Jim Denney has written more than 90 books for both Christian and secular publishers, as both a sole author and as a collaborator. While writing as a collaborator, Jim has teamed with leaders and celebrities in many fields, including Orlando Magic cofounder Pat Williams, Super Bowl champions Reggie White and Bob Griese, supermodel Kim Alexis, actress Grace Lee Whitney, Christian leaders Michael Youssef, Leighton Ford, Ray Stedman, Michael Reagan, and many others. Jim is the author of the four-book Timebenders science fantasy series for young readers. The Timebenders books were first published in 2002, and Jim has recently revised and updated them. They are being reissued for Summer 2012 by Greenbrier Book Company.
1) Tell us about yourself?
I'm married to Debbie, and we live in California. We have two awesome grown children, daughter Bethany (married to Wade) and son Ryan. I've been a full-time writer since 1989.
2) Why did you choose the science fiction and fantasy genre to write in?
I've been a science fiction fan almost as long as I can remember. When I was five years old, I watched a black-and-white space opera show called Space Patrol. The spaceman flew around the solar system in rocket ships, and they wore space suits with bubble helmets and said things like, "Smoking rockets, Captain! Meteor dead ahead!" That show filled me with a love of science fiction adventure.
When I started elementary school, I began looking for science fiction books in the school library. I vividly remember going to the school library when I was in the third grade and discovering a book called A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. The book was like an explosion in my soul. I was only nine years old, but the concepts and characters just blew me away. It introduced me to strange ideas like paradoxes in mathematics and physics. Characters like Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which were equally strange. The planet Camazotz, which was oppressed by the evil Black Thing, was weird and strange, and I just loved it.
The biblical theme of A Wrinkle in Time stayed with me throughout my life. The theme comes from 1 Corinthians 1:27: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." A lot of great Christian fantasy and science fiction has been built on that theme—the Narnia books, The Lord of the Rings—and that's also the theme of my Timebenders series.
3) Tell us about the Timebenders series. Why did you write it?
The Timebenders stories exists because of my son Ryan. When he was in kindergarten, he knew I wrote books for a living, and that I had written books in collaboration with a lot of different people. So one day, he came to me and said, "Daddy, would you write a book with me?" I said, "Sure, son, what kind of book should we write together?" He said, "I want to write a book with a time machine and dinosaurs."
So Ryan and I started working on this book. We wrote a little each day for a week or so. Then he lost interest and I got busy on other projects. Time passed. Finally, I took a fresh look at those pages and I decided that we had some really good ideas. So I wrote up a couple of chapters and an outline, and I sent it to Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Nelson liked the first book, Battle Before Time, and they asked me to make it a series by writing three more. So I wrote Doorway to Doom, Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Lost in Cydonia. All four books were published in 2002.
My goal was to write the kind of books I like to read—a wild roller coaster ride through time and space, with characters you grow to love and care about. I wanted to give a new generation of young readers the same thrills and wild adventure I experienced when I first read A Wrinkle in Time.
The books are aimed at readers ages nine to fourteen, but I've gotten many emails from parents saying, "I bought the Timebenders series to read to my kids, but the books hooked me as well!"
4) What is your view of how Christian beliefs are portrayed in current speculative fiction?
Science fiction and fantasy are the ideal mediums for expressing spiritual truth. Most of the really great science fiction books and films are, on some level, about God. Films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and 2001: A Space Odyssey are really religious films. Ray Bradbury wrote a number of stories that explored Christian themes in a reverent way, such as The Man and The Fire Balloons. Robert J. Sawyer wrote a fine novel about the scientific case for God, called Calculating God. In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis looked at what would happen if human beings introduced sin to an unfallen race. James Blish examined that same question from a different angle in A Case of Conscience.
So the secular science fiction field has always been receptive to Christian themes. And there are many fine Christian writers producing quality fantasy and science fiction, including Jill Williamson, Kathy Tyers, Donita Paul, Randy Ingermanson, John Olson, R. J. Larson, Kathryn Mackel, Tosca Lee, and Karen Hancock.
5) What authors and books have been your greatest source of inspiration?
I've mentioned Madeleine L'Engle, who was a very early influence. The Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis impacted me deeply. So did The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, I read all of the Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Clifford D. Simak science fiction tales I could get my hands on.
But without question, the most important influence on me as a reader and writer was Ray Bradbury. I have read all of his stories many times, especially The Martian Chronicles. I was saddened when I heard he had passed away, but I was very grateful that our family got to meet him and talk to him a few years ago. He told me a wonderful story about how he met Walt Disney while Christmas shopping at Macy's, and how he and Walt became close friends.
6) Are any characters in your books based on real people?
Almost all the characters in the Timebenders books have some basis in fact. Max McCrane, the hero, has aspects of my son Ryan, and is also based in part on me when I was that age. Max's fellow time travelers, Grady, Allie, and Toby, are based on some of Ryan's classmates who I got to know on a school trip to a science camp. Toby, who is something of a villain, is based on boy at the science camp who was always getting into trouble.
7) What advice can you give to new writers?
Write every day. Don't wait to be inspired. Sit down and start writing, and the inspiration will come.
Some people say, "Write what you know." If I had taken that advice, I never would've written stories about a time machine! So I say write about anything that excites you, anything that grabs your imagination and won't let go.
Don't try to write perfectly. Instead, give yourself permission to write badly! Write quickly, write it in a rush, get the ideas and the words down, even if you think it's terrible. Later, when you go back to rewrite, you can improve it and perfect it. But in your first draft, don't worry about perfection. Just write.
Author website: Jim Denney's Timebenders