Recently, I had a chance to catch up with Diane Graham, who has just released her debut novel I Am Ocilla through Splashdown Books. We here at The Areopagus couldn’t be happier about this release and the success of our friend.
Marc- Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. You’re from Oklahoma, right? Could you please yell Hook ‘em and sing The Eyes of Texas? Thanks…
Diane- Ha! I am actually from a little bit of everywhere. I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, but moved several times in childhood after my parents divorced when I was 7. Finally, we landed in Texas when I was 9, and stayed until my high school sweetheart swept me off my feet. We lived the military life for six years before returning to Texas. We’ve called Oklahoma home for almost four years now. We purchased 40 acres and decided to give mountain life a go. I think our roots are well planted now, but we do miss Texas.
I promise you don’t want me to sing, Marc.
Marc- That song sounds good no matter who sings it. At any rate, I recently drove home to Texas through a great swath of Eastern Oklahoma—beautiful country, especially around Eufala. Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and this enchanted mountain you live on.
Diane- You must have gone right through Tulsa and down to Highway 69 and connected to 62. You were within an hour of our mountain when you went through McAlester. Next time drop me a line and we can meet for lunch.
The mountain life isn’t for everyone, even when it is a small mountain. There are black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, spiders, snakes and any number of other wild things that make their home next to us.
When we moved here four years ago, our land was completely undeveloped. We stayed in a 20X8 travel trailer for 9 months while we hand-cut 950 feet of road and built our house. We chose to not go into debt and build it ourselves. That’s two adults, five kids and three dogs in 160 square feet. Only by God’s mercy did we make it through alive.
The first year we lived in the house we generated our own power by several different methods. We had a 15 slot battery bay with an inverter hooked to a 350 engine block and we built our own wind generator. We have a few solar panels. For our water source we filtered and treated water from our pond for all but cooking and drinking. We haul water and catch drain off now. Putting in a well is very expensive and the chances of getting a dry hole are too great for us to justify dropping thousands of dollars. City power went in and I am happy for it. Nothing wrong with living off the grid, but it sure is hard.
We go to town about twice a month. I could go more often, but I am trying to teach my children to think ahead and be frugal. I use this as part of their home schooling. They must take inventory and write lists before we go. While we are in town, they must mark off items from our master list and tally receipts. When we get home they must subtract from the check register.
Living so close to nature has been an education for the entire family. Seriously, how many children do you know that can engineer a road and maintain proper drainage? Or filter and treat water? We are so blessed with this beautiful place God gave us.
Marc- You’re on for the lunch gig. You once wrote “When I pop open a book at a store I read the first few pages to see if the writer has a style I find appealing. If they can’t hook me in a couple of pages, they probably never will.” I am now the proud owner of I am Ocilla. I have only read chapter one thus far, and it’s every bit as good as I remember it being the first time I read it. Can you give us another reason or two why we ought to read the rest?
Diane- Thank you for investing in my girl. She has so much to offer Christians and non-Christians alike. Her journey is one we all go through. She must find out who she is and why she is so important. If a reader isn’t looking for the meaning of life or their part in it, they can still have a good time with a spastic but loyal red wolf, a hootastic great owl, a disappearing panda that knows the sleeper hole, a swirly-eyed, blind tiger, and a Kraken with a chip on his shoulder. Oh, and there are men that can climb walls by sprouting vines from their fingertips.
Marc- Open your heart and mind to the simplicity and complexity of a name. This is a tag line to your book that resonates with me. Without giving too much of Ocilla away, what does this mean to you?
Diane- For Ocilla, her name is all she knows of herself. Names are as simple as a grouping of letters, but there is depth in a name. If you look at the title of the book…I Am Ocilla…it looks so simple, right? But what is I AM? Oh, that is so much more. That is simple and complex. Really, the title should read I AM’s Ocilla because Ocilla must find out what her name is in I AM or as He is called in the book, El.
Marc- Very well done. That tagline caught my attention because I explored the same idea in the opening lines of Konig’s Fire: A good name has a way of weaving itself through and around a man until it’s part of him. It merges with his soul, for better or for worse, and it augments it somehow. It amplifies it, or maybe what I’m trying to say is it helps reveal it. All I know is that there’s a lot in a name. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it as I read Ocilla, and perhaps we can revisit it when I’m through…
I recall that you were a Marcher Lord Press Select contest winner for best premise. To write Ocilla, did you outline the entire story or run with the premise?
Diane- I wrote Ocilla completely by the seat of my pants. It started with a dream my Momma had. A few months after she told me about it, I too had a dream about a girl and a tree. I called Momma and asked if she minded me using it for a book. Momma would never deny me a thing if she could help it. I sat down and wrote out the opening to chapter 1. It was a few months later when I picked it up again. As I went along, a miracle happened. It started making sense. Then, the plot twisted itself into something I couldn’t see through, but still I trudged forward.
When I came out of the other side, I turned around and cried. There is no way I did that by myself. Not a chance. I know you hear Christian writers claim to be anointed by God Himself, and it comes off as arrogant and lofty. I’m not doing that, but I am saying God guided me and placed things in my head for reasons I couldn’t see at the time. I am saying that God has blessed me with this story.
Marc- Seat of the pants—good for you. I wouldn’t have it any other way. How’s the release of Ocilla gone for you? Is it what you thought it would be?
Diane- It has been an experience I will forever treasure. I’m not sure I can answer what I thought it would be like for sure. I knew it would be special if it happened. I gave Ocilla to God as soon as He gave me the title, which was a month after I finished the first draft. So I suppose it has been so much more than I could have ever dreamed of. God is awfully good to me.
Marc- Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Diane- I am a mess most of time, but for reasons I can never truly wrap my mind around, God loves me. He has given and given and given, and all I can do is live for Him. That’s all any of us can.
Marc- Give us links to where you write frequently: a blog or website, perhaps?
Personal blog- http://dianemgraham.com/blog/
Joint blog- http://newauthors.wordpress.com/author/dmgraham/
Splashdown Books- http://www.splashdownbooks.com/fantasy/i-am-ocilla