Wednesday, February 18, 2009
CSFF Blog Tour Day Three: Jeffrey Overstreet - Cyndere's Midnight: An Interview
Shane Deal: What inspired the characters of Cyndere and Jordam?
Jeffrey Overstreet: Jordam the Beastman is not a new character, actually. He's one of the monsters who appears in the first book, Auralia's Colors. I didn't want the beastmen to be just ordinary monsters. I wanted to suggest that even these bloodthirsty mutants have a longing for beauty and a thirst for healing, so I gave Jordam a scene in that first book just to hint at that.
But that wasn't enough for me. The image that kept coming back to me--the idea of Jordam discovering some of Auralia's creative expressions out in the wilderness, and being calmed and inspired by beauty. Just like King Kong is inspired by the woman he loves. I relate to that. Beauty calls out to Jordam just as the beauty of a painting, or a tree, or a sunset can make me stop in the middle of my distractions and take a deep breath.
Like any Beauty and the Beast story, there also had to be a beautiful woman. But Cyndere came later. I knew that it would take a brave woman to stand her ground and deal with Jordam. Most people would run screaming at the sight of him. So Cyndere came to be inspired by brave people who have been willing to give up their comforts and safety in order to to and help people in need. A friend of mine said that Cyndere's like Elizabeth Eliot, the missionary who returned to the tribe that had killed her husband and ministered to them. I hadn't thought of that. But I like that connection.
Shane Deal: Now that Cyndere's Midnight has been released for awhile, is there anything you wish you could go back and change?
Jeffrey Overstreet: Oh, that's a painful question. Yes, every time I read my published work, I see things I would change if I could. I have what you might call "the George Lucas itch." But Star Wars fans know what happens when you let the artist keep messing with things years after they've been published, right? It's probably better for me to just let those things go. I don't know... maybe someday I'll publish Cyndere's Midnight - The Director's Cut.
If some of my readers could have their way, I'd be putting in more battles. But don't you think the fantasy genre has enough of those? I want to go places I haven't been before, to see what else might happen in a fantasy story. When I realized there would be a battle in Cyndere's Midnight, I re-read all of my favorite battle scenes so that I could avoid accidentally repeating anything. Nevertheless, after I wrote "The Siege of Barnashum," I realized what old, old battle story must have influenced me. Readers will have to figure that out on their own.
Shane Deal: What is the most challenging part about writing your books?
Jeffrey Overstreet: It's tough to find enough time... and the right kind of time. Time when my ears aren't ringing from the busyness of the day.
I work full-time at another job. And I have deadlines for my film reviews. It's tough to shift gears, to quiet down and drift off into a fantasy world. There are dishes that need to be washed, catboxes that need to be cleaned, and my library books are overdue. Traffic in Seattle is a wearying experience. Sometimes, I'll write from 7 p.m. until midnight, and only get one good paragraph out of it. To finish a book the size and complexity of Cyndere's Midnight in the course of one year, with a schedule like mine, is really difficult. It's a second full-time job.
But it's also tough to keep readers' responses from messing with my imagination.
Forgive me, but I've got an itch that needs scratching. I've been grateful for the criticism and the encouragement from readers. But it's disappointing to me when readers think I'm trying to "hide" or "bury" my faith behind fantasy.
Storytelling is part of my exploration of faith. It's one of the ways I express it. I'm not trying to hide anything. I'm trying to find a way to explore and celebrate aspects of faith that I can't otherwise explain. It's like composing instrumental music, or cultivating a garden, or dancing -- those pursuits reveal truth in mysterious and extravagant ways that a "lesson" never could. Fantasy can do the same thing. The Lord of the Rings is evidence of that. And I'm encouraged to find that even stories written by unbelievers--including pagan myths and fairy tales--reveal aspects of the truth, even though it would frustrate their authors to discover that. Tolkien understood this. It was while he explained this to C.S. Lewis that Lewis came to embrace Christianity.
I approach storytelling as a chance to play with beautiful sights and sounds and experiences in hopes that they will give readers the joy and inspiration they give me. The pursuit of these stories has drawn me much closer to God, and I'm sharing them with you in hopes that you might share some of that experience. It's not my job to simplify it or explain it for you. I'm not trying to write a book that can easily be translated into a study guide. I'm trying to paint pictures that reflect my experience of the mysterious glory of God. I'm a beginner, and I'm learning as I go, so I don't claim to have succeeded. But that's my earnest endeavor.
We're told in Psalm 19 that "the heavens declare the glory of God," and "day by day pours forth speech." Sometimes I wish the heavens and the days would be a little more explicit about what they're saying. But I know that the truth dazzles gradually, through beauty and through grace. And when I'm patient, I come to sense that beauty is speaking to me about God in ways I cannot paraphrase. I'm hoping to capture a sense of that in Auralia's world
And I do hope readers will be patient, and refrain from declaring me a heretic until they've seen all four volumes. We're only halfway through, after all.
Shane Deal: You have some rather interesting names, do you wish to share any particular stories of how you came up with some of them?
Jeffrey Overstreet: Sometimes it's as simple as finding words that describe the character, and then smashing them together to see what happens. I can't remember exactly, but I think "Auralia" came from playing around with the word "aura" and the name "Laura" (which means "light.") Sometimes, I look for sounds that give me a sense of the character.
One of the Gatherers is a rough, crass, hard-edged fellow, and the name "Krawg" just sounds right. It sounds rather like a cuss word from some other world, doesn't it?
Krawg's friend is overly cautious and worried, so "Warney" just sounded right for him. I was delighted when someone reminded me later that C.S. Lewis's brother was called by the same name.
Shane Deal: Do you have any story ideas for after you finish this series? Or is that too far ahead at this point?
Jeffrey Overstreet: I have a lot of big ideas. I have an adventure series for younger readers that takes place in a world of talking animals, like something Pixar might turn into a movie. (Forgive me if I dream about that for a moment.) And I have a few stories from my high school experiences that I'd like to tell, with a bit of a fantasy flourish. There's another huge fantasy story--a horror story, really--about a group of artists who start experiencing something truly unusual in their work. But I don't feel quite ready to launch that ship just yet. And I have a couple of non-fiction projects brewing as well.
But I'm going to rest for a while when I finish The Auralia Thread. I'll need to rest, recharge, and start training for the next marathon.
Many thanks to Mr. Overstreet for allowing me the privilege of an interview.
Also worth checking out:
I highly recommend watching the following talk, given by Mr. Overstreet at Seattle Pacific University in October of 2007:
"We Gotta Get Outta Here" - How Tolkien, Lewis, and L'Engle Help Us Hope"
I watch or listen to it quite often. (Usually listening while driving.)
Featured book, Cyndere’s Midnight - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400072530
Jeffrey Overstreet’s Web site - http://lookingcloser.org/
Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog - http://lookingcloser.org/category/journal/
Jeffrey Overstreet at Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Overstreet/42902959
Posted by Shane Deal at 8:40 AM