Saturday, November 30, 2013

Author Scavenger Hunt 2013 Stop #6: Interview with L.B. Graham

Welcome to Stop #6 on the 32 Author Hunt! Hopefully you have the first five by now, but if not head on over here to help get your bearings, then read on to find your clue!

Donita K. Paul: Welcome to Dragon Bloggin’, L.B.. This scavenger hunt has me excited and confused.  Before we begin, I’d like to thank you for nudging me in the right direction when I floundered in the details. That’s the kind of friend to have.

Should we mention how we met in 2005 and how it went, or should we just leave that part out J ?

L.B. Graham: Thanks for having me, Donita, and while I’m proud of having been a Christy finalist in ’05 for Beyond the Summerland, as I’m sure you are for having been a finalist for DragonSpell, maybe we shouldn’t talk too much about how we didn’t exactly make a good impression on each other at first. Perhaps it would be better just to say that a week together on the Fantasy Fiction Tour in ’08 helped us overcome all that. J

DKP: I agree. On my part, I was so nervous I was having difficulty breathing, let alone shaking hands and chatting with complete strangers. I’m glad we’re not strangers any more.

So, let’s get to it.

It has been said about fantasy that: “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?

LBG: It’s a good question. 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 began with The Darker Road, this past summer) 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 then 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 with identity – much like the book that inspired it. 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 (at least I hope not…)

DKP: By the way, The Raft, the River, and the Robot is a book I’ll read again, and I have recommended it often. I lost sleep on that one in the “I’ll just read one more chapter” mode.
When and why did you start writing fiction?

LBG: 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.

DKP: Describe your writing space.

LBG: This may be less than inspirational, but these days it is usually a booth at McDonalds. The coffee/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 farther 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…

DKP: Your Binding of the Blade series was published by P&R Publishing, then you published two books independently, and your current series is with AMG/Living Ink. Which has been the best publishing experience? Why?

LBG: 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 AMG.

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 for me at least, the jury is still out on the wisdom of going that way.

As for AMG, 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.

DKP: Can you tell us about your latest release, The Darker Road?

LBG: 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 coming 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.

DKP: Any advice for aspiring writers?

LBG: 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.

DKP: What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

LBG: 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.

DKP: Any final thoughts or comments?

LBG: Only my gratitude to you Donita – both for years of friendship & for giving me space on your blog to introduce myself.  And, of course, there’s that scavenger hunt clue that people may be here looking for, and that is “the greatest.”

I hope people enjoy the hunt, but more than that, I hope they take some time to discover some of the good books that are out there to be discovered.

[To learn more about L.B. and his books (and to keep hunting!), visit his website:]


J Smith said...

Thanks for a great interview. Thanks, also, for your participation in the scavenger hunt.

Sparks of Ember said...

Agreed - thanks for participating in this. My husband is not a huge reader so finding books for him is a challenge. But he devoured the DragonKeeper Chronicles and Realm Walkers looks like another winner. And The Darker Road looks like something great to entice him with, too. ;)

Bill Arbuckle said...

Hey Donita! Great interview. I think my boys might like Mr. Graham's books! Thanks for the intro.

Dani Brook said...

I love to read, but I don't have any certain favorite character.