Saturday, 13 August 2022

Author Interview: Br. Benedict Dyar and The Flame of Tebyrin: A Tale of Heroism and Faith

This interview was conducted on 03/01/20 in a previous blog, now defunct.

Today, I am interviewing Brother Benedict Dyar, who has just released his debut novel, The Flame of Telbyrin: A Tale of Heroism and Faith. In this, we discuss where the ins and outs of the novel and his writing journey. 

So sit back and let Brother Benedict tell us about his debut novel. But first, what is this novel about?

The Eternal Flame of Telbyrin has existed since the foundation of the world. All the peoples of Telbyrin venerate it as the symbol of all creation’s prayers that go up to the Creator — all except the dreaded Meldron, a race hidden within the Mountains of Black with a supposed secret knowledge of dread power.

As two young married Elves make their way towards the Flame on annual pilgrimage, they discover that the Flame is going out. All of a sudden, these two Elves are caught up in an adventure of discovery of why the Flame of Telbyrin is going out and who or what may be behind it.

Hi, Benedict! Thanks for stopping by! I am looking forward to delving into this interview and discovering your insights into how it came to be and your writing journey. So here we go, let me ask you this first question:

I guess most people would have an incorrect perception of who monks are and what they do. Can you enlighten us on what your Order is about and what a day in your life is like?

The Benedictine Order of monks has as their patron St. Benedict of Nursia who lived from 480-547 A.D. St. Benedict started as a hermit monk but soon was recruited to become an abbot over a community of monks at Monte Cassino in Italy.

Our life is one of community life given entirely over to God seeking Him in community under the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and an Abbot.  Our life is simple consisting of prayer and work. We are a monastery under the Roman Catholic Church.  

A typical day in the monastery of St. Bernard in Alabama consists in four Offices or communal prayers happening at morning, noon, evening and night plus the Holy Mass.  Next, there is the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church called lectio divina.  It is not just reading but entering into the Scriptures through prayer.  The rest of our day consists in our work to sustain ourselves. I myself serve as the monastery baker.

The Benedictine monks of St. Bernard in Alabama live out their call through both action and contemplation.  We run a prep school, a retreat center for pilgrims and our famous Ave Maria Grotto which one of our monks built.  My favorite part of monastic life is the contemplative aspect meeting God through silence in His Word. No matter what we do, we do all things that: “In all things God may be glorified” and “preferring nothing whatever to Christ.” 

The Flame of Telbyrin is your first book release. Tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

My journey in becoming an author was spurred on at an early age way before I even thought of dedicating my life to Christ in becoming a monk.  I loved the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and other fantasy giants. I wrote fantastical stories for my family. At that age, I really loved all things fantasy.  But I believe God was calling me to turn that love to glorify Him in some way.  

My first writing attempts before and after entering the monastery were sort of experiments.  Most of them were turned down by author friends. I had trouble even finishing them.  The Flame of Telbyrin was the first one I actually finished and was accepted by my other author friends to pursue.

Has the quiet and reflective nature of your life in the monastery been a hindrance or help in your writing this novel?

The silence and reflective atmosphere of the monastery have helped greatly in the writing process.  After a long day of prayer and work, I can write at night in my monastic cell.  

What was the hardest part of writing The Flame of Telbyrin?

The hardest part of the actual writing of The Flame of Telbyrin was worrying about what other people would think of the story.  I naturally, like most other writers, wanted to compose a story that people would enjoy.  But I learned it was even more important to compose a story that would glorify God in some way.  I had to admit to myself that I write mainly for the enjoyment of it as a hobby. People would either like it or not like it.  The other hardest part was editing and publishing. In fact, I’m wanting to eventually do a 2nd edition of The Flame of Telbyrin seeing that we caught some grammatical errors in some chapters.  I fully admit that I’m a rookie author and hope that readers will be patient with me.  

What challenges have you experienced in becoming an author, either while writing this novel or since its release?  How would this benefit you in writing the sequel?

I encountered the reality that I’m a beginner; a rookie.  Listening to people more experienced than I was both very helpful and challenging.  I realize that there are still corrections that could be made, which is why at some point I would like to do a 2nd edition of The Flame of Telbyrin.  I’ve learned how hard the publishing world really is and more about its challenges.  Fortunate for me, I was blessed to have people in this world who cared about both me and my work.  As I write the sequel, I will try to be mindful of all this advice. Really, it has meant a lot. It can only make me a better writer.    

Is there any of you in this novel, in any of the characters?

The largest part of me contained in the book are in the main characters: The elves Orilin and Larilyn.  They are a married couple and get caught up in the adventure contained in the story. Orilin and Larilyn represent loyalty and fidelity not just to each other but to a cause and to an ideal.  I think fidelity is something sorely lacking in our society today with broken relationships, friendships, marriages and commitments. I am sold totally on my fidelity as a monk just as Orilin and Larilyn are to each other and to a cause. 

How did this word Telbyrin come about? Is it linked to specific themes or message in the novel?

The world of Telbyrin came about, believe it or not, through exercise around the monastery grounds!  Thoughts just popped up into my mind about a decent fantasy world. Monotheism is also a huge part of Telbyrin and the message is monotheism.  The deity of the world is known as the Creator or the Unnamable One. He touches Telbyrin into existence and what is left of this touch is the Flame.

Most Christian novels can be based on faith but in your case, you have added Heroism (as shown in the title). Why is that?

I think it has to do with the main characters having the courage to do something exceptional.  In Orilin’s case, he has a troubled past but re-enters it in order to fight for his loved ones.  In Larilyn’s case, she is called out of her quiet life to stand against the powers of evil. They both wanted to live a quiet life on the farm together, but they are called out of that in order to stand for something bigger than themselves and their own plans.  

I think people still like heroes today.  Orilin is your classic fantasy hero so to speak and Larilyn is one who is transformed into one. 

What type of author are you? Novelists tend to use one of the following methods:

- Plotter: by extensively plotting it out,
- Pantser: as it came to you (that you write by the seat of your pants) 

Or was it a bit of both?

I’m a pantser writer.  It came to me as a process.  My goal, in fact, is to make a trilogy about Telbyrin and this is still playing out in my mind.  

What biblical themes or message(s) have you incorporated in the novel or based the novel on?

The Biblical themes contained in the story are first, monotheism.  God is the only God and besides Him, there is no other savior. I’m not saying that pagan mythology doesn’t have inspiring messages.  It’s just that I wanted a monotheistic world. Next, there are flashes of Biblical characters portrayed in the story. Orilin is a warrior bard, much like King David.  Larilyn has much of the character of Ruth in her. “Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay, etc.” The Vicars of the Flame, who carry it in their hands by virtue of their ordination represent much of a combination of the Old Testament prophets and the regular Christians of today.  We are all called to be light-bearers. The wars and struggles in the story have everything to do with John’s Gospel and his 1st letter.  We are in a war of light versus darkness so the light/darkness theology is contained in the story on a large scale.

Let’s give our readers a taste of this novel. You have provided a short excerpt, but first, why did you chose this one?

I chose this part of the story because this is where the story makes a decisive shift.  Things start to become unravelled and the peaceful life of Orilin and Larilyn slowly becomes tested.  You might even say that it represents the faith crises of some Christians. If our life seems to be in darkness, is God still with us?
The other reason is that Orilin and Larilyn are especially dear to my heart.  They are extremely faithful to each other and throughout the story go through an incredible adventure against extreme odds in order to find out why the Flame is being snuffed out.  Larilyn especially will be transformed from just a farm girl into a heroine.

"They stayed in front of the Flame for a long while.  Larilyn eventually fell asleep and Orilin placed her head down on a pillow that lay in the pew.  He was going to have to carry her out.  She was so tired.  He took her in his arms.  She groaned a little and placed her arms around his neck.  When she grieved, she always felt tired.  And so he carried her out singing softly to her.  
He blew the tapers out and went towards the door.  Suddenly the whole room went dark.  A cold chill ran through the Sanctuary like a wind on a winter day.  The bluish glow ceased.  Orilin turned around and was horrified at what he saw.  The bit of the Flame was out."  From The Flame of Telbyrin, Ch.3.

What authors have influenced your writing?

I love elves!  Naturally, I wanted to put some form of them into my book.  J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin influenced me the most.  Tolkien started the elven fascination within me and Le Guin, in her Earth Sea trilogy, started the inspiration for me to make up my own world.  

I can imagine what you must have thought when you felt God was wanting to use you to write this novel when as a Monk you most likely had this as the furthest thing from your mind or imagination? What went through your mind? 

I must admit, when I first entered the monastery, that the last thing I thought I would do would be to compose a fantasy novel.  In truth though, monks have done all kinds of things. It was not uncommon for archaeologists and historians to find bestiaries in monastic libraries.  Fantastical animals like gryphons and gargoyles array gothic cathedrals sometimes. But our main focus is Christ and living in His Word. That takes up all my energy as a monk.  But Monks need hobbies and I did too. Mine was creative writing. Monks have done much with their hobbies to contribute to their communities. Here, I cannot help but think of our Br. Joseph Zoettl.  Here was a Monk who worked in our powerhouse but had the hobby of building miniatures of sacred places. This turned into our Ave Maria Grotto; a world-wide known tourist attraction. This was not Br. Joseph’s goal.  My goal is likewise not to be on the bestseller list. It’s to enjoy a hobby that hopefully many can read a good story from.

How much of the Bible has inspired you in this fantasy world you have created?

Well, as I said before, much of the themes of monotheism, Old Testament characters and New Testament theology make up the Biblical themes in the story.  In short, I wanted enough Biblical themes for Christians to enjoy but the end goal was simply to write a good story.

What was the reaction you received from your fellow Monks when you told them you were writing this novel? Were you expecting any resistance, that this was not something Monks do?

To tell you the truth, my brother Monks were thrilled that I was writing a fantasy novel and supported me 100%.  Many of them even carried copies of the book to vocation fairs and Church events. I really, literally, could not have done it without them.  I take a vow of communal poverty as a monk and have no income. Therefore, the funds for publishing and editing came out of the monastery coffers.  I was flattered to have both the support of my Abbot and fellow Monks. Also, I must recognize the support of some of the other clergy in our Diocese in promoting the book.  Lay employees at St. Bernard as well supported it and read it. I cannot express enough thanks to all of these people.

If some of them have read it, what has their reaction been?

Most Monks who have read the book gave it a good thumbs-up.  They did not put it on the bestseller list but didn’t think it was junk either.  Many of our lay employees and staff have really liked it. I’ve even received many questions from some of the surrounding clergy as to when the sequel was coming out. 

Is this novel based on any biblical characters, stories? Did you need to conduct any research for this story?

The only real hardcore Biblical character allegory in the story is Larilyn’s comparison with Ruth.  She is loyal all the way! As stated above, there is some reflection of King David’s warrior bard traits in Orilin. 

Who became your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite and why?

Larilyn is my favorite character.  Her loyalty to her husband, friends and loved ones is powerful.  I love especially how she transforms from an innocent farm girl into a full-fledged heroine.  As the reader will see, she has had her fair share of hard knocks in life and undergoes further ones with the villain in the book.  She overcomes not with the sword but with faith. My least favorite character in the book is the current “Arch-Vicar” in the story; Hhrin-Calin.  But it would be a major spoiler as to explain why!

Do you have any other works in progress? A sequel to this novel?

I do have another book I’m working on. The Vicar of Telbyrin will tell the tale of Orilin and Larilyn’s son.  

What are you wanting readers to embrace from this novel?

I wish the readers to simply embrace a good story from this novel.  I believe that we are currently living in a literary world full of dark fiction and evil messages for our readers and especially for our youth.  That, in my opinion, is not acceptable. Fiction readers deserve the option of a story full of light. Not a sappy story but simply a good story.  

Any closing comments?

I sincerely wish the readers the blessings of God in Christ.  I know that He has blessed me through my hobby and I wish to share it with others.  Thanks! 

This has been a great interview, Benedict! Thank you for your insights into your vocation, your writer's journey and The Flame of Telbyrin. When the sequel is ready, you are welcome back here to discuss further. 

If this interview has encouraged you to investigate this novel further, click on the image below:

Readers and reviews are an author’s best asset, so I encourage any reader, to consider reading The Flame of Telbyrin and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

Reviews help promote an author’s novel to potential readers and encourage the author to keep writing. Reviews also help get the author’s message (and God’s message) to the reader, whether Christian or not, who may need encouragement and support in their lives while being entertained by the story.

About Br. Benedict Dyar: 

I am a solemnly professed Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, AL. It has been my absolute pleasure in writing Christian fantasy adventure; a dream that I have had for a long time.

Other than writing, I enjoy baking, music and astronomy. I currently hold the position as Head Baker at our monastery. I pray that my writing will be a source of light to all who read.

Thanks so much for your support.

Please note that as an Amazon Associate, I am required to disclose that book cover images or titles of novels in this post are paid links if they are linked to Amazon and result in a sale.