John Christmas interview, part two: What the novelist and awards judge looks for in Prometheus nominees and what he’s learned about writing fiction

LFS member John Christmas, a Prometheus Best Novel judge for the past decade, has written and published two novels.

Most recently, Christmas co-wrote KGB Banker, a contemporary political thriller recently recognized by Best Thrillers as the “Best Conspiracy Thriller of 2022.”
In this second part of his Prometheus Blog interview, Christmas discusses what he looks for in judging Prometheus nominees, and shares more about what he’s learned about writing fiction and appreciating good fiction.

Q: What have you learned from your years of participation as a Best Novel finalist judge that’s enhanced your understanding of literature?

A: I have learned that different people have different opinions of what makes a good novel. For example, some people prefer lightness combined with sarcastic or absurd events and other people prefer seriousness combined with realistic events. I like either style if done well.

Q: As a Best Novel judge helping to read and discuss each year’s nominees and rank them to select a slate a finalists, what do you look for in a Prometheus nominee?
A: In a Prometheus nominee, I like a story where the protagonist is individualist and the antagonist is collectivist. If nothing like this happens in a novel, then the novel has no point and I’d be better off reading a non-fiction book. In the genre of sci-fi, it’s also important for a novel to include something about science in the future – the more amazing and possible it seems, the better.

Q: What elements – plot, character, pacing, suspense, point of view, etc. – do you believe are the most crucial for a novel to work, whether it fits the sf/fantasy genre or not?

A: William Burton McCormick and I co-wrote KGB Banker with the classic ‘three-act structure’ of set-up, confrontation, and resolution. We wanted to keep open the possibility of changing it into a screenplay in the future. However, I don’t think everyone must use that structure. If an author believes that he can develop his novel with a different structure which better suits what he is trying to communicate, then I say go ahead.

Writing hasn’t always been the same in the past and won’t always be the same in the future. For example, my books are both written in past tense, as most novels are. Is that the best way to do it?

Maybe yes or maybe no.

Neal Stephenson wrote his 1992 breakthrough novel Snow Crash in present tense and wowed readers. Many authors since then prefer present tense.

Turns out different techniques work better for different novels, again depending on what the author is trying to communicate.

Q: How important are good characters to a novel?

A: Regarding characters and suspense, I can say it’s impossible to build suspense without having good characters. If there is a character developed such that the reader gets drawn in and becomes emotionally connected, then putting that character in danger creates suspense.

Conversely, a properly constructed villain must anger or offend the reader so that the reader feels the urgency of defeating this character. The reader is in fear when the villain’s power is growing, and the reader is relieved when the villain in defeated.

Q: How important is it to incorporate romantic elements in a story?

A: Can the author set up a romance so that readers really care? If the author sets up the romance in the beginning, then breaks the romance apart, then reunites the lovers at the end are the readers going to feel emotion?

If the characters are engaging to the reader then this is possible. However, if the characters seem fake then the reader won’t care what happens. Whether they fall in love and become happy or they get blown up by a space laser won’t make a difference.

Read the recently posted first part of the John Christmas interview here.

Note: Look for the third and final part of the John Christmas interview, coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog.

Watch  videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.


Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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