Please Welcome…Mike Dellosso
(*Originally posted January 2010)
What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction novelist Mike Dellosso as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.
Mike is the author of three Christian “chiller” novels: The Hunted, Scream, and Darlington Woods. He writes stories that are suspenseful and scary but pack a spiritual punch as well. He says that, for him, the message is just as important as the story.
Mike lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He is a former newspaper correspondent and columnist and 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.
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Mike Dellosso: Oh, the usual: working, family stuff, walking the dog, church meetings, doctor appointments, shoveling snow . . . but you didn’t mean that, did you?
For the past six months I’ve been working on my next novel, Darlington Woods. For a while there, writing and editing were king. Now networking, planning book signings, and ramping up the marketing are the order of the day, all the good stuff that goes into putting a book on the bookstore shelf. I never cease to be amazed at all the “other” work that goes into producing a book.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good point. I’m glad you’re plunging yourself into doing that work. Some novelists want to just sit in their ivory towers, drop finished books out the window, and move on to the next breathtaking work of staggering genius. (I wish!) So, Mike, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Mike Dellosso: It has to be C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I read them in seventh grade and was just captivated by them. Read them again and was awed. They took my imagination hostage. I’ve never read a book that has had such an impact on me since.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Mike Dellosso: I’ve always been fascinated with the unknown and mysterious. Shows like Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone and The X-Files kept me glued to the TV. Mysteries like Big Foot and Loch Ness Monster and UFOs still fascinate me (yes, I believe there really is a Big Foot . . . or North American ape (don’t look at me that way)). I write about what interests me, what gets my mind wandering and my imagination revved up. With speculative fiction there is no limit, you’re hampered only by your own imagination, and I love that.
WhereTheMapEnds: I believe in Bigfoot and UFOs too, though perhaps not in the way others do. Check out my white paper on the subject. Mike, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Mike Dellosso: Well, for starters, even before I had found an agent I was told by a published author that no one would touch my manuscript because no publisher would put me up against Frank Peretti. That wasn’t very encouraging (but she was eventually proved wrong . . . hey, no hard feelings).
As for everyone else, once the book was out: I scared my wife, my friends started looking at me like I was some psycho-maniac–“This stuff is in your head?” (Yeah, and a lot scarier stuff than that!), my parents likened me to a son with musical talents deciding to ditch his violin and play heavy metal, and the readers loved it (at least the ones who told me they loved it did).
WhereTheMapEnds: LOL. That sounds about right. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Mike Dellosso: I love horror and supernatural suspense. My favorite authors on the Christian side of things are Kathryn Mackel, Travis Thrasher, and Eric Wilson (unfortunately, there’s not a lot of us writing in this genre). In the general market, I enjoy the two “K” masters: Koontz and King.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Mike Dellosso: In a word, growing. I think the whole group of speculative subgenres is gaining some traction, some more quickly than others.
I’d like to think “chillers”/supernatural suspense/thrillers is growing in popularity and I’m seeing some signs of that in comments my own readers make. Sci-Fi and Fantasy should garner more interest in the Christian market because they are ripe for carrying powerful messages.
I’d like to see those genres more widely accepted and marketed. There might be some old stereotypes that need to be broken before that can happen, though. I know with horror there’s always that stereotype that scary stories have to be chock-full of gore and guts and crude language. But that’s not true and there’s a few of us out there trying hard to break down those assumptions.
WhereTheMapEnds: More power to you! What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Mike Dellosso: Well, if we’re calling it Christian speculative fiction, I’d like to see it get back to actually having a Christian message and purpose.
(Disclaimer: These are the opinions of me, myself, and I and in no way presume to reflect the opinions or views of WhereTheMapEnds).
I’m concerned that Christian speculative fiction is losing its Christian-ness. There’s more and more books out there published by Christian houses and marketed and labeled as “Christian” fiction with no Christian message at all.
Look, I don’t have a problem with a Christian writing a story that’s really not Christian in nature, but please don’t market it as such to capture the Christian audience.
If ever there was a genre made for a Christian message it’s speculative fiction. Let’s take advantage of that and write stories that matter, stories that move and impact and challenge. What are we waiting for?
WhereTheMapEnds: I wonder if what you’re talking about is how some Christian novelists feel called to reach out to the lost and try to do so through their novels. It’s a legitimate calling. (See Tip #93 on this page.)
Unfortunately, when those authors get published through Christian houses, those houses do the only thing they know how to do when it comes to marketing: they try to appeal to the Christian market. So you get an author trying to do Thing A but going through a publisher that knows only how to do Thing B, and Christian readers–the only ones buying these books–end up getting books targeted at someone else.
The inroads into Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble notwithstanding, Christian publishers sell to Christians. End of story.
So, Mike, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Mike Dellosso: Who knows what any publishing will look like in years to come? But my hope (and prayer) is that Christian speculative fiction will be a major player, delivering great stories with great messages of hope and love and redemption and forgiveness. I’d like to see more houses and imprints follow in the steps of Realms Fiction and Marcher Lord Press and actively seek out Christian speculative fiction.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Mike Dellosso: Write the story in your head and on your heart. Let your imagination go, but make it count. Lots of people will read your story and that may be the only time you get to say anything to them, so what are you going to say? Write each book like it’s the last one you’ll ever write.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ooh, good word, Mike. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Mike Dellosso: Stephen King’s On Writing is the best writing book I’ve ever read, hands down. I’ve read it multiple times and every time learned something new or got inspired in a whole new way.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Mike Dellosso: I have a pretty active and sometimes weird imagination, and with speculative fiction I unhook the leash and let it go. No limits. As far as I’m concerned, the weirder the better . . . and that’s what scares my wife and friends (I can get pretty weird).
WhereTheMapEnds: Awesome. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Mike Dellosso: I’m currently working on my next book, due out May, 2011. It’s in the meditative stages right now, nothing written (except the first chapter, which will be a “teaser chapter” at the end of Darlington Woods), but thinking through storylines, twists, characters, backstory, all that meaty stuff that makes a story great.
[Editor’s note: Mike has generously supplied the prologue of Darlington Woods to us for our enjoyment. Click here to read it.]
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Mike Dellosso: There’s a legend in northern Maryland that goes all the way back to colonial days about a dragon-like creature called a snallygaster. Sightings have been reported from Maryland to West Virginia to Ohio. That kind of stuff intrigues me and I’d love to write a story about such a creature.
WhereTheMapEnds: A snally-who? Sounds like something out of “Jabberwocky. What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Mike Dellosso: A couple of months ago I read Stephen King’s short story “Children of the Corn” for the first time. Totally creeped me out. I still can’t get it out of my head. Every time I saw a corn field (they’re all harvested now) I heard an eerie voice in my head whisper, “He who walks among the rows.” Creepy stuff.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Mike Dellosso: One way to promote growth in the genres of speculative fiction and to break down the stereotypes and fears of others is to write captivating, moving stories with some takeaway value (the kind agents and editors can’t say no to no matter what the genre), buy spec. fiction books, and talk about them . . . then talk about them some more . . . then tell your friends to buy them and talk about them.
That’s All for This Time