Q&A: Daniel Blackaby Speaks on Journey as Author, Latest Book
Daniel Blackaby (’10) didn’t really plan to become a published author, he says. But in any case, five years after his first book, he’s just released his sixth — a new, complete compilation of the fantasy trilogy “The Lost City Chronicles.”
We asked Blackaby to tell us more about his journey as a writer, the impact of his experience in the English program at North Greenville University, and his latest novel:
Q: Daniel, you’re in your 20s and you’ve already managed to publish a handful of books, both fiction and nonfiction. How would you describe your journey to becoming a published author?
A: Somewhat accidental! There was never any diabolical master plan to conquer the publishing world or anything like that. I just loved to write, and so I did so whenever possible: before bed, in the bathtub, early in the morning, on my lunch break, and anywhere else you can think of.
Then, out of the blue, a publisher contacted me about turning the material from a blog I’d been contributing to for several years into a book (which became my first nonfiction book). A year later, I crossed paths with fiction publishing looking for new Christian fantasy, and I happened to have a completed manuscript sitting on my bookshelf that I’d written in my spare time. The rest is history!
Q: Writing seems to run in your family: you’re a fifth-generation published author. How cool! Do you think having connections with your family’s ministry Blackaby Ministries International and perhaps their publishers afforded an advantage for you over the average aspiring writer?
A: My heritage played a factor for sure. I’ve been very fortunate to have five generations of wisdom and experience to draw upon! Growing up around the publishing industry helped give me a realistic perspective of how it operates and how much work is required to write a book. Having a recognizable and respected last name within the publishing world also allowed me to at least get a foot in the door.
These are obvious blessings that most beginning writers don’t have, which I’m extremely grateful for. But, of course, eventually words still need to make their way out of the brain and onto the blank sheets of paper!
With both my first fiction and first nonfiction books, I had already worked hard for years before the reality of publishing even entered the equation. So whether you’re a fifth- or a first-generation writer, there’s still no shortcut to hard work.
Q: What's your top-secret trick to keep yourself writing, even when you might not feel inspired?
A: Inspiration is an untamable and elusive beast that reveals itself on only the rarest of occasions! The less romantic reality is that writing is all about discipline and building productive habits.
Write one page a day — rain or shine, healthy or sick, busy or bored, inspired or not — and by the end of the year, you’ll have a finished book!
Oh, and also coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
Q: So to sum up, what would you say has been your recipe for success as an author?
A: I sometimes tell people, “Writing is 30% inspiration, 60% hard work, 20% good editing . . . and 100% being glad you don't have to use math for a living!”
In all seriousness. though, people always want a simple, 5-step plan for publishing success. But there really is not a perfect recipe or formula. At the end of the day, a writer needs to write. Opportunity, luck, connections to a publisher, and even inspiration itself are largely out of our control. The one thing we can control is word count.
Too many beginning authors get so sidetracked by thinking about future publishing and marketing that they never get around to actually writing! So work hard, be disciplined, improve your craftsmanship whenever and however you can, and get words onto the paper. If you do that, the rest tends to take care of itself.
Q: You published your first book while you were still a student at NGU, right? How did your studies at NGU help to prepare you for your career as an author?
A: That’s true! I wrote my first book during my senior year and submitted the final manuscript to my publisher the week after graduation. Being surrounded by so many talented peers and intelligent professors while learning about the literary giants in the past was constant inspiration and encouragement for my writing. I’d always had a wild imagination, but my time at NGU helped polish my craftsmanship and equipped me to finally get all my crazy ideas onto paper.
Also, the faculty in the NGU English Department are at the top of any greatest-people-on-earth list. They invested in my writing career from the start by volunteering their own time and energy outside of class to read through my early manuscripts and providing constructive criticism. Their investment went far beyond a mere grade, and I’m deeply indebted to them.
Q: And how do you feel that your time at NGU has impacted your work as an author?
A: The lessons learned inside and outside of class are a foundation I still rely on in my writing. It is no accident that my years spent as a student at NGU are some of the most fruitful years of writing in my life.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about your life since you graduated from NGU?
A: It’s been crazy, but the good kind of crazy.
A month after graduation, I got married and moved to San Francisco to pursue graduate studies at a theological seminary. Three years later, I graduated and moved to the Atlanta area and began doctoral studies. In that time, I’ve been able to write several more books and drop into several conferences across the country.
Last year, my wife and I welcomed twin boys to our family, so life is only getting crazier!
Q: Congratulations! And you’ve also just recently released your latest book, a complete collection of your fantasy trilogy “The Lost City Chronicles.” For those who might be unfamiliar with your work, what should they expect when diving into this book (and your work) for the first time?
A: A wild adventure. I try to write the sort of stories that I devoured growing up: fast-paced, tons of unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, fantastical new worlds. My goal with every chapter was always to write it in such a way that would force readers to read “just one more chapter,” into the late hours of the night.
You’ll have to judge for yourself if I succeeded!
Q: Fill in the blank: “Readers who enjoy __________ won’t be able to put the book down!”
A: Imaginary worlds, relatable characters, and pure adventure.
Q: You've said that the main character Cody reflects you, to a degree. Was the plotline of the story at all inspired by certain events from your life, or was it all purely imaginative?
A: The plot wasn’t too inspired by my life because, sadly, my life isn’t that exciting! But the character’s arc absolutely reflects much of my own growing up experience. Cody is a bit shy and awkward, a major bookworm, and has a stubborn curiosity that constantly gets him in trouble.
His struggle to overcome his weaknesses and discover the person he is meant to become was taken straight from many of my own struggles as a teenager, so I think readers will be able to relate, as well. The story might be a fantasy, but the struggles of growing up are real for all of us.
Q: You’re working towards your doctorate in Christianity and the arts, and you’ve said before that you have “a crazy passion for the Creative Arts as a means of enriching and redeeming culture.” What’s your viewpoint on how Christian artists can help to enrich and redeem culture?
A: Christians have, unfortunately, been far more active at criticizing culture than they have been at creating culture. It is one thing to critique all the bad art saturating today’s culture, and there surely is a ton of it, but we also must be ready to provide an alternative.
Christian artists — in any field — can enrich culture by creating good art. As children of the Creator of the universe, Christians, more than anyone else, should be creating the best, most ground-breaking art.
Q: How do you make intentional efforts to do that with your own art?
A: First and foremost, by making sure my stories are the best, most enjoyable, and well-crafted works that I can. I’m also trying to learn and grow as a writer.
I also try to infuse my stories with an honest portrayal of the messiness of life. While my stories are fun adventure tales on the surface, they also deal with many serious, big questions about the spiritual reality of the world, faith, loss, depression, etc.
I’m writing stories, not sermons; but I hope the questions raised through my books can provide readers with some much-needed hope and encouragement.
Q: If you could have written any book in the world, which one would it be? And why?
A: This is an easy one! “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson, because it’s the epitome of a fantastic adventure story! Every time I’ve read this book (and I’m embarrassed to admit how many times that is), I’m instantly swept away from reality into an exciting new world.
I mean, there’s a boy and there’s pirates. What else could you ask for?!
Q: You seem like a huge “Star Wars” fan, too. So you must be pretty thrilled that some reviewers have drawn comparisons between you and George Lucas, as well as Jules Verne and J.R.R. Tolkien. What similarities do you see between their writing and yours, and are they intentional?
A: Yes! Those comparisons are music to my ears! Obviously, originality is important, too. But if we’re being honest, we all live in a post-“Star Wars,” post-“Harry Potter,” post-Tolkien world. It is impossible not to be inspired and share similarities with those great works, just as they were inspired by what came before them.
What makes all those stories so great is that, no matter how vast and epic the fictional worlds are, the characters remain real and relatable. We can all relate to Luke Skywalker as he stares into the distance at the setting suns and dreams of a new life, or Frodo as he gets thrust into an unfamiliar world that often seems too big and suffocating to him.
Q: Many of these books we’re discussing have also been made into movies. If you had the opportunity to turn “The Lost City Chronicles” into films, would you do it?
A: Absolutely! It would be a surreal experience to see characters that have been floating around in my head for years appear on the big screen! Although, my books are like children to me. So the thought of someone else working with them might turn me into an unreasonable, overprotective parent!
Q: Who would you cast?
A: Unknown actors. I’ve known these characters for so long now that they have become like real-life, longtime friends. I wouldn’t want to have any prior associations with the actors.
The one exception is, of course, Harrison Ford. I don’t care which character he plays. Maybe he can be a background extra. Han Solo and Indiana Jones? Yeah, Harrison Ford is the man.
Q: Now that you’ve completed your first fantasy trilogy, what's next for you in life?
A: I’m excited to explore new stories, and I already have several projects in the works. I’ve written my first children’s book, which is being illustrated by my wife, and I have a finished manuscript for a young adult haunted house tale ready to go.
Lots to look forward to, so stay tuned!
Q: Knowing what you know now, would you recommend the English degree at NGU to an aspiring author?
Make no mistake: If someone isn’t self-disciplined and motivated enough to put in the many long, thankless hours writing on their own, then an English degree can only help so much. There is no silver bullet or fast-track lane to becoming a successful writer.
But if an aspiring writer is serious about chasing their dream, then I can’t think of a better environment than the NGU English Department for equipping them with the right tools to get there.
For more information about NGU's English degree, visit ngu.edu/english.php.
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