Friday, October 31, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I'm especially greatful to Bryan for being my initial contact with the Motiv8 authors and for him recommending me to join them this year. Bryan walks the talk and is a great example as a caring father and committed Christian. This week I'd like to provide you with a short interview with Bryan. If you haven't checked out his Dragons in our Midst series yet, you need to. Fortunately for you he is finishing the 8th book in the series now... so if you get started then you'll be able to have the complete series soon!
Q. What was the inspiration behind the "Dragons in our Midst" series?
Q. You've written four books in this series. Are there any more books coming up?
A. Tears of a Dragon is the last book in the Dragons in our Midst series. I’m writing a new series called Oracles of Fire. The first book, Eye of the Oracle, will be a prequel to Dragons in our Midst, and the second book, Enoch’s Ghost, and the following books will be sequels. The new series will have the same basic story world, but a couple of the minor characters from the first series will step up and become major characters.
Q. Can you name some people/authors whose works have influenced you? If so, can you say in what way these people have influenced your life and your work?
The works of Francis Schaeffer had an impact on me. The God Who is There and He is There, and He is not Silent are two that come to mind. I enjoy careful, analytical thought, and Schaeffer was a master in that field. I try to carry that kind of thinking into my stories, and those who read my fantasy series will find that they are far more than children’s fairy tales.
Q. Does your faith influence the way you write? Would you like to elaborate on this?
I believe in the overwhelming power God gives us for holy living. My characters struggle in many non-sinful ways and find the power to overcome. I like successful heroes. God gives us victory in Christ, so it makes sense to write that way. And feedback from my readers indicates that they relate to the great struggles my characters go through, and they are inspired by my characters' successes. I believe this portrayal of obedient faith is what is truly real and honest.
Q. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing these books and getting them published?
Between agents and publishers I collected about two hundred rejection notices, which I might use to wallpaper my office someday. I rewrote the first book about twenty-four times, changing it drastically in some of the rewrites. I think I made it even more radical as time went on, perhaps thinking that it might just end up as a story for myself and my family.
I finally met Dan Penwell of AMG Publishers. He had already contracted with me for a non-fiction book called The Image of a Father, and although AMG had never produced fiction, he took interest in my weird dragons story. AMG liked it so much, they started a fiction line with the series, and it has become their best selling line of books.
Q. Some Christians are a bit scared of fantasy works. I know of some who do think that it is opening the door to an unseen world. What is your take on this and what would you say to encourage Christians to embrace Christian Fantasy and Science Fiction?
Most people see dragons as a symbol of evil. Why did you decide to make "good" and "bad" dragons?
Well, I think that dragons are rightly a symbol of evil. But we have to remember that Job chapter 41 tells us that God created Leviathan. He describes it as one of His greatest creations and He uses it to reveal His power. If you read that passage carefully, Leviathan has armored scales and breathes fire. It sounds just like a fire breathing dragon. That's certainly where the authors who have described such beasts got their inspiration, from this creature of God. God created this being in order to show His power. Now, I don’t believe that God created anything for the purpose of being born evil. Angels were created and some of them fell. They weren’t created to be evil, but some of them chose evil and fell. I'm putting dragons in the same mold, as a symbolic parallel to angels. They were created to be good; some of them fell. The greatest evil figure in all the world, and in all of the Bible, is a fallen angel, and the symbol of the fallen angel is a dragon. But why can’t there be good dragons as well? Some people would say that dragons are a symbol of evil. The Bible calls Satan a dragon. Therefore, all dragons are evil. Well, the fallacy there is Satan also appears as an angel of light. Does that mean that all angels of light are evil? I don’t think so. I wanted to make that angelic parallel, and it becomes even clearer in the third book, called Circles of Seven. Billy’s going to face a tremendous decision, and he'll have to discern between good and evil dragons. It’s such a great story.
I like how you interweaved Christian faith in your story, but didn’t "hit people over the head with it." Did you find it hard to strike that balance?
It really wasn’t that hard because it’s been my desire for a long time to be able to say, "I just want to tell a story that is filled with Christ." There is no soapbox; no one is standing there shaking a finger, preaching at you. I want to have a natural flow of Christian thought and Christian love, without having to say "Jesus loved you and died for your sins." It’ll flow out naturally. The reason I’m doing that is because so many people get turned off with the shaking finger and the soapbox sermon. But as we get to later books in the series, the Christian message of the blood salvation of Christ is going to come out a little more clearly. We want to hook our readers and not turn them off with a fire and brimstone, or an "Are you saved by the blood?" kind of message. It will come out later. I think you probably can tell that Bonnie is clearly a Christian, and Billy is probably not. He's got a lot of questions because he’s never been taught right. He’s in between because his father, being the dragon, revered the Bible, but he didn’t feel like he was a fallen creature that needs to be saved. This is one of these deep mysteries that I don’t think kids will get but I want adults to think about.
I’d like to see another contemporary/fantasy blend like mine. I think young people of today relate to a world they recognize, and they enjoy seeing weird happenings within it.
Q.Would you like to share some of the lessons you've learned in your journey as a writer and as a published author?
I will never forget that lesson! God is my sufficiency, and I have learned not to sweat a lot of the issues that used to cause me concern.
Monday, October 20, 2008
It was a blast meeting Wayne on the tour. You know you've bonded with someone when you're able to spend 12-hours a day in a van or event, eat every meal together, and yes (being good stewards of the publisher's funds) even share a "KING" size bed. Okay, okay... what do I know about Wayne? Wayne writes adventures set in imaginative locales because he believes that on a deep level, we all dream of doing something that matters and that we all long for another world. Wayne is a 6th grade Middle School teacher and knowing him now I would have done anything to have him as my teacher when I was that age (brrrr... I cringe thinking of Mrs. "O" from those days!)
But hey... why don't we do a little Q & A to get to know him more... shall we?
Q: Why did you write a fantasy instead of a contemporary story about middle school kids? I mean, you obviously know them well.
Fantasy is absolutely my passion. I’ve always loved tales of knights and dragons, exotic settings, and great feats of valor! And in traditional fantasy, I find the sort of world I’d like to live in. Honor and kindness are revered. Simple lives of tending gardens, working with your hands, and gathering around a table with friends at a pub—I long for such things. I mean, sure, running into a pesky dragon while taking out the trash would be a little inconvenient, but still…
Q: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Actually, I don’t write Christian speculative fiction. I write fiction that is informed by my identity as a Christian. I know that sounds like semantics, but really, it’s not. If I’m a Christian and a mechanic, and I fix your car…was it a Christian Repair? If the manager at the local McDonalds is a Christian, and I make a purchase there, do I get a Christian Happy Meal? See my point? I am a Christian and Jesus is everything to me. He is my worldview and my life. When I write, I pray that HE comes shining through. But I am NOT writing just for Christians to read. I want everyone to be able to read and enjoy my books on multiple levels: surface and deep. At the surface, come and enjoy a heart-pounding adventure in an enchanting realm. But go deeper than that. See the big questions. Be a thoughtful reader. My thought is, if I get people asking the questions for which Jesus is the only answer, then, I’ve done well.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Door Within series?
The Door Within Trilogy (DWT) came out of two distinct events. The base concept of the story, though I didn’t know it at the time, came from an encounter I had as a new Christian. I felt compelled to tell some important people I knew about Jesus, so I summoned the courage and went to them.
I laid it all on the line, spilled my guts with such fervor that I was literally shaking. I expected disagreement, argument, or just plain denial. But nothing prepared me for the reaction: they laughed. And it wasn’t just laughter, but it was that condescending “isn’t he cute?” kind of laughter. Insert dagger and twist. That pain stuck with me for a LONG time, and so, when I began to write, the first story that suggested itself was one that would be carried by a protagonist who discovered something akin to a cure for cancer…and yet, no one would believe it.
The between worlds aspect of DWT came from a challenge my students threw back at me. Teaching 6th and 7th grade Language Arts in Anne Arundel County Maryland, I assigned a short story to my students. I made it a contest. And for those who could not think of an initial story concept, I made a bulletin board with very evocative pencil/charcoal drawings—The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Well, the students, wonderful cherubs that they are, indignantly challenged me: “Mr. Batson, you make us do all the work, writing these stories. Why don’t you write one?!” So, using one of the drawings as inspiration, I began a 17 page short story called The Faith of a Child. Though most elements in the story have since changed, that short story became The Door Within.
Q: What message do you want readers to get from reading "The Door Within" trilogy?
#1 The nature of faith: it begins with persuasion. You recognize something as true. You accept its basis in fact. “You believe the bridge is strong.” But in faith there is also an element of risk that MUST be involved or you’ll never know how real it is. “You have to step on out there. Walk across the bridge. Trust that it will support you.”
#2 God can make use of failures. Aidan is no hero in the classic sense, but King Eliam uses him mightily.
#3 Putting God off or refusing to decide whether you believe or not is in reality choosing not to believe—The Glimpses with eyes that glint green. In the end, there is only faith or no faith. The superband RUSH said it this way: “If you choose not to decide, you’ll still have made a choice.”
#4 The reality of adventures to come in Heaven. I won’t give away too much here, but that is one message I hope readers will take to heart. When we die, the adventure has just begun. We will not be sitting around in heaven playing harps like in the cartoons. God the creator of all things will have plenty of surprises for us. I imagine each of us will spend a thousand years just saying, “COOL!!” over and over and over…
Q: Are your books influenced by your own childhood in any way?
I think so. Aidan is a lot like I was when I was in my tweens. Creative, hopeful, and thoughtful—but not very outgoing. I always longed for adventure, but most of mine were in my imagination. Aidan’s fear of Robby’s Basement came straight out of my own childhood fear. My parents had a split basement. The unfinished side, the workside as we called it, was the creepiest place on the planet. I was always afraid that some creature lurked in its shadowy confines—that it waited for someone to venture too close to the open door. I used to leap over the side of the stairs onto a couch to avoid going by that basement door.
Q: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
I am thoroughly frustrated by product placement in both CBA and ABA stores. I know there are a lot of hands involved in determining where a book goes: marketers, distributors, branch managers—and even a local clerk can trump them all by putting a book wherever. Lol
In CBA stores, fiction often gets lumped together with Nursery Rhymes and Beginners Bibles. Come on, dude…if you’re a teenager looking for a book, are you even going to consider something next to A Very Veggie Christmas?
In ABA stores, you often see great Christian SpecFic titles tossed into teeny tiny “Religious Fiction” sections. Yes, the place where no one sees it. That’s another reason why I don’t like delineating my work as Christian Fiction—if I do, it’s just that much easier to get thrown in with New Age Fiction or Taoism. If I do have Christ’s message to share, the books need to be where people can see them. You don’t see Phillip Pullman’s books being pulled from mainstream fiction for a special “Atheistic Fiction” section. Tolkien and Lewis can be found in both sections—religious and main stream. Maybe dual designation is what we should be looking for. Hmmm…
Q: How did you involve your students in the process as you wrote this book?
Fifteen years of students from three different Maryland counties and six different middle schools helped to shape The Door Within. They were my sounding board and my encouragers. In 1992, when The Door Within was only a 17 page short story, my 6th graders pestered me to make it longer...until I did. Then, they helped me to know what parts of the story interested them or made a personal connection. The kids seemed to enjoy being able to critique the teacher's work instead of the other way around. And those discussions took the kids into an amazingly sophisticated level of understanding of literature that they would not ordinarily have attained. "Mr. Batson, you need more foreshadowing in that chapter" or "Mr. Batson, I found that allusion to The Hobbit when Aidan said..." or "There's not enough description in this section. I just couldn't see it." These are 10, 11, and 12 year olds analyzing literature and thinking critically. Good stuff! And in the end, as I flirted with a publishing contract, nailed it down, and began the real process of editing, my students were there to share the suspense, excitement, and frustrations. And when my new batch of students comes in this year, I imagine they will exult in the finished product just as I do.
Q: Adults tend to pass over Young Adult books, thinking they are too simplistic in nature to be satisfying. Personally, I have found many of my most profound reads in this genre. What do you think adults can learn from Young Adult literature?
Grrrr…you hit upon a sore point for me. The same folks who think YA lit. is simplistic are the same characters who underestimate the capabilities and intellect of our kids. Kids are far more perceptive and intelligent than most would believe—and the books they read deal with REAL issues, issues that matter to them with a passion that is hard to imagine.
I think that adults can gain a lot from YA Lit. Especially they can regain their youth, their creativity, their dreams. To quote Gandalf when he spoke about the Ents, the tree people who had become stiff and too tree-ish: “they [parents] will awaken and find that they are strong.”
Q: Any musical inspirations that help you write?
I have strange musical tastes. While writing though, I listen to progressive heavy metal. I know what you’re thinking: a.) How can you possibly concentrate with that noisy music? But Prog Metal is really quite classical and symphonic. It’s also driving and epic—an adventure in every song. b.) And, secondly, isn’t that evil? I choose here to respectfully agree to disagree with my Christian peers who think that a particular style of music is inherently evil. The bands I listen to may not all be Christian, but they are mostly positive or ask the big questions of life. My particular favorites are The Orphan Project, Angra, Dream Theater, and Evanescence. Oh, and I like Yo-Yo Ma too.
Q: If a movie was made, based on The Door Within Trilogy, what actors would you have as the lead roles?
Ah, too fun! Here’s my potential cast:
Aidan Thomas: some unknown lad, soft-spoken but tough as nails. Maybe Josh Hutcherson (though he’s quite well-known now).
Antoinette Lynn Reed: again, an unknown, but she must have serious inner fire.
Captain Valithor: Sean Connery. Please, God, let them make the movie while Sean is still with us!
Falon the Mortiwraith: I’d like her to be voiced by Eartha Kitt the voice of Yzma in Emperor’s New Groove.
Paragor/Paragal: This may seem weird, but I’d cast myself in this role. I’ve read his most intense scenes like “Traitor’s Legacy” so many times, I feel like I just know his flaws and his arrogance. If not me, then Sean Bean or Richard Armitage.
Mallik: Gerard Butler, the Scotsman who played Beowulf
Sir Rogan: my buddy Dan who, I’m convinced, is part Viking.
Thanks, Wayne for the great interview.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
He's the one to the far left. I let him know that one of my favorite characters in the book is named after him.
To the right are two girls who are new readers of the "Ryann Watters" series.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Today was the Reedley High School stop and Downtown Arts Festival. In between, we stopped for an unbelievable 5 course meal at Christopher Hopper's publisher's house - Pam Schwagerl. Here we are on her front porch. (Why am I bending over?)
After dinner, we went downtown and set up for an outdoor book signing. We talked to a good number of readers and parents, before calling it a night at 8:30 (actually we went for ice cream after that at the Tasty Freeze), because we need to get up at 4:15 am to head down to L.A. ..ugh!
THIS GREAT MOM WON THE AWARD FOR THE MOST BOOKS PURCHASED BY ONE PERSON!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Following our visit to the hospital, we headed out for lunch to Pizza Hut, where we relaxed until our visit to the READ-Fresno Charity Event, at the Bigby Village Apartment Complex. You can see two of the tour members at an NBC Channel 24 News Interview here: http://www.ksee24.com/programming/cvt/30567134.html?video=YHI&t=a
Besides information on the charity event at this inner city reading program, there is information about the tour and of course, a sword fight!
At the housing development, we gave out book markers to the kids, let them hold our swords, had dramatic readings, sword fights, a drawing for tons of prizes and of course signed books to give away (provided through the support of Character-4-kids).
READ Fresno provided a Blow up Jumper House, food, and music.
After the event we took off again for a Berean Christian Bookstore and our last event for the day. We had a fund time talking with the kids that showed up as well as interacting with those on the internet.
Donita K. Paul and Eric Reinhold with two new readers of our books!
The last item on the agenda was visiting an "In and Out" Burger chain. We had heard about them relentlessly from Christopher Hopper and the decision was made to stop in at 9 pm for their unique burger. Mmmmm... is the best way to describe it :) Fresh ingredients, grilled onions, a special Thousand Island Dressing and so much more.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Yeas and Nays...