Local novelist earns a Christy Award for writing

By Laura McMillan

Every Wednesday night, Dale Cramer scrubs the floor of his beloved church after a community dinner. "Everybody wants you to be a deacon or an elder," Cramer said, but allowing the tired volunteer kitchen staff to go home immediately after washing the dishes is his way of being involved.

This volunteer does more for his faith than mop floors. McDonough Christian Church actually has a nationally acclaimed writer pulling the Wednesday night cleaning shift. Father of two and skilled electrician, W. Dale Cramer, can add successful published author of three Christian fiction novels and Christy Award winner for the book, Bad Ground to his list of titles.

The Christy award is designed to encourage the contemporary authors of Christian fiction. For Cramer, winning the award was a high point. "Personally speaking, how often are you named the best in the country at anything?" Cramer asked.

"Ten years ago, I had no idea I'd have any opportunity to publish a book," Cramer said, thinking back to the beginning of the long journey to literary success.

Ten years ago was the turning point in Cramer's life when he gave up full-time electrical work to take on a role as stay at home dad. "It started out as a transitional thing," said Cramer of the decision he and his wife of 30 years, Pam made to do what was right for their two boys, Dustin and Ty, now 13 and 15. "We wanted (the kids) to swim and fish during the summer," Cramer said.

Cramer said this sparked a series of happy events that led him down the path to writing even though he admitted, "I was kind of a reluctant stay at home dad."

While doing a side job to supplement the family's income, Cramer remembers having what would become an important argument with an old friend.

Cramer explained how the discussion over labor management developed, "He was strictly management and I was strictly labor. What came out of it was an article about mutualism."

That article born of an argument, had to be edited, a process that Cramer said taught him very much. More importantly, Cramer said, "It made me think that someday I'd like to write."

After the publication of that article, Cramer involved himself in writing forums during nap time. Published short stories came next, but after a little research, Cramer learned, "It's actually easier to publish a book than a short story."

This author of Christian fiction said with a laugh, "I'm not a preacher. I'm the guy who mops the floor." Cramer said that he tries to avoid being overt with religious themes.

"It concentrates on the story first," Cramer said of the award winning novel, Bad Ground. "In a 400 page book, you can't avoid letting the reader know you opinion," Cramer added, explaining how the religious elements resulted from his personal convictions rather than his overt determination to write a Christian piece.

Although everyone supports him now, Cramer remembers a time when people thought an electrician's goal of becoming a writer was a "starry-eyed pipe dream." Cramer said, "We've never been a real artsy family. It was pretty unorthodox, coming from a construction worker. You don't want to go around telling people you're writing a novel. They'll think you're crazy."

The patriarch of the not so "artsy" family, Howard Cramer, is the subject of Cramer's latest novel, Levi's Will, in which an Amish man leaves home under stressful circumstances, joins the Army, and starts a new life. Cramer pulls from his life for such inspiration.

The setting of Bad Ground is a former construction site, the pain of a main character's burn accident comes from personal experience, and the runaway Amish pacifist turned soldier and father reflects the circumstances of Cramer's own childhood.

Cramer said he actually enjoyed growing up as the "Army brat" son of such an interesting father. "Having that kind of travel under your belt as a child gives you perspective," Cramer said.

It was reading many and varied works that gave him literary perspective, and it was dealing with his own spiritual questions that gave him religious perspective. "We all stumble around," said Cramer. "I really felt like a made a commitment about ten years ago. You can call it coincidence if you want."

Cramer does not chalk everything from his transient childhood to his staying home with the kids up to chance. Cramer said, "When you put it all together, it is a series of a thousand accidents that makes you wonder. Personally, I think that's how God works."