Welcome to Barren Island Books, an interview show in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. Every Thursday, I will be exiling my latest guest to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with these books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Ryan Holmes, author of the Path of Enlightenment Series. When he's not being banished to a desert island, Ryan can be found at griffinsquill.blogspot.com.
Ryan, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Love to, and thanks for the honour of banishment. I really could get away for a while. Solitude is the greatest peace. Not that I fear crowds. That would be illogical. I fear far more tangible things like change for the sake of change. Not the few coins that used to rattle in my pocket (they were replaced by a shiny, plastic card), no, I mean the fix what isn’t broken kind of change. I’m American. We get a lot of that over here, and the illogical fears abound. Not that I’m the typical stars and stripes type. That too would be illogical these days. I’m more the gun-toting, hard-drinking, loud-talking, fast-driving, leave-me-the-hell-alone country boy type – without birthmarks. Though I sport a number of strategically placed beauty marks, moles really, red ones.
I’m a north man, by ancient heritage and by birth in the great north wood of Maine. The French (an odd sort they are) would probably call it Canada, so would a lot of Americans. But I don’t live there. I have a logical fear of the cold – and unemployment. To get out, I traded my woodland wilderness for a little-known swamp bog called Parris Island. It’s a fine place, if you like a boot stomp and a butt stroke. It’s kind of like being banished. Only, it’s not deserted and most don’t last long. I’m illogically fond of the place but logically will never return, though I’d be proud to see my daughters go, all three of them.
We don’t get many bears where I live now, plenty where I was born, but we have an east coast full of sharks, the kind with fins and those with degrees. I’ve been close to bears in the wild, and I’ve swum with sharks. I don’t recommend punching one, unless it has a degree, but I’d love to ride either. I gave the latter a try with a fair-sized Sand Tiger. They smile worse than a hillbilly, but they’re as docile and curious as a puppy. He didn’t care for me hitching a ride though.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
My own work is developing quite nicely, actually, what little there is of it to date. Recently, I had a breakthrough. I was reading about creating a brand on Jonathan Gunson’s webpage bestsellerlabs.com and, among other things, he recommended boiling down your writing to one thing you love best. Boy was that hard. I like a number of genres: science fiction, fantasy, certain horror, thrillers. The more I thought about it, the less happy I became. Then it occurred to me, I think while I was considering the horror I enjoy most, that my favourite stories included elements of all these genres. Turns out, there’s a specific, little-known genre that does this. It’s called Science Fantasy. It’s difficult to define and far from mainstream, sort of from the frontier like me, and I intend to make it my own.
My first series, as you mentioned, has plenty of supernatural fantasy elements, and it’s set in a modern world. The science element takes the backstage, but I maintain a strict magic system based on physical rules, and I skirt the borders of technology with sprinkles of near-future inventions. It was plotted before I knew what my brand would be. I’ve spent more than a decade on it already. It has been my training ground, and the grass there is worn away. The first book is ready to publish and be enjoyed, if I could find a good cover. I’ve dressed it as best I can on my own. The second book is complete in a first draft form. It needs plenty of work, but I’m focused on a novelette at the moment (at 16k words it’s nearly a novella), a near-pure fantasy titled Imp Erfect. It is my finest work and will be my publishing début. All it needs is, you guessed it, a cover. I should’ve taken my art teacher more seriously.
Currently, I’m working on what I hope will define the Science Fantasy genre and create a memorable brand name. It’s a space opera blend of Star Wars, Avatar, Serenity (Firefly), Star Trek and Stargate, to name a few. It’s a marrying of technology to nature, only without Avatar’s disturbing bestiality. Beyond that, I like to write with symbolism. Everything has hidden meaning: names, phrases, places. I try hard to tie as many strings to my plot as possible. I like complexity and challenges, obviously. They’re what keep us living. What would make someone else choose my work to accompany them? Hopefully, because it’s the best Science Fantasy out there.
Sounds wonderful. I look forward to reading it, and your novelette as well. So now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
As a child, I was not a strong reader. I spent many after-school evenings sitting with my mother on the couch while my friends played in the large window facing us. I think they did that on purpose. I would practise reading, and my mother would reward me with M&Ms. It’s a fond memory, but I can’t remember what we read. Those childhood books I do remember are all Dr. Seuss. My favourite is Green Eggs and Ham, but that’s not the one I would take with me. The one I want in banishment is Oh, The Places You’ll Go! I can’t read that one to my daughters without tearing up. You should hear the way my voice croaks over some of those lines. With it, I could think of them and imagine who they will become without me. Sad but inevitable whether I’m exiled from them or not.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls made me look at the world in a whole new way. It is probably why I own dogs over cats and likely created a strong urge to hunt with man’s best friend. Sadly, I haven’t time for that yet. Maybe when I’m retired. Donn Fendler - Lost On A Mountain In Maine inspired me to climb Mount Katahdin for myself. It’s not an impossible climb, the mountain tops out at just a few feet under a mile (sorry, I don’t know the kilometres), but it makes for a fun, safe, adventurous day. Not like the Guide Book for Marines. That little gem resulted in plenty of real-life adventure, none of it safe, but all of it illogically fun.
No book has ever inspired real-life romance for me, but I learned a great deal from reading Cosmopolitan magazine. Do women realize they’re giving away all their best-kept secrets? That little periodical is worth its weight in gold.
I fell in love with fantasy reading Raymond E. Feist’s Magician and truly wanted to be Pug for a number of adolescent years. I only discovered Tolkien when I was much older, thankfully. By that I mean, it takes a mature mind to fully grasp and appreciate his work. But the book that inspired me to write, changed my world, and put me on an adventure toward publication was Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. I loved that book from its opening paragraph in the prologue and fell in love with the dedicated chapter graphics and the canned opening paragraph of each chapter one that changed slightly with each new addition to the Wheel of Time series. Hell, I’m still reading that series after twenty-three years! I’m a slow reader. I should have earned more M&Ms on the couch. The last book came out this January, but instead of disappearing into a cave until I finished the thing, it sat on my desk. I don’t know why. Maybe I fear the ending. Is that illogical? Maybe I just don’t want to say goodbye to it. Maybe they’ll finally make The Eye of the World a movie while I’m banished. I’ll have the hardcover to keep me company.
I too have yet to finish the Wheel of Time series, mainly because I’d want to go back and read it from the beginning before picking up the final books, and I just don’t have the time! For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, or Sorcerer’s Stone as it’s printed on my hard cover. Does your copy say Philosopher’s Stone?
It does indeed.
I only recently discovered that us Americans in all our humbleness changed the title, like the last names of so many immigrants passing through Ellis Island. Apparently, sorcerer was deemed a better fit for us Yanks. If I’m being honest, I’d have to agree, but then I’d also have to admit that I’ve never reread the book. When I need a pick-me-up or just want to feel true, magical wonder, I pop in the DVD. There are two scenes I love in that movie: Hagrid’s appearance in the lighthouse and Harry’s first view of Hogwarts. I find myself smiling every time. So that’s the book I’d take with me to a place with no electricity and plenty of time to reread.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
I should say Hamlet here, but I’m not sure what that would say of me. In school, I didn’t have very high expectations of reading Shakespeare, but that one certainly surprised me. After Hamlet, I approached reading Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth with whatever passes for a teenage boy’s interest in a school reading assignment. I wouldn’t say I was thrilled, but neither did I have the usual revulsion to completing a literary lesson.
Ah, Hamlet is my absolute favourite Shakespeare play too, so I can’t fault you there! And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
I think many of the books I’ve already mentioned will be the next generation’s classics, certainly Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time series. This assumes the next generation will read much more than status updates of one hundred and forty characters or less. I’m doing my part for my girls, we read a book every night, but I have my doubts for the rest of the world. There are a number of younger co-workers in my office who already proclaim they don’t read books. That strikes at the heart of my illogical fear of changing what isn’t broken, may the ignorant serve the enlightened for all eternity as reward for choosing stupidity.
Agreed, it’s down to us parents to bring our children up as readers, and then maybe the doom you fear won’t come to pass! Anyway, we’ll get those books packaged up ready for your journey (and since you only chose four in the end, we’ll even throw in a copy of Cosmo ;-). Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
I choose Turn the Page by Bob Seger as the song because it’s my wife’s favourite and for good reason. I choose the next Star Wars film, though it will postpone my trip another year, and pray that it is better than the last three. The last item I choose is a K-Bar. No one should enter exile without a sturdy blade.
Hmm, you’re taking quite a gamble on your film there. I hope it pays off! Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
There is only one island that I would deliberately choose to be exiled to and that island is the Emerald Isle, and I would choose to be there during a time when wearing a kilt is the rule rather than the exception.
Interesting, so you’re a kilt man. I never would have guessed! So that’s it – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
It has been a real pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity and best of luck in your endeavours.
If you are an author and would like to take part in a future edition of Barren Island Books, please get in touch with me via the Contact page.