Monday, September 17, 2012

A Mocha with Dan Walsh - and a Contest

One of the highlights of ICRS in Orlando this past summer was getting to meet and interview Dan Walsh. Dan's writing landed him a spot on my favorites shelf with his debut novel The Unfinished Gift in late 2009. Each book has been even better than the one before it, and his newest release, The Reunion, will touch your heart.

When we sat down to chat, the Carol Award nominations had just been announced, and his third book, The Deepest Waters, had been nominated in the Short Historical category. (The Carol Awards will be presented this Saturday night at the ACFW Conference in Dallas, and I am so excited that I will be attending!). Grab a mocha and enjoy my chat with Dan as we discuss his nomination, his thoughts about constantly being called "the Nicholas Sparks of Christian fiction," and the true story that sparked The Reunion.

Congrats on your Carol Award nomination on The Deepest Waters. I was a bit surprised to see it in the Short Historical category with the Heartsongs novels.!

Thank you. I didn't write it to be in that category but it came out on the short side. One of the things people say about my books is "I couldn't put the book down" or "It's a fast read." Revel didn't want me to fatten the book up. Historicals can be 450 pages, but my writing style is not to put a lot of extra stuff in the story. I guess I'm a minimalist. I want just enough setting to put the reader there and then get right to what's happening. It made it a bit short, so I told Revell that I had a ton of research and asked them if they wanted me to go back and put more setting in; they said, "No, we like it crisp and that's what you're becoming known for, so let's leave it that way."

I've read books that are so heavy on the historical setting that they read more like a non-fiction documentary and the story gets lost in the details. I end up skimming a lot of the book. I hate that!

A lot of people who write historicals love history, and they think everyone loves all the stuff they're reading, which for me as a reader, I'd be skipping. One of my favorite writing quotes is from a secular author named Elmore Leonard. He writes thrillers; I've stopped reading his books because they're too profane for me, but his style is so crisp. There are no wasted words. In an article on writing fiction he said, "In your writing, try to leave out all the parts readers skip." That just stuck with me. It's like the cutting room floor. The guys film all this stuff because they want to get it all but when it comes down to what you put on the screen or on the page--I want the story to really move. I want people to come back and say, "I couldn't put it down" or "I read it in one or two sittings." That's my goal. There's so much I've looked up to put into the story but that was for me; I needed that so [the story] rang true. But I don't need to put in six other pages that a few other geeks like me would love but everybody else is skipping. My goal is to take that stuff out even before it gets to my editor. She loves that. Sometimes she says I'll give it to her and there's nothing left for her to trim.

You've been putting books out at quite a pace. That's caused some physical issues for you, hasn't it?

Yes, I've had both carpal tunnel and some ulnar nerve issues due to the way I was typing on my laptop and putting pressure on my elbows. Doing that for four years at two books a year, it finally caught up with me. The last couple of months I've had some weakness and numbness and so I've made some changes. I got a bigger laptop, but I'm mostly doing the voice recognition software, which works really well. I'm writing a series with Gary Smalley [The Dance releases in April] and I was just about to start the second book when I began having issues. I probably would have had to take several months off if that hadn't been available. I thought it would be odd, but the only difficult thing is that I have to be by myself now. I used to be able to go anywhere to write. I can't exactly sit at Starbucks with this!

People are still discovering The Discovery, which has been a huge success, and now The Reunion is coming out! I really enjoyed reading it. What prompted this story?

When I was researching an earlier World War II book, I came across two different stories that were similar and they just really struck me. There were two gentlemen--and these are true stores--who, during the war, did crazy, heroic things; they saved all these lives, and then they came home. They got the Congressional Medal of Honor; most who get that receive it posthumously because they die in the doing. These guys came back and lived lives of virtual obscurity, and the people who saw them had no idea what they had done.

One of the men actually became a custodian at the Air Force Academy. The cadets come in and they're all about patriotism and making their mark, and this man was just the janitor; I think 20 or 25 years went by. One of the students was doing a research project on the Congressional Medal of Honor winners and wondering if any of them are still alive, and he came across this name and picture and the crazy things this guy did in battle, and it was the name of the custodian. He thought, "That can't be!" but he goes up to the custodian and asks "Is this you?" The man just nods, and the student just cannot believe what this man did and here he is, mopping their floors and cleaning their toilets and some people don't even acknowledge him when they walk by. So he passed the word around about who the man was, and that year at the big graduation ceremony, they surprised him and honored him. After that, he became a celebrity at the Academy, and he was just this humble guy. I thought, "I want to write that story."

I had just written a couple of World War II stories and I wasn't sure I wanted to be pegged as "the World War II guy." I grew up in the Vietnam era and to me, it was a bit like a plague. I vividly remember in elementary school that one of my friends got called out of class and was told his big brother had just been killed in Vietnam. Every day you'd come home and the war would be on the news. And then from 1968 on, you saw all the protests and all the outrage. I remember my parents--and my dad was a Korea War vet, very patriotic--discussing moving to Canada so my older brother and I wouldn't have to go through the war. And of course, when the soldiers came home, they were just treated terribly because of all the animosity about the war. The animosity should have been toward Nixon and the guys making it happen, not the soldiers. When the Gulf War happened in 1990/1991, that was almost like a time of healing when there were these parades, like I wrote about in the book, and the Vietnam Vets were invited out of the stands to walk with the Gulf War vets in the parades.

So I just married those two ideas. Instead of telling that story in a World War II environment, I decided to tell it in a way that communicated my gratitude for the guys who fought in Vietnam. I was spared because I was born five years later but if I'd been born five years earlier, I'd been thrown in the middle of that.

That is a neat story and The Reunion is such a great book! Do you think you'll write a follow-up book?

I don't know if they'll want me to write a sequel. Most of my books are stand-alones, except for the first two. The Unfinished Gift was intended to be a standalone, and when it was done they asked me what I wanted to write next. I said that I could see a second story from this book, a love story, and I would like to write it but I wasn't under contract for it. They told me to put together a synopsis and start writing it and they'd look at it. They loved it, and it turned into The Homecoming. Then, after The Homecoming , there started being all of these Nicholas Sparks connections. I'd never even read any of his books. Revell said they'd like to keep me in stand-alones, which I was happy to do, but the other part of me is that I get really invested in these characters! I can see why authors like to write three or four books in a series; there's more to tell! I have to sort of chop it off and then invent another set of characters and another setting. Sometimes the motor keeps running! With some of my books, I've actually written a synopsis for a sequel in case I get to come back to it. I have a synopsis written out for The Deepest Waters, called The Longest Road, which I'd love to write someday. So we'll see! The Lord knows what the future holds.

Let's talk about the whole Nicholas Sparks thing. It frustrates me a bit when people do that--say that you're the Nicholas Sparks of Christian fiction. I know it's meant as a compliment. I used to read his books but I quit because, frankly, I don't like reading a story that pulls on my emotions when the relationship itself goes against my Christian beliefs, such as an affair.

When they make that connection, I understand what they're saying. I'm a male author writing books that are more emotional and relational than a thriller or a suspense novel, and the suspense is in the relationships and what is unfolding. But my world view and my convictions are so different, I'm not comfortable [being aligned with him]. Since I'm always compared to him, my wife and I just watched the most recent movie based on one of his books. Where he goes with the characters, I don't go. I don't think it's right to go there, morally. In real life, when people do that, it spoils. I've been a pastor for 25 years and I've watched what happens when couples are unfaithful. I've even seen scenes where the wife is with a guy who is a jerk, and you can almost think "He's a jerk; I would want you to be happier than with this guy." But God's way of redeeming that would be to redeem the jerk and lead the jerk to see what he's doing and have them restored rather than cash in on the jerk with someone else--who may possibly be a jerk in three to five years! On the interview I read of Sparks, his view is that as long as the couple is in love, it doesn't matter to him if they're sexually active. I disagree with that philosophy. I want people who compare us to understand the differences. I posted on my blog about this awhile back.

Well, I think that you're the one setting the bar for Nicholas Sparks because you have the romance and relationships but you set a higher standard for your characters.

I have seen broken marriages restored when one or both start putting the Lord first. It's not always pretty; it's messy and it takes time, but I've seen it happen where there is a happy ending.

I find it amusing about us [as humans] that we think it's so unusual when a man writes like you do, but we don't blink an eye when a woman writes a tight military suspense thriller.

What I think I've gained from listening to and asking people about this--and I think it's a fair criticism so I'm not offended--is that men are typically not known as good listeners. A lot of husbands aren't good listeners. Marriage books have a lot on husbands learning to listen. Even when Peter tells husbands to live with your wives in an understanding way [I Peter 3:7], what it really means is you need to learn how to listen and hear their hearts. One of Gary Smalley's primary things when he talks to a man is "listen to her heart." Don't just react to her words. Maybe she has an emotional tone and your trying to logically sort her words out. No, you have to hear her heart. That's what women do with other women. When they talk, all the things they say that are emotional, other women are reacting to, and they feel comfortable sharing their hearts with each other. So what I've heard is, when men write women's parts and women read it, it doesn't ring true. A woman wouldn't say that or react like that. I don't know if this is part of my relationship with Cindy [his wife] because we've been best friends the whole time, except for the first five years when I was a moron! I really was; I was just like any thick-headed moron and almost lost her. It's ironic how God brought this around, because someone handed me Gary Smalley's first book If Only He Knew and said "this will help you." It totally opened my eyes to the kind of husband I was and how I was treating her. I realized she had to be the focus and it changed how I related to her. Then I became a pastor--we were in a fairly small church and Cindy and I did lots of marriage counseling; we wore all the hats. So I was involved with people in crisis and did a lot of listening. That may have given me an edge in writing these books because I learned to listen at a heart level.

That was going to be one of my questions--how being a pastor has impacted your writing.

I don't know that all pastors have that experience. If you are a pastor who mainly preaches and does meetings, you might miss that element. My life was in the trenches a lot and I think that, coupled with my friendship with Cindy, gave me the ability. Cindy does read everything I write.

Cindy popped in and then left, but I wasn't sure if I should ask this or not, but does writing these books put some pressure on your marriage? You're just a person, and you're still not going to have a perfect marriage; does she ever needle you and say "you can write these great books but. . . ."

No, she doesn't. Our definition, too, of romance really is not just the flowers and remembering the anniversaries, etc. That's why this situation with Gary Smalley [to co-author a series with him] has been such a good fit for us. It had been awhile since I'd read his books because my church was doing some other family materials. After I retired from ministry and this opportunity came, it was a wonderful reawakening and I realized we are so alike in our outlook on relationships; it was like a hand and glove fit. He says the same thing about romance. Sure, women like flowers. But what they want is relationship. The friendships that they have with other women, they would love to have with their husbands. It's their husbands who aren't available for that, not that women don't want that.

I'm not giving Cindy flowers every day. Some guys could be more creative than I am on the wild and crazy romantic things you see in movies. But I do feel like, where it counts, she knows nobody matters more to me than she does. There's nothing I do that means more to me than spending time with her does. If you told me right now that you'd give me any amount of money to do anything I want, my first thought would be, "What are we going to do?" I really do think it's fair to say, except for writing off those first five years as a moron, for the 30 years since then, there's no one I'd rather spend time with--waste time with or do extravagant things with--than her. Writing these books is really kind of easy for me; it's not like I'm stretching. The area where she's been a real big help is, I don't still pretend I know all what women are about. Each day when I finish a chapter (my goal each day is to write one chapter), I read it to her and get immediate feedback. Usually, she loves it, but anytime she feels it's just the least bit off in the woman's thoughts or reactions, she'll tell me. And I crave that. She's like an editor to me. Even my editor says, "Don't send it to me unless Cindy's read it." The one book I didn't listen to Cindy like I should have and sent it off to my editor was the one I had to do the most rewrites.

Thank you so much, Dan! I look forward to seeing you in just a few days in Dallas!

Dan shared just yesterday on his FB page that "a major movie producer has just optioned The Reunion for the next year and wants to make it into a film!" I am so excited for Dan; this would make a phenomenal movie.

Here's the information about The Reunion from Revell, followed by my review.

The Reunion
Dan Walsh
ISBN: 978-0800721213
September 2012/304 pages/$14.99

Everything lost can be found.

Aaron Miller knows a thing or two about loss. He's lost love. Dignity. Second, and even third, chances. Once honored for his heroism, he now lives in near obscurity, working as a handyman in a humble trailer park.

But God is a master at finding and redeeming the lost things of life. Unbeknownst to Aaron, someone is searching for him.

With deep insight into the human heart, consummate storyteller Dan Walsh gently weaves a tale of a life spent in the shadows but meant for the light. Through tense scenes of war and tender moments of romance, The Reunion will make you believe that everyone can get a second chance at life and love.


Dan Walsh has once again touched my heart with his gift of story. From the opening scene where Aaron Miller lives in a storage room at Bentley's Trailer Park and Campground--with a bed that "wasn't much more than a military cot. But it was way nicer than sleeping in cardboard boxes and underneath highway overpasses. He'd done enough of that years back."--I was swept into this book. So many hidden scars he carries from the war as he quietly devotes his days to serving the visitors and residents of Bentley's; hidden away in his room is the highest honor a soldier can receive, the Congressional Medal of Honor, which he received for saving the lives of three fellow soldiers. Walsh has penned a beautiful tale of a life lived in obscurity, yet not unseen by the One who says "the last shall be first." It is also a powerful tribute to our nation's Vietnam Vets and is highly recommended for anyone who served or knows someone who served in that conflict. And for anyone who has felt the heartache of abandonment, only to discover that the truth isn't always what it seemed, this book is for you. Poignant and tender, The Reunion brought smiles and tears. My only complaint is that it ended!


Dan Walsh is the award-winning author of several books, including The Deepest Waters (nominated for a 2012 ACFW Carol Award), The Discovery and The Reunion. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years. He lives with his wife in the Daytona Beach area, where he's busy researching and writing his next novel. Visit his website.


Dan Walsh is celebrating the release of The Reunion with a 10-book giveaway! Five readers will each receive a copy of The Reunion as well as a copy of his Carol Award nominated book, The Deepest Waters. For details and to enter, click here. BUT HURRY! Contest ends at 6:00 pm tonight!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell prior to my interview with Dan Walsh. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


View blog reactions


Cara Putman said...

LOVE Dan and his books. The Reunion is a wonderful story. My husband and I loved it.

Bonnie Engstrom said...

I love Dan's books and have reviewed several as an influencer. My problem when I write a review of one of his books is how to be critically logical. I just want to write "Exceptional," "Fabulous,"
"Outstanding writing" and every other flowery word I can think of.
Great interview, Linda! So nice to learn more about a great writer.

Glenda Parker Fiction Writer said...

I love Dan's books and would a chance to win a copy. It's always good to learn more about one of my favorite authors.

Glenda Parker

Jo said...

This sounds wonderful! Thank you for the opportunity!


Lcenlow said...

Wow, this would be fantastic! Thanks for the opportunity! Your interview was very insightful. I love learning more about the authors I read.

Deborah Lynne said...

Linda -- This was my first cup of coffee with you. Loved reading your interview with Dan. It was so good, my coffee went cold.

I'm looking forward to my next mocha with Linda!!