Theodore Beale is the author of two books in the Eternal Warriors series: The War in Heaven and The World in Shadow. Here he discusses them, along with news of the third title, The Wrath of Angels, and his views on writing. Photo of Theodore Beale supplied by the author; flaming sword included at no extra charge.
(Photo credit: Jeff Wheeler)
EBG: Can you give us a quick synopsis of your first two novels, The War in Heaven and The World in Shadow?
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TB : The War in Heaven can perhaps be thought of as a retelling of John Milton’s Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis if he’d played a lot of Warhammer while listening to Metallica. It’s about a journey into and out of evil by a protaganist who is not in the least unwilling to experience everything. There’s war on a grand scale, but seen from the point of view of a teenage boy who’s privy to some of the angelic intrigue going on underneath. It’s that old story: Boy meets fallen angel, boy storms heaven with Hell’s legions, boy transformed into evil demigod while his sisters try to stop him from destroying himself.
The World in Shadow is a much darker and smaller book, even if it’s longer. It investigates the petty cruelties of life in the modern world, their effects on individuals, and the way in which the forces of evil take advantage of those who are weak and wounded. The plot revolves around two unpopular boys, whose anger is twisted and manipulated by the Fallen in order to wreak havoc on the community. Unlike most people, I wasn’t asking why after Columbine. I know why it happened, as did most of the kids there. This book wrestles more with with the question how.
EBG: What are their most significant themes?
TB: Redemption is the theme of the first book. Responsibility is the theme of the second.
EBG: You have an eclectic background: game designer, newspaper columnist, producer, band founder, martial artist, and soccer player. What prompted you to write a novel, and a series no less?
TB: I started reading early and I haven’t stopped since. I started dabbling in writing short stories, very bad, very cliched science fiction stories, when I was in college. After getting a rejection letter from Asimov’s, I switched to writing novel length stuff—not that I actually finished any, you understand.
The first novel I ever attempted was an imitation of Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series, but with Traveller standing in for Dungeons and Dragons. The one thing that stands out for me now, having re-read it last year, is that even then there was a gritty, almost brutal element to my writing. That being said, the world didn’t lose much by my stopping after chapter five. It was derivative with a capital D.
I’ve since learned that I’m just not good at writing short stories. I need to have a bigger canvas on which to paint. My ultimate goal is to bring the fantasy genre back to its source and write the first big Christian fat fantasy novels ala George Martin and Robert Jordan. I want to write a series of 600-page monsters and really dive into the whole world-creation concept.
EBG: Nearly all Christian science fiction and fantasy is published by Christian houses. How did yours find their way to a general publisher?
TB: I was writing secular science fiction for them when I became a Christian, so it was a natural progression. I love working with Pocket Books, they’ve been very good to me. However, because of my publisher being secular, I’m almost completely unknown to the CBA market. I spoke with a VP at one of the large CBA houses the other day; he’d never heard of me or the Eternal Warriors books.
EBG: The angelic culture/society (on both sides) is complex. How did you research all this? Which sources did you use?
TB: There’s a great book called An Encyclopedia of Angels that collects all sorts of myths and legends from a wide variety of sources. That was a big help, and then, of course, I just made a lot of stuff up. The basic hierarchy is a modified version of St. Jerome’s listing of angels.
EBG: Your angels are grittier than the ones on Touched by an Angel. What responses have you gotten because of this?
TB: Parable Bookstores actually refused to allow The War in Heaven to participate in a catalog promotion because, in their words, “it’s too intense.” No problem with sex, violence or language, since there isn’t any, but apparently the vivid nature of the novel was simply too much for them. I took it as a compliment, even though it clearly wasn’t intended as one.
After that, I didn’t even bother submitting The World in Shadow to them. If the first one was too intense, someone probably would have keeled over dead reading that. But most readers quite like the fact that the angels have distinct personalities, even if some of them are downright evil. Of course, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
EBG: Do the characters behave themselves as you write, or do they sometimes take over?
TB: I always dislike it when writers talk about characters “taking over” since it smacks somewhat of self-glorification to me. I’m sure they mean it and I understand what they’re saying, but it always strikes me as posing. You know, “look at me, I’m so doggone creative and artistic, I just can’t help myself!” Writing is rather more prosaic than many authors—and readers—would like it to be. That being said, I often do find myself modifying dialogue and occasionally the plot itself as my understanding of the characters evolves through the course of the novel.
EBG: How do you think writing has changed you?
TB: I’m far more solitary than before. When I was younger, I was a bit of a lone wolf by necessity. Now, I absolutely cherish that time alone, whether I’m planning to write or not. I’m never bored, because I’m always constructing something in my head. It throws me off sometimes, like when someone asks me a question and I have no idea what’s going on in the conversation because I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to work in a little quantum mechanics to underlie some ancient Elvish wizardry.
EBG: What kinds of sacrifices have you made because of your writing?
TB: I haven’t made any significant sacrifices, being very blessed financially, although writing is a really bad field to go in for if you’re in search of fame or money. I’m sure my net worth would be more impressive if I’d stayed on the full-time career path, but that holds almost zero interest for me. Material things are great, but I value time far more highly.
EBG: When should we expect to see The Wrath of Angels [the next in the series]?
Pocket’s got it scheduled for spring 2005, if I recall correctly. I’m very close to wrapping it up—it’s due at the end of March. This one took longer, as two false starts led to about sixty thousand unused words. That’s practically a book in itself, or it would have been twenty years ago.
EBG: Would you tell us a bit about it, please?
I think The Wrath of Angels will surprise readers of the first two books in much the same way that the different nature of The World in Shadow surprised people after the first one. I’m not the least bit interested in writing the same book over and over again. I can almost guarantee that whatever you’re expecting, you won’t be expecting this. I can’t say if it’s particularly good or not, but I daresay it’s rather different. If not downright strange.
The one similarity is that I’ve drawn a bit on Spenser’s Faerie Queen in the way that I drew on Paradise Lost in the first book. Not much, but it’s somewhat of a starting point. Sort of. The book dives deeper into the internecine battles between the Fallen and how the Divine angels attempt to use these to further the cause of what C.S. Lewis called the Divine Invasion, working to save mankind one soul at a time. Scopewise, it’s somewhere in the middle of the two previous books.
EBG: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
Don’t look for the magic bullet. Just sit down and write. I usually don’t like talking with aspiring writers because all too often, so many of them are far more intrigued with the idea of writing than they are with the reality of writing itself. Writing is nothing but perseverance—everyone has plenty of ideas—the main thing that separates the professional from the permanent amateur is the willingness to sit down and bang something out, even if you’re not in the mood. It doesn’t get any easier once you’ve got a contract, quite the opposite, actually.
EBG: Do you have any final thoughts for Edenstar readers?
TB: If you’re interested in the books, or if you’ve read the first two and are waiting for the third, check out the various short stories on the web site at www.eternalwarriors.com. There’s almost an entire book’s worth of stuff up there and it’s all free for the reading.
EBG: Thank you, Theodore!