Dian Moore, a reviewer with Christian Book Previews, had the opportunity to interview Bryan Davis and discuss his book, Circles of Seven.
CBP: Your bio tells us you quit the computer field and moved to Apopka, Florida, to write fulltime - where did the courage come from to make this career decision and move?
Bryan: For me it seemed that I couldn’t live without writing. I had such a burning passion to communicate thoughts and ideas that would help people, I had to write them down and share them. Although I wrote during the night hours, I couldn’t dedicate the time that good writing deserved. When my company was bought out by another firm, my opportunity came. I sold my shares and lived off the proceeds while I immersed myself in getting my writing career going. If I hadn’t taken that step of faith, both in God and in myself, I don’t think I would ever have had anything published. For some authors, the situation is different. For me, it seemed that it was all or nothing.
CBP: Which features did you choose from a "dragon" to base the anomaly of being part-dragon?
Bryan: I chose fire breathing, flying with wings, danger sensing, eloquence in story telling, superior intelligence, and miraculous healing. In the series, there are three young people who are the offspring of dragons, and each has at least two of these characteristics. I might add more offspring or more characteristics, but these are all I have used so far.
CBP: Are your characters based on anyone you know, perhaps some of your seven children? And in what way?
Bryan: There are certain personality traits of my children in some of the books’ characters, but there are no characters for which you can say, “Oh, she’s just like your daughter,” or “he’s like your son.” For example, the Bonnie character has a blend of qualities from my daughters, but she isn’t really just like any of them. She has the tender spirit of a couple of my younger daughters and the toughness of my eldest daughter.
CBP: Does your family act as a sounding board for your stories?
Bryan: All the time. I couldn’t do this without them. My eighteen-year-old daughter and my fifteen-year-old son in particular are very open about saying, “Dad, no teenager would ever say that. It’s just stupid.” Regarding the story itself, I count on them to tell me whether or not a story “works,” whether or not a scene grabs the emotions, or whether or not it has the right balance of action and description. I’m glad they feel so free to criticize. It really helps a lot.
One of the most difficult scenes I have ever written came in “Circles of Seven” in which Billy is faced with the temptation of lust. I wanted to make his feelings clear to readers who have felt this temptation themselves. At the same time, I wanted to guard the minds of younger readers who don’t yet face it. I ran this scene by my family several times until we were all satisfied. Their help was essential.
CBP: Have you run into a particular story point that your sounding-board hated; and if so, did you keep it or trash it, and why?
Bryan: If my family hates a story point, I either trash it or modify it until they are satisfied. If they’re upset, then I’m sure others will also be upset. For example, I had a couple of scenes that they thought were too violent. I modified them, keeping the intense action while making it less graphic. Dead bodies are more “off screen” now, though there are some bloody results of fighting.
My wife is very alert to moral implications. In one scene, I had Billy entering Bonnie’s bedroom alone. It was completely innocent, but my wife rightfully objected. I altered it, and Billy was accompanied by his mother. That worked out just fine.
CBP: Why did you choose fantasy as your genre?
Bryan: I believe fantasy opens young minds to the world of the unseen. The danger is that unseen things can be bad. Good fantasy lifts up honorable ideals, like heroism, courage, faith, love, and loyalty. It shines a positive light on good values, making young readers want to emulate the characters who exhibit those traits. It gives kids heroes, when they might not have any heroes in their lives at home or at school. Good fantasy gives kids hope that maybe, just maybe, they can be a hero too.
Some of Jesus’ stories must have seemed like fantasy to His hearers. Had they ever seen a camel pass through the eye of a needle? How about a rich man and a poor man conversing in the afterlife? Fantasy images last, and a good teacher knows that lasting stories means lasting lessons. The hearers also remember the virtues of the heroes and the moral of the story.
CBP: What kind of research goes into a novel series like this?
Bryan: I did lots of King Arthur research, including traveling to England to visit the Arthurian sites. I hiked for over sixty miles through the mountains of West Virginia and Montana to find exactly the right spots for some of the scenes. I interviewed experts in many fields, such as airplane flight, horticulture, and English history. I wanted the stories to feel authentic, which some fantasy writers really don’t have to do if they place their stories in magical, unknown worlds. That’s the difficulty with the contemporary/fantasy blend I do. I have to be real and unreal at the same time!
CBP: What are some of the ideas God has given you for these novels?
Bryan: The entire series concept came about when I had a dream about a boy who could breathe fire. I told my oldest son about it, who was fourteen at the time, and he insisted that I make it into a story. We brainstormed the idea. How could a boy breathe fire? He said, “Maybe his parents are dragons!” Well, I didn’t think want to conjure images of dragons giving birth to humans, so I countered with, “Maybe his parents used to be dragons.” It didn’t take long for us to create a complete story premise, and he actually wrote a chapter or two before he gave up on it. I took it over and rewrote what he started, but the basic story concept never changed. It really was inspired by a dream, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if God really gave it to me.
Another idea was to put the theme of contentment into the third book. I met a wise, old man who said that God told him to tell me to use that theme. He said that the problems young people have almost always stem from lack of contentment. The rest of that story would take too long to tell hear, but I became convinced that the man was right. I took his advice to heart, and that theme worked beautifully in the book.
CBP: Have any of your ideas been discarded because they risk going against God's teachings; and if so, which ones?
Bryan: I am constantly aware of theological issues, so I think about this a lot. Many of the more radical story ideas do raise doctrinal questions. For example, if a dragon gets transformed into a human, does it automatically receive the curse of Adam? Does the new human have sinful tendencies at all? Does he need a savior?
For another example, in the third book, my main character enters the underworld (Hades) searching for prisoners who have been trapped there by an evil force. What should he find there? What influence did the coming of Christ have on that place?
Some of my characters are the offspring of two kinds of humans-- humans who were once dragons and regular humans. Is such a combination a sinful union, i.e. man and beast? I struggled with that one for a long time.
Since mine is a contemporary/fantasy blend, I have to deal with issues that many fantasies do not. Since it’s a real world with a real Christ, I have to be careful to sharply define where the fantasy part ends and where the reality of faith begins. This has been quite a task, but I don’t think I’ve completely discarded any ideas. I’ve just molded them to make sure they were biblical.
CBP: What can you share with readers about Book 4 of the series?
Bryan: In book 3, an ancient demonic force is released from the abyss and unleashed on the world. They want to control mankind, and their main targets for destruction are our books’ heroes. This will be the exciting, climactic conclusion to the series, and I hope it will tie up all the loose ends. We’ll see how it goes. It’s scheduled to come out in October of 2005.
CBP: Do you find it easier or harder to continue a story and keep the characters true in a series rather than a stand-alone book?
Bryan: I have never written a stand-alone novel, so I don’t know which is easier. I think the first book in a series is the hardest one to write, because I have to develop the characters without sacrificing action, and I have to look well into the future to foreshadow their changes as they encounter opportunities to grow. The following books get progressively easier with regard to character development, but I constantly have to infuse new challenges and excitement. I think each type of book presents unique challenges.
CBP: How long, from the thought process to the final draft of the manuscript, does it take for you to complete a book; and does it get easier as you go along?
Bryan: The first book was a long work-in-progress. It took seven years to get to the final draft stage. The second book took less than a year, so, yes, it did get easier, mainly because the storyline was established, and the main characters were thoroughly developed. I also began to write full time during the writing of the second book, so that helped reduce the number of months drastically.
CBP: Are you working on other writing projects other than the Dragons in Our Midst series?
Bryan: I have another YA series that I’m working on, but I’m keeping it under wraps for now. I’ll tell you that I’m planning for it to be a trilogy, and it will be more covert in its Christianity than is the dragons series. It will still have strong spiritual themes, but I want it to make more of a splash in the secular markets, especially in the public school system. If I can plant lots of seeds there, maybe the kids will want to pick up my more overtly Christian books.
CBP: Did you have formal writing training and other than that you would use in the computer field?
Bryan: I didn’t have formal training until I began pursuing writing as a career. I took several writing courses at seminars and conferences, and they helped a great deal, as did reading good books on writing. I believe I had a natural talent for writing, but, as with any talent, it had to be developed through learning the techniques. I sorely needed that training, and I’m grateful for my many teachers.
CBP: Now that you've settled into a writer's lifestyle, please share your typical writing day.
Bryan: I have no typical writing day at all. I have writing seasons. For the last two months I’ve done very little besides promoting. I have been visiting schools, speaking at churches, doing bookstore signings, etc. When school gets out, I’ll hunker down and write for two or three months, and my writing days can be from about four hours to about sixteen hours long.
I can say that I try to get some exercise in before I write. That really helps me get my energy up, and my mind seems to work better. I make sure I take several breaks to walk out of my office and talk to my wife and children, and collect hugs and kisses. Those give me energy too. My children know not to interrupt me frequently, but if my little ones need some Daddy time, they are free to come in. I hope never to be too busy to give a smile and a hug.
CBP: What authors do you like to read, and what influence do they have on your own writing?
Bryan: I really enjoy C. S. Lewis, two books in particular; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Perelandra. I loved the spiritual parallels in Dawn Treader, and the debate between Westin and the woman when he tried to get her to sin in Perelandra fascinated me. I have somewhat similar dialogues in The Candlestone and Circles of Seven, so that definitely influenced me.
The works of Francis Schaeffer had an impact on me. The God Who is There and He is There, and He is not Silent are two that come to mind. I enjoy careful, analytical thought, and Schaeffer was a master in that field. I try to carry that kind of thinking into my stories, and those who read my fantasy series will find that they are far more than children’s fairy tales.
CBP: Please, feel free to add any comments or observations or a statement on what you hope readers will take with them after reading Book 3.
Bryan: When you read Circles of Seven, I hope you will see two major themes—godliness and contentment. As Billy faces a new temptation in each circle, he has choices to make, difficult choices. As he chooses to “follow the light” the best way that he knows how, I hope to portray the way of godliness. At his most difficult temptation, because he doesn’t fully understand what he’s seeing, he doesn’t make the best choice, but he also doesn’t give in to sin. He acts in faith based on his limited knowledge, and God honors that act of faith. I believe that is what God asks of us, simply to act on faith, to take that step and trust in Him, even if we don’t always know exactly what to do.
Bonnie, who is a much more mature believer, faces a different obstacle. Because of her dragon wings, she has always felt like a mutant. Through an overwhelmingly powerful example of contentment in a prisoner she finds in the circles, she makes an incredible sacrifice and learns to be content with how God created her.
The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” Billy gives the reader a lesson in godliness, and he is accompanied into the dark realms by Bonnie, who provides a lesson in contentment. I hope that many readers find this “great gain” by taking the story to heart.
Thank you! -- Dian Moore