Thursday, December 3, 2009

A View from Dan Walsh's Window! The Unfinished Gift

I am very excited to welcome debut novelist Dan Walsh to my Window today! His novel, The Unfinished Gift is a precious story, and I feel like the Lord will use it in a mighty way! More exciting still, there will be more great stories to follow from Dan Walsh, and I will be excited to see what the Lord has planned for his writing career.

Please, welcome Dan Walsh to my Window!

Where was the idea for The Unfinished Gift born in your heart and mind? What was your inspiration?

Every Christmas my wife and I love watching those classic stories on TV, the ones that really grab your heart (like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol"). For several years after watching them, I had this thought: I want to write a story like that, one that at least had the potential to affect others the way these stories affect me. The Unfinished Gift actually came to me just after Christmas in 1998 over two or three days. I actually saw the ending of the book first, like a scene from a movie playing in my thoughts. Over the next two days, different parts of the story kept dropping into my head. I kept stopping and writing them down. In a few days, the whole story was there, from beginning to end, like a detailed synopsis. From there I sat down and started writing the book. Though many more details emerged as I wrote the book, as far as the story itself, what you see in the book is exactly what came during that burst of inspiration back in '98.

Mrs. Fortini is a particularly strong character in the story. She seems determined to reach Ian Collins no matter how gruff or resistant he is to her efforts. Have you had a Mrs. Fortini in your life? In what way did God use her persistence to meet a need for you?

After Patrick, Mrs. Fortini may just be my favorite character in the book. Her fans will be happy to hear she continues to be a significant character in the sequel, The Homecoming. This may seem odd, but I didn't actually base any of the characters on anyone I knew personally. It was as if I was as surprised as Patrick was the day Mrs. Fortini knocked on Ian Collins' door. As soon as she came through it, barking at old Ian Collins, I instantly adored her. She came to me exactly the way she is in the book. She does have the depth of affection my Mom had, but my Mom was very timid and shy. One of my grandmothers was occasionally bold but didn't resemble Mrs. Fortini in any other way. Mrs. Fortini shows up on the scene almost like an angel from God, because Patrick needed her to be there. See, even saying that sounds odd, because I know this is a work of fiction.

Ian Collins’ unforgiveness has cost him a great deal in his life. Yet God was faithful to reach beyond his hardness and perform a miracle in the lives of his son and wife. Why did Ian’s wife Ida keep her miracle hidden rather than share it with her husband? As much as he seemed to love his wife, why was he unable to realize the hurt he was causing her by pushing their only son and his family away?

Unforgiveness and bitterness, left to itself, hardens the heart and continues to harden the heart further over time. You don't cross hardened souls like Ian Collins. There is no breaking through their shell with reasonable appeals. You'll pay for it if you try. They view anyone who attempts to mediate as taking their enemies' side. In their minds, everyone else is to blame for every negative circumstance, even those brought on by their own animosity. Someone like Ian would have loved his wife, even dearly, but in compartments, with certain things being understood. Sadly, someone like Ida would know well where those boundaries were. She would occasionally speak of her concerns (as we see in the book), but carefully, in measured steps.

Can you give us a sneak peek into the sequel The Homecoming, scheduled for release in June?

If I say too much I'll give away the first book's ending. After this holiday season is over, I can probably speak more freely about it. I can say this, when I completed The Unfinished Gift, I hadn't planned on a sequel. But virtually everyone who read it--my wife, my test readers, my agent and my editor--all said something like this at the end: "Now in the future, this is going to happen, right?" And they all suggested the same thing. It was something I had already begun thinking about. I can give you this clue, the sequel includes a powerful love story (one I hope Jane Austen fans will appreciate).

As a pastor, how do you feel Christian fiction can be used as a ministry tool?

I'd say in some people's lives, fiction is useless, Christian or otherwise. They're just not going to ever give it a try. They want only the solid theology and Christian living books. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying anything against such books (my shelves are full of them). But there's a measure of hypocrisy at work here, because most of these "non-fiction only" types will regularly watch movies and TV shows based on fiction stories (not sure how that is reconciled). But I think fiction can do more than merely entertain, although when times are tough entertainment can by itself be good medicine. I think Christian fiction can come through the back door, so to speak, much the way music can, and open our hearts and minds to the truths of Scripture. Sometimes reaching people whose hearts and minds are closed to more conventional means.

What inspired you to begin the long road to publication?

I've wanted to write novels since the 11th grade. But God had other plans. Looking back, I don't regret waiting till now. It was God's best for me. Even with The Unfinished Gift, although the story came to me back in '98, it wasn't the right time for me to be writing books. My children were young and I was the lone pastor of a growing church. So I set it aside until two years ago. Now my children are grown and the church I pastor has plenty of help, so both my wife and I discerned God's approval to jump in. Surprisingly, when I did, it wasn't a long road. I was able to secure a great agent and a contract with Revell within a few months.

What exciting things is God doing in your life right now?

There are many. On the personal side, my son is engaged to be married in April to a wonderful young lady (our nest will officially be empty then). At the church, we're entering our 25th year (and my 25th year as the senior pastor). On the writing side, Revell has just offered me a new 3-book deal (which will bring me to 5 books under contract with them, extending out to the spring of 2012).

Any words of encouragement you’d like to share with your readers?

I suppose I could encourage you with one of the main themes of The Unfinished Gift: Forgive as we have been forgiven. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the gospel, but one we often fail to grasp. We are happy to receive God's forgiveness but then find it very easy to withhold from those who've wronged us. The alternative to forgiving others is not complicated. We become bitter and start to pull away. As the book shows, we can stay on this path for years, growing harder, becoming more isolated and more unhappy. This is why Christ came at Christmas, to set in motion God's redemptive plan, to reconcile us first to Himself through Christ, then to each other.

I want to thank your blog readers for taking the time to consider The Unfinished Gift and hope you'll make it one of your holiday reads this season. And I hope you'll all have a wonderful Christmas this year.

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