Today I’m delighted to welcome author Christine Dillon, to share about the release of her debut novel, Grace in Strange Disguise. Full disclosure: I edited Grace in Strange Disguise, so of course I think it’s excellent.
Christine never intended to become an author. If she ever thought about writing it was to wonder if she might write a missionary biography. So it was a surprise to her to write poetry, non-fiction and now be working on a novel.
Christine has worked in Taiwan, with OMF International, since 1999. It’s best not to ask Christine, “Where are you from?” She’s a missionary kid who isn’t sure if she should say her passport country (Australia) or her Dad’s country (New Zealand) or where she’s spent most of her life (Asia – Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines).
Christine used to be a physiotherapist, but now writes ‘storyteller’ on airport forms. She has written a book on storytelling and spends her time either telling Bible stories or training others to do so.
In her spare time, Christine loves all things active – hiking, cycling, swimming, snorkelling. But she also likes reading and genealogical research, as that satisfies her desire to be an historical detective.
Welcome, Christine! We’ll start off with some quick questions so we get to know you a little better.
What is your favourite fruit?
That’s showing your tropical upbringing!
Which is your favourite season?
I love all seasons but winter. Spring for flowers and promise of summer, summer for clear skies and temperatures and autumn for crisp air and colours.
Where is your favourite place?
Anywhere in NZ’s great outdoors or Taroko Gorge in Taiwan or a valley in Malaysia where I went to primary school.
What is your favourite Bible verse?
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 God uses the weak … so that no one can boast before him. If I feel weak (which I do) then I qualify to be used by God.
I love that!
What’s something funny or quirky that not many people know about you?
I still collect stamps (NZ,UK, Australia) which is a hobby that doesn’t usually continue into adulthood.
My husband, father, and father-in-law all collect stamps. I preferred coins, especially as reminders of places I’ve travelled.
Now, let’s talk about your book, Grace in Strange Disguise. Here’s the description off the back cover:
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?
What inspired the plot of Grace in Strange Disguise?
I never intended to write fiction but while I was having a prayer day, the idea for two novels dropped in to my head. It took more than six years before I wrote two practice novels and then dared to start working on the first of the two original ideas.
Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
I’m not much of one to play favourites. I like Joy and Naomi because they’ve been through a lot but shine like refined gold. I like Rob Boyle and Paul Webster because they’re like so many non-Christian Australian men, using humour to avoid confronting Jesus. I had fun writing their dialogue. I have had many conversations like the ones in the book with Australian men.
I think Kiwi men are much the same. They only get really passionate and demonstrative when it comes to sport (especially when the All Blacks play the Wallabies).
Esther took a while for me to like because it isn’t easy to write the first part of a person’s journey when they are not mature. By the end of the book, I’d love to be her friend and sit around talking about the Bible with her, Gina, Joy and Naomi.
But novels are about personal growth, and that was Esther’s challenge.
Esther’s father and fiancé both have some misguided ideas about Christianity. How common are such ideas in the modern church?
Far too common. Many Christians don’t realise how strongly they’re influenced by the world around them – via media or what others say. What the Bible says can be drowned out. Knowing our Bibles takes hard work and so much of it is contrary to what we naturally think. For example, it feels so ‘natural’ to hold grudges rather than to forgive.
I constantly hear people say things that suggest that they really think that God should make their lives smooth or that he somehow owes them. One context that you hear these ideas is if you have ill health or a disabled child. Even Christians will suggest, “what have you done to deserve this.” Many people within the church are closet ‘Buddhists’ in that they really believe (deep down, like Job’s friends) the law of Karma is true (if you do good, good will happen and vice versa).
Is there a particular theme or message in Grace in Strange Disguise?
The title gives us one of the themes but you’ll have to read the book to work out how many of the characters the title is linked with. I’m aware of at least four, and there’ll be more in books two and three.
Grace in Strange Disguise raises ideas of what is God there for? What are his purposes for us? Why doesn’t he always answer our prayers in the way we want?
Will there be a sequel to Grace in Strange Disguise? What can you tell us about it?
Yes, at the moment I can see two more books. Iola, you’re largely responsible for this because you were the one who told me my ‘standalone’ book was really one and a half books.
Yeah … #SorryNotSorry. I think this version of Grace in Strange Disguise is much stronger than the first version I read, and I’m looking forward to the completed second book!
I’m only in the planning stages so I’m not ready to say too much. The best way to keep up-to-date is to become a ‘storyteller friend’ (subscriber) and/or join the Facebook group – storytellerchristine.
One of my favourite characters in Grace in Strange Disguise is Joy. Is she based on a real person?
Not really. But she is an amalgam of the people I’ve read about in biographies of Chinese Christians. People who stand firm for their faith no matter the cost. I wanted to have an Asian believer because I’ve lived and work as a church planter in Taiwan since 1999. I want my books to be broader than simply one people group. So the book reflects the backgrounds of many Australians in that we have people of Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Indian and Italian backgrounds.
New Zealand is a similar melting pot of cultures, although we have fewer Irish and Italians. We have a lot of Koreans in my city, which means we have some excellent Asian restaurants!
Joy tells stories taken from the Bible. What’s the story behind that?
In 2004, I was introduced to Bible storytelling. Once I got over my initial prejudices against it, I discovered a tool that I’ve used nearly every day since. My life and ministry is filled with telling Bible stories to people of all ages and nationalities, and training others in this tool. Joy’s use of stories gives me an opportunity to show people how to set up opportunities and to use it naturally in everyday life. Visit www.storyingthescriptures.com for more information.
What do you find is the easiest part of the writing and publishing process? What’s the hardest?
I find it different with non-fiction and fiction. For me the easiest for non-fiction was the planning and the hardest the editing.
For fiction, formatting proved to be the easiest because I use Vellum. It only takes about an hour.
Hardest was the planning process. However, if I do it correctly, then the writing should be much easier and the editing process should also be shorter (and cheaper).
What impact does your faith have on your writing?
I wouldn’t even have started writing if I hadn’t been convinced that God was asking me to do it. The journey is too hard unless you’re called to it.
There have been many times I wanted to quit and God has provided the perseverance or sent someone to encourage me or alerted me to a resource that will help me. You are one of those answers to my prayer.
Thank you! It’s been a pleasure working with you, and I’ve learned a lot from you as well.
What’s your favourite fiction genre, and why?
This is hard to answer. I like historical where I learn something. I also like thriller and mystery, but don’t think I’m clever enough to write them. I also like Christian fiction that deals with issues that we all face and that inspires me to follow Jesus more closely.
I think that’s the hardest kind of Christian fiction to write, but it’s certainly the most rewarding to read.
What book (or books) are you currently reading?
This changes rapidly at the moment and for the last nine months I’ve been reading Christian fiction, trying to understand the world I’m entering. I’m about to read my first Catherine West and Charles Martin. Both are Christian authors that have been highly recommended.
I know you only give five-star reviews to books you believe are impact into eternity. What are five Christian fiction books you’d place in this category?
* A Long Highway Home (Elizabeth Musser)
* Safely Home (Randy Alcorn)
* When the Shofar Blew and the Mark of the Lion trilogy (Francine Rivers)
* Screwtape Letters and the Narnia series (CS Lewis)
I haven’t yet read Safely Home, but I’ve read all the others and agree 100%.
Where can we find Grace in Strange Disguise online?
Where can we find you online?
Thank you, Christine! It’s been great to learn more about Grace in Strange Disguise.