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Tuesday 25 October 2016

ℚ In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories - Stephen Clements (contributor)

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories (, Month9books, 249 pages), a Young Adult Anthology, and in particular his contribution, Daniel and the Dragon.

|| Synopsis || Author Q&A || About the Authors || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

A very warm welcome to Stephen Clements; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

What was the inspiration for your story, Daniel and the Dragon, containted in "In the Beginning" anthology?

"When I found out Laureen Cantwell (editor of In The Beginning) was putting together a collection of dark retellings of Bible stories, the thought hit me, “How brilliant is that!”

A lot of people think of Bible stories in bland, boring, nursery rhyme terms, but if you read Bible stories and really look at what’s happening through the eyes of the people who lived them, they are incredibly dark! It struck me then that there are not many happy stories in the Bible, so what I wanted to get across in Daniel and the Dragon (my contribution) was a feeling of what the world was like for Daniel, his student Habakkuk, and the Jews being held in captivity by the vicious Babylonians.

It was practically an alien world to the one we live in today, one where people worshipped blood-thirsty gods, sacrificed their own children to them, and enslaved entire nations through war. While the Lovecraftian horror style I used for the story does a great job illustrating the perils and dangers Daniel and Habakkuk fought, I think showing readers how frightening and alien real human history can be adds its own darkness to the page."
How much of yourself is reflected in this story, and how?
"Sadly, quite a bit! I spent over a year in Baghdad with the Army, so the misery I write about of living in that blasted desert was experienced first-hand. That empty, hopeless place left a mark on me, and so the feeling of being surrounded by an uncaring, devouring force of nature helped inspire the callous brutality of the cultists of Bel (the demonic villain of the story). That said, the main character of the story is teenage Habakkuk, an orphan with a scarred past who felt like an outsider around everybody, including his master Daniel. For him, all I had to do was remember what it felt like to be an awkward, unpopular teenager and write that! I didn’t know how to talk to girls, I was interested in weird stuff, and felt like an outsider for a long time. But in that personal isolation, I found my worth, and life has gotten better ever since, much like Habakkuk has the opportunity to reach deep and find out if he can really survive this nightmare."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"In The Beginning is very blessed to have the beautiful cover Najla Qamber made for us, both visually and metaphorically. The serpent binding the hands of youth is a creative innovation, taking the serpent from the Garden of Eden and doing more than having it off to the side tempting humanity with an apple: here the serpent represents our first committed sin that binds us together, a trap we put ourselves into, an evil with which we will always struggle. Simply beautiful."
Why should we read In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories and what sets it apart from the rest? What makes your book unique?
"I’m proud to say because we make it worth your time. Anybody can write a shallow, one-dimensional story that you read once and never read again. With In The Beginning, we have taken source material (the Bible) that for thousands of years has been teaching people all over the world new things, things they didn’t even know about themselves, and we’re doing it in such a way that you can explore your mind and soul with us on the levels of the original Bible, our presentation of the Bible story, and how our interpretation of the Bible story can show you sides of the human experience you never saw before. These are stories you can read again and again, because they’re that entertaining and you can always get more out of them."
Can you tell us something quirky about In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories, its story and characters?
"I think people will get a kick out of how traditional Biblical characters are portrayed in the book, and to brag on Elle O’Neill for a moment, her story Condemned’s main character Barabbas is such a sadly amusing and reflective illustration of the common person. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s selfish; he doesn’t know what he’s doing and wastes his precious time; his fear rules him and only blind luck bumps him through his trials; when compared to his competitor, he is completely unworthy of sympathy, but he still gets it from the reader, because he is us. While he would never suspect he did this, he reminds us that we can be better."
Who would you recommend In the Beginning: Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"The first page of Daniel and The Dragon opens onto a child being sacrificed on a burning altar, which sets the tone for the rest of the story. The Bible is full of stories about human failings, tragedies, and hope, and this book illustrates all of that in realistic, gritty detail. There is blood, sex, insanity, and unspeakable horrors in this book. Please do not give this to the faint of heart or wilting violets. This is for young adults, emphasis on “adult”."
If you could / wished to turn your story, Daniel and the Dragon, into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"The Duffer Brothers (creators of Netflix’s Stranger Things) told that story better than I have seen ANYONE tell a story before, so I would LOVE for them to adapt Daniel and The Dragon to the screen! Their masterful control of pacing, suspense, creating characters that draw you in, and presenting Lovecraftian horror in all its incomprehensible glory would be perfect.

And be sure to cast John Goodman, because he makes everything better!"
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"I write stories that I would like to read, and my tastes are hard, gritty, and realistic. My first book (To Save A Life (2011) ) was historical fiction, telling the story of how the Empire of Byzantium, the Christian Roman Empire, was destroyed, the struggle of a few good men to save it, and how at the end of the world, a coward found something worth fighting for. It’s a great story, all true, and I was very pleased to have historians that I idolize tell me that my version of history was spot-on where the historical sources speak and completely plausible where they don’t. That was a story my heart was burning to tell, and I am very happy with how it came out.

But since gritty realism is my style, I haven’t put out a romance or kid’s book yet! In Memphis Dirty: Tales From The Dirty South (2012) and Memphis Noir (Cantwell and Gill, 2015), I showcased my other genres, crime fiction and horror, since everything I write comes out dark and disturbing!"
What is your writing process?
"To be a writer, you must write. Wishful thinking won’t write anything, you have to write words down to make a story. Sometimes I cook up an idea, have a vivid dream, or receive a flash of inspiration out of nowhere for a story, and I write it down, so I don’t lose it. When I get time to work on it, I pencil-vomit (yes, I actually use pencil and paper) everything onto the page I have in my head, no matter how incomplete, and see what I’ve got. I take one idea thread at a time and flesh it out. When I have a big mess of ideas and scenes, I move the pieces around like a puzzle to where it all needs to fit, and then go back through adding details, dialogue, and asking myself what else needs to be there, is this worth the reader’s time. One iteration at a time, I expand and edit the story until I think it’s good to go. Then my lovely, intelligent, and brutally-honest wife reads it, to see if what I’ve written makes any sense or is any good; if she loves it, I know it must be gold. I do my rewrites and edits, and set it aside for a week, so I can come back and read it again with fresh eyes, to catch things I might have missed before. Oddly enough, while Daniel and The Dragon is such a dark story, I wrote it while listening to the smooth jazz of Sade’s Greatest Hits!"
What is in store next?
"Oh, do I have plans! I have a pile of horror short stories written up and ready to shop around, one of which will act as an introduction to full-length historical fantasy novels I’m working on that will basically be a Lovecraftian version of the Hardy Boys, with mystery cults and ancient gods! I also have a drama of heart-break in war-torn Afghanistan and a story so strange I had to make sure Kurt Vonnegut hadn’t already written it to work on."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I love cats, and we recently adopted a little black kitten (we named her “Ilta”, Finnish for “night”). I am such a sucker for these fur-beasties that when she lays down on me, I won’t get up; I’m stuck there until she decides to let me up. Here is a picture where she crawled up on me while I was at the computer, where I was trapped for an hour and a half and could only use my one free arm to type."
Snap! we have seven... three of them are blackies, two are young siblings still playing kitten wars (the big one, Lucky, is currently next to me... staring...)
Yep, we know exactly what you are talking about. We are completely under their paws!

Hello Ilta! You beautiful kitten!

Thank you for sharing her with us :-)

In the Beginning
Dark YA Retellings of Biblical Stories

Available NOW!

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