We are pleased to introduce Dale Harris. Dale was the winner of the 2020 Braun Book Award for Fiction and has recently published Though I Walk with us, which is now available for pre-order through the Word Alive Press Bookstore, and everywhere fine Christian books are sold. We asked Dale to share a little bit about his writing, and new book. But first, a little bit about him.
Dale Harris is an author, songwriter, blogger, and pastor, though not necessarily in that order. He taught high school English in St. Paul, Alberta before being called into full-time ministry and has served as a Free Methodist pastor in the city of Oshawa, Ontario since 2009. He holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta), a Master of Divinity from Briercrest Seminary (Caronport, Saskatchewan), and a Doctorate of Ministry from Northeastern Seminary (Rochester, New York), though his most cherished accolade is being dad to three wonderful kids, and husband to an amazing wife of twenty-six years.
Dale writes regularly about life, faith, and spirituality on his blog, terra incognita, and produces Three-Minute Theology, a YouTube channel dedicated to communicating the deep truths of Christian theology through short, creative whiteboard videos. He is a prolific songwriter and publishes his music on Spotify and iTunes under the artist name D. Michael Harris. Through his writing, Dale loves to explore the mysterious ways God is present to us in all aspects and every season of our lives.
Dale lives with his family in Oshawa, where he currently serves as the lead pastor of the Corner Church.
Q: Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
A: The original seed that eventually grew up into Though I Walk was planted more than two decades ago when my wife and I were backpacking through Greece in 1996, having just graduated from university. I had always loved classical Greek and Roman mythology, having grown up on the Narnia books, and having studied it as part of my undergrad degree in English and art.
During our stay on the island of Crete in particular, I fell in love with the place, its landscape, its culture, and its history. The day we left Crete, our ferry was scheduled to leave around 5:00 in the morning. We were waiting on the docks in Heraklion harbour with a number of other tourists, swapping stories about our visit, when an Australian tourist said something offhand about the Cretan resistance effort during World War II, and how there were bands of freedom fighters holed up in the mountains of Crete for months, even years, after the war.
That thought sparked in my imagination, and when our ferry landed at our next stop, I happened to see Anthony Beevor’s book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance in the bookstore of the ferry terminal. I read through his gripping and detailed account of the invasion of Crete during the rest of our trip, and by the time we’d returned to Canada I had the rough outline of the story in my head.
Q: What impact do you hope this story will have on readers?
A: My hope is that Though I Walk will inspire readers to consider how God uses our everyday acts of grace, faithfulness, prayer, and love for his mysterious purposes in the world. Essentially what I’ve tried to do is tell what I hope is a simple love story, the most human of all experiences, and set it against a backdrop of ancient mythology, epoch-shaping historical events, world travel, and epic acts of courage and sacrifice. I want to show how simple human things like love, friendship, and prayer fit in and contribute to the grand design of God’s mysterious plan for the world as it unfolds through the course of human history.
Q: What role did your experience as a pastor play in the writing of this book?
A: Early on in this book, I realized that one of the problems I wanted to tackle is the question of theodicy—that is, believing in the existence of a good and loving God despite the fact that there is so much evil and suffering in the world. This becomes a central theme in the book, and it emerged directly from my work as a pastor over the last ten years. Next to the question of forgiveness (which also plays an important role in Though I Walk), the problem of suffering is one of the main questions I get asked as a pastor: “If God loves me then why am I suffering the way I am right now?”
There is a scene in the first half of the book where Grace visits the minister of her church. Through that exchange I was trying to imagine what I would have said to her if she were to have visited me in my pastoral study and asked me why there is so much suffering in a world governed by a good and loving God. In the end, as Job discovered thousands of years before us, there may not be any answer that is completely satisfying to us, but Though I Walk is one pastor’s effort to address the question in narrative form.
Q: What message about God’s presence in our lives do you hope readers will take from this story?
A: One of the challenges in writing Though I Walk is that I wanted to write a novel that wrestled authentically with deep spiritual questions without offering the commonplace spiritual platitudes that Christians might be tempted to offer people like Grace or Stephen, in their situation.
I often think about the last two lines of the Book of Lamentations: “_Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return… unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure_” (Lamentation 5:21, NIV). It’s such an ambiguous ending to such a painful book. As Christians, we often want a tighter answer, where all the spiritual loose ends are tied up in a tidy bow for us, yet the Book of Lamentations ends with this open-ended “unless…”
Without giving away any spoilers, I would say that I was exploring this ambiguity in the character of Stephen. As readers, we can see how God is constantly present and at work in his life throughout his journey, whether or not he ever explicitly realizes it.
Q: What were some of the influences and sources you drew on in writing this book?
A: I did a lot of straightforward, nose-to-the-grindstone research for the story early on. I was living in Edmonton when I began writing it, and I would go to the Classics section of the Rutherford library and sign out stacks of books about the archaeology of Greece, the history of Crete, the history of Halifax during the war, and so on.
One book I found especially helpful was an obscure book called Crete, Past and Present, published in the 1930s and written about the people, the culture, and the history of the island at that time; it gives a fascinating snapshot of what life in 1930s Crete would have been like.
Beyond these historical sources, I was influenced by a number of Canadian literary novels set during World War II, including Famous Last Words, and especially The English Patient. As a Christian writer, I am greatly influenced by the work of C.S. Lewis, and my handling of classical mythology, as well as the theme of desire as it appears in this book, are deeply indebted to him.
Q: Why did it take more than twenty years for you to write Though I Walk?
A: As I mentioned, the original seed for this book was planted way back in 1996, and I actually completed a version of the novel sometime around 2002. I was not a believer at that time, however, and the story was simply a secular love-and-war story with no serious spiritual intent or theological significance. Though I queried it around to a number of publishers, it went nowhere—retrospectively, to my great relief. After becoming a believer, and subsequently being called into pastoral ministry, I simply shelved the book and was somewhat grateful it had never seen the light of day.
In 2014, however, I sensed that God was drawing me back to the novel, as if he was saying, “Why don’t you let me into the story, and see what might happen with your characters if I were allowed into their lives?” So I started rewriting the novel from page one, using the shell of what I’d written before as a guideline, but continually asking God to step into the story. At every crucial point along the way, I would look at how I’d told the story before and ask myself, “How would this play out differently if God were at work in this situation?” Some six years later, the novel was completely rewritten, and, I like to think, redeemed for the glory of God.
Q: What can you say about your writing process?
A: As a preaching pastor, writing a sermon manuscript every week for ten years has taught me that writing is as much a craft as it is an art. When I wrote the first version of Though I Walk as an English teacher, I approached writing more as an artform and felt I couldn’t write until the inspiration struck. Years later, I have come to realize that the discipline of writing regularly, regardless your inspiration for it on any given day, is not only possible to maintain but essential to growing as a writer, just as a craftsperson must ply their craft regularly and consistently if they are going to hone and perfect it.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of illuminated inspiration when the words flow faster than I can write them down, but there are also times when it feels like the well is pretty dry, and you have to lower the bucket as deep as it can go to get any water at all. For me, disciplining myself to write through both of those seasons is important.
Q: How do you approach editing, revisions, and rewriting?
A: Because of the convoluted history of this book, the entire manuscript of Though I Walk is really one massive rewrite, not to mention the multiple rewrites that happened in preparing the book for publication, and I have learned through this process that often you don’t really know what your story needs until after you’ve tried writing it once.
Beyond that, however, I’ve come to see the hard work of editing and revising to be an essential part of my writing process. As a poet and a songwriter, I try to write as much for the ear as I do for the imagination, and the rhythm of the prose is often as important to me as the storytelling. This can get me in trouble sometimes, because I’m often tempted towards flights of poetic expression even if it obscures the meaning of what I’m trying to say. It is only in the editing process that I’m able to look at what I’ve written objectively and strike the balance between moving the story forward while letting the words work as poetry in their own right.
Q: How does your Christian faith inform your writing process?
A: One of the most influential books I ever read on Christianity and the arts was Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water. I would enthusiastically recommend it to any Christian who senses God’s call on their life to be a writer. In it, she argues that what makes a Christian work of art “Christian” is not the number of times it explicitly mentions God, but rather a certain posture both towards the world and towards the work of art itself. It’s the desire to say something true, to express an authentic response to God and a genuine love for his creation. As a Christian, then, I try to approach my writing at every stage of the process as a way of prayerfully encountering God and engaging with his world.
Q: What advice would you offer writers thinking of entering the Braun Book Awards?
A: Do it, especially if it’s because you want to be stretched as a writer. I have grown immensely these last six months, working with Word Alive Press to prepare Though I Walk for publication. It has given me an invaluable glimpse into the book publishing industry that will help me start on the right foot when I begin my next book. Working with their editor has helped me to see my strengths and my weaknesses as a writer far more objectively. The process of book design forced me to think about my writing for the first time as a product being readied for a market. Even the process of submitting my manuscript to the contest, preparing the plot summary, the author’s bio, the proco, and so on, forced me to think about my writing and grow as a writer in ways I never would have otherwise. I am very grateful to Word Alive Press for this experience.
Dale Harris is an author, pastor, poet, and songwriter. He writes regularly about faith and spirituality on his blog, terra incognita, and explores the deep truths of Christian theology on his YouTube channel, Three Minute Theology. He taught English literature for six years before going into full-time ministry, and he currently serves as the lead pastor of the Corner Church in Oshawa. This is his first novel. Dale can be reached via: