Ten Tough Questions (and 1 easy one) for...Wayne Thomas Batson!

Starting this week and every week thereafter (leading up to Christmas) the Miller Brothers have taken it upon themselves to post a new weekly interview with some of their favorite fiction authors. These interviews are meant to be tough - to cut to the heart of what these authors are truly about, why they write, and the nitty gritty of their lives. It is a series of ten questions designed to make our favorite authors sweat a little (and maybe even cry).

Wayne Thomas Batson is the first author foolish enough to take the challenge.

For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, Wayne is an author of amazing talent. He is probably best known for the "Door Within" book trilogy which has been an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of kids and has earned its place in the CBA bestseller list for youth fiction. In addition to the Door Within Trilogy, Wayne has taken to the high-seas with the first two books in the Isle of Swords series (a good pirate yarn).

Wayne has spent the last fifteen years teaching Reading and English to middle schools students. He lives in Eldersburg with his beautiful wife of eleven years and his four wonderful young children. Besides dividing his time between family, teaching, and writing, he likes to read, golf, play PS2, travel to the beach, play electric guitar, and create 3D artwork. (Sounds mischievous to me!)

So without further ado, let's begin the interview:

Christopher Miller: Mister I call you Wayne?

Wayne: Actually, I prefer, "Grand Author Extraordinaire, his Eminence Wayne Thomas Batson." LOL, just kidding. Whatever's clever.

CM: Whatever. Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. See, we've prepared ten of the most grueling questions ever posed to a writer before in the history of mankind (along with an easy one for good measure). If you choose to continue I feel you must be forewarned that it is a dangerous undertaking. Beware, there be rough waters ahead, matey! Are you ready for a challenge?

WTB: {rolls eyes} I was born ready. {rolls eyes again}

CM: Good, then let the QUESTioning begin!

WTB: {Pauses for rim shot}

CM: Your latest book series, the Isle of Swords (published by Thomas Nelson), is all about pirates and an adventure on the high seas and such. I think it is safe to assume you are not an actual pirate, though I must say your most recent mug shot does raise some suspicious.

WTB: No, not in the traditional sense. Pirates were absolute wretches: murderous, thieving, unsanitary, violent, foolish scalawags. So, you're thinking, and how do I -not- fit that description? Well, really, compared to the Holy God I claim to serve, perhaps I do. And yet, Jesus saved me anyway. And for that, I am so grateful.

CM: FIRST QUESTION: Did you do any special research for the Isle of Swords book series like actually setting out to sea, swabbing the poop deck, catching scurvy and hoisting the main sails - or are you just another land-lubber who is posing as a piratologist?

WTB: I thought the other question was question number one! Okay, who's the brains of this whole operation anyway???

CM: Never mind that, just answer the question...are you a land-lubber or a piratologist - which is it sir?

WTB: I actually did travel to the Caribbean. I visited Dominica, Curacao, the Bahamas...all notorious pirate haunts back in the day. While it was mostly a vacation, I soaked up so much of the setting and wrote about it in Isle of Swords and Isle of Fire. Other research I'm afraid came from Idiot's Guide to Pirates.

CM: I see, then I suppose that rules out that it all started by watching the VeggieTales Pirate movie. Rats!

WTB: I do denounce all rumors to that effect. But I am a big fan of Phil and Mike's work.

CM: QUESTION TWO: As a parent myself, I can't help but notice that pirates are typically notorious for being ill mannered and devious villains. These are not quite the traits that I would expect a devout christian such as yourself to honor. So then, why pirates? Just a childhood fascination or is there something deeper there? Perhaps you once pirated a candy bar as a child or something.

WTB: You are so right. Some of the real life pirates I researched did stuff that would make Freddy Krueger look like a Care Bear. But, Christianity is about redemption, right? Is there any one of us who deserved to be saved? All of our sins are hideous in God's sight. "We are all scoundrels" might be a decent paraphrasing of Romans 3: 9-18. But not one of us is beyond redemption. Jesus bore the horrendous penalty of our sin on His cross so that we might be saved and restored. I decided we need a dramatic portrayal of that very thing: take a young lad raised in a horrible setting, beaten again and again, witnessing countless atrocities, given every excuse to be a sociopath--but when love radically invades his life, he has a chance to be redeemed.

CM: Excellent. You've got spirit - I like that! Redemption is a powerful thing, no doubt. But I do believe I have found your weakness, Mr. Batson. This will be...

QUESTION THREE: Both of your book series to date have been fantasy fiction. Why not another genre? Are you a softy for fantasy?

WTB: Well, fantasy and adventure you could say. The pirate adventures of Isle of Swords/Isle of Fire are pretty realistic in most ways...well, except for the whole sea serpent thing. Heh, heh, heh. But fantasy is my true love. I think, aside from my height, I am genetically related to Hobbits. There is so much that I just love about other worlds and unsung heroes. I love how characters of diverse backgrounds and talents band together to do some great thing that they might never have attempted alone. Fantasy is all about that!

CM: Very well then...

QUESTION FOUR: What, in your mind, makes a hero worthy of admiration?

WTB: Oh, you are setting up for future conflict, aren't you? LOL I think there are many attributes or qualities that could make a hero worthy of admiration. First, I think a hero should be willing. Frodo didn't know the way to Mordor, he didn't really know the hardships he'd encounter, and he wasn't even sure if he'd have any help. But he was willing to take the Ring to Mordor. How about loyalty? Sam didn't have to help Frodo on that desperate quest, but he did. Determination is a necessary 3rd quality. A real hero doesn't give up in the face of hardship. He or she may be knocked down, but you know they will get up again or die trying. Finally, I respectfully contend that a hero need not be perfect. In fact, most of my readers more readily identify with my characters because they are flawed heroes. Frodo was not perfect. If not for Sam and even Gollum, he never would have destroyed the ring. Edmund of Narnia betrayed his family and Aslan, and the price was steep. But after learning that terrible lesson, he was a man on fire. I love stories like that.

CM: pass the test on that one, but there be more to come so hang tight! ;-)
I recently went to the public library and I became keenly aware of how many books there are to read in the world. What is it that makes you different from the rest? Or to put it another way - why should we give your book series a second glance?

WTB: I don't think I'm among the most skilled writers.

CM: {raises an eyebrow in gleeful anticipation}

WTB: My prose may never be as beautiful as Cornelia Funke's or Tolkien's. One could even argue that the basic plotlines for my novels are not altogether original (what is?). But, by God's grace, I think you'll find that my books have a lot going on at a deep level. There is take-home value in my stories, messages woven within that will encourage the faithful and give the skeptic something to chew on. Yes, I write high-speed, action-oriented adventures, but there's always something more. Readers have told me that certain aspects of my stories have changed the way they see the world or have helped them grow closer to God. For this, all I can do is thank God. He keeps giving me stories and a life full of adventure. All I do is write it down.

CM: Thought I had ya running scared there for a moment. You managed to recover yourself, but don't get too confident.

QUESTION SIX: Writing a novel is no easy task. What is the single-most effective tool/process you use to tackle the job?

WTB: Outlining, hands down. My first book (The Door Within) took me 13 years to write. Many reasons why, but the chief among them was that I tried to write by the seat of my pants. It was agonizing. I'd be on chapter 14 and have a great idea for chapter 3. Then, boom. I needed to rewrite the whole manuscript. Awful waste of time. I rewrote The Door Within something like nine times. Ouch. When I outline, however, I take about a month to do it. I allow myself the surprises that SOTP writers often laud as so important to the success and fun of a story. But most of the big surprises come during the outline, and so all I have to do is reshuffle note cards or cut and paste. I don't have to rewrite the whole novel. And now, I have a software program called SuperNote Cards by Mindola software that has made my writing life a lot more organized. Cool program.

CM: {looks up from tedious note taking} Ehem...congratulations, you have made it through the first six questions. Only four more left so let's kick it up a notch now.

QUESTION SEVEN: This one is a two-parter. Have you ever hated a book you were writing? If so, which one and why?

WTB: No, not in the sense of "this is a terrible story." But once when I was working on Isle of Swords, I began to feel that way. My publisher and I miscommunicated on word count. I thought I had a guide number of 80,000 words, and my publisher thought it was a hard number. I went 20,000 words over my count. The editing process for trimming 20K from that IOS manuscript just about killed me. I really began to hate writing for a time. It was just too much work, esp. when I felt like it never needed to happen the way it did. That really left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully, Isle of Fire was a relatively easy write, so I like writing again. ;-)

CM: QUESTION EIGHT! What is the most difficult critique you have ever received and how did you survive it?

WTB: Well, there are two that come to mind. I had one Amazon review that ripped me up one side and down the other. I mean there was not one thing that this person could say that didn't rake me over the coals. It was a flame job in the highest. To overcome that, I prayed a lot and asked others to pray. I even wrote an email to the reviewer. The next day, the review had vanished from Amazon. The second was from a home school organizer in PA. The fantasy tour was scheduled to visit their Homeschool Coop. Would have been a huge opportunity to reach kids with our books. Well, long story short, this lady got a copy of The Door Within (and Raising Dragons by Bryan Davis), read them, and concluded that they were tools of the devil meant to seduce kids and turn them into little antiChristians. She went so far as to say she would not only not have us come speak to her kids but she would go to every store within a hundred miles and do her level best to persuade those books not to carry us. This was a Christian woman. Ouch. Well, to survive that, the tour authors collected numerous fan letters and testimonials where Christians had written how our books had encouraged them or changed lives. Several kids had come to Christ through reading our books. We put together a massive document and sent it off to this lady. She never wrote back.

CM: QUESTION NINE! Spiritually speaking, what is the greatest thing you have received and/or hope to accomplish through your writing?

WTB: Grace. I am a wounded, broken man. I know that I have no chance without Jesus. But for His mercy and Grace, I am toast. Seriously. I guess my main goal in writing is to create stories that will get people asking the questions of life for which Jesus is the only real answer. If they do, then I have no doubt they will find the Lord.

CM: Okay one last tough question assuming you are adventurous enough to persevere to the end!

WTB: {fingers quiver over the keyboard} Bring it on.

CM: So be it!

QUESTION TEN! Not everyone is blessed with the opportunity to become a professional writer. In fact, there are many aspiring authors who are still sitting at home waiting to catch their "big break". What is one thing you would like to say to them about your success?

WTB: It was a God thing. Again, I'm no better at crafting than so many unpublished authors. But there was a gap that God wanted me to stand in, and so I went. If you have more than just the itch to write, a creative passion and a story that weighs so heavily on your mind that you cannot imagine not writing it, then you have probably been called. Pray about it. And then, be faithful and write the thing. Be a student of the craft and of the business. Get and agent. Learn how to write a zinger of a proposal that hooks a reader something fierce. But if things don't happen, don't give up. Remember the perseverance of the heroes you write about. Rejection is not a "No." It's really just a "Not yet."

CM: You have done well - the hard part is behind us, now to the easy question.

WTB: Woo hoo!

CM: There is a rumor floating around that you may have audio books and a movie deal in the works...can you fill us in?

WTB: Yes and No to both.

CM: What? Are you evading the easiest of questions? Could it be that you have fallen down at the finish line and will not complete the task?

WTB: No - the audio book for The Door Within has been green lit, but nothing has really come about for quite some time. And I've been so busy I haven't even had time to push for it. That will change soon, I hope.

As to the movie: I have someone in Hollywood looking into buying an option for The Door Within. He wants to buy a one year option and then shop it around to production companies as possibly a live action -OR- CGI animated movie. I'd be open to either so long as it would be well done. Thanks so much for having me on. You two are just awesome gents.

CM: Well there you have it folks. The award for the first survivor of our "Ten Tough Questions" goes to Wayne Thomas Batson.

And let me just add that not only is he a fantastic writer who can capture your imagination, but he is also a masterful storyteller who is equally exciting to hear reading in person. I, for one, can't wait to get a copy of his audio book set!

Until next week - I'm Christopher Miller and this has been Ten Tough Questions (and 1 easy one) with Wayne Thomas Batson!