PW: What inspired you to write Lion's Blood, an alternate history novel that focuses on race relations, Muslim vs. Christian ethics, friendship and freedom?
SB: The core "what-if" intrigued me, and seemed to me a conspicuously uninvestigated alternate history. Race relations are probably America's rawest unhealed wound, one that has bled for 400 years. There is so much energy on the whole subject that it struck me as perfect ground for a novel.
PW: You've written 16 books and many teleplays. Was this the most challenging thing you've written so far?
SB: By far. The controversial nature of the subject demanded the greatest care. At heart I'm an adventure writer—I wanted to get to the fun stuff as fast as possible. Sometimes, it felt like trying to sprint through a minefield.
PW: This book features two heroes—Aidan O'Dere, of Christian beliefs, and Kai ibn Jallaleddin ibn Rashid, of African Islamic beliefs—and though O'Dere becomes the slave of Rashid, they become friends. What essential truth do they discover?
SB: Friendship has to do with seeing yourself in another person, and when you begin to see that, friendship tends to cut across lines of income, race, social status. That's what friendship is, what human decency is—the ability to see yourself walking in another man's shoes.
PW: Your novel features devastating descriptions of war and peaceful philosophical lessons. How do you reconcile the two?
SB: They are two sides of the same coin. Violence is only justified in the protection of what is sacred, of what is helpless. When a warrior makes an autonomous choice that he is willing to die to protect his family, or for what he holds dear, then he gives his life to the universe and he goes out on the battlefield to perform. When you know what you're willing to die for, then you know what you are willing to kill for—because it better be something you can set before God and explain.
PW: Are you Muslim?
SB: I was raised in the Episcopal church. I kind of consider myself to be a Zen Christian. The principles of Christ I can verify by observing the natural interaction of natural forces, or animals, I believe in; the rest is politics—I'm not interested in politics. I'm interested in truth, and I'm interested in love.
PW: You're married to novelist Tananarive Due. You've collaborated with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in the past—is a collaboration with Due in the works?
SB: We're thinking about it, a combination of contemporary and historical, some suspense. We've also been pitching some television series, but it's mostly a game. We both have our own work.
PW: You provide "Sufi lessons" as prefaces to each of your novel's five parts. In the fifth, the student asks why a loving God would make a world with so much pain. The master teacher notes that He gave us joy and pain and that which births and reconciles both—but doesn't name it. Is the answer the same for all people?
SB: I think so, yes. I believe we are all struggling toward the same light. And an artist struggles to create scenarios where the reader will fill in the gaps. I'm not smart enough, wise enough, good enough to give the reader the "Secret of the Universe," but the great spiritual leaders of all time have pointed the direction that salvation lies in, and if you are capable of looking honestly at the world with both love and awe... if you get very quiet, you can hear the answer in your own heart.
PW: How do you reconcile the big questions?
SB: There are no more important questions than what is man that thou are mindful of him—what is life, what is death, who am I? The answers are not as important as the engagement with the questions. Anyone who offers a simple answer is cheating you.