Monday, October 24, 2011

Introducing author Dina Sleiman

Over at Inkwell Inspirations, we recently celebrated fellow Inky Dina Sleiman's debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion. I'm reprinting my interview with Dina here, and including some questions and answers I wasn't able to include the first time. Dance of the Dandelion published by Whitefire Publishing is a work of inspirational fiction, set in Medieval England. I'll be giving away a copy of Dina's book to one person who leaves a comment and their email address so I can contact them. Just leave your comment before midnight on November 1st, 2011.

Dina is a multi-faceted woman who both inspires and fascinates me. In part it’s the wisdom and beauty in her blog posts, in part her poetic nature, and in part it’s the love and joy that shines through her when she’s worshiping and celebrating through dance. Not surprisingly, these elements are infused throughout Dandelion.

“Life is a dance, from the swirling cosmos circling earth, to the subtle harmony of bodies, to the measured cadence of minute particles hidden deep within…”
~~ Dina Sleiman in Dance of the Dandelion

Dina, your poetry is magical, and I absolutely love the poem at the beginning of the book. You incorporated a lot of poetry into this book. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

I fell in love with poetry in college when I had teachers who really helped me to "get it." It's such a lovely form. I define it as the art of words. Like a sculptor uses clay or an artist uses paint, a poet uses words to create a work of beauty. After finishing my M.A. in Professional Writing, I continued to take M.F.A. classes in poetry through a local university. At the time, the head of their poetry department was a Christian man who helped me to understand how to properly convey spiritual themes through poems. He also taught me about the medieval mystics, who are now my very favorite poets. They had such amazing intimate relationships with Christ, and they inspired a collection of poems I wrote in 1999. Several of those poems were published in small journals.

That is part of the reason I chose the medieval period for Dandelion. So it was only natural for me to include some of my poems. I changed them slightly to better fit the medieval form used by poets such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Sienna, Thomas Aquinas, and Hildegard von Bingen. Initially I used actual poetry by these historical figures, but I quickly realized there were too many issues with copyrights since I wanted to use contemporary translations. I also wrote some poetry specifically for the book in the style of the Islamic poet Rabia of Basri. You'll have to read the book to see how I incorporated that.

As for the poem in the beginning, at first it was just part of a prologue. Due to some changes in the structure of the book, the editor and I decided the prologue wasn't needed. But I couldn't bear to lose that section. We decided I should rewrite it as a poem. I'm very happy with the results. I hope I'll be allowed to start all of my books with poems.

What is your favorite historical setting to write in?

Definitely Medieval. I’ve tried to think of stories I would like to write set in America, and my mind always runs directly to hard to market topics like slavery, the oppression of the Indians, the early days of the American theatre. Maybe someday I’ll write something like that. I could also see myself writing in the Biblical era.

When did you begin writing?

Probably in 5th grade when I penned a short story about a Venetian alien who came to earth. By high school I was in love with fiction, and knew I would want to write novels at some point. In college I discovered you could actually get a graduate degree in writing, and I couldn’t dream of anything I would rather do. But after earning my Masters, I spent the next twelve years primarily raising (yes, I know it’s supposed to be rearing, but that’s just weird) my kids and being involved in church ministry. Finally, in 2006 I felt that God was guiding me to get serious about my writing. That’s when I wrote the first draft of Dandelion—which would be nearly unrecognizable at this point.

What is your favorite historical setting to read?

The main thing for me is that I want to feel like I traveled somewhere new and learned something exciting. So once I’ve read a few books in any given time and place, I’m ready to move on to the next. Prairie. Been there and done that with Jeanette Oake. Gold rush. Check. Clearly, I am not the typical Christian fiction reader. I love books set in India, Africa, and China. One of my all time favorite ABA romances was set in Afghanistan and India. I love history, but I don’t really enjoy research and nonfiction very much. For me, novels are a lazy way to learn history. LOL. I’m only partly serious. I feel like in a novel you can really absorb the culture and mindset of the people on a deeper level.

I will admit, though, that I do read anything I can get my hands on set in the middle ages.

Could you explain your "tagline" and the meaning behind it?

My tagline is: Dance with Passion. Because I write in several genres, I wanted something that would really capture me. My first try was “Lyrical stories that dance with light.” I shared this with marketing expert, Jim Rubart, in a class one time. He said it was too long, and I should focus in on dance since that’s really different and interesting. I tried out Dance with Passion, and it worked.

I’ve been leading dance worship ministries in churches for most of the last seventeen years, so dance has been a huge part of my life. For a long time, it was the way I best connected to God and entered into his presence. Dance provides an amazing opportunity to discover intimacy with Christ and to worship him with your whole being.

To me, Dance with Passion means to seize life. To do everything with all your might and heart. It means to live free from burdens and hindrances and to flow in the Holy Spirit’s unforced rhythms of grace. I think this is the message that shines through all of my writing.

Once I decided on the tagline, I dragged my husband to the beach for a photo shoot of me dancing along the shoreline. I then built my whole website around this concept. Jim Rubart heartily approved. LOL.

Are there any more medieval books in your future?

Good question. Anytime I write a book, the characters and settings stick with me. So I do have more ideas for medieval novels. Unfortunately, writing them is not necessarily the best career move for me right now (unless of course Dandelion picks up and sells like crazy—so if you like it, be sure to spread the word.)

What I might do, is work on some YA medieval romances. Sounds like this would be a better market for the time period. And, it will allow me to make my characters younger, which is actually more historically accurate.

Dina's lovely family
Her beautiful daughter graces the cover of Dance of the Dandelion
What can your readers expect next?

My next project is actually a contemporary series. Book one is called Dance from Deep Within. It’s the story of a veiled Muslim, a blonde ballerina, and a bi-racial hippie chick. All three are returning college students. They meet over a group project on diversity and search together for meaning and truth. On one hand it is sort of issue driven, but at the same time, each girl has her own romance and story arc, which keeps the plot exciting. The genre is very different than Dandelion, but the themes are similar. In it I explore worship, intimacy with Christ, and inner-healing just like in Dandelion, only against a contemporary backdrop.

I can’t wait to read your next book, Dina. Thank you so much for answering my questions today. I wish you much success with Dandelion, and with your writing career. In the meantime, I want readers to know that Dance of the Dandelion is lyrical, magical, and lovely. I didn’t want to stop reading, even when I’d reached the end.

I’ll leave everyone with the scripture quote Dina used in her book, and a link where you can view some of her awesome dance and worship videos.

“We played a flute for you, and you did not dance…” 
~~Matthew 11:17

You can visit Dina's website at:
You can visit Whitefire Publishing's website at: