So, may I introduce you to the stellar author of the spectacular "Cyndere's Midnight", the Blue Strand of The Auralia Thread series:
1) Cyndere's Midnight seems a bit darker than Auralia's Colors. Is that deliberate, or did the story just head that way on it's own?
Having said that, you're right -- Cyndere's Midnight is darker, in some ways, than Auralia's Colors. The main characters of the first book were rather civilized, while some of the main characters in Cyndere's Midnight are human beings who have become monsters and predators. There is more shocking and graphic violence in Cyndere's Midnight, I supposed, because when you hang around with beastmen, you see a lot of merciless brutality.
But on the other hand, I never for a moment plotted to write a 'darker' sequel. And when you think about it, there was a lot more death and destruction in Auralia's Colors than in Cyndere's Midnight. An entire society collapses in the first book, and hundreds of people die. In this sequel, there are very few casualties. The process of writing Cyndere's Midnight was a journey of searching for hope, hope for depraved and wicked creatures. The story takes us into dark and frightening places, but I think that makes the light of hope shine brighter.
So I suppose you could say that Cyndere's Midnight is both 'darker' and 'brighter.'
2) I sensed a "beauty and the beast" feel in this one. Is that a fairly common theme, and what spiritual message were you conveying with it?
In Cyndere's Midnight, there are two beautiful women, and a whole pack of beasts. So it was pretty inevitable that the story would bear strong similarities to the famous fairy tale. But then again, I hear echoes of 'Beauty and the Beast' in almost every story I'm told. Most of our favorite stories are about transformation. Characters either grow in the direction of redemption, or they fall to the curse of beastliness.
I wanted to take that classic fairy tale and twist it into a pretzel. What if a princess met a monster, and both of them were changed by Beauty... Beauty with a capital B?
But I laughed out loud when I stumbled onto an unexpected connection between Cyndere's Midnight and the classic fairy tale. When I wrote the scene in which Cyndere has to hide behind a nickname, her choice seemed obvious. She's the heiress of House Bel Amica, so of course she'll call herself 'Bel.' Later, it occurred to me: 'Hey! That's Beauty's name in Disney's Beauty and the Beast! And in other versions of the story as well....' Of course, "belle" is French for "beauty." And there's a fantastic French movie called La Belle et La Bete.
I didn't plan to convey any particular 'spiritual message.' If I decide 'the moral of the story' ahead of time, I lose interest in telling the story, and the result is formulaic and mechanical. Instead, I strive to create a situation in which a story takes on a life of its own. It doesn't happen very often. It's like the discipline of a fisherman: You proceed with caution, you practice your craft, you forgive yourself for a hundred failed attempts, and then, after a lot of patience, yikes! You feel a tug on the line. Something unexpected happens, and you reel something into the boat? That's my favorite moment in storytelling -- the moment when I stumble onto a happy surprise like that.
In Cyndere's Midnight, I came up with a bunch of characters and turned them loose. I had a vague idea about the spot I wanted to hit when I cast my line. I played around with possibilities, and sketched out a sequence of events that seemed intriguing to me. And as I wrote, all kinds of possibilities proved more likely, more interesting. I'm learning that a story will reveal its own meaning at the end. Different readers observe different aspects of its truth.
3) This is the 'blue strand'. What color comes next, and how many can we look forward to (I'm hoping for an entire rainbow's worth!)?
The next book, Cal-raven's Ladder, is The Gold Strand of The Auralia Thread. There are only four books in the series. I have a pretty good idea about how it's going to end. But I've also learned enough to know that I'll be surprised along the way.
4) I'm always in awe of the names created by fantasy authors. How difficult is it to create these unique names and creatures? Where does your inspiration come from?
I don't like over-thinking things. I like choosing names for how they sound, or for some quality of mystery or strangeness. Over time, those names take on significance. I don't like symbolic names. They feel preachy and heavy-handed.
Sometimes I make a list of words that I associate with the character, and start smashing them together. Cyndere's name came from her sorrows -- I decided to name her after a flame that has gone out. Then, later, I realized that it reminds me of 'Cinderella.' So you might find Cyndere wearing glass-like slippers in a scene or two.
Sometimes the names come from personal relationships: Cyndere's brother Partayn was a musician, and his name is borrowed from two musicians I know who write wonderful, inspiring music -- Nathan and Sarah Partain.
When I was in high school, I wrote a story about a warrior named Jordam. Years later, I realized that I'd created a hero who relied far too heavily on violence. So in 1997 I wrote a short story called 'The Beastman's Hands' and gave the monstrous main character the very same name. It stuck.
When one of the vawns became prominent in this story, I just wrote down the name 'Rumpa,' and it made me laugh, so I kept it.
5) What would you say is the overall theme in The Auralia Thread?
It's too early to say. I've heard from artists who see it as a story about the role of artists in the world, and the hardships they face. I've heard from others who find it to be about faith. Some see it as an allegory about the Christian life.
Me, I like to be surprised by where the story takes me. So far, the stories have made me think about creativity, and what purposes it serves. They've made me think about the function and nature of beauty and its function. What does beauty say to us? Why does it have such power over us? I've also thought a lot about the definition of leadership, and what makes a good leader. I've thought about freedom, responsibility, indulgence, restraint, and conscience. As I'm writing Cal-raven's Ladder, I'm running into questions about spiritual mysteries, and the damage that we do when we claim to know with certainty things that have not been revealed to us.
6) Any particular music inspire you when you dive into Auralia's world?
You'll notice that I thanked the musicians who mattered most to me in the Acknowledgments at the back of the book. If I'd had room, I would have gone on to show my appreciation for a few others, like Radiohead, Woven Hand, The Innocence Mission, Nick Cave, and of course, U2.
I listen to a lot of film soundtracks while I write. My favorites are Three Colors: Blue, by Zbignew Priesner; The Dark Crystal; by Trevor Jones; and Passion, which was the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, by Peter Gabriel.
7) For me, once I'm deep into the books, it's a bit of a shock to come back to reality! How is it for you as the author?
Reality can make storytelling difficult. And this year has been especially taxing. I work a full-time job as an editor and a marketer for a university, and I also have weekly responsibilities as a film critic. Then there are the practical matters of everyday life that I must navigate with my wife, who writes poetry. It leaves us precious little time and space for our imaginations. But we work hard at it together, Anne and me. I usually have to leave the house -- or even leave town -- in order to escape distractions and pressures. I am always looking for a good place to hide, somewhere surrounded by natural beauty, somewhere quiet.
8) Who would you list as your literary inspirations?
There are so many--and they're just as likely to be poets as storytellers. I love the poetry of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, Rainier Maria Rilke, and lately I've been dazzled by Franz Wright. The nonfiction of Madeleine L'Engle, and the journals of Thomas Merton have had a huge influence on my imagination and faith.
Fantasy authors who inspire me? Well, of course I'm indebted to J.R.R. Tokien. But I'm also in awe of Mervyn Peake, who wrote the Gormenghast novels, Richard Adams who wrote Watership Down, and Patricia McKillip, who wrote The Book of Atrix Wolf. I've also been inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay, Robin McKinley, and Frank Herbert.
Lately, I've been listening to a 19-disc audiobook of Moby-Dick during my commutes to and from work, so right now my head is full of Melville.
9) What's next for you in terms of projects?
I've only just begun writing the third book in The Auralia Thread -- Cal-raven's Ladder -- for a 2010 release. The fourth book doesn't have a title yet. And I'm working on an adventure series about a bird who becomes a secret agent.
10) I know you've written other books. Care to share about them with my readers?
Through a Screen Darkly is what I call 'a memoir of dangerous moviegoing.' I wrote it in order to introduce readers to some of the greatest movies they've never seen. I did not expect what happened next. It earned a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and acclaim from some of my favorite magazines. Even filmmakers got excited about it, including Scott Derrickson and Darren Aronofsky. It has since been picked up as a textbook on faith, art, and film interpretation. Now it's a textbook in colleges and universities all over the country, even internationally. I never expected such an enthusiastic reception.
Recently, I interviewed Pixar's Andrew Stanton, and he told me that he'd read Through a Screen Darkly during the last few months of working on WALL-E. That was really exciting. I love all of Pixar's movies.
11) Besides writing, what's another passion you pursue?
Moviegoing and film reviewing are something I'll always do, just for the love of it. And with film criticism, you have to do it out of passion. If you want to earn a decent paycheck, I'd suggest another line of work.
Isn't he just GREAT?? Pick up copies of "Auralia's Colors" and "Cyndere's Midnight" today and get lost in the world of Auralia!! You'll be glad you did!