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J. Neil Schulman on...Escape from Heaven

GARY YORK:  I've read Escape from Heaven and was delighted by it; however, I can't help but wonder about that title.  It's catchy and intriguing -- we don't usually consider Heaven as a place from which we would choose to escape -- did you select that title as a signal to non-believers that this was not a traditional book?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  I wish I could claim that it was that well thought out. I chose the title simply because my having to escape from Heaven was my original 1991

dream that inspired the novel -- and the irony of having to escape from Heaven -- rather than escape to Heaven -- struck me immediately.
 
Recently I did come up with a new tagline that plays on this:  "War is hell -- even if it's in Heaven."
 
GARY YORK:  The book is full of ideas most of them

fresh and some of them no doubt original to you.  If God granted you the power to select just one idea that every reader would take from this book, what would that be?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  After sitting here for ten minutes trying, it's apparent to me that God hasn't granted me this power. What do you think the one idea that sticks out is?

 

GARY YORK:  I keep returning to this (expressed as an admonition):  be lighthearted; there is a way to view these concepts that is not heavy and that does not portray God as a fundamentally evil being.

 
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That works for me.

 
GARY YORK:  I know Escape from Heaven has proven controversial and it seems unlikely that any current religion or sect would wholeheartedly endorse the theological positions you take in this book.  With that a given, then -- who's your audience?  Unbelievers?  Atheists?  Heretics? 

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  God only knows. OK, cheap shot. I think the real answer is my audience has to have a sense of humor, or a sense of adventure, that doesn't see their religion's truths as embalmed and God visible only through stained glass. I'm hoping that my book contains enough of the spirit of God that those recognizing God's influence will be friendly to it.


GARY YORK:  Some people will read the title, Escape from Heaven, and think, "Oh, another God book," and promptly give it a miss and thereby deprive themselves of a good read.  No problem, really.  But who might be inclined to read it and then become furious with you?  Of those who might actually read the book, who would really hate it?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  The only person I can think of who told me he read it and hated every bit of it was C. S. Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, which is ironic because I learned much of my sensibility for treating religious themes in fiction from C. S. Lewis. Douglas wrote me and said, "It is so sacrilegious in content that I have not yet found it at all funny." My intent was not sacrilegious and I don't believe I committed any actual blasphemy in the book. I do take license with traditional interpretations of scripture, but I consider my revelation gives me authority to do so. I admit that's a hard sell to those committed to existing dogma.
 
GARY YORK:  Has your mother read, Escape from Heaven, and, if so, what does she think? 

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Her eyesight isn't what it used to be so I read it to her. She enjoyed it quite a bit.

 
GARY YORK:  Have other family members or friends become more or less distant after reading this book or hearing of it?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  I have not received negativity from those family members and friends who have read it. I do have some family members and friends who have not yet read it and appear considerably resistant to doing so.
 
GARY YORK:  Does the publication of this book mean you've returned for a time to the science fiction genre?  Can we look forward to more SF books or a sequel?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  My usual problem is triaging the time necessary to undertake new long-form writing. Right now I'm trying to produce as feature films half a dozen projects -- with Escape from Heaven at the head of the list.
 

GARY YORK:  Do you think Escape from Heaven will appeal to fans of your previous SF books, Alongside Night and The Rainbow Cadenza

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Well, considering that you're an example of a fan of my previous books who liked this one, I'd say I have a good chance. Heinlein warned me back in 1973 that there are always fans of earlier books who don't like new ones as much, but sometimes one is lucky enough to gain enough new fans that one can stay in the business.
 
GARY YORK:  How do you think your non-fiction readers will receive it?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Iím trying to get through to people who read only fiction with the novel Escape from Heaven, who read only non-fiction with I Met God, and who donít read at all with the audiobook of I Met God and the film version of Escape from Heaven. So Iím covered, even if thereís no cross-pollinating. But there usually is. Certainly reading C. S. Lewis's and Ayn Rand's fiction led me to reading their nonfiction as well.
 
GARY YORK:  I know you and Robert Heinlein had become good friends; if he were still alive he would surely have read the book.  Have you considered what he might say about Escape from Heaven or what advice he might offer?

 

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Remember, I believe in Heaven and that I'll someday get the chance to ask Heinlein what he thought of the book. But I'm pretty sure from his comments to me on my novel The Rainbow Cadenza that he'd laugh his ass off when reading this one, too.

 

Back to Gary York's interview with J. Neil Schulman

 

 

 

    

 

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