Today we have an interview with Australian writer Christine Dillon, who serves as a missionary in Taiwan. Christine has recently published her second novel, Grace in the Shadows. Welcome, Christine!
How did you get started in writing?I am not one of those who always longed to write. Perhaps I was more aware how hard it would be and the cost in terms of loss of privacy … My writing journey started with non-fiction since people kept asking me for training in the areas of 1-2-1 discipleship and Bible storytelling. Writing books on the topic enabled me to get a message out there.
I would never have believed that one day I’d write fiction. I knew it was way beyond me and I had no desire to put in the hard work needed. However, it seems God had other ideas. He dropped the ideas for two novels into my head during a prayer day back in about 2007.
I said, “No Lord” (two words that should never be put together but often are) and then, “If that idea was from you, you’re going to have to push me and give me all the help I need.” The strong push came in 2013 and it took me four years to publish my first novel.
Four years for the first novel and only ten months for the second? Why the difference in time?For the first novel I had so much to learn: how to write dialogue, how to put more emotion in to the story, the list was endless. It was like conquering Everest. First, I wrote two practice novels, biblical fiction which allowed me to use my Bible storytelling skills. Then it was a long first draft and so many edits. In the end I needed two editors. Both coached me in different aspects.
The result was that book two was much easier as there were so many things I didn’t need to relearn. The first draft was already up to the standard that the first book had taken more than three years to achieve.
Did you intend to write a series?
I believed I was writing a standalone novel. That was probably God’s grace to me as I might have given up if I’d thought there was more than one. About three years into the process, I began to have ideas for a follow-up book. Then four months before publication my editor said, “This is one and a half books, not a single story.” That was hard to handle so late in the process. I asked her to explain her reasons, took a few days to think and pray, chopped off the last third of the book and wrote a new conclusion. That meant some material was already written for book two.
Later, when I talked with the editor about books two and three, more stories presented themselves. It is now possible there might be seven stories. I definitely don’t want more than that as I want to write some biblical fiction.
Who influenced your fiction?C.S. Lewis has impacted so many authors. For me it was not just the beauty of some of his stories but that he wrote ‘life changing’ fiction. I had no desire to merely write nice stories, there had to be purpose in them. My purpose is to inspire people to follow Jesus and live transformed lives.
Another author who writes this kind of fiction is Francine Rivers. Her book, ‘Sons of Encouragement’ was the final push God used to get me started writing fiction. I love the way she tackles contemporary issues like divorce, abortion …
Randy Alcorn’s ‘Safely Home’ was also a major influence. I wanted to move the emotions like his book did. I cried the final one third of his book.
Why do you write?The simple answer is because God forced me to write.
The more complex would be that having read much Christian fiction I was concerned about certain trends I saw. One was a sugar-coating of the realities of life. A sort of Christianised version of fairy tales that end with ‘happily ever after.’ That is what our heart desires but so much of life is not like that or at least not in the sense we’re expecting.
I wanted to write books that breathed the right kind of hope into real life. Real books about people who grow to maturity and find that God is more than able to satisfy us and provide for us. Books that point us to Jesus and inspire us to make a difference for eternity.
I also didn’t want the Christianity tacked on to the story but to have people with real problems struggling through what it means to follow and share Jesus in a broken world. If the books weren’t going to ‘multiply disciples one story at a time’ then they weren’t worth my time to write. I have far too many more important things to do. Whatever I do with the little time that humans are given it must be to work for the only Kingdom that lasts.
Who are your favourite Christian fiction authors?
- Randy Alcorn, especially his novel, ‘Safely Home'.
- Deborah Raney for her contemporary ‘issues-based’ fiction (aka women’s fiction).
- Brenda S Anderson, who also writes women’s fiction.
- Francine Rivers, who writes biblical and contemporary.
- Tessa Afshar for Biblical fiction
- CC Warrens for suspense
What is your process?Like most authors I’m slowly working this out. My initial planning was done using the ‘Snowflake’ method which I discovered online. After reading the book, 'Story Genius’ by Lisa Cron, I have made sure to write the first person scenes as step one. They are back story scenes of why a character has developed a misunderstanding about life. Some of these scenes get used in the final story.
At the moment I’m outlining by having different coloured cards for the different characters and spreading them out on a table. Each card only contains one scene (which I use as chapters). There needs to be a crisis of some sort at the 25, 50 and 75% marks.
I’m planning on then working through each card and making sure I’m clear what is in each chapter and what it needs to achieve. Then I’ll start writing (not necessarily in chapter order). Sometimes I need to write an easier chapter first to warm up my writing so I can tackle harder chapters.
For my second novel, I made sure to set aside a chunk of time on nearly every Saturday morning (mornings are best for me). That regular time was fantastic and is why I managed to get the second novel out so quickly. I want to get back to that. I also used the fantastic Scrivener (a writing programme) to set word goals for myself each time. I initially aimed for 3000 words per day but worked up to 5000 words.
What has God taught you along the way?When God takes us on a journey he always has a purpose. I have learned so much about trusting him for strength and ability. So often I’d end up on my knees saying, “I can’t do it. Help!” He always provided the help I needed. Sometimes it is through beta readers, sometimes through a support team of three other writers, often through my two editors. It has been so encouraging to see how God directs me to the exact people who just ‘happen’ to have an area of expertise I need.
I have also learned to trust God for the timing of every stage. The first novel was delayed fifteen months. I look back and praise the Lord because I still had so much to learn and I would have released an inferior product if I’d ploughed on with my plans. If I hit a roadblock, I pray and ask others to pray (I have a wonderful band of supporters on my private ‘storytellerchristine’ group on Facebook) and eventually I can see why the roadblock was there.
I’ve really learned how important ‘team’ is. Every person involved in the team is a gift from God.
About Christine Dillon
Christine was a physiotherapist but now she writes ‘storyteller’ on any airport forms. She can legitimately claim to be this as she has written a book on storytelling and spends much of her time either telling Bible stories or training others to do so from her base in southern Taiwan.
In her spare time Christine loves all things active – hiking, cycling, swimming, snorkeling. But she also likes reading and genealogical research, as that satisfies her desire to be an historical detective.
You can find Christine online at:
www.storyingthescriptures.com (for Bible storytelling)
About Grace in Strange Disguise
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?
About Grace in the ShadowsPhysiotherapist Esther has survived cancer, but wounds within her family remain unhealed. Is her revived faith the reason for the rift or could a simmering secret be the root cause?
Cosmetics consultant Rachel buried her past - and her father’s God - but the past refuses to stay buried. Will she continue to run or is confronting her pain the way to freedom?
One collision course with truth.
Can God’s grace shine even in the darkest of shadows?