In the essay collection, Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury recounts his experiences as a writer. He recalls at one point his childhood inspirations and the joys of his working imagination. However, when dealing with criticism, he writes: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

For Nathan Keys (’14) the act of storytelling also became a part of his identity at an early age. Keys is the author of The Epic of Marindel: Chosen, a fantasy series conceived from a Christian allegorical perspective.  

“I would say that [storytelling] is something that I had from a very young age,” Keys said. “When I was little, some of my earliest memories were where I was always playacting around the playground and pretending these big monsters were coming after me, or tornadoes and fires and stuff. I always had this knack for storytelling. If people wanted to come and join me or listen, I would involve them. But I could do it by myself too. I was perfectly fine being that weird kid with the wacky ideas.” 

An avid reader, Keys would delve into multiple genres, especially science fiction and fantasy. Some of his favorite and influential authors include J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He also was fascinated by popular culture franchises such as Star Wars and Pokémon.

Writing for him initially began as a cathartic means to process his feelings, rather than a storytelling medium. 

“When I was in college I didn’t have this idea that I wanted to be a writer,” he said. “I had actually benched writing for a while, since I was growing in my relationship with God and I was in a place where I knew He had given me this talent for creative writing. But growing up through high school I would use writing for venting.”

“I wanted to write stories that bring hope and purpose.”

He soon realized around his freshman year of college that he’d rather direct his energy toward writing for the kingdom of God. But he waited until God guided him in the right direction.

“I wanted to write stories that bring hope and purpose,” Keys said. 

During his time at PLNU, Keys earned a degree in Biology, and later returned to complete a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. Although he participated in multiple research opportunities and even considered going to medical school, he instead found purpose through his involvement with All Peoples Church in San Diego. He went on mission trips to Mexico and India spreading the word of the Gospels. But with him being an introvert, this type of outreach took its toll and he searched for other means to spread the word of God.

For him, God’s answer to how he could use his writing came in the summer of 2014 when he vacationed with his family to Big Sur, CA.

“On the last night I had this really vivid dream of an underwater world where this little girl was swimming around with water magic and making plants grow. . . . this underwater world was a kind of paradise — like an Eden-type situation — and this girl was using the authority she’d been given, using her magic, to create life and tend the garden.”

This kernel of an idea expanded into what became his first novel, The Epic of Marindel: Chosen, the beginning of a planned multi-book fantasy series. The series intertwines Christian allegory — including a crucifixion sequence of a Christ-like character — and magic to tell its story.

“I have three tiers of magic. We have the elemental magic, which is really basic and part of the world they live in. It is considered a form of science. Then there’s the evil magic, which I call bygone magic. This is the magic that is taken from the way the realm was before the Kingdom of Marindel came. This magic is very powerful and scary. But it isn’t as good as the third tier, which is the magic of Marindel. That is basically light magic, where people who follow the great king of Marindel get access to this magic that trumps all the evil magic. It’s like walking into a dark room with a flashlight —  it shines and cuts through everything.”

While writing the book, he followed a brief outline of what he thought the main plot points would be, but found himself writing different sections out of order to focus on specific character arcs. Then he’d bring them together to form a draft, where he addressed continuity issues, pacing, and other elements during the revision process. 

In addition, his background in biology proved quite helpful in the world-building aspect of Marindel. For example, he explained how he would describe specific trees or forms of marine life enough to create a mental picture in readers’ minds, while still moving the narrative along at a good pace.

Following the book’s publication in 2019, Keys released a companion piece entitled The Great Story of Marindel. To create this, he collaborated with high school-level English and Bible teachers.

“It takes the gospel allegory out of Chosen, my first book, and gives supplement study questions to help readers get into the spiritual symbolism behind the characters and themes in that story.”

He is currently on track to release the second book of the Marindel series in November 2023.

Keys found further support in the Kingdom Writers Association (KWA). The KWA is a global community and resource center that connects fellow Christian writers. He discovered the KWA in 2017 through its San Diego chapter.

“I walked in there feeling like I was the lone C.S. Lewis of my generation, like there was nobody else that wanted to do what I wanted to do. I walk into this room full of people all in the same call, all writing for God’s glory — all different genres, all different age groups, some are published, some are just getting started. And I immediately felt at home.”

Nathan soon became a vision lead for the San Diego chapter before moving back to Idaho in 2022 and assuming a similar role for the Boise chapter. Vision lead duties included leading prayer, conducting writing workshops, and distributing writing prompts, among other responsibilities. He remains inspired by and grateful for the KWA community, which encourages him to explore the magic of storytelling.

“Their vision is to unite and equip Christian writers to impact culture for the glory of God,” Keys said. “I think that’s so important because in my personal story I thought I was the only one until I met everyone else. And that was years ago. Since then this thing has expanded globally. There are chapters around the country, around the world.” 

“I think that’s so important, because in my personal story I thought I was the only one until I met everyone else. And that was years ago. Since then this thing has expanded globally.”

“Some are small, some are big. But the common theme of them all is we have writers who are writing together. Just as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would do — encouraging one another, sharing ideas, critiquing each other’s stories, and ultimately being able to put out excellent stories that communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to the world that desperately needs it right now.”

Sean Woodard (PLNU '14) is an educator and film scholar. He is currently pursuing an English PhD at University of Texas at Arlington. As a journalist, he has served as an editor, writer, and columnist for multiple publications. Sean's poetry, fiction, and other writing can be found here: