Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m excited to have author Christine Dillon as my guest! She is a missionary in the Taiwan- and is Australian. I have a sister-in-law and nephew who are Australian, and had the absolute joy and pleasure of speaking at the Omega Christian Writers Conference in Sydney last year. Australia and the people there have a very special place in my heart. Please enjoy Christine’s interview as much as I did – it is full of wisdom and grace.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m Australian but have spent the majority of my life in Asia. First, as a child because my parents were missionaries in Taiwan. In those days, that meant boarding school in Malaysia and the Philippines. I wouldn’t exchange my background for anything.
I returned to Australia for my final two years of high school so I could get into Australian university. I studied physiotherapy, hence my heroine being a physiotherapist and also setting the book in 1995 when I was still familiar with the hospital scene.
I loved my work and it taught me how to talk to strangers and connect with people. I had many opportunities to be ‘salt and light’. But from the age of 7, I’d wanted to be a missionary. All my choices in life were made in light of that goal. After working 4 years I had the privilege of attending Sydney Missionary & Bible College and then joined OMF and came to Taiwan in 1999. I am a church planter which essentially means introducing people and their families to Jesus. We do it by telling Bible stories. I’m also involved in training others in evangelism, discipleship and storytelling. This gives me the opportunity to travel, which I love.
I started writing non-fiction in 2002 although I wasn’t published until 2009.
What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? The non-fiction was mostly laziness. It became easier to write a book than to keep training people one on one and answering their questions.
I’m an extremely reluctant novelist and had never considered such a thing. About 10 years ago, while I was having a ministry related prayer day two ideas for novels dropped into my head. I was horrified but I reasoned that if the idea truly was from God then it was His job not only to push me to do it but to give me the ability.
Over the next five years, the sense of urgency to write grew. In 2012, I was staying with a friend in the Philippines and read a Biblical novel. Again, crystal clear the idea came, “That’s how you write a novel. You’re a Bible storyteller, go and write a biblical novel as practice.” So I sat down and did the research for a novel on Samuel. I loved the biblical research and the thinking/planning but the actual writing was hard work.
I wrote two Biblical novels as practice before I dared to go ahead and plan what I regarded as the ‘real thing’. It’s taken over four years of hard work. At each stage, something or someone has come along to show me the next stage and how to improve things.
Tell us about your current release: Grace in Strange Disguise is book one of a contemporary Christian fiction series which now looks like being five books. It is based in Sydney, Australia.
Physiotherapist Esther Macdonald is living the Australian dream, and it doesn’t surprise her. After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when He doesn’t? Has she offended God? Is her faith too small? So many conflicting explanations. Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? Enid Blyton for magic and adventure especially the ‘adventure’ series (‘Castle, Island, Circus …). LM Montgomery – Anne and Emily books and especially Blue Castle in my teens. Silver Brumby – Elaine Mitchell (Australian series about wild horses)
What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? Over the last two years I’ve been devouring Christian fiction. Much of it concerns me because it subtly buys into the idea that God is there to make our lives smooth. I want to see stories in which non-aristocrats feature (for historicals). Stories about single people and widows which don’t end with “and they married and lived happily ever after.”
I only give 5 star reviews now to books I consider ‘impact eternity’ and there are far too few of them. Books that make me weep and inspire me to follow Jesus whatever the cost. Books where people live a Christlike life whether or not it is easy.
How did you determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? In the end I think God pushed me to self-publish. I had lots of misunderstandings about it – confusing it with vanity publishing. This is quite a common misunderstanding. I’d already had two non-fiction books published by two traditional publishers. That was what I was familiar with. However, most doors to traditional publishers are closed. Instead, you have to find an agent. I made my own list of agents and in the end only had six I was interested in. But I applied too early in the process and so was refused (fair enough as my writing wasn’t nearly as good as I’d thought it was).
With those doors slammed, I began to investigate self-publishing. The more I found out, the more I thought, “I think this is for me.” I’d learned a lot about the publishing industry by then and there were many podcasts online.
It was a huge amount to learn and I’m fairly poor at marketing, technology and business but I’m much better at trawling through information and I learn fairly fast. I’m not relying on sales to eat, so that gives me some freedom.
Three months in, I’m delighted I self-published. It’s much harder at the beginning but I think it will get easier.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
- Pray a lot first and make sure the idea is really from God. The process is too hard unless you are have the Lord with you.
- Check your motives for writing – if they are self-centred that it is only going to lead to pain. Our motivation must be for God’s glory as there will be many temptations along the way.
- Take your time – make sure the timing for publication is God’s timing. I had to delay 15 months after my original deadline. If I had published earlier the book would have been a disaster. I had to learn to write and that took a lot more time than I’d expected.
- Pray at every step of the way that God will give you a team. I am so grateful for finding excellent editors at the beginning and for my cover designer. But there are also many others who God has found for me – some excellent proofreaders, some advocates who mention my book to their friends.
- Find a community. For me that has been through Facebook groups for Australian authors and Christian Indie Authors. Plus, I’ve found a group of 3 other Australian authors and we encourage each other and share resources.
How did you make the initial step into writing your first novel. What were some of your major roadblocks and how did you overcome them? Once God had pushed me to do so, to me it was a matter of obedience. I planned using something called the ‘Snowflake’ method and I started writing.
My attitude – I prayed about it and submitted believing that joy would come from obedience. It’s taken 3 years but this last year I’ve started to enjoy this new direction.
Inability to write fiction – again I prayed every step of the way. If this was God’s idea then he had the responsibility to give me the ability to write and link me with the right resources. I found some Facebook writer’s groups and they recommended many good books…to improve my writing.
Being weak in business, marketing – It just has to be learned and there are many free podcasts and resources there to help you. I am grateful that my journey before this first novel was a long one. It needed to be because there was so much to learn.
Being weak on the technology like designing websites, learning to use MailerLite ….again I’ve prayed and asked people for help. God has provided every step of the way.
Pride – an author has to be humble to do a good job because our work must be submitted to critique and some of it is harsh. We have to have our eyes focused on what Jesus thinks and not allow people’s opinions to make us go up and down emotionally. Writing for anyone other than Jesus will be painful.
The length of time it takes to learn. I delayed publication a few times and am glad I did. Marketing-wise it makes sense to have 2-3 books ready to publish relatively close together.
Who do you envision your typical reader to be? Most likely a woman (or mature teen) between 15-80 who loves a story which tackles serious issues. Someone who wants to grow in Christ. I have been encouraged how many middle-aged and older men have also been enthusiastic about the book.
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