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Athol Dickson

The Advocate

Athol Dickson Interview

by C.J. Darlington

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"Many people believe a Christian can’t help writing from a worldview that is Christian, therefore every novel such a person writes will always be a form of Christian fiction. I think that’s probably true." -- Athol Dickson

Athol Dickson is the publisher of the popular news website, DailyCristo.com, and the author of seven novels and the bestselling memoir, The Gospel according to Moses. His novels of suspense and magical realism have been honored with three Christy Awards and an Audie Award, and compared to the work of Octavia Butler (by Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (by The New York Times). He and his wife live in Southern California.

What spurred you to re-release your four novels River Rising, The Cure, Winter Haven, and They Shall See God as e-books?

One reason is because I can. The rights to all four novels have reverted back to me, and we have wonderful new publishing possibilities with the Internet and electronic readers, so it just seems natural to get these stories back out into the world where they belong. Another reason is a sense I’ve had all along that these novels have not yet reached everyone who would love to read them. Now there’s another chance.

Could you share with us the process you went through to bring these books out yourself?

That’s mostly a boring story, the nuts and bolts details that go on behind the scenes. The business stuff is just what I have to do to get to the creative part, which is what I love. But I did have lots of fun working with designers for the new covers. We’ve also worked up a new website, a newsletter which will have links to the latest about upcoming new novels and links to some of my favorite blog posts, plus a new Facebook fan page. I’m very excited about all those opportunities to connect more directly with my fans. And of course I had a chance to go back over these four stories again to polish them a little more, and to write new introductions.

The CureHow much were the novels edited, and how much new material can we expect in the updated versions?

Each novel will include a brand new introduction, or “author’s note,” where I’ll share some details about the stories, what they mean to me, how I thought of them, that kind of thing. And because it’s now technically possible to do this with electronic editions, I’m going through each novel to fine tune the language and correct any mistakes I can find in the first editions. I’m not making changes to the stories themselves—no new endings or anything like that—but readers may notice subtle differences in the phrasings and word choices here and there. They’ll just be better written than ever, because of the additional experience and practice that has improved my writing skills since these novels first came out.

Of the four, which is the most special to you, and why?

It will sound like dodging the question, but in truth all four of them have their own special places in my heart. Each one explores ideas and issues that matter a great deal, and characters came to life in each of them that still live with me today. To pick any one of them as more special than the others would be like doing that with one’s children. It’s just not possible.

Why do you believe in the ebook revolution?

Before, it took six to twelve months to get a book to print after it was finished. Now, it can happen in a week. Also, before if there was a serious typo, you were stuck with it, at least until the full print run had been sold. Now, you can fix it right away. Did you know Stephen King has a link on his website where readers can report typos? I’m thinking of adding one to mine. And I like it that the ease of electronic publication has opened the field to many authors who probably would not have made it past the gatekeepers under the traditional publishing model. We’ve always known there had to be great novels out there which remained undiscovered simply because the old publication and sale method was so slow and limited. Publishing houses printed as many as they could, but there were only so many employees available to make it happen, and there was only so much shelf space in the stores. River RisingNow those limits are all gone. Anyone can publish electronically, and display space on the Internet is limitless. That is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because all those great undiscovered novels are finally available to readers. A curse, because a lot of truly awful novels are also now out there. So how do we find the good ones in the middle of all the bad? There’s still going to be a huge luck factor, as there always was. But at least now the final decision makers are the entire reading public, rather than just a few professional editors in New York. Some established authors and editors think the good work will be lost in the sea of mediocrity. I disagree. I think quality will out.

How would you describe your writing style to someone who hasn’t yet read your books?

Before anything, I write exciting stories. Readers tell me the novels are very hard to put down, and often keep them up at night turning page after just one more page. But readers also tell me they sometimes put my novels down on purpose, in order to stop and think about what they just read. That’s what makes my work unique, I think. The stories are tons of fun, but they’re also filled with interesting things worth thinking about. And never are they preachy in the slightest. I work extremely hard to avoid that. More than one atheist has written to say they picked up one of my novels without realizing it had a Christian theme, and when they realized what it was they almost stopped reading but the writing and the story wouldn’t let them, and in the end they were glad they finished, because the story was so unique and fun and worth the read. I consider those letters some of my highest praise.

Would you call yourself a Christian fiction author or an author who is a Christian? Why?

This is a very timely question for me. In the past I’ve always had a theme in mind from the minute I sat down to write a novel. The relationship between doubt and faith—are they opposites? The relationship between love and miracles—can either exist without the other? Those kinds of things. But recently I started a novel with no consciously considered theme. It’s a test. Many people believe a Christian can’t help writing from a worldview that is Christian, therefore every novel such a person writes will always be a form of Christian fiction. I think that’s probably true. I’m going to find out, by just focusing on telling a great story this time, and letting the theme take care of itself. It should be interesting.

They Shall See GodBoats and the water are something you’re passionate about. Where did this love come from and how does it affect your writing (if it does)?

It’s just crazy how we’re wired, isn’t it? I know a guy who likes nothing better than to go to a railroad switching yard and watch the trains pass through. Other people love to collect ceramic trolls. How do you explain it? All I know is, ever since I was a little boy I’ve been fascinated with machines that move in water. Submarines, ships, rowboats and huge ships . . . it doesn’t matter. You know how lots of little girls like to sit around and draw horses, and little boys like to draw battle scenes? I always drew boats. Maybe it started with that old Disney motion picture based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Or maybe it was something else. All I know is I never get tired of boats or boating.

What’s the craziest/most exciting adventure you’ve experienced in your life on and around boats?

There have been a lot. Once my wife and I were crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and there was a storm front ahead, a wall of dark grey clouds that stretched straight across ahead from horizon to horizon. We could see lightning in it, but there was no other choice, so we plowed right in. The storm was sitting stationary on the ocean. We moved into it, rather than having it come over us. And it was so well defined you could almost sit there dead in the water with your bow getting wet while the stern was still dry. Amazing. Once we were in it was very dark and the winds were high, but we were in a well-found boat and didn’t worry much. It took about an hour to get through, and then out we popped on the other side. The sunlight was sure good to see! We cruised on about half an hour, then I stepped out onto the stern deck to look back, and from that angle I could see something that had not been apparent when we entered the storm from the other side: two funnel clouds standing there sucking water straight up from the ocean. Waterspouts, they call them, but they are tornados. If we had cruised too close to either one while we were in the storm they would have destroyed us, but we just sailed between them in blissful ignorance. I got a little weak in the knees, and then ducked back inside the pilothouse and kept on going.Winter Haven

Do you outline your books before you write or write by the seat of your pants?

I outline, with complications. Once I tried the total seat of the pants approach, but I got the characters into a situation and couldn’t figure out how they were going to get out. I had to re-write about half of that novel from scratch, totally from blank pages. A lot of time was lost, so I vowed never to do it again. But even with an outline I let the characters have a little flexibility as we go along, and sometimes they take the story in a different direction than I had in mind. If I can see a way for their plans to end well, I’ll follow them for a while instead of making them follow me. So it’s a little of both.

Anything else new in the pipeline for you?

Oh, yes. I’m wrapping up that novel I just mentioned, and planning to turn it into a new mystery series, called The Malcolm Cutter Memoirs. The lead character is so fascinating; he’s got at least a dozen stories in him. This guy was in the Marines for 20 years, and when he retired he went into the personal protection business (he’s a bodyguard). His specialty is Hollywood, driving for producers and movie stars and keeping them safe. Long story short: he ends up married to a major star, but they keep their marriage secret from most people because he hates the idea of being in the tabloids. She dies before the first novel opens and he inherits a fortune, but hardly anybody knows. And he doesn’t want them to know, because he loves working as a chauffeur and a bodyguard. So he decides to live in the guesthouse of the estate that he now owns, and use a property manager to rent out his mansion to people who think he’s their chauffeur although he’s actually their landlord. I’m so excited by this scenario . . . there’s just no limit to the great stories that can come out of it.

Portions of this interview first appeared as an article in the Aug/Sept 2012 issue of FamilyFiction Digital Magazine.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.