|Valerie Anne Faulkner
interviews W. Dale Cramer
Christian Fiction On-line Magazine, June, 2009
|W. Dale Cramer
Our Garmin’s right on target. Thirty miles, give or take, south of Atlanta, we arrive in Henry County by
early afternoon. The computerized female GPS voice stutters a bit as we meander along the isolated country
road. And she advises we will arrive at our des-tin-a-tion in 2/10 m-il-e.
“The network’s gone! Evaporated into thin air. She left without a good-bye.”
It’s June and hot and I think my hubby’s loosing it. “I’ll check the paper map and hope our little Garmin
lady, technical advisory guide hasn’t led us astray. “Looks like we need to turn here, Bill. I’m pretty sure
this is it.” Granted, I’m not like his brand-new Garmin GPS, but Bill listens to me. and he drives off the dirt
road onto a long dirt driveway. Little by little we diverge into the yellow-leaved woods. “Do we need to put
the Jeep into four wheel drive?”
“Nah . . . Looks like a house up there.” He veers a little to the right to miss the draping branches of a
gorgeous dogwood tree loaded with flowers. Smiling at me he adds, “You found it, Val.”
“Isn’t this beautiful? I can hear birds chirpings and smell the color green.” I inhale the “country” aroma as
our tires crunch on fallen leaves. Ahead, an L-shaped Tudor home, an old ’90 GMC pickup, and a man
maybe my age greet us. He’s wearing a black T-shirt, worn-out carpenter jeans, and sneakers made to look
like hiking boots. I can’t help but notice He could use a shave!
down in front of his computer; he’s most comfortable at his shamefully cluttered cherry desk, working on
I’m not totally sure where I should start, but I contemplate for only a moment and have to smile. He’s just
so authorlike! And he’s an electrician! “This is actually perfect. May I begin?”
Valerie: I know you’ve been asked this question . . . I even read your answer, and it brought tears to my
eyes. Please tell us again, who were the most inspirational people in your life?
Dale: I really never get tired of saying it. My heroes are people you’ve never heard of— the people who do
things for others every day, even when there’s no money in it. Even when nobody’s looking. I learned this
the hard way in my early thirties, after I was badly burned in an electrical explosion on a mining project. I
was always pretty hard-nosed and extremely independent, and even though I grew up going to church, I
couldn’t see a whole lot of practical application to being a Christian in the real world until I spent six weeks
in the burn unit. I made it through the darkest night of my life thanks to a strength I knew was not my own.
I didn’t recognize that strength, didn’t know where it came from, until weeks later when I learned that on
that very night there were twenty-two churches full of people praying for me. Later, when my hands were
pinned and bandaged so that I couldn’t feed myself, somebody showed up at every mealtime and fed me.
The nurses could have done it, but they never had to; somebody was always there. The guys at work
passed the hat around and paid my bills. Neighbors cut my grass and fed my dog. While I was in the
hospital a woman was raped in the parking lot, and the next morning a security guard was arrested for the
crime. That evening a couple from church showed up right at the end of visiting hours. I didn’t really know
them, and they didn’t even come in the room (I don’t blame them— I looked pretty rough), but when
visiting hours were over, they escorted my wife to her car and followed her home. The next night a
different couple showed up and did the same thing. This happened every night for the rest of my stay. There
was never a word said about what they did, and I honestly can’t remember names or faces, but even now I
can’t express what it meant to me, knowing that people were watching over my wife. A thing like that
changes a man. I left that hospital with a new understanding of what it means to be a Christian: We are the
arms of God.
Valerie: Have you incorporated “real life” situations into your novels? Care to fill us in on one or two
Dale: I rely on my experiences all the time. I’ve been down a lot of dirt roads, made a multitude of stupid
mistakes, and survived more than my share of disasters, so I’ve got a big bag of stories. My best stories
don’t make good fiction because nobody would believe them, but I’ve still got plenty of material. Once,
when I was flying a sailplane, I had an encounter with a flock of buzzards, which ended up being a scene in
my first book. In my last novel (the story of a redneck, stay-at-home dad—and, no, it’s not the least bit
autobiographical), there’s an incident where the dad calls home on his cell phone and his young son answers
the phone. There’s a terrible racket in the background; his son’s voice is almost drowned out by the
crashing of furniture and the baying of hounds. The dad, shouting into the phone to be heard over the
tumult, asks, “What are dogs doing in the house?!” and the son yells back, “They’re chasing the goat!”
True story, much as I hate to admit it. Then there was the story of the pretend cigars, the tree grinding a
chainsaw into the ground, the kid getting down on his hands and knees to get a look up at a fancy belt
buckle obscured by the portly gentleman’s “overhang,” the dog in the treehouse, the ghost crabs, the card
game in the burn unit . . . In fact, I guess half the stuff in that book was drawn from real life, one way or
another. I try not to force it, but if a piece fits, I use it.
Valerie: Wow, now you’ve got me thinking. What does the W. stand for?
Dale: William. It was the first name of my grandfather on my mother’s side and an uncle on my father’s
Valerie: You are/were an electrician. My husband and I own and operate an electrical contracting business.
We’ve done about everything; but now we usually work on service and repair. What area of expertise in the
trade would you consider yourself to be?
Dale: I’ve done it all: residential, commercial, industrial. When I was young I was always good at the heavy
stuff— had a natural gift for running 4-inch rigid pipe. Now I mostly ride around on a service truck with an
old friend and we pick and choose our jobs. I enjoy my work. It’s nearly killed me a few times, but in thirty-
five years my job has taken me to some amazing places, shown me unique sights, introduced me to some
wonderful people, and given me a few insights into life in general. Readers tend to think of me as a writer
who once did some construction work. That’s not how it is at all. It took me a few years to figure it out,
but the plain truth is I’m a construction worker who occasionally writes a book. I’m much more
comfortable with myself now that I understand that.
Valerie: I can relate! What other trades have you tinkered in, and do you have a particular feeling of
accomplishment from something you’ve worked on?
Dale: When I was young I worked on bridges for a while—iron work, carpentry, concrete. Since then I’ve
dabbled in plumbing, drywall, flooring, you name it. I like learning how to do things, and there’s not much I’
m afraid to tackle. I’ve done some big electrical jobs, worked on three different stadia, and spent years on
the MARTA line and the airport. I do take pride in my work, but in the end, when it comes to
accomplishment, I guess none of it really stacks up against writing a book.
Valerie: I imagine writing takes up most of your time. Do you find it harder to do your necessary, physical
work/ labor after spending hours at the computer?
Dale: That’s sort of upside-down for me—that is, I’ve learned to give the physical work first priority and do
the writing when I have time. Writing is the greatest hobby in the world, but for me it’s not a great job. I
need—actually need—to get outside and do real work with other guys on a regular basis or I’m just not
myself. When deadline pressure forces me to stay home from work and write full time, I get really cranky.
Valerie: You mentioned you and your wife enjoyed traveling, camping, water skiing, scuba diving, snow
skiing, and flying sailplanes when you first were married. Do you still make time to enjoy these sports? Or
do you have different spare-time indulgences that include kids?
Dale: The thing is, as soon as you have kids, all your money runs screaming over the nearest cliff. Life
after kids doesn’t include expensive hobbies like scuba diving or flying sailplanes, but we’ve done all the rest
of it. My kids enjoy water skiing and snowboarding, and they’re both good snorkelers. I’ve watched my
youngest son touch bottom in fifty feet of water. Both of them are really fine artists, too. They get that from
Valerie: I really have to hear about the sailplanes. Where did you fly, how high, and what did it feel like?
Dale: Back before we had kids I flew sailplanes for a few years at a place called Chilhowee, in eastern
Tennessee. Soaring was always pretty high on my bucket list, and one night when we were watching a
movie with sailplanes in it, I told my wife I’d always wanted to do that. She just looked at me and said, “So,
why aren’t you doing it?” It was, hands down, the most fun I’ve ever had. I probably never got more than
seven or eight thousand feet above ground level (most thermals around here top out between 3000 and 5000
feet) and never went more than thirty miles from the gliderport, so I wasn’t exactly an ace pilot, but it was
all pure joy. Just the idea of going up in that graceful, long-winged bird and climbing the sky all afternoon on
nothing but air currents—the thought of it still gives me a rush. When your sailplane encounters rising air,
you can actually feel it in the pit of your stomach, like an elevator. There’s absolutely nothing like it.
Valerie: Back to kids . . . have they wanted to go for a fly?
Dale: They’ve mentioned it once or twice. One day I’ll take them to the gliderport for a birthday or
something and let them go up with somebody. Unfortunately, soaring takes too much time and money for
me to stay current in the sport myself. Maybe if Spielberg would return my calls . . .
Valerie: You’re a middle child. What was your major complaint being in the middle, that you felt was
different for your older and younger siblings?
Dale: I never really gave it much thought. I stayed in trouble all the time, but it was my own fault. I knew
better than to blame it on the order of birth. When I was a kid I had a wild imagination, boundless bravado,
and no conscience. I did things I still won’t tell my parents about (I’m fairly sure the statute of limitations
hasn’t run out on some of them). My older brother was nauseatingly good (through no fault of his own—
he just didn’t have the energy), and my younger sister could do no wrong because she was the baby of the
family and a girl (again, no fault of her own), so I guess you could say I became the black sheep by default.
Somebody had to do it. However reluctantly, I eventually warmed to the job and performed adequately.
Some would say spectacularly.
Valerie: Having traveled around the world, how does home in Georgia hold tight to your heartstrings?
Dale: Home is where the family is. I’ve lived in Georgia for forty years, but I still don’t feel any particular
attachment to the geography. It’s just where my family happens to be. My parents live just up the road, and
I will stay here and look after them as long as they live, but my wife and I both grew up army brats, and we
still miss the traveling. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia is a nice place, but we’ve been around enough to know
the world is full of nice places. If we didn’t have family attachments, we’d almost certainly be vagabonds.
Valerie: Are you located in the city or country part of Atlanta?
Dale: We live in the country . . . or did. When we built our house twenty-four years ago, it was out in the
middle of nowhere. We bought five acres and built a house four hundred feet back in the woods. The
nearest store was ten miles away. But Atlanta has a way of sprawling, and in the last few years the city has
rolled right over us. These days we’re surrounded by subdivisions and shopping centers.
Valerie: Have you ever been to a “real” Southern plantation?
Dale: No, I haven’t, mainly because there aren’t any real Southern plantations left—none that I’m aware of.
Very few of the old pre-war houses are still standing, thanks to General Sherman. That whole way of life
disappeared after the War of Northern Aggression. The few actual plantation homes that still exist are
surprisingly small—nothing like the grand mansions in the movies. Now there are whole vast subdivisions of
new houses twice the size of the old antebellum homes.
Valerie: Have you ever watched TV’s Bizarre Foods, or No Reservations? Seeing all the places and what’s
being served, foods the local people eat, well, could you tell us what’s “the best in Georgia”?
Dale: Um, we still don’t have cable. I don’t watch a lot of television, except for Braves games (and my wife
makes me watch American Idol), so I haven’t seen those shows. But I’d have to say the best Southern
food I’ve ever eaten was not in a restaurant, it was in the Morehouse College cafeteria. We were building
a dorm for the college a few years back, and we ate lunch in the cafeteria every day. Those old ladies could
throw down some grub: fried chicken, collard greens, okra, fried green tomatoes, corn bread, banana
pudding, catfish, cole slaw, that kind of thing. It was all good. Best chicken livers on the planet. I don’t
know of a restaurant that could hold a candle to them.
Valerie: We all know about God’s plan and that it can differ from our own, but what are you hoping to
accomplish this year . . . if it’s God’s will?
Dale: I’d like to get another book written and sell the one I’ve got, but the economy may not cooperate. It
would be nice to get out of debt, but with one son in college and another on the brink, it’s not looking
good. I’d like to lose ten or forty pounds and finish refinishing the garage, but those things are just goals.
All I really want is to be there, to be in the moment, to experience whatever the day brings without worrying
too much about goals. I have a pretty good life and I don’t want to miss it.
Valerie: Is there any one thing you would like to share with your fans? Something you haven’t been asked,
but think they would enjoy hearing about?
Dale: This has nothing to do with writing, but it has haunted me for forty years, and I don’t think I’ve ever
told anybody about it. When I was in high school, I worked in a jewelry store part-time, and I learned watch
repair. One afternoon, maybe a week after Christmas, this kid came in and laid a new watch up on the
counter. He’d busted the crystal off of it and lost the hands. A little kid, he had to reach up to the counter,
but he had a tight crew cut, grubby T-shirt and jeans, and the face of a pugnacious thirty-year-old. I hurt
for that kid. I could look at him and see what his old man was like. The expression on his face told me this
was his big Christmas present; he’d broken it doing something stupid, and he was going to pay, big-time,
when he got home. He reached up and laid like twelve cents on the counter, but when I told him it would
cost five dollars he raked his twelve cents and trudged out the door, holding his busted watch in both hands
like it was a dead bird.
It’s a little thing, I guess, but I could have fixed that kid’s watch and told him it cost twelve cents. I could
have, but I didn’t. I never saw him again, and I still regret it. After forty years I still wonder what ripples a
little kindness might have had. These days I try to pay attention, try not to miss a chance like that. They don’
t come back.
Valerie: I have enjoyed this interview, especially since we have so much in common. I believe I’ve learned
something today . . . in particular, your quote. “All I really want is to be there, to be in the moment, to
experience whatever the day brings without worrying too much about goals. I have a pretty good life and I
don’t want to miss it.” Dale, thank you. God bless.