Ten Tough Questions (and 1 easy one) for...Bryan Davis!

Next up, in the hot seat facing the Ten Tough Questions interview is none other than Bryan Davis.

Bryan Davis is the author of the best-selling Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series, contemporary/fantasy blends for young people. His book, Eye of the Oracle, hit number one on the January 2007, Young Adult CBA best-seller list. His new series from Zondervan, Echoes from the Edge, debuted in May of 2008 with Beyond the Reflection’s Edge, and the second book in the series, Eternity’s Edge, came out in October.
Bryan is also the author of several other works including The Image of a Father (AMG) and Spit and Polish for Husbands (AMG), and four books in the Arch Books series: The Story of Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation, The Day Jesus Died, The Story of the Empty Tomb (over 100,000 sold), and Jacob’s Dream. Bryan lives in Western Tennessee with his wife, Susie, and their children. Bryan and Susie have homeschooled their four girls and three boys. Bryan was born in 1958 and grew up in the eastern U.S. From the time he taught himself how to read before school age, through his seminary years and beyond, he has demonstrated a passion for the written word, reading and writing in many disciplines and genres, including theology, fiction, devotionals, poetry, and humor. Bryan is a graduate of the University of Florida (B.S. in Industrial Engineering).

In high school, he was valedictorian of his class and won academic awards in English, Algebra, Advanced Math, and Science. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and voted Most Likely to Succeed. He continues to further his writing education by attending relevant writing conferences and conventions. Although he is now a full time writer, Bryan was a computer professional for over 20 years.

Chritopher Miller: Welcome Bryan!

Bryan Davis: Thank you. I’m glad to be here … I think.

CM: We shall know soon enough. I must say, you are a brave man to face the Ten Tough Questions that lay ahead. I assume you have adequately prepared yourself for the challenge.

BD: I installed a seatbelt in my desk chair for the occasion. I’m ready.

CM: Clever - but will it be enough? Let's proceed with the inquisition!

FIRST QUESTION: For starters let's talk about what you hope to accomplish with these books. I mean, why is it, Mr. Davis, that you chose fantasy fiction as your preferred genre?

BD: I'm not a fan of most fantasy, because it seemed that the characters would get out of difficult situations by suddenly learning a magical spell or an undiscovered power, or maybe a new character would come along and save them. It was too easy. I wanted my characters to use their gifts from God along with strength of character, faith, and perseverance to work through their problems.

I don't know of any other Christian fantasy that blends fantasy elements into the real world. Most either take place in another world or follow contemporary characters as they travel to another world. Although my characters take a couple of journeys into alternate dimensions, the base world, where most action takes place, is in our world and in our time.

I had a dream about a boy who could breathe fire. I told my eldest son about it, and he suggested that I write a fantasy novel based on the dream. He said that if I wanted to speak to children in our culture, fantasy was the way to go. After brainstorming with him for a couple of hours, we came up with the fantasy concept of how a boy could breathe fire.

CM: Hmmm....I see. You know, I had fire breath once, but I found these great breath mints that really solved that problem for me. But enough about that - it's time for...

QUESTION 2: As a Christian, where exactly does your faith fit in to your writing? I mean, are you trying to hit your readers over the head with your beliefs?

BD: My faith pervades all my writing, but my doctrinal stands on some issues make my stories quite different from most. My Christian protagonists depart from what many writers call "real" or "honest," though they portray a more "real" Christian character than what is passing for that label in much of Christian fiction. On this point I could elaborate until your ears fall right off your head, but, briefly, I reject the notion that you have to write sinful acts or tendencies into Christian characters. Sin doesn't make them "real" or "honest." It just makes them sinful, and in most fiction I find too many characters with tacked-on flaws. It really seems clichéd.

I believe in the overwhelming power God gives us for holy living. My characters struggle in many non-sinful ways and find the power to overcome. I like successful heroes. God gives us victory in Christ, so it makes sense to write that way. And feedback from my readers indicates that they relate to the great struggles my characters go through, and they are inspired by my characters' successes. I believe this portrayal of obedient faith is what is truly real and honest.

CM: QUESTION 3: Many Christians are leery of fantasy works and some even believe that it is the work of the devil - opening doors to unseen worlds. What is your take on this...hmmmm?

BD: This is a topic I talk or write about nearly every day. Yes, fantasy does open the door to an unseen world, but this is not a bad portal. There really is an unseen world, so understanding it is an important part of the maturing process in our walks of faith. As Paul said, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." How can we do battle if we can't imagine what's out there? Elisha opened such a portal for his servant, saying, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

The key is to provide young readers a way to see the good side of the unseen world in order to give them reason to rely on its power. God has often provided a vision of the holy for His people, and Christian fantasy is one of the best ways to stretch young minds beyond the here and now and give them a view of the heavenlies.

I believe that Jesus used fantasy elements in his stories. In fact, if I were to write a story about His miracles that didn't include His name or where He got His power, it would be a fantasy story. Yet, Jesus made a fantasy story come to life, knowing that we learn and remember best when the story is fantastic.

I wrote an article that elaborates on this subject. You can find it online at

CM: QUESTION 4: What about the use of witchcraft or magic in storytelling? Are your books similar to Harry Potter?

BD: People who like Harry Potter will love this book. But, there are two reasons it's different. One is that all supernatural events come from God through prayer, and miracles, not magic. Second is that in the Harry Potter books, the main characters progress their stories often through deception, disobedience of rules, and lack of respect for authority. That doesn't happen in these books - the stories progress through courage and wise choices, and if they don't make a wise choice, they can get into trouble. One thing I want to make clear is that I'm not a Harry Potter basher, but I also don't think that series is necessarily wonderful. My kids have read it with my parental guidance, so they know that we don't believe in witchcraft, and we don't appreciate the disrespectful attitudes.

When it comes to dragons and King Arthur, these are symbols that are used to teach Christian truth; even Jesus used symbols. All through the book of Revelation, we see really strange, marvelous symbols that teach things. I don't know if there is going to really be a locust with long hair, but that's what Revelation uses as a picture of something else. We shouldn't be surprised that God would use great symbols to teach truths that are too deep to make simple - He uses symbols in a way we can remember. Stories that have great symbols are far more memorable and last a lot longer in our minds, especially for young people, if we use that method of teaching. Jesus knew it well. Unfortunately there are some people who say all fantasy is bad, or even all fiction is bad. It makes me wonder if they ever ask themselves why Jesus taught that way; He used stories and symbols to teach. I hope that people extend some grace and understand that these stories were written out of a heart of love that just wants to tell the truth in a story.

CM: QUESTION 5: Obviously, with a title like "Dragons in our Midst" there are a lot of dragons in your books. I think it is safe to say that most people see dragons as a symbol of evil as well. Why did you decide to make "good" and "bad" dragons?

BD: Well, I think that dragons are rightly a symbol of evil. But we have to remember that Job chapter 41 tells us that God created Leviathan. He describes it as one of His greatest creations and He uses it to reveal His power. If you read that passage carefully, Leviathan has armored scales and breathes fire. It sounds just like a fire breathing dragon. That's certainly where the authors who have described such beasts got their inspiration, from this creature of God. God created this being in order to show His power.

Now, I don't believe that God created anything for the purpose of being born evil. Angels were created and some of them fell. They weren't created to be evil, but some of them chose evil and fell. I'm putting dragons in the same mold, as a symbolic parallel to angels. They were created to be good; some of them fell. The greatest evil figure in all the world, and in all of the Bible, is a fallen angel, and the symbol of the fallen angel is a dragon. But why can't there be good dragons as well? Some people would say that dragons are a symbol of evil. The Bible calls Satan a dragon. Therefore, all dragons are evil. Well, the fallacy there is Satan also appears as an angel of light. Does that mean that all angels of light are evil? I don't think so. I wanted to make that angelic parallel, and it becomes even clearer in the third book, called Circles of Seven. Billy's faces a tremendous decision, and he'll have to discern between good and evil dragons. It's such a great story.

CM: QUESTION 6: Ah yes - the struggle of good and evil has been the source of many great stories - especially for the fantasy writer. While I can't say I agree entirely with your conclusion about God NOT being Sovereign over the actions of evil beings I still find your stories very engaging and enjoyable to read.

However, in the spirit of asking "tough questions" I feel compelled to ask how your characters wrestle with the scriptural principals presented in Romans 9 when it states in verse 18 that "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." or in verses 20-21 where it states, "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" Do your characters come to grips with these statements or do you avoid them in your work?

BD: I see your question as a false dilemma. My characters don’t “come to grips” with the statements, because there isn’t any conflict between the statements and the philosophy I portray with my characters, and I don’t avoid them, because there is nothing to avoid. Since Romans 9 addresses the fact that God decided to save people by faith rather than by works, it makes sense that God would have mercy on those with faith and harden those who rebel. It makes sense that Paul would use the potter parallel to illustrate how God uses certain people for certain tasks and also has the right to decide to save by faith. I don’t see how the passage raises any relevant issues I need to tackle. It fits perfectly with what I believe and the way my characters operate.

CM: So it would seem. I would love to continue this discussion, however, it is much too broad of a discourse to have here (and perhaps too boring for our current audience, I'm afraid). Perhaps a later date we can pick up where we left off. Consider yourself forewarned. :-)

See - I told you these would be tough, and there are still four more questions to go. Do you want to turn back now or are you willing to persevere to the end?

BD: When do the tough ones start? I’ll decide then. :-)

CM: Be careful what you wish for. Perhaps we should ask a question that is a bit more...shall we say..revealing.

QUESTION 7: Certainly there are some who don't like your writing. Have you spoken with people who have been offended by your stories or your beliefs? If so - what did you say to them?
BD: I have spoken to a few. First, I tell them that it’s great that they are so concerned about what they read. Then I try to address their specific concerns. I usually am able to calm people down and get them to agree that my stories aren’t as bad as they had once thought. Most objectors haven’t even read the books, so explaining the stories and the lessons behind them usually helps a lot.

CM: QUESTION 8: I heard that you were rejected nearly 200 times by publishers. What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing these books and getting them published?

BD: Between agents and publishers I collected about two hundred rejection notices, which I might use to wallpaper my office someday. I rewrote the first book about twenty-four times, changing it drastically in some of the rewrites. I think I made it even more radical as time went on, perhaps thinking that it might just end up as a story for myself and my family.

Since these books are faith-based, the mainstream publishers didn't show any interest. I often heard, "Too spiritual" or "Too Christian." The Christian publishers at that time weren't producing fantasy at all, and certainly not a series about dragons. I couldn't find a significant Christian fantasy series for young people that had been published in the last thirty years. It didn't matter that the Chronicles of Narnia had been one of the greatest sellers in history. In fact, when I mentioned that to one editor, hoping the Narnia success would open a door, he said, "You're not C. S. Lewis."

I finally met Dan Penwell of AMG Publishers. He had already contracted with me for a non-fiction book called The Image of a Father, and although AMG had never produced fiction, he took interest in my weird dragons story. AMG liked it so much, they started a fiction line with the series, and it has become their best selling line of books.

CM: Question 9: Seeing as "You're NOT C.S. Lewis" (as one editor put it), did you find it difficult to incorporate your beliefs into your story?

BD: It really wasn't that hard because it's been my desire for a long time to be able to say, "I just want to tell a story that is filled with Christ." There is no soapbox; no one is standing there shaking a finger, preaching at you. I want to have a natural flow of Christian thought and Christian love, without having to say "Jesus loved you and died for your sins." It'll flow out naturally. The reason I'm doing that is because so many people get turned off with the shaking finger and the soapbox sermon. But as we get to later books in the series, the Christian message of the blood salvation of Christ is going to come out a little more clearly. We want to hook our readers and not turn them off with a fire and brimstone, or an "Are you saved by the blood?" kind of message. It will come out later. I think you probably can tell that Bonnie is clearly a Christian, and Billy is probably not. He's got a lot of questions because he's never been taught right. He's in between because his father, being the dragon, revered the Bible, but he didn't feel like he was a fallen creature that needs to be saved. This is one of these deep mysteries that I don't think kids will get but I want adults to think about.

CM: Question 10: What are the greatest lessons you've learned in your journey as a writer and as a published author?

BD: The most impact has come through watching God provide for our needs. In order to pursue writing full time, we had to make a lot of sacrifices, but God has shown Himself to be our sufficiency.

I have a long story that shows God's provision, but to make it short, when I went to a homeschool conference to try to sell the dragons books for the first time, I was quite concerned that the slow sales wouldn't provide enough for me to break even on this venture. As the conference drew to a close, it became clear to me that I would come up fifty dollars short. Soon after calculating that number, a man came up to me and noticed my books and my sign that identified who I was. He pulled out his wallet and said, "On my way over here, God told me to find a man named Bryan and to give him fifty dollars." He then handed me the money. I didn't want to take it, but he encouraged me to do so, I finally did. When I got home, I recalculated my expenses versus sales, and the fifty dollars caused me to break even to the dollar.

I will never forget that lesson! God is my sufficiency, and I have learned not to sweat a lot of the issues that used to cause me concern.

CM: Amen to that! One of my favorite verses is in Romans 8:28 where it boldly claims that "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Not everyone lives to see the good that is being worked out in the trials - but yours is one of great blessing and encouragement to us all. Congratulations on making it through the ten tough questions. You did well!

I made it through with only a scratch, and I have a Band-aid for that.

CM: You have tough skin, my friend. Great job! Okay so now for the easy question.

BD: I’m ready. Can I loosen my seatbelt now?

CM: Yes, this one won't hurt a bit. I heard a rumor that you are working on a new end-times novel series based on the apocolypse. When will that be coming out and what can we expect it to be like? Is it like a "Left Behind" series or what?

BD: There is a series, but it’s not really an end-times series, and it’s not like Left Behind at all. In fact, you might call it an anti-end-times series. I hope to turn the end-times genre on its head. And you won’t have to worry about which eschatological doctrinal system the story fits into, because it won’t promote or reject any of them. My working series title is “Riders of the Apocalypse.” It will be designed for the Young Adult age group, but I think adults will enjoy just as much. But you’ll have to wait a bit. I have three other books coming out in 2009, so this new series won’t debut until 2010.

CM: Grrrr! We'll have to wait then...assuming the world doesn't end before then. :-) Thanks again for joining us for Ten Tough Questions and One Easy One!


Bryan Davis

Thank you for the interview and for posting it on your blog!

We can finish the doctrinal debate whenever you want ... as long as I have my sword nearby. :-)

Bryan Davis

Christopher Miller

A fight without a sword would indeed be an unfair fight.

As for scheduling the debate - it might be fun to involve others in the conversation as well. A "dueling pens" blog where authors from all points of view can login to post their responses to interesting spiritual topics. That would be a cool way for readers who care to get to know an author's beliefs.

What do you think?

Christopher Miller

Just one thing - I have to finish the next book first. Due date is looming large...yikes!