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Stephen Lawhead

The Advocate

Stephen Lawhead Interview

by C.J. Darlington

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"Rather than saying the spiritual thread is important, I think I would say that spiritual threads are inevitable in my stories."
--Stephen Lawhead

Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include The Pendragon Cycle, the Song of Albion Trilogy, Byzantium, The Celtic Crusades, Patrick, the Dragon King Trilogy, and the King Raven Trilogy - a new take on Robin Hood.

Stephen latest project is a new fantasy cycle called Bright Empires, which combines elements of historical fiction with fantasy ad science fiction. The first book, The Skin Map, was released in 2010 and the second book, The Bone House is out in August 2011.

Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.

You got started in writing on a whim, but in the years since your college days I’m sure you’ve had to choose being a writer many times (since it’s not the easiest profession). Now all these years later, why are you a writer?

The truth is, the longer I do this, the less suited I am to do anything else. I think the last time I really considered anything different was when I was just getting established, when I was trying to support a young family on very little income. That was hard.

What is your favorite aspect of writing novels at this stage in your career?

The on-site research is something I enjoy a great deal, more so now than when I first started out. Probably, that’s because I can now afford to indulge my wanderlust to go see the places I’m writing about – something that was off the menu in the beginning when money was tight. Also, I suppose I have come to value it more. I also really enjoy the day-to-day process – especially when a scene is on fire and just crackles with energy. That happens often enough to keep me happy and eager for the next time.

The Skin MapI’m very intrigued with the Bright Empires series and how you’ve created so many storylines and characters, and are tying them together in crazy cool ways. My understanding is that you didn’t outline the books ahead of time. Now that you’re over half way into the series, have you found yourself plotting ahead more or are you still discovering new aspects to the story as you write?

This particular story is like a precision watch with so many different parts that all have to mesh together smoothly to make it work that I have actually been forced to resort to a modicum of planning, which isn’t usual for me. So I have a whiteboard with crucial events and dates on it so I keep that straight, and from time to time I stop the actual writing and outline out where I’ve been and where I need to go, just so I don’t waste time writing scenes that will end up on the cutting room floor. Still, I get taken by surprise when there are unexpected revelations and discoveries.. To me, it is more like interacting with the material to see what is there rather than imposing a structure on it.

Who is your favorite character in the series and why?

I don’t play favourites, CJ. Really, I don’t. Still, it is hard not to like Wilhelmina, who seems to be living up to her name. And Kit, clueless as he often is, appears to be developing nicely. I like Brother Lazarus … and Cass … and Cosmio, of course. I honestly cannot pick one.

So much of the books are based on real science, but what’s your favorite fictional device in the series thus far?

The Shadow Lamp is a cool tool. I can well imagine it would be fun to have one. But, alas, it is made up. Ley lines do exist – however, no one has ever suggested they could be employed as I have described. Still, you’ve got to wonder . . . .

These novels aren’t “Christian fiction” per se, but there are still some spiritual issues covered, especially in The Spirit Well. How important is it to you to have some sort of spiritual thread in your stories?

Rather than saying the spiritual thread is important, I think I would say that spiritual threads are inevitable in my stories. No writer can either disguise his worldview and beliefs, or write convincingly about matters outside those beliefs. For me, spiritual themes are always going to come out, because that’s my world and, because I’m not shy about exploring it.

I’ve begun to claim that the BRIGHT EMPIRES series is half a million words to exegete Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Some readers may see the link with John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This is Cosmic.The Bone House

What would say is the biggest struggle you face as a novelist?

Keeping it fresh, exploring new territory, moving forward – those more and more become the challenges. At a certain point there is great pressure for a writer who has gained a little success in one area or another to simply continue doing that thing whatever it is ad infinitum. Publishers like it, readers more or less demand it – after all, why kill the goose that’s laying the golden eggs? You don’t know how often I field requests to ‘Write a sequel to Song of Albion,’ or ‘Write some more Byzantium . . .’ But, to me the danger is that doing the same trick over and over so often becomes tired and formulaic.

Of all the locations you’re writing about in the Bright Empires series, how many of them have you actually visited yourself? Which was your favorite and why?

I’ve visited almost all of them. London, Prague, Damascus, Spain, Sedona in Arizona, various locations in Egypt and France, and Oxford of course – all the main locations, I think, with the exception of Macao.

I enjoy the travel, as I said, and find in the end that it is often easier to go and absorb the sights and sounds and feel of a place – say a Stone Age cave in the Dordogne Valley, or the great abbey at Montserrat north of Barcelona – than to make it up and, most likely, get it wrong.

Where would you love to visit someday but haven’t yet?

India intrigues me, and quite a few destinations in South America hold an attraction. But, I have no plans to go exploring up the Amazon just yet.

The Spirit WellIt must be fun as a father to see your son Ross writing too. I really enjoyed the first book in his Ancient Earth series and look forward to the second. How did you encourage your boys when they were younger to pursue writing?

Not guilty! I did not encourage either of them. Ross saw the occupation – warts and all – and made his own decision. That said, I suppose the fact that he grew up on a constant diet of stories and books was probably an influence. I confess, I walked him to and from pre-school recounting the ongoing tale of Empyrion as it emerged from my typewriter. Maybe that had something to do with it?

What is your favorite speculative novel of all time?

I remember Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein with great fondness. I have not looked at that story in decades and I don’t know if it would still hold up, but it has a quality that lingers in my imagination. I’d have to put that on my list of Top Ten. Also, I’d rank Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock pretty high on that list, too.

When we last spoke for an interview when The Skin Map released, you talked about writing a new series about another European legend. Any word on that?

Watch this space!

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.