Stephen Lawhead: Only He Knows Where The Skin Map Leads
- Friday, October 29, 2010
Well, you won't know that they're starting. You'll just all of a sudden realize that they're starting when you begin to think about some things that you maybe didn't think you'd be thinking about when the book started. I don't want to frighten anybody and say, "Well this is about quantum physics and reinterpreting the world that we live in." Because I'm not a scientist and I'm not an essay writer or a philosopher or anything like that. So it's going to have to come out as part of the story, as part of the ongoing development of the treasure hunt.
I'm glad you included an essay at the back of the book ("The Ley of the Land") that helps explain ley lines to those of us who would have been frightened by terms like "quantum physics."
Well, that's just to let people know that I didn't make that up. They're real things. You learn about them and you go away scratching your head and saying, Well what's that about. The world is far stranger than you can imagine, than anyone can imagine. What is our grasp of reality, really? Do we even understand what's going on? But once you get a bigger view, things can happen.
You had to do a lot of research for The Skin Map. In fact, I was overwhelmed when I read all that you had to do. Do you enjoy this stuff?
It's fun! I enjoy it, poking at things. I don't have any kind of any real disciplined way. It's just whatever catches my fancy. You just begin to get in sort of thinking a thread, and you follow that and that leads to this and that's interesting. Pretty soon it's just a mass of materials that could be anything—books, it could be travel things, it could be visits to museums, any number of things will help contribute. Just be able to move comfortably in [your research], so that the reader can feel comfortable in it. Not that we're straining at any of the borders of ignorance, because there's a lot of that. It's a real place, and you're in safe hands and you can just believe it and go with it.
Did you finish all of your research before you started writing?
No. That doesn't work. I'm usually writing something and then researching ahead of that. So there isn't a situation where's there's a gap of two or three years. I get antsy, and so I always have something going on.
What about the storylines? Did you plot out The Skin Map in advance or did you just figure it out as you wrote?
Everything I write is like that. It grows organically out of the situation, out of the concept of the story, the characters that are given to me or that announce themselves in the course of a book and then the story grows out of that. There's a thematic element that many people may not be aware of. And it could be just a few words; it could be a sentence. So is this scene advancing that and is it somehow explaining that it is somehow relevant to that theme? So it all sort of has a coherence. I don't know how it will end or where we're going to end up right now. That's not important right now. But it'll be real important in the last book.
So you don't even know what's going to happen in the last book of this series?
Yes. It's not a perfect analogy, but you try to build a house with bricks. You don't have to build the whole house at once. All you have to do is worry about the brick in your hand at that time. And if it fits with all of the others, you probably have the house. A friend of mine said, "Well that's great, but how do you know where to put the doors and windows?" I don't know. This seems like a good place for a window.
As part of your research process, did you visit the places that are in The Skin Map?
Yes. Egypt and Prague and, of course, London. The only place we have not gone to is Macau. But we've been to others and Thailand and some of the places like that, and you get the flavor.
What would you say to someone who has not read any of your books before, and perhaps is not a big reader of fiction and is considering giving The Skin Map a go?
They do probably like entertainment, and I think that fiction can offer a style, a variety of entertainment that's probably a little higher pitched than most things they're watching on television or in the movies or whatever. I think often we demand too little of our entertainment. I think it can do lots more than it's often called upon to do. It can uplift you, it can change you, it can inspire you, it can challenge you, it can do all kinds of things. It doesn't usually do, but it can, given a chance. But fiction is one of the better vehicles for all that, because of what you might call the total immersion of the person in it. They can actually become part of the story without too much effort if it's done well.
The comment I get a lot, more and more these days, is just that. "I was never a fiction reader until. …" And I think what that tells me is most of what they had been reading … is not making a connection, it's not making that mental/ emotional connection that fiction can do.
There's a guy I read many years ago, who was very influential to me, I never met him. John Gardner was a professor, and he was also a writer. He wrote a few novels. But he said his idea was that fiction can come in two forms: one you call "true fiction" and the other he called "toy fiction." And toy fiction would be sort of the spy thrillers, the beach reads, the romance books—and I'm not denigrating them. These are his words. People like toys, and we want to go read a murder mystery and we want it to be a well-made thing. And they're enjoyable.
But true fiction calls for different sorts of responses from the reader and a different kind of engagement and involvement. So that's what I decided I wanted to do was to try to do that. And if it's done well, it can have a value beyond the moment, beyond that initial read. It's not something that you sort of read and then put away and say, "Well, what else is there?" Because it might stay with you a while … because you've been challenged, you've been awakened to another possibility perhaps or inspired in some way. And true fiction can do that.
What makes up your personal reading diet?
Mostly anything. There again, reading loads of theology and science of different sorts for [The Skin Map] and becoming comfortable with it. I read bestsellers of various sorts and sort of to figure out what's going on.
There's a fellow I usually mention who I think should get more attention. His name is Martin Cruz Smith. He's best known for Gorky Park—the Russian detective novels. I just think they're delightful. They're very well made. He does some other things, too. He's written a few historical novels. The one I just finished is called Stallion Gate. It's about the Los Alamos project at the end of World War II … and it all takes place in New Mexico. [Martin] is what I call a safe pair of hands, someone you can just relax into. He's not going to disappoint. There are no cheap thoughts. He's going to do the hard work. It's effortless.
How do you choose what you're going to read? Do you rely mainly on word of mouth?
Well, the word of mouth is the word from our son's mouth. And he's the one who guides us. He's the real culture vulture. It's Ross, our son. He reads widely all kind of things. He reads Shakespeare. He's a huge G.K. Chesterton fan. So whatever he passes on. He's a good filter for things.
Back to your catalog of work. Have any of your books ever been optioned for film?
Yes, that happens. And then the option runs out, and we sell them again.
What about this series? Do you think something might happen with The Skin Map or the forthcoming Bright Empires books to help them get to the big screen?
It's nothing I could influence. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. It would be nice if it would happen. This one, because of the whole episodic nature of the whole animal, it could be a miniseries of some sort. Here again, if it was up to me, they'd all have been blockbusters years ago.
I'm sure your readers would agree as well. Speaking of which, when you do meet your readers on book tours, what are they like? Is it fun or a little scary for you to meet them?
Both of those things. It is fun, and it's also a little scary because you don't know what to expect. The thing is they are so respectful and so many of them are so happy to be there. And so it takes me back a little bit. Maybe I have created [a book] that is a vehicle for them to find something perhaps that they've been looking for or that they can connect with in a way.
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