Dragons In His Midst

A West Tennessee writer combines fantasy and inspiration.

The story's a little hard to describe, so let's hand it to the author to introduce it:

 "There are two worlds: a planet, Starlight, populated by dragons; another planet, Major Four, populated by humans. A dragon comes through a portal, kidnaps a bunch of humans, and takes them back to his home planet to enslave them. Over the generations, the humans on Starlight forget where they came from, and they think this is their lot in life: to live as chattel. Then, a couple of humans named Jason and Koren, from Major Four, find the portal and try to rescue the humans. But when they get to the dragon world, the slaves there don't even believe that there is such a thing as a human world, that freedom is possible."

That's a thumbnail sketch, but there's more to this story: a dragon prophecy, a black egg ready to hatch, and a dragon prince.

Welcome to the worlds of Warrior (Zondervan) — part two in the "Dragons of Starlight" series — and welcome to the world of author Bryan Davis. He's an award-winning young-adult fantasy writer whose "Dragons in Our Midst" series (four books total) has sold more than 300,000 copies. He's written other fantasy series too: "Oracles of Fire" (four books total) and the "Echoes from the Edge" trilogy. He's also planning a couple of "Tales of Starlight" titles (working off and intertwining with the "Starlight" series) for adult readers. And that's not all: He's written biblically based tales, and he's authored inspirational works for an adult audience.

What is Bryan Davis doing living in Middleton, Tennessee (population: 680), just south of Bolivar, an hour or so east of Memphis?

"I write full-time," Davis said by phone. "My office is in the house. I close the door. And I sit at the keyboard for six to eight hours. When I'm on deadline (and I'm on deadline now for a book), that's sometimes 12 to 14 hours.

"Writer's block? I get writer's 'flood'!" he said. I've got the ideas. The question is: Which one do I pick? I never have a blank page and wonder: What am I going to do?"

But it's a question Davis did have to ask when he and his wife, Susie, were having trouble teaching their children writing during the home-schooling years.

"The children didn't want to get into it. They thought writing was boring," Davis said. "So I would write a bit each week, and on Friday nights, my wife would read what I'd written. I'd then ask the kids what they thought was going to happen next, and they'd write their ideas down. The more we got into it, the more they'd write. They'd launch into their own stories. I was, I guess, too slow getting them involved in the creative process."

Getting Davis involved in the creative process took some doing, too. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a Navy father, who moved the family up and down the East Coast. Math, science, and sports were his interests as a boy, and he didn't take much to reading. So when Davis graduated from the University of Florida, it was with a degree in industrial engineering, which prepared him for a 20-year career in the computer field.

But those writing lessons for his children taught him something he didn't expect: Davis' own passion for storytelling. So he wrote and got rejection letters. He went to writing conferences, and he read books about writing. He wrote for magazines. Then, one night he had a dream: a dream about a boy who could breathe fire. According to Davis:

"I told my oldest son about the dream, and he said I should write a story about it. 'It'd be better than that stuff you've been writing,' my 13-year-old son said. 'It'd be a fantasy story. Kids my age would love it.'"

Eight years and 200 rejection letters later, and there Davis had it: Raising Dragons (from the Chattanooga-based Christian publishing house AMG), the first book in the "Dragons in Our Midst" series.

Author and publisher made a good fit. Davis and young-adult readers made a good fit too.

"Children are hungry for stories that excite them, but they want mystery too," he said. "Good writers make the mistake of thinking they have to dumb it down for kids. I'm the opposite. Young people like it complex. They want to talk about a story's symbols and what they mean. They want to discuss these things with their friends. Just look at the Harry Potter series.

"I've been a teenager. I remember what it's like. I want to respect kids' intelligence."

Add to that Davis' respect for his fans. He's got a lot of them, and they turn to him for answers, such as:

How does Davis come up with the dragon names? How does he finish a story? Where does he get his ideas (because, in the words of one reader, "My ideas are so lame")?

But he wants to inspire kids too — inspire them to do what's right, but, as Davis wanted to emphasize, never in an "in your face, come to Jesus" way.

"There's no sex in these books, no profanity," he said. "But there is a strong good-versus-evil element. In my later books, I've gotten more into asking the bigger questions: Who is God? What does He expect of us?

"That's where the power of storytelling comes in. Life lessons? Virtues? Let virtue come out in a character in a natural way. Show it in how characters face dilemmas, make sacrifices. Fantasy is the most powerful way to tell a story. It allows for heroics. Just don't be preachy about it. Kids will love it. Think of authors such C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.

"I want to say to my readers: Yes, you can be a good person. You were wired for greatness. Rise above the mediocre."

Four of Davis' seven children are adults now and out of the house. (One of them attends the University of Memphis.) His wife's sister and her family are just across the state line, in Walnut, Mississippi. And the move to Middleton three years ago has, according to the author, gone "fabulously well." The fact that Tennessee has no state income tax hasn't hurt either.

"Children are hungry for stories that excite them, but they want mystery too.  Good writers make the mistake of thinking they have to dumb it down for kids.  I'm the opposite.  Young people like it complex.  They want to talk about a story's symbols and what they mean.  I've been a teenager.  I remember what it's like.  I want to respect kids' intelligence."

"I still haven't made as much money in a single year as an author as I did as a computer guy, but I'm far more fulfilled as a person," Davis admitted. "I'm doing something that's making a difference. I've been out of the computer business now for eight years, and not a single one of the hundreds of computer programs I wrote is still in use. What's the use in that?

"The e-mails I get as a writer . . . sometimes they're better than the check I get from my publisher. I've heard of families being restored, husbands and wives getting back together, teenagers who wrote that my books have kept them from killing themselves. Can you imagine getting e-mails like that?"

That's not all Davis has heard.

"Parents say to me, 'There's a lot of dark fantasy out there. I don't know if it's good for my kids to be reading it.' I say to those parents, thank you for being so careful, for caring about what your kids read. There's a lot of bad stuff out there. I want to write fantasy that's beneficial. I want to tell parents, 'Trust me. I'm with you.' Let's give our kids something that encourages them to become what they were created to be."

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