Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?
I don't recall ever really wanting to be a writer as a child, mainly because I was too busy reading--and writing. Our MK school put great emphasis on proper composition, and we spent too much time writing (we were doing term papers with footnotes in junior high) to daydream about it. My personal dreams as a child were to become, alternatively, a concert pianist (at least a possibility as I was studying the instrument hard) or a world-famous ice-skater (more difficult as we had never seen ice in our tropical environment).
I can honestly say 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, working with a Christian ministry organization. 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 it rekindled my love of creative writing, and I've never really stopped since.
How long did you write before you sold your first book?
After Kathy and the Redhead (which was not sold, but published by a missions organization, TEAM), I actually wrote as a missions journalist for close to a decade before landing a contract for my children's international mystery series, The Parker Twins Adventures. By then I'd written and rewritten several times the first three books of the series. After six of that series and a teen novel, Jana's Journal, I jumped to the adult political/suspense novels, beginning with CrossFire, set in the counter-narcotics war in Bolivia for which we had a front-row seat. Then The DMZ, set in the Colombian guerrilla zones where I grew up, FireStorm--a sequel to CrossFire, Betrayed, set in Guatemala. My most recent release, Veiled Freedom, a 2010 Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist, is set in current day Afghanistan. Its sequel, Freedom's Stand, hits bookstores May 2, 2011.
Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?
If you can keep from writing, do! I say that because writing is an unforgiving field, far more hard work than inspiration and financially rewarding for very few. It is, in fact, a mind-numbing, hair-pulling, excruciating process of creation to which the birthing of one's own children pales. However, if you cannot keep yourself from writing, then whether you are published or not, you were born to be a writer, and as with any other creative gift from music to art, you simply cannot be anything else. If you are that born writer, then the best advice I can give is to read, read, read and write, write, write. It is the saturation of mind and heart with good literature and prose that creates good writers as well as the practice of the craft. Any would-be writer who cannot tell me what they are currently reading or say they don’t care for reading but just want to publish a book are immediately crossed off my list as serious potential writers.
Now for the readers…many times, it’s easy for them to connect with the characters in a book, but not so much the authors themselves. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader to feel as though they know you a little better.
That varies so widely it's hard to pin down. Since my husband became president of an international mission organization, BCM International, I have taken on the responsibilities of their media department and producing a ministry magazine. But my greatest delight in ministry continues to be teaching writers conferences and mentoring indigenous Christian writers on four continents in both English and Spanish as well as in the U. S.. I also speak at women’s events, retreats and missions training seminars as time permits. When I am not on the road, I am usually holed up at my computer writing.
Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?
Like most authors, I suspect, I collected a hefty file of rejection letters in those early days. They were especially discouraging since back then one had to provide the postage for a publisher to reject you--and postage to Bolivia, where we were still ministering, wasn't cheap! But I really appreciated editors who took time to include feedback as to where I could improve the story, and I plowed every suggestion back into my writing. At the moment, I don't really do free-lance, since I have more than enough writing that has already been requested, so the rejection slips aren't part of my life. Which doesn't mean they'll never be again!
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Freedom's Stand is the sequel to 2010 Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist, Veiled Freedom, set in contemporary Afghanistan. In brief, Veiled Freedom brings together on Kabul's dusty streets a disillusioned Special Forces veteran, an idealistic relief worker, and an Afghan refugee, each in their own personal quest for truth and freedom. Returning in Freedom's Stand, they soon discover that in a country where political and religious injustice runs rampant, the cost of either may be higher than they realize. Will any one of them be willing to pay the ultimate price?
Beyond an engrossing story, Veiled Freedom addresses the critical question of what is true freedom (true freedom cannot be bestowed on another people through arms or an aid package, but only through individual hearts transformed by coming face to face with Jesus Christ). With that in mind, the question Freedom's Stand addresses follows inevitably: once you've found true freedom in Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, how far will love carry you in sharing that freedom with others?
In the context of Afghanistan, such a question is, unfortunately, far from rhetorical. Even as Freedom's Stand goes to print, Red Cross therapist and war amputee Sayed Mossa is but one Afghan Isa-follower who finds himself on death row for his faith under the current Karzai regime. My motivation in writing this sequel to Veiled Freedom was not just to finish the story of Jamil, Amy, and Steve, but to raise a voice for my brothers and sisters in Christ behind bars or suffering unjust persecution for their faith, not only in Afghanistan but across this planet.
If you could only share one line from Freedom's Stand, which one would you choose and why?
The lines I would most like to choose are, unfortunately, entire paragraphs and won't fit here. But chapter 32 holds one significant line when Steve makes a forceful point on his embassy's stand regarding freedom of faith in Afghanistan: "What won’t happen is that the ‘free West’ can keep enjoying forever their own freedoms while tacitly conceding those are now considered optional for the rest of this planet."
Whether ratifying sharia law constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq--paid for with American tax dollars--or arming to the teeth Islamic fundamentalist governments like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia without requiring any accountability regarding human rights and freedom of faith, we are seeing a steady erosion among both the United States and other Western governments to any policy commitment that basic human freedoms are a non-negotiable right of every human being, not those fortunate enough to live in "free" nations. Sooner or later, that compromise will come back to bite us.
Writers often put things in their books that are very personal—like a funny story that happened to them, a spiritual truth they learned through difficulty, or even just a character trait that is uniquely theirs. Is there something in Freedom's Stand that only people close to you know is about you or someone you know?
The female protagonist Amy Mallory definitely has characteristics in common with my own biography kicking around the planet in some of its darker corners. One scene that came straight out of my own experience is in chapter thirteen when Amy shares of her heartbreak working with these Afghan children and the difficulty of learning to let go and let them go into the hands of their heavenly Father. That scene was born directly out of my personal experience working with the street kids in Latin America. The true life version of that scene can be read in my blog posting, Where's Diego: http://jeanettewindle.blogspot.com/2009/02/wheres-diego.html.
Readers often talk a lot about the hero and heroine of a story, but today I’d like to know something about your villain. Does he or she have a redeeming quality? Why or why not?
My villain is less a single individual than an entire corrupt, oppressive totalitarian regime passed off as a world religion. I think if there is any redeeming quality, it is that the "villains" are often as much victims themselves. I have far more compassions for my "villains" and a desire to see them find freedom from bondage than anger or any desire for retribution, and I hope my readers come away with both compassion and understanding of those who count themselves our enemies.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book? Can you share some articles or website links you found particularly helpful?
Before I tackle a book set in a new country or political environment, I saturate myself in that place. Histories, biographies, political commentary, regional literature, travelogues, video documentary--I will have easily read 20,000 pages material before I ever pick up a pen or computer keyboard. I can honestly say that if I missed a single tome dealing with Afghanistan's present or past, as well as Western involvement there, it wasn't on purpose. Check out my blog for a recommended reading list.
For every place I write about, I also keep a Google Alert set for daily news digests. I follow blogs and travelogues of 'boots on the ground' whose lives and professions mirror the characters I am writing about. And of course on-site travel and extensive input from contacts on the ground who are real-life counterparts of my characters: Special Ops, private security, humanitarian aid, Afghanis, etc. Additional research tools like Google alerts, local news and blogs, security and embassy info coming out of Afghanistan kept me daily updated during the writing process. And to ensure that every word is accurate, I have "boots on the ground" reading the manuscript and checking my details before ever going to print.
Tell us what new projects you’re working on.
I am currently writing what will be my next political/suspense novel set in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, tentatively titled Congo Dawn. Expect to see it in bookstores sometime next year.
The most common thing I hear when people learned I’ve published a book is, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Faced with this statement, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?
Don't talk about it, do it! I couldn’t say how many people over the years have confided in me their ambition to write a book. Many have carried a particular book idea around for years. They don’t want to share that idea because someone might steal it. I'm often asked if they should copyright it. [NEWSFLASH: Ideas are not copyrightable! If you’ve had one, be sure someone else has had the same]. Or they volunteer to share their idea so I can write the book, and they can share the credit. No, thanks, I've got too many ideas of my own. Bottom line, the only way to write, whether a book, an article, a short story, a poem . . . is to stop talking, sit down, and do it!
What is the one question you were afraid I would ask…and how would you answer?
Absolutely none. You've been so gracious with this interview, and I think you've covered just about every question I could think of.
Jeanette is giving away a copy of her book, Freedom's Stand. Be sure and stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!