NA: Welcome! What drew you to write fantasy fiction?
SG: From an early age, TV shows like the Twilight Zone fascinated me. As a boy I was never good at sports or the arts, and I was not popular. Macabre short stories and books like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time became my escape and my good friends. Eventually I discovered I had a talent that others appreciated. When my Boy Scout troop went on campouts, they wanted me to tell scary stories as we lay in our sleeping bags at night. Armed with a head full of scary short stories, I became the unofficial story teller. So, fantasy fiction was something that I enjoyed, befriended, and eventually gave me a means to fit in.
NA: What is unique in Beyond the Dead Forest compared to other fantasy?
SG: It is a bit darker and has more of a Twilight Zone flavor to it than the average fantasy. There is a blending of the reality we are familiar with into a world where demonic evil has twisted and corrupted reality to such an extent that human kindness is the rare exception. The challenges and testing situations that the two twelve-year-old heroes struggle with on their quest are based on Biblical stories and teachings. Their task is to grow in Godly wisdom as they travel through Dearth (the land beyond the dead forest) in the hope that they will be able to undo the damage caused by the forces of evil.
NA: Where did this story idea come from?
SG: When I was a teen, the teacher of our Sunday school class spent the entire hour just reading the Bible to us. That experience inspired me to never subject children to that approach. Of all the creative techniques I use to teach God’s word to children, story telling is one of the most effective. Remembering as kids how much we enjoyed scary stories, I write and tell my own suspenseful teaching stories that illustrate morals or Biblical principles to my students. Eventually, I used the material I developed to write a novel that would be both entertaining and educational. Now, some teachers are using my book to teach positive values. In fact, since there is no mention of God or the Bible in the book, Christians give it to non-churched friends. It sparks conversations because it illustrates Biblical truth without being preachy.
NA: Were there any smaller influences that came into the books?
SG: The children I have worked with over the years have taught me a lot. They are my inspiration, the reason I started writing, and the reason I keep on writing.
NA: As you look back on writing Beyond the Dead Forest, what challenged you the most?
SG: The biggest challenge was making the novel about more than just the main characters being on a mission of personal growth. The story had to be about something bigger, something that would significantly effect the whole of Dearth. One of the things my editor helped me with the most was making the book more plot driven.
NA: Which character was the hardest to write?
SG: The main characters, Carter and Kat, are best friends who like to explore together. The hardest character for me to write was Kat. A middle-aged man trying to write a twelve-year-old girl that other young girls can relate to is a bit of a challenge. Perhaps I succeeded because I have had no complaints from the girls. But I have had girls, both young and old, tell me that Beyond the Dead Forest is their favorite book.
NA: Which character was the easiest to write?
SG: Carter was easier to write since I was a young boy myself once. Carter got some of my personality, but Carter is smarter and braver than I was at his age.
NA: If you could be any character in your books, who would it be?
SG: I would have to say Carter. He is more what I would like to have been at twelve.
NA: Do you read Pilgrim’s Progress often?
SG: I am familiar with it and have read parts of it, but I haven’t read the entire story yet.
NA: If your books were made into a movie, would you have any preferred actor, director, composer, etc?
SG: Dreaming really big, I would love to have David Yates who directed Harry Potter and Nicholas Hooper the composer for Half-Blood Prince handle my story.
NA: Can you tell us three things about yourself we readers may not know?
SG: 1. I played clarinet in my high school band. 2. The first thing I ever got published was a computer game called “Microids” in a 1983 edition of Antic Magazine for the old Atari home computers. 3. I have two wonderful grandsons, Ethan and Kyle.
NA: Do you have any future book plans or ideas?
SG: Beyond the Dead Forest is my first novel, and it may be my last. But if I do anything else it will be a sequel. I have new short stories using the Carter and Kat characters, and I am playing around with some ideas about what they might be up to next.
NA: Do you have any advice to those about writing fantasy?
SG: First, let me suggest the obvious. Read fantasy literature, both the classics and the new things that are hot. Become familiar with the proper form of writing fiction. Read things on writing like Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Second, don’t be afraid to experiment. Some people need to outline and work everything out before they start a book. Others just need to start writing and see where they end up. Use your imagination and try to think “outside the box.” Play around with ideas no matter how outrageous or bizarre they might be. You just might hit on something new and exciting. Third, have fun! If you do not have fun writing, you will likely give up on it.
Thank you, Noah, for this opportunity to share about my book on your blog. And I want to thank all of you who took the time to read this interview. If you would like to read some of my teaching short stories or get to know more about Beyond the Dead Forest you can visit my page at http://www.authorsden.com/stevegroll