year gig. The move came with the blessings of his wife of 18 years, Carolyn, the mother of their two teenage daughters and an aspiring songwriter who volunteers for Alive Hospice with music therapy.

“When we got married, we committed to pursuing our dreams together. I helped her do an album of songs over the course of a year, which she was able to sell locally on CD. Then she told me, ‘Now it’s your turn.’ When we moved to Nashville in 2001, she said, ‘You really need to finish that book.’”

So Wilson completed “Dark to Mortal Eyes” and began submitting the manuscript to publishers.

“I didn’t have an agent. I just sent it out cold turkey,” he recalled. “Because I am a big reader, I had been writing reviews on Amazon. An agent contacted me because of my reviews. He knew I had been working on a novel and said he wanted to look at it.

“I thought this had to be a scam, but then I found out he had discovered writers Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. I was kind of amazed and realized this was the real deal.”

Within six months the agent placed Wilson’s book with WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, and it was released in 2004.

Two years later he introduced the character Aramis Black in his novel “The Best of Evil,” with Nashville as the backdrop.

“Black is a coffee shop owner on West End Avenue. He comes from a violent past as he saw his own mother shot and that led him into gangs and drugs,” Wilson explained. “The book series follows him as he is trying to come out of that, trying to find peace in his own life. Within months of starting the coffee shop, he has someone shot before his own eyes again, and the victim says the same words his mother said at her death.

“This sends Black on a historical search that proves a link to the death of Meriwether Lewis (the explorer of Lewis & Clark fame, whose death along the Natchez Trace in Tennessee has been a mystery).”

While in the midst of his thrillers, Wilson had several projects dropped in his lap, almost like gifts from heaven. He was selected to turn the movie screenplays of “Facing the Giants,” “Flywheel” and “Fireproof” into novels. Two of the films became surprise hits, which didn’t hurt book sales.

Religious book publisher Thomas Nelson connected Wilson with screenwriter-director-brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick.

“We had a three-hour phone interview to make sure we all wanted to work together. They asked me tough questions like, ‘What would you have done different with our movie?’  

“For the ease of writing from a screenplay, it is still a lot of work. It took me four to six weeks; but the writing and discipline is just as hard, and I feel greater responsibility to capture what someone else has done.”

As for research and accuracy, Wilson watched “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof” about 20 times and read about 1,000 pages per book for details, even reading a fireman training manual to prepare for “Fireproof.” 

While book critics might call Wilson a Christian supernatural thriller writer, he considers himself simply a novelist.

“Not all of my books are supernatural. I’d say suspense is a more accurate term. I don’t mind the term Christian since I am a Christian, although the label can be frustrating,” Wilson said.

“The ‘Christian‘ tag automatically relegates my writing and perceived quality to the same section as that back corner of Borders, with Republican, right-wing, evangelical, conservative attached to it. This defeats the point of it being mission work, in the same way wearing a suit and tie to the pygmies separates rather than endears.”

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag@gmail.com.

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