For today’s Fantasy Friday post, I am honored to share with you my interview with bestselling author Bryan Davis.
Though most widely recognized for his young adult fantasy novels written from a Christian worldview, Mr. Davis has authored books for adults, nonfiction titles, and children’s books. He is a gifted public speaker who mentors aspiring authors and encourages children and youth in reading and writing.
On Monday, April 14, Mr. Davis will present a workshop for my Minneapolis area writers’ group, and he graciously agreed to the following Q & A so we can all get to know him a bit better.
Hi, Mr. Davis. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with Light’s Scribe’s readers. We’ll begin with some background information…
Q: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
A: I have 23 novels, 2 non-fiction books, and 5 children’s picture books. Asking me for a favorite is like asking which of my children is my favorite. I can tell you which one has had the best feedback from readers—The Bones of Makaidos, book #4 in Oracles of Fire. Since so many readers have told me that this book has transformed their lives for the better, that makes my fondness for it very high.
Q: What genre do you consider your book(s)? What draws you to this genre?
A: Most of my books are fantasy—some contemporary fantasy and some other-world fantasy. Fantasy is an ideal way to present spiritual themes in fiction, because it deals with alternate realities that we can’t see and must imagine. For more on this see this link – http://www.daviscrossing.com/fantasy.pdf
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A: About 20 years ago, I began writing a story with my children as a way to get them excited about writing. When I saw that the story was having a positive effect on them, I realized how powerful storytelling could be. If my initial story could have such an impact, maybe I could become an author and make a wider impact on readers. That idea ignited a passion to become a writer.
Q: Just as your books inspire authors, which authors or books have inspired you?
A: C. S. Lewis has long been a major influence, because he so expertly wrote spiritual themes in his fantasy works, including The Chronicles of Narnia and Till We Have Faces. I have also been influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Joan of Arc by Mark Twain.
Q: Since you’ve written many YA titles, what were you like in school? Were you good at English?
A: I was the class egghead, so I did well in every subject. Yet, I enjoyed math and science more than English, so I pursued engineering and computer science, and I was a computer professional for 20 years before becoming a fulltime author.
Q: What do you think makes a good story?
A: A compelling heroic character; a tragic loss to that character; a compelling goal that the character absolutely must reach; an antagonist who is personal, brutal, and persistent; danger, suffering, and sacrifice during the journey toward the goal; intensity that never goes away; rest periods that keep the story going and allow meaningful themes to come to the surface; characters who grow and develop; mysteries that get solved in the natural course of the story as well as through the character’s dogged pursuit of them; a reaching of the goal that delivers a gasp of relief and the exhilaration of triumph; a resolution in which the character gets to rest and reflect and in which the character’s sacrifices are appreciated by others.
Q: What is the premise of your latest release?
A: Reapers is a dystopian tale with a supernatural twist. Taking place in a futuristic, urban setting, this first book in a planned trilogy will appeal to readers of The Hunger Games and similar fast-paced stories for young adults. Along with a blend of real life and imagination, it delivers action, danger, and suspense through the adventures of three teenagers—Phoenix, Singapore, and Shanghai—Reapers who collect the souls of the dying or already dead and transport them to the Gateway where they will travel to their final destination … or so they are told.
Q: Please give us an insight into your main character. How is he/she unique? How are you the same/different from your main character? If you could cast the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
A: The main character is Phoenix, a 16-year-old male who has been identified by genetic testing as having the ability to reap the souls of the dead and carry them to the eternal Gateway. He is unique in that he is the only Reaper willing to risk his life to help the sick and dying instead of hoping they’ll go ahead and die so he can collect them and fulfill his quota of souls. I am like this character in that I am willing to take risks to go against the culture and defy authority if it means helping those who are oppressed and/or disadvantaged. He differs from me in that he has no spiritual guidance and must find his way on his own.
Q: Are any of the book’s events based on someone you know, or experiences in your own life?
A: There are no characters in my stories who exactly match anyone I know, though I do borrow certain qualities from some individuals. I definitely glean from my experiences—my own spiritual journeys, trials, mistakes, triumphs, lessons, etc.
Q: Is this book is part of a series? What are your thoughts on writing a book series. Pros? Cons?
A: Reapers is the first book in a trilogy. I favor writing a series, because my story ideas usually span much more territory than the size of a typical book. I like long, complex journeys that have multiple peaks and valleys, that change focus and theme from book to book.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A: The hardest part of writing Reapers was drastically altering the story after I had written a good, polished draft. I received some criticism that rang true, so I did a major rewrite that took a lot of time and effort.
Q: Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your book?
A: The filming of the trailer for Reapers is finished, and it is being edited now. I don’t think it will be ready for the publication of this interview. I have been told it will be ready for the Monday evening workshop.
Q: What does your writing process look like? (Do you have a special time of day to write or a set number of days per week? Do you aim for a certain number of words/pages per day?)
A: During a writing season, I write all day six days a week. If I write between 3000 and 4000 new words in a story, I consider that a good writing day. I also have touring/promotional seasons in which I usually don’t write at all.
Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A: I am a complete, incurable pantser. I can’t imagine outlining. I love going on the adventure with the characters and discovering along with them.
Q: Do you write longhand, on a typewriter, or on a computer? Do you use a specific writer’s software?
A: I use Microsoft Word on a computer.
Q: What is the hardest/easiest thing about writing?
A: The easiest is to write the first draft of a story. The hardest is to write/edit the twentieth draft.
Q: How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose based on the name’s sound or its meaning? Are there any name-selection resources you recommend?
A: Names are significant, though I don’t obsess over them. Some just pop into my head. Some I choose from online baby name sites. For fantasy stories I look for names that come from old languages like Hebrew, Arabic, or Greek, and I try to match the meaning of the name to the character’s qualities. The sound is important as well, whether or not a name sounds gentle, harsh, or lyrical.
Q: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Action? Suspense? Romantic? Etc.?
A: I find actions scenes to be challenging, because it is difficult to match the pace while still providing information for the reader.
Q: Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
A: All of my stories include the theme of sacrificial love. I hope my readers will capture a vision of selfless love, that real love gives and does not seek its own, and I hope they will apply it to their own lives. I also include themes of mercy, forgiveness, contentment, servanthood, and others.
Q: The central theme of this blog and of my own novels is God’s light at work in our lives. I’ve noticed light also plays a significant role in your Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series. Please describe the literal and symbolic function light serves in your books. How did that concept come about?
A: In my stories, light represents truth, revelation, and awareness. Sometimes characters get transformed into light energy, and in that state they often learn truths about their surroundings and about themselves that they could not have otherwise learned. Light also provides characters the means to become what they need to be or do what they need to do in order to fulfill a quest. Light energizes a birthing garden that resurrects a dragon for a great battle. Light provides the power for a healer to take care of the wounded. Light provides a means of a character’s escape from danger time and time again.
Q: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in creating your books?
A: That I learn as much from my stories as my readers do.
Q: Describe your journey to getting your first book published. How long did it take? Did you sign with a literary agent? Rejections? How did you find your agent/publisher?
A: After I finished writing my first novel, I began submitting it to every publisher and agent I could find, and the rejections poured in. It took me eight years to find a publisher, and I received more than 200 rejections along the way. I met Dan Penwell of AMG Publishers at the 2003 Florida Christian Writers’ Conference, and he gave me my first book contract. I have landed all of my book contracts myself. I have had agents shop ideas around for me, but they have never placed a book for me. I do not currently have an agent.
Q: Any tips on what to do and what not to do in marketing your books?
A: Since I write for young people, I travel across the country speaking at schools and homeschool groups. This has been crucial in my success. Since I charge no fee, I usually have no trouble finding schools that will allow me to speak and sell books. I used to do a lot of bookstore signings, but they haven’t been as helpful, so I concentrate on speaking events.
Q: Which writers’ conferences do you plan to attend this year? Are you scheduled as a presenter at any of them?
A: I teach at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference every year. I have no other conferences scheduled this year, though I have taught at several others in years past.
Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?
A: I have a superpower. She is my wife, Susie. Without her support and help, I couldn’t be an author. She is also a “super” editor, so my manuscripts go to the publisher in great shape.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: I don’t have a specific favorite quote. I delight in quotes, and new favorites pop up all the time. Mark Twain is a great source, and one of his that I like is, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
A: Learn the craft, and don’t ever stop learning. When I first started writing, I thought I was pretty good at it. I was wrong. I could put grammatically correct sentences together, but I knew next to nothing about storytelling. Even now, I am studying the craft diligently. I look back at my early books, even the published ones, and I cringe because I could do a much better job with them now.
Q: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A: My readers are the reason I write. When I write, I reach my heart out to theirs, and I hope they can feel it. Because of that, I make it a top priority to answer every email, letter, and Facebook message I get, and I do so as soon as possible with personal responses to their questions and needs.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
A: Nope. You’re quite thorough. 🙂
Q: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Bryan-Davis/e/B001IXMML8
Book Links: (* American, UK, etc.) Too many to list. Here is Reapers – http://www.daviscrossing.com/Reapers.shtml
Thank you, Mr. Davis, for your insightful responses and for giving us a glimpse into the mind and life of a bestselling author.
Light’s Scribe readers: be sure to check out my follow-up post, 8 Things My Writers’ Group Learned from Author Bryan Davis, for all the scoop on his workshop. And don’t forget to shed your light below…