By Iola Goulton
Today I’m doing something a little different: an author interview. Christine Dillon is an Australian author who is a member of ACFW’s Beyond the Borders group. Christine has just released her debut novel, Grace in Strange Disguise.
Hi, Christine. Please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?I’m an Australian who grew up in Asia. My parents were missionaries and I lived in Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines until I was seventeen. The last two countries were where I went to school.
I returned to Australia to complete high school and then studied physiotherapy and worked in that field for four years before attending Sydney Missionary and Bible College. I returned to Taiwan in 1999 with OMF and have worked here ever since.
You already have two non-fiction books published. What can you tell us about them?
1-2-1 Discipleship was published by Christian Focus (Scotland) in 2009. I really wrote this for myself as a way of having things written down so that I didn’t have to keep teaching the whole book with everyone who asked me questions. I hadn’t intended to publish it at all but I was working with someone on a small project and she had publishing contacts and found a publisher.
Telling the Gospel Through Story: Evangelism that keeps hearers wanting more was published by Intervarsity Press in the US. I had applied to IVP-UK for the first book as my first choice publisher but hadn’t realised that the US branch was a separate publisher. I wrote this book after being asked to deliver a seminar on Bible storytelling at the Lausanne Convention in Cape Town in 2010. When we came up with the seminar topic ‘Evangelism Everyone Enjoys’ I thought ‘that’s a book title.’
I wrote the draft before the convention and ‘happened’ to meet my eventual editor (I didn’t know he worked for IVP) so that when my manuscript passed over his desk he remembered me enough to look at it. I was surprised that IVP published it as I didn’t think it was their kind of book. But it has been a wonderful partnership with good sales (for a non-fiction Christian book from an unknown, female author).
What inspired you to move from non-fiction to fiction?I’m a Bible storyteller and every day I’m telling stories to non-Christians or to disciple and train Christians. It wasn’t a huge jump from seeing the power of Bible stories to wonder if a novel might be another way to ‘make disciples’. The question wasn’t whether it was a good idea but whether I would ever have the ability to write fiction.
Tell us about Grace in Strange Disguise. What genre is it? Who will enjoy it?It’s contemporary Christian fiction set in 1995 in Sydney, Australia. Readers of Francine Rivers, Elizabeth Musser and Deborah Raney should enjoy it. And those who like a novel that wrestles with a contemporary issue and how to live as Christians in a secular world.
So many books are ‘happily ever after’. Where are the books about Christian singles honouring the Lord in singleness?
I also wanted to tackle an issue that comes up over and over in discipleship - what is God there for? Is he supposed to make our lives smooth and happy?
Finally, I wanted to model sharing Jesus in our daily lives. A lot of the ‘evangelism’ I see in Christian fiction is either lacking or cringeworthy. As someone who trains people in evangelism I thought it would be good to model evangelism (and being trained in it) in fiction.
Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?The main character came directly from the original prayer time. For this first novel I stuck with a career and time I was familiar with - hence 1995, Sydney and a physiotherapist, since that my work context. William was the second character.
Once the first two characters were in place, the others fit in around them. One of my beta readers suggested the character of Gina. I was keen to have characters who mirrored some of the ethnic backgrounds of Australians.
Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?I like the main character once she begins to mature. Probably because she loves learning and grows to love sharing about Jesus. That last part is in common with me. I was a physiotherapist and do love hiking but I don’t like dancing and am grateful that my parents are nothing like hers.
What is your next project?I’m working on another non-fiction to do with Bible storytelling. It will be a ‘permanently free’ reader magnet to advertise my other writing. That should be online very soon.
I’ve started the planning (using the ‘Story Genius’ method) for the sequel to Grace in Strange Disguise. I would like to have it published a year after the first - October 2018. I only have a half day to write each week and so need to keep moving on that.
How is self-publishing different from working with a publisher? What made you choose the self-publishing option for Grace in Strange Disguise?Self-publishing requires you to do or organise everything. I’ve never been a business person or marketer and so that has been hard. I’m also not strong on technology. A year ago, I didn’t know what a plugin was, now I’m regularly adding new ones to my website. I’m thankful for the many resources online including groups where self-publishers share their expertise.
I was sort of forced into self-publishing because I didn’t find an agent. I was disappointed at the time but the more I researched self-publishing the more I was excited about it. There were some good things about traditional publishing but I’m loving self-publishing now that I’ve got the hang of it. I’ve worked hard to learn as much as possible but I’m also content with what the Lord brings about. It has been his idea from the start.
One thing I’ve learned is that the publication process takes a long time. Can you walk us through the process, and show us why it takes so long?Learning to write well takes a long time. Most of us can’t judge our own writing. So we need to subject it to beta readers and editors. Then, if people are honest, you discover you have a long way to go. So you read books and attend seminars and tear your work apart … this can take years (fiction was a much longer learning process for me).
Then when the manuscript is finally ready (may have taken from 1-10 years!), then you have to find a publisher (or most often nowadays, an agent). I don’t really know about how to work for an agent because I’ve only had unofficial ones. But they start searching for the right publisher for your work. That takes time.
Then if you find a publisher or self-publish - it’s on to edits. Some you do yourself and some a professional editor points out what you need to change. Editing can take up to 18 months. Along the way title and cover are being worked on.
You’re also learning to run a website, market, grow an email list and building networks for both writing related things and support networks. If you are accepted by a traditional publisher it is still usually 15-18 months before your book comes out.
For self-publishing, once you’ve learned to write and found editors you can work with … the process can become much faster.
What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?It’s all hard especially the first time. It was a massive change to start writing fiction. It took 4 1/2 years and many rounds of editing. However, I hope that it will be much easier next time and hopefully a much shorter process.
Perhaps I’d have to say that marketing has been the hardest. It is the most ‘foreign’ to me and promoting myself is something I find extremely difficult as a Christian, a missionary and an Australian (we find self-promotion hard because it is frowned upon in our culture). I am slowly learning how to do it but I don’t expect it to ever be easy.
What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?Take your time. It needs to be right the first time because if we do a poor job, they’ll be hard to sell and people will be less inclined to bother the second time. So early on needs lots of prayer (is this something that God wants us to do or is it more about us?), lots of reading books on how to plan and write. Ask authors which are the top few books and resources they recommend. Be humble and learn from others. Other writers can be incredibly generous and helpful.
Make sure you research and get help to make the best possible website. It takes time to build a group of supporters. It is never too early to start.
Along the way find out all you can about social media, marketing, building an email list … a huge benefit of a writers group is that they can point you in the right direction. There is no need (and no advantage) to going it alone.
Where can we find Grace in Strange Disguise online?
Where can we find you online?
And a giveaway! Christine and I have one Kindle copy of Grace in Strange Disguise to give away. Click here to find the giveaway entry page.