Hello, reader friends. So glad you could stop by, because I have a special guest today! You may have read my recent review of Christine Dillon’s debut fiction release Grace in Strange Disguise (if not, you can read it here). It’s the story of a young woman whose life is rerouted when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s engaging and uplifting, and I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with Christine about it.
~ About the Book ~
After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when he doesn’t? Has she offended God? Is her faith too small? So many conflicting explanations.
Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?
~ About the Author ~
Christine never intended to become an author. If she ever thought about writing it was to wonder if she might write a missionary biography. So it was a surprise to her to write poetry, non-fiction and now be working on a novel.
Christine has worked in Taiwan, with OMF International, since 1999. It’s best not to ask Christine, “Where are you from?” She’s a missionary kid who isn’t sure if she should say her passport country (Australia) or her Dad’s country (New Zealand) or where she’s spent most of her life (Asia – Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines).
Christine used to be a physiotherapist, but now writes ‘storyteller’ on airport forms. She has written a book on storytelling and spends her time either telling Bible stories or training others to do so.
In her spare time, Christine loves all things active – hiking, cycling, swimming, snorkelling. But she also likes reading and genealogical research, as that satisfies her desire to be an historical detective.
~ Interview ~
Welcome to my blog, Christine. We’re going to start with a little ‘flight of fancy’. How would you finish these sentences?
If I could visit any place in time and space, I would visit … Israel during Jesus’ day and into Acts or during the peak of King David’s reign. I love history so there are many places and times I’d love to visit but always with the proviso that I could get back to the time I wanted.
A popular destination, and with good reason. But yes, I’d definitely like to know I could get back anytime!
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be … the business kind of tasks – fixing things or car registration …
They seem like such little jobs, but somehow they manage to take up a lot of time, don’t they?
If I was an animal, I would be a … horse to run fast or a bird to fly.
There’s something very appealing about being able to run like a horse or fly like a bird, isn’t there?
When I was a child, I wanted to be a … primary school teacher and return to my school in the mountains of Malaysia.
Well, I can’t really say I’m surprised! 🙂
My ideal place to read would be … in a hammock in front of a beautiful lake/mountains but with no biting insects.
Sounds beautiful—especially that last part!
Okay, let’s get down to business, namely Grace in Strange Disguise. Although this is your debut fiction release, you’re very familiar with storytelling. What is the value of story, in your opinion?
Stories allow us to experience others lives and to travel and stimulate our imaginations. They help us to think through issues and what we’d do if we encountered the same situation. Stories help us ‘walk in other people’s shoes’ and so learn compassion and empathy. Most importantly, all stories should lead us back in some way to the greatest story of them all.
Yes, yes, and yes! You’ve been using Bible storytelling as a means of evangelism for over thirteen years now, but writing a novel was a big learning curve for you. What are some of the similarities and differences between using storytelling to share the Gospel, and writing a novel?
The similarity is that they are both stories. So the elements of suspense, character development, ‘voice’ are present in both. All good stories contain elements of THE story – God’s story.
With Bible storytelling (the way I do it) the story is given. I can’t alter it to suit me. With fiction I have to ‘invent’ it with all the dialogue and description. Everything that happens or is said has to be both plausible and suit the characters. Writing fiction is hard work!
I have no doubt! What would you say was the most challenging part of the learning curve for you in writing Grace in Strange Disguise?
I’ve always been a organised person so the structure wasn’t too hard and I was confident in the story from early on. But writing well, that was hard. The editing took more than three and a half years. One lesson I’m finally ‘getting’ is to ‘show not tell’ and also how to do deep point of view. This involves writing in such a way so that we experience the story through the character’s eyes. There are many things that inexperienced writers do that work against this and can jerk us out of the story. The idea is for the story to grip us and never once let us think ‘that’s not right.’
I’m a reader who really appreciates it when an author uses deep point of view and allows the reader to experience the story rather than simply listening or observing, so thank you for all that hard work!
I love that you’ve set the novel in Australia. (I may be slightly biased!) Given that you have spent the majority of your life living in Taiwan (or elsewhere in South-east Asia), what led you to set your story Down Under?
I wrote this novel because the idea came into my mind way back in about 2007 while I was having a half day of prayer. Thus, I feel it wasn’t really my choice, it was simply the main idea and setting that I was given. I said to God at the time, “Is that really you? If it is you’re going to not only have to make yourself clearer but give me the resources to write fiction.” And is his timing, He has.
He always provides, doesn’t He? Could you tell us a little bit about your main character, Esther Macdonald?
She’s grown up as an only child in a family that seems to have everything – brains, looks and money. Life has been incredibly smooth, although there are currents under the surface that she’s never dared to explore. If she wanders near any of these invisible points of tension, she has always pulled back because she wants to keep the harmony with her father.
Esther’s spare time is occupied working in her father’s church. She’s never faced anything that has caused her to doubt God or anything her father teaches. So when life crashes down on her, she has a lot to learn.
What are some of the big ‘faith’ questions Esther has to grapple with in the face of her diagnosis?
She’s always been told, “Trust Jesus and you’ll be blessed,” but now she doesn’t feel blessed at all. She assumes that God will sort out her issue and demonstrate his power. But what happens when God doesn’t do what we expect? Is it because Esther is doing something wrong? Does God care or does he delight in our suffering? All the sorts of questions that hard times force to the surface.
They’re tough questions to grapple with, aren’t they? Given your experience as a missionary, how much do you think the culture we live in shapes our understanding of who God is, and what He wants for us?
Our culture strongly impacts us. That’s why it is so important to expose yourself to other cultures and people. Get out and share the good news with people from other cultures. Invite migrants into your home. Your life will become the richer for it. They’ll help you to see issues you’ve never noticed and expand your view of God and His word. I love telling Bible stories to people who’ve never heard them. It gives me a whole new perspective and helps me see things I was missing before. Many of us live in situations where we can believe God is there to make our lives smooth. Our relative wealth cushions us from truths we need to live.
Even teaching Bible stories to my kids has given me a whole new perspective. They ask questions I would never think to ask, and see things I’ve missed—often because of the relative simplicity of their outlook. So I can only imagine how rewarding it would be to share with people from a different culture.
I understand you’ve got plans to continue the series. Can you give us an idea of what might be coming next?
Book two will continue the story of Esther and her family. I don’t want to say too much now but it will be about something Esther has always longed for. Be careful what you wish for!
Sounds intriguing. I’ll be eagerly awaiting its release!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Christine.