Reading and ley lines:  what do they have in common?  Both, it is argued, can be pathways to "different worlds."  But in Stephen Lawhead's newest novel, The Skin Map, this is doubly true.

The first in the new Bright Empires series, The Skin Map brings the concept of "ley lines" front and center as readers are introduced to Kit Livingston, a lonely twenty-something whose life is going nowhere fast in present-day London, England. 

"Had he known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe," reveals the first sentence of Chapter One, "Kit might have been better prepared."

Better prepared, perhaps, for meeting a man claiming to be his great-grandfather—someone named Cosimo, who as family lore had it, had disappeared in 1893, never to be seen again.  When the white-haired man wearing an old-timey greatcoat and trousers oddly stuffed into his high-top shoes interrupts Kit's life one morning, he persuades the young charge to join him on an adventure, which Kit soon learns, will involve travelling through time in a multi-layered universe.

"I'm the man who has come to rescue you from a life of quiet desperation and regret," Cosimo says. "I need your help with a project.  It will be an adventure of a lifetime—of several lifetimes  But it will change you forever." 

But why ley lines?  Aren't they just the stuff of New Agers and nonsense?  Why the reappearance of a long-lost relative (and how)?  And what does it all have to do with another explorer who left a tattooed part of himself behind:  a skin map separated into five pieces, that once found and rejoined could lead Cosimo and Kit to "the secret of the universe—or something even more significant and momentous."

I sat down recently with Stephen Lawhead on a stop in his book tour and asked him to clue me in on this fantastical adventure and share more about The Skin Map—without giving away the entire story of an epic treasure hunt involving ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy and mystery.

It's been said that The Skin Map has been 20 years in the making.

It's been rolling around in my head for a long, long time.  To put it this way, pieces and bits of it have been floating around [for 20 years].  It's scattered over so many different time periods. … To gather the history parts of it, the philosophy parts of it, the physics parts of it, all of that makes it what it is.  And all of that took time. 

How would you describe the basic premise of The Skin Map?

Well, I can't.  That's the big problem that I have.  It's easier to actually write it than to describe it.  It's life, universe and everything—sort of a chance to look at the really big questions:  Why are we here?  Where are we going?  What does it mean?  Those sort of ideas.  You know, the five books [in the Bright Empires series] will really be able to dig in to that.  It's cast in the form of a treasure hunt. 

Have you finished writing the rest of the books in the series?

Oh no.  I have finished the second one, called The Bone House.  It comes out next summer.  I finished it almost just days before starting on this [book tour].

So what happens after you turn in a book to your editor? 

You submit your manuscript, and then you go hide for a few days and wait for the storm to blow over.  It can take various forms.  Sometimes you need to do some massaging of the manuscript.  And [in The Bone House], there are a few chapters that are going to shift around a little bit to get the flow a bit better.  Stuff like that. 

Have you ever strongly disagreed with your editors about any changes they may have wanted to make in one of your books? 

Oh always.  But it could be anything.  It's usually me.  Here's the thing:  I don't look at rewriting or editing as different from the writing process.  To me, it's almost like shooting film.  You shoot the scenes, get them down and then you go back and start looking at it and say, "Well, this isn't doing what I wanted it to do.  Or,  "This is doing it in a way that could be improved."  Or whatever.  And so some things get cut out, but you have to get it down first.  You have to see what there is, what the possibilities are before you can even do it. 

It's like moving furniture around.  You've got your room set up and everything's working out.  But you just move the furniture to make it really, really pop.  So that process—it can go on.  It might go two or three rounds.  It just depends.  It's very rare that things just flow seamlessly from start to finish. 

With The Skin Map, there is a lot going on from chapter to chapter—different realities, different time periods.  If a reader isn't paying attention, it could get confusing pretty quickly.