What with promoting Enemies of the Cross, it's been awhile since we've had an interview on the blog. I've really missed doing these as it gives me a chance to shine the spotlight on someone else for awhile, plus it's actually really encouraging to me to meet other authors and hear about their journey. Writing is, by nature, a lonely profession, whereby authors hide in their caves for months at a time. It's nice to step out into the light and see what the rest of the world is up to.
Today we've got a really great interview with my fellow Realms author, Mike Dellosso. Mike has been an encouragement to me in my own journey and I'm kind of stunned that I've not asked him to stop by before now. But we're here to fix that. His latest book Frantic is on shelves now and, in fact, came out the same day as Enemies. Seeing as we're with the same publisher in the same genre, I'd consider that competition if it were any other author, but I feel like Mike and I are co-laborers, so I'm happy to turn things over to him today for this insightful talk.
Greg Mitchell: First off, thanks for being here, Mike! Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve published five novels, the most recent being Frantic. What’s Frantic all about?
Mike Dellosso: Frantic is the story of a trio of characters on a harried and dangerous journey to discover what it means to really trust. Marny Toogood has lived under a “curse” his entire life and has therefore avoided much contact with people. That is, until he receives a desperate plea for help from Esther Rose, the over-protective sister of William, a boy with cerebral palsy and a very special gift. All three find themselves on the run from Esther and William’s maniacal and possessive “uncle” and wind up somewhere much more dangerous.
Here’s the back cover copy:
Can a deranged serial killer be stopped before it's too late?
For gas station attendant Marny Toogood it's just another day on the job when an urgent message from a young girl in the backseat of a car draws him into a daring rescue attempt. Now on the run with the girl and her brother, Marny begins to realize he must conquer his own past and surrender all to Christ.
As they face kidnapping, underground cults, and other evils, can Marny trust the simple faith of a child and stand his ground against a power so twisted?
GM: Sounds pretty intense--and I love the cover! Take me back to the beginning. You’re a real down home, salt of the earth kind of guy. You’ve got a beautiful family, you listen to country music, you’re a faithful Christian man—what draws you to writing thrillers with murders and kidnapping and pure evil? What did it for you? What started you on that path?
MD: Growing up I was always intrigued by the supernatural, by weird science, fringe stuff. My favorite TV shows were The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, then The X-Files, Fringe, and now The River. So when I began writing fiction it just seemed like a good fit for me. In all my stories I weave in my family and biblical values. That’s the most important thing for me. I love to thrill the reader, to entertain his or her imagination, but I also want to hit him or her in the heart with a powerful message.
After my father committed himself to Christ and gave up drinking (he made a complete 180), I was raised in a solid family with involved parents who led by example. I couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing. I think that has impacted me in more ways than I realize when it comes to my priorities in writing, my motivation, my goals. I want my writing to be more than entertainment—it has to be more if it’s going to mean anything for eternity.
GM: What was it like getting your first novel The Hunted published? Looking back, you’re building quite an impressive library of works—what was it like for you in the early days, shopping around the manuscript, trying to break in to the business?
MD: It was frustrating, discouraging, exasperating . . . like so many experiences. I had this finished manuscript, a story I loved, and felt like it weighed a thousand pounds and I had to carry to the top of an unclimbable mountain. There were so many times I was ready to throw in the towel and just stop trying. But my wife always told me: “Live like it’s already happened.” That’s what real faith is all about, isn’t it?
Eventually, The Hunted did find a home with Realms. The whole thing was kind of anti-climactic. We were on vacation in Maine when the publishing board met to make a final decision about whether to offer me a contract or not and every day I’d go to the local library there in the small town where we stayed to check my email. And every day there was nothing. I just about went crazy. Then on the last day I received an email saying the editor who was handling my project left the company and the discussion was postponed to the next month. I was devastated, certain it would be canned. Even my agent was discouraged.
But, praise God, the editor who picked it up was even more excited about it. A month later I received an email saying they were offering me a contract. I’d always imagined jumping up and down, running around the house screaming, but instead I sat at my computer and said, “cool.”
GM: Ha, it's funny you say that, because it was anti-climatic for me too. Very sobering. Once I got my contract, it was just this quiet peace, quickly followed by the feeling of "Now the real work begins."
The “Christian Fiction” genre draws its fair share of criticism—both from outside and inside the industry—for being “contrived, unrealistic, lame, etc”, but you’ve always struck me as one of its supporters. Why stay in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) rather than setting your sights on the general market? Or do you believe success in both can be achieved? Do you feel the CBA gets a bum rap?
MD: For me, including a strong, clear faith message in my books is very important. It’s what I’m all about. I believe God has blessed me with the ability and the opportunity to get my stories out there and I need to honor Him with them. I’ve always said that I don’t want to go to heaven and have God asked me what I did with the platform He gave me and reply, “I wrote a compelling story.” (I’m thrilled to hear Tim Tebow saying that same thing in regards to his testimony on the football field). I want my stories to be for more than just entertainment. And my brand of story won’t fly in the general market.
GM: See, it's very intriguing to hear you say that so bluntly!
MD: I have nothing against Christians writing in the general market but I feel called to write the kind of stories I do primarily to inspire, encourage, and challenge Christians. My hope is then that those Christians will share the books with their family and friends and the message will be spread that way. As a Christian author writing for a Christian publisher who is part of the CBA, I have very little impact on the general market and reader, I realize that, so I rely on my readers to spread the word.
I think the CBA does get a bum rap, yes. The CBA is there for a purpose, to reach the Christian reader, to give him or her an alternative to the general market stuff that’s out there. I feel too many people want it to be something it’s not. It’s not perfect and maybe it could be more focused on the lost and weary traveler but I’ve always believed reaching those folk is the job of individuals, not corporations or associations. Evangelizing is done by people, one on one.
GM: That is the conundrum of Christian Fiction, I think, exactly. If we write to evangelize, then we're probably only spinning our wheels by doing it in an arena clearly marked "Christian Fiction". That's something I struggled with in my first book for Realms--trying to figure out who I was writing to and what I wanted to accomplish (aside from telling a cool story, that is)--but with the second one, I'm much more relaxed with the idea that I'm writing to a primarily Christian audience so I'm tackling more things that that group experiences. So I agree--there's a sort of struggle going on in the CF industry over what it should all mean.
But that's a battle for another day! In writing all these scary things, you’ve got to have a favorite scary movie, right? If so, what is it? Why?
MD: I Am Legend by a long shot. Love it. Will Smith is one of my favorite actors and the story is both intriguing and moving. And, whether they intended it or not, has a beautiful spiritual message to it. The life is in the blood. One man’s death provides life for everyone else. Sacrifice. The power of darkness. It’s all there.
GM: Have you faced any criticism regarding your dark subject matter; that it doesn’t belong in a “Christian” book? If so, what’s your take on that? For instance, as I understand it, you’ve committed the unpardonable sin in your fiction: You’ve killed an innocent dog! :p
MD: Sure I’ve faced criticism. I get incredulous readers (even friends) asking me how I can entertain that kind of stuff in my mind. You know what, though? Darkness is real in the world, sin is real, and we can’t hide our faces from it. I never, ever, glorify darkness in my books but show sin for what it is, a disease that infects and ruins and spoils anything beautiful. It’s a destroyer that brings nothing but pain and mayhem. But there is always hope, always love, always light.
I walk a fine line as I’m sure you do too, Greg, on how far to delve into that dark matter, how much to entertain in my own mind. Knowing the power and lure of dark things, I take it very seriously and walk that line carefully.
MD: And yes, I have had dogs killed in my novels, not for pleasure but to show the extent of the vileness of the villains. And I get a lot of flak for it too. I’ve had several readers tell me they don’t mind if people die in a story but if I kill a dog they’ll never read another of my books. I find that astounding and still can’t understand that line of thinking.
GM: Ha, ha. On the flip side to that, how do you respond to the critics that believe you’re only trying to disguise a sermon with your fiction? I’ve dealt with those before, with the mindset that that the story or characters suddenly mean nothing or have no merit, because the author is trying to “say” something. I’m torn between trying to defend myself and just throwing up my hands in aggravated surrender. Is that a battle you face?
MD: With every book. And I am trying to disguise a sermon with my fiction. I say that unapologetically. And what’s wrong with that? Every story has an agenda, really, something the author is trying to say. Jesus’ parables were all sermons disguised as stories. Somewhere along the line sermons got a bad rap and were banished to Sunday mornings only. I disagree. I believe our lives should be sermons. Everything we do should have an agenda, a higher meaning, purpose, a message behind it. So why should it be different with my fiction?
The challenge is to weave the theme seamlessly into the story so the message isn’t jarring. And with every book I’ve written I get email after email from readers saying I succeed at that. They say there is obviously a strong faith message there but it doesn’t feel like I’m preaching at the reader because I tell the story through the eyes of the characters, not me as narrator pushing my agenda.
GM: Another fine line to be walking!
Your real life has been touched by actual horror: You’re a cancer survivor. No doubt people ask you about that all the time, but would you say that’s affected your writing voice?
MD: Absolutely. Coming off cancer I didn’t want to write, I couldn’t. I was so spent emotionally and physically that I needed time to regroup and gather my head. I emerged with a sharper focus on why I was writing, my purpose for it, my motivation, my priorities. Cancer will do that to you. It made me more empathetic towards others too. All of that has served to sharpen my writing and stories, to make them more character-oriented, give them more meaning, more impact.
When you battle something like cancer suddenly all those things that seemed to matter so much before no longer matter. Little things don’t bother you. That’s helped me stay on course with my writing and not compromise why I write and what I write.
GM: What excites you about writing? I know it’s hard for me to stay focused sometimes. I think “Man, I quit. I’m just going to keep at my day job and spend my evenings zoned out in front of the tube.” What keeps you coming back?
MD: I feel the same way often, but what keeps me coming back is the readers and knowing my stories are touching people and making a difference in lives. I feel this urgent need to write, to produce stories, like the whole thing is so much bigger than me and the “job” of writing and supplemental income it gives my family. There’s a much greater purpose there and it keeps me motivated and brings me back into focus when I get distracted by all the stuff of the world. I want my stories to make a difference, I want them to mean something, to be more than just a good story. If I’ve accomplished that in the life of even one reader than I’ve been successful at what I’ve set out to do.
GM: That's a great attitude to take. What are you working on right now?
MD: Well, I’m working on a couple different things. I have Rearview coming out in May. It’s a novella that’s part of the 7 Hours project. I’ve teamed up with six other authors to write a serial about time and consequences (the other authors are Travis Thrasher, Robin Parrish, Rene Gutteridge, Tom Pawlik, Ronie Kendig, and James Wilson). The books will release as e-books from Tyndale in May. Be looking for them. This is truly ground-breaking stuff.
I’m also working on the edits for A Thousand Sleepless Nights, my first contemporary drama under a new pen name, Michael King. It is due to release in October. You can check out Michael King at http://www.michaelkingbooks.wordpress.com/.
And I’m also working on my next suspense novel, The Prodigy. Due out Feb, 2013.
All that while trying to promote Frantic . . . and work a full-time job, and put my family first, and church stuff. It’s all quite frantic right now.
GM: I hear you, brother. Well, I’ve told my wife before that I want to be Mike Dellosso when I grow up--
MD: That’s funny because I’ll be 40 this year and still find myself asking what I want to be when I grow up :)
GM: You’ve got a great attitude about things, loyal fans, and you’re churning out books year in and year out. From my vantagepoint, you’re on your way to the top. What’s “the top” for you, though? Where would you like to see this crazy career take you?
MD: Realistically, the top for me is to get to the point where I can do this writing thing full-time. For me, that’s the pinnacle.
Idealistically, I’ve already reached the top. I write stories that are impacting people’s lives, touching hearts, challenging, inspiring, encouraging. It doesn’t get any better than that, it just doesn’t.
GM: So true. Thanks so much for stopping by, Mike. Best to you and Frantic. When people come to me wanting to read up on you and your books, where shall I send them?
MD: You can send them to my blog http://www.mikedellosso.wordpress.com/ or to my Facebook page http://www.blogger.com/www.facebook.com/mikedellosso.
That does it for this interview! Thanks for reading and tune in a couple weeks from now where I'll begin the commentary for Enemies of the Cross! You still have time to get caught up on the book before then. In the meantime, since Mike brought it up, I'll leave you with the trailer to Will Smith in I Am Legend.
UPDATE: THIS JUST IN! Mike has been gracious enough to offer you a chance to win a FREE autographed copy of Frantic! Leave a comment below to enter--winner announced TOMORROW!