THE CRAFT OF WRITING – OCTOBER 2020
THE CRAFT OF WRITING – OCTOBER 2020
This month I’m happy to welcome Daniel Overdorf to the blog. Although Daniel has previously published non-fiction titles, A Death Well Lived is his first novel and is a 2020 Illumination Awards Winner! It was published and released in January 2020 by CrossLink Christian Publishers. The book description on Amazon is so compelling that I’m including a portion of it here:
Lucius Valerius Galeo personifies the Roman Empire’s ambition and dominance. An egotistical centurion, his swagger betrays his arrogance and his blood-stained fists evidence his quick temper. He serves in Judea, quelling Jewish riots in Caesarea’s hippodrome and doing the bidding of the governor, Pontius Pilate, from Jerusalem’s fortress of Antonia. The Jewish people repulse him.
A Death Well Lived is a captivating tale set in first century Judea that offers hope for the worst among us and the worst within us.
Daniel Overdorf grew up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and southern West Virginia, where he experienced the value of the blue-collar work ethic, the wonder of Appalachian storytelling, and the joy of being raised in the home of a preacher who loves the church with all his heart.
These early influences continue to shape his perspectives of life and faith. He graduated from Johnson University, then spent the next ten years ministering with churches in Illinois and Georgia. In the meantime, he earned a Master of Divinity from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently serves as Professor of Pastoral Ministries with Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Prior to A Death Well Lived, he published four books related to the church and preaching.
Welcome, Daniel! Congratulations on your Illumination Award and thank you for joining us!
Thank you so much. I appreciate the kind introduction and I’m honored to join you.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?
I remember going to the library as a boy and coming back with my arms full of books. I read all the Hardy Boys series, and later Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. Stories have always captured me.
Through high school and college, teachers encouraged my writing. I appreciate that they saw potential in me. It wasn’t until after college, though, that I considered writing for publishing. At this time, I began writing longer papers for grad school, articles for church newsletters, and lessons and sermons on a regular basis. I enjoyed the process, both the research and the creative side of it.
After having written non-fiction, what made you decide to write this novel?
My previous books grew out of what I was learning in grad school and later as a professor. I enjoyed sharing with readers what I had researched and wrestled with.
A few years ago, I decided to write this novel for several reasons. I have long felt that pastors could learn much from novelists about communication. Since my primary role is to teach pastors, I decided that learning to write fiction would add value to what and how I teach. Also, I wanted to tell this particular story. There are a couple of Roman centurions who show up in the New Testament, but we know very little about them. I wanted to imagine what a centurion’s life may’ve been like before and after encountering Jesus. Finally, I just wanted to learn how to do something new. It was time in my life and development to stretch myself, and since I’ve always loved story, I felt this would be a fun adventure.
I included part of the book description above. Can you fill us in with a short synopsis of A Death Well Lived?
When the book opens, the main character, Lucius, isn’t the most likable fellow. He’s selfish and violent, especially toward the Jewish people in his jurisdiction. As the story unfolds, though, he encounters courage, warmth, and generosity among the Jews that begins to soften his heart. Then, when he crosses paths with a rabbi from Galilee, his whole worldview is called into question.
As a historical novel, the book carefully weaves in historical research about the culture, geography, and events of first century Judea. While writing the novel, I was able to make three trips to Israel to walk the countryside and see the sites where my story would unfold.
What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
For me, the most difficult aspect was to let the story drive the book. I so enjoyed the research, and I found myself, time and again, including too much data and too little story. My original draft had paragraph after paragraph of description. It was good description (if I don’t say so myself!), but it muddled the story.
With the help of gracious and wise a writing mentor, Cindy Sproles, I learned to bring the story front and center (you can read about Cindy’s perspective of this process at this link). I was still able to include much of the description, but I learned to use it in a way that furthered the story rather than distracting from it.
Describe your path to publication.
Though I was a published author, I was not a published novelist. So, in essence, I was starting from scratch. Christian fiction and non-fiction are two different worlds. I spoke with a couple of agents who offered helpful guidance. I had worked once in the past with CrossLink Publishing, a small, Christian, trade publisher out of South Dakota. I contacted the editor there, and after a few conversations we decided to move forward with the project. I appreciate the opportunity to work with CrossLink.
What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?
I want readers to turn the last page and feel hope—hope that people can change (including ourselves), and hope that our sovereign God is stronger than even the most difficult circumstances we may face.
What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?
Find a mentor. Some join writing groups, where members encourage each other and critique their work. Others are able to develop relationships with established writers. However you accomplish it, don’t write alone. Invite others to speak into your process.
What do you do when you want to get away from work?
I have a couple of teenagers still living at home who keep us busy with concerts, school plays, ballgames, and similar activities. So, I spend much of my time away from work cheering for my kids. I also enjoy exercising, playing golf, and watching college sports.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a book tentatively titled Preaching: A Simple Approach to the Sacred Task. It will be a basic textbook for first-year preaching students and a refresher for experienced pastors. I’m working with Kregel Publishers. It will be another year or two before it’s completed and released.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Thank you, Daniel, for sharing your expertise with us!
You’re more than welcome!