Publisher: Tate Publishing
Interviewed By: Eric Jones
Day of War Interview with Cliff Graham
I recently spoke to ‘Day of War’ author, Cliff Graham, who talked about the series of books he’s been working on that follow King David’s Mighty Men from the Book of Samuel in the Bible. His work takes a different approach to Christian Fiction that skyrockets it into a whole genre by itself. It’s fast paced, fierce, and bloody. Here’s what Mr. Graham had to say about it.
I've been getting reacquainted with 'Day of War' and the book of Samuel here lately, and I've got to tell you that we get a ton of Christian novels at BookReview.com (and that's an understatement) and yours not only surpasses most of them in terms of spiritual depth, but literary depth as well. That's rare. I'd like to know just a little about your literary influences. What did you read (besides the Bible) to get into such a mindset?
Thank you for the kind words. I am a Christian, so my starting point was, of course, the Bible. When I was growing up I saw many of the same flannel board images that other young kids in Sunday School saw with little happy characters that were always smiling and carrying sheep around. There is nothing wrong with those images when you are teaching children, but as I grew older, I began to see more in the Bible than I was typically taught. I saw vivid, graphic war scenes. I saw brutal acts of inhumanity. I saw tremendous courage and desperate last stands against impossible odds, and against this backdrop was the mysterious presence of God, who revealed Himself in strange and fascinating ways. In short, there is a lot more texture in the biblical narrative than the church has presented in the past, and I had the goal of trying to bring that texture to life (albeit with great trepidation, since one does not really want to tamper with God's word). That being said, after trying to dig deeper into the Bible itself, I was heavily influenced by Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels," Anton Myer's "Once an Eagle," and the popular fiction of Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, and other writers who succeeded in creating words that leaped off the page at the reader. Those books were not "Christian Fiction" by any means, but I think one of the worst mistakes the Christian community makes is trying to claim that only material labeled "Christian" is valuable for study.
‘Day of War’ lends focus to two elements which are the driving force behind Benaiah’s narrative; religion and war. How have those two things influenced your life so far, and why do you feel compelled to write about them?
The life of a believer
in Jesus Christ is not always roses and sunshine.
Unfortunately, that image has been presented to the world,
which is ironic, because Jesus himself promised that his
followers would suffer greatly. The heavy, dark tone of "Day
of War" is the result of an honest assessment of our faith.
Even the great heroes of the Bible made horrendous,
depressing mistakes, and I wanted to portray a world where
God is the only force for good and mankind must cling to him
for any hope of redemption. That sentiment runs in the face
of the feel-good Christianity that sells T-shirts and bumper
stickers, but I believe it is accurate. As far as war goes,
I have been in the military for almost nine years and served
in everything from line units to the Chaplain Corps. My
depiction of fighting men and their characteristics is based
upon not only my own observations, but on the interviews of
numerous combat veterans of different wars, from World War
II up through
I am completely blown away by the characters that form David’s Mighty Men. It feels sort of like the Dirty Dozen of the Bible. Each of them are so well drawn that they seem to driving the novel themselves. Can you talk a little bit about your process for drafting the characters? In the Bible, they’re little more than a list of names. How do you even begin making that transformation? Did the characters occur organically, as you were writing the story, or did you draft them out beforehand? How much similarity did you find with your own experience in the military?
The characters start out as names on a page. The only character that I "mapped out" was David, simply because so much of who he was is dictated to us by the Psalms and the narrative in the Bible. But even he was just a skeleton sketch. I mainly picked a section of the story as a starting point and let the tale unfold from there. The best part about using the Mighty Men as the main characters is that so little is known about them, so they can become serious worshipers, pranksters, or anything else depending on the story. I get to know them in the same way that the reader does. I experience all the same emotions when fatal traits are revealed or heroics occur. I was told once that that is the best way to tell the story, and I agree. For example, there is a major character revelation at the end of the book that took me by as much surprise as I am hearing that it took readers. I did not know ahead of time what was revealed about that character, but as I checked the historical data, it became not only plausible but likely.
Any plans to something similar with other parts of the Bible? If so, which ones?
The Mighty Men, because they had never been done, are the first priority. When the Lion of War series wraps up, I will be working on a series about Caleb and Joshua, following them from when they are young and strong until they are old men. Caleb fascinates me, because even at nearly eighty years old, he is still demanding to be given the territory where the giants live so that he can drive them out.
‘Day of War’ is the
first book in a series which will follow the exploits of
King David’s Mighty Men. The arching storyline, I suppose,
is David’s ascension to the throne of
To be honest, I am not entirely sure. I know what the last scene is and what takes place in it, but getting to that point is a process. I know what Biblical events each book will cover, and I believe I know what happens to each character, but that can change in the telling of the story. Obviously, those whose fates are recorded in Scripture will not really be a plot twist at that point in the story, but again, that's why I am trying to stick primarily with the guys who are hidden to us. David is still the central theme, and Benaiah the most consistent protagonist, but each book will resemble the Mighty Man whose story is being told.
So the sequels will revolve heavily around Benaiah, or might we be seeing things from Keth's point of view next time? I could easily see anyone of these guys being the center of attention. They're so distinctive, and nobody feels duplicated.
Yes and Yes. The major arc of Benaiah's storyline was told in "Day," and the tone of the book resembled his character: heavy, brooding, vicious, remorseful. Those same types of elements will carry over into other books, but each one will be marked by its resemblance to the Mighty Man it is following. The only hint I can give for the second book is that it will follow Eleazar's story. Eleazar's character is intense and fast-paced, almost like a lightning strike, so "Covenant of War" will follow those guidelines. The novel takes place in a single 24 hour period, so its pacing is very fast. Josheb is kind of a prankster, but his book won't be a comedy, so there are limits to this.
Can you talk to us a little bit about your methods for research going into this first book? What have you learned from ‘Day of War’ and what are you looking forward to going into the next book in the series? In other words, how do you feel you've grown as a writer from the experience of writing 'Day of War'?
I am wrapping up a lengthy period of time in seminary, so I have had access to some of the most brilliant historians, theologians, and archaeologists in the world. I spent approximately a year and a half researching "Day" before I started writing the story. I devoured every book they recommended. The primary resource that I most appreciated was written by two former Israeli Army generals who are now biblical scholars. Also, next year I will be taking a research trip to Israel to study some sites that will be the centerpieces of the last books in the series, so I will have a chance to actually walk the ground the Mighty Men walked and have it all explained to me by historians and archaeologists. Research is the hardest part of the process by far. So little is known about Biblical warfare that scholars almost unanimously disagree with each other in many critical areas, so I had to eventually just poll the majority of opinion in matters like chronology and then try to think like a military commander such as David might have thought. It became a process of strategic guessing. As far as how I have grown as a writer, all I can say is that I feel much more confident in my ability to tell the story after the hundreds of hours of working on the first book. Like anything else, there is no substitute for practice. I hope that in the next book, discerning readers will notice improvements in many areas, since I have benefited from brilliant editorial instruction.
In addition to ‘Lion of War’, I’ve also noticed that this ministry you’ve started called ‘Men of War’. Can you tell me a little more about it and its connection with the novel?
Men of War is going to have several areas of focus, including being an online community where guys can get connected and learn and grow from each other, but its main activity will be the mentoring program. We are finding a great need among young men for having someone in their chosen career field, especially young professionals, who would be willing to come alongside them and offer support and counsel. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, creative arts, etc. Basically it would be a chance for the older guys to tell younger guys what they wish they would have known 25 years ago when they were starting out on the same career path. It is modeled on David and his Mighty Men and how he grew and molded those vagabonds into an elite fighting force.
I've been impressed with your publishing campaign so far as well. The web page is beautiful, and it's an interesting concept to include the audio book as a download with the novel. I think that alone will sell a lot of books. Also I've noticed you're promising some short stories that'll link between the novels. It's great to see you're being just as aggressive with the publishing market as David's Might Men themselves. I know a bunch of authors who write great novels that just get swallowed.
A lot of that credit has to go to my fantastic publisher, Tate. They are a young, aggressive company unafraid to tackle risky projects and creatively market them.
Cliff, thank you so much for joining me tonight. I know you're a busy man, I've taken too much of your time already. You have my endless gratitude for sharing your thoughts tonight.
It was my total pleasure. I appreciate the mission of BookReview.com
Thank you again. Good night.
Books: Day of War