Tim Hestenes Lehnen Delves into 'Fog & Fireflies': A Journey of Magic and Metaphor

In an intimate exploration, discover how Lehnen weaves personal growth and fantastical storytelling in his latest young adult novel
Tim Hestenes Lehnen Delves into 'Fog & Fireflies': A Journey of Magic and Metaphor

Remember the fondness we all had for fantasy novels in our childhood? The magic, witches, and wizards kept our imaginations alive. And it's not just nostalgia; even now, we find solace in such tales, like those of Harry Potter. 

Well, here's something from an unexpected source in the Drupal Community that you shouldn't overlook. Tim Hestenes Lehnen, Chief Technology Officer at the Drupal Association and Author of Young Adult Fiction, has something special to offer. His latest novel, 'Fog & Fireflies', is a young adult fantasy that's generating buzz. It's a captivating read, set in a world shattered by a wizards’ war, now shrouded in a malevolent fog that drifts towns like ships at sea. Exciting, isn't it?

Kazima Abbas, sub-editor of The Drop Times, recently had the opportunity to delve deeper into Tim Lehnen's latest creation. In an exclusive interview, she connected with Tim to uncover more about his book and gain insights into its origins. Tim discussed an intriguing question: What inspired the story? Could there be parallels between his personal and professional growth and the evolution of his book? They delved into various aspects, from the narrative arc to its cultural and philosophical themes, offering much to ponder.

In the interview, Tim explained that he chose to write fantasy because it was the genre he grew up reading. He emphasized that when crafted well, children's and young adult literature can offer a level of emotional sincerity that resonates deeply with readers. He admired how such literature treats its audience respectfully and with dignity, engaging them fully in the narrative. Tim believes these books explore fundamental and authentic themes of the human experience while retaining a sense of awe and wonder. He suggested that such literature transcends age boundaries, catering to both "children who are old souls" and "old souls who are children at heart.

Now, let's delve deeper into his book directly from the author himself,

TDT [1]: Congratulations on your book, "Fog & Fireflies"! Having just released on April 11, how excited are you? Please give us a brief overview of what readers can expect from this novel.

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: I’m over the moon. The response from advanced readers and reviewers was so much stronger than I expected. Getting so much support from friends, family, and colleagues has been amazing, but even more amazing to see the book resonating with strangers.

Fog & Fireflies is a young adult fantasy novel that early reviewers have compared to Pan’s Labyrinth and Studio Ghibli. It takes place in a world that was destroyed in a wizards’ war hundreds of years ago, now blanketed in a malevolent fog that carries towns and villages from place to place like ships adrift at sea. This fog is deadly to adults but not children, so they are tasked with protecting their homes from the fog. We follow Ogma, one of those children who protect her village, and discover what happens when she becomes lost in the fog.

Tim Lehnen Book "Fog and FireFlies" Cover
Tim Hestenes Book "Fog & FireFlies" Official Cover

TDT [2]: In "Fog & Fireflies," you explore the difference between growing older and growing up. In a way, Drupal is growing older and growing up with us. Would it make sense to compare individual growth in both personal and professional capacities with the growth of the literary work, from its story arc to culture and philosophy, and that of the software platform you nurture, from the plentifulness of modules to the curated but minimal recipes?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: At first blush, the connection between fiction and open-source software is certainly not obvious! I’ll be the first to admit that. But truthfully, I think my educational and personal focus on narrative has been a key part of what I’ve done with the Drupal community.

Storytelling is part of every human endeavour. In every conversation we have about innovation, value, and progress, we construct narratives about a possible future we want to explore. When we work to motivate a community around the principles of a free and open web and Drupal’s place in that possible future, we construct a narrative that we hope will inspire a community to make that future our reality.

TDT [3]: Fantasy literature often draws from classic tropes and archetypes. How did you spin these elements to create something fresh and engaging in "Fog & Fireflies"? Do you have a favourite author that you look up to?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: I have far too many literary (and non-literary!) influences to pick a favourite, but I’m more than happy to share some of those influences.

Some of my favourite authors include:

Science fiction:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin - a giant of the golden age of science fiction and a fellow Portland native.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold is an incredible science fiction and fantasy writer who writes some of the most complete and compelling characters in fiction—the total antidote to cardboard cutout Hollywood heroes.

Young Adult/Children’s Fiction:

  • Dianna Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper are both writers of classic children’s literature who, while lesser known than C.S. Lewis for example, are exemplars of conveying the wonder and possibility of stories for children.
  • L. Frank Baum and Arthur Rackham were both active at the turn of the *last* century and tell a different kind of story than those we commonly see today. Their stories were much more like fairy tales and travelogues, with a strong sense of mythology about them.

Filmmakers and animators:

  • Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai are two of the great animation directors of our time, and they share a level of imagination with filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, whom I greatly admire.
  • I want to keep going! Other authors like Terry Pratchett, T. Kingfisher, and Maggie Stiefvater have all had their influences as well, but that would take up all the space we have, I think.

Within Fog & Fireflies, I tried to write a book that inspires nostalgia for a place you’ve never been, helps you uncover a world of strange (and often dangerous) creatures, and tells you truths about growing up that are more honest than the cynical limitations of fiction for adults would allow.

TDT [4]: Your journey as an author while indulging in a high-profile job is inspiring. Personal anecdotes and experiences play a crucial role in developing a plot. Were there any moments when your work in technology unexpectedly influenced the direction of your novel, or vice versa? Did working with Drupal help you find a new meaning in your writing?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: While I wouldn’t say the technology itself had an influence, I would say that the *community* of Drupal and the ethos of being part of an open-source movement certainly influenced me.

While writing is what I have always wanted to do, finding a community like Drupal where I can make a meaningful impact on the world while also doing my writing has been really important to me. It lets me feel satisfied with the impact I am making on my community, which strangely helps me feel like I have permission to pursue my creative work.

TDT [5]: What do you hope readers will take away from "Fog & Fireflies"? Do you aim to convey any specific messages or themes through your storytelling?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: I think the best stories are hard to boil down to a single message, but there are several themes that I explore in Fog & Fireflies that I hope will resonate with people: 

One is parentification. This is a phenomenon that’s studied in child psychology, and its essence is when a child becomes a proxy for a parent with their siblings, other children, or even adults.

Another is, as you quoted in an earlier question, the difference between growing older and growing up. Age and maturity are not the same. Experience and responsibility are not the same. The realities of adulthood can be much more frightening than a child’s fear of the dark. However, the themes are not all dark. I found that family is another important part of the story, and I hope Fog & Fireflies will make readers think of a broader definition of family and home.

Alternate Cover #1: Wizard
Tim Hestenes Book "Fog & FireFlies" Alternative Cover #1: Wizard

TDT [6]: Now that "Fog & Fireflies" has been released, what's next for you? Do you have any plans for future writing projects, or are there other creative pursuits you're eager to explore?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: I certainly do want to write more books in the world of Fog & Fireflies, and some other creative seeds haven’t germinated just yet. But it will be a process! Writing is famously neither the fastest nor the most lucrative of careers, so don’t worry—I’ll still be in the Drupal community for a long time to come.

TDT [7]: Finding a literary agent and a good editor are major milestones in an author's life. If your contractual obligation does not prevent you from revealing such details, we would like to know how you found a printer and publisher.

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: Well now—here’s a place where open source has had a strong influence on my publishing process! Traditional publishing can be very discouraging. Almost every English language publisher in the world is a subsidiary of one of five conglomerates. There is a very proprietary, very corporate feel to modern publishing, and the writing world feels like it needs its open-source moment.

Self-publishing has been around for a couple of decades now, but in the last five years, you have seen even traditionally represented authors self-publish some of their projects, and you have seen self-published authors who are also picked up by the major traditional publishers.

For Fog & Fireflies, I decided to start my imprint, Aspen & Thorn Press. So it’s essentially self-publishing++. I am working with a publishing partner (who is also my audiobook producer) and hired my editor, cover artist, chapter artist, font designer, etc. We’re having the books printed ourselves right now with Ingram Spark (which is the primary printer and distributor for self-published works, as well as the white label for other publishing services like Amazon KDP, B&N Press, Draft2Digital and more), but we also considering larger custom print runs if we have success.

TDT [8]: Children’s literature is considered hard to write for a grown-up, while young adult fiction is more challenging as the readers are rebellious to the core and expect wilder and bolder. On the other hand, fantasy might traverse age boundaries, making it popular among adult and adolescent readers at the same time. Was that a motivation behind choosing the fantasy genre?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: To be honest, I chose to write fantasy because that is what I read. Some of the most important books in my early life were children’s literature (and later young adult fantasy as that became its distinct genre).

Why was that genre so impactful to me? I alluded to this earlier, but I think it’s because children’s and young adult literature when it’s written well, can be much more emotionally sincere than books written for adults. The best children’s literature is not patronizing or paternalistic, it treats its readers with much dignity and expects as much engagement from them, as any book written for adults. The themes that these kinds of books explore can be more fundamental and authentic to our own experience. And they haven’t lost a sense of awe and wonder. Because of that, I think this kind of book *does* cross age boundaries, which is why I say it is for children who are old souls and old souls who are children at heart.

Alternate Cover #2: Bell
Tim Hestenes Book "Fog & FireFlies" Alternate Cover #2: Bell

TDT [9]: As an engineer and a man of science, one might expect your literary pursuits to remain within the grasp of rationality or even science fiction. You chose a fantasy fiction for your debut: a story with imaginary creatures, wizards, and dark magic. Where is the motivation for this story rooted?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: To me, it seems the opposition of scientific thinking to fiction—even fantasy—is fundamentally misguided. It seems based on a misunderstanding of what fiction does. Fiction gives us a context to explore our inner psychology, our relationships, and our morality. It allows us to ask questions about things that are very real, but also intangible. Things that can’t be explored under a microscope.

There is an excellent quotation from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather that helps to make this point - it’s a long one, but I think it’s worth it: 

“All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."


"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"


"So we can believe the big ones?"


"They're not the same at all!"


"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"


Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

TDT [10]: Time is of the essence. Finding expendable time to indulge in literary pursuits is great despite your busy career. Can we have a lesson in time management from your experience?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: Ooof! That’s a tough one. To be honest, finding the time to be fully engaged with my non-profit work for the Drupal community, and also fully engaged with my creative work, and also fully engaged with my family… it’s certainly not easy. And I have to be honest. The *very first* draft of Fog & Fireflies pre-dates my joining the Drupal Association. For a long time, I was discouraged by the prospect of traditional publishing, and I hadn’t yet given up the ambition of ‘being an author’. Ironically, letting go of that ambition is what made it so much easier to make it real. I just wanted to share the book.

Some practical things help. Working remotely, rigorous use of my calendar, blocking out time for creative work in evenings and weekends―but while tools and systems help, I don’t think they are the core of making this work. You have to find the motivation to work two jobs, which needs to be an intrinsic motivation. You need to want to do that creative thing not because of some external ambition but because you want it to exist for yourself and maybe for just one other person. That needs to be enough.

TDT [11]: Friends and colleagues influence each other. How was the reception of your first literary work among your colleagues at the Drupal Association? I came across the review by Mathias Bolt Lesniak, who happened to receive an advanced copy. Can we expect a sequel for Fog and Fireflies?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: My colleagues at the Drupal Association are incredible. They have been so encouraging and supportive and have been wonderful early readers. They have helped me push through rough spots in getting this book across the finish line. The wider community has been wonderful, too.

I was unsure how the community would respond to something so different from what they were used to from me, but again, the support has been amazing. People like Mathias were extremely encouraging (and also very helpful in correcting some of my poor Norwegian! Thanks, Mathias!). I have two sequels in early planning. However, before those get underway, the next step is the Audiobook release of Fog & Fireflies, hopefully this fall.

TDT [12]: I had the chance to go through your author bio published on Goodreads, and it mentions, “He writes young adult fantasy for children who are old souls, and old souls who are children at heart.” This has intrigued me, so I'd like to ask you: Are you an old soul who is a child at heart? If so, how do you keep the child in you alive?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: Ah ha! I referenced this in an earlier answer. This is a great question, and the answer is a little bit complicated. Many people have a very 1-dimensional view of childhood, even though we were all children once! But childhood is full of wonder, and pain, and growth, and setbacks, and heartbreak, and joy. I was an overly serious child. I wanted to grow up too fast, and I think I regret that. For me, writing this book is part of how I try to recapture that sense of wonder without overly idealizing or simplifying it.

TDT [13]: Consider this last question in a lighter vein. You may opt not to answer. Last October, at DrupalCon Lille, Driesnote ventured into folklore for the first time. Did your literary leanings somehow influence Dries to decide to use a new storytelling method in his keynote?

Tim Hestenes Lehnen: Ha! It's pure coincidence, actually—although I was incredibly delighted when I got a sneak preview of the last Driesnote. Because of my position with the Drupal Association, I get to chat with Dries more than many, and as a friend, I’d talked to him about my passion for fiction before. He and Vanessa have also been very supportive of my new book, and I’m grateful for that.

That said, thanks to the generosity of my colleagues at DrupalCon, you may see a bit more of Fog & Fireflies at DrupalCon Portland as well… you’ll have to come by to check it out! 

Disclaimer: The information provided about the interviewee has been gathered from publicly available resources. The responsibility for the responses shared in the interview solely rests with the featured individual.

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