Mike Dellosso, the author of Scream and The Hunted is a fresh voice in the world of Christian suspense. His writing and life have been both frightening and inspirational . To learn more about Mike’s personal walk click here but I recommend you wait until after you’ve read the interview. I hate spoilers in book reviews and I wouldn’t want to be accused of that here. Our interview today includes three questions submitted by regular visitors to my Adventure in Mind and Soul.
Tim George: I quoted you not long ago in an interview with Athol Dickson. You told another interviewer if someone standing in line asked you to recommend a CD and an author your answer would be Toby Mac, Superchick and Athol Dickson. Would you believe I got the distinct impression Athol had no idea who Superchick is?
Mike Dellosso: Hey, later in this interview you admit you didn’t know who I was so at least I know I’m in good company.
TG: Since you’re full story is on your web site let’s start with a quick glimpse of Mike Dellosso. What is your favorite (Book, movie, non-writing hobby)?
MD: My favorite book is Athol’s River Rising. There’s one line in there that just blew me away. I read the book a couple years ago and I still think about that line. I won’t give it away here. If you’ve read the book you might know what it is, if you haven’t, you really need to.
Favorite movie: I Am Legend. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but there are so many spiritual themes running through that story. And besides, I love the whole scary suspense thing. And I’m a sucker for any movie Will Smith plays in.
Non-writing hobby: since completing my battle with cancer I’ve taken up running. I’ve run a couple 5Ks now and am really getting into the whole thing. It’s funny because I don’t particularly enjoy running, but I love the races. It’s a great outlet for the competitive side of me.
TG: As to the line in River Rising, I’m sure I know what you are speaking of. I can name several authors I could point to and say that’s why I want to write. But it is that one scene in River Rising that leads me to say, “that’s how I want to write.”
MD: Everything about Athol’s writing makes me say, “That’s how I want to write.” He does such a fantastic job with characterization and setting.
TG: Like most writers early in their career you have another career as well. You work full-time, are a husband and father, and have written two published novels. How do you manage to find the time to write?
MD: Yeah, that’s a sticky one. Early on, I’d write whenever I had time. That didn’t sit too well with my wife because usually when I had time I should have been spending it with her. When she called the computer the “other woman” it was a wake-up call. Now, I usually write late at night and early in the morning. It cuts into the whole sleep thing but I’m not one who needs a lot of sleep anyway. I’ll be honest, finding time to write is the hardest part of the writing process for me. I have ideas, inspiration, flow, whatever you want to call it, but not the time. It can be very frustrating. If God ever blesses me by allowing me to do this writing thing full-time, I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with the time.
TG: I know you probably get a little tired of answering this question but could you tell us about the personal trial you went through over the past few years?
MD: I don’t get tired of it at all. It’s my own story of suspense. In March of 2008, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with colon cancer (turned out to be stage III). After major surgery to remove the tumor and part of my colon, seven months of chemotherapy, nine months of dealing with an ileostomy, and many, many hills and valleys both emotionally and spiritually I can now look back on it and be thankful for the journey. Crazy, I know. But God did so much in and through me and my family I can’t help but stand in awe. He certainly does work in strange and mysterious ways.
Cancer has a tendency to re-focus you on what’s really important in life. We get so caught up in things that only seem to be important. Life’s too short for that. When you look death (or at least the real possibility of death) in the face, life takes on a whole new meaning. That’s a powerful experience that not everyone gets to have. I’m one of the few. I’m a survivor. (Sounds like a motto for the Marines, doesn’t it?)
TG: Many of my readers know I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis almost a year ago so that last question was more personal for me. Would you say your illness has made you a better writer and If so, how?
MD: Honestly, I think it’s too early to tell if it’s made me a better writer or not. Maybe not better as far as the technicalities of writing go but certainly better as far as being in tune with my characters’s struggles and emotions. I’m just getting back into writing after a year of doing almost nothing so I’m kind of getting my writing feet back under me.
TG: Unlike many suspense writers, I understand you don’t plot your stories. Why?
That’s a question I get asked a lot. My answer probably isn’t the most sophisticated but it’s honest. One, I don’t have the patience to outline. When I get an idea in my head and the inspiration hits, I just want to write. Two, I’m so afraid if I start outlining my stories will come across as predictable and formulaic. I want to avoid that at all cost. And three, I figure if I don’t know what’s coming next there’s a good chance the reader won’t either. Seriously, I write a chapter and leave it with a cliffhanger then ask myself, “Okay, what happens next?” Some writers may cringe at that technique (and sometimes I do when I can’t answer that question) but hey, no guts no glory, right?
TG: When I picked up Scream at the bookstore, to be honest, I had never heard of you before. My intention was to kill a little time at Barnes and Nobles and put the book back on the shelf. Then I saw this was a novel about, of all things, the reality of hell. So I took you home just to see how well you pulled it off. How did you come with the idea of Scream and what message did you want to convey?
MD: Ouch! Never heard of me? Thanks for the healthy helping of humble pie. Actually, I hear that a lot. Um, maybe that’s a good thing. I came up with the idea for Scream after something bizarre happened to my mother-in-law. A couple years ago my wife’s maternal grandfather passed away and, sadly, as far as we know he was not a believer. A few weeks after the funeral my mother-in-law was on the phone with her mother and their call was interrupted by eerie screams that lasted a few seconds then stopped. My mother-in-law said the only way she could describe the screams was that they were what she would imagine hell to sound like. This happened several more times then ceased. That got my creative juices all in a bubbly.
The message is simple: all of us are going to die so we better be ready. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. I know they (who is “they” anyway?) say you shouldn’t start a book with a message in mind but I did with this one. The theme is central and the story revolves around it. And with what I just went through with the cancer and everything the message really hit home for me too.
TG: Janelle Wiley in Washington State had a good one for you. “A common adage for writers is “write what you know.” In what ways is this adage useful? Are there times when it doesn’t apply?”
MD: I think it rarely applies. That adage is nonsense. If I only wrote what I knew my writin
g would be very limited. Write the story inside you. If you don’t know something, hey, that’s what research is all about. Every author does research. If we only wrote about what we knew, why would have to do research? I think part of the fun of writing is learning about new things.
In The Hunted I researched lions and African legends of man-eating lions. For Scream I had to research cell phone towers and triangulation and all that good stuff. I’m constantly researching moon phases and sunrise/set times. I research for setting: street names, flora and fauna of the locality, cultural quirks, and so on. Don’t be afraid to write about something you don’t know anything about.
TG: Believe me; I’m working to make amends for not knowing you. Part of the purpose of these interviews is to introduce my visitors to excellent writers like you. I’ve always wondered when “they” got to gather and came up with all these rules. So how do you write a novel that presents a message without committing the cardinal crime of being preachy?
I don’t think about that. I know with Scream some critics said it was too preachy and you know what? I don’t care. Some may think that’s a wrong attitude but if there’s one thing my battle with cancer taught me it’s that life is short and we need to use what God gave us while we have a chance to. I want to write with no inhibitions. If God puts a story or theme or message on my heart, I’m going to write about it. And if the critics get their bowties in a knot over the message and how it’s delivered, so be it. I’m not worrying about what others think. With Scream I’ve had so many readers email me thanking me for the message and how strong it is in the story. I can’t ignore that kind of response.
TG: Now there’s a refreshing response! On that note Andy Hamilton in Florida asked; “Other than the entertainment factor, what do you want people to carry away with them when reading one of your novels? “
MD: I want people to be able to identify with the characters and find themselves and their own struggles there. I want people to be encouraged. I want them to walk away with a renewed sense of how awesome our God is and how personal He is. I want them to walk away changed. Is that asking too much?
TG: Here’s a question I’ve asked every suspense writer I’ve interviewed so far. With all that is said about “edgy Christian fiction” these days is there a line you personally will not cross in your writing.
MD: Personally, I dislike that “edgy” thing. It’s like these shock jocks on radio seeing how far they can push the envelope. Writing, whether it be suspense or not, is not about pushing the envelope or living on some edge or whatever. As my daughters say, “Whatever.” It’s about putting together a darn good story that’s believable enough to draw the reader in and make him or her care. Period. I might step on some toes here, but if writing is about being “edgy” that’s pretty immature writing, like some teenager getting all tattooed up and listening to hard core music because he wants to be cool. I know, I know, settle down there young buck. Sorry, that edgy thing is one of my tender spots.
Now to answer your question. For me it’s not a question of drawing a line I won’t cross, it’s more a question of “is it necessary.” Is having a foul-mouthed character necessary to the story to make it more real or believable? I don’t think so. Are explicit sex scenes necessary for portraying someone’s morals or love? Not really. Is describing torture or a beheading or a rape in detail necessary to stir emotions and prompt disgust? No. I think any competent writer can successfully portray all those things without going overboard. How many times have we seen a movie that had some sex scene in it and we thought afterward, “Did they really need to put that in there?” It’s the same with writing.
TG: Cori Smelker from Texas asks a great question on this subject. “Why did you select Christian Suspense? Isn’t this a hard genre to write for and market seeing that many Christians want ‘neat’ fiction that fits into a trite mold? And piggybacking on that, how do you market your material to non-Christians?”
I write Christian suspense because I am first and foremost a Christian. I know a lot of authors say they are an author who happens to be a Christian. And that’s fine. I have no beef with that. But for me, I consider myself a Christian author. My walk with God has to come first and has to bleed through everything I do, including writing. As far as fitting some mold, I don’t know if I do fit a mold.
There isn’t a lot of Christian horror out there (oops, did I say the “h” word?). I think a few of us are making a new mold and quite frankly it seems to be picking up some momentum. As far as marketing to non-Christians, I honestly don’t do a lot of that. I know my primary market is Christians and my hope and prayer is that they will read my books and enjoy them enough to pass them on to non-Christian friends and relatives and then use the story as a platform to jumpstart a conversation about spiritual things.
TG: All I can say to that response is, “Thank you.” I have been struggling with the “writer that happens to be a Christian” vs. “Christian writer” myself and I find the whole deal stifling to the calling God has given me. So what is Mike Dellosso working on now?
Not going insane like a bunch of authors in those creepy horror flicks do.
I’m working on my next novel called Darlington. It’s about a man looking for his missing son and stumbling across an innocent-looking small town. What he doesn’t know but will unfortunately find out is that in Darlington, fear has teeth.
This has been my most difficult novel to write so far. For one, it’s the first major thing I’ve written since battling cancer. I was worried I would be able to write at all. Cancer and the treatment for it takes a lot out of you on a lot of levels. I think the chemo messed with my brain . . . but maybe that’s in my head (that’s a joke, albeit a bad one). I signed a contract for two more books in late June with the first deadline being September 1. This September 1. And I hadn’t started the book yet. That gave me ten weeks to write an 80,000 word novel. I started with a bang, knocked out about 20,000 words, hated it, trashed it, pulled out my hair, and started over. I wrote about 5,000 words, hated it, trashed it, pulled out the rest of my hair, and started over again. That time it stuck. As of answering this question I have about 26,000 words down and six weeks to go. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.
TG: Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege to interview the best Christian suspense writers around (Athol Dickson, Randy Singer, and Steven James). All gave great insights and did a wonderful job. Not to slight any of them but this has been the most candid of them all. Thank you for sharing your mind and heart .
Looking for great reviews of all kinds of fiction?
Check out Fiction Addict.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at 8:04 pm and is filed under Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
- No related posts found.