CFBA Tour – Daisy Chain

To end the week, I’m featuring Daisy Chain, the latest book by Mary DeMuth. I reviewed her parenting book, Authenitic Parenting in a Postmodern World, last year. When I saw this book on our review list for the CFBA, I was eager to read it. I appreciated her insights into parenting, so I wanted to see what her fiction was like.

The book is the start of a three book trilogy set in Defiance, Texas in 1977. Fourteen year old Jed Pepper is best friends with a vivacious young girl, Daisy Marie Chance. When she goes missing one summer night, he is convinced that it is his fault. He deals with his thoughts tormenting him on what he could have done differently, even as he battles personal demons that threaten his own family.

The book is labeled a “coming-of-age” story, and that description works for Daisy Chain. It has an authentic feel of a small Texas town. The reader feels the hot, sticky heat, can almost taste Hixon Jones’ fresh lemonade, and lives the trials that Jed wrestles with throughout the book.

The book is deeper, with more to the story than a little synopsis like the one above can provide. I also don’t like giving away too much of a story in a review. The book raises some challenges to the reader regarding family secrets and small town life. Just when you are convinced who the “villain” of the story is, Mary takes that character and shows a human side to them.

Sometimes the book was a little frustrating, because there are different plot threads that are introduced at various points of the book, and I didn’t feel enough resolution at the end of the book. I understand that it is a trilogy, and some threads are being introduced to carry through the whole project, but to me there should have been a little more closure, or some points perhaps introduced in book 2 rather than here. I came away a little disappointed in the way the book ended. I had too much emotional investment to be satisfied. I know a good suspense series should leave one hanging, waiting for the next book, but I didn’t feel a good enough set-up for book 2. The ending came rather abruptly, I guess.

I think Mary has created some very interesting characters, with flaws and a definite unique touch to each of them. No one is the stereotype here. Sometimes the viewpoint gets a little confusing, but otherwise I enjoyed most of the people we meet in Defiance (except for the ones you root against-you’ll see soon enough).

Daisy Chain is not the typical book I would pick up at the bookstore. It is not my favorite book, but Mary DeMuth is a talented author, and I enjoyed much of her writing. If you like the psychological drama or a Southern-tinged coming of age story, then this should be a book that is well worth your time.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Daisy Chain, go HERE

CFBA Tour – Daisy Chain

To end the week, I’m featuring Daisy Chain, the latest book by Mary DeMuth. I reviewed her parenting book, Authenitic Parenting in a Postmodern World, last year. When I saw this book on our review list for the CFBA, I was eager to read it. I appreciated her insights into parenting, so I wanted to see what her fiction was like.

The book is the start of a three book trilogy set in Defiance, Texas in 1977. Fourteen year old Jed Pepper is best friends with a vivacious young girl, Daisy Marie Chance. When she goes missing one summer night, he is convinced that it is his fault. He deals with his thoughts tormenting him on what he could have done differently, even as he battles personal demons that threaten his own family.

The book is labeled a “coming-of-age” story, and that description works for Daisy Chain. It has an authentic feel of a small Texas town. The reader feels the hot, sticky heat, can almost taste Hixon Jones’ fresh lemonade, and lives the trials that Jed wrestles with throughout the book.

The book is deeper, with more to the story than a little synopsis like the one above can provide. I also don’t like giving away too much of a story in a review. The book raises some challenges to the reader regarding family secrets and small town life. Just when you are convinced who the “villain” of the story is, Mary takes that character and shows a human side to them.

Sometimes the book was a little frustrating, because there are different plot threads that are introduced at various points of the book, and I didn’t feel enough resolution at the end of the book. I understand that it is a trilogy, and some threads are being introduced to carry through the whole project, but to me there should have been a little more closure, or some points perhaps introduced in book 2 rather than here. I came away a little disappointed in the way the book ended. I had too much emotional investment to be satisfied. I know a good suspense series should leave one hanging, waiting for the next book, but I didn’t feel a good enough set-up for book 2. The ending came rather abruptly, I guess.

I think Mary has created some very interesting characters, with flaws and a definite unique touch to each of them. No one is the stereotype here. Sometimes the viewpoint gets a little confusing, but otherwise I enjoyed most of the people we meet in Defiance (except for the ones you root against-you’ll see soon enough).

Daisy Chain is not the typical book I would pick up at the bookstore. It is not my favorite book, but Mary DeMuth is a talented author, and I enjoyed much of her writing. If you like the psychological drama or a Southern-tinged coming of age story, then this should be a book that is well worth your time.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Daisy Chain, go HERE

Themes in Art

I hope everyone around here read about Jeffrey Overstreet and his Auralia Thread books last week. They are intriguing books, and they managed to spawn some interesting conversation. (I started this post the day after the tour, but it has taken me time to finish my evolving thoughts)

Blog posts looked at the “Christian” aspect of these books, and asked about the process an author comes up with themes for their work.

Steve Rice had some strong opinions of the books. If I understood him correctly, he felt that a Christian artist ought to visibly show their faith in their works. He quoted a few verses about a light not being put under a basket and speaking from the heart (that if Christ is in your heart, how can we not help but speak of what is there).

He also brought up secularism, implying that Cyndere’s Midnight was secular because possible themes or morals gleaned from the book weren’t specifically Christian enough, undistinguishable from good messages from non-Christian books. I’m not quite sure how “secular” is the right term to use here.

Steve had passionate views, and I’m not trying to put him down, just to put out a point of disagreement. We may chalk this up to an “agree to disagree” type of issue. I have long felt and advocated on this blog that God is interested in beauty for beauty’s sake, and not everything created in His name has to have a specific religious or practical function. I’ve gone to Francis Schaeffer’s book Art and the Bible on this point a lot. One of his examples is a free-standing column in Solomon’s temple that had no functional purpose from an engineering or spiritual standpoint, other than to add architectural beauty to the temple.

I don’t think from the books themselves or Jeffrey’s words about them that he is trying to hide any message. I think he is trying to write to a standard that he has set for himself regarding beauty of language and power of story. He has themes he sees, but he is reluctant to blurt them out and color what readers will take from the book. I certainly see Christian truths in his books, but it seems he’s trying to let the reader decide what themes they see. What I do have a problem with is people judging motives without fully understanding what the artist is doing.

Also, what about Biblical books like Song of Songs and Esther. The Lord isn’t mentioned in either of them, but we know the inspiration that comes from these books. The inspiration is derived from the interpretation of the books, even when it is not directly spelled out in the text.

I wish that Steve had taken more information from the fine interviews with Jeffrey. Robert Treskillard has a fine interview with the author, doing a discussion style back and forth. Then Shane Deal follows with a separate interview that further explores Jeffrey’s style of writing and his purpose in his work. Make sure to read down to an extensive discourse in the comments, as there are points no one should miss.

The next point of discussion comes from my friend Becky Miller, in her discussion based off of Steve Rice’s post from above. Becky and I have had a friendly disagreement on the nature of Christian art ;), and she talks about the intentionality of theme. Now, I agree with her that if there is a specific theme an author wants to communicate, and they do so skillfully, that it doesn’t lessen the artistic value at all. In fact, I happen to believe that theme is very important to the structure of a novel. Otherwise the work is not going to have any strength to impact a reader. She mentions “backing into a theme,” where Jeffrey talks about writing and letting the theme come to him rather than knowing it beforehand. I don’t think I could fully do that (the control freak in me, I suppose), but I believe, if nothing else, from Jeffrey’s experience, that it can happen.

My question is: if a Christian author writes a book that doesn’t have explicitly gospel-specific themes, is that work “Christian fiction?” I see reflections of the “One True Myth,” as C.S. Lewis termed the gospel, in Cyndere’s Midnight? But I can’t point to a specific Christ-figure or other allegorical character in the book. If the criteria to be called Christian fiction is to have a specific gospel feature, directly showing God, then I suppose Cyndere won’t meet that criteria. I think Jeffrey’s two books could have published by secular houses without changing the content, but I have to believe that he is trying to accomplish something in the market he’s currently in.

I wrote a short story that doesn’t directly deal with God, just in passing. Yet the themes of sanctity of life and fidelity in marriage are the points that make the story, IMO. The sanctity of life theme was what I had in mind when I started, but the marriage theme surprised me in many ways. Both points are informed and hopefully reflect a Biblical worldview, but the story wasn’t the place to bring out all aspects of the Biblical narrative.

All art communicates something. Fiction is by nature more direct than other forms, such as visual arts. An artist fools themseleves if they think it won’t communicate something. Sometimes an artist may choose a specific theme to explore up front, while others may see what emerges in the process. Both are valid starting points, and I maintain that a Christian artist, no matter their starting point, will reflect a Biblical worldview if they are truly transformed by their walk.

Becky has another post titled, Fiction Is… I had to laugh at her last comment this morning, because even though we’ve playfully seemed to disagree, she had this to say:

What I would like to see Christians come to is the idea that fiction can actually say something important. Does that have to be the plan of salvation? No. Does it need to be laid out overtly? No.
There is a third way, an artistic way of weaving in a theme so that readers “get it” without being told it.

And with this, we’re in total agreement!

If you’re interested in this discussion of Art, Creativity, and how it plays out in Christian expression, I invite you to check out these different posts and perspectives. It has been a highly intriguing discussion!

Themes in Art

I hope everyone around here read about Jeffrey Overstreet and his Auralia Thread books last week. They are intriguing books, and they managed to spawn some interesting conversation. (I started this post the day after the tour, but it has taken me time to finish my evolving thoughts)

Blog posts looked at the “Christian” aspect of these books, and asked about the process an author comes up with themes for their work.

Steve Rice had some strong opinions of the books. If I understood him correctly, he felt that a Christian artist ought to visibly show their faith in their works. He quoted a few verses about a light not being put under a basket and speaking from the heart (that if Christ is in your heart, how can we not help but speak of what is there).

He also brought up secularism, implying that Cyndere’s Midnight was secular because possible themes or morals gleaned from the book weren’t specifically Christian enough, undistinguishable from good messages from non-Christian books. I’m not quite sure how “secular” is the right term to use here.

Steve had passionate views, and I’m not trying to put him down, just to put out a point of disagreement. We may chalk this up to an “agree to disagree” type of issue. I have long felt and advocated on this blog that God is interested in beauty for beauty’s sake, and not everything created in His name has to have a specific religious or practical function. I’ve gone to Francis Schaeffer’s book Art and the Bible on this point a lot. One of his examples is a free-standing column in Solomon’s temple that had no functional purpose from an engineering or spiritual standpoint, other than to add architectural beauty to the temple.

I don’t think from the books themselves or Jeffrey’s words about them that he is trying to hide any message. I think he is trying to write to a standard that he has set for himself regarding beauty of language and power of story. He has themes he sees, but he is reluctant to blurt them out and color what readers will take from the book. I certainly see Christian truths in his books, but it seems he’s trying to let the reader decide what themes they see. What I do have a problem with is people judging motives without fully understanding what the artist is doing.

Also, what about Biblical books like Song of Songs and Esther. The Lord isn’t mentioned in either of them, but we know the inspiration that comes from these books. The inspiration is derived from the interpretation of the books, even when it is not directly spelled out in the text.

I wish that Steve had taken more information from the fine interviews with Jeffrey. Robert Treskillard has a fine interview with the author, doing a discussion style back and forth. Then Shane Deal follows with a separate interview that further explores Jeffrey’s style of writing and his purpose in his work. Make sure to read down to an extensive discourse in the comments, as there are points no one should miss.

The next point of discussion comes from my friend Becky Miller, in her discussion based off of Steve Rice’s post from above. Becky and I have had a friendly disagreement on the nature of Christian art ;), and she talks about the intentionality of theme. Now, I agree with her that if there is a specific theme an author wants to communicate, and they do so skillfully, that it doesn’t lessen the artistic value at all. In fact, I happen to believe that theme is very important to the structure of a novel. Otherwise the work is not going to have any strength to impact a reader. She mentions “backing into a theme,” where Jeffrey talks about writing and letting the theme come to him rather than knowing it beforehand. I don’t think I could fully do that (the control freak in me, I suppose), but I believe, if nothing else, from Jeffrey’s experience, that it can happen.

My question is: if a Christian author writes a book that doesn’t have explicitly gospel-specific themes, is that work “Christian fiction?” I see reflections of the “One True Myth,” as C.S. Lewis termed the gospel, in Cyndere’s Midnight? But I can’t point to a specific Christ-figure or other allegorical character in the book. If the criteria to be called Christian fiction is to have a specific gospel feature, directly showing God, then I suppose Cyndere won’t meet that criteria. I think Jeffrey’s two books could have published by secular houses without changing the content, but I have to believe that he is trying to accomplish something in the market he’s currently in.

I wrote a short story that doesn’t directly deal with God, just in passing. Yet the themes of sanctity of life and fidelity in marriage are the points that make the story, IMO. The sanctity of life theme was what I had in mind when I started, but the marriage theme surprised me in many ways. Both points are informed and hopefully reflect a Biblical worldview, but the story wasn’t the place to bring out all aspects of the Biblical narrative.

All art communicates something. Fiction is by nature more direct than other forms, such as visual arts. An artist fools themseleves if they think it won’t communicate something. Sometimes an artist may choose a specific theme to explore up front, while others may see what emerges in the process. Both are valid starting points, and I maintain that a Christian artist, no matter their starting point, will reflect a Biblical worldview if they are truly transformed by their walk.

Becky has another post titled, Fiction Is… I had to laugh at her last comment this morning, because even though we’ve playfully seemed to disagree, she had this to say:

What I would like to see Christians come to is the idea that fiction can actually say something important. Does that have to be the plan of salvation? No. Does it need to be laid out overtly? No.
There is a third way, an artistic way of weaving in a theme so that readers “get it” without being told it.

And with this, we’re in total agreement!

If you’re interested in this discussion of Art, Creativity, and how it plays out in Christian expression, I invite you to check out these different posts and perspectives. It has been a highly intriguing discussion!

CSFF Tour – Cyndere’s Midnight, Day 3


A Tale of Nobility and Savagery

This is the 3rd day of the CSFF tour for Cyndere’s Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet. See Monday for my overview of it and the first book in the series, Auralia’s Colors, and yesterday for an interview with Jeffrey.

Cyndere’s Midnight is a swirling tale of noble and base elements, of a kingdom trying to find something they lost, and another kingdom in danger of losing what they have, and individual choices to embrace light over darkness.

If you picked up Cyndere without reading Auralia, you would understand the plot for the most part. As with most sequels, it is a deeper experience if you read the whole series. Jeffrey planted seeds for Cyndere in the first one, so there are nice connections to be made.

Jeffrey mentioned in his interview that he is trying to write a beautiful story with language that will stand the test of time. I don’t know if will rise to such a lofty standard, but it is not typical fantasy fare, or Christian fare for that matter. He takes great care in describing the details of the Expanse. His prose continues to be quite poetic, though I felt it wasn’t quite as poetic as Auralia. The subject matter could definitely be part of that, as the character Auralia was the center of the poetry last time. He doesn’t repeat words or phrases repetitively. It is apparent he is using language precisely.

The story is sweeping in its scope, and he keeps the suspense moving along. The confused beastman Jordam becomes the heart of the book as he struggles with the curse on his people. They are driven to drink a substance called Essence for their strength, but could it be corrupting them? Jordam sees hints of something greater in the colors Auralia has created, and a new nobility rises in him as he stumbles into Cyndere’s path.

Other characters are carefully constructed and there are only a couple of very minor characters that seem like throw-away “placeholder” characters. The contrasts in character development is very intriguing.

I really enjoyed Cyndere’s Midnight. In some ways I enjoyed it more than Auralia’s Colors, but other ways I didn’t. Both books are poetic, but I think the language in the first book was a little more lyrical. However, I connected more with Jordam than I did anyone in the first book.

Jeffrey’s writing is dense, and it won’t stand for a quick perusal of a page. You are forced to take it in and chew on it a little. This is mostly very good, but on occasion there are points where a reader can get confused. Also, there were many characters and sub-plots going on, so there were some times when I lost track of what was happening with them.

I mentioned with my review of Auralia’s Colors that I believed it to be a very important book for Christian fiction. Cyndere’s Midnight continues that legacy. In his interview yesterday, Jeffrey said,

Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. “Christian fiction” is usually notable because of the “message.” It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don’t want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling… and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now.

His answers inspired me to take a second look on what I’m writing and how I do it. I think he is taking a bold step, writing a different kind of book that can’t be categorized within the bounds of CBA fiction. I applaud him for setting a lofty goal for himself in his own creativity. I don’t think he fully realizes the potential, as I think the plot can be clarified a little more, but it is clearly an artistic work that is unique among other fantasy books.

CSFF Tour – Cyndere’s Midnight, Day 3


A Tale of Nobility and Savagery

This is the 3rd day of the CSFF tour for Cyndere’s Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet. See Monday for my overview of it and the first book in the series, Auralia’s Colors, and yesterday for an interview with Jeffrey.

Cyndere’s Midnight is a swirling tale of noble and base elements, of a kingdom trying to find something they lost, and another kingdom in danger of losing what they have, and individual choices to embrace light over darkness.

If you picked up Cyndere without reading Auralia, you would understand the plot for the most part. As with most sequels, it is a deeper experience if you read the whole series. Jeffrey planted seeds for Cyndere in the first one, so there are nice connections to be made.

Jeffrey mentioned in his interview that he is trying to write a beautiful story with language that will stand the test of time. I don’t know if will rise to such a lofty standard, but it is not typical fantasy fare, or Christian fare for that matter. He takes great care in describing the details of the Expanse. His prose continues to be quite poetic, though I felt it wasn’t quite as poetic as Auralia. The subject matter could definitely be part of that, as the character Auralia was the center of the poetry last time. He doesn’t repeat words or phrases repetitively. It is apparent he is using language precisely.

The story is sweeping in its scope, and he keeps the suspense moving along. The confused beastman Jordam becomes the heart of the book as he struggles with the curse on his people. They are driven to drink a substance called Essence for their strength, but could it be corrupting them? Jordam sees hints of something greater in the colors Auralia has created, and a new nobility rises in him as he stumbles into Cyndere’s path.

Other characters are carefully constructed and there are only a couple of very minor characters that seem like throw-away “placeholder” characters. The contrasts in character development is very intriguing.

I really enjoyed Cyndere’s Midnight. In some ways I enjoyed it more than Auralia’s Colors, but other ways I didn’t. Both books are poetic, but I think the language in the first book was a little more lyrical. However, I connected more with Jordam than I did anyone in the first book.

Jeffrey’s writing is dense, and it won’t stand for a quick perusal of a page. You are forced to take it in and chew on it a little. This is mostly very good, but on occasion there are points where a reader can get confused. Also, there were many characters and sub-plots going on, so there were some times when I lost track of what was happening with them.

I mentioned with my review of Auralia’s Colors that I believed it to be a very important book for Christian fiction. Cyndere’s Midnight continues that legacy. In his interview yesterday, Jeffrey said,

Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. “Christian fiction” is usually notable because of the “message.” It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don’t want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling… and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now.

His answers inspired me to take a second look on what I’m writing and how I do it. I think he is taking a bold step, writing a different kind of book that can’t be categorized within the bounds of CBA fiction. I applaud him for setting a lofty goal for himself in his own creativity. I don’t think he fully realizes the potential, as I think the plot can be clarified a little more, but it is clearly an artistic work that is unique among other fantasy books.

CSFF Tour – Cyndere’s Midnight, Day 2


Hey! Day 2 of our CSFF tour featuring Jeffrey Overstreet and his new book, Cyndere’s Midnight. I gave an introduction to the book yesterday, and listed multiple links to check out if you’re curious about the unique approach Jeffrey has when it comes to his writing: other’s in the tour, reviews of his previous book, Auralia’s Colors, and links to Jeffrey’s websites.

Jeffrey was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had, so please check out his replies below. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up with my review of Cyndere’s Midnight.

1. What are your writing influences?
It’s tough for me to point to influences. I imagine readers will have a better sense of that than me. But I can tell you who I found inspirational while I was writing.

Annie Dillard writes about the natural world with passion, honesty, and stirring prose. Her attention to the wonders and horrors of our fantastic, fallen world are compelling, awe-inspiring, and sometimes truly disturbing.

I read a lot of poetry while I work on The Auralia Thread. I’m especially fond of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, and my wife Anne’s poetry, which takes me to so many vivid places. Anne and I spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest, and I’m sure that the places we go inspire my writing more than any writers do.

I don’t think many fiction writers have had much influence on The Auralia Thread. I’m sure there are echoes of Tolkien, Lewis, Macdonald, and especially Richard Adams and Frank Herbert. But when it comes to style, I often revisit Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series for the music of their language and the phantasmagoric detail of their worlds.

2. What was your inspiration for the Auralia’s Colors series?
My wife Anne and I had a conversation about make-believe while we were hiking near Flathead Lake, Montana. Anne said something about how most people reach a certain age where they stop using their imaginations, stop expressing themselves creatively, and put make believe behind them. I started thinking about that while we walked through this beautiful, forested landscape.

I began to imagine a kingdom in which the people bury all of their creative expressions. And then I envisioned an artist who wandered into that culture, and who was both celebrated and persecuted for her vision. That’s where it all started.

3. You are known for your work in film critique. How did your film influence affect your writing?
Film reviewing has taught me to pay attention to small details, and to cherish those experiences in which characters take you into places and situations you’ve never thought about before.

It has also taught me to think about beauty, and how a picture can say so much more than a lesson or an allegory. So I focus on painting pictures in prose, trying to share images instead of morals, questions instead of answers.

The movies that stick with me are those that don’t preach, but instead offer me encounters with beauty and imagery that give me new insights every time I enjoy them.

I want to write a story that does that. I don’t want to tell readers what to think–I want to invite them on an adventure, and let them have their own unique experience, develop their own interpretation along the way.

4. What is your opinion about the state of Christian fiction in the CBA world and culture in general?
I don’t have much time to read, so when I do, I read a lot of poetry and literature that has proven itself to be timeless and beautiful.

Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. “Christian fiction” is usually notable because of the “message.” It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don’t want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling… and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now. That’s why Tolkien, Lewis, and L’Engle’s books are standing the test of time. They’re imaginative, rich with truth, and beautiful.

I don’t read stories because I want a message. I read because I want to have an experience. I want to use my imagination. I only get the chance to read a limited number of books in my life, and I want to read the most beautiful, rich, meaningful stuff I can find. I firmly believe that that how we say something is just as important as what we say. Christian bookstores are full of books that say good things. But many of those books say good things very poorly, or without much imagination.

If a book is well-written, many readers all over the world — Christian and non-Christian alike — will find that book compelling. That’s why most “Christian books” are only ever read by people who shop in Christian bookstores.

5. What would you like people to know about your two current books that they may not know already?
I hope that readers will open the pages of Auralia’s Colors and Cyndere’s Midnight out of curiosity and a desire for an adventure.

If they come expecting an allegory, I think they’ll be frustrated. A lot of reviewers have said that this is a story about Christ, or the Christian life. Fine… there’s nothing wrong with that interpretation. But that’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote them. You might just as well read tehm as a story about an artist’s struggles and temptations, or a story about talents and gifts, or a story about beauty and what it does to us. Readers have discovered themes that have pleasantly surprised me. But I know where this story is going, and it doesn’t work as an allegory.

I’m very interested in hearing what readers think the story is about. Fantasy is a mysterious genre. We learn about each other when we share our experience of a work of art. I never want to write a story that has an obvious “moral” or “lesson.” Why bother? If I wanted to do that, I would just teach lessons and not bother with a story. No, I want to tell stories the way Jesus shared parables — I want to tell a story that teases readers’ minds into contemplation, that gets them arguing about what it all means. I know what they mean to me, but that keeps changing. What do they mean to you?

CSFF Tour – Cyndere’s Midnight, Day 2


Hey! Day 2 of our CSFF tour featuring Jeffrey Overstreet and his new book, Cyndere’s Midnight. I gave an introduction to the book yesterday, and listed multiple links to check out if you’re curious about the unique approach Jeffrey has when it comes to his writing: other’s in the tour, reviews of his previous book, Auralia’s Colors, and links to Jeffrey’s websites.

Jeffrey was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had, so please check out his replies below. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up with my review of Cyndere’s Midnight.

1. What are your writing influences?
It’s tough for me to point to influences. I imagine readers will have a better sense of that than me. But I can tell you who I found inspirational while I was writing.

Annie Dillard writes about the natural world with passion, honesty, and stirring prose. Her attention to the wonders and horrors of our fantastic, fallen world are compelling, awe-inspiring, and sometimes truly disturbing.

I read a lot of poetry while I work on The Auralia Thread. I’m especially fond of Scott Cairns, Jane Hirshfield, and my wife Anne’s poetry, which takes me to so many vivid places. Anne and I spend a lot of time exploring the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest, and I’m sure that the places we go inspire my writing more than any writers do.

I don’t think many fiction writers have had much influence on The Auralia Thread. I’m sure there are echoes of Tolkien, Lewis, Macdonald, and especially Richard Adams and Frank Herbert. But when it comes to style, I often revisit Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series for the music of their language and the phantasmagoric detail of their worlds.

2. What was your inspiration for the Auralia’s Colors series?
My wife Anne and I had a conversation about make-believe while we were hiking near Flathead Lake, Montana. Anne said something about how most people reach a certain age where they stop using their imaginations, stop expressing themselves creatively, and put make believe behind them. I started thinking about that while we walked through this beautiful, forested landscape.

I began to imagine a kingdom in which the people bury all of their creative expressions. And then I envisioned an artist who wandered into that culture, and who was both celebrated and persecuted for her vision. That’s where it all started.

3. You are known for your work in film critique. How did your film influence affect your writing?
Film reviewing has taught me to pay attention to small details, and to cherish those experiences in which characters take you into places and situations you’ve never thought about before.

It has also taught me to think about beauty, and how a picture can say so much more than a lesson or an allegory. So I focus on painting pictures in prose, trying to share images instead of morals, questions instead of answers.

The movies that stick with me are those that don’t preach, but instead offer me encounters with beauty and imagery that give me new insights every time I enjoy them.

I want to write a story that does that. I don’t want to tell readers what to think–I want to invite them on an adventure, and let them have their own unique experience, develop their own interpretation along the way.

4. What is your opinion about the state of Christian fiction in the CBA world and culture in general?
I don’t have much time to read, so when I do, I read a lot of poetry and literature that has proven itself to be timeless and beautiful.

Unfortunately, very little that is published in the CBA market stands up to that kind of test. “Christian fiction” is usually notable because of the “message.” It is very rarely written with the kind of artistry that will stand up to critique. I don’t want to write stuff that will only be read by people who believe what I believe. I want it to be read by people who love imaginative storytelling… and I want them to still be reading it a hundred years from now. That’s why Tolkien, Lewis, and L’Engle’s books are standing the test of time. They’re imaginative, rich with truth, and beautiful.

I don’t read stories because I want a message. I read because I want to have an experience. I want to use my imagination. I only get the chance to read a limited number of books in my life, and I want to read the most beautiful, rich, meaningful stuff I can find. I firmly believe that that how we say something is just as important as what we say. Christian bookstores are full of books that say good things. But many of those books say good things very poorly, or without much imagination.

If a book is well-written, many readers all over the world — Christian and non-Christian alike — will find that book compelling. That’s why most “Christian books” are only ever read by people who shop in Christian bookstores.

5. What would you like people to know about your two current books that they may not know already?
I hope that readers will open the pages of Auralia’s Colors and Cyndere’s Midnight out of curiosity and a desire for an adventure.

If they come expecting an allegory, I think they’ll be frustrated. A lot of reviewers have said that this is a story about Christ, or the Christian life. Fine… there’s nothing wrong with that interpretation. But that’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote them. You might just as well read tehm as a story about an artist’s struggles and temptations, or a story about talents and gifts, or a story about beauty and what it does to us. Readers have discovered themes that have pleasantly surprised me. But I know where this story is going, and it doesn’t work as an allegory.

I’m very interested in hearing what readers think the story is about. Fantasy is a mysterious genre. We learn about each other when we share our experience of a work of art. I never want to write a story that has an obvious “moral” or “lesson.” Why bother? If I wanted to do that, I would just teach lessons and not bother with a story. No, I want to tell stories the way Jesus shared parables — I want to tell a story that teases readers’ minds into contemplation, that gets them arguing about what it all means. I know what they mean to me, but that keeps changing. What do they mean to you?