Why hadn’t I thought of this?
Our Garmin’s right on target.
Thirty miles, give or take, south of Atlanta, we arrive in Henry County
by early afternoon. The computerized female GPS voice stutters a bit as
we meander along the isolated country road. And she
advises we will arrive at our des-ti-na-ti-on in 2/10 m-il-e.
“The network’s gone! Evaporated
into thin air. She left without a good-bye.”
It’s June and hot and I think my
hubby’s loosing it. “I’ll check the paper map and hope our little
Garmin lady, technical advisory guide hasn’t led us astray. “Looks like
we need to turn here, Bill. I’m pretty sure this is it.” Granted, I’m
not like his brand-new Garmin GPS, but Bill listens to me.
and he drives off the dirt road onto a long dirt driveway. Little by
little we diverge into the yellow-leaved woods. “Do we need to put the
Jeep into four wheel drive?”
“Nah . . . Looks like a house
up there.” He veers a little to the right to miss the draping branches
of a gorgeous dogwood tree loaded with flowers. Smiling at me he adds,
“You found it, Val.”
“Isn’t this beautiful? I can hear birds chirpings and smell the color
green.” I inhale the “country” aroma as our tires crunch on fallen
leaves. Ahead, an L-shaped Tudor home, an old ’90 GMC pickup, and a man
maybe my age greet us.
He’s wearing a black T-shirt, worn-out carpenter jeans, and sneakers
made to look like hiking boots. I can’t help but notice He
could use a shave!
W. Dale Cramer is a husband,
father, jack-of-all-trades, and author of the highly acclaimed novels Sutter’s
Cross, Bad Ground, as well as several other published works.
is to be re-released by Bethany in fall 2009 and will explain what has
happened to W. Dale Cramer’s family as a result of this astonishing
His twenty-five years’
experience in the building trade provides him with a wealth of
characters, stories, and insights, all of which inhabit his novels. His
books have earned two Christy Awards, a listing among Publishers
Weekly’s Best Books of 2004, and numerous other Best Book of
the Year lists. Dale Cramer has made an enormous impact with his talent
and creativity. Since 2003, he’s been spiraling up, up, up the “author
ladder of success.”
Dale, his wife, Pam, and two
sons make their home in McDonough, Georgia.
Mr. Cramer leads me to a living
room at the back of the house. He has me sit down for our chat. He sits
down in front of his computer; he’s most comfortable at his shamefully
cluttered cherry desk, working on his Mac.
I’m not totally sure where I
should start, but I contemplate for only a moment and have to smile. He’s
just so authorlike! And he’s an electrician! “This is
actually perfect. May I begin?”
know you’ve been asked this question . . . I even read your answer, and
it brought tears to my eyes. Please tell us again, who were the most
inspirational people in your life?
really never get tired of saying it. My heroes are people you’ve never
heard of— the people who do things for others every day, even when
there’s no money in it. Even when nobody’s looking. I learned this the
hard way in my early thirties, after I was badly burned in an
electrical explosion on a mining project. I was always pretty
hard-nosed and extremely independent, and even though I grew up going
to church, I couldn’t see a whole lot of practical application to being
a Christian in the real world until I spent six weeks in the burn unit.
I made it through the darkest night of my life thanks to a strength I
knew was not my own. I didn’t recognize that strength, didn’t know
where it came from, until weeks later when I learned that on that very
night there were twenty-two churches full of people praying for me.
Later, when my hands were pinned and bandaged so that I couldn’t feed
myself, somebody showed up at every mealtime and fed me. The nurses
could have done it, but they never had to; somebody was always there.
The guys at work passed the hat around and paid my bills. Neighbors cut
my grass and fed my dog. While I was in the hospital a woman was raped
in the parking lot, and the next morning a security guard was arrested
for the crime. That evening a couple from church showed up right at the
end of visiting hours. I didn’t really know them, and they didn’t even
come in the room (I don’t blame them— I looked pretty rough), but when
visiting hours were over, they escorted my wife to her car and followed
her home. The next night a different couple showed up and did the same
thing. This happened every night for the rest of my stay. There was
never a word said about what they did, and I honestly can’t remember
names or faces, but even now I can’t express what it meant to me,
knowing that people were watching over my wife. A thing like that
changes a man. I left that hospital with a new understanding of what it
means to be a Christian: We are the arms of God.
you incorporated “real life” situations into your novels? Care to fill
us in on one or two examples?
rely on my experiences all the time. I’ve been down a lot of dirt
roads, made a multitude of stupid mistakes, and survived more than my
share of disasters, so I’ve got a big bag of stories. My best stories
don’t make good fiction because nobody would believe them, but I’ve
still got plenty of material. Once, when I was flying a sailplane, I
had an encounter with a flock of buzzards, which ended up being a scene
in my first book. In my last novel (the story of a redneck,
stay-at-home dad—and, no, it’s not the least bit autobiographical),
there’s an incident where the dad calls home on his cell phone and his
young son answers the phone. There’s a terrible racket in the
background; his son’s voice is almost drowned out by the crashing of
furniture and the baying of hounds. The dad, shouting into the phone to
be heard over the tumult, asks, “What are dogs
doing in the house?!” and the son yells back, “They’re chasing the
True story, much as I hate to
admit it. Then there was the story of the pretend cigars, the tree
grinding a chainsaw into the ground, the kid getting down on his hands
and knees to get a look up at a fancy belt buckle obscured by the
portly gentleman’s “overhang,” the dog in the treehouse, the ghost
crabs, the card game in the burn unit . . . In fact, I guess half the
stuff in that book was drawn from real life, one way or another. I try
not to force it, but if a piece fits, I use it.
now you’ve got me thinking. What does the W. stand for?
William. It was the first name of my grandfather on my mother’s side
and an uncle on my father’s side.
are/were an electrician. My husband and I own and operate an electrical
contracting business. We’ve done about everything; but now we usually
work on service and repair. What area of expertise in the trade would
you consider yourself to be?
done it all: residential, commercial, industrial. When I was young I
was always good at the heavy stuff— had a natural gift for running
4-inch rigid pipe. Now I mostly ride around on a service truck with an
old friend and we pick and choose our jobs. I enjoy my work. It’s
nearly killed me a few times, but in thirty-five years my job has taken
me to some amazing places, shown me unique sights, introduced me to
some wonderful people, and given me a few insights into life in
general. Readers tend to think of me as a writer who once did some
construction work. That’s not how it is at all. It took me a few years
to figure it out, but the plain truth is I’m a construction worker who
occasionally writes a book. I’m much more comfortable with myself now
that I understand that.
Valerie: I can
relate! What other trades have you tinkered in, and do you have a
particular feeling of accomplishment from something you’ve worked on?
When I was young I worked on
bridges for a while—iron work, carpentry, concrete. Since then I’ve
dabbled in plumbing, drywall, flooring, you name it. I like learning
how to do things, and there’s not much I’m afraid to tackle. I’ve done
some big electrical jobs, worked on three different stadia, and spent
years on the MARTA line and the airport. I do take pride in my work,
but in the end, when it comes to accomplishment, I guess none of it
really stacks up against writing a book.
imagine writing takes up most of your time. Do you find it harder to do
your necessary, physical work/ labor after spending hours at the
That’s sort of upside-down for me—that is, I’ve learned to give the
physical work first priority and do the writing when I have time.
Writing is the greatest hobby in the world, but for me it’s not a great
job. I need—actually need—to get outside and do
real work with other guys on a regular basis or I’m just not myself.
When deadline pressure forces me to stay home from work and write full
time, I get really cranky.
mentioned you and your wife enjoyed traveling, camping, water skiing,
scuba diving, snow skiing, and flying sailplanes when you first were
married. Do you still make time to enjoy these sports? Or do you have
different spare-time indulgences that include kids?
thing is, as soon as you have kids, all your money runs screaming over
the nearest cliff. Life after kids doesn’t include expensive hobbies
like scuba diving or flying sailplanes, but we’ve done all the rest of
it. My kids enjoy water skiing and snowboarding, and they’re both good
snorkelers. I’ve watched my youngest son touch bottom in fifty feet of
water. Both of them are really fine artists, too. They get that from my
really have to hear about the sailplanes. Where did you fly, how high,
and what did it feel like?
before we had kids I flew sailplanes for a few years at a place called
Chilhowee, in eastern Tennessee. Soaring was always pretty high on my
bucket list, and one night when we were watching a movie with
sailplanes in it, I told my wife I’d always wanted to do that. She just
looked at me and said, “So, why aren’t you doing it?” It was, hands
down, the most fun I’ve ever had. I probably never got more than seven
or eight thousand feet above ground level (most thermals around here
top out between 3000 and 5000 feet) and never went more than thirty
miles from the gliderport, so I wasn’t exactly an ace pilot, but it was
all pure joy. Just the idea of going up in that graceful, long-winged
bird and climbing the sky all afternoon on nothing but air currents—the
thought of it still gives me a rush. When your sailplane encounters
rising air, you can actually feel it in the pit of your stomach, like
an elevator. There’s absolutely nothing like it.
to kids . . . have they wanted to go for a fly?
They’ve mentioned it once or twice. One day I’ll take them to the
gliderport for a birthday or something and let them go up with
somebody. Unfortunately, soaring takes too much time and money for me
to stay current in the sport myself. Maybe if Spielberg would return my
calls . . .
You’re a middle child. What was your major complaint being in the
middle, that you felt was different for your older and younger
never really gave it much thought. I stayed in trouble all the time,
but it was my own fault. I knew better than to blame it on the order of
birth. When I was a kid I had a wild imagination, boundless bravado,
and no conscience. I did things I still won’t tell my parents about
(I’m fairly sure the statute of limitations hasn’t run out on some of
them). My older brother was nauseatingly good (through no fault of his
own— he just didn’t have the energy), and my younger sister could do no
wrong because she was the baby of the family and a girl (again, no
fault of her own), so I guess you could say I became the black sheep by
default. Somebody had to do it. However reluctantly, I eventually
warmed to the job and performed adequately. Some would say
Having traveled around the world, how does home in Georgia hold tight
to your heartstrings?
is where the family is. I’ve lived in Georgia for forty years, but I
still don’t feel any particular attachment to the geography. It’s just
where my family happens to be. My parents live just up the road, and I
will stay here and look after them as long as they live, but my wife
and I both grew up army brats, and we still miss the traveling. Don’t
get me wrong, Georgia is a nice place, but we’ve been around enough to
know the world is full of nice places. If we didn’t have family
attachments, we’d almost certainly be vagabonds.
you located in the city or country part of Atlanta?
live in the country . . . or did. When we built our house twenty-four
years ago, it was out in the middle of nowhere. We bought five acres
and built a house four hundred feet back in the woods. The nearest
store was ten miles away. But Atlanta has a way of sprawling, and in
the last few years the city has rolled right over us. These days we’re
surrounded by subdivisions and shopping centers.
you ever been to a “real” Southern plantation?
Dale: No, I
haven’t, mainly because there aren’t any real Southern plantations
left—none that I’m aware of. Very few of the old pre-war houses are
still standing, thanks to General Sherman. That whole way of life
disappeared after the War of Northern Aggression. The few actual
plantation homes that still exist are surprisingly small—nothing like
the grand mansions in the movies. Now there are whole vast subdivisions
of new houses twice the size of the old antebellum homes.
you ever watched TV’s Bizarre Foods, or No Reservations? Seeing all the
places and what’s being served, foods the local people eat, well, could
you tell us what’s “the best in Georgia”?
we still don’t have cable. I don’t watch a lot of television, except
for Braves games (and my wife makes me watch American Idol),
so I haven’t seen those shows. But I’d have to say the best Southern
food I’ve ever eaten was not in a restaurant, it was in the Morehouse
College cafeteria. We were building a dorm for the college a few years
back, and we ate lunch in the cafeteria every day. Those old ladies
could throw down some grub: fried chicken, collard greens, okra, fried
green tomatoes, corn bread, banana pudding, catfish, cole slaw, that
kind of thing. It was all good. Best chicken livers on the planet. I
don’t know of a restaurant that could hold a candle to them.
all know about God’s plan and that it can differ from our own, but what
are you hoping to accomplish this year . . . if it’s God’s will?
like to get another book written and sell the one I’ve got, but the
economy may not cooperate. It would be nice to get out of debt, but
with one son in college and another on the brink, it’s not looking
good. I’d like to lose ten or forty pounds and finish refinishing the
garage, but those things are just goals. All I really want is to be
there, to be in the moment, to experience whatever the day brings
without worrying too much about goals. I have a pretty good life and I
don’t want to miss it.
there any one thing you would like to share with your fans? Something
you haven’t been asked, but think they would enjoy hearing about?
has nothing to do with writing, but it has haunted me for forty years,
and I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody about it. When I was in high
school, I worked in a jewelry store part-time, and I learned watch
repair. One afternoon, maybe a week after Christmas, this kid came in
and laid a new watch up on the counter. He’d busted the crystal off of
it and lost the hands. A little kid, he had to reach up to the counter,
but he had a tight crew cut, grubby T-shirt and jeans, and the face of
a pugnacious thirty-year-old. I hurt for that kid. I could look at him
and see what his old man was like. The expression on his face told me
this was his big Christmas present; he’d broken it doing something
stupid, and he was going to pay, big-time, when he got home. He reached
up and laid like twelve cents on the counter, but when I told him it
would cost five dollars he raked his twelve cents and trudged out the
door, holding his busted watch in both hands like it was a dead bird.
It’s a little thing, I guess,
but I could have fixed that kid’s watch and told him it cost twelve
cents. I could have, but I didn’t. I never saw him again, and I still
regret it. After forty years I still wonder what ripples a little
kindness might have had. These days I try to pay attention, try not to
miss a chance like that. They don’t come back.
have enjoyed this interview, especially since we have so much in
common. I believe I’ve learned something today . . . in particular,
your quote. “All I really want is to be there, to be in the moment, to
experience whatever the day brings without worrying too much about
goals. I have a pretty good life and I don’t want to miss it.” Dale,
thank you. God bless.
Award winning author, Valerie
Anne Faulkner, came from New York, moved to the Gulf Coast of
Florida in 1973. Author of I Must Be in Heaven, A Promise
she spends her days working side by side with her husband, Bill, as an
electrician, then evenings, as a writer. The CFOM interviews have been
a great way for her to meet other authors and hone her writing craft.
This back-porch writer’s family is very important
to her, and
she cherishes time spent with her three grown children and seven
grandchildren. A few hours with family or a day enjoying one of
Florida’s Gulf beaches are her favorite ways to relieve stress and
refresh from her busy lifestyle.
Valerie was honored to receive First
Place (Memoir) 2008 Royal Palm
Literary Award by the Florida Writer’s Association in
November, and now is celebrating her latest achievement as Winner
Next Generation Indie Awards.
Valerie’s motto is “A day with
prayer . . . seldom unravels.”
Visit her at www.imustbeinheaven.com