Was it easy to get your work published?
I found it extremely difficult. In fact, after about 8 years of trying, I decided that I really wasn’t going to be able to make a go of writing unless I quit my job and did it full time. I couldn’t devote the time to learning the craft or going to the conferences to meet the editors and so forth while I was working another job. At about the same time I was trying to make that decision, another company bought the company I was working for, including my shares since I was a partner. That gave me a little nest egg that allowed me to decide to write full time. So I took that step of faithThe nest egg wasn't huge, but it was enough to put food on the table. I did it, and within 8 months I had contracts for 6 books. God honored the step of faith.
Were those all fiction books?
The first two were non-fiction. The first was The Image of a Father, and the second was Spit and Polish for Husbands.
The story for the novel came about when my oldest son, who is now 26, was 14. I told him about a dream I had, which was just one scene about a boy who could breathe fire. He and I brainstormed until we came up with the story. My publisher for the nonfiction books happened to be in my area and stopped by my house to see me. He asked me what else I was working on, and I told him about the novel. He said “Why haven’t you ever told me about it?” And I replied, “Because you don’t publish fiction.” He said, “Well, I’d like to see it anyway.” Since he was at my house, I printed out the whole thing and gave it to him. He showed it to another editor, who showed it to his wife and son, and they absolutely loved it. So they ended up launching their fiction line with my book. AMG, who has been a great supplier of Bible study guides, encyclopedias, word study materials and so forth, decided to create a new imprint, Living Ink Books, because they wanted to separate the fiction from their Bible study guides. They contracted for a 4-book series.
So, it was brainstorming with your son that inspired you to create the story for Raising Dragons.
Yes. My son is a fantasy aficionado. He loves fantasy, so after I told him the story, we just started going back and forth with questions. "So how could a kid breathe fire?" I said, “Well, maybe he’s a dragon.” “No, no, his father was a dragon.” “How did his father become a dragon?” We just pulled the story together. It took a couple days of going back and forth. I actually wrote the entire book 7 years ago. It has evolved over time – it's not the same book it was then. I wrote it before I had ever heard of "Harry Potter," but it turns out that we have the same formula: contemporary fantasy. Real kids, real time, real world and add the fantasy element. It's the kind of thing where you have kids in their real mundane world but they can escape to another one.
When people read Christian Fantasy fiction, they probably think of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Were these books and authors an influence on you when you wrote this series? For instance, Billy's cat is named Gandalf. Was that a sort of "nod" to Tolkien?
It was a nod to Tolkien, yes. I greatly respect what he’s done, and I respect what C.S. Lewis has done. I needed a name for the cat and my son came up with Gandalf because he loves Tolkien. It takes on an alternate reality because I am acknowledging another fantasy within a fantasy. But Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are pure allegory – complete other worlds and other characters, different names for Christ and so forth. With my fantasy, I have to stay in the real world and add fantasy elements, which can be a lot more risky. Some people say you can’t mix the two because reality is reality and fantasy is fantasy. So it’s a bold step that some people might not understand, but I hope that they give me a little grace. I believe a good way to reach young people is to reach them where they are. It’s a lot easier to do, I think, if you give them a scenario in which they live, then add something fantastic. They can go on a wild ride and have a lot of fun, but still learn the themes in this book; themes like redemption, grace, courage, and facing your fears. Learning to forgive is also a huge theme in this book.
Most people see dragons as a symbol of evil. Why did you decide to make "good" and "bad" dragons?
Well, I think that dragons are rightly a symbol of evil. But we have to remember that Job chapter 41 tells us that God created Leviathan. He describes it as one of His greatest creations and He uses it to reveal His power. If you read that passage carefully, Leviathan has armored scales and breathes fire. It sounds just like a fire breathing dragon. That's certainly where the authors who have described such beasts got their inspiration, from this creature of God. God created this being in order to show His power. Now, I don’t believe that God created anything for the purpose of being born evil. Angels were created and some of them fell. They weren’t created to be evil, but some of them chose evil and fell. I'm putting dragons in the same mold, as a symbolic parallel to angels. They were created to be good; some of them fell. The greatest evil figure in all the world, and in all of the Bible, is a fallen angel, and the symbol of the fallen angel is a dragon. But why can’t there be good dragons as well? Some people would say that dragons are a symbol of evil. The Bible calls Satan a dragon. Therefore, all dragons are evil. Well, the fallacy there is Satan also appears as an angel of light. Does that mean that all angels of light are evil? I don’t think so. I wanted to make that angelic parallel, and it becomes even clearer in the third book, called Circles of Seven. Billy’s going to face a tremendous decision, and he'll have to discern between good and evil dragons. It’s such a great story.
I like how you interweaved Christian faith in your story, but didn’t "hit people over the head with it." Did you find it hard to strike that balance?
It really wasn’t that hard because it’s been my desire for a long time to be able to say, “I just want to tell a story that is filled with Christ.” There is no soapbox; no one is standing there shaking a finger, preaching at you. I want to have a natural flow of Christian thought and Christian love, without having to say “Jesus loved you and died for your sins.” It’ll flow out naturally. The reason I’m doing that is because so many people get turned off with the shaking finger and the soapbox sermon. But as we get to later books in the series, the Christian message of the blood salvation of Christ is going to come out a little more clearly. We want to hook our readers and not turn them off with a fire and brimstone, or an "Are you saved by the blood?" kind of message. It will come out later. I think you probably can tell that Bonnie is clearly a Christian, and Billy is probably not. He's got a lot of questions because he’s never been taught right. He’s in between because his father, being the dragon, revered the Bible, but he didn’t feel like he was a fallen creature that needs to be saved. This is one of these deep mysteries that I don’t think kids will get but I want adults to think about.
Often, it seems that when many Christian films or some books present the gospel, it seems to become cheesy.
Well, they are so message driven, they want to preach the gospel with such a fervent heart and with passion that they create a tacky story to dress it up. I think when the story comes first, and it comes out of a heart that loves Christ, the gospel is going to naturally flow. But at the same time, we can't bury the message. I have tried not to bury the message so that it can’t be seen. I think as the series continues on a natural progression, the gospel will become more and more clear.