|Valerie Anne Faulkner
interviews Athol Dickson
Christian Fiction On-line Magazine, October, 2008
On a recent visit to the local bookstore, I was struck by the variety of posters advertising the works of
writers’ souls and gifted imaginations. Words like
BOOK OF THE YEAR!
screamed, “I have a story to tell!”
The books were colorfully arranged, each hoping to stand out in the crowd.
I marveled at the assortment. Then popping out of the group as though waving to me, I noticed a book. Its
author was the subject of my first interview. A tad louder than a whisper, I commented to hubby, “Bill,
look. I know him!”
I raised an eyebrow and with one finger placed at my lips, I attempted to hold back any boastfulness.
“Wow. How many people can say that?”
We exchanged goofy grins. “You know, I’ve been writing interviews of some really interesting people.”
Bill’s chest puffed out ever so slightly. “You’ve met her, too.”
Glancing in the direction my husband pointed, I immediately recognized the book cover. I searched a little
more and counted the books whose authors I interviewed. “Two, three, and four . . . Remember the
wedding dress?” I glanced around. “Check it out! Yum. I virtually sipped that author’s fabulous coffee!”
Bill meandered down the aisle, singling out one more book. “Athol Dickson. Haven’t you mentioned him?”
“I’m working with him this month.” I grabbed Bill’s hand. “Ready?”
Bill sang, “California, here we come . . .”
Mr. Dickson is working while he sits in a recliner, headphones supplying him with a musical serendipity, and
a computer perched on his lap. He welcomes us to “his world.” The room has a beautiful view of the Pacific
Ocean and a vaulted ceiling with exposed wooden beams. An old English pub sign hangs on one wall that
reads RED CAT and includes a red cat’s face with startling green eyes. I prefer looking toward the ocean.
Valerie: Describe Athol Dickson.
Athol: I’m in my early 50s, and lately I’ve begun to feel the years a little bit. Sore hip, a touch of arthritis,
knees that pop when I climb stairs, etc. It’s hard to believe this is happening to me, but turns out I’m only
mortal. (Surprise!) Let’s see . . . what else? I’ve always loved boating and boats. My very patient wife and I
once sold our house and cars and moved aboard a 50-foot boat full time, to cruise the Gulf of Mexico and
the east coast of the USA. And I love to read, of course, and travel. I speak a little Spanish and especially
enjoy visiting Latin American countries. Other than that, I’m just your average boring novelist.
Valerie: Any siblings, or are you an only child?
Athol: I have one brother, who is two years behind me age-wise, and light-years ahead in most every other
Valerie: Do you feel birth order has any direct relationship to one’s personality . . . achievements?
Athol: I have no idea. Maybe. But I do think we can change and grow no matter what our circumstances,
so if a person were shaped by something like being an oldest or middle or youngest child, I don’t think that
means they have to live their whole lives in any certain way. Nature and nurture certainly influence us, but
self-control is underrated.
Valerie: Architect, painter, artist, writer . . . God offered you these talents. You recognized them and have
achieved great things. Do you believe all people have been given a gift, talent?
Athol: Well, thanks for that “great things” part, but I’m not sure we could take it quite that far. As a painter
and an architect, I was average. I do hope my writing is a little better. I wrestle with writing in a way I
never did in the other arts. It’s more painful for some reason, while also being more personally rewarding.
Maybe that’s because I dig deeper. Yes, probably it’s that. So there’s a God-given talent, and, yes, I do
believe everybody has at least one particular talent given by the grace of God, but I also think you have to
add a lot of effort to that gift in order to achieve what God intended. It’s a parallel to faith. In the Bible it
says, “A person is justified by what he does, and not by faith alone.” I think it’s that way with all the gifts
God gives, be they personal talents or the gift of a personal relationship with God. God’s gifts are free of
course, otherwise they would not be gifts, but the gifts must also be accepted, otherwise they’re of no use
whatsoever. To accept God’s gifts, we have to use them as he intended, and that means rolling up our
sleeves and going to work.
Valerie: If someone asked you, “How do I realize my God-given abilities; where do I begin,” what would
you tell them?
Athol: If by “realize” you mean “how do I include them in my life?” or “how do I make them actual?” I
think the answer is what I was just saying about responding to God’s gifts with action. But if you mean
“how do I know what my gifts are?” I think the answer comes by being honest with yourself. If a thing
does not come naturally, at least to some extent, then as much as you might desire the gift, you do not really
have it. Also, if you think more about attaining money or fame or someone else’s approval through the gift,
and less about actually enjoying that gift when no one else is watching, then your true talents probably lie
elsewhere. A gift from God comes naturally (although it must be improved upon as an act of faith), and
once it has been revealed, it becomes a nearly irritable passion. For example, even when I write a simple little
e-mail to a friend, I often go over it several times to polish the language. Even in the littlest of things I cannot
seem to stop myself from caring about writing and working on it. That’s when you know you have a gift.
Valerie: When you sit down to write a new novel, how would you calibrate your personal percentages for
us: inspiration/imagination, perspiration, dedication, and enthusiasm.
Athol: First, I’d have to separate inspiration and imagination, because I see them as different. Inspiration
can come in a subconscious flash, but imagination is a tool one uses consciously and deliberately, and the
use of it sometimes requires a great deal of time. So sometimes I do get an inspired idea as if from out of
nowhere (say, 1 percent of the time), but usually I develop ideas into plots and characters by working hard
with my imagination, (say, 30 percent of the time). Then I apply craftsmanship to develop the plot and
characters in the first draft (this is definitely perspiration, at about 40 percent) and then of course there’s all
that editing and rewrites (more perspiration, so increase it to 69 percent). That equals 100 percent, I think,
which is fine, because I couldn’t separate dedication and enthusiasm from the process anyway. They’re in
every part of the mix as the things that make me want to write in the first place.
Valerie: Would you share what you are currently working on now?
Athol: I’m calling it Lost Mission, but it might not be called that when it hits the bookstores. Sometimes the
publisher’s marketing people let my working titles stand, and sometimes they have better ideas. This one is a
little different from my other novels (but then, all my novels tend to be different). Basically, there are two
parallel stories: one about a Franciscan brother who travels to southern California in the 1700s to establish a
mission, and the other about a modern-day Mexican who enters California illegally in order to preach the
gospel to us here. Naturally these two stories are interwoven, with lots of action and adventure, but I won’t
give away too much about that. Thematically, the story explores what it means to be an unbeliever versus a
person of faith, and what it means to seek God’s will in life, no matter what.
Valerie: What stage you are in?
Athol: I’ve almost completed the third draft, and will send it to my editor later this week. After he has a look
at it, I’ll do at least two more drafts. Maybe more, if he sees a lot of potential for improvement.
Valerie: California—movie stars, celebrities—have you ever considered writing for television? Screenplays
Athol: Based on my first novel, I wrote a screenplay with a guy named Michael Waxman, who has lots of
feature film experience working with Michael Mann, the director. Waxman was great, an honorable man
who taught me a lot about the business and the process of screenwriting, but unfortunately one of the other
producers embezzled the seed money for the production. That left me feeling leery of Hollywood projects.
Life’s too short to worry about dealing with crooks, so unless someone comes along with cash up front and
a percentage of the gross, I think I’ll stick with novels. Of course, only the top names in the business get
deals like that, so I’m not holding my breath.
Valerie: Would you want to act, or have you ever acted?
Athol: In high school I played the lead in A Different Drummer. That’s all, and once was enough for me.
But I’d love to direct a feature film. Wouldn’t everyone?
Valerie: Speaking of California, have you ever felt an earthquake? What was your reaction?
Athol: We had a 5.8 earthquake about three weeks ago. Maybe you read about it. That was my first real
earthquake since moving to California, all the others before it being only tremors. They’re pretty crazy, let
me tell you. I was sitting in the easy chair where I do most of my writing, and all of a sudden the walls and
beams were wobbling. It went on long enough for me to figure out what was happening, but since our
house was built in 1929, I wasn’t particularly scared. I figure the house has made it through some real
doozies before now, so I just kind of kicked back and enjoyed the sensation.
Valerie: Do you have one particular “cherished item” you’d regret loosing in a natural disaster?
Athol: Funny you should ask. Just this morning I was thinking about my Bible, which has about 20 years’
worth of notes in the margin, and what a shame it would be to lose it now. I had an uncle who was a pastor
of a little country church for 45 years, and one Sunday after church he realized he had left his personal
study Bible on the podium, so he went back to get it and sure enough, it had been stolen. I’m still trying to
wrap my mind around that one.
Valerie: This one’s for fun: If you could clone a character from one of your stories, who would it be?
Athol: Papa DeGroot from River Rising. He’s so very . . . interesting, shall we say? I’d tell you more about
him, but I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone.
Valerie: Now, the two of you go to your favorite restaurant called . . .?
Athol: This is a tough choice. Maybe Mandina’s in New Orleans, since Papa is from Plaquemines Parish,
just south of the city. Or maybe we could get Papa on a plane and fly him out to Newport Beach for dinner
Valerie: You’d wear . . .?
Athol: Polo shirt, faded jeans, and topsiders. I never go anywhere that requires coats or ties.
Valerie: You’d order your favorite meal, which is . . .?
Athol: It’s all good at Mandina’s. At Bandera it’s the prime rib.
Valerie: The atmosphere and fellowship with your fictional character is an enjoyable experience. Which of
you picks up the tab?
Athol: Oh, Papa would pay, because he has so much money. Besides, he owes me.
Valerie: You’re funny—good one! Last, you have been asked many questions during your career, but would
you like to share any one thing with your fans? Something they haven’t asked, but you think they would
enjoy hearing about?
Athol: I never cease to be surprised that a reader would want to know about me. Behind the stories I’m just
a guy who sits around all day typing and staring out the window. So I have no idea what a reader would
enjoy hearing about. Would they like to know about my marriage? It’s almost 25 years old, and my wife and
I are still seriously crazy about each other. That’s great for us, but kind of boring for everybody else. People
prefer messy divorces, don’t they? That’s what makes the news, anyway. Speaking of that, I guess I could
mention I’m a news junkie; I scour the Internet for background on news stories all the time. I love dogs and
some cats (affectionate cats), but I do not get along well with horses. For some reason, horses seem to like
to hurt me. I clean the kitchen and my wife cooks. I like cookies, which explains my waistline. I love art
museums and galleries. Beautiful paintings inspire me to write. Basically, like I said before, I’m just a regular
guy who writes novels for a living. But I do try to tell stories that are fresh and original, not like any other
stories, so that’s something.
That’s something to be proud of! Thank you so much for sharing today. It’s been a pleasure meeting with
Athol Dickson's web-site