Having emailed back and forth for this interview, it is clear he is not only a great author but a really nice guy too!
After getting to know a bit about Don through this interview do check out his books – I loved them and they are great for the guys in your life, too
Thanks, Don ~ over to you:
Please share some of your writing/publishing journey with us
Honestly, I never had any interest in writing fiction until early 2001, prior to that, most of my writing consisted of preparing legal briefs and memoranda to be filed in various courts here in the U.S. Sometimes that work is rewarding, but often it is tedious. And I still do quite a bit of legal writing. Just last week, for example, I spent nearly three days researching and writing a 35 legal brief to be filed in federal court, in which both sides were arguing essentially over the definition of the word “pending,” as it applied to a certain federal statute. Thrilling, eh? But my journey in fiction, which is a lot more fun by the way, started when I attended an “Epiphany Party” hosted by some very good friends who, rather than following the popular western tradition of cramming dozens of holiday parties into the month of December, instead plan sort of a late holiday party on the Epiphany, during the first week of January.
That night, as we arrived, dozens of guests were already mingling about on the main floor of the house, smiling and carrying on and toasting the Epiphany with whatever it was they were drinking. But I had something else on my mind. My alma mater, the University of North Carolina, was playing a basketball game that night against Wake Forest University. It was a crucial game in the conference and national standings, and the game was on television.
So, in the midst of all the holiday merriment on the main floor, I snuck down to the basement of the house, found a television, and proceeded to watch the game. With my conscience bothering me just a little bit, I slipped back upstairs to mingle during the commercials and at halftime, but figuring that no one would miss me anyway, but returning back to the basement to catch every play. That game lasted a couple of hours, and my team won.
After the game, I went back upstairs and mingled for another hour or so, not sure that I’d ever been missed. But when I went back upstairs, I felt myself getting a bit ill on the stomach. Of course my gracious hostess noticed me getting ill and tried to nurse me back to health by making me scrambled eggs. That didn’t work.
I went home, and feeling guilty that I had perhaps not been the best guest at the party, I wrote the hostess a note. I remember nothing about the note, except that I opened by quoting Dickens, in describing the party, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
The hostess wrote back, raving about the note, and proclaiming that it was the finest note she had ever read. She in her response proclaimed that I had writing talent, and that I “should write a book.” So at the time I had an old, beat up laptop, and I thought, “why not?”
So the next day, I sat down and started my first novel.
And that’s how it all started for me.
I love it – shows you what a little encouragement can do
Why Christian fiction?
I’m so glad you asked that question. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to give a stump speech at a couple of colleges here in North Carolina on a topic which I call “Fiction as a Weapon in the Culture War.” In the speech, I make the argument, and rightly so I think, that, contrary to popular thought, fiction can actually have a greater impact at influencing the culture, for both good and evil, than nonfiction. In the speech, I cite three great works of fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that have had a profound impact on the culture.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The first is the great work by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Incredibly, this novel, which was a tome against the evil institution of slavery in America at the time, outsold every other book in the world in the 19th Century with the exception of the Bible.
When Lincoln met Stowe in 1863, he commented, “so this it the little lady responsible for this great war.” Stowe was a professing Christian, and by all accounts, her belief clearly drove her in the writing of this novel, in which the main protagonist was a selfless believer who, like the Lord himself, endured punishment for others.
While history shows that Lincoln himself did not initiate prosecution of the war to end slavery, by 1963 when the war was going horribly for the North, he needed a political rallying point to sustain the Union. The abolition of slavery then became that rallying point, built around the Emancipation Proclamation, and the political winds undergirding it all had been stirred to a large degree by the great novelist, Stowe.
Though we didn’t have commercial genres under which we branded works of fiction at the time, I think it could be argued that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first great, profound work of Christian Fiction in America.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
The second work that I cite as fiction seasoning the culture is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by the former Soviet Dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The author, a decorated officer in the Red Army in World War II, had been banished to a Stalinist prison camp for making comments critical about Stalin. He spent eight years in the camp, and it was there that he began secretly writing the novel, depicting the brutally horrid conditions of life in a Gulag under the godless Soviet regime in Siberia.
Solzhenitsyn is a professing Christian, and one of the characters in the novel is a Baptist who elects to actually stay in the camp, enduring the horrid conditions for the purpose of spreading the gospel.
Here is a profound line spoken by Alyoshka, the Baptist, in the great novel. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.”
The text of this novel was obviously banned and outlawed during the Stalin years. But interestingly, Nikita Kruschev, who we now know rendered a stunning, albeit secret denunciation of Stalin in 1956, personally approved this novel to be published in 1962, when it was disseminated on a widespread basis before Brezhnev banned its publication again. But by that time, the cat was out of the bag, so the speak.
Solzhenitsyn, as an internationally acclaimed dissident behind the Iron Curtain, went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, and his literary work served as an inspiration to great leaders like Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and President Ronald Reagan, all whose words and actions contribute to the climate which led to the downfall of the Soviet Union.
Amazing book. I studied it in high school, let’s just say some time ago!!
The Atonement Child
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting my colleague Francine Rivers, but her very powerful work of fiction, The Atonement Child, is the third example I cite of culture-changing fiction. Though the jury is perhaps still out on what effect this novel will have ultimately have on the issue of abortion, I believe that this work, which deals with considers a pregnancy as a result of rape, and the emotional pressures pulling on the mother from every direction. I believe that this novel has the impact, potentially, to influence this issue in a positive way much in the same way that the other two novels have done. So when you ask the question, “why Christian fiction,” I believe that in a sense, effective fiction written from a Christian World View perspective has the power to change our culture in a positive way, in a manner that brings glory to the Lord.
This book is very special – I remember what an impact it had on my when I read it for the first time.
What project or book are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel tentatively entitled The Malacca Conspiracy. It is another geo-political thriller in the mode of Black Sea Affair, and is set in the region around the Straight of Malacca. Much of the action takes place in Indonesia. The manuscript is nearly done, and I’m really excited about this one, although I’m a bit over on my deadline. For my readers who miss the romantic interplay between Zack and Diane, all I can say is “be patient.” Wink.
What does a regular writing day look like for you?
I am most effective in the mornings, usually writing from 7 to 9 AM. Usually, I’m a zombie in the evenings and can’t write much after dark. There’s one exception to that. For some reason, there is a Barnes and Noble near my house, and when I go there, I can write all the way up to 11 PM, if I fill up with their cinnamon tea. Still, this happens maybe once a week, and most of my work is in the mornings.
How was the transition from the Navy JAG Corp to civilian life?
Professionally, the transition was easy. This is in part because the training and the experience that I had in the JAG Corps surpassed just about anything that I could have possibly experienced in my first five years out of law school had I remained in civilian practice instead of having chosen the Navy.
Personally, however, I missed the Navy and still do. My Navy Years in many ways were the best years of my life.
Black Sea Affair
I am fascinated by the contrasting characters i- the almost perfect Zack Brewer (the main protagonist from your first three books) and the world weary and troubled Pete Miranda of Black Sea Affair. Do you relate to one more than the other?!
This is a very good question because in a sense we start with a contrast that we often see in literature or film between that almost flawless “super action hero,” so to speak, like Zack versus the clearly flawed but ultimately triumphant hero Pete.
I think there is merit in literature, at times, to both character types, depending on the personal preference, the mood, and the needs of the reader. In the character of Zack, I’ve had very good friends of mine and literary critics who say that they want to see him more flawed, because they say, and correctly so, that life is flawed and thus they can better relate to a more flawed character. I appreciate that position. And while lots of folks like this element of brokenness in characters, not everybody does. Or put another way, there are times when we just don’t want to read about or view brokenness in our heroes. Indiana Jones, Superman, Rambo and Jack Ryan all point to “super protagonists,” so to speak, who have done quite well out there, and who, frankly, don’t have a whole lot of flaws.
Pete, on the other hand, has a combination of a cowboy swagger when it comes to his competence as a sub commander, but yet has been broken in his personal life with a history of personal sadness. This makes his character a bit more complex than the flawless Zack, and to some who like this type of character, perhaps more interesting.
I can’t say whether I like Pete more than Zack, or Zack more than Pete, because, I suppose, that would be like choosing between your children. I suppose it would depend on the mood I’m in as to which character I’d prefer. Do I relate more to one than the other? Now that you pose the question and I have to think about it, I suppose that ideally, I would like to relate more to Zack, but realistically, I’m more like Pete.
What was your favourite scene to write in Black Sea Affair?
I loved writing Black Sea Affair, which is action, action and more action. That’s kind of a hard question, because I love writing action. I really enjoyed the dogfight scene between the two MIGs and the two F-15s over Georgia [that's the nation of Georgia for your American readers.Wink]. I also loved writing the battle between the submarine USS Chicago and the aircraft carrier off the west coast of the United States, in which Pete Miranda is trying to prevent a sneak nuclear attack against San Diego.
But I guess the scene that I liked writing the most – and maybe my reasons are corny – but it was the scene when Pete and his executive officer, Frank Pippen, are alone on the bridge of the submarine USS Honolulu, enjoying a cigar and taking in a last few breaths of fresh air, just before what may be their final dive under the ocean depths.
In that scene, Pete and Frank are reflecting on their lives, on their failures, on their families left behind, realizing that in a few moments, when that sub dives under the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea for the commencement of a voluntary suicide mission, they probably will never see the light of day nor their families again. Then Pete gives the order, “X.O. take her down,” and Frank responds “Take her down, aye sir,” and they flip their cigars overboard and bells start ringing and there’s the trampling of boots all through the steel grates of the submarine, you hear the command of “Dive, Dive, Dive,” coming over the 1-MC … and the boat starts to nose down into the sea … well truthfully, this was my favorite scene to write. Corny, huh?
If Black Sea Affair was made into a movie, who would you cast?
This is a tough question for me because frankly, I’m a bit ignorant when it comes to Hollywood types. I’m still into John Wayne and Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda and all those guys that starred in the Longest Day. Seriously, since Pete Miranda is in the twilight of his Navy Career, I’d probably steer away from the young hot whippersnappers like Brad Pitt and select more of an elder statesman like, say Mel Gibson. Yeah, that’d do the trick Mel Gibson for Pete. That puts an Aussie, playing the role of a Chilean-American, at the command of the USS Honolulu. Good choice, I think.
Good old Mel!
And Masha Katovich? My pick here is the beautiful Canadian actress, Nicole Evangeline Lilly, who in real life was born to a family of evangelists, and who is multilingual and frankly, who looks the part of Masha.
Please tell me that we will get to see Pete again in future books – there seems so much more of his story to tell!
Tell ya what. If you can get Zondervan to extend my contract out a few more years, I promise I’ll give you Pete again. I kind of like the guy, too!
I’ll be sure to let them know! Come to think of it, I already have
And what about NCIS Agent Shannon McGilverry from Defiance? I felt for her!
Shannon is in a league of her own, and deserves her own novel. Perhaps even her own series! I’d like to do with Shannon what Clancy did with Jack Ryan, perhaps even eventually send her up the career ladder and make her the first woman President of the U.S, since it appears that neither the real life Senator Clinton nor Senator Eleanor Claxton – from my novel Defiance – are headed to the White House in the immediate future.
Will we continue to see books with the military and legal flavour of your current books? Are you tempted to try something different?
I love the military and the legal flavour. But historical fiction also tempts me. In fact, I have one unpublished historical fiction novel in the bag, completed, which frankly, I think is my best work to date. The novel is entitled Destiny, and takes place in the U.S, Britain, France, Africa and Germany during and after World War II. Once I finish writing Malacca Conspiracy, I’m going to put a bug in my agent’s ear about getting a contract for that baby! Hopefully, that baby gets born sooner rather than later!
Sounds excellent – you know the Aussies were highly involved in the Second World War – couldn’t you tweak it so it included Australia too?!?!
Do you read Christian fiction yourself? If so, some favourite authors or books both Christian and/or secular?
Yes I do, when I can find the time. Al Gansky is my friend, my mentor, and the guy who really, more than anyone else, helped me get started. I love reading Al’s stuff, and particularly loved his J.D. Stanton Series. Al’s done some military and some submarine stuff, and he and I think a lot alike. I loved A Ship Possessed and Out of Time.
Robert Whitlow was also a mentor and an encourager back when I first started writing. Robert and I both live in the same city, Charlotte, North Carolina, and that guy, who is an immense talent at writing small town courtroom stuff, offered me tons of encouragement when I was trying to break into writing. Robert is now a movie maker, having produced his novel The List onto the big screen. I like his work and particularly liked The Trial.
Love Robert’s books too – must be the lawyer in me – LOL!
My fellow Zondervan authors Elizabeth White and Brandilyn Collins are two of my favourite women authors in the Christian fiction arena. Beth and I are contemporaries in that we’ve both been writing about the same amount of time, published about the same number of novels, and being kind of in the same place, bounce ideas back and forth all the time. Reading Beth’s work helps me in the fine art of writing romance, something I’m not naturally good at. Check out her newest release, Controlling Interest. And Brandilyn, aside from being one of the best suspense writers I know, is a real trip, is a delight to be around, and is the hit of the party wherever she goes.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Controlling Interest already! My review will be up at TitleTrakk soon!
My favourite secular author is a guy by the name of W.E.B. Griffin, who writes military historical fiction. Loved his Corps Series.
What are you reading at the moment?
Russka, by Edward Rutherford. I’ve been chewing on this for a while.
This is an epic novel – I read it many years ago
Favourite movie and favourite line from a movie?
Favorite line? “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson, starring as Col. Nathan A. Jessep, A Few Good Men (1992).
This is a favourite of ours! My husband and a few of his friends can quote almost the entire script – LOL!
Who inspires you?
Right now, my friend Jeff Lettow, the Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lemon Grove California, calls me every day to remind me, in the words of Deutoronomy 6, to “do the right thing.” Jeff inspires me more than anyone right now.
What do you think of the TV series, JAG? Is it realistic?
I’ve watched a little, although I don’t watch much TV. JAG the TV Series is more Hollywood than real life. The aforementioned movie, A Few Good Men, is much more realistic. But if you want an even more realistic picture of life as a Navy JAG officer, my novel, Treason, is probably the best place to go.
Tell us a little of your family, please
I have three children, all spaced four years apart. So that means twelve straight years of paying tuition! Is that right? What was I thinking? My oldest, Mary Claire, is 19, and is living in Dallas, Texas with some friends of mine. She is hoping to transfer into Southern Methodist University (SMU), the alma mater of the current First Lady of the United States, this fall. She will be a junior. My middle, Caroline, is 16, and is now a rising junior in high school. She’s into drama, and has had leading roles in the school play the last couple of years. She’s also into choir and was in the all-state chorus. She also works at pizza joint and is trying to save enough money to buy a car.
My boy, Graham, well he’s my little blonde-headed buddy! Twelve years old, he’s into video games, the Civil War, and playing basketball. He makes me take him to the gym at the YMCA, where she shoots at least 300 practice shots and makes me rebound the ball for him. Of course, he’s a blast and we hang out together all the time. He’s the only one of my kids who’s read Black Sea Affair, by the way.
Please share some of your faith journey…
A few months ago, I spent about a month studying the Book of James, and in doing so, these words ministered to me
“Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds. For we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work that we may become mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”
It is impossible, in our flesh, to find joy in a trial that could bring about a change in our lives. It’s all oxymoronic, I know, because I’ve lived it. But the Holy Spirit can bring us a supernatural joy in the midst of such trials, and he will, because that is his perfect will. And the end of it all is perseverance, one of the perfect traits of the Lord Jesus, demonstrated to the world by him when he took on our sins and was punished because of those sins. And by our perseverance through our trials, we have the opportunity to reflect him to the world in a way the world does not understand
I remember my grandmother. For the last five years or so of her life, she was so stricken with advanced osteoporosis that she was curled up like a ball, almost, on her bed, unable to move much and unable to walk. Her flesh was so paper thin that she would bleed at almost nothing.
But she was a dynamic believer, and through all this, never once uttered a complaint against the Lord or anyone else, and remained cheerful and blissful, even to the end. Her demeanor through all this was an incredible witness of the love of Christ to many.
And then there was my grandfather. Recently I had the privilege of telling this story in a national television interview, but perhaps it is worth telling once again. Around 1964 or 1965, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer in his throat. It was advanced, and he was sent to the Duke Medical Center, where his doctors gave him six months to live. He had been an intense smoker, had lost his voice, and they wanted him to go through a surgery to insert one of those mechanical voice boxes and to go through extensive radiation treatment. They called it “cobalt” at the time, I believed.
My grandfather and grandmother were country people from a poor background, and my grandmother was the greatest prayer warrior I’ve ever known. My grandmother found out about a Christian lady named Kathryn Kulhman, who was having healing services up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania at the time.
So they loaded into their car and set out from my hometown of Plymouth, North Carolina, all the way up to Pittsburg. They had never been in a city before, and were so unversed in the ways of the world, that at the time they didn’t even know that they were supposed to tip the bagman. Of course they learned pretty quickly, but a northern “big city,” was to them quite culture shock.
Anyway, they got into the service, and got to see Miss Kuhlman. She prayed for my grandfather, and told him that while not everyone she prayed for was healed, that many were, and she believed that he would be.
They drove back to Plymouth, and a week or so later, when my grandfather had his next appointment up at Duke, the doctors were flabbergasted! The cancer had disappeared! They couldn’t understand what had happened. My grandfather whispered to them that the Lord had healed him. They wanted him to take cobalt anyway as a precautionary measure. He refused. A month earlier, they had given him six months. He lived for another 31 years. I remember all distinctly as a young boy. I remember when his voice went away and when it came back.
I share this to say I know there is hope, even for healing, because I’ve seen it first hand in my family. These were the years that began molding me in my walk.
Great story, Don – thanks for sharing it.
Some essential Aussie questions…
When/if you make the trip Down Under what do you want to see first?
Koala. I’m a warm and fuzzy kind of guy.
Vegemite or Peanut Butter?
Vegemite. We get plenty of peanut butter here in the States.
Barrier Reef or Uluru (Ayers Rock)?
Well, I’m a coastal boy at heart, so I’d go first with the Barrier Reef.
Any last words…………………….
Thanks for letting me chat, and I’m hoping that my first international book signing takes place in Australia!
Don – I’ll be first in the queue! Thanks so much for the effort you put into this interview. I really appreciate it and I’m sure my readers do too
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