01 August 2010

Conversations With The Dirty Prophet: Theology in Fiction and Divine Dirt Quarterly

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with none other than the Dirty Prophet, aka Andrew Bowen, founder and editor-in-chief of Divine Dirt Quarterly.  After nearly three hours, some excellent mindreading on Andrew's part, and some bad spelling and grammar on both sides (to be expected from an instant messenger chat), I bring you Conversations With the Dirty Prophet!  I've broken it up into two parts for easy reading.  Today's installation talks about theology in general and in fiction, and Andrew's experience starting DDQ.  I think I even managed to fix all the spelling mistakes. :-)


Jello World: Okay so, to get started, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself, besides the awesome writing stuff?

Dirty Prophet: Well sure. I'm from eastern North Carolina. Grew up an Army brat and was generally a social outcast through most of school. Then I went to college, got drunk and/or high a lot, was kicked out of college, got my girlfriend/bestfriend pregnant and then married. And so here I am.

Jello World: Did you ever go back to college?

Dirty Prophet: Going back now. Ironically, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up until the last days of my college career. I started writing my first novel the summer before what was supposed to be my junior year. From there I wrote a few more and it wasn't until I started working on my latest one in 2008 that I realized religion and fiction were what I was to spend my life in ecstasy and agony over.

Jello World: So a slightly random question, where did the nickname "The Dirty Prophet" come from?

Dirty Prophet: Haha well I have a great interest in prophets and the historic/metaphorical spiritual aspects of dirt, so I just made them my own. Prophets are folks who express a need for change or challenge those around them to think. I'd like to think that my work does that. As for dirt, it's a unifying element. We came from dirt, so to speak, in both scientific and theological traditions. We dig in dirt to find things: our past, our technologies, worms for fishing...Dirt keeps us human, connected, and real. That's how I want to be: human, connected, and real.

Jello World: Interesting! I like that.

Dirty Prophet: Not as cool as Slim Shady or Dark Knight, but it'll do.

Jello World: haha I think it's pretty cool. It's fitting.  Back to religion and fiction... as you know, I write erotica. It's not always a conscious choice, but rather something I fall into naturally. Even in my most mainstream stuff, the characters will probably hop into bed at least once. Do you find religion is something you just gravitate toward, or are you always making a conscious effort to write about it?

Dirty Prophet: Religion in general and writing with it in particular is something I merged into. My pre-theological material usually dealt with social issues like the teacher-student (minor) relationship or internet dating. I discovered my passion in religion while researching for my last novel. Suddenly a Pandora's box of subject matter and character types opened and my world hasn't been the same since. I think about this stuff 24-7. It annoys my wife sometimes.

Jello World: Funny you should say... my first novel ever dealt with a teacher-student relationship! Great minds think alike, I suppose.

Dirty Prophet: This is true!

Jello World: So does your wife have to continually change the topic to something besides theology?

Dirty Prophet: She understands my passion and so rolls with it. Because my spiritual background began with Christianity and she has just recently adopted that faith, we often discuss what she is learning. But for her watching me read about religion or write, I guess it's like watching a kid with Legos or a video game.

Jello World: Yes, the awe and excitement of it all, right?

Dirty Prophet: Religion (cosmology too) for me is like numbers to a mathematician or musical notes to a composer. The myths, the stories, the rituals and histories just make sense to me. Funny, it's my security blanket in a world where religion is a cause for death and strife. I see no duality, just the beautiful, trippy, human color of imagination and faith.

Jello World: You're reading my mind today, because my next question was going to be what is it about theology and religion that captivates you enough to want to challenge it, write about it, and to share it with your readers? Are you searching for you own truth when you write, or have you already found that?

Dirty Prophet: Interestingly enough, a search is how this mess started. When researching for my novel's protagonist (he's a prophet), I came across information on all sorts of traditions. It was inviting to settle with one, but just then, I'd fall in love with another. I was becoming spiritually promiscuous. My truth is that I have no damn clue. I've adopted a position of a nomad, roaming from faith to faith (and sometimes none) and finding solace within each oasis so long as there is water and shade. Then, I pack my bags and move on. I intentionally make my fiction ambiguous to reflect this.

Jello World: "Spiritually promiscuous" I love that! So you're not necessarily trying to lead your readers to any one conclusion about god or theology?

Dirty Prophet: No. That would be dishonest. If we subscribe to the idea of a perfect "other" or God, while admitting ourselves to be imperfect, then how the hell would any of us, being imperfect, be able to dictate absolute truth? I think faith, spirituality is a journey, something to dig for. It's curiosity, a kid digging in the dirt. No, I write to pose questions and challenge folks to think.

Jello World: So would you say that you personally don't subscribe to the idea of that "perfect" god? Or just that you don't feel qualified to say who or what god is or isn't?

Dirty Prophet: The latter. The Greek idea of God (Islamic as well) is unanthropomorphic. I'm in that category as well, though not definitively. I'm committed to my ignorance, so to speak, to the point where I'm open to new (and old) ideas. Always in awe, always surprised, and never in a comfort zone.

I think once people close the lid on their spirituality, they effectively limit outlets in which the divine might speak to them, because if you believe in a creative God, what size box would he/she/it be able to fit into?

Jello World: Don't you think that most organized religions are effectively closed in that way? They define the is or is not, the can and the cannot. They prescribe religious experience instead of letting it happen. Or am I just swayed by the institutionalized form of religion and not really seeing what each faith, at its core, has to say?

Dirty Prophet: Depends on the faith. Christianity happens to be exclusively based due to a doctrine of Christ's divinity. This seems strange because he was so inclusive in his ministry. Eastern faiths like Hinduism and Buddhism are very open due to one having literally thousands of modes of worship and the other not requiring a God, respectively. The first tenet of Sikhism is that "There is only One, and he is God." This is to say that we are all an aspect of the divine, so every path is basically valid. There is also the human element. Borders mean safety. Unfortunately, religion becomes a victim of this mindset.

Jello World: Yes, the human mind likes things to be compartmentalized, to make sense, to fit some kind of pattern. That's where stereotypes and things like that come from, too. The categories themselves aren't the problem, it's when we fail to realize that not everything fits into one neat category (and that it's OKAY for things to be that way!) that we start killing each other over something like who believes in the "right" god.

Dirty Prophet: Kafka once said that "Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy." In this way, we can think of each religious movement as a revolution to the "bureaucracy" of the old way. For Christianity, is was a revolution against the cumbersome Law. Islam resolved to return everything to monotheism and unite Arabia. Sikhism set out to destroy the caste system that crept in Hinduism. But each of these has fallen prey to its own purposes of change. Thermodynamics is a bitch.

Jello World: That's so true. My senior year in college I had a class that dealt with spirituality and religion and it really helped me dig and flesh out what it is that I believe (for the moment, anyway) and I pretty much came to that same conclusion. I don't think there's really any religion that has remained unchanged through the many years since they began, and it's because of the human element. I like to think that god, or what I like to call the sacred, never changes. Ever. The only thing that changes is our way of experiencing it and our ability to communicate those experiences.

Dirty Prophet: Exactly. We are finite beings trying to understand and articulate something infinite. We haven’t even mapped the entire ocean floor. So we have a ways to go. This is why I started Divine Dirt Quarterly. Because I believe the "human gospel" as I've coined it, is still being written by humanity. If we were created in the image of a creative spirit, then we can't help but be expression. The results can be amazing, and it's a crime against humanity to put a lid on such a thing.

Jello World: two points for you! your mind reading abilities really are stellar, because I was definitely going to ask about the inspiration for DDQ! I could totally sit here all day and chat about theology with you! But I suppose I should probably bring it back to the writing part a bit. Tell me a little about the process of starting something like that. Was it a difficult undertaking?

Dirty Prophet: The concept was as easy and natural as breathing. What was difficult was the technical aspects of building a site (I'm horrible with tech stuff) and getting folks involved. Religion is a taboo subject, especially in literary circles where most folks are abhorrent to anything religiously based (and in many cases, I can't blame them!).

Jello World: When I was looking for a home for my story On a Trans-Atlantic Flight, I searched Duotrope using Religious as one of the theme filters. And let me tell you, everything I found was about praising god, writing about the positive influence of god, living a godly life, etc. There really wasn't anything specifically for writing that was more seeking in nature, challenging traditional beliefs, or describing the untraditional ways people experience god and the like. And then, of course, I found DDQ! So I think you're really filling a void.

Dirty Prophet: Oh yeah. It's sad. Granted, I don't think there's anything wrong with those other markets, but as you said, they aren't conducive to material that sees theology as expression as opposed to a confirmation of faith. My own writing has a hard time finding a market, so DDQ is an effort to remedy that issue for others.

Jello World: Oh for sure, I have no problem with those other markets either. Except that that'd never publish something like our stuff haha. So how did you get hooked up with Yvette and Kat to be your editors? Were you already familiar with them from other literary circles, or was it a happy accident kind of thing?

Dirty Prophet: I actually met up with Kat Dixon on Agent Query (same with editor Cynthia Reeser and writer Stefin Bradbury). It was early in my writing career and so I tried to make friends wherever I could. She seemed cool and was committed to poetry, so I invited her along. With Yvette, I met her on Fictionaut. From the start she was very candid with her commentary on my fiction and supportive of the marginal genre that is theological fiction. We've been like peas in a pod ever since.
Jello World: Agent Query and Fictionaut are both great sites! It's great to be able to network with other writers, editors, etc.

Dirty Prophet: Internet-land is a great place. I've meet some awesome and talented people in the writing world. The company I keep couldn't be better.

Jello World: It really is! Being able to chat with you, or be FB friends with the editor of an erotica anthology, or meet tons of interesting published and unpublished writers and share their successes (and rejections because, well, they happen lol) is so amazing!

Dirty Prophet: Indeed it is. Who knows, perhaps Wikipedia, when our descendants look back on us, will be interpreted as the new Oracle at Delphi. The way History repeats itself and humanity's patterns are just too cool. Concepts like this are what get me up in the morning.


Stay tuned for the conclusion of my conversation with the Dirty Prophet on Wednesday, when we discuss the publishing industry and the blossoming genre of theological fiction.

Andrew's fiction has appeared in Metazen, Full of Crow, Nanoism, Pulp Metal Magzine, and Prick of the Spindle, just to name a few.  He is the founder/editor of Divine Dirt Quarterly, and he blogs at The Dirty Prophet.  If that's not enough, he also wrestles with God and they share beer afterward.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew is one whose words never fail to stimulate ponderous thought and revelation..thanks for the peek under the hood, I'll be back for the rest


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