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One of our very own Sharper Iron contributors, Andrew Comings, has recently published his first work of fiction. Following this review we will include a brief author interview which highlights the motives behind this new and exciting project.
David Livingstone meet Indiana Jones. The famed missionary explorer and the world-renowned, cinematic adventurer come to mind as one reads Andrew Comings’ new book The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max (Engage Faith Press, 2012).
In a fast-paced, engaging manner, Comings masterfully weaves his tale set on the fictional island of Cabrito. Political intrigue, a mysterious past, shady villains and maniacal kingpins — the story doesn’t follow the script one imagines for a typical missionary adventure tale. And Max is no missionary-want-to-be, he comes across as a man’s man who is forced into staying on Cabrito to make a difference.
The twists and turns of the plot, characters with depth and reality, and a locale where almost anything can go, keep one guessing throughout the book. Surprises abound as we come to terms with Max’s true identity, and learn more about his newfound friends. There is a romantic angle, too, but like the rest of the book – its a little complicated. The book stays suitable for teenagers, and perhaps older elementary children, although some of the themes will be over their heads.
The story is well crafted and one wouldn’t know it is Comings’ first book from reading it. It is a work of Christian fiction, however, and this comes through with its pointed message of forgiveness and reconciliation. And Max even shares his personal testimony in one scene. Yet this aspect of the book isn’t handled in a sloppy manner, and Comings manages to keep the story from becoming preachy in a stilted sense.
Many of us want our lives to count for Christ, and we all experience the struggles that Max does as well. We may not all have a military past that haunts us, but we each have our demons. This may be why this book resonates so deeply with me. Max is an imperfect hero who’s thrust into a situation he couldn’t have foreseen. But at the end of the story we can see that God’s hand is behind bringing many of the disparate threads together.
If you’re looking for some wholesome fiction from a new and rising author, look no further than Missionary Max. I hope the work will span sequels and that it will soon be available in a print format. For now, it is available in three parts at the Amazon kindle store. Its serial release may hamper sales, but the story as a whole really is worth its salt. Help out a new author and take a look at this promising work today.
1) Missionary Max reminds me of part Indiana Jones part David Livingstone yet the book is set in the technologically advanced now. Can you describe some of the backstory to how you came up with such a character?
First and foremost, I wanted Max to be a character that young men could identify with. What boy doesn’t thrill to the harrowing adventures of Indiana Jones? And what missionary better exemplifies the enterprising personality so essential to missions than David Livingston?
And while Max does indeed live in today’s world, he spends most of his time on Cabrito, which lags far behind the rest of the world in technology. The technology gap is a challenge real-life missionaries (especially Americans) face, to varying degrees, every day. Not every mission field is as backward as Cabrito, but some are worse. Cabrito, after all, has at least one functional pay phone.
2) You yourself are a missionary in Brazil, is that right? Does your mission work and cross-cultural experience stand behind this story or were you interested in something like this tale before you ever went to Brazil?
At this point I should make two things clear: 1) The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max is not autobiographical. While some of my life experiences have found their way into the book (you can read about one of those here), the story is pure fiction. 2) Cabrito—the tiny (fictional) island where Max has his adventures—is not Brazil. While there are some similarities (both are former Portuguese colonies and speak the Portuguese language, for example) there are noted differences. My adopted country is an economic and cultural powerhouse, making it’s voice heard on the world stage. Cabrito is a “banana republic” that doesn’t even appear on most maps.
Having said all that, the idea grew on me during our first term in Brazil. I kept hearing people say “missions is an adventure.” It seemed logical to me that every adventure deserves some sort of heroic figure. If archaeologists get their own action hero, why not missionaries? And once my mind began going in that direction, Missionary Max was born.
3) The book seems to be written from a guy’s perspective, and some of the themes, such as the chemistry between Max and Ilana, seem more suited to older teens and adults. What is your target audience for the book?
My target audience is teens to young-adults…especially guys. I remember reading Tarzan books as a kid, and then immediately going out to try my hand at being “king of the jungle” in the little patch of woods behind our house. In a recent documentary it was shown how, after the first Indiana Jones movies were released, there was a spike in the number of young men entering the field of archaeology.
The woods behind my house is far different from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ romanticized Africa, an archaeologist’s work is far different from that portrayed on the screen by Harrison Ford, and my ministry here in Brazil bears little resemblance to that of Maxwell Sherman.
Yet, it is my hope that The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max, in presenting somewhat of a romanticized ideal, will stir the hearts of young people—young men in particular—to pursue the genuine article.
4) The book as it stands now, is available in three parts by Kindle ebook. Is it available in other ebook formats and are there any plans for a hard copy version?
It can also be purchased at Barnes & Noble for the Nook. Right now I am writing the second of what will be a total of four Missionary Max books. When those are all released electronically—and depending on their sales performance—the publisher has plans to release a print version that will be an anthology of all four books.
5) What motivates you as a Christian fiction author? And what are you hoping to accomplish through writing?
I love writing. I come from a family that valued the written word (we didn’t even have a TV when I was growing up), and I was never content just consuming…I wanted to produce.
As a Christian author, I would have to say that my greatest motivation is being able to edify my own generation, and those to follow. Every time I pick up something by Spurgeon or Edwards, or even C.S. Lewis, I reflect on how their investment of time and effort while they were alive is still bearing fruit long after their death.
6) As a fan of Missionary Max, I am glad to see you have more adventures planned! But beyond that, do you see any other writing projects in your future?
Right now I’m concentrating on finishing the Missionary Max series. My ministry activities don’t allow me much time to go beyond that. There are some ideas rolling around in my head—perhaps in the future they will see the light of day.
7) As a self-identified fundamentalist, you must be aware of the kinds of books that fundamentalists have written over the years — particularly missionary fiction tales. Does this background factor into your book?
Right off the top of my head, I can think of two positive influences from my formative years. The first were the missionary tales that were often featured in the Sunday School papers printed by RBP (Regular Baptist Press) during my childhood and adolescence. These stories were often presented in serial form, and were exciting enough to keep me coming back for more, well into my teens. I don’t know if RBP still publishes these…but if they don’t, it’s a shame.
The second example is a series of books written by the late Stan Best, Baptist Mid Missions missionary to the Amazon region of Brazil. I read his “Hidden City of the Amazon” series as a teen, and it kept my attention as much as any of the other adventure novels I was imbibing at the time.
To be certain, some other “fundy fiction” leaves much to be desired…but the same can be said for many, many books in the larger Christian fiction genre as well.
8) Are you intending to reach wider circles than just fundamentalist readers?
Yes. I have never had any desire to “preach to the choir.” By God’s grace I will never compromise the fundamentals of the faith, but I do want to present said fundamentals in a way that will cause others—even non-believers—to sit up and take notice.
9) Any thoughts on the unique pressures that come into play as a conservative Christian author?
For me, writing the kind of fiction that I do, the great challenge is to be authentic without being vulgar. For example, how do you make the villain truly and convincingly evil, and yet keep the book inoffensive? Or, even more difficult, how do you describe female dress in a native tribe and not scandalize?
In the next book, one of the subplots is the visit of Max’s American girlfriend Mary Sue—who has grown up in the typical (some will say stereotypical) sheltered, fundamentalist bubble. Like trying to parody a supermarket tabloid, I am finding it difficult to exaggerate some of the outlandish responses I have witnessed by similar people in similar circumstances.
10) Would you have any parting words to leave with our readers, about the importance of cross-cultural missions?
Just that here on the field we notice a steady decrease in the number of new missionaries. This is depressing. Please do not succumb to the false and incoherent idea that there is no more place for American missionaries in fields like Brazil. The job description may not be the same as it was fifty years ago, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Thanks Andrew, for your time. I know that I’ll be eagerly awaiting the future installments of Max and his astonishing adventures. I hope the series does well and makes an impression on the next generation of young readers, who may very well follow Max (and his author) to the mission field.
Author Information: Born in Ithaca, New York, Andrew Comings visited Brazil for the first time when he was seventeen. He currently serves as a missionary in São Luís, Brazil, with his wife, Itacyara and their two children, Michael and Nathanael.
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