L.B. was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up there before heading to Wheaton College outside Chicago in Wheaton, Illinois. From there he went to St. Louis to attend Covenant Seminary. Since 1996 he’s been teaching in St. Louis, the last 9 years at Westminster Christian Academy where he also serves as the Bible Department Chair.
With diverse writing interests, L.B. currently has a nonfiction book proposal under consideration, but he is also developing a new fantasy series which he hopes to begin proposing to publishers soon.
Christopher Miller: Welcome, LB!
L.B. Graham: Thanks for having me – ‘Ten Tough Questions’ is a prestigious opportunity and one not to be missed when offered.
CM: We are here to learn who you are and why you write.Are you prepared to be tested and probed beyond all reasonable measure?
LB: Unreasonable tests and probes are always welcome.
CM: QUESTION ONE! I am aware that many successful authors have chosen to use pen names with two initials (i.e. JK Rowlings, CS Lews, RK Mortenson, GP Taylor, JI Paker, RC Sproul, JRR Tolkien, etc.). In light of this, what does LB stand for and why did you choose that as your pen name...just another copycat I suppose or is it, perhaps, that you are deeply afraid to tell us your true identity? Hiding something are we...hmmmm?
LB: That you used JRR to illustrate authors who use two initials when they write raises certain concerns with me about the state of mathematical education in America. As I was also educated in America, I can only assume something dreadful happened in the few – emphasis on few – years between my own education and yours. (Have I written enough yet to look like I’ve answered without actually doing so?)
CM: Point taken. However, I must advise you that it is unwise to press your luck. Since you won't tell us your name...we'll just have to make something up! Oh yeah - as penalty for NOT answering the question that first question doesn't count! Take THAT!
CM: Maybe this time, Lucy Beth, you'll actually answer the question! QUESTION ONE (take two): Your Binding of the Blade series seems a bit different because all 2500 pages read like one story from beginning to end. Did you have the whole story planned out in advance of book one or did you just find your way through it?
LB: It didn't come together all at once, but what I conceived of was a story about a world where the making of weapons essentially represented ‘the Fall,' or the loss of that world's innocence and descent into sin and misery. And, on the other hand, the unmaking of weapons was the clearest picture for that world of peace, of things being made new. In short, the symbolic picture from Isaiah of our future restoration became a literal picture in my fantasy world, the picture of their great hope.
So, the Isaiah image became the thematic core of BOTB. The geography archetypes gave the story shape. I decided to structure the series geographically, matching tone and mood and theme and plot elements according to the pattern I outlined above.
Thus Beyond the Summerland took place in the south, was a story of romance and summer and things generally going well. The cover shows this summery feel. The story moved in Bringer of Storms to the west, in autumn, as things begin to fall apart pretty substantially, and as the world fades quickly into darkness. The stormy motif is portrayed pretty well here in that cover.
The story then cycles in the next two books through the north and into the east, each representing those archetypes in turn - darkness, night & desolation in winter followed by the slight glimmer of hope that comes with morning, sunrise, spring and things new. The covers for books 3 and 4 below show those seasons too. And then the last book returns to summer, though a different kind of summer, but I'll leave it at that.
CM: QUESTION TWO! I remember the first book I saw was the Bringer of Storms book and I was a bit surprised by the giant on its cover controlling the weather. It made me think of greek mythology where gods would control the weather. How do you classify your books for those who may have similar thoughts?
LB: I have no interest in denying that Greek and Norse Mythology have been an influence on me even as they were on Lewis and Tolkien. Taken as stories, those myths are excellent food for the imagination. However, as with Lewis and Tolkien, whatever creatures or archetypes or whatever I may have appropriated from mythology consciously or subconsciously have been put to very different use. As for classification, my stories are what might be called ‘high fantasy,’ or ‘epic fantasy.’
CM: I see, so it is Christian fantasy then not Greek myth.
LB: Actually, I would just say fantasy. I wouldn't use the term Christian fantasy.
CM: Interesting, why not? Are you afraid to be labeled "Christian"?
LB: Well, the short version is that I think the adjective "Christian" is one that is properly applied to people, not things like "music" or "fiction" or in this case, "fantasy." I know what people mean with labels like "Christian fantasy," I just dislike the implication that Christian fantasy is good, and other fantasy is bad. I think that view is simplistic. Music, stories, movies and other artwork that conveys a message isn't really divided into two piles - the good and bad. Rather I see them in a continuum. Some stories have lots of truth or good in them, others some, others not so much, and just because the author is a Christian doesn't mean I'm going to agree with what he or she says or like the story. Likewise, I've read some great books by non-believers, who despite their unbelief are people made in the image of God and have created powerful stories.
CM: That is pretty deep for someone named Lucy Beth...I think I'll have to call you Left Brain instead!
LB: You are certainly welcome to do so, but Lucy Beth was beginning to grow on me.
CM: QUESTION THREE: What is the most memorable line you have ever written in a book?
LB: I don’t spend much time memorizing my own work, so I don’t know about memorable, but I can comment on my favorite line. I have several lines in the series with the same basic message, and it isn’t original with me; it’s been borrowed and adapted from scripture. “Allfather is making all things new. Come and see.” Since my books are about “restoration,” the promise that God will make all things new is the thematic center of my story.
CM: QUESTION FOUR: Recently I was answering questions about writing in an elementary classroom during a school visit. During the session, one of the kids raised his hand and asked a pretty tough question I want to pass on to you as well. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the lowest) how popular of a writer do you think you are?
CM: Hmmm...you answered that pretty quick. Must have been thinking about it for awhile then, eh? Probably have a chart posted on your wall to monitor your "fame factor" I bet. But moving on...QUESTION FIVE: If someone could only get only ONE book in the Binding of the Blade series which book should they buy and why?
LB: If you can only get one, get the first one, because it is the one that makes the most sense on its own. You’ll be a little ticked at the end though, since it is a bit of a cliffhanger. My favorite is the last. It is clearly the best. Maybe if you can only get one, find someone who’s read the series who can summarize the first 2000 pages and then read book 5.
CM: QUESTION SIX: Have you ever had to force yourself to write when you didn't really want to? If so, what did you do to motivate yourself to keep going and finish the story?
LB: I’m sure during the years I was working on the series there were days I didn’t really want to write that I forced myself to, but if so, there weren’t many. I’m a teacher, so my hours to write are few and precious. I cherish them and enjoy writing greatly. It’s a great privilege to be able to do this and to get paid for doing it.
CM: QUESTION SEVEN: Don't you think there are enough fantasy stories in the world? Why do we need more? More specifically why do we need yours, Lost Boy?
LB: Ooooh, now you’re talkin’! “Lost Boy” puts me in a hip, Kiefer Sutherland kinda mood. I like that one. There are lots of fantasy stories in the world, and strictly speaking, it doesn’t need mine. On the other hand, when I wrote “Beyond the Summerland,” Christian fantasy basically wasn’t happening, as it was almost non-existent in the Christian publishing world. I thought the world needed new, relevant, quality fantasy from a Christian perspective, which is why I set out to write some – but that’s not the same thing as saying the world needs my stories.
CM: QUESTION EIGHT: How do you pick the titles of your books? Did you know them before hand or did you select it after the story was completed?
LB: I had working titles before the series was written, but not all of them were ones that my publisher wanted to use (and I wasn’t completely sold on them all, either). Some didn’t change at all, some just a little bit, and some completely. Book 3, "Shadow in the Deep" had the working title "The Waters of Sea & Sky". The actual title is more catchy, perhaps, but the working title fit the book, content-wise, better. For Book 4, "Father of Dragons", one early possibility I toyed with was "On Wings of Gold." I decide on "Father of Dragons" later because of the symmetry with "Bringer of Storms" in book 2. At the end of the day, I was pretty happy with all of them though, and I came up with all of them, even if not at first.
CM: QUESTION NINE: Is there anything you do to keep your writing skills sharp?
LB: Read. Reading good writing is the best thing you can do for your own writing (that and writing itself).
CM: Good answer. That brings us to the FINAL QUESTION: Besides the previous 9 questions, what is the most difficult thing you have ever been asked about your books and how did you respond?
LB: Truly, no question ever put to me about my work has ever challenged me as these have. I thought I knew who I was and what I was doing and why before I sat down to answer these questions, but you have pushed me to the brink. I need to regroup and reconsider my calling in life, to figure out why God put me on this planet and perhaps repent for the terrible waste of time my life has been to this point. Most likely, I’ll need to quit my job and relocate to the Seattle area, where I might possibly seek out the help of compassionate brothers with a heart for ex-writers. If you can think of anyone like that who might be able to take me and my family in and provide for us in this time of transition, let me know.
CM: That was a bit of a cop-out but we'll let it slide. Smooth talk goes a long way my friend. Well, Long Beard, you managed to survive the terrible ten! How does it feel?
LB: I feel a Little Beat, but also like a Lucky Boy. The questions were good for some Light Banter, anything I can do for a pair of Loco Brothers, is a real privilege.
CM: Now for the easy question! What can you tell us about your next book series...what will it be about and when can we expect to read it?
LB: I’m not under contract for anything at the moment, so I can’t tell you much. The series I’m developing that I hope to begin proposing to publishers soon is a fantasy series with some Sci-Fi-esque elements, and I’m pretty excited about it. We’ll see if I can sell it, and if I do, maybe I can visit with the Miller Bros again and tell you all about it.
CM: Thanks for joining us for our ten tough questions with Leech Bug Graham (AKA LB Graham)!