Today I’m interviewing author (and editing client) Christine Dillon. Christine has recently released her second novel, Grace in the Shadows, and is currently working on the sequel.
First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
This is always a tricky question for me. I’m Australian but I grew up in Asia, as my parents were missionaries. Since 1999 I’ve also spent 80% of my time in Taiwan working with the same organisation as my parents. To my delight, I recently discovered that I’m also a New Zealand citizen.
Yay! It’s always good to meet and interview a fellow Kiwi, no matter how remote the connection.
About Your Books
What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?
I have three published non-fiction books on discipleship (2009) and Bible storytelling (2012, 2017) and two contemporary Christian fiction novels. The stories are set in the mid to late 1990’s in Sydney, Australia.
What was your motivation for writing Grace in Strange Disguise and Grace in the Shadows?
As I discipled people in Taiwan and Australia I saw a widespread problem. So many people want to follow a God who blesses us on our own terms. But what if we feel disappointed with Him? What if we can’t see the blessing? I wanted to write about this whole issue of what is God there for?
I also saw some ‘lacks’ in Christian fiction. One was that there were too many ‘happily ever after stories’. I wanted to write fiction that was about obedience and submission to Jesus no matter what happened. I also wanted stories that were thoroughly Christian in the way that characters not only thought about issues but also shared Jesus with others. I don’t want to read books that tack the Christianity on top. I’d prefer those kind of books to not mention Christianity at all.
Lastly, I wanted to write fiction that was life changing. Fiction that spurred readers on to follow Jesus with more and more passion. Fiction that made a difference. Having seen the power of Bible stories, I knew that fiction was important. It’s another medium to impact lives.
I think a lot of people start writing novels because they want to read fiction with more “x” or less “y”. We’re all individuals, so fiction speaks to us all in different ways. As you say, it’s another medium to impact lives.
Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?
I never planned to write fiction as I was aware that it would be well beyond my abilities. But God seems to have had other ideas and thankfully it is not beyond his. The main idea for the story ‘downloaded’ (this is what it felt like) into my mind during a prayer day as far back as 2007. I put it on hold saying, “You’re going to have to push me to do this and give me the ability.”
Never say anything is beyond our abilities!
The push came in 2012 when I was reading a Francine Rivers set of novellas called ‘Sons of Encouragement’. Again the idea was clear in my head, “You’re a Bible storyteller. Write a biblical novel to practice writing fiction.” So I started immediately. The two practice stories I wrote are ones I hope to get back to soon. In 2013, I started on the ‘real thing’. Initially I thought it was a stand alone novel until told, “This isn’t one story, its one and a half.” When I recovered from the shock, I decided I’d be writing a trilogy. But it’s grown again. I can now see six stories.
Francine Rivers has been a big influence because she tackles issues. I wanted my books to make a difference in people’s lives like hers have.
Two other influences have been C S Lewis (how many people have his books influenced?) especially the Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters, and Randy Alcorn. They write in different genres but they’re life changing. Their stories teach deep truths but wrapped in fiction. They move our emotions and change our worldview. That is what I’m aiming for.
I agree—the best fiction is the kind that makes us reconsider our worldview and bring us closer to Christ.
Who is your favourite character, and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?
I have quite a few favourites. Joy, who is a major secondary characters. The only thing we have in common is that we both speak Chinese. Naomi is also a favourite.
Josh and Dirk in book two. The only things we have in common is that we love Jesus and I’ve worked in a plant nursery before. Dirk is modelled on two men I admire – one was the boss of a plant nursery. I’ve also started to have fun naming people after various friends or names that my readers have chosen.
The character most like myself is Esther. We both like hiking and she’s a physiotherapist because that was something I felt confident writing about. The timing of the stories is quite deliberate because I wasn’t confident to write about physiotherapy after the date that I worked in hospitals. The hospital in my mind for her workplace is where I worked (although bits of it are made up). I prefer to work with real locations and then adapt from there.
I deliberately made Esther unlike myself in key areas so that people wouldn’t think she was me. I think she likes swing dancing and coffee. Too uncoordinated for one and not a fan of the other.
Will there be a sequel? When can readers expect to see this?
I am working on the third novel now and hope that it will be out by August 2019. There may be three more stories in this series. After that, I would love to write something different and am thinking of biblical fiction which would tie in nicely with my Bible storytelling ministry.
I know a few readers who will be glad to hear that!
About Your Writing
How long did it take between starting to write Grace in Strange Disguise and publishing it? What about Grace in the Shadows?
The first novel took four and a half years. That’s not unusual. I first had to learn to plot and then to write. Along the way I had huge numbers of things to learn in terms of marketing, setting up a website … it felt like doing several university degrees concurrently.
The second book only took about ten months. That was both because I already had material left over from the first book (although it had to be rewritten) and because I’d improved so much. I also had my team in place in terms of editors, beta readers and proofreaders. Everything ran more smoothly and I’m beginning to find my rhythm.
What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?
Everything is hard! A novelist has to have huge courage (to cope with the inevitable criticism) and determination to simply keep going. If I have to choose, I think the first draft is the most difficult. There are parts in the latter part of editing that I enjoy. The parts where I’m reading it out loud to catch errors and poor rhythms. That part is satisfying because it is taking something good and polishing it to high gloss.
What made you choose to self-publish?
Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted or lazy. There is a HUGE amount to master especially in the areas of writing and finding good editors (I was blessed to find my ‘perfect matches’ the first time around but that was the result of prayer), marketing (an area most authors find difficult), and business.
Having been twice traditionally published I had some experience of the book industry. I wanted the freedom to set prices, give away books if I wanted … most of the time I’m loving it. Yes, I’ve probably sacrificed in sales at the beginning but the reviews have been good and word of mouth recommendation is spreading.
I have no time pressures except the ones I set myself. I’m someone with plenty of initiative and discipline and self-publishing suits me. I would not enjoy the pressure of a three book contract. My daily life is too busy for that and I regard the rest of my ministry/work as more important than writing.
I also love being able to choose the kind of stories I write and not be forced to stick to one genre.
What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?
- Find a community who can help and support you. You’ll need it. I found mine with various Facebook groups – Australasian Christian Writers, Christian Writers Downunder and also Christian Indie Authors (much broader in terms of where authors are from). I also have a group of three other authors who can kick me or hug me (in my case virtually via the internet).
- Work on your humility and also become confident about who you are in Christ. You must be able to cope with people tearing your work apart. Most of them do it out of love for you and it is much better to let them do it before you send your baby out into the big wide world. Make sure your motivations are for the glory of Jesus. Poor and selfish motives will only cause loads of pain.
- Take things much more slower than your heart wants. The worst thing you can do is to publish too early and release an inferior product. I don’t want to run ahead of God’s speed. This is another reason I prefer to self-publish, so I can pray about the timing.
Great tips—thank you!
You have created your own book trailers. How hard was this? Was it worth doing?
It was impossible until someone on the Christian Indie authors group directed me to a free online company called Lumen 5. After that it was a matter of drag and drop as all the copyright images and music are already there. You can also add your own photos and music.
I hear you’re currently in the process of recording audiobook versions of both your novels. What made you decide to produce an audiobook, and record it yourself? How is the process going?
I am literally in the first week of attempting this. I’ve recorded and edited two chapters. Only forty something to go for book one. Then book two.
Audiobooks are a hugely expanding market. It makes sense to have books available in as many formats as possible to suit different kinds of buyers – digital books, print and now audio.
I was praying for someone to help me get started as I don’t have much confidence with technology and it was yet another new thing for me to learn. God has provided someone with a studio and the equipment a five-minute walk away. I can go there in the afternoons and do a few hours recording.
There are excellent resources online to teach you how to do it (which I’ve added onto my ‘self publishing’ board on Pinterest). Pinterest is my filing system for articles related to writing/marketing …
Please feel free to add some information about yourself (e.g. website, purchasing links, book trailer links) to the end of the post.
Thank you for joining us today, Christine! Readers, if you want to find out more about Christine, check her out online at:
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