I first came into contact with the work of Joseph Seth Davey through the band Attalus. I always keep an eye on what Facedown Records is doing, so when I saw that they signed Attalus, I checked them out and loved what I heard. Sometime not long after that, I found out that their vocalist wrote children’s books. I had a little girl who loved being read to, so I figured I’d buy the only book he was selling at the time, On Top of a Hill There’s a Billy, and my daughter loved it! So, from then on I would buy the next three books he wrote, and she adored them as well. I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Fox Hole to Cadence all the way through more than any other book…and she has a lot of books. The other three J.S. Davey books aren’t far behind, though. So, I decided I wanted to find out about the motives and passions that drive this man and his wonderful books.
1. What got you started writing children’s books and where does your passion for that stem from?
I started writing a fantasy novel during my freshman year of college, inspired greatly by Lewis’ Narnia series. In my original conception, the novel was going to be only one of five books in a series, but I never got around to that. When I finished the first book, I realized that my understanding of geography, history, and the world in general wasn’t strong enough for me to be able to create a large enough world of my own. The story I had written, though full of rich allegory and cherished characters, was too small in scope. Too limited by my lack of imagination and knowledge.
That realization led me to the beautiful Welsh hillsides, where I worked on an M.A. in Ancient History and Classical Studies. The serenity of that pastoral environment opened my imagination even more, and, of course, the private research and reading helped expand my mental horizons.
Coming home, I decided I still wasn’t ready to begin new work on the fantasy series. Instead, God called me to start a band, wherein I served for 7 wonderful years. Song-writing was as much a passion as book writing, and, looking back at those years, it’s clear that I needed to focus all of my mental energies on writing music and collaborating with my fellow brothers through song.
Three years ago, however, a new desire was born: a desire for picture-books. At one time in my life, I would have considered picture-books a much lower-shelf, far less impressive medium of literature. But God changed my mind and is still doing so. See, my first real “passion” was drawing. As a young child, I sketched pictures all the time. I also put the pictures to little stories – most of which were inspired by Dr. Seuss’ bizarre worlds and The Hardy Boys’ mysteries. Essentially, I was writing “picture stories” as far back as I can remember. It just took me 25 years to come back around to them.
So much for the backdrop. The simple answer to your “inspiration” question is that I love collaborating with great artists. I love writing notes to Genn Lotysh and Nina Khalova, envisioning sketches, and seeing the finished product (that almost always surpasses what I initially had in mind). I am also a visual learner myself, and images – whether painted with words or with colors – have had a significant impact on my understanding of the gospel.
2. What’s the story with your new Fiction Forest Books imprint?
I created Fiction Forest Books for three reasons:
First, to give children whimsical, beautifully illustrated books that will excite their imaginations and introduce them to unforgettable characters.
Second, to give children books that teach valuable lessons about contentment, humility, and other virtues that are being lost in our self-seeking, self-promoting generation.
And third, to teach children the value of serving others. 15% of all book sales go to a non-government organization in Uganda that feeds, houses, and educates orphaned children (most of whom were born with aids). I believe that while teaching children to read is a good thing, teaching them to love others is better.
3. My daughter is constantly bringing up the lessons she’s learned from your Proverbs and Parables series. Do you plan to continue incorporating Biblical morals and lessons into your stories?
I’m so grateful to hear that, Eric! Absolutely. I’m currently working on the third book in that series, and I am also about to release my first book in brand new Fables series. Both my Proverbs and Parables and Fables series’ will implement Biblical truths, while wrapping them in humorous, whimsical stories and characters. My ultimate goal is to be able to take these books into public schools (which I have had the chance to do already) and read them to classrooms where I’m not allowed to talk about Jesus. I pray that these stories, along with the Fiction Forest mission, will plant a small seed in the minds of teachers, parents, and children.
4. What projects are you working on coming up and how can people best support you?
My first fable called The Big Cat Spat is due for publication in April and I’m really excited about it. The paintings and tone of the book reflect back on old cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. It is a very witty fable about a lion and a tiger who meet each other for the first and fight over their differences. Though comedic in tone, the ending of the story will have kids reflecting on how much we lose when we fight over petty thing, forgetting that we are all made in the image of God.
The best way you can support is by visiting www.thefictionforest.com and ordering a book or two. That not only helps to support my family and I, but it also helps to support the work Carol is doing in Uganda. Then, if you love the stories, it would help if you shared the books with friends, teachers, and librarians. Books are a lot like seeds; they don’t fall too far from the tree unless an external source carries and spreads them.
5. Your solo hymns album, Till You’re All I See, is releasing soon and you used to sing in a great band called Attalus. Is music something you plan to continue doing or is it something you’ll just do again if the mood hits?
Music, and especially song-writing, is something I’ve felt called to for a long time. Recently, however, it has been beneficial for me to step away from the stage – both in terms of a rock band and in terms of my church’s worship team – and serve in other ways. I do believe God will use me in a worship leader capacity in the future, but this season of transition has been a welcome relief for me.
6. Who are your main influences in your writing and in your music?
As far as books, my first major influences were Dr. Seuss and C.S. Lewis. Once I walked through that wardrobe as a young child, I never quite came out. Later, I would say that George Macdonald, G.K. Chesterton, Shel Silverstein, and Bill Watterson inspired me in different ways. Theologically speaking, apart from Lewis and Macdonald, my greatest influences have been A.W. Tozer, Augustine, and Thomas Akempis.
As far as music, my first influences were D.C. Talk and The Beach Boys! Later on I would be introduced to bands like Blindside, Thrice, and Copeland. The lyricism and storytelling of Bob Dylan marked me. However, I have been most inspired by the lyricism of hymn writers such as Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts, and many others. Some of those old hymns never grow old.
7. Who have been the most influential people in your life spiritually?
As far as living people (not authors), my parents, who raised me to love God and His scriptures. My philosophy and Greek professors in college. My college pastor. My cousin. My grandmother.
8. What is your favorite Book of the Bible?
My favorite Old Testament books is Psalms. Significant moments in my life have been marked by God speaking to me through a Psalm. My favorite New Testament book is John’s Gospel, because, in my opinion, it is where I see Jesus, the Son of God, most profoundly.
9. What is your favorite song of all time?
Without question it is the old hymn called The Love of God. I’m never unmoved when singing those unforgettable lyrics. It is Well is a close second.