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Echo Island Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Aug 10th

What gave you the idea to write Echo Island?

I began this story about 15 years ago, prompted by the simple premise of a disappearing town. I’ve always been fascinated by that scenario and since childhood have loved TV shows and movies that revolve around “last man on earth”-type plots. “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Time Enough at Last,” with Burgess Meredith is a long-time favorite; same with some zombie movies and other apocalyptic stories. Australian film, “The Quiet Earth” is one notable example. Legends like the mystery of the Roanoke Colony were other influences.

So I started with that image of a disappearing town and incorporated something I knew: teenage friendship between boys. I had a rough plan for where I wanted to take it, what twist I wanted to startle the readers with. But as I progressed, the story kind of took on a life of its own—which, for those who read it, will be seen as delicious irony!—and I just sort of followed the ideas as they came. 

My writing was interrupted by our planting a church and the half-written manuscript sat on a shelf for a long time. But the story never let go of me. For those 15 years, I’ve been itching to get back to it, feeling it calling out to me to finish. And in my head, I’d be writing and re-writing where it was going all along. Finally picking it back up and giving it the resolution I know it needed was a blast. I felt like I had something special because after all that time, it still had a hold on me and felt fresh and alive.

Who did you write it for and why?

The book is aimed at young adults, probably ages 13 to 19 or so, but I really think the literary quality of it and the mystery aspect of it may afford it a broader appeal. I would say that any reader who has enjoyed the fiction of C.S. Lewis (either Narnia or the Space Trilogy, or both), has an appreciation for speculative fiction (sci-fi, apocalyptic, etc.), mysterious or “meta-fiction” will like the book. Any reader who enjoys a more sophisticated adventure story heavily influenced by ancient myths and classic literature—and how a story full of these elements might say something about God and human existence/freedom—will enjoy Echo Island.

Tell us about some of the main characters. Why are they special to you?

There are four main characters who are old friends and classmates. Jason is the main protagonist, and he’s intentionally a kind of everyman figure. Archer is a rationalistic, intellectual type. Tim is a very fearful, timid type. Bradley is the wild card. He’s brash, aggressive and pretty much a jerk. 

The friendship between them is fraught with some underlying tension as they’ve grown up together, kind of becoming their own persons and realizing how different from each other they are. I’ve written these four in a very particular way, to represent aspects of humanity, but also—more personally—of myself! 

Jason and Archer are both very internal young men, while Tim and Bradley are very external in terms of how they process and how deep (or actually shallow) their thinking is. Archer represents a kind of over-analysis, the need for everything to fit in neat compartments and always make sense. Tim is driven by appetites, mainly for food or comfort. Bradley is driven by his appetites too, but mainly for attention or power. And Jason represents kind of a blank slate, a young man not sure who he is or what he’s supposed to become to be “true.” 

In reality, these are each aspects of myself at their age, and to some extent, now.

What are some of the key takeaways you hope readers will glean from Echo Island?
  • The excitement and the beauty of submission to God’s will.
  • The freedom that is found in finding your place in the story God is telling.
  • By grace, anybody can change if they want to.
What does Echo Island teach readers about God, especially in light of the fact that it’s a mystery?

I think, primarily, that God is a creative Creator, and he’s telling a fantastic story that’s not ultimately about us, but more about him, which doesn’t need to disappoint or discourage us. In fact, submitting to His story rather than trying to commandeer our own is the best way to find joy and true freedom, to, in effect, truly “find ourselves.”