Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interview with Steve Biddison, Author of The Center Circle

I believe I first discovered Steve Biddison and The Center Circle Chronicles through Twitter. I was curious whether anyone was using the #ChristianFantasy hashtag and there were precious few who were—but Steve was. I checked out the link he posted and, always willing to check out other Christian fantasy works, I tweeted about my desire to sit down and read it one day. Steve followed me back and we tweeted a bit back and forth and ultimately decided to do this interview.

I got my hands on the first book in the series, The Center Circle, and started reading about a college freshman named Landon who discovers that he is actually the prince of a faraway kingdom. I was reminded of Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion series (which is one of my favorites) and—and this might sound a little more bizarre—the Australian TV series The Elephant Princess, some of which I’ve watched with my daughters through Netflix.

This isn’t a review site, but I’ll just make a few brief comments. The book really should be edited much more carefully than it was. That’s something that usually drives me crazy and has led me to give up on more than one book in the past, but I was eventually drawn into the story regardless. The characters and story and a neat twist in the climactic battle scene drew me out past the editing and writing problems, and I was gladly eating it all up by the time this book ended. I absolutely intend to get the sequel, which is out now, and I recommend The Center Circle to other fantasy fans, bearing in mind the caveats I just mentioned.

I’m very grateful that Steve took the time out of his schedule to do our interview. You can find his website here—which has links to all of his books in a handful of formats—and you can pick up the Kindle version of The Center Circle here and the paperback version here.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the interview:

Brad: Thanks for joining us, Steve. How long have you been writing?

Steve: My love for writing started when I was about twelve years old.  My first “novel” was a hand-written Star Trek novel that never made it past the spiral notebooks I wrote it in.  My senior year in high school, I began my next novel.  It was a fantasy novel about ten young people from another world who battled together against the forces of evil.  Back then, no one owned personal computers so I again hand wrote it on notebook paper.  I called that book The Center Circle.

Steve Biddison
Throughout the next couple of decades, I put my fiction writing aside as I chased after my career of coaching basketball.  During that time, I channeled my writing interests into writing coaching manuals and other books related to coaching basketball.  But those books were more for my own staff and team and never made it out of my immediate sphere of influence.

In addition, I served for four years as a youth pastor and, during that time, I continued writing devotionals and sermon series for my youth group.

A year and a half ago, I discovered Amazon Kindle and realized that I now had a venue in which to share my writing with the world.  The first book I published was a basketball coaching book that has been a best seller in its genre.

Ever since I finished The Center Circle while in college, I always knew that one day I would revisit that novel and rewrite it.  About a year ago, that time finally came.  Now to be honest, there is not much that remains from the original storyline in today’s version of the story.  The title remains the same and the name of the evil person is the same.  But that is about it.

Brad: Tell me about Landon, your protagonist.

Steve: At the beginning of the saga, you see Landon as a college freshman on Earth.  He had been orphaned at an early age with his earliest true memories being in an orphanage.  However, not long into his freshman year, he discovers that he is not originally from earth.  His real name is Landru, the heir to the throne of Orion, and he is being summoned back to his home world to unite with the rest of The Center Circle to defeat the rising evil power.

Since the bulk of the story takes place after he leaves earth, we don’t really see a lot of what he was like before, but we see enough glimpses into his early life to know that he was competitive and loyal.  However, growing up on earth, he usually was a bit of a loner.  We even see in the opening scene of the story that he is alone in his dorm on a Friday night.  However, his sense of competitiveness and leadership comes to the surface when he is thrust into the role of uniting the Center Circle to basically save the kingdoms of his home world.

Brad: I thought it was a neat detail that Landon’s life growing up had been, unbeknownst to him, guided to make sure that he would develop the skills he would need later. Still, I have to admit that I was surprised by how quickly Landon adapted to the circumstances he suddenly finds himself in. What is it about him that makes him so readily accept that which many of us would seriously struggle with?

Steve: In a way it is surprising how quickly he adapted to the fact that he was not Landon, the college freshman on Earth, but was instead Landru, the crown prince of Orion.  In normal circumstances, it would have probably taken him much longer to adapt to the new realization, but, being that almost from the minute he transported to his home world of Orion he was battling for his life, he didn’t really have time to fret over the loss of his former life.  Had there been a lot of down time where he either wasn’t fighting for his own life or trying to rescue a friend, then I am sure he would have taken the time to process all the changes going on his life. 

Brad: There are a lot of pop culture references in your book. In the first couple of chapters, you allude to Star Trek, Stargate, Indiana Jones and Angry Birds. Are you concerned at all about the book aging poorly, that readers in future generations wouldn’t get all the references and that this might detract from the story?

Steve: I guess theoretically it is possible that the future generations would not get the pop culture references.  But let’s face it, Star Trek has been around for 46 years and is still going strong with another movie being released next spring.  Besides, at least for the next half century, I have heard from a few readers of the series that they found the allusions to classic sci-fi material a real drawing point. 

Brad: Midway through the book, we start seeing the beginnings of a romance. Was this something you had intended from the beginning, or did the romance develop naturally as you wrote?

Steve: It’s really interesting that you ask about the romance.  I personally feel that every story has to have at least a little bit of a romance in it.  So, yes, I intended to have a romance in this one.  However, I had planned on the romance being between Landru and Brenlee.  And I am sure some of that romance, or at least the potential for that romance, is a little evident in the story.  However, in a very strange way, another character danced into the story and things started to change.

The scene where we meet Theophania was originally supposed to be a scene written for the sole purpose of getting Landru out of the way for a period of time while things happened in another world.  She was only going to be in that one chapter, then maybe down the line somewhere in the series, she would reappear.  But you know sometimes as an author, you find your characters talking to you?  That’s what happened to me.  In no uncertain terms, Theophania told me she had to have a much bigger role in the series than what I was planning.  And as I wrote that one chapter, I could sense the chemistry building between the two of them and, even though I had no intention originally of them falling in love, they both told me that it was happening and I might as well accept that fact.

Brad: I know precisely what you’re talking about as an author, and I actually sort of like that it happened that way instead of planning it out at the beginning or before the book was started. I feel that letting the characters dictate the story always makes for stronger fiction.

Do you know at this point how many books we should expect in The Center Circle Chronicles?

Steve: At this point in time, the second book of The Center Circle Chronicles is available .  This book, The Weapons of Warfare, has a few interesting plot twists with many allusions to Arthurian Literature and travels to Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.  I started this series with the idea that it would be a trilogy.  And that is still my plan.  I guess it’s possible that that I could decide to write a second trilogy, but right now I plan on making it simply one trilogy.  However, Theophania or one of the other characters might tell me I have to write more.  But so far, they haven’t done that.

Brad: What were your influences in writing this story?

Steve: When I was in 8th grade, a friend of mine lent me a book series, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny.  The story centered around one man and all of his half -brothers and sisters who were all out to gain the throne of Amber – the one true world.  I loved the series, but hated the idea that the family hated each other so much that they killed each other in order to gain the throne.

Fast forward to my senior year in high school.  My English teacher had us write a short story.  I took the members of my class and wrote them into the fantasy short story with the idea that I would turn it into a novel along the same lines as Roger Zelazny’s work.  Only this time, they would have to work together, not try to kill each other.  Even though the characters in the current Center Circle incarnation are not directly named after those class members, some of them are definitely still based on those people I knew so well almost thirty years ago.

Brad: Given your determination to have the members of the Center Circle working together, were you caught off guard at all by all the squabbling that they do engage in, especially between Landru and Callitha? Did you find that some conflict within the Circle was necessary to build suspense, and did that cause you to reevaluate your feelings about The Chronicles of Amber at all?

Steve: I will have to answer that question in two ways.  1) Hardly ever do you find a group of people who have been tasked to complete a great assignment perfectly working together at all times.  So, yes, from the beginning I did plan to have there be a rift between Landru and Callitha.  And I kind of wanted there to be the squabble over who really had the power in the group and what that power actually meant.  With that said, 2) when the characters actually started taking on a life of their own during my writing of the book, I sensed that there was a greater hostility between them than I had first thought there was.  And then throw in Callitha's animosity towards Brenlee, who was one of Landru's closest friends, and I think it just escalated way beyond what I had planned.  In the second book of the series, The Weapons of Warfare, we start to see more why that animosity exists.  And, Brad, despite my original desire to have the Circle working together (which is still one of the most essential elements that must happen to defeat Rondel), they really do become dysfunctional in the second book.   But even then, unity of spirit proves out to be key.

About The Chronicles of Amber: Believe it or not, I found a copy at a used book store of the original 5 books of Amber and I read them again between the times of writing Book 1 and Book 2.  And I saw again that the brothers and sisters thirst for power, not only caused them to want to kill each other, but it was almost the death of their world.  In The Center Circle Chronicles, the thirst for power might not be as obvious nor are there blatant attempts on each other's lives (save for one scene in The Weapons of Warfare), but deep down I think you see some of the same hidden motivations.

Brad: Talk to me about what it means to be a Christian author. Do you feel a responsibility beyond that of merely writing a great story, in terms of content or spiritual themes?

Steve: Because I make no bones about being a Christian author, having written devotionals and other Christian related writings, I have to make sure that I do not write in such a way that dishonors God.  I do not believe that all my books must be Christian in nature.  However, they should never go against Christianity.  Let me explain.  Although my novels have all had a basis in Christianity, my coaching basketball books are not necessarily Christian books.  However, as a Christian, even when writing books about coaching, I use Christian principles.

The Center Circle Chronicles  is not really designed to be a life lesson-teaching type series, although there are good principles that people can learn.  For instance, the feelings of faith, which is the power behind the great things that the Circle members can do, is analogous to the power we as Christians have in our faith in God.  Landru’s sword has the ability to be used, not just as a weapon, but as a guide.  Many will recognize this right away as a reference to the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  But even beyond those (and many other examples throughout the series), there is a larger arc within the series concerning the power and deceit of evil and how one day the great King will return to free the world of evil.

In some of my future writings that are not set in the fantasy world, but in the real world with real-type people, I feel that those novels need to have a deeper message than just an allegory.  These books are much more real life people facing real life situations.  So on those cases, it is essential that I bring God’s truth into my writing so that readers who relate to the situation can see God’s way of handling the situation.

Brad: It will be interesting to see how faith works in your non-fantasy work in the future, then. Now, if I held a gun to your head (sorry, I didn’t expect this to get violent) and asked you to name your favorite book, what would it be? Why?

Steve: The quick and easy answer to that question is the Bible as it is not only God’s Word with practical applications for our everyday life, but it is full of some very great stories.  I especially love reading the stories and the stories behind the stories of the Old Testament to go along with the deep spiritual truths of the New Testament.

As far as other books, I would say that I don’t usually read fiction books over and over again.  There are occasions where I might read one sometime then several years later decide to read it again.  However, if I would have to choose, my favorite (nonBible) book—based on the fact that I have read it many times—is a book called Leading With the Heart by Mike Krzyzewski, the head men’s basketball coach at Duke Univeristy.  As a basketball coach, I read this book every September as a reminder of how I wanted to lead my team.

Brad: What about your favorite author (quickly—I don’t want anyone to see me holding this gun)?

Steve: That’s a very hard question for me to answer.  I am one of those people who have so many different interests.  As you no doubt have guessed, I like fantasy books.  But I also love reading books on leadership. I enjoy reading lawyer books and political thrillers. 

If I had to narrow it down to some favorite authors, I would say probably Ted Dekker and John Grisham.

Brad: What are you working on right now? Tell us about it.

Steve: Right now I am busy writing what I call a sports romance book.  It takes place in a small town where a new coach, Eric Rightman, gets hired to coach the school’s basketball team that had not had a winning team in over a decade.  Lacey Littleton has reluctantly returned to her home town as a reporter for the town’s newspaper.  Both are running from something in their past, one from a group of people and one from a darker moment in her past. 

I am also in the editing stage of a second volume of a monthly men’s devotional called 31 Days to Becoming a Man of God.  It has 31 devotional entries that center around lessons for men that we learn from the men in the Bible. 

For those wondering about the third book of The Center Circle Chronicles, that one is the next one on my list to write.  My hope is to begin writing that one about Thanksgiving and it will be available sometime in the spring of 2013.

Brad: One last question: I’m sure many of your readers are dying to know why Landon is so enamored with the original Star Trek series when Deep Space Nine is clearly the superior Trek.

Kirk tries and fails to be more awesome than Sisko
Steve: Well, that answer is an easy one.  And it has nothing to do with which one is superior.  Without giving too much away, Landon is involved in some sort of time travel experience.  So the Original Star Trek series is what he grew up on before the orphanage burned down.  With that said, from a purely literary standpoint, more people recognize the name of Captain James T. Kirk than they do Benjamin Sisko. 

Hi, it’s me, Brad, again. Thanks for joining us and, in case you missed that, Steve Biddison, author of The Center Circle Chronicles, practically just almost implied that Deep Space Nine was better than the original series. I couldn’t agree more. Now, everyone go and pick up a copy of The Center Circle to thank Steve for swinging by!

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