by C.J. Darlington
Mike Dellosso Interview
"I want my light to shine, not just in my life, but in my writing too. It doesn’t make the writing any easier, though. I can come up with all kinds of suspenseful, scary, thrilling storylines but inserting a faith message that is natural and believable isn’t always easy." -- Mike Dellosso
Mike Dellosso lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. A former newspaper correspondent and columnist, he has edited and contributed to numerous Christian Web sites. He received his BA from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity. His first novel, The Hunted, received many positive reviews. His second, Scream, is just hitting shelves.
C.J.: Mike, you’ve wanted to be a writer ever since you put pen to paper, but what was it that compelled you to write Christian fiction?
Mike: I am a Christian, a child of God. It’s my identity, who I am, and runs through me and everything I do just as much as blood coursing through my veins means I’m alive. There’s some debate about this and it really is a decision each writer needs to make, but when I decided to write I resolved up front to be a Christian author, not an author who happens to be a Christian. My relationship with God determines how I live my life in every other aspect, so why not writing as well?
Also, I see writing as a calling and, to some degree, a gift (and if the ability to write is not a gift in itself, than the opportunity to be published certainly is and is a serious responsibility). Personally, I feel it’d be rude of me not to use the gift God gave me to honor Him.
It’s been a wild ride for you so far! Your debut The Hunted received great reviews, and now Scream is here. In between you dealt with a devastating cancer diagnosis. And yet you’ve come out of that experience with renewed purpose. Tell us about that.
Yeah, the cancer diagnosis was devastating. I’m only 36 and never . . . ever . . . thought I’d get cancer. But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it? Well, two surgeries and eight months of chemotherapy later I can finally say the whole ordeal is behind me (I pray it is, anyway). And you know what? I have to say I’m thankful for it. I know it sounds weird being thankful for cancer and all its trimmings, but I’ve learned so much about myself, about others, and about God through this whole thing that I never would have learned otherwise. It proved to be an invaluable learning experience.
Also, going through something like cancer has a way of reminding one to live each day to its fullest and focus on those things that really matter. I want my writing to matter. I want it to touch people and change them. I want my stories to challenge the way people live and think. It doesn’t make the art of storytelling any easier but so much more worthwhile.
Life is short, make it count.
What originally sparked the idea for Scream?
That’s an interesting story. A few years back my wife’s grandfather died and to the best of our knowledge, sadly, he was not a believer. A couple weeks after the funeral my mother-in-law was talking to her mother on the phone when the call was suddenly interrupted by this chorus of screams. She said the only way she could describe it was that it sounded like what she would imagine hell to sound like. That gave me goosebumps . . . and a story idea. The screams occurred a couple more times during different calls then just stopped. We never did figure out where they came from. Weird.
In some ways I hear you feel like you’ve lived the message of this novel. How is that?
Scream is all about the brevity of life and imminence of death. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. This journey with cancer brought that truth up close and personal. Life can change on a dime and we need to know and be certain of our future and where we will spend eternity.
Another theme in the story is the reality of the Christian walk. It’s not some performance we must nail or mask we don when we’re around other Christians. It’s who we are, what we are, and should become part of our very DNA. While writing this story I was challenged to be real, honest, and transparent. To wear my Christianity on my sleeves.
What was the hardest and the easiest part about writing Scream?
The easiest part is always the action scenes. I love writing them. The pace, the intensity, the action, the suspense. I thrive on it.
The hardest part was capturing the horror behind the screams, the raw, gritty, reality that someone was going to die and go to a very real hell.
Over at your Wide-Eyed Fiction blog you’ve recently featured a series on handling tragedy. Could you boil down the basics of those posts for TitleTrakk.com readers?
Sure, I broke it down into six points (this is way oversimplified so keep that in mind):
1) Be honest with yourself and
with God when tragedy strikes . . . It’s
okay to be upset and hurt and confused. Admit it and take it to God. He
can handle our emotions. Really, He can.
2) Keep a right perspective . . . Remember we are only passing through this life. Any suffering we experience here on earth is temporary and nothing compared to the glory awaiting us in Heaven.
3) Focus on God’s promises . . . Take the focus off the trial and place it on the multitude of promises God give us in His Word.
4) Seek to bless others . . . This takes the focus off ourselves and challenges us to find ways to use our trial for something positive.
5) Look for the blessings . . . They’re there, really. Sometimes you have to look hard, but in every valley there are blessings to be found.
6) Reflect on how the tragedy has changed your life and use it for good . . . Change is almost always preceded by some trial. Let God use the tragedy to mold and shape you into the person He wants you to be and then use that to minister to others.
What are the 3 questions you ask yourself about your writing now and why do you ask them?
Are my characters and their motivation/dialogue/actions/reactions believable? Are my descriptions and similes/metaphors interesting and different? Does my story and the themes behind the story matter?
Why do I ask these? Simple. I want my writing to be fresh, descriptive, and engaging, and I want my stories to matter for something. To challenge, prompt, provoke, and connect with the reader.
Research. Love it or hate it when it comes to your novels?
Hate it. I do what I have to do to make the story as authentic and believable as possible, but I just want to write. For me, research is a necessary evil.
Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?
There’s a group of ladies I sometimes do multi-author signings with. It’s always an interesting time being the only guy. One time, one of the ladies leaned over and asked me to hand her her Vera Wang bag. I looked at her like she had two heads. Vera Wang? She finally said, “The blue one.” Oh, okay, I can do blue.
It’s important for your novels to all have a very strong faith message. Why is that?
As I stated before, when I started writing I resolved to be a Christian author and write Christian fiction. To me, that means including a faith message (I know some disagree and what makes Christian fiction “Christian” is a debate for another time . . . but one I welcome and think needs to take place). I keep thinking of that kid’s song about not hiding your light under a bushel but letting it shine. I want my light to shine, not just in my life, but in my writing too. It doesn’t make the writing any easier, though. I can come up with all kinds of suspenseful, scary, thrilling storylines but inserting a faith message that is natural and believable isn’t always easy.
Scream has a strong faith message about life and death and what happens after death. My vision is for the book to be used as a conversation starter to get people talking about the topic of heaven and hell and eternity. Some might say mixing fiction and witnessing is taboo, but you know what? I don’t care what some might say. This is important stuff, life and death stuff, really. I’ve started something called the Scream Team where people with a burden for lost friends and family can get pointers and tips and encouragement about using Scream to jump start a conversation about eternity. More information can be found at www.mikedellosso.com/screamteam. Maybe it will take off, maybe it won’t. But if only one person takes the challenge and gives the book to an unbelieving friend or relative or co-worker and if only one conversation is spawned from it and only one seed planted, then to me it’s all been worth it. We plant seeds, we water seeds . . . then it’s in the hands of the Holy Spirit to make those seeds grow.
How did you come to know the Lord?
My dad was an alcoholic. Not a particularly mean one but a very detached one. When I was nine he came to Christ and dropped drinking like it was the plague. Just like that. He was a totally different person, a true new creation. Seeing the change Jesus made in his life, a few months later I also accepted Christ. My salvation experience was nothing earth-shattering but very real. I often wonder where I’d be today if Jesus didn’t get a hold of my dad’s heart when He did. And then I thank God for sparing me such a degenerate life.
I hear you’re a big TobyMac fan! What’s your favorite Toby song and what other artists do you enjoy listening to?
I’m sorry, I can’t name just one. My favorites are Boomin’, Ignition, Lose My Soul, Diverse City, Ignition, and Ill-M-I.
Okay, other artists I enjoy. Superchick, Brandon Heath, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Third Day, Todd Agnew, December Radio, . . . Joshua Bell (violinist) . . . and so many more.
What’s next for you after Scream?
That’s what I’m asking. I have a story idea about a little country town called Darlington that’s haunted by fear and one couple trapped in that town. To escape they must face their darkest fears and muster up the strength (and faith) to conquer them.
Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Home. I’m a total homebody. I just love being with my family.
Favorite food of all time:
Shrimp, prepared any way. I’m a sucker for shrimp.
Your most memorable vacation was:
In 2007 we took a family vacation to the coast of Maine. Maine is such a beautiful state and that rocky coast and salty air and lobster everything is just out of this world. We made a lot of great memories there and didn’t want to come home.
Your favorite movie and why:
Gee, I have so many. Okay, I’m gonna say I am Legend (my wife hates it . . . too scary). I like it because, whether intentional or not, it has so many great spiritual themes in it. How the “horde” loved darkness more than light. How light drives away the darkness. How one man’s sacrifice gave life to others.
Sorry, I have to put this: others I love. The Patriot, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Bourne trilogy, Napoleon Dynamite (Lucky!), and Get Smart. Oh yeah, also School of Rock.
You’re standing in Barnes & Noble and a customer beside you has no idea what to purchase. What book, CD and movie do you recommend?
Anything TobyMac or Superchick, anything Athol Dickson or Dean Koontz, anything Will Smith.
Favorite Twilight Zone episode:
Oh man, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" takes it all. Guy on plane sees gremlin tearing up wing and goes bananas. Classic. Gave me as much a fear of flying as Jaws did a fear of swimming in the ocean.
I’m just so thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to write and publish stories that are close to my heart. And I’m so thankful for readers making it all worthwhile.
C.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.