"Payne and Mix's plot is compelling and filled with dramatic tension, and the story is virtually impossible to put down. The Academy is most highly recommended." -- Reader's Favorite
"Original and spellbinding...Stunningly written, as influential as The Shack..." -- Review Broads
"Brilliantly written...The ending is engaging and I absolutely loved this story..." -- Five Star Books
"An impressively written and thoroughly entertaining read from beginning to end..." -- Midwest Book Review
Q&A with Ryan Mix and J.T. Payne Authors of The Academy
Co-author Ryan Mix
1) Talk about how the book came about.
Ryan: About ten years ago, my co-author, J.T. Payne, had a general idea of a book about a Christian school with dark secrets. It was one of those bucket-list goals for him to write a book, and he told me about a few of his ideas for it, but nothing ever really materialized. We both moved away from our hometown and ended up doing our own things. Over the years, I would sometimes get involved in deep conversations with various people about their Christian viewpoints. I generally found that most people simply try to defend their belief system without considering someone else’s point of view. It was surprising how many people didn’t know what to believe or why they believed what they did, even though there are countless books and resources out there on apologetics, theories, and history. The problem I saw with all of those resources is that they are not usually entertaining reads. The best way to teach a lesson or to explain a point is the way Jesus taught, which was to use stories, and I found there were very few books out there that did that effectively. I thought about a general storyline that could accomplish this goal and remembered J.T.’s idea about a hypocritical Christian school. This seemed to lend perfectly to the idea I had in mind because, many people form their belief systems in high-school. I thought exploring hypocrisy in a fictitious Christian high school would be a unique angle that I had not seen before. It would provide the entertainment value needed, but also enough twists and turns to get people from all walks of life to think critically. I approached J.T. about writing the book together and we agreed.
2) What inspired the story?
Ryan: I have grown up in the Christian environment all of my life and know first-hand that there is a huge demand for quality Christian entertainment, but often not enough supply to meet that demand. I wanted to create a method to get people engaged and allow them to think about things from all angles. I decided that a thought-provoking story with characters that real people could relate to might be very impacting way to accomplish that.
J.T.: The story was inspired by, but not based on, our time attending a Christian high school and Christian college. We grew tired of hearing the rumors and statements that Christians don't live in the real world and that we held on to faith instead of facts. We also wanted to combat several Christian stereotypes, sadly based in reality. We face these head on by contrasting them in the story with examples of Christians who portray the correct example of Christianity: an imperfect person, forgiven by their creator to live a life of joy in spite of hardships and heartbreak. The example Jesus gave us, and the people who humbly follow His teachings was the greatest inspiration of all.
Co-author J.T. Payne
3) The book is quite suspenseful. What kind of a background do you (two) have in writing? Ryan: I have a degree in film and TV production so I’ve taken screenwriting courses and have written and produced several short films. Several of those short films, I co-wrote with J.T., and we’ve always been able to come up with some creative moments together. I also lived in Los Angeles for a little while and got a better feel for story-telling there. I’d be lying if I said that we are story-telling experts, though. The book was very hard to write, and took us 3 1/2 years to complete. Neither one of us had written one before, but we knew we could come up with good ideas so we just focused on developing creative storylines and characters and allowed the writing to form naturally. We worked diligently every week, although we were terribly inefficient at times, wasting a lot of time writing details that eventually got deleted and ideas that just didn’t work. At the end of the day, the best thing we did was set up a focus group of beta readers and editors to listen to their feedback. If we didn’t have the feedback from other readers and writers, we wouldn’t have been able to identify the holes and fix the slow parts of the story. We just put our noses to the grindstone and never quit until we felt it was perfect.
J.T.: I have always been able to express myself much better through the written word. I never shared this with my co-author, but actually, I wrote quite a bit as a child, until I was 13. I wrote about murder, mysteries and dark twisted tales. Until one night, my parents left to pick up my sister from a youth rally. Shortly after they left, I heard two gunshots up the street. (We did not live in the best of neighborhoods.) Somehow, I got into my mind that my parents had been murdered. An hour later, my family had still not returned home. I ran to my room and destroyed all of my writings, throwing them into the fireplace and setting them ablaze. I made a promise to God that night that if I ever wrote a story again, it would be about Him. My parents returned home minutes later, delayed by a flat tire. This is the first story I have written since that night.
4) What is the main point of the book? What do you hope readers will get out of the story? Ryan: The main point of the story is to inspire people to think for themselves. Even though the book has a Christian message, we still tried to make the story “anti-Christian” so even Christians would be forced to question why they believe and do certain things. We tried to flip all stereotypes and clichés on their heads so readers cannot assume anything and are forced to question what is coming next. We tried to tell a daring story unlike any storyline that’s been done before, and we want people to find it believable, relatable, and inspiring.
J.T.: Above all, to love others first, without conditions. Secondly, to seriously think about why you believe what you do. Third, to encourage Christians to combine their convictions, beliefs and faith into their real lives, and to live their lives based on biblical principals instead of emotional persuasion.
5) Any correlations between the story and your real life? Ryan: This is a question I’m sure we’ll hear a lot because J.T. and I did graduate from a private Christian Academy in a southern Bible-belt town. Because we were writing this story together, we had to write what we were familiar with so many of the characters and locations are inspired by people or places we both knew. The “villainous” characters were completely contrived, though. The events are also completely fictional, as nothing like what happened in the book actually happened to us personally. Many of the circumstances and scandals were inspired by real-life events that we have heard about on the news at different times, but nothing we experienced first-hand.
6) Who do you believe is your targeted audience for this book? Ryan: The message it contains and the circumstances that arise are primarily aimed at Christians, however, the book is written in such a way that anyone could find it relatable. Because our target audience is Christians, we tried to take a bold new approach that they may have never seen before by making about 75% of the book “anti-Christian,” so it will build tension for them, while giving non-Christians something to relate to as well.
7) A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the book are going to a specific charity. Which charity and why? Ryan: Human trafficking is the second largest illegal industry on the planet, trumped only by the drug trade. I recently traveled to Iraq to help film a documentary about the devastation human beings can inflict on one another. We
traveled with a well-organized and trained security team comprised of former U.S.
Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and intelligence agents watching our movements. Our
main objective was to interview and capture stories of refugees who have
escaped from ISIS, specifically those who were taken for sex-trade. With their
stories, we will be able to clearly illustrate to the world what is really
going on and how people can help. ISIS makes one million dollars per day
through human trafficking, making it one of their largest revenue streams. As
they overtake a village, they kill all the men who do not convert to Islam, and
kidnap women and girls who they can enslave to do domestic chores or to sell
for sex. The Academy book sales will help support the U.S.-based charity, Visibly Unseen, which helps victims of trafficking here in the states as well as partners with other organizations who specialize in stopping human trafficking.
Official Press Release:
Two young writers enter the genre of Christian fiction with a suspense novel that is 75% anti-Christian
For Immediate Release – First-time authors Ryan Mix and J.T. Payne held nothing back from their initial endeavor into Christian fiction with the new book, The Academy, releasing from Rossling Publishers and distributed by Ingram. Abortion, drugs, suicide, evolution, and death are just a few of the concepts the main character encounters at a fictitious Christian school. The Academy has a suspense element that both Mix and Payne wanted to create to keep readers on their toes. They admit to intentionally making “75% of the book anti-Christian,” but they had a good reason for doing so.
“We tried to take a bold new approach,” says Mix. “We wanted to build tension for Christians reading the book by flipping stereotypes and clichés on their heads so readers cannot assume anything and are forced to question what is coming next. But we also wanted to offer a storyline that might draw in non-Christians as well. Jesus taught in parables all the time in order to get people to think about spiritual things."
The Academy tells the story of a student who, after accidently uncovering many dark, hypocritical practices at his Christian high school, begins to question Christianity itself, while struggling to survive the perilous aftermath of his discovery. “We set out to do something that we have not seen in other Christian fiction books,” explains Mix. “We intentionally make the faith look bad so readers must justify why they believe it.”
Mix is from Billings, Montana and Payne is from Nashville, Tennessee, and they have been friends since sixth grade. They wrote the book over a three year time span, using Facebook and Google Drive as their main communication tools. Both admit to being new to the writing process, but knew they had a good story to tell. Payne admits his writing talents used to have a darker side.
“I never shared this with Ryan,” says Payne, “but I wrote quite a bit as a child, until I was 13. I wrote about murder, mysteries and dark, twisted tales. Until one night, my parents left to pick up my sister from a youth rally. Shortly after they left, I heard two gunshots up the street. (We did not live in the best of neighborhoods.) Somehow, I got into my mind that my parents had been murdered. An hour later, my family had still not returned home. I ran to my room and destroyed all of my writings, throwing them into the fireplace and setting them ablaze. I made a promise to God that night that if I ever wrote a story again, it would be about Him. My parents returned home minutes later, delayed by a flat tire. This is the first story I have written since that night.”
Due to their backgrounds as students in Christian schools, Mix and Payne have already been asked by their peers if the story is true.
“The story was inspired by, but not based on, our time attending a Christian high school and Christian college,” says Payne. “We grew tired of hearing the rumors and statements that Christians don't live in the real world and that we held on to faith instead of facts. We also wanted to combat several Christian stereotypes, sadly based in reality. We face these head on by contrasting them in the story with examples of people who portray the correct examples of Christianity.”