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Interview with Dana McNeely

Even when she was least expecting it, God answered Dana McNeely's prayers for publication. Now on her second biblical fiction novel, Dana spends her days writing the truths of the Bible to share riveting adventures with her readers.
What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
At a dark time in Israel’s history, the prophet Elijah showed God’s power, turning many hearts to the Lord. I hope readers will be inspired to investigate more of this story and others in the Bible.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m in between - a plantser. As a biblical novelist, my first rule is the Bible is true. So, I build a rough outline in a spreadsheet, plugging in biblical characters and events I will include. Next, I layer in historical and cultural research. Then, I imagine characters, with their desires and foibles. I have a loose structure, yet I am also discovering as I go.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
In July 2019, discouraged that my novel Rain was still unpublished, I talked to God about it. “Lord, what am I supposed to do with this book? I’ve tried everything to find it a home, but keep hearing no. I thought you were telling me wait, but were you instead saying no? Should I put this book on a shelf and write another? Maybe quit writing altogether?” As I continued to listen and pray, I felt a little sad but mostly a great peace about my decision to quit.

The next day, I was scrolling through Facebook when I heard Messenger ping. Expecting a troll, I was surprised to read “Hi, are you the Dana McNeely who wrote Rain, and if so, have you sold it yet?” Author Angela Ruth Strong, who I’d never met, had judged the OCW Cascade contest five years earlier. She loved and remembered Rain, and when her publisher mentioned they were looking for a biblical novel, told her about my book. Angela asked me to query Mountain Brook Ink, they requested a proposal, then the full manuscript. About three weeks later, I received a contract for publication.

God, of course, was at work. The contest was double-blind, five years had passed since Angela judged it, and though I had done everything writers are told to do to get their books in front of agents and publishers, my efforts were unsuccessful. But when I bowed and said, “OK, Lord, I guess you’re telling me to quit,” He said, “Not quite yet.”

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Ha! I can’t find time to clean the house. Seriously, keeping up with social media and my newsletter are most difficult, though I’m struggling to be more efficient and disciplined. As a pantser who tries to apply structure to her work, the struggle is real!

Whirlwind is the sequel to your wonderful debut novel, Rain, correct? Is it a continuation of the story? How was that process? Was a sequel always the plan?
Yes, my publisher, Miralee Ferrell, let me know from the start she was interested in a series. I’m currently writing Book 3 of the Whispers on the Wind series. Whirlwind picks up the story of the prophet Elijah, some continuing characters from Rain, and new friends. Although Whirlwind is a standalone book, many readers encourage others to read Rain first.

Writing a series is such fun! In each book, although some characters return, I enjoy introducing different POV characters. A series lends itself to writing about Bible times, which often cover a span of many years.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I’ve been a Christian since childhood, but it wasn’t until my late 30s I began reading through the entire Bible each year. Before long, I wanted to dig deeper and started accumulating commentaries, atlases, and other biblical and historical references. I love giving a reader a sense of living in Bible times, experiencing the characters’ adventures, and walking with them on their faith journeys.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
The moment God showed me that He intended for Rain to be published was so startling and so obviously of God, that no other event can surpass it. Whenever I feel inadequate to any writing-related task, I think back to that moment. Of course, I’m inadequate. But a powerful and wise God put my feet on this path, and so I trust Him to equip me to walk it.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I’m intrigued by so many characters in the Bible, and I am eager to write stories of those who met and lived among them. I have so many ideas, I’ll run out of time before I write them all.

What is your writing routine?
Any quirky habits or must-have snacks? I write about six hours a day, usually beginning about 9 am. I take walking breaks with the dogs and butterflies to avoid stiffness and work out plot snafus. If I’m really stuck, I drink copious amounts of coffee and eat one or two Hershey Chocolate Nuggets, depending on the complexity of the problem.

If you could have coffee with an author, dead or alive, whose work you admire, who would that be? What would you ask him or her?
I’ve been blessed to be able to talk with several favorite Christian authors, so I’ll go for the impossible – a dead author.

As a child, I enjoyed reading Walter Farley’s clean, exciting novels in The Black Stallion series. Although not my genre, I aspire to capturing a reader’s imagination like he did. I’d ask what inspired him to write about horses and how he researched. And like most readers, I would ask about his writing process. I know we all have to find our own way, but I still learn helpful tips when hearing how others write.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My first attempts at writing fiction were romance, because my critique group partners all wrote in that genre. I thought it seemed easy. It is not. My mom suggested I write Christian fiction, but I told her I wanted to write literary fiction. I also tried cozy mystery and romantic suspense. I wasn’t happy with any of my attempts in these genres.

But one day, after reading in 1 Kings where Elijah prays the widow’s son back to life, I imagined that boy coming back from the other world. I thought about his mother’s desperate cry, “What do I have to do with you, man of God? Have you come to kill my son and remind me of my great sin?” I now had three characters and wrote a scene. My critique group said, “We want to read the rest of this story.” Rain took about six years to write and rewrite and was my first complete novel. I fell in love with the genre often called biblical fiction. I never want to write anything else.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I enjoy reading other authors’ biblical novels and many different genres of Christian fiction. I’m active in our church and local ACFW writing group. I enjoy walking and playing with our two mini-Australian shepherds and spotting butterflies in the lovely garden my hubby has planted.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
In Feast or Famine by Mesu Andrews. I have read and loved all her books, but this one is the best so far. Exciting action, court intrigue, a worthy adversary, and a swoon-worthy love story.

Finish this statement: If I were not an author, I would be a slightly better cook and housekeeper. Or I might pick up the quilting lessons I abandoned for writing, or practice my ukulele until I could accompany singers without pausing each time I change chords. I think it best all-around if I continue writing.
A church girl from the get-go, Christine Boatwright learned storytelling through her time as an award-winning journalist and academic writer. She's the president of the ACFW Upstate South Carolina chapter and has won a handful of ACFW awards for her debut manuscript, including the 2022 Genesis award for historical fiction. In her free time as a stay-at-home mom, she connects the dots between the narrative of the Old Testament, the prophets who lived it, and the God who never changes. Connect with her at or on Instagram.

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