The Omega Writers blog is privileged to interview the first Australian winner of the prestigious Christy Award for Christian fiction, David Rawlings, who was a presenter at our 2019 Omega Writers Conference. Tamika Spaulding asked him to spill the beans on his writing life, and the announcement of the prize.
Tamika: First, tell me a bit about yourself.
David: I’m in my late 40s, based in South Australia, with a teenage family and a greyhound. I’m a sucker for sport of any flavor and love music. I play bass in our worship band at church and wish I had more time to grow my vegies. You’ll always find me in the kitchen because I’m a serial caterer and chef. I work for myself and love the freedom it brings, and the things it allows me to do … like writing fiction.
Tamika: How long have you been writing?
David: Since I was six. The stories and poems I wrote at my family’s kitchen table graduated to journalism and songwriting in University, then corporate communication and media in the workforce. I’ve run my own business as a freelance copywriter and writing trainer for the past 15 years, so I’ve been writing every day of my nearly 30-year career. I’m now writing fiction – and have been since 2015 – but in a way I’ve returned to what I was first doing around that kitchen table.
Tamika: What do you like to write about?
David: I’m the type of person who likes to talk about the deeper things in life, so I write fictional stories wrapped around themes. For The Baggage Handler it was dealing with emotional baggage. For The Camera Never Lies, it is about honesty in relationships. For Where The Road Bends, it is about questioning where you are on the road of life.
They’re modern-day parables, written to make people think and reflect after they’ve read. And in a world that is moving beyond post-modern to post-truth, it’s an interesting way to introduce conversations about values and beliefs without watching the shutters go up. Having said that, the concept of values in story isn’t new; to Christian readers this is a similar approach to Jesus and His parables. And in Australia our First Nations peoples have been passing on history and lessons through story for generations.
Tamika: How do you go finding time to write?
David: I am a freelance copywriter, so I have a little more flexibility than some. Having said that, I find I need to manage my time pretty closely to ensure I hit all these deadlines for the publisher – and continue to deliver project work for my clients.
Two secrets to this all working for me: reclaim time and find shortcuts to help things push along. So I’ll write on the train instead of sitting in gridlocked traffic and proactively find windows of lost time I can redeploy into writing. I do a lot of dictating into my iPhone to get the story out of my head in the quickest way possible. Being a plotter trapped in a pantser’s body makes this quite a handy way of doing both at the same time.
Tamika: Tell me a bit about your book The Baggage Handler?
David: The Baggage Handler was my second manuscript. My first – Pastor Swap – finaled in the ACFW Genesis Awards and the Cascade Awards in the Oregon Christian Writers but when I tried to find a home for it in the USA it was turned down. It was disappointing, as so many readers told me they wanted to read a story about reality TV and church, but industry didn’t.
So I turned my focus to something else. I was reading one night, when I felt compelled to write. I can’t think of any other way to put it. I looked at the clock, which read 9:00, grabbed my laptop and headed out to the lounge room. When I next looked at the clock it was 1:00am, and I had the basics of The Baggage Handler on screen – plot, character arcs, themes. It was like my baggage arrived.
Then it took me three months to write the first draft. This doesn’t seem long, but I think my conversations with counselors over years of professional practice helped. As much as The Baggage Handler is an allegorical tale, I didn’t want it to fall into the category of clichéd self-help.
Tamika: One of your characters is named David! Is this the real you?
David: No, it’s not. The original draft of The Baggage Handler had a character called David, and I got so many people who asked if it was me, so I thought it would be a talking point if I left it in. And it’s come up a number of times in interviews, including this one, so I guess it worked.
At my first American writing conference, I heard Ted Dekker say that the best writing comes from deep within, and character reactions to challenges in our stories come from deep within us as well. I agree with him, so I guess the other two characters are the ‘real’ me in some ways as well.
Tamika: Did your book get snapped up by a publisher once written or was it a longer process than that?
David: I went through a whole round of rejection for my first manuscript, and the journey of The Baggage Handler is one of last chances. I started working with James L Rubart as a mentor (a God-connection in itself) and he helped endorse me to agents. This took ages … but Steve Laube agreed to represent me. Then Steve pitched The Baggage Handler to a whole range of publishers and this took a while too. Then HarperCollins Christian enquired in the middle of their Christmas vacation… I guess baggage and suitcases were on their mind. It was eventually published by Thomas Nelson, which is an imprint of HarperCollins Christian publishing. They’re based in Nashville, Tennessee, so I’ve got a US publisher!
Tamika: Why did you choose to get your book published in America and how did you go adapting your book to American lingo?
David: I felt led to go for America. On the surface, it seemed crazy – the distance, the sheer weight of numbers against me. But I always felt like it was where I was meant to be. I’ve said before that God told me to ‘trust Him’ at the start of this fiction writing journey. And so that’s what I did.
As for learning American lingo, I took it back to basics, as there are some key differences – mainly spelling, but also in grammar. After being a professional writer for 30 years, it still hurts to write ‘color’ and ‘realize’. A lot of it is research, and relying on my editors to convert my Aussie phrasing into my second language: American English. There are actually quite a few differences – I know that an airbridge is a jetway and a baggage trolley is a cart. And liberals in America are from the other side of politics to here.
Tamika: Tell me a bit about your agent, Steve Laube.
David: It’s an honour to be represented by Steve. You’d be hard-pressed to find a man with more integrity and Christian heart in the industry than him. He’s also brutally honest, which is a very good asset to have. He told me in his very first email to me not to expect “puppies and flowers” in his communication, and he hasn’t let me down. He’s a straight-shooter. No puppies or flowers as yet.
Tamika: You recently were an attendee to our annual Omega Writers Conference where Steve Laube was our key note speaker. How did you enjoy our conference?
David: The Conference was great simply from the point of view of being able to support each other. I have been to some writing conferences where it’s far more cut-throat and people are more defensive. But Omega has a feeling that is genuine; that people are really happy to see you do well, and pick you up if you’re not. And the sharing of ideas is fantastic. It was great to see Steve in action, and to be a part of his workshops. He’s a walking wealth of wisdom – not just in publishing, but also in purpose and Bible-based living.
Tamika: Last Thursday was a great day for you and your book, when you won the ‘First Novel’ section of the Christy Awards for Christian Fiction – the first Aussie to ever win a Christy. Congratulations and tell us how it went down.
David: Hey thanks! I was watching from home on the LiveStream. I wanted to go, but it was a financial bridge too far to go to the USA for dinner, plus it was exam week for Year 12 and our oldest was under that pressure. I arranged with Jim Rubart to do my speech, so he accepted on my behalf.
I watched my name be read out as a contender, which was nice, then they read out the first line of the winning book. I recognized the words, and time slowed. It was surreal. Then Facebook messages starting pinging like a hospital ward full of heart monitors, and my inbox all but exploded.
Tamika: How do you believe you winning the Christy Award might encourage Australian Christian writers in the future?
David: Well, I guess the Christy Award win continues on the strides already made by Australian authors like Narelle Atkins and Carolyn Miller who are with US publishers. And maybe there will be a little more visibility on the other side of the Pacific, where the industry in the USA can see the potential of Australian writing stories for their market.
Tamika: What are you working on now with your writing and what can we look out for in the future?
David: I’m writing book four – a retelling of another of Jesus’ parables. The theme with this one is about the sins of the past, and if you can simply leave it all behind. It’s about a couple escaping the city for a sea change, and finding that the problems of the past follow them.
Tamika: If we want to purchase your book The Baggage Handler or other published books of yours, where can we buy them?
David: If you’re a book nerd like me, and you love the smell and feel of books, you can drop into Koorong or Dymocks. If you’re happy with online, Amazon would be your best option. And if you’d like to read some excerpts first – or even view a trailer video or two, you’ll find them on my web site: www.davidrawlings.com.au. I’ve got some excerpts and trailers (ed: we’ve included an excerpt of The Baggage Handler below), and also some videos where I talk about why I wrote the book you might be about to buy. If you subscribe to my newsletter, I’ll send you a couple of free short stories to start off with.
Tamika: If someone would like to touch base, how can they contact you?
David: You could always like my Facebook author’s page: https://www.facebook.com/DavidRawlingsAuthor or find my Instagram handle @davidrawlingsauthor . Or email me: email@example.com
Get a taste of The Baggage Handler…
“So that suitcase I brought in. That was someone else’s baggage? Did you give it them? What are they doing?”
The Baggage Handler’s brow furrowed. “They’re dealing with it, in their own way.”
“What does that mean?”
The Baggage Handler leaned forward. “Why are you interested in people you’ve never met? You all want to know how everyone else is handling their own baggage, almost as an excuse to not deal with your own. Dealing with your baggage is hard. Carrying it appears to be easier, but it’s not, and it can destroy people in the long run the most.” The Baggage Handler bit his lip as if holding back tears. “And you’ve asked me about someone else, not how you can deal with your own baggage.”
“Look, the problem isn’t you’ve been handed some baggage. Everyone has baggage. It’s that it’s difficult for you to move forward with your life. Every time an opportunity presents itself, you can’t move quickly because this weight drags behind you.”
The Baggage Handler nodded, a single tear streaking its way down his face. “That’s been there for a very long time. A very long time. Look, I’m sorry about what has happened with your father. You’ve heard how you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family? That’s true for you. But you don’t need to carry this baggage. You have a choice.”