Stephen Lawhead: Call of the Writer

By W. Terry Whalin

During college, author Stephen Lawhead discovered his college professors didn't care if a student labored six weeks on an assignment or dashed it off during a couple of coffee breaks. "I soon learned I could write quickly," Lawhead said. As Lawhead became more serious about his writing and the difficulty increased. Lawhead took on more ambitious writing projects and he worked to perfect each level of difficulty.

A commitment to art and the story are central to Lawhead's motivation. Although Lawhead has written non-fiction, he considers fiction "his call." "Because you take on the call, you accept the duty of an artist," Lawhead says, "which is to search for and offer up images of goodness, beauty and truth."

A Nebraska native, Lawhead finished college and moved near Chicago, Il. for a five-year stint at Campus Life magazine. Beginning as an editorial assistant, he worked his way into the senior editor position. But Stephen found magazine work frustrating.

"It's hard to work on other people's words all day, then go home and have any kind of enthusiasm for your own stories," Lawhead said.

With a couple of novels stashed away in a drawer, Lawhead quit Campus Life in 1981 and launched into full-time freelancing along with his wife, Alice, also a well-known author.

Lawhead shuns the fiction labels of fantasy or science fiction. "I'm just a writer whose stories are better framed in fantasy terms," he explains. He calls his novels like Dream Thief or The Dragon King Trilogy (Crossway Books) "imaginative fiction."

Just crack open one of the books in his Pendragon Cycle and let Lawhead take you back to Roman Britain and the days of the Celtic cheiftains and druids. Taliesin (Crossway Books), the first book in the series, received the 1988 ECPA Gold Medallion Award for fiction. These three highly-successful books are based on a genuine historical framework of King Arthur. British readers, who know their own history best, give Lawhead great compliments for the accuracy of this series. Throughout Great Britain, Lion Publishing mass markets the paperbacks in train stations, airports and High Street book shops. In the U.S., Avon Books has released the trilogy in a mass market paperback format.

The variety in Lawhead's books is impossible to pin under the single label of fiction. Besides his adult novels, Lawhead's name springs up in other places with a Howard series from Lion Publishing Company. Books like Howard Had a Hot Air Balloon or Howard Had a Spaceship are geared for children ages five to eight and have been translated into five different languages.

Also Stephen has written a couple of children's bestsellers, Brown Ears, the Story of a Lost and Found Rabbit from Multnomah Press. Lawhead wrote the first Brown Ears book as a Christmas present for his oldest son, Ross. After losing his lifelong friend of a stuffed toy, his son received encouragement from the story. From his son's reaction, Lawhead saw a broader application for his work with other children.

In 2006, Stephen Lawhead fans can read the first installment in the transformation of the Robin Hood legend called the King of the Raven Trilogy called Hood. Fans of his work and others who want to learn more can go to his website at:

A disciplined lifestyle, one key to Lawhead's high production, has him keeping regular office hours from 8 to 5, but his daily schedule evolves around a goal to write 1,500 words. Some days, Stephen works hard to write 800-900 words, but most days he makes his goal. If not, Lawhead tries to catch up the next day. This word quota frees Lawhead from worrying about deadlines and keeps his books on a tight production schedule.

"I write as though it'll be the last time I'll ever see it," Lawhead explains. "I don't skip any parts." He describes his preparation work in terms of maps. "I have mileposts but I don't know every little hill along the way." As he writes, Lawhead experiences the joy of discovery and invention. "What will happen next? I don't know until I sit down that day and do it."

As the books keep cranking from Lawhead's word processor, he struggles when he encounters resistance to his books from booksellers. "Read it for yourself first," Lawhead challenges. "People who have the most trouble with my books haven't read them."

"Christians have adopted the work ethic that says if they are going to read anything, it should be spiritual," Lawhead said. "Fiction, when it's done well, does not tell you what to do. It shows you how to be. That's why it's important."

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his latest is Running On Ice (New Hope Publishers). His book for writers has just released called Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Find out more at: See more about his writing at He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Books. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2006 W. Terry Whalin