On occasion I like to introduce my reading audience to authors similar to myself who are writing in the genre of Christian Fiction. Today I am happy to present such a person in author Keanan Brand author of the book Dragons Rook
So tell us about your book. Why did you write it and who is it targeted towards?
This book is twenty years or more in the making. It began as a short story I wrote after a weird dream in which a girl falls asleep while ill and travels to a strange land where the various kingdoms are known by the colors of their flags and the map looks similar to a chessboard. Very Alice in Wonderland.
Then the world expanded, and I wrote several chapters of a novel, but the story stalled, and I never quite knew why people did what they did or lived as they lived. That’s when the world not only expanded once more, but the history grew deep and the characters became real.
At first, the story was targeted more toward younger readers, making it typical “coming of age” fantasy, but my characters skewed older, so I let them dictate the story’s direction. Contrary to advice and concern, that hasn’t kept pre-teen readers from enjoying Dragon’s Rook. However, there are grownup themes and a measure of violence that pushes the novel toward an adult readership.
What advice would you give new novelists?
I lifted that line from the old Kung Fu television show, but it’s a solid Biblical and literary concept, too. Patience isn’t staying still, necessarily. It’s persevering, it’s trying again, until the goal is achieved.
Despite wanting to give up many times because writing is hard work, despite not achieving publication as soon as other folks predicted, despite my own doubts about my abilities, I kept pushing onward. I put down the writing for a time, sure, but it was always there, calling me back.
Tell us about your journey of faith. How did you become a Christian?
I became a Christian at a young age, having been raised in church since I was a toddler. I was baptized at seven, and again at twenty-one, but I count my true salvation moment as coming when I was thirteen and attending a youth rally. The minister spoke on a verse from Deuteronomy 32:31 (NIV)–“For their rock is not like our rock, as even our enemies concede”–and that’s when I knew that something had to change.
In my late teens, then in my late twenties, and again in my thirties, I suffered bouts of dark depression. The first one, I was suicidal. However, the subsequent bouts were recognized early on for what they were, and I did not acquiesce to despair. Due to those experiences, I’ve counseled many people of all ages who were also suicidal.
Now in my forties, I still feel like an adolescent, learning to find my way in a world that’s difficult to navigate. Yet, at the same time, I am more confident in my faith and in He who holds the future.
When did you start writing?
Around age nine, I think. I’d been making up stories all along, but I’d never written any of them down on paper. Then, for a school homework assignment, my dad helped me write my first short story, and he suggested ideas for the cover illustration. It is not great literature nor great art, but something about it impressed the teacher, and I became known as a writer from that moment onward.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There is no one message I set out to convey. However, despite the occasional anti-hero that captures my imagination, I do like reading about heroes and know I’m not alone in that.
We who are real and flawed can often expect fictional people to be wise, correct, strong, upstanding, respectful, loving, etc., at just the right times and in just the right ways. Like other readers and writers, I have had to grow out of the need for or expectation of perfection from characters in books.
Therefore, readers of Dragon’s Rook will see characters of true faith, of uncertain faith, and of no faith. They will see characters who are confrontational with their deity, and others who readily obey. They will see broken characters, wounded ones, and ones who—though they might want to give up—persevere through troubles.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I’d like to think my style adjusts to the story’s needs, but certain traits do persist—a cadence, for instance, that readers have remarked upon over the years.
How did you come up with the title?
Oh, the dreaded title.
I made lists of titles. Lists upon lists upon lists.
Months later, I tossed those and made lists of words related to the story. The title became obvious, and then I felt a little bit foolish for not seeing it sooner. Sometimes I need a “Captain Oblivious” name tag.
How much of the book is realistic?
Realistic, as in historically or scientifically accurate?
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In Dragon’s Rook, some characters aren’t sure they want to follow the Voice, the mysterious character that is the deity in the story realm, and some are not sure He is even good. Some follow Him, some pray, some argue or bargain with Him, and some don’t believe at all. Any one of those characters has been me at some point in my life as I struggle to determine what I believe and how to live true to that belief.
What books or authors have most influenced your life most?
You know that’s an impossible, dangerous question, don’t you? (chuckle) Ain’t no answer to it, but I’ll try!
There are the usual suspects: the Bible, and then the works of Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Dickens, Jack London, Louis L’Amour, Madeleine L’Engle, Zane Grey, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Edgar Allen Poe, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Rudyard Kipling, HG Wells, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas—
Reckon I’ll just end the list here. There are modern authors I enjoy immensely, but the writers listed here shaped my childhood, and their stories and poetry permeated my dreams and imagination.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
All of them? Anyone I’ve ever read?
What book are you reading now?
The Black Count by Tom Reiss is about Alexandre Dumas’ father, a soldier, a former slave, and the inspiration behind The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s an engaging history and an excellent read.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on the second half of the story begun in Dragon’s Rook—Dragon’s Bane—and am also writing an urban fantasy/supernatural thriller, finishing a space opera that was originally serialized in Ray Gun Revival magazine, and there are a few other projects in various conditions, from scribbled notes to actual chapters.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Hmmm. I’d probably change the focus a little, emphasize a different subplot and bring it to the fore.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Oh, yeah. I can imagine-up all sorts of things, but putting them on paper for others to read? That’s the hardest part. As many other writers do, I tend toward perfectionism, which can be a real progress killer. However, I’ve come to not be afraid of those embarrassingly bad early drafts.
Who designed the cover?
Susan Troutt, a friend since college. An artist and fellow writer, she recently returned to school and completed a degree in Communications. Since then, she has opened an online jewelry store on Etsy (Gothic Tones), and designed logos for businesses and organizations. Dragon’s Rook is her first book cover. I wanted to tell the story in a single image, and she rose to the challenge, taking the ideas in my head and transforming them.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
The adage about having to write a million words before being able to call oneself a writer? I don’t know how many words I’ve written in my lifetime, but I produced at least the equivalent of three copies of Dragon’s Rook before finally settling on a completed version that worked. More than once, I walked away and swore to focus only on short stories, poems, essays, and lighter novels. Some time in 2013, I think, I strongly considered deleting all digital versions and tossing out all hard copies, and scrubbing my life of this book.
But it wouldn’t die, and I couldn’t abandon what represented, literally, half my life. After all, if you read Dragon’s Rook, you’re reading fictional version of the questions and challenges, the prayers and doubts, the loves and losses that I experienced at the time the book was forming.
I am pleased with the end result, and early readers have said that portions of it stay with them, coming to mind long after they closed the book, and some have said it is far different from what they expected of a swords-and-dragons yarn. One reader (who had never read fantasy) said she couldn’t put it down. I hope that you, too, enjoy this tale.
I want to thank Keanan for being my guest today and look forward to his success going forward.