Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fantastic fantasy (redundant?) author. I was first introduced to the books of L. B. Graham by a college friend at a Christian publishing trade show. After college, my friend Jesse went to work for P&R Publishing while pursuing a graduate degree. P&R Publishing is better known for Reformed theological tomes than fiction, so I was surprised when Jesse pressed a copy of Graham’s Beyond the Summerland into my hands and said, “As a fellow Lord of the Rings fan, I think you’ll like this.” And I did. Admittedly, it took me a minute to get past the book cover (fantasy covers can be notoriously bad), but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.
A couple years later, I got to meet L. B. Graham at the same trade show. He and I got into a discussion of his book covers and I remember how very honest he was about them. I told him that I enjoyed the books in spite of their covers and I would do what I could to promote them in my bookstore. Unlike meeting some authors you like only to discover that you only like their books and would never like them in real life, it was a good experience.
I recently friended (I remember back when “friend” was just a noun; I must be getting old) L. B. Graham on Facebook. I reintroduced myself and asked if he would be willing to do an interview with me so you all could meet him. He was happy to do so. After reading the interview, I encourage you to visit his website (http://blog.lbgraham.com/) and buy all of his books.
1. Fantasy writer Terry Goodkind once said, “Fantasy allows you to shine a different kind of light on human beings. I believe the only valid use of fantasy is to illustrate important human themes.” What themes do you illustrate in your books?
It’s a good question, even if it does reference Terry Goodkind (oh wait, did I say that out loud?), so let me see… My first series, “The Binding of the Blade,” revolved around the theme of ‘longing for restoration.’ It imagines a world where the making of weapons represents ‘the Fall’ and where the ‘unmaking’ of weapons is a prelude to Restoration. As such, it wrestles a good bit with what it means to navigate a broken world while yearning for a perfect one.
My current fantasy series, “The Wandering,” (which begins with “The Darker Road,” coming in the spring) revolves around a very different theme than my first. Namely, that a world that rejects its maker and puts its trust and hope in lesser things might find that for this rebellion, a price might have to be paid. So, it is kind of a judgment theme and pretty different than the restoration theme of BOTB.
My Indie book, “The Raft, The River, and The Robot,” which is a slightly dystopic, futuristic novel inspired in large part by “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” wrestles – much like the book that inspired it – with identity. How do we find and define ourselves, and to what extent do parents and social context shape us, both in that we are molded by them and in that we push away at times from them.
And, having said all this, I hasten to add that the books are more interesting than this might make them sound. J The theme is often under and behind the story, not up front in preachy ways, I hope…
2. When and why did you start writing fiction?
While I had tackled a few stories before this, my first real story was “Killer Kudzu,” a choose-your-own-adventure story written in about 1982, I think. I wrote it on index cards as part of a project for school. I continued to dabble in fiction in High School and College, and occasionally thereafter.
In seminary, I did an independent study on “the Problem of Pain” and part of my arrangement with my supervising professor was that I could report on my work with a story, rather than a traditional paper, and I wrote a 60 page story for that.
I didn’t start working on a novel for publication until 1998/1999, when I began in earnest to turn that story into a novel, and even though I didn’t finish it, it got my wheels turning and led pretty soon to my decision to go back to the fantasy idea I’d had years before when I was a college student, and that eventually became “The Binding of the Blade.”
3. Describe your writing space.
This may be less than inspirational, but these days it is usually a booth at McDonalds. The soda is cheap and the internet is free, and I hunker down for a while and get to work.
I wrote my first series, alternating between home (on some weekday nights) and my classroom (on Saturday afternoons), but as my kids have grown and I live further from the school where I teach, I’ve adapted. All I really need is my computer and some headphones to drown out the world, and I’m ready to go…
4. Your Binding of the Blade series was published by P&R Publishing, then you published two books independently, and you’ve got a book coming next year from Living Ink Books (publisher of Bryan Davis’ Dragons in Our Midst series). Which has been the best publishing experience? Why?
I’m going to do something unusual for me and take the tactful approach here and say ‘they aren’t better or worse, they’re different.’
Actually, I don’t have much of a choice, because while I worked with P&R pretty constantly between 2002 and 2008, and have since had a few years to reflect on that experience, I don’t have nearly the perspective on my Indie experience or Living Ink.
Having said that, they really are different. After working with a traditional publisher, I really enjoyed the creative control of Indie publishing. I made final decisions on covers, and on titles, etc, and that was great. Consequently, I have a finished product that really does fit my vision for each of those stories.
At the same time, I spent my money to get those books to that level of professional quality, I have to try to market them myself, and so on. Both the financial risk and potential reward grow exponentially with Indie publishing, so the jury is still out on the wisdom of going that way.
As for Living Ink, the decision to go with them had a lot to do with the fact that they’ve consciously worked to create a fantasy presence in the Christian market, where many Christian publishers are hesitant to commit to fantasy as a genre. I applaud and appreciate that commitment.
5. Can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Darker Road?
“The Darker Road” is the story of the dramatic collapse of an empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but the King of this empire has stolen a powerful talisman of sorts, and he is using it to strengthen his already considerable military might. And even as he is preparing to use that might to further subdue the empire he governs, the rightful keepers of the talisman come looking for it. That’s how it all starts, anyway, and the conflict that ensues is only the beginning.
There is a pretty cool ‘alternative technology’ system in the series, which makes for some fun devices and weapons and so forth. This also creates a pretty unique feel for the stories, as they don’t quite fit into the traditional, medieval/semi-medieval feel of many fantasy worlds. At the same time, I definitely think the series fits the ‘fantasy’ mold, even if it stretches some of the conventions.
For example, I think one of the fascinating things about fantasy is this contrast in fantasy stories between a way of life that is somewhat archaic, or behind us, and magic and magical abilities which give the characters abilities that are beyond us. In “The Darker Road,” I think the reader will get a similar experience, where sometimes the world feels dated, and in other ways, very advanced.
6. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Lots, but I’ll stay basic: read & write. The absolute, non-negotiable foundation for becoming a good writer is to read & write. You need to read, read, read, so you can learn the craft of writing from those who have gone before, and you need to write, write, write, since no one (or almost no one, anyway) ever becomes good at anything without lots and lots of practice.
7. What book is on your nightstand?
I am trying to read three different books right now. When I’m on my recumbent exercise bike in the basement, I am currently reading “Sword at Sunset,” which is Rosemary Sutcliff’s version of King Arthur. When I am in bed and up for a challenge, I’m re-reading “War in Heaven” by Charles Williams – which of course means that “The Novels of Charles Williams” by Tom Howard is also on my nightstand, since I never try to read Williams without it handy. Lastly, when I’m in bed and too tired to venture into Williams & only looking for ‘easy reading,’ I’m reading Book 5 of the “The Dark Tower” series by Stephen King. I haven’t read much King, but some friends and former students encouraged me to read his ‘epic fantasy’ series, and so I’m working my way through it.
8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?
This is a very open-ended question, so I’ll take full advantage. What I want people to know is that Christianity is about grace, not moralism, and I think when Christians set out to be story tellers, they need to keep this in mind. A book isn’t Christian because the people in it behave morally, even as a person isn’t a Christian because he or she tries to behave morally. We need a better, more faithful, deeper standard of evaluation than that.
And with that, I’ll say thanks to you, Josh, for the interview, and best wishes to all of your blog readers!
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No, L. B. Graham. Thank you.