Fantasy fiction is one of the most popular genres among teens and young adults. On Sunday, July 15, fantasy fans will find a unique sampling of authors when the Alexandria Barnes and Noble welcomes the Fantasy 4 Fiction Tour, featuring four authors from different publishing houses: Wayne Thomas Batson, Chris Hopper, Bryan Davis and Sharon Hinck.
The tour is independent of publishing houses – a different approach than normal. When Batson and Hopper met last summer at a trade show in Denver, they became fast friends. After a while, the two decided to put together a book tour with several different authors, not unlike a group of bands on tour together.
"We thought ‘why don’t we do the same thing with books – we can do it with music, why don’t we try this with our books?’" Hopper said. "So we contacted Bryan Davis, who is pretty well known, and also Sharon Hinck. It was kind of an excuse to be around people you like."
"I think it’s neat to have four different authors from different publishers supporting each other’s work," Hinck said. "I think that’s one of the coolest aspects of the tour. We’re not out there supporting our own work but supporting each other."
What draws the authors together is their common belief in the strength of fantasy and fictional stories to discuss themes of faith, and to act as powerful thinking and teaching tools.
When they suggested the idea to their publishers, the response was positive, Hopper said.
"They bought it, they thought it was great," he said. "All the publishers came back and said wow, this has never been done before and it’s great."
THERE HAS BEEN some antagonism between Christians and the fantasy book genre. Davis said the tour seeks to break down those barriers.
"We believe this genre is the most powerful way to teach spiritual truth that there is," Davis said. "Many are missing out on the opportunities to reach this generation. Our culture loves fantasy – they eat it up. Let’s give them something that will open their eyes to spiritual light. Something that will stick in their memories and maybe inspire them to do greater things."
Davis said he hopes that parents will see the value in the stories.
"There is a certain misconception about churches and fantasy – that it can be dark, promote evil influences," he said. "Parents are right to be concerned. It’s a good parent who wants to check things out. We want to shine a light on Christian fantasy that’s out there.
"We believe that Jesus used fantasy to teach, so why not take it back from the dark side? We believe we have a team that can do that and … we hope that more people will take a look."
Each author feels that their writings reach a wide audience, not only Christian readers.
"[My books are] definitely for a wide reading base," Batson said. "Every story I have ever written or ever will write, I’m hoping to have cross over appeal. Christians could read and feel like their faith is encouraged, but I don’t want to beat the public with a 400-pound bible. That’s just not why I want to do it. I want to write a story that anybody could write."
"The Christian readers will more easily pick up the symbolism and themes," Davis said. "But I have fans who have never darkened the doors of the church. Since they don’t come across preachy the audience has been pretty wide. We write Christian Faith Fantasies – look to God for strength, comfort, courage. When you write these stories it’s a way to get into young people’s hearts without them feeling like they’ve been preached at."
The tour is really about bringing readers and books together, Hopper said.
"I think one of the biggest things for us [is that] we’re just excited to meet people," Hopper said. "Being an author you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, so it’s nice to put the computer away and be out with the people that love your work and see them discover a world or a principle that touches their heart."
<ro1>Wayne Thomas Batson
Author of "The Door Within" series, Batson is a Maryland native and middle school reading teacher.
"The Door Within" was inspired by Batson’s own conversion to Christianity, and a subsequent conversation with his parents.
"Right after I became a Christian I’d heard a really good sermon and it made me think about my parents," Batson said. "They didn’t communicate their faith [to me growing up]. We said 'Grace' at dinner and an occasional 'thank god' and I didn’t know what that meant to them."
When he approached them, his nervousness made him shaky. After sharing what he’d learned, Batson said he was shocked at his parents’ reaction.
"I told them everything about the faith and how I was so fearful for them because I didn’t know if they believed, and if they believed, what they believed," he said. "Their reaction just blew me out of the water. They laughed at me. It was kind of that ‘isn’t he cute?’ sort of thing when they feel like they know better than their children do. It devastated me; I was literally blown out of the water. I would have rather had them be furious with me. But the laughter just galled me. When I was looking for a topic for a story – I’d like to write a story where the protagonist discovers something and then nobody wants it. That’s kind of the premise to ‘The Door Within.’"
Chris Hopper started his media career at age 18, when he produced his first music album. Married to his wife Jennifer, the 28-year-old decided to start writing after seeing the impact of the written word.
"I hated reading books in high school and grade school," Hopper said. "But I always had a love of creating so I always found myself producing art. You combine the gospel and the beauty of art and you have a really powerful tool to affect a culture."
A New York native, Hopper said that though actively involved in religious endeavors, his books are not intended to convert but to entertain.
"They certainly reflect my own perspective on life, [but] I really wrote them first of all to entertain," Hopper said. "I really wanted people to present viable answers to life’s questions. Our main audience is not Christians. It’s really towards someone that is searching. All they know is that they love reading and they love fantasy."
Hopper’s newest book, "The Lion Vrie," is the second book in the "White Lion Chronicles." The story is based on the concept of a world free of corruption that is invaded by an evil enemy seeking to destroy that world. The young hero, Luik, returns to his home to find the city in shambles, and the people desperate. As the story unfolds, Luik embarks on a journey to try and find a way to unite mankind and find a way to defeat their enemy.
Bryan Davis lives in western Tennessee and works as a middle school reading teacher in addition to being an author. With seven children, Davis said that writing his first story became a family activity.
"I had a very strange dream about a boy that could breathe fire," Davis said. "I told my son and he said, ‘You should write a story about that.’"
While writing his books, Davis said he and his family would discuss the story over dinner, what the different characters were doing, what they thought, and how that affected the story. When he had his son’s approval, Davis said he knew the story would work.
"I thought ‘He likes it? Great!" Davis said.
His main goal in writing is to change people’s lives, Davis said.
"[My goal is] to change the lives of young people," he said. "I believe if you write great stories with themes that will resonate in the hearts of young people, it can let them understand virtues…hold them in their grasp and follow the light that’s in them or follow the light that comes from above."
Davis’ most recent book, "Enoch’s Ghost: Book II" follows up on the story begun in his first works, "Dragons Among Us" and its sequels. It is the second book in the "Oracles of Fire" series. A war is on its way, and with only one of the two remaining dragons willing to fight, the young hero Walter must seek out an ally in an unknown realm.
Sharon Hinck is a mother of four from Minnesota, married to her husband, Ted, for 28 years. Her books, beginning with her first "The Secret Life of Becky Miller," are written for a different audience than most fantasy. While young adults read stories about teens who conquer otherworldly realms, Hinck’s fans will find our world on her pages, linked into new realms and adventures, and with a unique heroine: grown women and mothers.
Her tour book, "The Restorer," is about a soccer mom who finds herself drawn into another dimension and given a mission to fulfill a prophecy.
This plot wasn’t easy to pass by her publishers, Hinck said.
"You should have just seen them turn pale as I tried to describe this," she said. "It’s so much easier in publishing to categorize books. [Just say] ‘This is a romance novel,’ and then they like to compare it to other authors and other books. The restorer blends a couple different genres. It’s so unusual."
The theme of faith comes out strongly in her work because it is a strong element in her life, Hinck said. As an element in so many people’s lives, faith, she said, is a natural thing to discuss.
"I think any writer draws from where they’re coming from, and it shows up even in fiction," Hinck said. "Those themes bleed through onto the page. What do you do if you want to serve God with your life but things don’t go right? What does it really mean to serve God? All those kind of faith questions became important to my characters."