Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with WhiteFire Publishing in 2011. She has also been published in poetry, scriptwriting, and songwriting.
Since finishing her Professional Writing MA at Regent University in 1994, Dina has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. Dina lives in Virginia Beach with her Lebanese husband and three school-aged children. You can see her oldest daughter, Christiana, on the front cover of her novel. After selling her first book to WhiteFire Publishing, Dina also became a part-time acquisitions editor for the company.
Most of the time you will find Dina reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her family, preferably at the oceanfront. If you decide to drop by her home unexpectedly, beware of her six-pound killer maltipoo, Scruffy, who will go to great lengths to protect his territory and his lovely mate, Bella. Dina has led worship dance ministries fifteen years, and currently enjoys teaching kids to sing, dance, and meet with God during children’s church as well. She invites you to join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace.
With your penchant for words, your educational background, and the fact that you’re now working for your publisher as an editor, I’m guessing you’re one of those people who was born with a pen in her hand. Am I right?
I don’t recall enjoying reading or writing until late elementary school. In second grade I worried I would never figure out that tricky “silent e.” Many members of my family have vision-related learning disabilities, and sometimes I wonder if I had just enough to keep me at a normal speed in childhood.
In about fifth grade, I fell in love with writing while penning a short story. I studied the planet Venus, then based on scientific facts created an imaginary life form and brought her to earth for a visit. That was the best assignment ever. Since then I’ve adored writing. However, I can actually take long breaks from it if I have other creative outlets like dance, drama, or art.
You began your first story ten years ago, but life intervened. What prompted you to resume work on your manuscript? Were you able to immerse yourself in the story, or did it take time to get your writerly muscles back in shape?
Well, at the risk of sounding weird, I suppose God prompted me. I always try to allow the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit to guide my life. Over the years I prayed about whether or not the timing was right for me to focus on my novel, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the answer was yes.
It was difficult to find time to write because I was still homeschooling my children, but when I did the words would practically erupt out of me like a volcano after all those years spent waiting. That’s not to say the first draft was stellar. Despite my creative writing background, I still had a lot to learn about the actual novel craft. Since 2007 I’ve been learning the craft and business side of writing and improving my manuscript as I went along.
How did you chose your genre, or did it pretty much choose you?
When I sat down to work on this book in 2001, the first thing that popped into my head was “I want to write about a time when everyone was a Christian but being a Christian didn’t necessarily mean much.” I desired to look at Christian beliefs through different eyes in a time period before our current denominational differences, and I hoped that in this manner my book would speak to a broad audience. That line of thinking led me to a historical novel set in Britain in the 1300s.
I love romance, but I wanted to write about love in a way that would dispel unhealthy myths sometimes perpetuated by romance novels. Of course, romantic historicals with a literary feel are my favorite books to read, so maybe I didn’t do as much choosing as I’d like to believe.
You experienced your first contest win as an unpublished writer in 2009, and that was only the beginning of some serious success. What were some of the highlights of your time traveling the Contest Circuit? Are there some wins that stood out and had special significance?
I’m not sure if I really “traveled the circuit.” I entered three contests in 2009 and one in 2010. But those entries did result in the first place historical and overall winner in the Touched by Love contest. The highlight was definitely that my friend Gina Welborn did a bit of conniving to get me to drive her up to DC for the ceremony at the RWA conference. So, I was there to receive the award in person.
Sometimes I think that win was a bit of a fluke because hardcore genre romance fans might not even think my book qualifies. But at the time I didn’t realize that, and while not a category romance, my novel is highly romantic.
As the overall winner in the 2009 Touched by Love sponsored by the Faith, Hope & Love chapter of Romance Writers of America®, what tips would you offer other writers eager to place in contests and attract the attention of the publishing professionals?
I’ve seen a lot of people really discouraged by contests. While I would never want to take anything away from contest winners, writers should also realize that contests are fairly subjective. My suggestion is to go into a contest looking mostly for feedback and direction. I like to think of the judges’ comments as an opinion poll.
As for attracting attention of publishing professionals, it’s a fine art of matching the basic feel of their line while also having some special element that stands out. I think for me, my lyrical voice born of writing poetry stands out. With this first novel, though, I struggled to find a publisher because no major CBA companies are currently publishing medieval novels and the spiritual elements would probably be too prevalent for most ABA companies.
Getting a book contract was your main goal, but you’ve seen your name in print in other ways. Where were you first published?
I’ve had a number of poems published with small journals and some have won awards. In 1994 I wrote and performed in an instructional dance video for children called Look Mommy I’m Dancing. There might still be a few copies floating around in cyberspace. I’ve also written songs about the Islamic people, which have been produced by an international ministry.
You’re represented by a highly respected agent. How did your offer of representation come about, and what was your reaction to The Agent Call?
I’m actually on my second agent. I met my first agent at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Before that I had several agents ask for full manuscripts, but the personal connection really made a difference. Once I met her, I felt pretty certain we would be a fit, so I was excited but not surprised to get the call. Then two close friends shocked me by knocking on my door, dragging me outside, and dousing me with champagne, which was fun and quite memorable. My first agent is still a friend, however she’s gone in a different direction with her career.
My new agent is the amazing Tamela Hancock Murray. I also met her personally before querying, and I’m a big believer in networking with industry professionals.
And then came a call that changed your life forever: The First Sale Call. OK, these days it may have been The Email. Whichever it was, I know you must have been thrilled. Please tell us about the experience, what thoughts ran through your mind, and if you screamed so loudly the neighbors wondered if they should come to your rescue.
Indeed it was an email. I told you earlier in the interview that I try to live according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In the winter of 2009, while my agent was still sending my novel to big CBA houses and before WhiteFire was even taking submissions, I felt God showed me that my book would be published by WhiteFire. I was one of the first to submit to the company in 2010 when they officially opened their doors.
It actually took longer than I expected to get “the call,” and so I was starting to doubt myself. By the time it came, it was a huuuggggeee sigh of relief followed by a happy dance and a toast with my family 🙂
Dina’s Debut Novel
Please tell us about Dance of the Dandelion.
Dandelion Dering was born a peasant in the English village of Arun, but her soul yearned for another life, another world. One filled with color and music, with adventure and passion . . . with more. Haunted by childhood memories, Dandelion determines to find a better existence than the life every peasant in the village contents themselves with. Even if her sweetheart William’s predictions prove true, and her journey leads straight to heartache.
From her sleepy hamlet to the intrigue of castle life, from the heart of London to the adventurous seas, Dandelion flees from the mistakes of her past, always seeking that something, that someone who will satisfy her longings.
Will Dandelion ever find the rhythm to her life’s dance . . . or did she leave her chance for true love at home in Arun village?
Let’s Learn a Little More About Dina
If you were to liken your life to one style of dance, which would it be?
Oh, definitely modern. I desire to live and move from deep within my being—as you will learn if and when my second novel gets published. Modern dance is very organic and personal. It is not driven by tradition or outward conformity. I love modern and contemporary dance best.
If you could meet any dancer, past or present, who would it be?
Probably King David. He is sort of the quintessential worship dancer in my mind, and the fact that he was a handsome poet would certainly be a bonus. In Dance of the Dandelion, in addition to dance being a metaphor for life, it is also a primary way Dandelion connects with the divine.
What type of dance do you most enjoy performing?
With my church’s worship dance team I perform just about every style from Hebrew to Hip Hop and in between. I think my favorite is not performing at all, but rather free, spontaneous worship dance. When I just let myself dance that way before my creator it usually ends up being some mixture of modern and ballet.
Which beach is your all-time favorite?
I’m partial to Virginia Beach. It was my vacation destination as a child, and now it’s my home. But I prefer it off season in the spring and fall.
What fuels your creativity?
I find much inspiration in art, dance, literature, and in God’s marvelous creation. If I need a creative boost I usually take a long walk or bike ride outdoors and allow my mind to wander. Before long characters start talking to me and scenes begin to form in my mind.
Dina’s Question for You
I really liked Keli’s question about likening your life to a dance style, so let me ask the same of the readers. If your life was a dance, what style would it be?
Although her book won’t be available in print until fall, Dina has generously offered to give away a copy of another great WhiteFire novel, Jewel of Persia, by her editor and critique partner Roseanna White. Jewel of Persia is a love story about one of King Xerxes’s other wives roughly based on the book of Esther.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Dina by May 30th and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. On May 31st, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well as in a comment and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address.
Congratulations to Naomi Rawlings, winner of the drawing!
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Must have a U.S. or Canadian address.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Dina
Visit her personal blog and website ~ Dance with Passion
Visit her group blog ~ Inkwell Inspirations
Friend her on Facebook ~ Dina Sleiman