Veiled Freedom hits stores today. A literary baby that has taken almost two years of research, writing, rewriting, then months of waiting during the editorial and publishing process, is now birthed. I watch my child take its first wobbling steps in bookstores and on-line catalogs with delight and some trepidation. How will this offspring that tore out my heart and soul and brain in its conception fare out there in the vast daunting world of book sales and marketing?
[Featured publicist is grandson J.J. Windle touting Veiled Freedom at Colorado Christian Writer's Conference]
Fortunately, like any author by the time their latest release actually hits shelves, I am far gone enough in my next manuscript, in this case a sequel, Freedom's Furnace, to be distracted from hovering over my child's every move. Meanwhile, many are asking what motivated a political/suspense novelist with roots deep into Latin American politics and culture to write a novel set across the world against the stark, forbidding backdrop of modern-day Afghanistan?
So before I pull myself away from gloating through the nursery window at my newborn and get back to writing its upcoming sibling, may I invite you to pull up a comfortable chair, pour a cup of coffee (or your beverage vice of choice), and listen in on a recent interview:
Why did you write a book about Afghanistan?
Despite the ugliness of war, I rejoiced in the post-9/11 overthrow of Afghanistan's Taliban, believing it presaged new hope for freedom and peace in that region. Neither freedom nor peace ever materialized. Instead today's headlines reflect the rising violence, corruption, lawlessness and despair. The signing of Afghanistan's new constitution, establishing an Islamic republic under sharia law--and paid for with Western coalition dollars and the blood of our soldiers--tolled a death knell for any hope of real democracy. And yet the many players I've met in this drama have involved themselves for the most part with the best of intentions. The more I came to know the region and love its people, I was left asking, "Can outsiders ever truly purchase freedom for another culture or people?"
That question birthed Veiled Freedom. A suicide bombing brings together a disillusioned Special Forces veteran, an idealistic relief worker, and an Afghan refugee on Kabul's dusty streets. The ensuing explosion will not only test the hypocrisy of Western leadership and Afghanistan’s new democracy, but start all three on their own personal quest. What is the true source of freedom--and its cost?"
Your research for this book took you to Afghanistan…what was most shocking (or surprising) to you about Afghanistan?
The most shocking was how little has changed, despite eight years of American and NATO occupation and trillions of dollars poured into the country. People are still starving, streets thick with beggars, mud-brick hovels the norm, while less than six percent of the country has electricity. After the initial hopes for freedom the 2001 liberation had raised, most women are back in burqas, in fear of their own men-folk, not the Taliban. Hundreds of girls schools built by foreign aid are once again shut. Islamic sharia law trumps any pretence at freedom and human rights. People express far more concern over the corruption and brutality of the local police and government officials than Taliban. In Kabul, an estimated 1/3 of all salaries are siphoned off by the bribes authorities demand for every service--or just to be left alone.
In stark contrast are entire neighborhoods of turreted, gabled and towered mansions, many owned by government ministers, representing hundreds of millions in squandered aid money and opium. Add to that the high-priced malls, shops, restaurants catering to Afghanistan's new aristocracy and the expatriate community, where a cappuccino costs more than the average Afghani makes in a week. It is easy to understand why so many lash out in anger and violence. Ironically, even at the height of Taliban fighting, 90% of the country was open to aid work (I met many expatriate families, even with small children, who were there throughout the Taliban era). Today with all the foreign troop presence, that figure is reversed with 90% of Afghanistan closed off to aid work because of security concerns.
What shaped your story the most after being in Afghanistan?
I came away above all with a recognition that true freedom will only come to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in our world, through the love of Isa Masih [Jesus Christ] changing individual hearts. Change enough hearts, and you will see change in a nation. Without changed hearts, all the guns and aid are futile.
Are there parts of your book that are total non-fiction?
I can say honestly that little in Veiled Freedom is completely fiction other than the main characters, who in themselves are an amalgamation of so many I've come to know in Afghanistan, whether humanitarian, private security, embassy, military, who are true-life counterparts to my characters. The prison, Mansion Row, expat life, and other details are all as described. The women prisoner's stories are not only based on real cases, but nowhere near the worst I came across. In truth, so much evil and violence, and not just to women, was too graphic even to include in the book. But the love of Isa Masih [Jesus Christ] is also not fiction, and that is why Veiled Freedom is a story of hope, not despair.
What do you want your readers to take away from reading VF?
I would like readers to close this book with a better understanding of Afghanistan and the entire Muslim world and how vital and interconnected events there, especially such issues as freedom of worship, speech, human rights, are to our own country's future and security. Even more so, I want every reader to come face to face with the Person of Jesus Christ, the only true Hope of lasting change and freedom for our world.