Episode 101: Interview with C S Fritz and Stories of Redemption

In this episode we interview C S Fritz about his intriguing books for upper elementary and middle school children. We also talk about his horror novel (which is being made into a movie!) and stories of redemption.  

Our Guest: Casey (C.S.) Fritz

As a young child, Casey’s family moved to Arizona. It was there beneath the fiery gaze of the Southwestern sun, that he spent most of his life. Graduating

Casey “C.S.” Fritz grew up on a farm in Oregon, where he milked cows and had a pet pig. To escape the endless chores of cleaning chicken coops and watering tomatoes…Casey would draw.

As a young child, Casey’s family moved to Arizona. It was there beneath the fiery gaze of the Southwestern sun, that he spent most of his life. Graduating school, marrying the love of his life and having two wild kids. It was also there that C.S. Fritz’s work began to take traction with local galleries and art publications.

C.S. Fritz now is an award-winning author and illustrator with published titles such as…

The Cottonmouth Trilogy, Good Night Tales, The Moonman Cometh and forthcoming Seekers, and Good Night Classics!

Lastly, Fritz’s debut novel, A Fig For All The Devils (horror) released Halloween 2021

Website: csfritz.art

Books Discussed in this Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have a very special guest: Casey, also known as CS Fritz in his writing. He is a little different from what we usually discuss. He’s not necessarily a picture book writer, but he has written some books that will help you in discipling your kids. He’s also an illustrator and an amazing writer and has some very intriguing books for our older elementary and middle school kids. Thank you Casey, for being here today,

Casey:

I’m honored to do this. Thank you so much for asking.

Terrie:

Your most recent book is the fairytale book, right?

Casey:

Exactly. Yeah.

Terrie:

Tell us a little bit about this book.

Casey:

Yeah. So this book, it’s so funny because I think I signed the contract for this book with the publisher like five years ago. And so talking about this book now, it just feels like the end of such a long, beautiful, but arduous journey to sort of get here. But so Good Night Classics is the sequel to Good Night Tales and the dream that I had and the publisher and I sort of collabed this up, which was basically how do we start giving children something other than–not that this is bad–something other than just redrawing or re-illustrating or retelling Bible stories that were from the Bible. Those are incredible. I love the Bible. I love Jesus, but all we were sort of seeing in the market, especially the Christian market, was, you know, Jesus and Lazarus Jesus and Zacchaeus, Noah’s Ark, which is great. So we wanted to start at least years ago, we did start aiming towards how do we start giving families a treasury of their own of biblically-inspired stories that were done in ways from our childhood: more fanciful, you know, a little bit, you know, it’s kind of the kiss of death if you say this, but a little bit more of a Narnia influence, Lord of the Rings influence as much as we can on a smaller scale for younger children. That brings us to Good Night Classics, like I said, which is the sequel. And the whole hope here was to aid parents in helping families draw out biblical themes, redemptive themes, hope-filled themes from some of the world’s most classic stories. So Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio, Jack and the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, and each one of those obviously highlights foundation greed temptation. And so it’s like, why don’t we just keep drawing these out, redraw them, re-illustrate them and see if we can put this together in such a way that it really helps families, aids families disciple their own children. So that was the ultimate vision. Sorry, that’s the long answer, but that was the ultimate vision with Good Night Classics.

Terrie:

That’s wonderful, because that’s exactly what I talk about on this podcast is how we can take almost any story we read and let the Holy Spirit show us a lesson that we can help, you know, disciple our kids with, and this book is just right along that alley. And I love that. I love also that it is written and illustrated more toward upper elementary age for most kids. That’s the age that would enjoy it the most. I think we miss them. Sometimes we have the board books and picture books that gear more toward the younger ages, and your books are more geared toward that upper middle elementary and middle schoolers. And I love that.

Casey:

Yeah. Thank you.

Terrie:

Would you consider yourself–are you more of an illustrator or are you more of a writer or are you just full-on both? Where, how would you–

Casey:

Well, the funny part is, I don’t think I would consider myself either. I would probably lean towards just this. Maybe this sounds pretentious, so you’ll have to let me know if it does. I just want to lean towards more storytelling and whatever tells the best story. So, you know, I love illustrating, and I also love writing, but at the same time, I don’t do them either enough to say that this is my full-time or this is what I’m most passionate about. What I’m most passionate about is telling a really, really hopefully heavy story with so much light in it that it just sort of breaks through. And so whatever I can do to amp that up, that’s the kind of story I want to tell. And so sometimes I’ll focus just on writing. Sometimes I’ll focus on just being the illustrator and Good Night Classics is probably a good blend of both. So it’s hard for me to identify with either one.

Terrie:

I love that answer actually. That’s really good. Another one of my favorites of your books is the Seekers family devotional. I just love it. Tell us about that one.

Casey:

Oh man. So you’re picking out all the heavy ones. So what’s funny about Seekers is you might be the only person I know who’s ever bought it. Here’s what’s so funny. So I signed a contract for that, like in 2013, and it didn’t get released until I think like a year and a half ago. I don’t remember exactly when it got released, but the whole point was I was approached by the publisher and like, how do we do a discipleship book from families to kids? And I struggled. I was in pastoral vocation ministry for years. And I struggled reading these books. We’re telling you how to disciple your children. And I struggled because not every kid’s the same, not every family unit’s the same. And so I found so many of the things to be not working with what I was trying to do. So I said, why don’t we do a book that rather than telling you how to disciple your children–there’s nothing wrong with that–Why don’t we just give them a moment or two experience where they get the opportunity in that exact moment to disciple their children. So we came up with this idea. They call it “an escape room in a book.” That’s sort of the tagline of Seekers. And the whole point was make ciphers, clues, puzzles, riddles, all that were hidden within the Old Testament and revealed in the New. And so there’s all these different themes: snakes, salt, bread, dirt, dust, water, and all has these biblical imagery of something that happened in the Old Testament and how Jesus is the fulfillment of that and the New. And we made it hard enough where kids couldn’t do it by themselves, but easy enough where hopefully parents could do it with them. And that was the goal. So like you bought Seekers and you handed it to your kid and said, Merry Christmas, and they went off and did it by themselves. That was an absolute failure. The entire point was dad, mom, kid, kid, or dad and kid, whatever it was, you have to do it together. I really think it came out well. And it’s supposed to feel like this, it’s this hidden journal that you found somewhere. And it’s really talking to the reader, which is kind of rare. You know, it’s more it’s telling the story. This one actually is talking to the reader. There’s a lot of fun warnings in it. And things like that. Everything’s handwritten. There’s not a piece of type from a computer anywhere on there. Everything I wrote by hand, really trying to make it super fun, new, unique, but the problem is this–I love the book. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done coming up with ciphers and inventing puzzles and clues, but I just think the problem is–I just don’t think people got it. I don’t think people fully understood what it was. And so I’ve gotten a lot of feedback where people are like, yeah, I just didn’t know what to do with it, or I don’t know how to do it, or it was too hard for me or so on and so forth. So that’s fine. And it’s fine and dandy, but I really think if parents did seize it or families did seize it, I really think it’s a special tool. And I really love that book and really hope that it has some legs to it to really help families do some special things with their family.

Terrie:

Oh, I agree, and it isn’t easy. I think it’s just as challenging for some of the parents. But I think it’s so much fun, and that’s a perfect description of it–“An escape room in a book.” And I love escape rooms. So maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Casey:

Thank you.

Terrie:

But I think it’s great. And I do have older children too. So that’s part of it as well, but I think it’s fantastic.

Casey:

Yeah. It’s definitely geared towards older kids. So I appreciate that.

Terrie:

I have not read the Cottonmouth series. I’m very curious about that. You want to talk about those for a minute?

Casey:

Cottonmouth and the River was my very first book of all time. I was sort of sick and waiting for somebody to give me a manuscript to illustrate. And so I said, I’m just going to go off and write something. And you know, the sort of classic adage is just “write what you want to read.” And so this book sort of poured out of me of this boy, who’s basically alone and orphaned. And, you know, he needs something to sort of crash into his life, and happens to be this Christ-like figure monster who really shows this kid a whole other side of living and a whole other side of darkness. And it’s a book that really talks about sin, sacrifice, redemption and stakes. You know, I hear that eight to 11 year olds more identify with this book. It’s highly visual. It’s all done in black and white. We play a lot with values there, but it’s a whole trilogy set. Now my publishing company actually just bought the rights back from it, and we just are releasing an omnibus of all three. So rather than buying all three. And I think the first one’s completely out of print and hard to find, but if you bought Cottonmouth and the River is now combined with all three of them, the Cottonmouth Trilogy. And it really does this whole redemptive arc of what it means to be saved in Christ and be carried through all the way to the point of mission. I’m really proud of those books. They’re at times kooky, but the whole point was just to get something that dealt with the darker nature of what it means to follow Jesus or of our own sin. And it really shows the stakes of what it means to be redeemed. So very, very proud of that book.

Terrie:

Sounds wonderful. I hear great reviews on The Moonman Cometh, and this one is very intriguing to me. I’ve got to get it and read it. Tell us about that one.

Casey:

The Moonman. I think there’s only like five left total. I also got the rights back for that book. So my own publishing company is trying to get the rights of all of my own books. And so we got Cottonmouth not too long ago, and we just got Moonman. And we’re releasing slowly that, and then going to relaunch a second edition here pretty soon, hopefully this year, but Moonman. So here’s what you just pulled out my secret. So I’m going to share this with you, and hopefully you don’t think I’m too silly, but my secret is, I tell the same story over and over and over. That’s all I do. I literally just tell the same story of brokenness and something incarnate sort of breaking in. That’s the only story I think I really know how to tell because that’s my favorite story and all these from Moonman to Cottonmouth to if we want to talk about the novel are about these children who are raised in pretty abusive households, which is a story from my childhood, very traumatic and just these kids hoping and praying for something or someone to break in and rescue them, which again, just constantly prefigures Christ.

Casey:

And so the Moonman is more of a Christmas setting about this boy on a farm who they’re running out of water and they’re not doing, and his dad’s not around. And there’s a lot of divorce trauma there. And it sounds like a lot for children, but I’m constantly trying to believe and push that children are not only dealing with this, but can handle this and want something to handle this. And this mood Christmas figure by the name of the Moonman, who’s very mysterious. He’s not quite as lovable as the monster in Cottonmouth, but he’s a Christmas character I sort of dreamed up, and he comes in and it’s a really, really, I think, beautiful rendition of the gospel, but done in a new way for children–a Christmas book, but a different sort of tale, very hopefully Dickens-like, and at the same time still has a flavor of all the other books I’ve done. But yeah, Christmas, the Moonman’s a lot of fun.

Terrie:

You also have discussion questions in there as well for families.

Casey:

Yes. And all of my books, except the Cottonmouth ones–they all have discussion questions for families to ask and read at the end. So that’s including Good Night Tales, Good Night Classics, Seekers, and The Moonman Cometh.

Terrie:

That’s great. Well, we have to talk about your novel because it’s gotten a lot of the acclaim. It’s not one I’ve read. It’s not a genre I enjoy. Tell us about it anyway. Because you know, adults listen to this podcast; they’re the ones who are buying the books.

Casey:

Yeah. I was absolutely told not to write this novel by everybody who has any sense in the world, that this would be the career killer of the century for me, because to jump from cute fairytale, Christian children’s books to a novel, which I’ve not yet done, but a horror novel that it just was really, really warned that this is confusing. It’s off brand. You know, there’s no niche to it. And if we know anything about social media these days or whatever it is, it’s to stay in your lane, like do what you do, stay in your lane. This is how you grow an audience. And I was told by many people to have a pen name for this whole novel, I was turned down by all of the publishers I would normally talk to, and nobody would pick it up as an agent. All that to say is I would struggle internally to actually change my name, because the whole point, what I’m trying to show is Christ is within this. Christ is. If Christ can’t be in the horrors of everyday life, then he’s not God at all. And so I wanted to be able to do the type of storytelling I’ve been doing, but take it to the nth degree. I wanted to do it for adults. I wanted to do it for a completely different genre and audience. And I will be the first to say, it’s not for everybody. It has classic horror elements. There is the blood. There is gore. There is heavy, heavy themes. There is hopefully scary parts. That’s the whole point of horror is to give those goosebumps. I hopefully have done it in such a way that, it really, really does honor Christ.

Casey:

And I will just say this: It is a fictionalized memoir to the nth degree. I literally am pulling in people from my life. It takes place in the place I grew up; the home that this character lives in is my exact home. The only thing that’s different is the fanciful elements. All of the horror actually is from my childhood. All the fanciful elements that make this a novel were all taken, you know, were taken from thin air kind of a thing. So, I’m really, it’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of because it was extremely therapeutic, extremely heavy, and wonderful to work through. I will say beyond that though, what’s funny, not funny, but what I’m very proud of is not too long ago, we signed the papers for it to become a film with a UK-based studio. So, it’s in the process of becoming a movie, and it was just nominated for a Benjamin Franklin Award for Best in Horror. And so we’re actually flying to Florida for the awards show. Some of my other books have won awards, but this has gotten the most attention from anything I’ve done out of all the 30 books I’ve ever been a part of. This one has gotten the most attention, and I’m most proud of it because I think it actually amplifies the gospel and the good news of Jesus more than anything combined. So it’s again, different type of storytelling–it is pretty extreme. I can see if you go look at my Amazon reviews, there is probably one poor mom in like Minnesota who loved Goodnight Classics bought this one. And she actually gets on there and she goes, “Do not read this. You’ve been warned. This is not his normal stuff.” And I think she gave me like one star. So I’m just making sure everybody realizes that this isn’t the typical stuff, but it still is the same storytelling device of trying to amplify Christ in the darkness.

Terrie:

That’s great. And it’s called A Fig for All the Devils. Scott Derrickson says Christians should be the ones writing horror because we do have the redemption story to bring into that. And God is in all of the horrors we face in life. So he has the same attitude you do.

Casey:

Yeah. He’s a beacon just for anybody who’s a Christian who likes horror or that sort of genre of storytelling. Scott Derrickson is a massive beacon of going, “Oh no, look it. You can actually do this in a way and still honor Christ.” So I just wanted to make that note. Everybody looks up to Scott if you’re a Christian in the horror business.

Terrie:

That’s cool. Okay. I have to ask about one more of your books. I know you have, you’ve illustrated lots and lots of books, but you have to tell us about Moth, and that will be what we’ll end with as far as talking about your books.

Casey:

Moth was, once I was done with ministry, I had literally 45 or 50 journals just for my years in ministry that just sort of piled up, and I started going through them going, “Oh my gosh. Some of these are stuff I wish I would’ve known. Some of these are funny. Some of these are interesting.” And as I was scouring through them, and so I was like starting to compile them. I was realizing that a lot of these, when I was in ministry, I would’ve never have shared. You, you know, that level of vulnerability is not normal with, pastors and congregants, sheep and shepherds. And so I just, I was like, “I’m not in ministry. There’s nothing holding me back.” And so how helpful this could be for somebody who is in ministry but needs an outlet or it’s okay to think these things, or God is still in the midst of this void less feeling that you feel at times. And so I just compiled, I think like a hundred things that I found interesting that could be shared and highly designed it in such a way that we also wanted to model, you know, a cool way to do books. This was the start of our publishing company. It was the very first book we did. So we wanted to do something kind of fun. So Moth was born in a fun size. It’s all black pages with white writing, and the whole idea of moth of being, you know, it’s from that line and Job where “You’ve called me out of my darkness into the light” sort of reveals the sort of moth theme. That was really my first territory–and A Fig for All the Devils came much later, but that was sort of my first territory of leaving children’s ministry and trying to produce stuff that is still heavy in nature, but at the same time, completely saturated with the love of Jesus. And so Moth is a lot of fun. We also tried to make Moth hard to find. You can only find it on our Albatross website. It’s not on Amazon because we want it to be something that people really intentionally wanted to get. So yeah, I’m proud of it.

Terrie:

We’ll have a link to your website in the show notes as well. So people can go there and find that. Well, what would you say to the mom who’s listening to this podcast who has come from trauma, abuse in her past, and she’s trying to be a godly mom, a godly wife. What encouragement could you give her today?

Casey:

I think the trying is half the battle. Just the fact that they want to be is half the battle. So whoever you are, if that is your ultimate goal is to raise your children in the nurturing and the admonition of the Lord or to bear the name of father or mother just as God does, and to realize that responsibility is truly one of the greatest hills to climb. And then beyond that, what advice I would give is: the greatest thing you can give your children, your family, your church, your community is the healthiest version of yourself. And that sounds almost counterintuitive or selfish at times. But giving somebody our half heart, giving somebody our half mind, giving somebody an unhealthy version is sort of just the continuation of “Hurt people hurt people” or passing around a disease. But if we are working first and foremost on our own mind and soul and heart, and constantly nailing that to the cross and devoting that and modeling healthy boundaries and modeling passion and modeling faithfulness, that is what our kids will take. That is what our kids will latch onto. It wasn’t the lectures that they’re going to remember that you gave them on a Friday night when they came home late. It’s going to be, “I remembered my mother every single morning was sitting at the coffee table with her Bible.” Or “I remember my dad, every time something hit the fan, he would just be right there saying let’s pray.” And so a life of faithfulness and a life of health is the greatest gift you can offer any single child or member in that family.

Terrie:

That’s wonderful. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Casey:

Just if anybody reads A Fig for All the Devils don’t judge me. Don’t read the prologue and give up. If you don’t read it to the end, then you’re going to hate me. But if you read it to the end, you’re going to get. Don’t judge me.

Terrie:

Well, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing with us. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.

Casey:

Same, thank you so much.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Casey, you can find him at his website, which is csfritz.art. And there you can find all his books and the Moth book that we mentioned that is difficult to find other places. You can only find it on his website, and his other books are available on Amazon and other book sellers, but you can find out more about him on this website and about his publishing company and what they’re doing. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or leave a comment on TerrieHellardBrown.com. We have our show notes there for this podcast, and we welcome your questions and comments.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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