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.