Story, Symbol, and Laughter in The Vanishing Sculptor: An Interview with Donita K. Paul (Day 3)

For this month’s CSFF Blog Tour, Donita K. Paul was kind enough to grant me an interview. Although e-mail and spam filters tried hard to sabotage our conversation, we finally connected. I think it was a conversation worth having. I hope you’ll agree!

Rachel: The Vanishing Sculptor was the first of your works I’ve read, and I admit to being a bit surprised at the centrality of humour. Christian fantasy is rare enough; funny Christian fantasy is even rarer. Is humour always a major element in your work? Is this just your natural voice, or do you have a purpose in using it?

Donita: That is my natural voice, but I also play it up because entertainment is a device for reaching people. Laughter is a very important tool. As my cognitive learning specialist friend often says, “A happy brain is a learning brain.”

Rachel: Upon hearing your name, most readers familiar with your work will probably think “Dragons.” Many years ago in Western literature, dragons were typically evil figures. In Scripture, Satan is depicted as a serpent and a dragon. Yet you’re using them as good creatures; using them, in fact, to share the gospel. Do you find there’s a tension between these two depictions of dragons when you write? Do you run into people who object to your use of dragons as symbols of good?

Donita: The dragon in the Bible is a symbol. And symbols are not carved in stone. Symbols are not universal. Symbols can change within context of something new. The red letter A was a symbol for adultery in The Scarlet Letter, but it would be odd, indeed, if every red letter we saw would bring up the connotation of adultery.

In my books, I used the minor dragons to symbolize talents and abilities that God has bestowed upon his children. The major dragons are just characters to interact with the other characters and provide all sorts of fun elements.
I ignore the traditional aspects of dragons in literature, and go for my own rendition.

Yes, I call it wizard backlash when a Christian (who usually has not read anything I’ve written) harangues me over the evil of dragons, wizards, and magic. I used to get upset about it, but don’t take it personally anymore. If they exhibit a teachable spirit, we’ll talk. If they are perfectly happy in their mindset and not willing to engage in a two-way conversation, I leave it to Someone more qualified than myself to deal with their beliefs.

Rachel: The minor dragons were some of the story’s most vivid characters, and I confess they brought back memories of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong Trilogy for young adults. Dragons in popular fantasy have been taking on several common characteristics, including coming in different sizes, teaming up with special people (Eragon), and communicating via telepathy. Your dragons do all these things. I’m curious as to what unique aspects you’re building into your dragons–how you’re trying to contribute to this modern mythology, so to speak. What perception of dragons might readers take away from your books that they wouldn’t get anywhere else?

Donita: Well, I mentioned the minor dragons depict talents. My dragons are additional characters. I hope the way I depict relationships and the elements of friendship between any of the characters will cause readers to take care of their own relationships, nurturing them with honesty, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

Rachel: Why “tumanhofers”? Why not just “dwarves”?

Donita: LOL! Because fairies, dwarves, elves, trolls, ogres, and such come with a lot of baggage. There are centuries of established traditions surrounding the typical fey folk. I knew I was dragging dragons out of this standard folklore and I didn’t think I could get away with dragging all of them away from conventional perceptions. Besides, it is more fun to make up your own.

Rachel: One of my favourite aspects of The Vanishing Sculptor is the obvious fun you have with language — whether it’s in names like “Bealomondore” and “Beccaroon” or the roving, hilarious conversations of characters like Fenworth and Lady Peg. Would you say you enjoy writing more for the sake of the story or for the sake of the language itself? Or is that a nonsense question?

Donita: Story is paramount. I believe literary fiction delves heavily into just how great your sentences roll off the page and into the reader’s mind. To me, literary works point to the author instead of to the reader. A good story resonates with “everyman.” My purpose is to present characters and plot that engage a reader enough to forget me. I want them to identify with the characters as they mature. I want them to struggle with the plot’s twists and turns. In the end, I want the reader to walk away from the experience as I do, with a new understanding of mankind, perhaps a resolution to be better in some area of his or her life, and with renewed hope.

Rachel: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for aspiring writers, especially those who are at the agent- and publication-seeking stage?

Donita: Go to conferences. Join professional organizations like ACFW. (American Christian Fiction Writers) Network online with people who have the same vision of fiction that you do and some who write in the same genre. Keep growing.







7 responses to “Story, Symbol, and Laughter in The Vanishing Sculptor: An Interview with Donita K. Paul (Day 3)”

  1. […] The first-ever reader’s choice Clive Staples Award has been given, and the winner is DragonLight, by Donita K. Paul. I haven’t had an opportunity to read this book, but I did have the opportunity to interview Mrs. Paul a while back. You can read the interview here. […]

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Thanks, Dona! It’s my favourite too, but I’m biased ;).

  3. Dona Watson Avatar

    What a great interview! Great questions…wonderful answers. I think this has to be my favorite post of the tour. 🙂

  4. Rachel Avatar

    Becky and Krysti — I’m glad you enjoyed the interview! I thought Donita gave some really excellent answers — stuff to chew on :).

    Elisabeth, yes, she does. “Magic” in this case has an almost scientific nature and is very contained, and Wizard Fenworth is possibly my favourite character. In some ways he’s more like an eccentric old prophet than what you might think of as a wizard (although you might be able to compare him to Merlin in Disney’s “Sword and the Stone”).

  5. Krysti Avatar

    I loved your interview, Rachel! What thought-filled questions you asked Donita!

    I’ve seen some of the posts by the ill-informed blasting her books. They’re quite something! I like how Donita uses wizards and magic in her books while making it clear that the wizards’ gifts come from Wulder (i.e, God), and the magic is also a provision for good granted by Wulder.

    In The Vanishing Sculptor, there’s a few people bent on using these God-given gifts inappropriately. I won’t say how or who (don’t want to be a spoiler), but–Donita does draw a clear line between good and evil using this.

  6. Elisabeth Avatar

    I have one question: Donita mentioned “…the evils of dragons, wizards, and magic…” Does she put wizards and magic in her story?
    Just curious.

  7. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    Great interview, especially considering it was a last minute deal. Some excellent questions, Rachel and very thoughtful responses from Donita.


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