Sunday, September 11, 2011
"I can't; I'm finishing my last scene," I told him.
"Turn on the news," he insisted.
As I did and watched our world change forever, a phrase I'd written in the mouth of a main protagonist, encapsulating the theme of the book, suddenly took on new meaning.: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held hostage by those who are."
The story behind The DMZ originated simply because I'd written my first suspense novel, CrossFire, set in the counternarcotics war in Bolivia where I'd spent 16 years, and my publishers wanted another. I'd grown up what are now the guerrilla zones of Colombia, so it was an obvious setting. As I began to research, I was stunned to uncover the completely unpublicized involvement of Islamic militant groups in Colombia's guerrilla conflict.
Then I came across a Colombian news item that never made our media of Iran trying to push through a “humanitarian aid project” to build a meat-packing plant, complete with airport, in a small jungle town smack in the middle of the guerrilla demilitarized zone, or DMZ--and incidentally 300 kilometers from the closest cattle ranching area. That set me to questioning just what Iran was doing there, which birthed The DMZ.
In real life, the U.S. embassy managed to derail that Iranian project, which permitted me to use it for my fiction plot. But I'd always wondered what Iran's Plan B was. Interestingly, that Plan B has actually materialized very closely to my plot line within the last year on the Venezuelan side of that same jungle zone in an alliance between Iran and Hugo Chavez, another startling example of seeing my fiction in the headlines.
A brief synopsis of the story:
When the US loses three major military assets in Colombia within weeks, attention turns to the 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 the very 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?
But when I was writing that morning of September 11, 2001, I was not thinking of a broader application, rather of the country where I'd grown up as a missionary kid and loved dearly, 40 million people being held hostage by less than 20,000 leftist guerrillas. A poll taken in Colombia at the time of my writing revealed that the top Colombian choice on how to handle the guerrillas was to have the Americans come in and defeat the guerrillas for them.
I never dreamed how relevant the phrase I'd written that became theme of the book would become on a world-wide scale by the time The DMZ actually went to print: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held hostage by those who are".
Ten years later, those words still hold true. As we remember on this day, may we hold our lives in an open hand and be known for what and whom we are willing to lay down our lives.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)."
"But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16)."
Friday, May 27, 2011
The 2011 Golden Scroll book awards Novel of the Year finalists are Kathi Macias for Red Ink, Golden Keys Parson for A Prisoner of Versailles, and Jeanette Windle for Freedom's Stand.
The Nonfiction Book of the Year finalists are Nancie Carmichael for Surviving One Bad Year, Jane E. Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley and Timothy J. Callahan for Wounded Children: Healing Homes, and Margot Starbuck for The Girl in the Orange Dress.
Other awards to be presented at the Golden Scrolls Award Banquet are the Publisher, Editor, Fiction Editor, and AWSA Member of the Year, The Beyond Me Award as well as the prestigious 2011 Golden Scroll Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bestselling author and international speaker Patsy Clairmont will be the keynote speaker with Linda Gilden as emcee. Authors Carol Kent and Pam Farrel will present awards. Recording artist Gwen E. Smith will perform a parody written by Martha Bolton dedicated to editors and publishers. A dessert reception immediately follows the banquet.
At 4, our guests are invited to hear author and Hollywood screenwriting consultant Linda Seger who will discuss turning Christian books into movies.
The Golden Scroll Awards banquet and reception are open to the public. Tickets are $45. For more information or to register for the banquet, go to www.ScrollAwards.com.
AWSA, an outreach of Right to the Heart Ministries, consists of over 300 top ICRS women authors who both publish and speak nationally. See www.AWSA.com.
For more info please contact Linda Evans Shepherd at LSwrites@aol.com or 303-772-2035.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
No, it's just that my latest book, Freedom's Stand, rolled off the press this month. Its exquisite face looks up at me from the pages of CBD catalogs. It holds hands with illustrious neighbors in Tyndale's summer fiction ads. It makes its own way beyond my control into bookstores and libraries. As a parent, I hold my own breath, urging it on to a long and healthy life in that competitive, even cut-throat that is today's book publishing world.
But one question I've been asked repeatedly in interviews may have value to ICFW readers. "I know you weren't on the ground over there that long nor able to travel widely due to security concerns. How were you able to portray such a realistic depiction of Afghanistan and its people?" Here are a few of my own stratagems in writing Freedom's Stand which any good novelist can duplicate to bring alive a distant place and people.
Google Satellite Mapping: Where exactly does the Kabul Stadium, where the Taliban once stoned female offenders before soccer matches, lay from the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, home to embassies, private contractors--and my main character's humanitarian project? What is the landscape around Afghanistan's notorious top security prison, Pul-e-Charkhi, or its interior layout? Can I triangulate a villain's luxury compound, a refugee's sanctuary, and a defensible escape route in the reality of the high, dusty plateau overlooking Kabul where Pul-e-Charkhi sits?
Boots on the ground: Yes, I had boots on the ground for every aspect of my book--military, private security contractors, humanitarian aid, medical, pilot, State Department. These were the same who read the manuscript before press to ensure I had no errors. Finding boots on the ground is not as hard as it may seem, thanks to that 'six degrees of separation' principle we hear about. If you don't know experts in the fields you want to write about, you likely know someone who does, or their friends know someone. It is often just a matter of putting the word out. And since human beings do like to share their expertise, you'd be surprised how available most prove to be for input, if only to make sure you get their world right on page!
Research: And of course there is no substitute for just plain research. Before starting to write, before even traveling to Afghanistan, I literally saturated myself in the country. Histories, biographies, country studies, political commentary, regional literature, travelogues, I had easily read 30,000 pages material before I ever picked up a pen or computer keyboard. I kept a Google Alert to follow daily news happenings there. I explored Afghanistan's streets, food, art, culture, restaurants, hotels through such expatriate resources as Lonely Planet, Bradt, Essential Field Guides. I studied its setting through watching on-site films and documentaries. Here is just a small sampling of my bookshelf from this project alone:
Ghost Wars-The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden by Steve Coll, Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile, First In by Gary Schroen (the Pakistan CIA field agent who was first into Afghanistan after 9/11), Kabul Winter by Ann Jones, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Inside Afghanistan by John Weaver, Opium Season by Joel Hafvenstein, Prisoners of Hope by Dana Curry and Heather Mercer, The Sewing Circle of Herat by Christina Lamb, The Hunt for Bin Laden by Robin Moore, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Along with many, many others.
Friday, April 15, 2011
BCM Tour Group 2011 on Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem
Somewhere in my childhood, I know I heard more than once the lyrics of this classic Bill Gaither hymn. But I'd forgotten them until on the flight home from Israel last week a seatmate [thank you, Corrie!] passed me the earpiece to her MP3 where the song was playing. I'd never been to the Holy Land before, never expected that in this lifetime I would ever walk the physical earth where my Savior walked. I never even really thought it would make any difference. After all, I had a Bible and a vivid imagination. I could picture well enough the settings and stories of Christ's life.
But of course I couldn't, and all who ever said to me, "You won't understand until you've been there," were right. From March 28-April 9, 2011, I was privileged to take part in a Holy Land tour sponsored by the ministry of which my husband serves as president, BCM International. With a total group of 33 people, we toured Israel from Caesarea and Tiberius to the Golan Heights and ancient city of Dan to its southernmost city of Eilat, crossing the border there into Jordan to visit Petra.
My husband Marty and I with tour bus
We saw Megiddo, stood atop Mount Carmel, sailed the Sea of Galilee, visited Masada, the Dead Sea. For four days, we explored the sights, sounds, and smells of Jerusalem where Christ spent His final days. We prayed at Gethsemane and broke the bread of Communion at the Garden Tomb.
Garden of Gethsemane
Place of the Skull, Golgotha
Nor did we focus only on a Biblical past. Since junior high, when I'd first read Leon Uris' The Exodus and O Jerusalem, detailing the rebirth of Israel as a nation, I'd wanted to see for myself just how Israel had developed since independence in 1948. While I'd followed the news of that region all my life, the reality I encountered was not at all what I'd expected. Those who told me before this trip that I'd never be able to truly describe it to others, that they in turn would have to see for themselves, were right. Seeing Israel for oneself, I can say now, will permanently change one's perspective on Scripture, prophecy, politics.
And so like others, I come back to urge my friends and family, "If at all possible, you must go see for yourself." But here are a few high points that struck home to me I'd like to share:
Outside the Garden Tomb
Israel. It is such a small country for such a rich and tumultuous history! Smaller than the state of New Jersey, only 424 kilometers (263 miles) from north to south, averaging less than 50 miles wide with more than half its land area a waterless desert, Israel is only a diminutive blot on a map of the Middle East, its territory less than 1-100 that possessed by Arab neighbors all around. Why did God choose such a tiny spot on the globe, instead of the mighty Roman, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Egyptian empires, in which to step into human history?
Communion Service at Garden Tomb
Perhaps because within the microcosm of such a small nation, one single Life walking its dusty paths, speaking and healing in its small villages and towns, turning upside-down its social, political, and religious structure, could have a far greater impact than in an empire's capital? A life-changing impact that would multiply until a small nation's borders could no longer contain it, and the world as we knew it would be changed forever?
Valley of Samaria from Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel: I pictured a mountaintop, but not one rising as a citadel in the midst of the vast plain of Jezreel where it sits. Meaning that when Elijah faced off with King Ahab and 400 priests of Baal, it wasn't just those on Mount Carmel who could witness it, but every town and village down on the plain would see that strike of lightning with which Yahweh proclaimed victory over Baal. What a show that must have been!
Sea of Galilee
Galilee: I never pictured the Sea of Galilee as sitting in a bowl with lush, green hillsides rising up from its banks like a natural amphitheater. So when Jesus 'went up on a mountainside and sat down' [Matthew 5:1], all the villages, fishermen, and farmers roundabout could see Jesus and the crowds even from across the lake and hurry around the shoreline (or on a boat) to hear His preaching and bring their sick to be healed. The Dead Sea: Okay, floating in the Dead Sea truly is indescribable. The closest comparison I can come up with is being a multi-limbed beach ball. Even trying to stand up is a challenge. Jerusalem: Coming up from the barren, empty desert that is the Negev and Sinai peninsula into the green, forest-clad mountain valley of Jerusalem, one understands for the first time how beautiful this land must have appeared to the tribes of Israel after wandering forty years in the wilderness.
Jerusalem's forests and hills
Nor did I picture how mountainous Jerusalem is, its original walled expanse rising up the hillside with Mount Moriah (temple site) at the highest point, its neighborhoods, dense forests, and gardens today cloaking peaks, ridges, and valleys where Jesus once walked and preached through small villages and countryside. The Psalms now come alive when they speaking of "let us go UP to the house of the Lord."
Steps leading up to Herod's temple at time of Christ
Mount of Olives: I never imagined that standing on the Mount of Olives, Jesus and His disciples could see directly from that one spot the Temple on Mount Moriah across the Kidron Valley, the entire city of Jerusalem, the plains of Judah, the hills of Samaria, and even beyond Israel's borders. Suddenly Jesus weeping there over the city of Jerusalem and later telling His disciples from that spot to take His Gospel to 'Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth' has a much richer meaning. And why on all the planet He would choose this beautiful spot for His return to earth one day [Zechariah 14:4] now makes total sense.
Old City with Mount of Olives in background
Bethlehem Bible College: Bethlehem, part of the West Bank under control of the Palestinian Authority, though only a few kilometers from Jerusalem, bore no resemblance to my imaginings of the birthplace of Christ. To my surprise considering the news, the passage between the two was a matter only of a peaceful and nonintrusive security checkpoint, the city on one side as prosperous and busy as on the other. Byzantine and Crusader churches covered any remains of a first-century town of David. Our visit to Bethlehem Bible College was more exciting to me than walking around the Church of the Nativity. Witnessing living, present-day followers of Yeshua Mesias carrying the Good News to the land of Christ's birth was far more inspiring than ancient cathedrals.
Bethlehem Bible College Campus
Forests, Fruit, and Flowers: "I will make rivers flow on barren heights . . . I will turn the desert into pools of water . . . I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia . . . I will set pines in the wasteland" [Isaiah 41:18-19].
Every 19th century description by travelers to Palestine, as it was called then as a province of the Ottoman Empire, portrays a desolate wilderness, completely deforested with virtually no green at all. I'd read as a child of the reforestation projects and reclamation of wastelands pioneered by the returning Jewish 'aliyah' in the decades prior and following Israeli independence in 1948. So I was curious to see how those projects had developed. I did not expect the sheer extent of change I would see. Thick forests of pines, oaks, eucalyptus, olive orchards and fruit-bearing trees cloaking every mountainside. The flat plains that had been wasteland and swamps a century ago now kilometer after kilometer of wheat and barley, olive trees, fruit plantations.
Fruit orchards of Hula Valley, Galilee, once wasteland
The nation of Israel farms its land cooperatively, its people living in cities and towns, mostly climbing up hillsides, to leave all available farm land for cultivation. They have pioneered the efficient use of drip irrigation, salt water desalination, and other water projects to make the waste lands bloom. What astounded me most was driving through a cut in the hills. At first glance I thought narrow ledges climbing the cliff-side held wild brush. Then I realized they were planted with herbs--rosemary, sage, mint, etc. Every inch of land is utilized.
Wheat fields in Galilee
Even in the desert, one passes kilometer after kilometer of tall date plantations and hi-tech greenhouses that use underground water sources to grow flowers and vegetables. Whatever one's politics, there is no denying the incredible transformation the nation of Israel has accomplished with its scant square miles of territory--and what its neighbors have NOT done with exactly the same resources and many times more territory.
Negev Desert Greenhouses
Security: I don't know why I was expecting high walls with barbed wire, lots of soldiers with guns, a hand always on my purse and an eye over my shoulder. Perhaps because this is exactly what I've encountered in too many of the poorer nations I've traveled around the planet. I did not expect the complete lack of tension, freedom of borders, and virtual invisibility of security measures our group indeed encountered. Even the border crossing into Jordan was less complicated than boarding a plane in New York or Miami (the only place we even had to watch for pickpockets was the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City). Passing from Israeli territory into the West Bank was a pause at a highway intersection, the Arab neighborhoods of Ramallah overlooking our Jerusalem hotel no less prosperous-looking nor walled-in than those on the Israeli side. We saw far more IDF [Israel Defense Force] young soldiers on educational tours at Biblical sites than on duty.
Looking across Israeli fields into Syria from Golan Heights
And yet Israel is so small that we stood at times on hillsides where we could see at once into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, a reminder that the country is ringed by enemies that seek its annihilation. While we were there, a missile from Gaza blew up a school bus on a road we'd just traveled, an Arab-Jewish spokesman whose virtual reconstruction of the Temple at the time of Christ we'd watched in Jerusalem was murdered by Islamic extremists for teaching peace to Arab school children. Just across from our Jerusalem hotel, a bomb had gone off shortly before our arrival. While regretting the tensions and injustices felt by both sides, I had to wonder if my own country would react with as much calm or restraint in the same circumstances as we witnessed in Israel. I could go on forever, but I will not try the patience of readers by doing so.
Date plantations in desert on Negev-Jordan border
Did I come back from Israel completely changed forever? I couldn't really say. But impacted profoundly--a definite yes. I will never read Scripture in the same way. I will never hear the news in quite the same way. I come back with at least some small understanding of the passionate love and pride Israelis have for the soil they've reclaimed. The complexity of this small nation's problems and place in world history and politics. The impossibility of true solutions until hearts are changed on both sides and brought into reconciliation, Jew and Gentile, through the love of Yeshua Mesias, Jesus Christ [Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-19].
New Jerusalem from our hotel
Above all, I come back with a fresh burden on my heart to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May the peace of God transform the hearts of its inhabitants. May the sheltering arms of El Shaddai protect its neighborhoods from enemies. May the day come soon when it will truly be what it was meant to be, but has not yet been in its history: a place of peace, of worship, and a light to all the nations of the earth.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
STEVE SAINT, author of The End of the Spear: "To be good, a story has to be entertaining. To be really good, a story has to leave something in your soul that makes your life richer and you more valuable to those who are touched by your story. I have previously only been to Afghanistan once. I barely scratched the surface of that tumultuous, passionate, assertive country with its multiple cultures and deep struggles. I wanted to go back. And now I have with an author who took down the veil so I could see the Afghanistan that visitors don't see. Freedom's Stand leaves me richer and more aware of many hurts I have missed. It has made the people of Afghanistan and their struggles part of me."
DR. CARL MOELLER, President, Open Doors USA, author of The Privilege of Pain: “If you have ever wondered what life is like 'behind the veil' of Islam in Afghanistan, then Freedom's Stand will touch your heart like nothing else. It brings a message of hope for those whose lives are a desperate search for the reality of God.”
ANGELA HUNT, bestselling author of The Fine Art of Insincerity: "I've read several books about the terror and tumult in contemporary Afghanistan, but not until reading Jeanette Windle's Freedom's Stand did I realize that Islam's honored prophet Isa Masih holds the answer for this blood-stained country. You may know the prophet as Yeshua or Jesus the Christ, but Freedom's Stand beautifully illustrates how he brings inner peace by whatever name he is known."
CHUCK HOLTON , former Army Ranger, war correspondent, award-winning author and editor of American Heroes series with Oliver North: "In Freedom's Stand, Windle's thorough research, passion for accuracy and trips to the war zones of Afghanistan paint a picture so true-to-life that it may make her the subject of a fatwa or two. My hope, however, is that the story will open readers' eyes to the plight of Afghan women, and open their hearts to the love of Isa Masih - the only hope for Afghanistan and the world.
MAJOR JOE DECREE, retired Army Special Forces, combat tours Kosovo & Afghanistan, private security contractor Iraq: "Jeanette’s characters capture the despair of what Afghanistan is and the hope of what it could be. Within the lives of three vastly different souls she weaves a wonderfully believable tale about the unlikeliest coalition imaginable. But in the end they all seek the answer to the universal question of “what am I supposed to do now, Lord?” Jeanette understands the distress of men in combat, that hard decisions get made by people who do not want to make them but are trusted to do so. Personally, I would have liked to have had her with me in Afghanistan. We would have been a good team."
SUSAN MAY WARREN, bestselling author, including RITA award-winning My Foolish Heart: "Absolutely Riveting. Move over, Kite Runner, because Freedom's Stand captures the life and culture of Afghanistan as if you are standing in the middle of Kabul, smelling the fires of rubber tires, listening to the Islamic call to prayer, wrapped in a burqa, while still offering a gripping message of hope and salvation. The deftly drawn story captured me with every word, the plot so compelling that once I picked up Freedom’s Stand, I couldn’t escape the power the story. With sacrifice, betrayal, redemption and love, Freedom’s Stand is an absolute must read.
MARK MYNHEIR, homicide detective and author of 2010 Christy finalist The Night Watchman and The Corruptible: “Freedom's Stand is a fascinating, in-depth plunge into the cultural and religious struggles of the Afghan people and those who are trying to make a difference there. Jeanette Windle gives us another breathtaking story of love, faith, intrigue, and sacrifice, proving again why she’s one of the best storytellers around. Highly recommended!”
MARY DEMUTH, author of Thin Places: A Memoir and 2010 Christy Award finalist Daisy Chain: "It's not easy to capture a war-torn, enigmatic country like Afghanistan, but Jeanette Windle expertly places you right there, wooing you to fall in love with people in dire circumstances. This story of redemption and sacrifice will stick to you like Afghanistan dust, not easily wiped away or forgotten."
T.L. HIGLEY, author of award-winning Seven Ancient Wonders series, including 2009 Christy Award finalist Shadow of Colossus: "Windle writes with the power and authenticity of one who has lived on foreign soil and brought back truth we often do not see from our American living rooms. Freedom's Stand is rich with the history, politics, and culture of Afghanistan, and brings a people to life whom we are called to love. A rich and eye-opening tale."--
KATHI MACIAS, award-winning author of more than thirty books, including the Extreme Devotion series and soon-to-be-released People of the Book, set in Saudi Arabia: "In a time when Afghanistan is in the news almost daily, it is both refreshing and challenging to read a story of courage and candor, adventure and romance set among this ancient and passionate people. Only one with a love for the Afghanis and an understanding of their culture could bring such a story to life, and author J. M. Windle has done it. . . . Through endless intrigue and adventure, we are drawn into the lives of these Afghan people, as we learn their culture, fight their battles, dream their dreams…and ultimately travel with them as they discover the truth about the Prophet they know only as Isa. It is then that they must decide the price they are willing to pay to follow Him…or not. This book will do so much more than entertain us as readers, though it certainly does that. It will challenge us at the deepest level of our commitment and encourage us to stand for freedom…regardless of the cost."