(Author Interview) Hannah R. Hess, author of “The First Skyrider”

The second serving of the very delectable Christian YA fiction, Dark Star is out. So bite into The First Skyrider and savor the fantastic journey of Cairn to greatness.

This is the second part of my interview with H. R. Hess. You can read the first part here that covers reading fiction and her first book, Dark Star. On this last installment, we talk about writing and The First Skyrider.

Hello Hannah! Please tell us how you got into writing fiction?

Hi, and thanks so much for interviewing me.

I have been making up stories for as long as I can remember, and reading them too. I think as young as eight I decided I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing in my spare time all through university, and when I was raising my three children. Once my youngest started school I decided to take a serious shot at being published. I tried a couple of publishers first, before deciding to release my first novel independently. Very shortly after, I got picked up by Reformation Lightning, a new imprint for Christian YA fiction.

You are writing something that has some spiritual or biblical stuff in your books. Is that something that is natural since your a Christian writer?

I think whatever you do as a Christian, your faith will flow through it – it’s like the blood in our veins. So, whether I am creating a specifically Christian story or not, those themes of love, redemption, forgiveness, will underpin the writing. I hope to write and publish a couple of novels in the secular market at some point, but I would expect the same themes to be there regardless. I suppose I see myself as a writer who is a Christian, rather than a ‘Christian writer’.

Does a Christian author have to always write something that have biblical allegories in his or her stories or we can write without biblical references and still glorify God? What’s your take on that?

No, I think a Christian can write novels with no biblical references at all that still express God’s nature and goodness to the world. What I find fascinating is how often even non-Christians write stories that actually have biblical themes – heroes often have remarkably Christ-like characteristics, even when the writer is not aiming for, or even thinking of Jesus at all. A good story is a good story because it resonates with the longings of our hearts – for a rescuer, for a hero, for love, for justice.

As a writer what are some disciplines that you cultivate to bring out your best?

Well, with three kids aged 7-14 I feel like discipline has less to do with my writing, and it’s more just trying to squeeze in whatever time I can find to write! But in terms of bringing out my best, I think it’s the same with any work – as we pursue God and know him better, his light will shine out of whatever we do. Worshipping God in church each week, being reminded of why I’m here and what I was made for, praying each day, learning to love God and others – these are the things that elevate any work from just making money or achieving status to something eternal and beautiful. Certainly, praying into my writing has transformed my approach. I pray that what I write would point others to God, and that I’d serve the reader well.

Who are your influences in writing and what lessons did you learn from them?

How much time do you have?! C. S. Lewis is such a clichéd influence, but for a very good reason. His were the first books that really opened my eyes to God as a person, as someone I could know and be friends with, rather than a distant and terrifying deity. His books have shaped me more than any other, apart from the Bible. His clarity of writing is second-to-none – he takes very deliberate care over his words, to make sure that he expresses in the simplest and yet most profound way exactly what he has thought. To write deep truth so clearly is a real gift, and I think this is why he is so loved around the world.

Another writer, who is not a Christian, but whose books have stayed with me, is Lois Lowry. She treads fearlessly into themes of death, suffering, and love, and carries the teenager with her, a feat I admire greatly. I loved her books as a young adult, and returning to them now find them even more intriguing and enjoyable. I could list so many other writers though – the Bronte sisters, Tolstoy, Louisa May Allcott, L. M. Montgomery, Robert Westall.

I think also, my love of history has shaped my writing more than I realise. Reading history has taught me so much about human nature, and given me a perspective on time and change, which I think has informed my Callenlas novels, and the way I approached them.

You wrote two books already in the series called “Callenlas Chronicles”. Which among the two so far you enjoyed writing?

I think I enjoyed writing the second one, ‘The First Skyrider’, more than the first. ‘The Dark Star’ was a gamble really, my first attempt at publication, and it required a huge amount of rewriting to get it to a place where I was happy with it. And then I launched it with no idea of whether anyone would read it beyond a handful of friends.

Writing ‘The First Skyrider’ was actually quite enjoyable – the first draft just fell onto the page within a couple of months, and knowing I had the backing of a publisher and an editor really took the pressure off. I could just enjoy creating the characters and plot, and know that there would be other voices to speak objectively into that process. I have a real soft spot for Runa (from The Dark Star) – I really enjoyed writing her – but ‘Skyrider’ was less demanding, as a writing process.

Now you have a new book The First Skyrider. Can you tell us the process in writing the book?

The First Skyrider follows a boy called Cairn as he leaves his home to train as a rider for King Elior (a rider is like a knight in Callenlas). He’s very much out of his comfort zone, even though he’s training to do what he’s always wanted. It’s about how he settles into the training and makes friends, and the adventures they have during that process.

Writing it was, as I’ve said, surprisingly straightforward. I had quite clear characters in my head from the beginning, and a good idea of how I wanted the story to flow. I have two boys aged 14 and 11, so I have a good idea of the kinds of things that they enjoy reading, and my goal is always to make sure they would want to keep reading to the end of the book.

I also want to weave in deeper things. Cairn’s journey is quite an internal one, which I found hard to convey at times. I think the worst part of writing is finishing – I have moments of panic thinking I should have written it differently, or that I haven’t done justice to the ideas I had in my head.

What I love best is just imagining and writing. The editing is quite tough, especially reshaping the novel to keep the pace and flow of the story moving. This is where my editor was really helpful – as a writer you kind of get lost in the forest of the story; an editor can take an overhead look and spot where the story is getting stuck.

King Elior is sort of a Christ figure in your books just like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia. What biblical theme will you tackle involving this character in your new book (w/o spoiling it)?

I think the main thing I wanted to explore in ‘The First Skyrider’ is how, when we encounter the divine in any form, it reveals things we have hidden, even from ourselves. Our true motives lie so deep, it can take a lot to truly expose them in us. We like to believe we are in the right, and doing everything from the right motives, when often there is a great deal of darkness hidden inside us. But with that, I wanted to convey the kindness with which we are approached as we make those deeper, inner explorations. When we step into light we are exposed, but only so that the dirt can be cleaned away and leave us freer than we were before.

I think another theme running through the book would be authority, and how different people handle it, especially contrasted with how God uses his authority.

Kindly invite our readers to check your latest book, The First Skyrider.

Thank you! The First Skyrider is now. You can buy a copy at Reformation Lightning, the book is also available at Eden, Amazon, 10 of Those, and most Christian outlets. If they don’t hold it in stock, a Christian bookshop should be able to order it.

One last on writing. If you could just give one tip that can help a budding writer what is it and why?

You’d think the one tip would be to write, and definitely that’s number two; but my number one tip is to read, and to read widely. Artists (painters) were traditionally taught to paint by copying the masters, and I think that’s got a lot of merit as a learning method. Just read the best books you can get your hands on, and read in a variety of genres. That will inform your language, your grammar, your mind, more than anything else, and should also be a lot more fun and interesting than taking a writing course (though that might also be a good thing to do).

(Did you enjoy what you read? Did this article help you? If yes, you can say “Thank you” by sharing 10 Pesos or more at my G-Cash or Paymaya account: Marianito Gonzales – 09163315535. For international friends, you can send it through Paypal: nitoymgonzales@gmail.com)

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