Thursday, November 30, 2006

Interview with Deborah Gyapong

Deborah Gyapong was the 2005 winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award.
Her novel, The Defilers is a suspenseful tale of intrigue, spiritual warefare and the sexual exploitation of children.

I asked Deb a few questions recently and these are her answers -

What was the germ of the Defilers? Where did the idea come from?

I’m not sure exactly where the ideas came from, since I started it more than ten years ago. I knew I wanted to write a redemption story that would show a character going from being anti-religious to discovering a deep faith in God. Because I had had such a dramatic adult conversion, I hoped to borrow on that experience. At the same time, I did not want to write anything autobiographical, so I created the main character with a personality as opposite to mine as I could make it. I made Linda organized, regimented almost, and practical when I’m just the opposite. Why I chose to make her a Mountie, I’m not sure. I did want to wrap the redemption story in a suspense/murder mystery to make it a popular novel that would make the reader turn pages even if they weren’t all that interested in Linda’s anguished coming to faith. That part interested me the most, but I knew other readers might be more interested in a gripping plot, so I tried to do both.

I also wanted Linda to have to grapple with demonic, or supernatural evil elements because my conversion also involved them. I came to Christ while alone on a bad drug trip in a drug dealer’s apartment back in 1973. It was a terrifying experience where I became aware of an intense evil surrounding me and trying to drive me insane. I was hallucinating wraithlike shapes in my peripheral vision, and at one point, while I was watching TV, a man dressed like the devil seemed to be staring at me from the set with eyes full of hatred and spite. Then he seemed to leap out of the TV at me. I was literally quaking with fear when I shut the set off. Then I happened to find a book written by a Christian stuck under a box of marijuana seeds and stems and a stack of newspapers that laid out the Gospel and led me to Christ. When I came to a part in the book that said, “Be still and know that I am God,” I knew I was being asked to trust God to save me---mouthing a faith formula was not enough---so I forced myself to be still and stop struggling against the evil in the room and let God save me. It was amazing how quickly He intervened when I “let go and let God.” The evil vanished. This experience and subsequent experience reading Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker and attending a course based on his Steps to Freedom showed me how believing the truth about Jesus and about the new nature He has given us gives us authority over these evil forces that can play a subtle but tremendously damaging role in our lives. I wanted to show through a gripping story someone who not only had to deal with a murder investigation, but also an internal spiritual warfare, but show in the end that God can bring us victory over these forces. I hoped to weave into the story some of these wonderful discoveries about God’s protection and might in the face of these forces. I also wanted to investigate that mysterious line between our being physical beings and spiritual beings in one---so that sometimes it is hard to tell when something might be a chemical imbalance in the brain, or a nervous breakdown and when there might be demonic involvement. It’s not all cut and dried and it’s easy to swing to extremes. I wanted to explore that edge through Linda’s character. When I started writing the novel, there were a number of stories in the news media about Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and some stories about people who had been falsely accused of this. This was another thing that I had big reservations about that I wanted to explore---because again people can go to extremes and get hysterical about seeing demons and cults everyone---or they can sweep any awareness of evil under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The community of South Dare in The Defilers is a heart of darkness metaphor, but it was based on some terrible housing conditions I came across in parts of Nova Scotia and wrote about as a journalist. None of the communities I visited were anywhere near as large as South Dare, but I borrowed on what I saw and experienced and learned about some of the lifestyles of people living there. I also used to cover court cases occasionally in Nova Scotia, so that gave me some insight into how the police worked and what kinds of people went through the criminal justice system.

What was your favourite part of the process of writing it?

My favorite times happened when I got lost in the story and saw the characters doing things and saying things and all I had to do was take dictation. I made myself write the story first and did some research later. One of the most fun parts was actually riding along with Mounties and asking them all kinds of questions like whether they can throw their slacks in the washing machine or if they have to go to the dry cleaners or what they do with their gun on off hours. I spent a day with a female Mountie who took me on an arrest with her. She also helped me with a plot point where I had painted myself into a corner. She read a manuscript later on and told me that I captured well what it was like to be a female “member.”

What was your least favourite part? What were the frustrations?

My least favorite part was the endless rewriting and polishing. I think I took on some ambitious things that I did not have the writerly skill to carry off. For instance, the novel is told in the first person, but Linda is an unreliable narrator. That’s not easy to do. Also, Linda is very angry when the books starts out and I had to work very hard through several drafts to make her sympathetic. It took years and a lot of trial and error and many critiques to develop the necessary skills. I had to overcome some things that are good for journalism but not so good for fiction. Fiction is really hard! There were many times where I gave up on the manuscript and set it aside. Then something would happen—someone would ask to read it and encourage me to get it published---and I’d dig it out and go through it again.

As winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award in 2005, what effect has that had on your perception of yourself as a writer?

It’s a wonderful thing to win---as you know! But my perception of myself as a writer tends to swing from one extreme to another and the award hasn’t changed that. Sometimes I have a grandiose view that I’m better than I am and it’s about time I got recognized, and other times I think my stuff is pretty ordinary and I’m just terribly lucky to be in print at all. I think all of us have those extremes. When I’m in the first stages of writing I am usually in love with my material and not an especially good judge of whether it’s any good or not. I think it’s all wonderful. Then when I have to put on my editor’s hat, all I see are flaws and I think it’s awful.

Did winning the award help in promotion and sales?

Winning helps in the sense that it’s newsworthy to win, and consequently a number of publications carried stories about the win. How well that translates into sales, I don’t know. The award does raise your profile a bit and might help attract people to examine the cover. But the best help in sales are the positive word of mouth of readers who enjoyed your book and tell a friend and that takes time to build. I am hoping now to get some book clubs interested in the book. I visit my first book club in January. Also, I’m on 100 Huntley Street on Jan. 4. They don’t do fiction, per se, but are more interested in personal testimony that shows God’s grace and power.

What has God taught you through the process of writing this book?

He has continually been teaching me to trust Him in the process, to relinquish and let go my concerns and worries about results—whether it was getting published, getting people at my book launch, or getting publicity and sales. I have not been one of those people with a huge passion to write, who would starve in an attic because I just had to get this work of art out of me. Especially after I had rewritten the thing about ten times or more, the motivation to continue was much more subtle and gentle. I needed a lot of encouragement and support along the way. He provided it. If it had been up to me I would have given up and just chalked it up as an interesting experience that allowed me to give some copies bound at Staples with those spiral plastic bindings to my relatives for Christmas one year. He’s taught me that I can’t make an idol out of any result and that when I lose sight of having Jesus has my main desire and focus of my life, I lose my peace and then I’m no good to myself or anyone else.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

I’d advise them to join an association like Inscribe or The Word Guild, or the American Christian Fiction Writers, to attend conferences, read lots of books about writing, to be a reader of good stories especially in the genre you aspire to write in, and to find some good critique partners that can help them grow. I would advise them to keep writing, to make a discipline of writing regularly. I would advise that them develop a thick skin and learn to take rejection in stride and not take it personally when someone picks apart their work. I would also recommend that them to be patient with themselves. They would not expect to sit down at the piano and be playing four part Bach Fugues within two weeks. It takes time and practice to write well. It took me more than ten years from the start of The Defilers to it publication. I had also spent a few years prior to that learning about writing and had written several drafts of a screenplay. Even though I was writing for a living as part of my duties as a TV producer, I still had lots to learn about writing fiction.

Some of the best advice I received along the way was to learn to enjoy writing as an end in itself, for the way it helps you see the world better, for how it helps you understand more clearly what God is showing you about life. I think Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird does a great job in giving that kind of advice. Just as someone can enjoy playing the piano in church, or simply alone at home on a wintry afternoon, we can also write for the sheer pleasure of it. Aiming to get published, or sell books can rob us of that joy if we are not careful.

To Purchase a copy of Deborah's book go to or


Anonymous said...

Great interview. My current WIP deals with drug abuse, abduction and rape. Initially it was written to grapple with the topic of rape (which it does) yet ended up dealing more with the power of God's deliverance from bondage. Interestingly your remarks about a bad "trip" and your awareness of the presence of evil all around you, well, that's also in my work. It's probably a lot different, but it was interesting to see the same theme worked out. God bless you. Keep writing strong for our Heavenly Father.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Excellent interview! Deb picked some hard topics to deal with. I enjoyed hearing a writer's perspective on writing a first-person unreliable narrator (having had much discussion about narrators in my English classes, and being in the process of experimenting with narrators in my own writing).

LC said...

Great questions, superb answers. Thanks for sharing your personal story and how it fit in with your motivation to write this book. I really enjoyed reading this interview!