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GIVE AWAY - NORA INTERVIEWS ATHOL DICKSON


ATHOL DICKSON BIO: Athol's novels have been favorably compared to the work of Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly), Daphne du Maurier (FaithfulReader.com, by Cindy Crosby, Christianity Today fiction critic), and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). His They Shall See God was a Christy Award finalist. River Rising was selected as one of the Booklist Top Ten Christian Novels of 2006 and was a Christianity Today's Best Novel of 2006 finalist. Both River Rising and The Cure won Christy Awards for best suspense novel. Winter Haven was a finalist for the 2009 Christy Award in the suspense category, making four novels in a row to receive that honor. His seventh novel, Lost Mission, was published in September, 2009. Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

1. How do you come up with the ideas for your books? Each one of your books tackles a different subject matter and venue. It’s quite fascinating.


I usually know what I want to write about thematically before I know anything about the plot or characterization. So the theme tends to drive the choices I make in those areas. I look for scenarios and people that will allow me to explore the underlying issues in the novel . . . the right kind of fertile ground, if you will, to support the intended crop. I also think about the narrative voice and style in terms of the theme.

What would be the best way to tell a story about this idea? Should I use the first person like my first two novels and Winter Haven, or a third person point of view as I did in all the others? Should I use a distant narrator as I did with River Rising and The Cure, or should the narrator become almost part of the story as in Lost Mission? Should the story as a whole be fast paced or should it linger deliciously over details? Those questions cause me to adopt a slightly different style from story to story. But there are always commonalities a reader can count on in my novels.

My plots are always strange. By that I mean they’re not much like anybody else’s stories. That’s become even more true in the last four or five novels. Also my characters are always real, flawed people. And I like to have at least some part of the novel take place in a beautiful, natural setting, mainly because I enjoy writing about such places.




The settings are usually driven by the choices I make about plot. Sometimes I need isolation for a plot idea to work, so I set the story at the extreme southern end of the Mississippi River, or else an island far from the coast of Maine. Other times I need a lot of people round about, so I set it in a city like New Orleans. I guess to answer you question I’d have to say I choose ideas that build on each other and prop each other up after I have the theme in mind. I try to be open to whatever seems fun and interesting and useful, and I’m always willing to shift other details around to slip in something new if it seems like that will liven up the party.

2. What was your inspiration for The Cure? That sounds like quite a book. There is a medicine that can cure your of your worst vice. What would you be willing to pay for that cure? Wow!! Can’t wait to read that one.


Several members of my family have struggled with addictions, including me. I used to have a problem with amphetamines, and with cigarettes. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that all humanity is addicted to something harmful. Be it heroin or alcohol, or gossip or covetousness, whatever the sin, we all have one—at least one—which afflicts us in a special way. Theologians sometimes call this a “besetting sin.”

It seems to me the main difference between a homeless alcoholic and an apparently successful businessman or a home schooling mom who devotes everything to her kids is this: the alcoholic’s sin addiction is on the outside, for everyone to clearly see, while the businessman or busy mom might hide their sin addiction on the inside, where they can pretend it doesn’t exist. If you think about it that way, the alcoholic has something of a spiritual advantage, because denial is much more difficult.


But just as an alcoholic is an alcoholic until the day he dies, whether he’s been sober for fifty hours or for fifty years, so most of us remain addicted to our besetting sin for all our lives, short of a miracle. I have a friend, a former alcoholic now a missionary, who was miraculously delivered of her urge to drink. But God usually chooses not to deliver us miraculously. We know Paul requested three times that his own particular “thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan” might be removed, but God refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." And from that exchange Paul learned a simple fact about the Christian life, which as aided countless millions: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”













I learned all this through my own addiction, and through that of my loved ones, and I wanted to explore it in a way that might make readers think it though. That’s what inspired me to write The Cure. I posted a blog about this a long time ago. It’s at http://whatatholwrote.blogspot.com/2007/11/cure-theme.html but it has several story spoilers, so anyone who wants to read the novel should do that before they read the blog.

3. How do you go about preparing to write the books that you have? Some of them are historically based like River Rising and your most recent; The Lost Mission? Are those harder to write than your other books that don’t have as much history?




So far I’ve done about the same amount of research for every novel, whether they include a historical aspect or not. I don’t write stories about normal people living normal lives. I tend to write about people who are in very strange situations, which are far outside my own experience, so it takes a lot of research to get into the characters and to make sure the setting and the plot are at least semi-factual. That said, I don’t consider myself a historical novelist, so fans of that genre shouldn’t read my stories expecting them to be historically correct in all aspects. My stories take liberties with everything. If a fact stands in the way of a good story, I’ll charge right over it as if it wasn’t there.

4. What comes first for you in writing a story? Plot, characters, subject matter, etc. Do tell!

Well, as I mentioned, I tend to go about it backwards. Most books on writing, and most writers, will tell you one should start with either plot, or character. I start with theme. I pray a lot, asking God to lay an issue or a truth on my heart, and once I sense that theme, I go looking for a way to write about it. Or else sometimes a theme occurs to me as a part of life.


In Lost Mission for example, I started thinking about the theme several years before I wrote the novel. It started when I learned that South Korea sends more missionaries than any other nation except for us, and in terms of the number of missionaries per congregation, we aren’t even in the top ten anymore. Over the last thirty years our tithing has declined and our missions sending has declined, yet South Korea only had 93 total evangelical missionaries in the world back in 1980 and now their sending outstrips ours proportionally. Add to that the strange events of 2003, when the New Hampshire diocese of the Episcopalian church elected an openly practicing homosexual as a bishop. Almost immediately, bishops from Africa and Latin American stepped up to offer spiritual governance and guidance to any parishes in the Episcopalian Church who disagreed. Many did of course. So suddenly we had church congregations in the USA under the spiritual guidance of Christians in what we once called the “third world.” Those are just two examples of a seismic shift that’s happening in the North American church. The center of gravity of Christianity has moved from here to Asia, Africa and Latin American. It’s not a question of maybe. It has already happened. For centuries we were the world’s foremost source of Christian missionaries, yet most Christians in the world now think we are in desperate need of evangelism and discipleship. The USA has become a mission field.










As those facts began to come to my attention, I knew one day I’d have to write about it, but I didn’t know how. Then I got involved in an on-line theology group. The group began to discuss how Christians should “do church,” with traditional evangelicalism, the seeker friendly movement, and the emerging church movement all represented. What got my attention as a novelist was not how different all of those perspectives were, but rather how similar they all started to sound, when the so-called “discussion” really got going. Nobody was listening. Everyone was preaching. And everyone was accusing everyone else of getting it all wrong. It slipped into openly questioning each other’s motivation, and eventually dissolved into outright name-calling. People were calling each other heretics and so on, getting angry and blowing disagreements way out of proportion. This was everyone, not just one group. What really interested me was the fact that here we had Christians from several different theological worlds, each of whom believed they were very different from the others, yet all of them were sinning against the others in exactly the same way. The irony of it would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. And suddenly I realized I was witnessing one blatant example of how American Christianity had fallen so low, and had found a way into a novel. But I needed just a little more.


Lost Mission really came together for me when I visited the old Franciscan mission at San Juan Capistrano, in southern California. There I started to learn about how the Spanish colonized California. I learned about rivalries between Franciscans and Benedictines. I did more research and came across stories about friars who “went native” among the Indian population, and others who treated the Indians like slaves, even the “neophytes,” which is what they called the converts. More than one mission faced armed rebellion, and there was a mission near the Colorado River in eastern California that was overwhelmed and completely destroyed, to the point that historians still can’t say exactly where it was. As I learned about this, I began to realize that many of the same mistakes we are making as a church today in American, have been made before, long before, by other Christians, and those mistakes have been made on this same soil. With that thought, I had enough to start thinking about characters and plot, and several months later I had the story of Lost Mission, and was ready to start writing.

5. What was your favorite scene to write in your newest book The Lost Mission? What made it fun for you? Which was the hardest to write? Why?


Lost Mission contains two storylines, one set in modern times, and the other back in the eighteenth century. Obviously, I had to find a way to move the reader back and forth in time, but I didn’t want to use the usual devices, chapter breaks or white space between scenes and so forth, because I wanted the past and present to feel more connected together that that. I wanted readers to start thinking of them almost as the same story by the end of the novel. So I decided to try something pretty risky, and just write directly from one time into another without giving any clues except the words themselves. Ideally, the transitions wouldn’t even be marked by a paragraph break, but would flow from one sentence in the 1700’s, to the next in the twenty-first century. That was very hard to do. I probably put as much work into those few paragraphs, setting them up, easing on into the story from them, as I did all the rest of the writing combined. I’ve been gratified by reviews and reader comments so far, which pretty universally seem to think it works.

6.Can you describe TWO WOW!! Moments you’ve experienced since becoming a published author? What made these moments stand out?


The first was when a woman came to a signing once and told me she decided to become a Christian at three in the morning one night, all alone, while reading one of my books. She was crying, and I started crying, and it was just an awesome moment.


I think the second was when I won my first Christy Award. Up to then, I had felt like I was sort of pretending to be a novelist, but when I stood up in front of all those editors and publishers and fellow authors, many of whom were judges, it really sank in that I’m a novelist, right now, and not just someone who is trying to be one. It was very liberating.

QUESTIONS I JUST KNEW YOU WANTED TO ASK ATHOL BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK SO I DID!! :D

If you had 24 hours to hang out with anyone TWO PEOPLE alive or dead in the history of the world (besides Jesus); what two people would you pick & Why? What would you do?

This is one of those questions you can’t really answer, because there are just too many people in our history that I’d love to meet, going all the way back to Moses or David or Aristotle or Augustine. But if I have to narrow it down—and with the understanding that this afternoon my answer might be different—I think probably I’d pick Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.




Both of them had the kind of wisdom that allowed them to rise above the din and clutter of the moment and look around and see which way the flow of history was going. Both had the courage to stand firm, once they had seen what they knew they had seen, in spite of many who did their best to dissuade them. Both were excellent thinkers and expressed their thoughts extremely well in person and in print. Both preserved or established liberty for countless millions.

As for what I would do, I suppose that would be the same no matter who I picked. I would ask their advice on how to live, and listen hard.

Where did you live growing up? What did you like about growing up there?



Dallas, mainly, although I spent a lot of time visiting family in eastern Oklahoma. I think Dallas is blessed with a lot of folks who love the Lord, and it’s a great place a make a living.

What is a special quality, talent or event you have experienced that would surprise people? Please explain.



I was once kissed by Richard Nixon. My mother took me to a rally—this was when he was running against JFK—and he picked me up and gave me a kiss for the cameras. I was so excited, but a little bit confused about who he was. I shouted, “Yeah, Kennedy!”








What movie greatly impacted you as a child? Why?











20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with Kirk Douglas. It left me all fired up about submarines and the ocean. I’m not into submarines so much now, but I’m still fascinated by boats and the sea.


Name your favorite books read as a child?




The Hardy Boys mysteries. I pretty much read all of the ones that were in print back then, which is what? A hundred? A hundred and fifty?

You’ve been given the opportunity to us a time machine and visit any TWO events in the history of the world. Which TWO events would you pick and why?

Let’s see . . . I wish I had been there at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and when Moses met with the Lord on top of Mt. Sinai.

If you had a day to do anything you wanted what would you do?







Cruise the salt marsh country of Georgia with my wife and anchor behind Jekyll Island. Or maybe we could cruise the Chesapeake and anchor in one of the creeks or rivers there. There are too many options, but it would be on a boat, with my wife.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always want to be a writer?



I did want to be a writer. I look around my life and agree with the Psalmist, who wrote, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

What keeps you sane in the middle of this crazy world with all it’s pressures and stress?



“Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” as the old hymn goes. Sorry to keep throwing quotes at you, but these questions seem to lead right to them.

ANY FINAL COMMENTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE MY READERS WITH?













Please keep reading novels! And don’t just read the plain sense of the words. Dig deeper; look for hidden meaning. It’s almost always there, at least in Christian fiction

THANKS so much for stopping by Athol and letting us get to know you and your books better. Wow!! REMEMBER if you are ever in the Atlanta area you most definately will have to stop by and speak to my book clubs!!

Blessings to you on your writing adventures!!

Nora :D


********DISCLAIMER: Entering the give away is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws. Void where prohibited; open only to U.S. residents, odds of winning depend on number of entrants *****


LEAVE A COMMENT about the INTERVIEW for your chance to win a copy of Athol's NEW book. Lost Mission. Drawing will be NOVEMBER 6th.

CONGRATS to JULIE GARMON You've won a copy Athol's new book LOST MISSION - Thanks to everyone that stopped by to learn more about this author and his books.

22 comments:

  1. Your interview has been the only so far that has gotten more into the meat of Lost Mission. It's now beginning to sound like a very interesting story. Please enter me even though I've won books from you before. Thanks.
    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

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  2. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL interview Nora!! Don't enter me in the drawing...but now I'm excited about posting my review next week!

    GREAT INTERVIEW!

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  3. What an interesting author and interesting interview. I so agree with Athol Dickson that America is now a mission field! The facts he mentioned such as South Korea proportionally sending out more missionaries than the U.S. are so surprising. I am interested to see how he flows from past to present in his writing in Lost Mission.
    -Marlene Rauch-

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  4. Comment Left on Facebook
    October 28 at 7:06pm

    nora, that was an interesting interview with Athol. i liked what he said about an person with an drug problem sin and compare with an busy Mom sin. Great interview.

    I liked meeting Jon and Mike at book club Monday night. Mike knows a guy that lived down the street from My husband- small world!!!! Jon being from Syracuse especially from Liverpool.

    Please put my name in for the drawing--I'd Love to read Lost Mission.

    Betsy

    Betsy Hoffman Schaknowski

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  5. Facebook Comment on My link for this interview.

    Nora, I really enjoyed our interview! And I LOVE all the graphics and photos you used. Thanks so much for a wonderful time!

    Athol Dickson

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  6. Great interview Nora and Athol. Please enter me in the drawing. After reading the interview, I'm anxious to read some of Athol's books. I picked up a copy of River Rising the other day. I would love to win a copy of Lost Mission. Thanks for the opportunity.

    Sheryl

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  7. Athol has such fascinating insights, doesn't he? Plus his books are wild reads. Truly a blessing to the community of readers and writers he serves.
    Ginger Garrett

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  8. Way too many books to read! But I've got to read them! Great interview.

    Gail

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  9. Ohhh, what a great interview! Love the addiction comparisons. :-) Sounds like my kind of reading. Please enter me in the drawing.

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  10. I so enjoyed this wonderful authors interview. Love his books and would like to be added to giveaway list for his latest,Lost Mission. Thank you!

    Blessings,
    Sandee

    Muzzley56[at]aol[dot]com

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  11. I love your interviews Nora! This one was really good and this book sounds great. Please add my name to the drawing. Thank you.
    carlyberd[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  12. I would love to win a copy of this book. Please enter me in the contest. My email address is shryackmom[@]charter[.]net

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  13. Wow, what a thought provoking interview. I loved what Athol said about a person with an addiction versus one with a besetting sin.

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  14. Wow, what a deep interview! Lot's of thing to think about.

    Thanks for sharing, Athol!

    ~Carol

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  15. Nora, What a great interview and what an interesting author! All of Athol's books sound wonderful, but THE CURE really intrigues me. I look forward to reading his books. Tisha

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  16. This was a great interview of a great author. We need to hear more about this author! Sign me up for the contest, please.

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  17. Posted about this at Winning Readings: http://winningreadings.blogspot.com/2009/11/lost-mission.html

    janemaritz at yahoo dot com

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  18. Great review/interview. I'd love to win the book
    marcus802001(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  19. I have read Mr Dickson's other publications...and have enjoyed them immensely. Thanks for the opportunity to read this novel.

    karen k
    kmkuka(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  20. I found that the information about missionaries was very interesting. Would love to read this book.

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  21. Nora, I have to say your interviews are the most thorough that I've read.
    I would like to read one of Anthol's books because I've heard so much about him.
    Deborah M.
    debbiejeanm[at]gmail[dot]com

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  22. THANKS Athol for this interview and a chance to get to know you and your books better.

    CONGRATS to Julie Garmon. You've won a copy of Athol's new book LOST MISSION.

    Blessings to you in your writing adventures Athol. Thanks for this opporutnity.

    Nora :D

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