You Never Can Tell Where a Quest(ion) Might Lead – an Interview with SC Billingslea

Arkrames: The Orpheus Quest
 began with a quest – a pop up advertisement to be precise.  That’s not completely accurate (keep reading) but the story becoming a published book did start that way.  Author SC Billingslea was working on an online writers’ guild project when a writing ad popped up. It asked a few questions about writing: do you write a lot – yes he answered; do you hope to be published some day – yes he answered; do you have a manuscript – yes he answered. Contact information was provided and after a little discussion and explanation of Arkrames’ story, he was put in touch with a publishing editor, “and Arkrames was born.” 

First a middle school teacher, then a high school teacher for a few years, Mr. Billingslea ran a graphic novel production club.  They would “make storylines and build graphic novels.” Having one published prior to his change back to middle school teaching, he felt he was “really reaching them on their level.” One particular student, Rocky Penn, the cover art illustrator for Arkrames, was first a student of Mr. Billingslea’s in 7th grade, and “he could not turn in any piece of work without something doodled on it” and the drawings were good. A few years later, in a high school science class, the same student “was worse.” The artwork was now “all over the test.” Later, the student and a friend were in Mr. Billingslea’s study hall, drawing competitively against each other. They asked him for ideas, and “I gave them short stories I had written and they would start trying to illustrate them.” This teacher took three of the friend’s Xmen like characters and wrote a short story using those characters.  Upon receiving it, the friend “thought it was the coolest thing!” 

Mr. Billingslea and the student, now an adult with his own full time job and kids, are working together on writing a graphic novel version of Arkrames and this is what has “sidetracked” him from working on book three. That student’s drawing of “this little man fighting Cerberus” was a spark for the series.  The man “started out weak, then learns to fight Cerberus” and Mr. Billingslea wondered “how would that happen?” He then started writing Arkrames’ character and wrote the story from the fight backwards.  The pop up advertisement happened about the time the manuscript was completed. 

The second book in the series, Sabra and the Amazon City, took many years to write because of Mr. Billingslea’s full time teaching job and other family matters.  The character Sabra “just came along because [Arkrames] needed a partner” and he received a lot of feedback about her “strong female character” after the first book. The second book is her story and Arkrames plays a part. Each of Mr. Billingslea’s three daughters assisted in this second book from plot checking to blocking fight scenes. However, his wife told him “you’re warped” after reading some of the Arkrames series.  Interestingly, prior to Covid, he was working on a book set in a realistic future setting where there had been a plague with much of the population not surviving.  With the actual pandemic, it was too dark from him to write so he set it aside. 

This author began writing stories as early as 3rd or 4th grade.  He brought one home and asked his mother to review it.  She gave him “feedback like a professional.” In 7th grade, after being vocal about his dislike for a Ray Bradbury book the class was reading, his teacher challenged him to “write what happens next” and he “got really into that” free writing assignment. The summer between 8th and 9th grade, he stayed with his grandmother and with “nothing to do…I spent all summer writing” using the typewriter and paper his brother had bought him. However, he later on greatly appreciated the “advent of word processing” so he no longer had to use whiteout. 

Writing is now his “hobby” when he is “bored or tired.”  He has many short stories, and offers them to the kids in his study hall to read. Yet, he wrote the Arkrames series because when he was a teen, he wanted to read more about Greek mythology. “I wrote Arkrames in the hope that there’s some kid out there looking for Greek mythology based action and adventure.” He also has plans for a “young adolescent” book.

As a young child, Mr. Billingslea wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, “nevermind that I didn’t know what that meant.”  By the age of 15, he had been in his first science class with a hands on lab, biology, and “I was in love with it – this is cool!” In chemistry the next year, “my teacher was a mad scientist; we made stuff, we did stuff, we did reactions.” At one point he was asked where he saw himself in five years, and he answered “hopefully in a lab.”  Joining the Air Force, “they made me a lab tech and that dream came true.”  After 21 years working in a clinical lab for the Air Force, Mr. Billingslea had burned out.  Taking some time after returning from Desert Storm, he obtained his EMT “basic,” and started working in an emergency room.  Enjoying the “hands on patient contact,” and others seeing “potential” in him, he nearly applied for medical or physician’s assistant school, “but I just didn’t want to do it.” Tutoring in his “free time,” he enjoyed teaching and that “aha moment” he sees in students.  He then became a teacher and the rest you know.

In high school, he ran cross country (“I would run for miles – I could think, I could clear my mind, I could do whatever”).  Mr. Billingslea later joined the chess team and still coaches chess.  Later, he gave up many extracurricular activities so he could work and earn money instead, but did continue writing. To earn money in college, he was a DJ. He wishes he had known as a teenager that one can “actually publish books” and if he had known that, he might have majored in journalism. However, then we probably wouldn’t have Arkrames or Sabra!