Being a writer can be an amazing adventure if you go into it with the right heart and mindset. Best-selling, award-winning author and conference co-director DiAnn Mills shares about her amazing adventures—including encountering crocodiles, and no, that’s not a metaphor!—on her writing journey. And she reminds us our Guide is faithful and true, no matter what.
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About DiAnn Mills
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. You can download a list of her published titles by clicking here. Learn more about DiAnn at her website DiAnnMills.com.
Thanks to our patrons on Patreon, we can provide an edited transcript of the show.
Karen: I could tell you a lot of things about DiAnn Mills, that she’s a best-selling award-winning author of more than fifty books, fiction and nonfiction. She’s a founding board member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and she’s a member of a number of other writers associations. She’s also the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, the Mountainside Marketing Conference, and the Blue Ridge Novelist Retreat with social media specialist Edie Melson. She’s a popular speaker and teacher. But here’s what I love: she’s been termed a coffee snob. She roasts her own coffee beans—I’m so jealous! She believes her grandkids are the smartest kids in the universe—now that’s a good grandma. And she’s a Texan, which should tell you a boatload about her. But I found these five fun facts about DiAnn on her website:
- She’s always dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress but decided writing stories would be more fun than acting the part. I tend to agree with that.
- Her favorite place to write is on the treadmill but she refuses to be called a hamster.
- She is admittedly a picky eater. She prefers fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, and dark chocolate—which is why she’s skinny as a rail. She’s building her own food pyramid.
- She once took an African safari by herself—and I absolutely love this—the sleeping lions didn’t bother her, neither did the charging elephant. But the crocodiles gave her nightmares. I think that’s understandable!
- The oldest piece of clothing she owns is her high school jacket—the one with a boot to show she was a majorette. And DiAnn, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I was in the band from the fourth grade through six years of college, so go majorettes!
Erin: We’re delighted to have you here, DiAnn. Thank you for being with us.
DiAnn: Thank you for inviting me. This is exciting! This is fun! I’m looking forward to our chat and all were going to cover.
Erin: Well, we’re going to cover the first thing first. We ask this of everybody. What does the deep mean to you?
DiAnn: The deep to me means writing from that place that I know I cannot do it myself. It is the sweet ecstasy of intimacy with God. It is knowing that He purposed me for writing, and that He has given me a gift: a gift that I have to nurture and take care of, and continue to learn the craft and add more tools to my craftsman belt. And to just let the world know how exciting it is to be a part of God’s world. That’s with the deep means to me.
Erin: I love that.
Karen: I just read 5 million things that you were involved in and my big question is where do you find the time for all of this?
DiAnn: I have no idea. You’ve always heard you want something done, you ask a busy person. I always thought that was crazy, but I believe it’s true.
But I also believe that if God is in it, then the time will be there. And there are some things for me that are critical—other than the writing, I’m talking about other than creating on paper and the editing and rewrites and all the things that go into writing a book—aside from that I have a deep passion to help other serious writers learn the craft and be what God intended. Not all of us have the same purpose in God’s eyes for writing. But for the serious writers, I want to see them move up the ladder. I want them to explore what they can be, their full potential.
So I have a deep passion for that, which leads to some of the mentoring I do, co-directing the writers conferences, teaching in other venues. It’s a part of that passion. Because when I felt a calling that yes I was supposed write, I felt it was also a balance that whatever I learn I should pass on to a writer who was serious. And you always hear me use the word serious because not everyone who says they want to be a writer is ready to make the sacrifice and go that extra mile.
Erin: Right. What I’m enjoying about this particular interview, we mentioned the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference—that’s on the east coast, I’m guessing—and we have recently talked with Kathy Ide about the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference on the west coast so we are coast-to-coast here. DiAnn, tell us how in the world did you come to be the co-director of that conference?
DiAnn: I taught there for about 10 years, teaching, inspiring, having a great time. I met Edie Melson, my co-director, at one of those conferences. We were standing in the line for the cafeteria and she turned to me, and I didn’t know her. I said, “How was your morning?” And she burst into tears. She’d had a critique She didn’t quite understand, and she just really had a bad time. So I talked her down off the cliff.
The next year she came to me and said, “Oh, thank you for last year! You really encouraged me.” I did not know who this woman was. She had lost 100 pounds, so I did not know her and finally had to admit that. And we’ve been fast friends ever since.
She worked for Al Gansky who was the director for a few years. She was his assistant. When he chose to retire, she called me and said, “We’re already sister friends. Let’s take it to the next level.”
One year I was just watching as she did things, and then the years after that we do this together. We both have our strengths, and we know what our challenges are, and we compliment each other very well. The funny part about Edie’s and my relationship is that we’re both very strong women.
Karen: Oh, no, not you, DiAnn…
DiAnn: Oh, yeah! Which was great because we can challenge each other, but it’s in a way that’s done out of love. We often say we fuss like sisters, and we love like sisters. It’s a God-orchestrated relationship that’s for sure. We’re very close. We were sister friends to begin with and then business partners.
We’re excited about the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference, and then we have the boutique conferences underneath that, Mountainside Marketing, Mountainside Novelist Retreat, and in 2020 we’re going to add the fourth which will be a boutique conference for nonfiction. So we are excited about all that we can offer.
Karen: When she came to you, and she made this proposal, I’m guessing that you were already exceedingly busy. That you already had a lot of things that you were involved in. How did God let you know that this was something that you needed to say yes to?
DiAnn: Peace. Peace deep inside of me that this was part of my purpose, part of what He had in mind for me. I think that as Christian men and women, we often get that little catch when something isn’t exactly right. I’ve come to guard that as this is something that God is telling me I should or shouldn’t do, to be aware, to be cautioned. Things of that nature. And I just had peace that this was going to be wonderful. That this was going to be another grand adventure. And it has been.
Erin: I’m guessing though that it probably hasn’t been 100% smooth sailing. What are the challenges that you faced or things God has taught you through this?
DiAnn: I think because of my experiences long before getting into the writing business, of working with women, being in a leadership role—personalities. Everybody’s different, and learning to work with different personalities and understanding what they are and still loving on that person even though you may wonder, “Where did that come from?”
I think the biggest challenge is working with personalities and making sure that everyone is happy and satisfied, from the faculty—what they’re teaching, what they’re leading, what they’re speaking about—to my first time conferee who’s just so nervous, so scared, that he or she doesn’t know what to do.
I’m a people lover, and I love seeing people blossom and be excited, so that just helps every little challenge, every little thing that could possibly go wrong. And it does. Somebody’s flight is late, or somebody had to cancel all their classes at the last minute, and who can we get to fill in? Things of that nature are bound to happen and you just have to have plan B, and C and sometimes D in case those do happen.
But it’s a thrill and it’s a joy to work with people. I used to say that if I hadn’t been a writer, rather than being a Hollywood movie star, on the realistic side, I probably would have gone into psychology, because I love the way people behave and how incredibly different and wonderful and creative they can be.
Karen: It’s funny because I’ve known a lot of writers who’ve said that. I’ve said that—that if I hadn’t gone into the whole writing and editing world, I actually was looking at getting a Masters in psychology. But I think my working experience of heading up fiction for publishing houses and dealing with all the different authors, I actually think I might have a Masters in psychology as a result of that!
God plants those desires inside of us. It’s really fun because I’ve always known you to be a very positive, upbeat person. You seldom seem to be drawn down by things. How do you deal with it when you do feel discouraged? What helps you keep going when you find yourself wondering if this is all really worth it? Or do you even find yourself wondering that?
DiAnn: Oh, yeah, I do. It used to be that every Monday morning I’d walk into my husband’s office and say, “Can I sit on your lap? I think I quit.” And I still do that from time to time because it got to be a joke.
I think for me, because of being split between introversion and extroversion, the writer side of me—the melancholy, the seeing life a little quirky and sometimes upside down—can be discouraging and can be depressing. For me it’s music, and praise God I have a husband who not only is a whiz at the computer but he’s a musician, so the piano is there, and he’s awesome with that, and he’s also very understanding.
But starting every morning at 4:30 with the Word is the best thing I can do. And while I can grab my thesaurus, my Kindle, and whatever else that’s on my desk, my Bible is right there. It’s a combination of all those things.
Karen: We talk with writers a lot on this podcast about the importance of grounding your heart before you launch on this writing journey. Grounding your heart in the Word, and grounding your heart in understanding that if God has given you this task, that He will equip you. That He will supply everything you need, and like you say, it’s His purposes that are being worked out.
We tend to come into it with our own ideas and our own purposes, but His purposes are so much better. I bet that when you first started into all this, you had no idea that it would be this amazing thing that it’s become for you with co-directing these conferences and helping so many writers. I think it’s amazing, if we will simply ground ourselves in Him and then say yes when He tells us to, where He can take us!
DiAnn: Yes. It’s like being putty—mold me, form me, put me where you need me. And you’re right, I’ll be scared, but I know I won’t be alone.
It just never stops amazing me that when I’m in a pickle about not understanding something or I have a question, the person or the resource will just show up in my life. One instance is the book I’m working on right now. It’s about a virus being unleashed on an airplane. I just thought, “Oh that’s amazing. Who do I know who can help me?”
And I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I was talking to this woman who said to me, “You know, I have my doctorate in microbiology and immunology.” And I found out she was Albuquerque’s go to person for the media when they have virus outbreaks. And she says to me, “I’ve always thought what a great story it would be to have a virus unleashed somewhere.”
That’s just one of the many occasions that things like that have happened. I just have to laugh because God’s gonna make sure things are done, despite us.
Karen: Right! It’s amazing to me the way He operates. If we step back and look at this path that we’ve been on with Him, whether it’s about writing, whether it’s about our lives, if we really take a hard look at it you can see that He has been so present, and He has been so active in everything that we do. For us to worry about anything is such a waste of time and energy and spirit.
DiAnn: It is. Absolutely.
Erin: Let’s swing around to that safari thing Karen mentioned. I really want to hear the story of the crocodile. I feel like there are stories in there about God’s faithfulness.
DiAnn: Absolutely. At the time, I was working on a series of books—a fiction and two nonfiction about the lost boys of Sudan. The publisher had given me a grant and said, “If you want to go to southern Sudan, here’s something to help you get started.” So I went alone, and met wonderful people, and went a whole week without a shower.
Karen: I can’t fathom it. You’re always so perfectly put together.
DiAnn: Yes, it was bad. I was beginning to think, “Will I smell like this forever?” I met incredible courageous people who have nothing and would still tell you that Jesus is enough. That in itself warms my heart and soul to this day. But my husband had said, “If you go to all this trouble, before you come home, why don’t you take a safari?”
I thought, “Oh, wow. I will.” So, I did that alone, and I had a tent, and I had electricity, and I had a shower. We would set out early in the morning and see all kinds of incredible animals. I’m thinking about this big bull elephant with a broken tusk that started to charge the Jeep, and we just took off. All the lions just lazy and sleepy because of all the junk they did the night before kind of reminded me of teenage boys. Zebra and giraffes and it was just amazing.
But the crocodiles—we came to this area where wildebeests make this incredible journey down over the hills to the river. And I looked down there and there were so many crocodiles. It was incredible. Granted, they were down the hill. I had no intention of going down that hill. But I also didn’t know how fast they could come up the hill.
For some reason those prehistoric creatures scared me more than the lions, the charging bull elephant, or anything else that I saw there. Those crocodiles, those big eyes, thinking, “I can see you wherever you go and you would make a tasty meal.”
That’s my crocodile experience. I suppose I could do a whole set of devotions on that safari and some of that would be quite amusing. But I’ll be fine if I never see another crocodile face-to-face again.
Karen: Erin and I taught at the Florida Christian writers conference a couple years ago and the place where they housed us as faculty had a really nice little bridge and pond and water back out behind. So we went out there and we thought it would be a good place to take some promo photos. So we’re taking photos and turned around and I’m like, “That’s an alligator. There’s another one in the water!” So I went over, and they’re signs everywhere: don’t try to get too close to the alligators. I didn’t try to get too close but I had a really nice zoom so I got some great pictures.
Erin: I guarantee they move faster than we do. I have seen them move.
DiAnn: I grew up on Tarzan movies. I know how fast they move.
Erin: One thing I wanted to ask you about the Blue Ridge Writers Conference, for those who’ve never been there, describe a bit about what that conference is like.
DiAnn: We’re nestled in the Smoky Mountains at Ridge Crest Conference Center. The housing is hotel-like. There’s a cafeteria there. They have beautiful meeting rooms. We cater to every writer on every level.
If you go to the website and you look at classes you’ll see act one, two, and three as the level for the writer. Act one being the beginner, act two being the middle of the road, and three for the advanced writer. And that is for every type of writing out there, from someone looking to write a better blog to someone looking to write a nonfiction book, or a historical romance.
We want to make sure that every writer can come, and leave feeling satisfied and fulfilled. So we want levels, we want all of the classes that we can possibly get from faculty who have expertise in their area. We have opportunities to meet with agents and editors and professional writers, one-on-one appointments.
We have a genre night where everybody gets to dress-up. We have an awards night with a fabulous dessert afterwards. And the awards night is for the published and unpublished writers, so it’s just something for everyone, so everyone feels important.
We have great speakers. We have panel sessions. We have opportunities at lunch and dinner for the conferees to sit at a faculty table. We don’t want name tags that say faculty. All the name tags look the same. The one thing that’s different are those who are part of our volunteer prayer group. They have a little set of praying hands or something that shows conferees that they can stop that person and be prayed for.
DiAnn: We have a bookstore. And this year we have our first post conference. We’re so excited about this. Our conference is from May 19 to May 23. It’s from a Sunday afternoon/evening until Thursday at noon. So our conferees can take a nap Thursday afternoon, because trust me they will need it, and then on Friday we’re having an all-day session with Donald Maass. That’s all on our website: blueridgeconference.com.
You can see the faculty, the classes, contest information. We have scholarships available. We want to be approachable. We want that Southern feel, you know: you’re home, just sit back and enjoy yourself, and take it all in—physically if you want to hike, spiritually with all of the great speakers and devotion times that we have. And then of course learning the craft, learning marketing, learning speaking. We have workshops. We have continuing classes.
Karen: It’s a real shame that you’re not passionate about this!
Erin: And that there’s nothing for anyone there! For listeners we will have a link in the show notes so you’ll be able to check it all out for yourself. You can scroll down in the app if you’re listening or go to our website and will see the link.
Karen: It’s been so great to have you here, DiAnn. Thank you so much for coming and spending this time with us. We appreciate it. We’re so delighted that God has led you in the ways that He has, and that you’re involved in all that you’re involved in. Continue following Him. I know that you will do that. Thanks for providing adventure for so many others who have been given this task to write. Thank you so much for being here.
DiAnn: Thank you. I’ve had a super wonderful and passionate time.
We want to hear from you!
Have you been to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference? What did you think?
Interested in DiAnn’s latest book or her book on the Sudan? Check out the links below.
Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills
Long Walk Home by DiAnn Mills
Special thanks to our March sponsor of the month, Becca Whitham! Look for her latest release The Kitchen Marriage, A Montana Brides Romance, Book 2! If you love romance, you’ll love her books!
Thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous editing!
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