CBP: I like to start with your testimony Ė how did you become a Christian?
L.B.: Sure, itís a simple story. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and I was raised in a covenant household. So I was just raised from faith. Itís not complex; I donít have any unshackled stories.
CBP: From your press bio I thought, ďThis guyís got a sense of humor.Ē
L.B.: That was intentional. The decision in part being that people read a thousand dry, author bio things. We actually looked at some of the general market, and youíll see books, and some of them did that, and we thought, ďWhy not?Ē
I mean fantasy is already peripheral enough in the Christian market that it doesnít get a lot of attention. People read it and want to read it so -- Our target audience is younger, generally, so weíd probably be open to that.
CBP: And Iíd read that you had taken a tour of England and read from Yates?
CBP: And that inspired you to think up the geography of this?
L.B.: That was summer of 1992. I was a senior at Wheaton College and was on an academic trip to England, and was reading the selective works of W.B. Yates. A footnote in the back talked about, kind of, the archetypal associations of geography. What the south is, what the east is, what the west, what the north is.
For instance, the first book is about summer. The summer and the south are often associated together. We think warm when we think south. We think love, romance when we think of summer. He has just maybe an eight line little footnote, and I just started thinking about a story move geographically and also thematically, kind of following the archetype that would move geographically. That was one of the images way back then that started me on this process.
CBP: Where did you come up with this whole world? You must have an amazing imagination.
L.B.: I mean, itís been formed by reading. I think any imagination needs to be fed, so as a kid I did a lot of reading, so you read people with imagination, I think thatís something like anything else; it can be starved or fed so reading a lot of good stories, and reading a lot of the great adventure stories and myths.
Myth is often frowned upon severely in the Christian market as being pagan. And if you understand it as if they were men, not really stories of gods, but stories of good and evil and of human experience thereís a lot to find there. So there is a lot of food for the imagination--reading Greek and Norse mythology, and teaching them, which Iíve doneĖit comes from lots of different places. And, of course, if youíve read book one, the central geographical future of the world is the holy mountain, which is, of course, an image out of Isaiah. Biblical sources as well have been used in the geography.
CBP: I was trying to look at the main theme while going through the book, and I thought I saw some things that I wondered if you would explain what the meaning of the different ages that they had. Does that have any correlation to the Bible history or Ė
L.B.: The first, second, and third age?
L.B.: No. Not overtly. I think it was just a way of segmenting for easy division the basic major events of the world. The first age being Doonanís rebellion and betrayal being, really, the fall; being the end of an age of peace. The second age being one of relative stability, which is destroyed by civil war; fighting amongst ourselves over unimportant things. Then the third age being a darker age because evil is now in our midst. So itís kind of a progression of living with the consequences of our own actions and the hope for a time of peace and restoration so it could be as it was intended to be is heightened by the descent of the darkness.
CBP: What about the characters? Is it meant to be mainly a story of good versus evil?
L.B.: It sounds like youíre asking me a little bit if itís meant to be allegorical. The answer to that would be no. There are certain things that are clearly influenced and inspired by biblical ideas. I might in certain points come close to allegory, but itís not intended to be. Itís its own world and operates by its own rules, but itís trying to convey a certain view of the world that I think holds true with this world.
CBP: What is it that you hope that youíve inspired your readers towards?
L.B.: Well, I think the first hope is that they would just enjoy a good story. I think thereís value simply in giving people something worth reading. So a good read was the first hope.
I think the second hope was that I loved Tolkein as a kid and it really is a life changing experience to read Lord of the Rings. It was something that the best writers will admit and talk about this; it connected with who you are at a deep level. And I think seeing how big the fantasy and sci-fi sections are in Borders and Barnes and Noble, knowing that the Christian market, to a large extent, didnít encourage it, and didnít really welcome it. It kind of frustrated me because weíre missing a huge opportunity with our children to give them stories that they want to read but have a view of the world that affirms and supports what weíre trying to teach them rather than just crying foul when we see a fantasy book that we donít think is saying what we want it to say. We ought to have people writing even better ones. So I think my secondary intent was to write a book that I had hoped at some stage would be on the shelf beside, you know, the big --Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan the big mainline fantasy writers. Those were the goals.
CBP: And this is a five-part series. So are you going to focus on a different character in each book, or what do you want to tell us?
L.B.: My original plan was that all of them would come from multiple perspectives, but that changed, obviously, since youíve read the first book at some point. Because the first book came pretty exclusively from Gerardís perspective. That was kind of a late-in-the-game change, but the intent was for all of the rest of them Ė the action is fragmented geographically after the first book, and thereís too many strands to follow to have one character be at the heart of it all, so all the rest of them will have multiple protagonists. Some characters are more central than others.
CBP: All culminating in the arrival of the ideal age? Is that what youíre working towards?
L.B.: Weíre hoping, arenít we? Thatís the hope, right? The prologue of the first book is about the making of weapons as a symbol of the world going wrong. I want to be clear; I donít think that war is evil. I think war is sometimes necessary. I think war is always tragic and is not what was intended to be. The making of weapons becomes symbolic of the people who have been given peace embracing something that they didnít need and shouldnít have wanted; specifically in Doonan accepting Malikís offer. So the hope is that in the best of all possible worlds there will come a day when those weapons wonít be needed any more. So thatís the arch that was intended to underlie the series. Hoping for the day when the swords could be put down, and we wonít need to employ them anymore. So where exactly it ends, I canít tell you. Weíre hoping that it takes us to a place where things are made right.
CBP: Have you finished number three? Writing it?
L.B.: Three is written and edited. Four is written, but not edited. I will start book five in August.
CBP: Then what? Do you have plans beyond that to continue with Summerland? Are you going to do something different?
L.B.: You know, when I started writing this series I had multiple ideas beyond even this series. Both ideas havenít gone away, and more have come. The problem is, I get a lot of emails from younger readers who want to know how to be a writer and all that kind of thing and one of my big pieces of advice is to finish what youíre working on. One of the big dangers to finishing what youíre working on is that you get a new idea which is more exciting to you because itís new. And so, the new ideas have multiplied, so I donít know what comes next. I have lots of ideas, and the question of where to go next is the question Iíve been procrastinating about.
This is a mammoth undertaking. Weíre talking probably 2500 plus pages, a half a billion words, Iíve written a novel each school year for the last four years. The year before that I spent the whole year planning the series.
CBP: How do you plan it?
L.B.: I planned all five before I started writing the first one. So weíre talking ideas I had as far back as í92, and something Iíve been working on pretty intensively since the summer of 2000. The fact that in the summer of í06 I should be finished is just Ė I just want to get there before I spend too much time thinking about whatís next.
CBP: Do you find that through writing the book that God has taught you anything particular?
L.B.: I think, you know, the writing process has taught me things. When I started working on this, my son was probably about three, and I only had one child, now I have a two-, and a four-, and about to be eight-year-old. So one of the great lessons we all need to learn is balance, so balancing being a teacher, which can be fairly consuming, being a writer, which can also, if you let it, be fairly consuming, with being a father and a husband.
As a high school teacher you often see the athletic kids who play through sports and still do really well at school. It seems kind of intuitive that the really busy kids would also do really well, but as they learn to really be efficient and be diligent and to do their work in a timely fashion, I think it really serves them well as they go on. And writing has really taught me that I can achieve fairly significant things in ordinary time as long as Iím faithful and disciplined.
I do not write any romantic notion of, kind of, inspiration striking and you just kind of work through the night. Thatís not my story. I work Monday night for about an hour and a half or two hours, I work Wednesday night for about the same, and I write Saturday afternoon when my kids nap. My older son doesnít nap anymore, but during that afternoon slot when thereís down-time I do what I can do, and then I stop. And if I have papers to grade I donít do it. One page a time is how a story is written, and so thatís a huge lesson that we need to learn.
CBP: What about the kids who are in your classes, have they read the book?
L.B.: I donít require it. Some of them have read it. Some of them voluntarily, they either like fantasy or are just curious to see what Iíve written. But it doesnít often become a formal topic of discussion in class. We have necessary things to do that are not on that topic.
CBP: What classes do you teach?
L.B.: At the school I teach now, Bible and English Literature. Right now my course assignment is I teach two honors American Literature classes to juniors, and I teach three of our senior Bible classes which is called Worldviews about understanding culture and cultural engagement.
CBP: And is that part of why you talked about having other fantasy books that donít present a Christian perspective but may contain a Christian worldview?
L.B.: Well, I think the two are related, absolutely. My world view says that Christians need to be engaged in culture, so this is an attempt to do that. That would make the hope of it that it would go beyond CBA market. Nothing wrong with writing for CBA market, nothing wrong with edifying people reading the CBA market, but the goal is to reach beyond that. There are a lot of kids who read fantasy in the world and theyíre not all believers so it would be good for them to have a very different view of good and evil that they also encounter in some of the modern fantasy.