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
The books were colorfully
arranged, each hoping to stand out in
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 . . .”
His name is Scottish and is
pronounced with a long A and O, like “eighth-ol,” with the accent on
the first syllable. Born in the fifties, Mr. Dickson’s life journey has
been filled to the brim. He’s been a clothing salesman, carpenter,
architect and more. After years of diversity he took yet another path
and in the mid 1990s began writing.
His novels have been award
winners, and have made the top ten on best novel booklists, such as Christianity
Today and the Christian Fiction Review. The Gospel
According to Moses, River Rising, The Cure, and Winter
Haven are a few of his titles. Raised in Texas, Mr. Athol
Dickson currently resides in California with his wife, Sue.
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.
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
Any siblings, or are you an only child?
have one brother, who is two years behind me age-wise, and light-years
ahead in most every other way.
Do you feel birth order has any direct relationship to one’s
personality . . . achievements?
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.
painter, artist, writer . . . God offered you these talents.
recognized them and have achieved great things. Do you believe all
people have been given a gift, talent?
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.
If someone asked you, “How do I realize my God-given abilities; where
do I begin,” what would you tell them?
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.
When you sit down to write a new novel, how would you calibrate your
personal percentages for us: inspiration/imagination, perspiration,
dedication, and enthusiasm.
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.
Would you share what you are currently working on now?
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.
What stage you are in?
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.
California—movie stars, celebrities—have you ever considered writing
for television? Screenplays for movies?
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.
Would you want to act, or have you ever acted?
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
Speaking of California, have you ever felt an earthquake? What was your
had a 5.8 earthquake about three weeks ago. Maybe you read
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.
you have one particular “cherished item” you’d regret loosing in a
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.
one’s for fun: If you could clone a character from one of your stories,
who would it be?
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.
Now, the two of you go to your favorite restaurant called . . .?
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 at Bandera.
You’d wear . . .?
shirt, faded jeans, and topsiders. I never go anywhere that requires
coats or ties.
You’d order your favorite meal, which is . . .?
all good at Mandina’s. At Bandera it’s the prime rib.
The atmosphere and fellowship with your fictional character is an
enjoyable experience. Which of you picks up the tab?
Papa would pay, because he has so much money. Besides, he owes me.
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
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
That’s something to be
proud of! Thank you so much for sharing today. It’s been a pleasure
meeting with you.
Valerie Anne Faulkner, a New
York native moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1973. Author of I
Must Be in Heaven: A Promise Kept, 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 six
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’s motto is “A day with prayer
. . . seldom unravels.” Visit her at www.imustbeinheaven.com.