Ayal the Arrow Boy
Erik M. Steidl
CrossLink Publishing (2020)
Erik Steidl was born and raised in Medina, Ohio as the third of six children. He wrote his first book, titled A City Slicker in Texas, for a Power of the Pen competition in fourth grade and never looked back. He has always found joy in writing, both creatively and academically. He attended Liberty University where he crammed a four year degree into six years, graduating in 2012 with a B.S. in Teaching English as a Second Language with minors in Spanish and Youth Ministry.
He has spent the time since then using all aspects of his degree teaching in Cleveland, Ohio and volunteering with the high school and middle school ministries at his local church. It was through those ministries that the concept of his debut novel, Ayal the Arrow Boy was born. He wrote the novel during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to engage his middle school students at the church in the Bible while being unable to actually meet with them in person. Erik has continued to write throughout the pandemic and his hope is that his stories will help many more youth connect to scripture in a whole new way.
Erik is married to his high school sweetheart, Shannon. They live together in Medina, Ohio with their four children and yellow lab. They are an active family and enjoy hiking, soccer, basketball, biking, and almost any other outdoor activity. Erik is proud to be able to state that, like him, his children are all avid Star Wars fans.
Hi Erik, Welcome to Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your new novel, “Ayal: The Arrow Boy.”
“Ayal: The Arrow Boy” is a retelling of the story of David and Jonathan, originally found in the Book of 1 Samuel in the Bible. However, the twist is that it is told from the perspective of a servant boy named Ayal. Ayal is a servant for Jonathan, who is the son of King Saul. He overhears a plot to kill David, a commander in the king’s army and Jonathan’s best friend. They discover that it is King Saul behind the plot and have to go to great lengths to foil it and must decide where their loyalties lie.
What inspired you to write this story?
As funny as it may sound, the COVID-19 pandemic is what inspired me to write this novel. My wife and I volunteer with the middle school ministry at our local church. When everything shut down in March of 2020, we were faced with the question of how to still get our middle school students to engage with scripture without actually being able to see them in person. I decided to get creative and rewrite a Bible story from a young teen’s perspective hoping that they would be drawn in with that aspect of the story.
How did you create the main character, Ayal? What motivates him?
Ayal is based on an actual character from the Bible. At the end of the story in 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan shoots an arrow as a signal to David. He then sends a boy to fetch the arrow while David comes out of hiding. I simply took that character from the biblical account and gave him a larger role in the rest of the story. I didn’t alter the original story at all, just took some creative liberties to fill in the parts of the story that the Bible doesn’t tell.
Ayal is mostly motivated by the desire to be a part of something bigger than himself. He is an orphan and has always been small and seemingly insignificant. He has one talent, running. He is determined to use this talent to the best of his abilities to accomplish something great.
How did he come to be the Arrow Boy?
One day, while Ayal was still a homeless orphan, a baker in Jerusalem offered him a job delivering bread. Ayal found that he was very good at this and was soon delivering packages for many merchants in Jerusalem. Prince Jonathan heard of him and offered him a similar job in the palace working for him.
Though the story is set in biblical times, are there issues Ayal dealt with that are relatable to teens today?
Absolutely! I think that there is a longing in everyone’s heart to feel significant and to feel self-worth. I think that everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Ayal’s quest for self-worth and belonging is everyone’s quest.
How long have you been writing and what drew you to write for teens?
It’s funny you should ask. My mom actually kept boxes of keepsakes for me and all my siblings from our time in school. She gave it to me the other day and I found a book that I wrote in the third grade for a Power of the Pen competition. It was titled A City Slicker in Texas. I can honestly say that I’ve been writing creatively for most of my life. I write a lot of poetry/spoken word just for fun.
However, I began writing in earnest during my first year as an elementary school teacher. I found that my students were much more engaged in reading comprehension activities when I wrote them and included their names in them. That practice kind of just evolved into writing full length children’s books. I never thought that I would ever write an actual novel for teens or adults until the pandemic and the idea kind of just popped into my head.
Your first book was a children’s book – how did writing for the two age groups differ? Were there any similarities?
One of the biggest differences is that with a children’s book, there are illustrations on every page so obviously I don’t have to be nearly as descriptive with my writing. It was something that I really had to think about when writing Ayal. without illustrations, I had to add as much descriptive language into each scene as I could to transport my readers into the story along with Ayal. I made a huge effort to include descriptions of what Ayal smelled, heard, felt, saw, and tasted.
The biggest similarity is in word selection. In children’s books, you really only want somewhere between 600 and 800 words so you need to be very selective about which words you choose to use. I remember with that first book, I would sit and write then re-write the same sentence about eight times before I felt I got it exactly right. Although Ayal has about 21,000 words in it, I still had to be very selective about which ones should stay and which should go. Being too wordy and adding a lot of unnecessary junk words can really bog down the reader and make him or her lose interest quickly. Taking advantage of the words that I wrote to be most effective is something that I continue to struggle with in my new books as well.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing for a young audience?
Far and away, the most challenging aspect of writing for a young audience is trying to not think like an adult. I really tried hard to think back to when I was Ayal’s age and picture how he would have felt or reacted in certain situations. That perspective is something that is extremely important to writing to younger readers.
I’m actually facing an even more daunting challenge next. I’m finishing up another novel called The Jailer’s Son. After that, I’m actually going to write a story from a teen girl’s perspective. Obviously never having been a teen girl myself, this is going to be something that I will have to get a lot of input on from friends and family.
What is the most important message you hope young readers take away from reading “Ayal: The Arrow Boy?”
The message of the book comes from the dedication section. It says:
This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever felt weak or insignificant.
Remember, through God you are stronger than you can imagine.
Through Jesus Christ you are worth so much more than you’ve been led to believe.
That’s what I want them to take away. One of the greatest quotes from the story of David is when Samuel was selecting him to be king. He said, “Man looks on outward appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.”
What kind of feedback have you received on your book?
It’s all been really positive! I’ve had a bunch of friends and family read it as beta readers and they all gave really positive feedback.
What does your writing routine look like?
My wife works the night shift at the hospital. On nights that she works, I get my four kids down to bed, clean up the kitchen from dinner, and sit down to write for at least an hour. I try to get at least 1,000 words per session, but that doesn’t always happen. I have to wake up pretty early to get the kids to the sitter’s before I head in to work myself so I don’t like to stay up too late. It’s a slow process getting the books done, but it works for us for now.
What do you like to read? Do you have any favorites in the teen/YA genre?
I like to read anything and everything to be honest. I’ve read my way through James Rollins’ Sigma Force Series most recently. Currently, I’m going through the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I’m almost done with Prisoner of Azkaban now. My all-time favorite books are the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings books by J.R.R. Tolkien. I also love all the Star Wars fan novels, The Camel Club series by David Baldacci (anything by Baldacci is really good), and anything that Tess Gerritson writes.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
I’d like to say that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have inspired me, but my work falls woefully short of theirs. They both created entire worlds for their stories complete with histories and languages. I kind of had The Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne in mind when I started planning my own novels.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
I have a lot of interests outside writing. I’ve been a pretty avid runner since middle school. I’m currently coming back from a pretty nasty calf injury but hope to run a fall marathon. I’ve done a couple triathlons but am a pretty horrible swimmer. I like all Cleveland sports teams and play the piano.
What I enjoy most, however, is my family. My wife and I have been married eleven years now and have four children. They’re absolutely insane but absolutely amazing at the same time. We have a lot of fun together.
So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?
I have several stories in the works. My illustrator is working on getting the drawings done for a children’s book called Sammy the Snowflake. I am also seven chapters into the manuscript for my next teen novel called The Jailer’s Son. It’s the story of the Philippian Jailer from Acts 16. It’s being told from both the perspective of the Jailer and his son, Emilian. That’s to be the first of a three part series on the original founders of the church at Philippi.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
I did one of my teaching practicum’s with one of my old high school teachers. It was currently a time when there was a lot of large scale changes happening in the field of education and also in her school district. She told me that when things are getting crazy, the best thing to do was “Just shut your door and teach.” That advice is great. It applies to not only teaching, but to really any profession or just to life in general. Shut out all the outside craziness and focus on the task that is immediately in front of you. Worrying about all the things that are out of your control is an easy way to get overwhelmed.
Given your own experience, do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging authors?
Keep going! If you’ve taken the time and energy to create something, it’s worth publishing. Even if it’s self-publishing like I did with my first book, it’s worth putting out there. Your words will affect someone’s life and that makes it worth it.