Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with local author, Steve Stranghoener about his new book Cha-Cha Chandler: Teen Demonologist. Here’s a recap of our conversation.
Lisa Miller (LM): Steve, I don’t mean to rub you the wrong way, but your books seem to be out of character for someone who bills himself as a Christian author under the tagline, “Christian Mysteries … Where Christianity and pop culture collide.”
Steve Stranghoener (SS): No offense taken, Lisa. It’s a fair observation. Many of my friends wonder how, as a Christian author, I can write about a sadistic serial killer in Asunder, a lunatic werewolf on a bloodthirsty spree in Murder By Chance and a man brought back to life in The Last Prophet series with warnings portending doom and the world’s end. Even my “tame” fantasy, Tracts in Time, which involves time travel through a human memory portal, steps beyond boundaries where most church ladies wouldn’t venture. Now I’m tackling demon possession. It doesn’t sound very Christian, eh?
LM: You’re reading my mind. So what gives?
SS: I write from a Christian perspective, but that doesn’t mean I see the world through rose colored glasses. Yes, I want to write material that inspires and uplifts people, but I have an obligation as a fiction writer to entertain, and I want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Furthermore, I like to dispel the notion that Christians are self-righteous, “perfect” do-gooders. Hospitals are for sick people, right? Christ didn’t come to save righteous people. He came to rescue poor, miserable sinners like me. In general, we Christians are just like everyone else and are capable of the most despicable behavior possible. The only thing that sets us apart is something we don’t earn or deserve; a goodness outside of us … the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us. So yeah, anyway, I carry a Christian message, but it’s wrapped up in some pretty weird packages.
LM: Cha-Cha Chandler: Teen Demonologist, the title alone is fascinating. Where did you come up with this idea?
SS: I’m always looking for something new and interesting, so I decided to take a fresh look at demon possession from the perspective of a middle-aged housewife. All of my protagonists have been male. Why not give the ladies a shot? Is there any reason why I shouldn’t be able to reflect the thoughts, feelings, and desires of a female heroine?
LM: I can tell that your tongue is planted firmly in cheek. I won’t offend your machismo by asking how you channeled your inner female but, seriously, how were you able to meet the challenge of developing a female character like Cha-Cha?
SS: Cha-Cha is an homage to my daughter who was a high school cheerleader. As for middle-aged Chelsea, I did the same thing I do with most of my main characters. I take bits and pieces from people I’ve known and experiences I’ve had and weave them together with a little embellishment here and there. Characters should be unique, but believable — real world. Chelsea had some really bizarre episodes in her teen years that put her in the spotlight, but then she finds peace and purpose as a traditional wife running her household and raising her kids. She’s faced with a life crisis when the kids leave the nest for college and everything becomes mundane and meaningless. She longs for a new purpose and some excitement. It’s then that she gets much more than she bargained for when dark, supernatural powers turn her life upside down.
LM: There’s another character who is very intriguing, A-Maze-Ing Marsha Maze. Surely you don’t know anyone in real life who is that off the wall.
SS: Well, she is another amalgam, but believe it or not, there are really some people like her in the world. One of my best friends could be called the male version of Marsha. One of my wife’s BFFs sometimes behaves in a manner that could make some people think she’s demon possessed. Call me lucky, but strange birds seem to gravitate toward me or vice versa.
LM: Why the term demonologist rather than exorcist?
SS: I don’t like the term exorcist and purposefully avoided it. It conjures up too many unwanted images from Blatty’s The Exorcist and Friedkin’s movie The Exorcist. I wanted Cha-Cha to be different and true to life.
LM: Wasn’t Blatty’s Exorcist based on a true story?
SS: Yes, it was purportedly based on an exorcism of a young man right here in St. Louis in the 1940s. As far as I know, it was accurate in portraying the supernatural power of the demon that inhabited the boy. The demons in Teen Demonologist also perform some other worldly acts, but the difference is in how Cha-Cha addresses the demons. What I don’t like about The Exorcist is the impression it leaves that the power to drive out demons is solely vested in a particular church hierarchy, employing secret, superstitious rites. So yes, exorcist is a dirty word that I tried to avoid in Cha-Cha’s story.
LM: So then, what is the essence of Cha-Cha Chandler? What is the message you’re trying to convey?
SS: Again, my goal is to entertain, so I hope my readers will find the mystery compelling and intriguing. Beyond that, I want everyone to know the nature of evil and to be wary since it is very real; There are spiritual dangers and dark powers that we can encounter in this life. More importantly, while there is reason to be vigilant and cautious, I want this story to be uplifting. There is no need to live in fear because “greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.”
LM: One last question — I’d like to give you a chance to tell your readers what is unique about Cha-Cha Chandler: Teen Demonologist.
SS: It’s a story of demon possession, but within that construct, it’s also a tale about enduring friendship. True friends are those that stick with us through thick and thin. You’ll see that in Cha-Cha and Marsha. The difference is that most of us will never have our friendships tested in quite the same way. Another thing that stands out is the appendix I’ve added. There’s one section that explains the true story behind Cha-Cha Chandler, so you can judge the veracity for yourself. I’ve also included sort of a demonologist’s primer for anyone out there who might want to put on Cha-Cha’s mantle and fight a spiritual battle of their own.
Oh, there’s one more thing before we close. Thank you very much for the opportunity to get the word out about Cha-Cha Chandler: Teen Demonologist. I appreciate and applaud what you do at Walrus Publishing to promote and publish local, St. Louis authors. Keep up the good work!
You can pick up your copy of Cha-Cha on Amazon! Please include a review once you’ve finished.