The Last Runner (Runners of Abra 1)
The five islands of Abra have always been home to Runners -- sent on missions by their owners. When Eric is conscripted as a Runner and discovers an incredible power, he must race against an evil Queen to rescue a mysterious girl who has power of her own.
Interview by Brock Eastman
Featuring Secret of the Lost King
Brock: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Shaun: I actually never intended Secret of the Lost King to become a book, let alone a series. It was actually first written as a stage play for a summer camp. A group of twelve actors brought the story to life over the course of a weekend. It was a lot of fun and after we finished I kept thinking, “You know, this would make a really good book.” So I sat down with the script and wrote book one out. And then I got ideas for a second book set in this world, and then a third, and now it’s expanding to a six-book series!
Brock: That's awesome when God brings things together like that! Tell us about the main characters. Who are they? What makes them unique?
Shaun: Jack is an orphan who has always wondered about what life would be like outside the confines of the orphanage where he lives. But he’s also afraid of everything. So when he has to leave his home in Secret of the Lost King, he’s afraid. And especially when he learns that he may be one of the only people in the kingdom who can end the evil emperor Morogh’s reign, he’s even more frightened. How could he ever live up to this task? What makes him so special? I love exploring these sorts of themes: the value in a person and the unique things they bring to the table in any situation.
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Shaun: Molly, one of the other orphans who joins Jack on his journey, is actually an avid horse enthusiast, although she would never admit it to anyone. Disdain is one of her favorite emotions.
Jack is actually an expert in horticulture, or the study of plants. Sounds boring, but definitely useful when you’re traveling through the woods and you’re just not sure which berries you really can eat.
Brock: In three sentences what is this book about?
Shaun: Secret of the Lost King is an adventure story exploring what it means to be a hero. Jack and his friends face an impossible task: find a missing king and discover the secret behind his disappearance. Along the way, they have to face one of the hardest questions any of us have to ask: what value do we bring to the table in any situation?
Brock: Intriguing! Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Shaun: When I sit down to write, I typically come up with the overarching story to begin with. I want to know where my characters start out and where they will probably end up. However, I have always said my “subconscious writing brain” is way smarter than I am, and as I write the story generally morphs a bit as my brain connects things together I never could have come up with on my own. I’m always amazed at the end of a book when I realize something and say, “I didn’t even plan for that to be connected! Crazy…”
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Shaun: This book is a story about discovery. Jack is discovering who he is and what his life is all about. I think a lot of us ask those same questions: Who am I? Why do I matter? These fundamental questions are so important for us to explore. I believe that God has created everyone for a purpose. He loves each one of us and definitely has us where He wants us to be: sometimes in an amazing place, and sometimes in the valley of shadows. Whether we are on the mountaintops or down below, we can trust that God is with us every step of the way and will use what we experience and go through to impact more lives than we can ever imagine.
Brock: Yes, that's a great lesson to live by. What is your favorite genre to write for?
Shaun: I really love writing fantasy stories. The possibilities are endless and the journeys are always surprising. However, I also really love fiction that is introspective and explores the deep thoughts a lot of us have but are afraid to voice.
Brock: What is the biblical background or basis for the series?
Shaun: As I was planning the series, I came across this verse in the book of Joel: “‘And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days’” (2:28-29, NASB). I came up with this idea to match Jack’s journey with a story from the Bible -- someone else who had gone through the same struggles. For me it made total sense to match Jack up with Gideon, a man from Judges, who was afraid to be the hero God had called him to be.
Brock: How many books are planned for the Thrones series?
Shaun: Six. Along with a few side short stories. There are so many amazing characters in this world I want to explore I can’t leave it just at the six novels!
Brock: Are you working on the next book in the series?
Shaun: Yes! I am working hard on book number three, and I’m excited about where the story left off in Sword of the Broken Son. There are some fascinating revelations at the end of book two that are begging me to be explored this time around.
Brock: How do you hope parents will use this book with their kids?
Shaun: I am a huge believer in parents reading books to/with their kids. In 2013, School Library Journal asked families: How many parents read bedtime stories to their kids? According to the poll, about "two-thirds of parents don't read to their kids every night" (Bayliss, 2013).
Bedtime stories were a huge part of my elementary years. I loved it when my parents would come and read me a story before I drifted off to sleep. Those times not only sparked my imagination, but gave me valuable face time with my parents. I love hearing stories of families reading this story together and diving deeper into the story of Gideon and what it means to be a hero in their home, school, and neighborhood.
Brock: Where do you like to write?
Shaun: I love coffee. Therefore, I love coffee shops. Therefore, I write in them. All the time. The atmosphere, the smell, the varied conversations around me all inspire me to keep writing. I actually find I don’t write very well when I’m at home. There are so many distractions!
Brock: True! Expound on the spiritual themes in the Secret of the Lost King.
Shaun: In Secret of the Lost King, I really wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be a hero. We talk a lot about superheroes and standing up for what you believe in, and I wanted to write a story that explored what it means to be a hero in God’s eyes. It’s not always flashy. It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s extremely hard. But being a hero who follows God brings a lasting impact on the lives of people around us we can never even begin to measure.
Brock: What are some of the strongest influences on your writing?
Shaun: I love 1980’s films. They were my bread and butter when I was little. Films like The Neverending Story and Return to Oz and Star Wars and Indiana Jones fed my imaginative brain like crazy. When I started reading, I devoured books. I used to read a hundred books a year, constantly checking out large stacks from the library, and later on when I could buy my own books, building my library from our local used bookstores. Brandon Mull, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Robert Liparulo, and Melody Carlson have all had tremendous impact on my writing style.
Brock: What was your favorite book as a teen or child?
Shaun: I seriously devoured Oz books when I was little. My great-grandmother’s early 1900’s copies made it to our family and I ate those books up! In my teen years I discovered Ted Dekker and finally read the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis.
Brock: What is the one author, living or dead, who you would co-write a book with?
Shaun: Oh man, that’s definitely a toss up between Brandon Mull or E.J. Patten.
Brock: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Shaun: I’m a Children’s Pastor in my other work life, so I am always thinking about how to communicate the truth about Jesus to readers. However, I never feel satisfied with stories that wrap up everything neatly because I don’t believe life wraps up neatly. I think life is very complicated and especially in today’s culture, we ask a lot of hard questions about faith and Jesus and church. I want to be the writer who is never afraid to tackle those hard questions and allow there to be no answers by the end of the story.
Brock: Coke or Pepsi?
Brock: Soft shell or hard shell tacos?
Shaun: Coffee. Just kidding, soft shell tacos!
Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
Shaun: Coffee. Always coffee. I’m not addicted. I promise.
Brock: Haha Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Shaun: Philippians 1:6 - “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are some examples?
Shaun: I love listening to movie soundtracks while I write. I’ve actually got a pretty extensive collection by now, but some of my favorite go-to soundtracks are: Return To Oz by David Shire, anything by Hans Zimmer, and recently Dave Barry’s The Black Hole soundtrack.
Brock: What inspires your writing?
Shaun: All kinds of things, but typically my stories always begin with an emotional thread I want to yank on until it unravels completely. I love exploring difficult questions and feelings. For instance, with Secret of the Lost King, I wanted to explore the idea of discovering who we are. What is that journey like, how does it happen, how does it end?
In Sword of the Broken Son, I wanted to explore the idea of rejection. What does it mean to be rejected? What do we do when we feel like God has rejected us?
But as my wife will tell anyone, my brain is crazy and comes up with the most random ideas sometimes!