I took some time to interview Dean, and I think you will be just as touched and amazed as I was to share his insight on his work, his family and his faith. I look forward to the stories that will follow this one! Please welcome Dean Briggs to my Window!
You do a masterful job of capturing the struggle taking place in today’s society. It seems many are like the nameless, “beckoned to the numbing lure of forgetfulness.” (p, 226) You describe what many long to wipe from their world with drugs, alcohol, entertainment, ect… “As the hues of a living world fell into gloom, gladly would they surrender the emotional burden of hope (and with hope responsibility) for the numbing comfort of insignificance.” (p231)
Is this a purposeful theme in the story? Is it something you have watched your own children struggle against? As Christians, how can we combat this despair in today’s society?
The themes are definitely intentional. Of course, as a storyteller, I made sure any subtexts are natural to the plot, not artificially inserted. Preachiness gets us nowhere. Our kids smell it a mile away (and it ruins a lot of Christian fiction, unfortunately). But let’s be honest: our kids are the target of an unprecedented assault, at a very fundamental level. The very notion of a vital, God-given personal identity is being systematically destroyed.
This is occurring in multiple ways, though some are more easily recognized than others. For example, at the risk of being too philosophical, consumerism is reducing individuality to little more than one of many “buyer’s impulse”—like Pavlov’s dog—wherein contentment can only be acquired with the purchase of the Next Big Thing. We’re spoiling our kids with excess. Then there’s Gender Identity—that clear-cut gift of birth, a once obvious Either/Or equation—now a blurry line in the minds of tens of thousands. It’s hard to comprehend, but so many of our kids no longer have the simple confidence of feeling like a young man or a young woman! They’re confused. It’s staggering. Plus, with the excessive stimulation of the new media, adult-level experiences are being practiced at younger and younger ages, robbing our kids of the joy of patient discovery. (As a result, look in their eyes: many of our young people are utterly joyless. “Been there, done that.”)
All these things promise an illusion of identity, but they lie. They accelerate the wrong parts and dull the meaningful ones. Our kids are being sexualized and objectified earlier than ever before. Kids are getting used to feeling secondary to their parents’ lives. They don’t know the soul-balm of being the apple of someone else’s eye. They have grown up in an age when children are an accessory that can be discarded in the womb. What does that tell them?
Finally, and most brutally, the evolutionary world view has succeeded to a large extent in stripping the notion of a divine image—of the human soul being crafted in the likeness of God. The value of Genesis 1-3 on our notion of self is incalculable. It is also an increasingly foreign concept to many kids. I’m valuable...made in God’s image...not just an accident of nature? Yes! So it may be a small attempt, but I suppose this book is me launching my own little, private war against the lies. Any one of these lies is significant in and of itself, but the cumulative effect on this generation has been truly horrific.
The Grey/Black/White colors of the men and women in the abbeys seemed to represent ideas such as truth/lies/inability to stand on the side of either. In The Book of Names, the target of the enemy is the young people just as it is in reality. As the father of a blended family of eight children how to you encourage your own household against the pressures of today’s society?
It’s a big task, and I blow it so many times a week, it’s not even funny. But being intentional is a big part of my strategy. My wife and I schedule individual time with our kids. We try to protect that time, no matter what. Otherwise, with eight, the week is just gone and nothing has happened. We get “face time” with them, where they are right in our face, and they can feel like the only thing in our world. We tell them they are special and why (which means we have to know them well enough to be specific!). We spend time together as a family, just goofing off, playing games, or getting into the Word. We’ve felt challenged of late not to take the view that we can simply outsource their spiritual growth to the local church. It’s our job. More than that, it’s our privilege, our joy, to help identify God’s plan for their lives and equip them to pursue it. Even something like chores becomes a holy tool. Chores teach more than responsibility. Whether they realize it or not, it also teaches a child that they have a place in the family, and that place has consequences. If they don’t do their job, others notice, others feel the lack. In a small, but meaningful way, this roots them to home...and that’s a good thing. Like everybody else, of course, we get it wrong. And then as we’re laying in bed, one of us will speak up. We’ll own up to some inconsistency, regroup, and charge the hill again the next day.
When you set out to write the story, did you intend to use the loss of the boys’ mother as an emotional springboard into their adventure? (I ask this because my own family is the result of my father losing his first wife to cancer) How difficult was that to include in the story?
Very difficult, but necessary. I originally began plotting this book before Amy (my late wife) contracted cancer. Then, it was just a rousing adventure. When she passed away, I lay in bed for six months, devastated. We had a rare, truly beautiful marriage. But the urgency of reclaiming my boy’s lives became my new mission. I wanted to give them a vehicle that somehow combined the thrill and magic of a good fantasy adventure, with a life story they could relate to, and through both, perhaps, give them the tools and the emotional language to grieve. I wanted us, together, to reengage life. Story seemed like the best vehicle. Great, heroic, escapist fun, with a back door to their hearts. It’s been hard, but they get to be the stars of their own adventure. And I know their mom would like that. So it’s almost autobiographical--as much as a Narnia-esque fantasy series can be.
What do your own children think of The Book of Names?
They love it! Like I said, they’re the heroes. What teen and pre-teen boy wouldn’t want to be the hero of an entire world? And it’s close to home. Their own names (with slight variations) are the names of the four brothers who enter through the magic Viking portal into the world of Karac Tor, where names are being stolen from the youth. Since I’m finished with Book 2 and starting Book 3, I’ll update them from time to time as I write. I’ll say, “Gatlin, you’re about to learn how to control the wind!” And he’ll just beam and say, “Garret gets to control the wind! Cool! When do I get to read?” My oldest son has already read it and loves it.
Have you always been a fan of fantasy fiction? What are some other types of books you enjoy? Have you always enjoyed history?
I’m a huge fan of fantasy. I grew up devouring every work I could get my hands on: Kay, Donaldson, Brooks, McKillip, Le Guin, L’Engle, Cooper. I developed a taste for what’s good, what’s compelling, what’s epic; also what’s cheap and slipshod and pulp. I came to prize vivid, lyrical prose. At the time, apart from Tolkien and Lewis, there was no such thing as Christian fantasy---and ironically, even their works were viewed with suspicion by large parts of the church. So I’m hopeful people will really support the works that are out there, so that their own children can be assured of great fiction in a Harry Potter world. Yes, I love non-fiction, too: most often C.S. Lewis, Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, J.I. Packer, Bill Johnson, Francis Frangipane. A wide range, actually. But if I’m tearing into a novel, you can bet it’s fantasy.
Can you share some of what God is doing in your life? Words of encouragement for your readers?
Pretty simple: don’t give up. Life can be hard. But God is faithful. We all make choices. We live with the consequences. We do the best we know, at any given moment. Sometimes we see a part of our life thrive. Other times, we see it wither in the heat of adversity. I’m now starting over with a new life, a new love. I’m fortunate to have experienced love twice. What does that tell me? Life can be hard, but it is also meant to be rich. On both ends of the spectrum, God is moving, unseen. With us. At the end of the day, that’s all I know. It’s all that matters.