So, without further delay, the interview :)
How long have you been writing?My friends and I were telling each other made-up monster stories by the time I was 10. I wrote my first novel (in composition notebooks) when I was 13 or 14. So let’s say 50 years, at least.
What was your first (written) story about?Back in grade school, we were assigned to write stories in class. This would be second or third grade. The teacher would tell us what to write about and how to write it. The earliest one I can remember was “The Adventures of a Dime.” I rebelled against writing what the teacher wanted me to write, so in my store, a stray cat swallowed George the Dime; and he would’ve been stuck down there, only he met a character named Mr. Vomit who was on his way out and offered George a lift. I got into a tremendous amount of trouble for that! But to my amazement, my mother sided with me. Not an elegant story, I admit: but at least it showed a little flash of creativity.
When did you start writing Christian fantasy? What inspired you to do so?“Bell Mountain” was my first Christian fantasy. It came along as a response to one of the officers of the Chalcedon Foundation saying, “What we really need is novels.” That remark got back to me, and I wondered if I could write the kind of novel Chalcedon needed. I should add that my editor, Susan Burns, who knew about my earlier books, made sure that remark got back to me.
Do you remember how you first got the idea for Bell Mountain?In “Bell Mountain,” the boy, Jack, dreams he can hear the mountain singing. Well, I had that dream first! And quickly on its heels followed the image of a bell standing on the summit of a mountain, in the snow. That was all I needed to start writing the story—a radical departure from my usual procedure of thoroughly doping out a novel before I began to write it.
Who are the main characters in Bell Mountain?In the land of Obann—once a kingdom, once a powerful and wealthy empire, now a medieval oligarchy—live my two protagonists, Jack and Ellayne, a poor boy and a rich girl. These two children believe God has commanded them to climb Bell Mountain and ring the bell on the summit. Their quest is based on a powerful dream Jack had, and some scriptural teachings by an old man who never intended for Jack to take them literally.
Obst is an elderly hermit in Lintum Forest, who believes God will end the world once the bell is rung. His first impulse is to stop the children, but he winds up being their guide and helper.
Lord Reesh, the First Prester of the Temple, heads the institutional church in Obann. A thoroughgoing humanist with a gift for making the ends justify the means, Lord Reesh tries to ensure that the bell on Bell Mountain—if it really does exist—is not touched except on his orders. Reesh will take over as the dominant villain in the sequels.
So Reesh sends his assassin and secret agent, Martis, to follow the children up Bell Mountain, find out whether there really is a bell up there, and stop Jack and Ellayne from ringing it, either by killing them or capturing them and bringing them back to Reesh as prisoners.
Wytt—a little, hairy, manlike creature no bigger than a squirrel—appoints himself the children’s guardian on their travels. He is one of the “hairy ones” mentioned in the scriptures as inheriting the shapeless ruins that once were the great cities of Obann.
Helki the Rod, the wild and highly eccentric woodsman, will play a much-expanded role in the sequels.
How much development have you done for your world, such as maps, cultures, different religions, etc.?I do have a map—it gives me pleasure to begin a fantasy with a map—and I did start with a kind of vision of what kind of book I wanted to write. But in contrast to my usual procedure, I “discovered” the world of Obann as I wrote about it. This is funny—some reviewers have praised my description of the various peoples and cultures of my fantasy world, as if I’d spent years inventing them. Not so! This world’s history, geography, and natural history reveals itself to me as it unfolds. To me it seems to have an independent existence. Some of the details, as they emerged, surprised me. I know that seems a strange thing for a writer to say, but I can’t think of any better way to say it.
What is your main theme in these books? Do you have a certain point that you try to make throughout the whole series?It took me quite some time to realize what my theme was. At first, one of my intentions in these stories was to “re-normalize religion.” You know, in almost every piece of fiction we read or watch (movies, TV), the characters in it live in a complete absence of religious belief and practice. No such world as that has ever existed, in real life; I pray it never will. I wanted to write a fantasy tale—I’ve always loved fantasy, but had never had one of my fantasies published—based on something like this: “What if God—our God, the God of the Bible, Jehovah—created a world other than this one that we live in? A world for other people who would live following a completely different arc of history from our own?” This world would have the same God as we have, but it would be very different from ours in all sorts of interesting ways. In my “Bell Mountain” books, I have set out to explore this world and tell its story.
It was only after the first three novels were published that I understood I had a theme common to all the books that are and will be in this series. They are about people who have lost God reconnecting with Him—learning how to speak to Him, learning how to hear His voice, learning how to seek Him with all their hearts. It is, of course, the power of God that calls them to Him. So I believe I can say my books are about redemption.
What role, if any, does feminism play in your books?One of the truly wonderful things about writing fantasy is that you can leave all those “isms” behind, as if they didn’t exist. So I am happy to say feminism plays no role whatsoever in my books—although I do enjoy writing about strong and interesting female characters. After all, I want girls and women to enjoy reading them as much as boys and men.
How supportive is your family of your writing?My wife, Pat, has always believed in me as a writer, and never wavered—not even during those long years when I was cranking out story after story, book after book, and getting nothing but rejections. As for the rest of my family... well, just try impressing anybody who knew you while you were in diapers.
Have you ever met a famous author, or one that you admire (whether famous or not)?I met Arthur C. Clark once, at a science fiction convention (just to shake hands with), and Isaac Asimov even more briefly. I never met T.E.D. Klein in the flesh, but we corresponded back and forth for several years and talked together on the phone sometimes. Maybe you haven’t heard of him, but he was a truly gifted and original horror writer—had a New York Times best-seller once, “The Ceremonies.” As editor of the old Twilight Zone Magazine, he published one of my best short stories, “The Last Voyage of Sinbad.” Mr. Klein was always very encouraging to me, never failing to offer helpful suggestions. Unfortunately for readers, his own output was always a trickle when we would have loved a steady stream. As true an artist as he was, I learned that he much preferred editing to writing; and I think he prefers his privacy to his editing. God bless you, Ted, wherever you are.
How many books will there end up being in your series?I’m thinking seven (there are five written), but who knows? I have a whole world to explore. If I write about it for the rest of my life, I still won’t be able to write everything there is to tell.
It's difficult to portray Christianity in a fantasy setting without making it sound stiff or 'preachy'; can you give us any tips on how you do it?You’re right—it’s very difficult. Or at least it seems it should be. My habit is to read 5 chapters of the Bible every day, so as to steep myself in it, and to pray, asking the Lord to give me the story He wants me to tell.
Taking a cue from C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” I don’t try to portray Christianity per se. After all, I’m not writing about our world, but a completely different one. Its history is different. The people in my fantasy world have not yet met their Savior. He has not yet been revealed to them—except in a few prophecies that they are a long way from understanding.
Instead, I have tried to infuse my fantasy world with a Biblical spirit—hopefully, prayerfully, with the Spirit of God. I am happy to say that a number of readers have told me that in this I have succeeded. One reader has said she finds it very hard to believe that the “scriptures” quoted in my novels are not actually hidden somewhere in the Bible, where’s she’s overlooked them. Comments like that tell me I’m on the right track.
Who is your favorite author?I have a lot of favorites. C.S. Lewis excels in refreshing for me the image of Jesus Christ, and reminding me how much I love Him. I turn to Agatha Christie for insights into character; to Edgar Rice Burroughs as the master when it comes to juggling a complicated plot and keeping up the pace of the action; to Walter R. Brooks (“Freddy the Pig”) for gentle and unexpected humor; to Sir Walter Scott for confirmation that good really can triumph over evil, even in this fallen world; to J.R.R. Tolkien for simply igniting my imagination; and to other writers for other things. But the one book I read from every day, without fail, is the Bible. It’s the one book that can never get stale—positive proof it’s not an ordinary book! There’s always something new to discover, some fresh insight, in the Bible.
Thank you so much, Mr. Duigon. This has been a very enjoyable and informative interview :) God bless!
For more about Mr. Duigon, you can visit his blog/website at leeduigon.com
You can find his Amazon page here and an archive of his articles here and by searching his name here.
I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did. I think interviews are a lot of fun. Now, go and check out his books!