AUTHOR INTERVIEW: JEFFREY OVERSTREET + GIVEAWAY!
The sound you are probably hearing right now is me jumping up and down in my seat. I got to interview Jeffrey Overstreet for this month’s Author Interview, and I am so very blessed and excited about our conversation!
My husband and I met Jeffrey last fall and joined in on a couple of workshops that he was doing. He had us both in tears more than once. His ability to shape thoughts and ideas into inspirational word pictures is truly enchanting. He reminded us both of the pleasure and unhindered joy of childhood that we, in some ways, had forgotten.
When I got home, I couldn’t wait to read Jeffrey’s series, The Auralia Thread. I couldn’t put it down! His writing style is both unique and captivating, and I felt like I was living inside of Auralia’s world the whole time I was reading the series (and for a while afterward!)
Here’s the interview, and below you will find the Rafflecopter Giveaway, which is (you guessed it!) a copy of all four books in the Auralia Thread.
Q: I’ve read a lot of your work, which spans from commentaries, film reviews, and of course, to this wonderful fantasy series, The Auralia Thread. Have you always been a writer?
There’s a drawer in my home office that contains stacks of books I wrote before I was eight years old. As I reached my teens, I was already pumping out hundreds of pages on a typewriter, pounding the keys with my index finger. I made one book after another, stapling them between construction-paper covers. I drew the cover art, spelled out the name of my “publishing company” in crayon in the corner, and I wrote fake review blurbs on the back. (Eventually I learned that it’s not really appropriate for an author to write his own reviews.)
Most teenagers who write keep diaries. I made little magazines full of my reviews of other people’s books, music, and movies. That’s the record I have of my life since childhood. And now, here I am, still doing the same thing — dividing my time between fiction and criticism.
Many writers have said this, and maybe you’ve found this yourself, Janna: I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it. The hard work of slowing down, concentrating, writing, revising, editing… it’s one of the ways I answer the call to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I don’t think anything has “renewed” my mind more than the challenging work of careful reading and rigorous writing.
Q: Who would you say is your favourite author of all time? Can you pick just one?
Are you kidding? Just one? No way.
These days I mostly read poetry, memoir, and theology. In the past several years, I’ve become very grateful for Thomas Merton. His journals and memoirs are beautiful, and I revisit them often.
But when it comes to fiction, that’s difficult. My seven-year-old self would choose Bill Peet. He was an animator for Disney, and I loved his big, funny, rhyming storybooks. My eight-year-old self would choose Tolkien, because that’s when I was first reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. My ten-year-old self loved Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down — and that remains the novel I revisit most often.
But how do we measure our “favorites”? If I were stranded on a desert island, I would want Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky and Milton with me. They’re not my “favorite” things to read on a Saturday afternoon because they demand so much of me. But they are the richest, most rewarding books I’ve found. Someday, I hope life affords me the time to read through The Brothers Karamazov once every year or two. And my admiration for Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, and Annie Dillard just grows and grows.
Q: How long did it take you to write these four books, and were there gaps in between?
I wrote the first version of Auralia’s Colors in 1996, and then I wrote three sequels in the next few years. I revised Auralia’s Colors repeatedly as I worked on some entirely different projects, until 2004 when someone discovered the story and introduced me to the head of a division at Random House. Auralia’s Colors was published in 2007 just months after my film-critic memoir, Through a Screen Darkly, was published. Then I spent a year revising — rewriting, really — each of the sequels to Auralia’s Colors, and they were published in 2008, 2010, and 2011.
The only “gaps” in that eleven-year period were times when I shifted my attention to different stories.
Q: Did you have a particular audience in mind when you wrote this series?
I wanted to write the kind of novel that I like reading more than once. I know that sounds self-centered, but I grew bored with most popular fiction. Writers like Richard Adams and J. R. R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake taught me to love language, and the writers who capture my attention pay close attention to their vocabulary, to sounds, to rhythms, to music. I want people to feel a desire to read my work out loud. I also want to write stories that are unpredictable, and most contemporary fantasy is so formulaic and unsurprising. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in any of these things, but those were my intentions.
I didn’t have readers of a particular age in mind. I hoped they would be read by readers from teenagers to adults — and they are — but sometimes I get letters from ten-year-olds. When that happens, I’m pleasantly surprised. I love hearing from readers. I love hearing their interpretations of the stories. Sometimes I’m surprised at the scenes and the characters that become meaningful for them.
Q: Auralia was a young girl who wasn’t sure where she’d come from, but who could find colour and light in a world that had forgotten how to see, or was even in some cases, afraid of beauty. Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to write her?
Auralia is a character inspired by many of the artists who have influenced me over the years. There’s some of Madeleine L’Engle in her. There’s some Georgia O’Keeffe in her. Some have noticed the influence of musicians and bands like Sam Phillips, Suzanne Vega, U2, and Over the Rhine in Auralia. The poetry of Jane Hirshfield has inspired her. One big influence was the title character from Michael Ende’s novel Momo.
But above all, my wife Anne — who is a poet herself — is the inspiration for Auralia. I met Anne in 1995, and we were married in 1996. I was living a very loud, busy, frantic life, and she was a quiet beauty who spent her time gardening, reading, and writing. Spending time with her, I slowed down and learned to see things more clearly. Her poems slowed me down and reminded me how to savor my life.
I’ve told the story many times, but the first inkling of Auralia’s story came to me while I was hiking in Montana with Anne. We were surrounded by so much natural beauty, so much color. And Anne made a remark about how often people reach a point in their lives when they give up on make-believe, when they fold up their imaginations and put them in a closet. That inspired a picture in my mind of a young explorer who stumbles onto a colorless city, and who is heartbroken by the sight. That was the seed from which the whole four-book story sprouted.
Q: I fell in love with this entire series, and to be honest, I think I invited them into my heart (is that heresy?) My favourite moments, I think, took place in Raven’s Ladder. One of my favourite quotes was:
“If there’s no feast for this appetite
No reason in nursery rhymes
Why can’t I shake this great and glorious lie?
And if there’s no dawn beyond this dark
No secret stair to climb
Where did I learn the song that shakes the sky?”
You strike me as a man who has grasped on to the hem of mystery and adventure, and is refusing to let go. Have you found it at all challenging in life to maintain an awareness of that adventure and, essentially, childlikeness?
The world is always trying to turn us into consumers running from one sensation to another. And the world wants to make us afraid, so that we are always self-conscious and trying to save ourselves. That kind of frantic, fearful consumerism kills imagination. It kills peace. It kills faith. It makes us want quantity rather than quality.
I feel healthiest and best when I have time in my life for play and for chasing after beauty. Both of those things — play and beauty — nourish my faith and help me overcome my fears. The best art comes out of a sense of fearless play, of having the courage to ask “What if?”
In the last few years, new demands on my time and energy have made my life more stressful. My creativity and imagination have suffered for it. I used to have a desk with a view of a beautiful garden, and that sight brought so much inspiration for my novels. I miss that view very much.
But sometimes, a simple change in posture can make all the difference. I’m glad you like the song in Raven’s Ladder. It reminds me of so many of my favorite songs — the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” the inspiring rock anthems by U2, and the song Kermit the Frog sang at the beginning of The Muppet Movie. All of those songs are about turning our attention toward the kingdom of God, and the inspiring journey that begins when we do.
Q: Who was the most challenging character in this series to write?
Auralia… definitely! I wanted her to be wildly inspiring, but also human. At first, when I was writing about her extraordinary creativity, I found her mysterious and otherworldly. But the more I discovered about her character in the second, third, and fourth book, the more human she seemed. I realized that her beautiful artwork came from a place of deep loneliness and suffering.
In my first draft of Auralia’s Colors, Auralia never actually appeared. We learned about her by seeing what she had done for people, of tracing her influence from one place to another. It was an interesting experiment. But readers kept demanding to meet Auralia, and eventually I shared their frustration. I wanted to meet her too.
Q: Can you tell us one of your favourite scenes in the story?
My favorites change from year to year. In Auralia’s Colors, I’m particularly fond of the scene when the ale boy, that timid and lonely little errand-runner, visits the lakeside caves where Auralia creates colors for her art. That place is very real to me. It’s also one of the only moments in the whole series when the ale boy and Auralia are together — and what Auralia shows him there will direct his life for the next three books in the series. It’s also the chapter when we get our first glimpse of Jordam — who is the “beast” of the second book’s “Beauty and the Beast” storyline.
But there’s also a chapter later in the book that is very close to my heart. In it, we see Auralia put through a painful series of interrogations. I think of that scene all the time, because it reminds me of the many ways in which people fear, misunderstand, and exploit works of art and imagination.
Q: Are you working on any more stories now, and if so, when can we expect to get our hands on them?
I have several stories I can’t wait to show you, Janna. But right now, the demands of my daily life are too stressful and demanding. Until I find a way to change that, those stories remain on the shelf.
There’s an adventure story that I wrote for kids. It’s full of talking animals on a lost island, and it focuses on a snarky bird who keeps running from old troubles and landing in new troubles. Imagine The Rescuers meets Harry Potter, or The Secret of NIMH meets Young Indiana Jones.
I’m in the middle of another new fantasy novel about a young librarian who discovers a secret deep beneath the library. He has to flee his home to keep the secret safe. He joins a band of fugitives, and they have adventures all around a vast archipelago.
There’s also a strange web of horror stories set in a Seattle apartment building. It feels like Twin Peaks, but it all takes place in one city block. That one will have to wait until I have a lot of time in front of me.
For now, I’m deeply grateful to have had the chance to share Auralia’s Colors and the three sequels. The responses from readers have been rewarding beyond my wildest dreams. Now I have another dream. Publishing has given me many opportunities to speak about writing and to teach aspiring writers. I’d love nothing more than to divide my time between teaching and writing. And who knows? Dreams sometimes come true. In the meantime, I’m content to write about movies, music, and more at LookingCloser.org.
About Jeffrey Overstreet
Jeffrey Overstreet currently works as an editor at Seattle Pacific University. He also frequently reviews movies and his reviews are published in publications such as Paste, Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, Christianity Today, Risen, and Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine. His work has also been highlighted in TIME Magazine. In 2007, Overstreet received the Spiritus Award at the City of the Angels Film Festival in recognition of his writing on cinema.
You can read Jeffrey’s full bio by clicking here.
About the Auralia Thread
When thieves find an abandoned child lying in a monster’s footprint, they have no idea that their wilderness discovery will change the course of history.
Cloaked in mystery, Auralia grows up among criminals outside the walls of House Abascar, where vicious beastmen lurk in shadow. There, she discovers an unsettling–and forbidden–talent for crafting colors that enchant all who behold them, including Abascar’s hard-hearted king, an exiled wizard, and a prince who keeps dangerous secrets.
Auralia’s gift opens doors from the palace to the dungeons, setting the stage for violent and miraculous change in the great houses of the Expanse.CYNDERE’S MIDNIGHT
When a bloodthirsty beastman discovers Auralia’s colors, his conscience awakens. When the heiress of a powerful kingdom risks everything to help him, their lives–and the lives of a kingdom–hang in the balance.
“Cyndere walked down to the water to make her daily decision — whether to turn and go back into House Bel Amica, or to climb old Stairway Rock and throw herself into the sea…”
In Cyndere’s Midnight, the power of Auralia’s colors brings together a bloodthirsty beastman and a grieving widow in a most unlikely relationship… one that not only will change their lives, but could also impact the four kingdoms of The Expanse forever.
Jordam is one of four ferocious brothers from the clan of cursed beastmen. But he is unique: The glory of Auralia’s colors has enchanted him, awakening a noble conscience that clashes with his vicious appetites.
Cyndere, heiress to a great ruling house, and her husband Deuneroi share a dream of helping the beastmen. But when Deuneroi is killed by the very people he sought to help, Cyndere risks her life and reputation to reach out to Jordam. Beside a mysterious well–an apparent source of Auralia’s colors–a beauty and a beast form a cautious bond. Will Jordam be overcome by the dark impulse of his curse, or stand against his brothers to defend House Abascar’s survivors from a deadly assault?RAVEN’S LADDER
A deadly menace is breaking through the ground. The people of Abascar must abandon their stone refuge and flee into vulnerability in the forest. But their king has had a vision . . .
Following the beacon of Auralia’s colors and the footsteps of a mysterious dream-creature, King Cal-raven has discovered a destination for his weary crowd of refugees. It’s a city only imagined in legendary tales. And it gives him hope to establish New Abascar.
But when Cal-raven is waylaid by fortune hunters, his people become vulnerable to a danger more powerful than the prowling beastmen––House Bel Amica. In this oceanside kingdom of wealth, enchantment, and beauty, deceitful Seers are all too eager to ensnare House Abascar’s wandering throng.
Even worse, the Bel Amicans have discovered Auralia’s colors, and are twisting a language of faith into a lie of corruption and control.
If there is any hope for the people of Abascar, it lies in the courage of Cyndere, daughter of Bel Amica’s queen; the strength of Jordam the beastman; and the fiery gifts of the ale boy, who is devising a rescue for prisoners of the savage Cent Regus beastmen.
As his faith suffers one devastating blow after another, Cal-raven’s journey is a perilous climb from despair to a faint gleam of hope––the vision he sees in Auralia’s colors.THE ALE BOY’S FEAST
The king is missing.
His people are trapped as the woods turn deadly.
Underground, the boy called Rescue has found an escape.
Hopes are failing across The Expanse. The forests, once beautiful, are now haunted and bloodthirsty. House Abascar’s persecuted people risk their lives to journey through those predatory trees. They seek a mythic city – Abascar’s last, best hope for refuge – where they might find the source of Auralia’s colors.
They journey without their king. During a calamitous attempt to rescue some of his subjects from slavery, Cal-raven vanished.
But his helper, the ale boy, falling through a crack in the earth, has discovered a slender thread of hope in the dark. He will dare to lead a desperate company up the secret river.
Meanwhile, with a dragon’s help, the wandering mage Scharr ben Fray is uncovering history’s biggest lie – a deception that only a miracle can repair.
Time is running out for all those entangled in The Auralia Thread. But hope and miracles flicker wherever Auralia’s colors are found.
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