Please Welcome…Bryan Davis
(*Originally posted September 2007)
What a joy to have Christian author Bryan Davis as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Bryan Davis is the author of two best-selling fantasy series, Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire. He has been a full-time author for about four years, following a twenty-year career as a computer professional. Since he and his wife, Susie, have seven children, his stories focus on a ten to sixteen-year-old target audience, but, since the stories have great depth, adults enjoy them, too. Bryan lives in rural Western Tennessee with his wife and his four youngest children.
I had the honor of doing some editorial work on Bryan’s novel Enoch’s Ghost. I found him to be a skilled craftsman and a wonderfully creative author. He seemed to be able to effortlessly bring the story to marvelously archetypal moments, giving the book a naturally epic feel.
Bryan is a tireless promoter of his novels. He spends much of his time speaking to schools, libraries, and home school groups around the country. This is one of the main reasons his excellent books have become the successes they are. Bryan was one of the four Christian authors who toured as part of the Fantastic Four Book Tour in the summer of 2007.
I’ve had the priviledge of sitting on a few editorial panels with Bryan at writer’s conferences. He’s intelligent, friendly, encouraging, and insightful. I also loved watching his daughter walk around the conference in a beautiful medieval riding cape.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Bryan Davis: At the beginning of 2007, I finished Enoch’s Ghost, book two in the Oracles of Fire series, published by AMG. That book came out in July. During the spring, I wrote Beyond the Reflection’s Edge, the first book in a new series called Echoes from the Edge. That book will come out, the Lord willing, in May of 2008, published by Zondervan.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Bryan Davis: It’s probably Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis. I loved how Mr. Lewis put deep truths into a simple story and in such a way as to engage well-read adults. For Christians, how the story elements parallel spiritual truths is fairly evident, yet the “messages” don’t feel like sermons. I wanted to try to do the same. I had not seen anyone else write in a way that entertains youth while incorporating unabashed spiritual truth. I thought it was time to try it in a way that would feel more up-to-date for a modern reader.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Bryan Davis: It started with a dream about a boy who could breathe fire. I wasn’t a fantasy fan at the time, and I’m still pretty picky about which fantasy stories I like, so it didn’t occur to me that this was a story idea until I told my oldest son about the dream. He suggested that I make it into a fantasy novel.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Bryan Davis: My children were excited about it, as were all young readers who gave it a look. But publishers and agents thought it was: a) not marketable, b) inappropriate, c) evil, and/or d) what—are you crazy? I survived seven years and two hundred rejections before Raising Dragons got published.
WhereTheMapEnds: Two hundred rejections on one novel? My goodness, but you’re persistent. Aspiring writers, take note: Bryan believed in his story so much that he weathered 200 rejections and still stood by it. Do you have that kind of commitment? Better to find out now. Okay, Bryan, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Bryan Davis: I enjoy reading and writing fantasy that has a real world feel, something that has Earth beings as the main characters. I usually don’t enjoy works that take place in other worlds in which every character or creature is completely different than those I’m familiar with. All those strange names get stuck in my mind, and the world building often gets tedious.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Bryan Davis: It’s small but growing. When Raising Dragons came out in June of 2004, I could count recent fantasy novels from CBA on one hand and have a finger or two left over. Now I would have to count fingers and toes and still jot a few strokes on a separate page to count them all.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Bryan Davis: I am encouraged that publishers are willing to take a chance on speculative fiction, that they see value in something that isn’t yet a mature market. That means they might not break even. Stepping out on faith is a healthy activity.
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Bryan Davis: Many writers send me their manuscripts for evaluation. They are so hopeful and trying so hard! But they so often are writing the same old stories, a remake of Lord of the Rings or Narnia or Alice in Wonderland or whatever. They love fantasy, so they write what they have read, but they are digging a rut and spinning their wheels. This isn’t true only in aspiring authors, but sometimes in what is appearing on the shelves. No, I won’t name titles, but I am concerned that some CBA editors don’t yet recognize what makes for good speculative fiction. It has to be original or at least carry a bizarre new twist.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s a great point about some fiction editors not knowing what’s already out there in speculative fiction. And if the editors (people who tend to be book lovers) don’t have it, you have to know that many of the folks in the marketing and sales departments don’t, either. That’s nothing against those good people. They can’t help what they haven’t been exposed to. But it does help us understand when some CBA houses don’t seem to know what to do with the few speculative fiction titles they acquire. So, Bryan, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Bryan Davis: I would like to see writers break out of the expected “Christian” mold. There seems to be a terrible trend that you have to create sin-laden protagonists in order to make the story Christian. I believe just the opposite. I believe people like to read about heroes, someone they can look up to, someone who will stretch them. I’m not talking about creating invincible superheroes, but real people who experience temptations, doubt, and fears, yet overcome them by the guiding principles in their lives.
WhereTheMapEnds: Another great point. I think some of that is because writers are trying to make their stories acceptable to Christian publishing houses. I think it’s also because the speculative novel an editor can get through the approval process at a CBA house is sometimes quite different from the speculative novel he or she would like to see published. Publishing committees are often so tentative about speculative fiction that the books they consider are held to a more rigorous set of standards than, say, a prairie romance. I maintain that C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and even Frank Perreti and Ted Dekker couldn’t be published in a CBA house today. Okay, back to you, Bryan. What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Bryan Davis: If publishers create the kinds of stories I mentioned above, I think the market will continue to grow for years, because the books will be new, exciting, and uplifting. If, however, speculative fiction gets dragged into the typical defeatist stories we see in much Christian fiction, I think the genre will grow for a couple of years and then fade again, because the stories will be the same old stuff.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ouch. I hope it’s the former. Tell us, Bryan, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Bryan Davis: Get out of the box. Don’t try to write Lord of the Rings version 9.7. Create heroes, the kind of people you would like to be. Create scenarios and devices that are really, really strange, so strange you might wonder if people in your church will look at you funny after reading your book.
WhereTheMapEnds: You mean it’s not normal for people in my church to look at me funny? Hmm. So tell us: what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Bryan Davis: Favorites are very hard to choose, but two that I have found helpful are a pair of standards, Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King) and Techniques of the Selling Writer (Swain).
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Bryan Davis: It’s a dream job, so it’s hard to pick one aspect. I get to go crazy and create super-weird stories. I get to stay home with my lovely wife and awesome children. I get to interact with young people on a daily basis, encouraging them and helping them with their problems through e-mails, letters, and message forum posts. I am so thankful to God for this amazing opportunity!
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Bryan Davis: I’m working on the second book in the Echoes from the Edge series. It is, as of now, untitled. I will then write Last of the Nephilim, the third book in the Oracles of Fire series. I’m supposed to finish both by the end of the year. Yikes!
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Bryan Davis: I very recently got an idea on how to finish the Oracles of Fire series in the fourth book, The Bones of Makaidos. I’m very excited about it, but I can’t give away the secrets. Keeping readers in suspense is part of my job.
WhereTheMapEnds: But of course! Tell us about the Fantasy Fiction tour you and some friends went on in the summer of 2007.
Bryan Davis: During July of this year, three other Christian fantasy authors and I went on a promotional tour from Atlanta to New York. We made about eighteen stops in eight or nine days—bookstores, a homeschool group, and a church. It was fabulous! We had lots of media coverage, including a front page article in the Washington Post and a Fox & Friends appearance for one of the authors.
The other authors were Wayne Thomas Batson, author of The Door Within trilogy, Sharon Hinck, author of The Restorer series, and Christopher Hopper, author of The White Lion Chronicles. These three authors are such wonderful people! It was a privilege and a pleasure to travel with them and exchange stories about how God has worked in our writing lives.
I believe this tour made a big push for Christian speculative fiction, both in the CBA and mainstream markets. You can read more about it at http://www.fantasyfictiontour.com.
WhereTheMapEnds: It’s a great Web page. I had fun watching the updates as you guys were on the tour. Well, thanks so much for your time, Bryan.
That’s all for this time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Bryan Davis. Be sure to visit Bryan online.