by C.J. Darlington
Mike Dellosso Interview
"I've always struggled with stuttering so expressing myself verbally has never been easy ... When I 'discovered' writing it was as if I finally found my voice." -- 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.
C.J.: I hear you didn’t always want to be a writer and it took a near tragedy (your brother-in-law almost dying in a motorcycle accident) to originally drive you to put pen to paper. How did you know writing was what you were called to do after that time?
Mike: As soon as I put that pen to paper the first time and poured my heart out through the written word I knew. I’ve always struggled with stuttering so expressing myself verbally has never been easy. It was easier to just remain quiet and keep my thoughts, opinions, input, and so on to myself. When I “discovered” writing it was as if I’d finally found my voice. I could express myself with words and do it eloquently and fluently. Wow, what a feeling it was, what freedom. It was very liberating. I knew right then and there that I was supposed to be writing, that that was what I was called to do.
When did you first realize you wanted to write suspense novels?
When I first began writing it was Biblical fiction short stories, vignettes if you will. Then I got into non-fiction inspirational writing. It wasn’t until I’d been writing for a few years that I got the itch to try my hand at a novel. And since I was a huge fan of The X-Files and The Twilight Zone and anything creepy and supernatural like that suspense just came naturally to me. That, and the fact that my attention span is next to nothing, and I had to write something fast-paced to keep myself interested.
It took 9 years before your novel, The Hunted, was accepted for publication. Did you ever feel discouraged during the long wait? How did you combat that?
I actually started writing The Hunted in 2005 so from start to contract it was about two and a half years. Not that long compared to some. But I’d wanted to be published from the moment I began writing. And that was a long nine years. At times I doubted it would ever happen and toyed with the idea of giving up writing . . . but I just couldn’t. You know when Jeremiah threatened to give up on God? Said he would never even speak God’s name anymore? But something happened inside him and he said God’s Word was in him like a fire shut up in his bones. Writing is like that for me. If I tried to quit I think I’d go nutso. How did I combat it? I kept writing. When I finished The Hunted I started immediately on my next book, Scream, also contracted with Realms and coming out early 2009. When I finished Scream I started on something else. I also wrote some short stories in there. So when I finally got a contract for The Hunted I already had my next two novels mostly finished. Writing is very therapeutic for me.
Share with us about the urban legend that originally inspired you to write The Hunted and how the story developed from there.
I was surfing the net looking for news clips that might stir my imagination when I stumbled upon this article from the 1920’s. Apparently in some hick town in Indiana the townies were claiming to see an African lion. There were sightings in the fields surrounding the town and a farmer claimed one of his cows was killed by a lion. The town was really in a panic over it. This went on for a few months then just stopped. No one ever figured out where the lion went or where it had come from. Soooo . . . this got me thinking. What if . . . ? You know? And from there the story started to develop in my semi-demented imagination. I put a supernatural, spiritual spin on it, threw in some quirky characters, and . . . there you go.
You’ve said you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer all the way. Did you ever write yourself into a corner with this book? If so, how did you get out of it?
You know, I never did. As I’m writing a story, I’m always thinking ahead, running scenarios and situations and plot lines through my head. I’ll toy with one, let the line out a little on it and see where it’s going to go, if it’s going to work or not. If it does, I’ll run with it; if not, I’ll scrap it and try something else. By the time I sit down at my computer I pretty much know where I’m going for the next two or three chapters and just let my fingers do the walking. The problem with that is that while I’m in the midst of a story I’m very preoccupied with it because it’s always on my mind, and that can be kind of annoying for those around me, especially my wife.
What message do you hope readers take away from The Hunted?
One is to be very careful not to put God in a box. This was something I was evaluating and wrestling with in my own life as I wrote the book. Why do we tend to give God rules, to tell Him what He can and can’t do? Why do we make comments like, “Oh, God doesn’t work like that anymore,” or “He doesn’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”? Who says? I’ve come to the place in my life now where I’m not putting God in a box anymore. He’s God and can do whatever He wants to do whether it makes me uncomfortable or not.
Another theme is the danger of a vengeful heart. Vengeance is a powerful weapon and I believe that’s why God says that vengeance is His, because He’s the only one holy enough to wield it with perfect justice.
Mike, you’ve written before in your blog and Writer … Interrupted columns about edginess in suspense and how it’s important for you to keep that edge without making readers feel like they’ve been dragged through the mud. How do you do that?
It’s hard at times. Really hard. One of the primary ways I do it is to run my writing by my wife. She’s a huge reader and will tell me honestly if I’ve crossed the line or not. Also, I keep in mind that my writing is my calling, it’s what God wants me doing, I’m confident of that. What Eric Liddell said about his running I can truly say about my writing: God gave me stories to tell and when I write I feel His pleasure. It’s a humbling thing, really. So I take my story-telling serious in regards to making sure it honors God and doesn’t go too far off that “edge.” It’s a fine line to walk and each writer needs to examine his/her own heart before God before they walk it. Where I land may not be where another writer lands, and that’s okay. I believe it’s one of those Christian liberty things.
What was the hardest part about writing The Hunted?
Finding the time. The story just flowed out of me like water from a spigot. I wanted to sit my butt down and write for hours but I had to go to work or I had to do this or that. At times it was very frustrating. I was going so far ahead in my mind I had to jot down notes so I didn’t forget plot lines I had conjured up.
Do you have any time management tips you consistently use to balance being a husband, father and writer?
I used to write in the early mornings before anyone else in the house was awake but now my work schedule has changed and I can find some time a couple afternoons a week. At the beginning of my writing exploration I used to write whenever I could and during the writing of The Hunted I did the same. The problem was that my writing was stealing me from my family. It got so bad my wife finally accused my computer of being “the other woman.” Ouch. That was a wake-up call. Now, I try to find time to write that doesn’t interfere with family time. It’s not always easy and there’s some give and take there, but so far it’s worked out okay.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I’d love to write a general fiction novel exploring my journey and battle with cancer. I have a story in mind and some day I’ll get to it. I think it would be very therapeutic for me and would stretch my writing in ways it’s not been stretched before. Also, the story I have in mind is pretty awesome. I think.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
I never suffered from writer’s block until I came home from the hospital after surgery for my cancer. I had all this time on my hands as I was recovering and just couldn’t think of a blasted thing to write. My mind was blank, empty, storyless. It was very frustrating for me. Finally, after days of this a short story surfaced. I wrote it in a few days and it will be available through Amazon Shorts soon.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one because I don’t have one place I write all the time. I’m kind of a migrant writer. But if I had to pick one it would be at my computer at home, when I’m home alone. That’s when my creative juices flow the freest.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
One POV per scene. My first draft of The Hunted had head-hopping all over the place. An editor pointed it out to me and I was like, “Really? I didn’t know that wasn’t allowed.” It was easy enough to fix but was one of those slap on the forehead moments. Duh!
Some Christian authors don’t believe there even should be the label “Christian fiction”. What do you think?
Absolutely there should be! Why not, for goodness sake? It’s selling incredibly well so there must be a market for it. There are folks out there (and apparently a lot of them) who want to know that when they spend their hard-earned money on a book they can feel safe that they’re not going to have to cut their reading experience short because of foul language or gratuitous violence or overt sexuality. And what’s wrong with that?
We’d love a sneak peak at your next book Scream. :)
Ooh, a sneak peak, how cool. Okay, here is the opening scene:
Mark Stone could still smell the grease on his hands.
No matter how hard he scrubbed or what fancy soap he used, the residue remained, stained into the creases of his fingers and caked under his fingernails. In a way, though, it was comforting. At least something in his life was still predictable. He gripped the steering wheel of his classic Mustang with both hands and willed his eyes to stay open. The hum of rubber on asphalt was almost hypnotic. It had been a long day at the shop, and he was ready to go home, soak in a hot shower until he puckered like a raisin, and get cozy with his pillow.
Outside, the headlights cut a swath of pale yellow light through the dense darkness. Stars dotted the night like glitter on black felt. A pocked moon dangled low in the sky in front of him, a cratered carrot on the end of an unseen string, leading him home, home to the comfort of his bed.
His cell phone chimed the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard. Mark turned down the radio and flipped open the phone. It was Jeff Beaverson. “Jeffrey.”
“Hey, buddy. How goes it?”
Mark glanced at the dashboard clock—10:10. “Kinda late for you, isn’t it?”
Jeff laughed. “You know me too well. I was at my parents’s house installing a new hot water heater and it took longer than I thought it would. I’m heading home now. Gonna walk in the door and drop myself right into bed. You in the car?”
“On my way home.”
“Putting in some late hours, huh.”
“Yeah, business is good right now. Keeps my mind off . . . stuff. You know.”
“I know, buddy. I’ve been thinking about you. Thought I’d check in and make sure we’re still on for tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. Saturday. He and Jeff were scheduled to meet for breakfast at The Victory.
On the radio, John Mellencamp was belting out “Small Town.” “No I cannot forget where it is that I come from . . .”
Mark flipped on the high beams. “Breakfast, right?”
“Yeah. Seven o’clock. You still . . . kay with . . . at?”
“Sure. Where are you? You’re breakin’ up.”
“Mill Road. Down . . . oopers Hollow . . . lasts a . . . ittle.”
Mark paused and tapped his hand to the beat of the music. “. . . and people let me be just what I wanta be.”
Jeff’s voice boomed into his ear. “Am I back? Can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, I can hear you fine now,” Mark said with a laugh.
Jeff snorted into the phone. “I always lose my bars along that stretch. Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you . . .”
Jeff’s voice was suddenly drowned by a hideous screaming. Not just one voice, but a multitude of voices mingling and colliding, merging and blending in a cacophony of wails and groans, grunts and cries, a million mouths weeping and howling in bone-crunching pain. Agony. As if their skin was being peeled off inch by inch and their burning anguish was somehow captured on audio. It rose in volume, lasted maybe five, six seconds then stopped just as abruptly as it had started.
Mark clicked off the radio and pressed the phone tighter against his ear. Goosebumps crawled over his arms. “Jeff? You okay, man?”
There was a pause, then, “Yeah. Yes. I’m fine. What the blazes was that? Did you hear it?”
Mark massaged the steering wheel with his left hand. “Yeah, I heard it. Sounded like something out of some horror movie.” Or hell. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Weird.”
“Maybe our signals got tangled with something else. Weird is right. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to ask you—and we can talk more about it tomorrow if you want—how are you and Cheryl doing?”
Mark clenched his jaw, pressing his molars together. Cheryl. Don’t make me go there, Jeff. It’s too soon. “I don’t know. I think it’s over.”
Over. Finished. Caput. I blew it and now I have to live with it. “Nothing official yet. But she pretty much made it clear she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
Jeff paused and sighed into the phone. “Man, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
Mark slowed the Mustang around a hairpin turn. He didn’t want to talk about this now. He wasn’t ready. And besides, it was late, and he was tired. “No. I don’t even think there’s anything more I can do. Can we talk about it in the morning?”
“Absolutely. I just . . . wait. Hang on a sec. What’s this guy—”
The sound of screeching tires filled the receiver. Rubber howling against asphalt. Then a low earthy rumble . . . Jeff grunting . . . crunching metal and shattering glass. An explosion.
Mark leaned heavy on the brake. The Mustang fishtailed to a stop. The engine growled impatiently. “Jeff? You there?”
Nothing. Not even static. His pulse throbbed in his ears.
Mellencamp was finishing up. “Gonna die in this small town. Oh that’s probably where they’ll bury me.”
Mark dialed Jeff’s number. Four rings. “Hello, this is Jeff.” Voicemail. Great. “You know what to do.” A woman’s voice came on. “To leave a voice message press one or wait for the tone. To—”
skidded over the key pad, dialing 911.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m a fairly good sketch artist. I love drawing old buildings, especially lighthouses. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should, though. Also, most people are surprised to know that I stutter. Some days are worse than others and when it’s bad, it’s bad.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Hiking with my family. Fiddling with my website. Reading.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
A cream-filled donut and chocolate milk.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Pickles, apples, and juice boxes (for the kids).
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Visiting Scotland or Ireland.
When was the last time you cried?
Very recently, over my battle with cancer. It’s very emotionally taxing.
Three words that best describe you:
Routine. Punctual. Weird.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Toby Mac. Decemberadio. Mandissa. Todd Agnew.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I’m excited about my current book, The Hunted, and equally excited about the next one, Scream. It has a message that is so heavy on my heart, and I hope the book can be used as an outreach tool. I hope to have some unique marketing hooks to go along with it too. But read The Hunted first!
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.