Friday, March 25, 2011
While everything in my novels is based on actual occurrences and the situation on the ground of the countries about which I write, it certainly doesn't all come from my own life. A good example: depictions of the Colombian guerrilla camps in The DMZ came not from my own experience, but from personal friends who did spend up to years in captivity.
However, one advantage of having traveled in thirty+ countries on five continents is that I can pull a lot of sights and sounds and smells from my own memory banks as well as research and interviews. More importantly, the emotional and spiritual threads of my novels and their protagonists have been birthed very definitely from the life journeys through which God has taken me and the spiritual battles and lessons involved. In The DMZ in particular, the missionary kid journalist returning to the guerrilla zones where she grew up was definitely birthed from my own life, the small Colombian town described the same one where I spent my teen years, now in the middle of a guerrilla zone.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
This is a hard question to answer because I am a cautious person, as is necessary for survival in the less-than-safe corners of the planet I've wandered, and the adventures of my life have been thrust upon me rather than ever being deliberately chosen. Other than the quirkiness of choosing to be a political-suspense novelist, of all the bizarre career choices to follow, perhaps shooting Andes river rapids on an inner-tube without helmet or life jacket is something I did routinely growing up that I'd never let my kids do. Though at the time, it was just a typical day's outing for a bunch of missionary kids at a South American boarding school--and lots of fun!
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I don't recall ever really discovering that I was a writer. As a child I was too busy reading and writing to think about it. The missionary kid school I attended in the Venezuelan Andes put great emphasis on literature and proper composition, and we were doing term papers with footnotes by junior high. But that excellent grounding in the language arts was definitely the foundation of any writing skills I have today.
I published my first short story in college, then put aside writing largely as I married, went into full-time ministry, the mission field, and had children. I wrote my first book literally out of boredom. My husband and I were the only Americans at the time in the southern Bolivia city where we were living. While my husband was on traveling through the Andes mountain for two weeks at a time. I was stuck at home with three preschoolers, no car, TV, radio. Once my preschoolers were in bed, I had only the handful of English-language books I’d read dozens of times. I finally decided if I had nothing to read, I’d write a book instead. That became Kathy and the Redhead, a children’s novel based on my growing-up years at an American missionary kid boarding school in the Andes mountains of Venezuela.
Writing the book reawakened in me the love of writing I'd laid aside, and I never stopped writing again, first as a missions journalist, then seven other children's books before making the leap to the adult political-suspense novels I write today.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I am an eclectic reader and will read anything of any genre as long as it is superbly written. Much depends what I’m currently writing. A few months ago my nightstand was filled with books related to Afghanistan, where my last two novels, Veiled Freedom and Freedom's Stand, take place. Now for the same reason, it is filled with non-fiction and fiction related to the Congo. I read several books a week and enjoy all the most recent best-sellers as well as re-reading or discovering classics. Because I read so quickly and am constantly out of reading material, I LOVE having other readers inform me of a book they have loved and which I’ve yet to read—so feel free to send me recommendations.
When it comes to inspirational reading, Max Lucado is by far my favorite with beautiful prose and deep spiritual content. In other areas a few favorites are: 1) historical fiction: M. M. Kaye, Kenneth Roberts, Leon Uris; 2) political/suspense: Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Alistair McClain, Robin Cook; 3) Science fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, C.S. Lewis; 4) Mystery: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Mary Stewart, Madelaine Brent, Georgette Heyer; 5) Romance--I must say I'm still a sucker for a good Georgette Heyer, though all mine were tattered years ago; 6) Westerns: Louis L'Amour is the only one I read, but he is good enough to convert even a non-Western fan; 7) General fiction: Chaim Potok's The Promise and The Chosen; When The Legends Die--there too many to even begin to start. And, of course, the entire range of classics.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Have I kept my sanity? Hmm, is this interview real or a figment of imagination? In reality, though I do enjoy traveling, speaking and other aspects of ministry, I need serious downtime completely away from other human beings to maintain my sanity. When I am off the road, I retreat into virtual isolation into my own home (my kids are grown and gone other than a 19 year old daughter who is rarely in the house, so it is just my husband and me). That is when I can read, pray, meditate--and write. Too much time spent on the run, and I lose my creative abilities as well as my sanity. Too much time in isolation, and I get restless for human input. Keeping a balance on both is always the challenge.
The phone book. Seriously! Having spent much of my life in Latin America, the names that always jump to mind when I am trying to think of one for my characters are Spanish. To get variety and the right ethnic background for my characters, I often find myself skimming through the phone book. Though if it is an unusual background--Afghan, Iranian, German--I will also Google the country and read through the names of government ministers, etc. to get ideas of first and last names, then put together a combination of those.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
That is quite a question since I've never considered anything I've done a particularly noteworthy accomplishment. Beyond the delights and challenges of raising to adulthood four children while maintaining reasonable sanity, I would say that the achievements that bring me most joy--and they are hardly mine, but God's!--are the human souls, especially the children, I've seen come to Christ during thirty-plus years now of ministry. When I first opened a FaceBook account a year or so back, I was astounded to get an FB message from Bolivia, where we served in missions for sixteen years. The writer posted: "Do you remember when you were my AWANA commander in Sucre [Bolivian highlands]? When I was ten years old, you were the first person ever to tell me I could possibly become a pastor someday. I am sending you a picture of my church. I am now the senior pastor."
As a non-techie, I will admit to reluctance in jumping on the social network bandwagon, but I have been delighted to hear from so many children and adults with whom I've ministered around the world who are now serving God in ministry, as pastors, even missionaries--and who most astoundingly now have access to internet and FaceBook in their distant corners of the planet. They are one achievement I can look forward to rejoicing over face-to-face when we all reach heaven-side.
One of my favorite things about social networking is connecting with people I've not seen for a while. What is your favorite food?
I have no favorite foods, books, movies, colors, places, or anything else. One side effect of spending my life in a constantly changing landscape in dozens of countries is an enjoyment of the wide variety God has placed on this planet in all categories. On the flip side, I will admit I am easily bored by sameness and love to experience anything new, including foods.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Lack of time has by far been my greatest roadblock. As a missionary and journalist in full-time ministry, with small children in my earlier years as a writer, now simply with a busy travel and speaking schedule, it is not easy to block out solid chunks of time for writing, especially since I need absolute quiet and solitude to write creatively.
I wish I could say I have overcome it, but in truth I would have far more books written if I had. What I have done is to be consistent that every day I am not on the road or have some other scheduled conflict, I am at my computer by 7 AM, getting in a full day of writing on my latest major manuscript. I save smaller writing and edit jobs for when I am on the road and/or speaking since I can do these with more interruptions.
Tell us about the featured book.
The DMZ is set in the background of the Colombian guerrilla zones, where I grew up, and the astonishing true-life alliance between leftist rebels and Islamic extremist groups there. Its theme might be summed up by a statement made by one of the characters in the book: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held captive by those who are."
A brief synopsis of the story: When the US loses three major military assets in Colombia within weeks, attention turns to the Colombian demilitarized zone, a Switzerland-sized piece of territory handed over to the guerrillas in the vain hope it would make them start talking peace. The death of three American environmentalist activists in the same area bring a UN inspection/media team to the scene, including environmental journalist Julie Baker. For Julie it is at once a career opportunity of a lifetime and a revisiting of old hurts and terrors as she returns to the place of her birth—and her parents’ deaths at the guerrilla hands.
As Julie’s probing unleashes a terrorist plot that spans from the rainforests of Colombia to the Middle East and thevery heartland of America, she must confront resurging issues from her own past. Does God have a right to demand our total sacrifice? Does He have the right to demand our sacrifice of those we love? "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds . . . If anyone comes to me and does not hate (count as of lesser importance) his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple (John 12:24; Luke 14:26). Are these just words or a philosophy of life God seriously expects us to apply beyond our comfortable suburban neighborhoods?
When Julie’s own abduction sets off a time bomb that has been ticking under the figurative feet of the United States for more than a decade, her answer to these questions becomes the catalyst that will determine the future course of at least two countries, if not the entire world.
Sounds interesting. We have spent time on mission trips in Latin America. Please give us the first page of the book.
April 1991, the Persian Gulf:
The top floor of the air control tower gave a clear view of war’s devastation. Craters pocked the concrete runways. Where buildings once had stood, hills of rubble thrust up surrealistic silhouettes. The burned-out skeletons of troop transports and aircraft lay scattered like scavenger-stripped carcasses. Even at this distance, he could smell the noxious clouds belching upward at a dozen points on the horizon—the burning refineries and factories that once had fueled his war machine.
It was no consolation that other parts of his country—most of it, in fact—still lived untouched to fight another day.
Cold fury etched its acid through his stomach and up his esophagus. What enraged him most was that his one-time allies had done this. The Americans before had been only too happy to help him build the finest offensive force in the Middle East. They had encouraged him to turn that force upon his neighbor to the east. He had done what they asked—neutralized that neighbor who had been such a thorn in the Americans’ flesh as well as his own.
So why this?
The answer was simple. The Americans were treacherous, lying, greedy manipulators. A people without honor.
Well…they would learn that he was not some dog to be whistled for when they had a task to be done, then quickly kicked away when his objectives no longer matched their own.
Okay, I'm wondering abou this character. Thank goodness, my copy of the book is here. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Thank you, Jeanette, for spending this time with us.
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