Friday, December 24, 2010

Freedom's Stand [Freedom's Series #2] Heading Your Way At Last

It was worth the wait!

In Veiled Freedom, three very different protagonists come together on the streets of Kabul in their own personal quest for truth and freedom. Returning now in Freedom's Stand, former jihadist Jamil Yusof, aid worker Amy Mallory and Special Forces veteran Steve Wilson are about to learn the cost of true freedom. What could motivate any of the three to pay the ultimate price?

Three full years ago now, I began researching and writing my latest WIP [work-in-progress], its setting of Afghanistan a departure from my prior novels set in the Latin American context in which I'd spent so much of my life. I began writing my Afghanistan novel with a particular storyline of love, sacrifice, freedom and Afghanistan clearly in mind.

Those who've read my earlier novels (CrossFire, The DMZ, FireStorm) know that I am more likely to produce a 600-page Tom Clancy length tome than the typical CBA-length title. My current (and wonderful) publisher Tyndale House has been assiduously coaching me to write more normal length books. But I knew halfway through my writing that Afghanistan and the story I had to tell simply would not fit into 150,000 words. The result was that half my original story became 2010 Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist, Veiled Freedom.

But if the first half of my original storyline became a powerful message and a great story on its own, how much more so my intended climax of Steve, Amy and Jamil's life stories. I did not expect when I began writing the second half that so much time would pass before it reached the hands of eager Veiled Freedom readers. I can say honestly that Freedom's Stand has been the hardest book I've ever written, ripping out my heart and soul with its message of courage, faith, and sacrificial love. But I knew by the time I'd penned the last line (make that typed!) that it was also the best with a story and message even more powerful than Veiled Freedom.

What is that message? If Veiled Freedom answered the 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 Isa Masih, Jesus Christ), the question Freedom's Stand addresses follows inevitably. Once you've found that true freedom in Jesus Christ, how far will love carry you in sharing it with others. In the context of Afghanistan, that is a far from rhetorical question.

The wait is not quite over. Freedom's Stand hits bookstores May 2, 2011. But I trust the following excerpt will whet your appetite for the rest. READ EXCERPT.

Meanwhile I find myself currently (fictionally speaking) in a very interesting corner of Central Africa. So keep tuned for that book (no name yet)--and hopefully the wait this time will be a whole lot shorter!

FREEDOM'S STAND [Book Back Copy]:
Jamil renounced a life of jihad when he encountered the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, but villagers and authorities in the hills of Afghanistan respond with skepticism . . . and even violence.

Relief worker Amy Mallory is shocked by the changes in her organization—changes with dire implications for the women and children under her care. And concern for her former assistant, Jamil, weighs heavily on her heart.

Former Special Forces veteran Steve Wilson faces off against the riots and corruption of Kabul's upcoming election. He's looking for something that will give his life purpose, but is confident that he won't find it in Afghanistan.

All three are searching for love and freedom in a country where political and religious injustice runs rampant. But when religious freedom becomes a matter of life and death, they discover that the cost of following Jesus may require the ultimate sacrifice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

At Whom Am I Really Angry?

I've been angry recently. Nothing personal. My teenage daughter has been remarkably civil. My adult sons are doing well. I have a wonderful husband. My bank account is in the black. I am warm, fed, clothed, and free to go about my business.

No, the anger seething in my veins is for others. For Afghan Christian Sayed Mossa, who sits on death row in Kabul for the crime of freely choosing a personal faith in God. I grit my teeth for his wife and six children, ages eight and under, who no longer have a husband or an income in a country where there are no food stamp programs. I clench my fists that Sayed's employer of fifteen years, the International Committee of the Red Cross, did nothing to defend or intervene for Sayed until pushed by media pressure to do so. I feel like screaming that my own embassy has agreed to bring up Sayed's case in private conversations with the Afghan regime--instead of trumpeting to the skies that Western free governments don't hand out aid and arms to regimes that murder people for their faith.

Read World Magazine Coverage

I am angry for Pakistani mother of five Asia Bibi, arrested when she refused pressure of Muslim female neighbors to convert from her Christian faith to Islam. She's finally had her day in court, only to be condemned to death under Pakistani blasphemy and apostasy laws. I stomp my feet for her husband and children, separated from wife and mother for eighteen months now. I am furious that those unjust laws are not some historic dictate, but were penned scarcely a quarter-century past by dictator General Zia al Huq, setting Pakistan on the path of Islamic extremism. Even as he penned them, his greatest ally, my own government, was pouring billions in military aid into his coffers without raising a voice in protest. A precedent that has continued to this day, encouraging oppression of religious minorities in Pakistan.

I am angry that Bristol Palin's dancing receives more media attention from such injustices. I fume that neither the ideological left nor right across the Western 'free' world has taken any definitive stand against arming and supporting regimes that deny basic human rights to their citizens. There's plenty more to stir my anger. Children starving in the streets across Latin America, Africa, Asia while their wealthy rulers waddle from mansion to Gulfstream jet to the Riviera. Warlords who turn machetes and AK-47s on innocents in their lust for power. The world seems increasingly filled with darkness and hate and cruelty. Or perhaps we simply have more knowledge.

And because I can do nothing to stop these things, I find myself angry at the only One who can. How can a heavenly Father described as all-powerful, compassionate, merciful so calmly sit in the stands as the Asia Bibis and Sayed Mossas suffer, children starve, war destroys? I know all the proper theological answers. I've heard them, even taught them, throughout my life in Christian ministry. God permits free will. This fallen world is product of human choices. God will bring ultimate good out of human evil. But I am still angry for those I love who are at this moment battered by dark storms while I sit warm, free, safe.
Yes, I love them, Asia Bibi and Sayed Mosa, my brother and sister in faith, and too many others in their situation. The homeless children with whom I've worked on dirty Third World streets, longing to scoop them up like so many stray puppies and take them all home. Abused, despairing women sold as possessions whose eyes look at me with such hollow distance I ache to put my arms around them and tell them all will be well, even though I know that isn't true. Families in my own birth country undergoing sickness, unemployment, broken relationships.

If such love can burn like a fire through my limited being, does not my heavenly Father, Creator of every living soul, love far more? Does He not have the power I lack to reach down and rescue? If God's love is immeasurably greater than mine, how can He not intervene? Even if this unjust world is an unavoidable consequence of human free will, why should the righteous, the innocent suffer while perpetrators walk free?

I've really tried not to be angry. It's not spiritual, I know. I'm not even sure why this particular set of injustices in a world filled with them has burned so hotly in my veins. Even as I've prayed for Asia Bibi and Sayed Mossa, shared their plight with others, I've screamed out my protest to the One who permits this to happen. And maybe our heavenly Father doesn't really mind when His children cry out their anger and confusion and pain to Him. Because this week, unexpectedly, even oddly, He gave me an answer.

It came through a Scripture passage so obscure I'd never noticed it before. I've been reading through the Major Prophets, currently Ezekiel with its strange angelic beasts and fiery living wheels. Ezekiel too was angry. As angry at the idolatry and perversion of his own people as at the devastation of Jerusalem under Babylon's battering ram. Ezekiel begged Israel's remnant to be spared even while he demanded God judge his compatriots' wickedness.
God did not answer by stepping in to set all right. On the contrary:
"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments—sword and famine and wild beasts and plague—to kill its men and their animals! Yet there will be some survivors—sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. They will come to you, and when you see their conduct and their actions, you will be consoled regarding the disaster I have brought upon Jerusalem—every disaster I have brought upon it. You will be consoled when you see their conduct and their actions, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign LORD." (Ezekiel 14:21-23).

What value does the Creator of the Universe place in the storms of injustice, tyranny, violence that I cannot grasp? What does His foreknowledge see emerging from the furnace of human pain and suffering that I do not? Certainly we are told that as fire refines gold to absolute purity, so suffering refines and purifies the human soul (Isaiah 48:10; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

I still don't know why brothers and sisters in faith should sit undeservedly in prison, even be martyred for their faith. But as I read God's answer to Ezekiel, I find myself consoled. Because my heavenly Father, Sayed and Asia's heavenly Father, does know. And this particular page in mankind's dark and dirty story is hardly the final chapter, not for Sayed Mossa and Asia Bibi, not for me. One day I will meet sons and daughters of the Kingdom whom God is redeeming through the very storms of disaster and injustice against which I fume. And I will see at last clearly what I must now take only on faith. That nothing God has done with His creation is without cause.

Until then I will trust that my Creator really does know what He's doing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who Is Sayed Mossa?

Sayed Mossa was scheduled for trial yesterday in Kabul, Afghanistan. He'd been in jail by then six months without seeing a judge. He was afforded no legal representation. Nor was he allowed advance knowledge of the charges against him. Though he had a fair idea of what those might be, none of them good. Possibly espionage. Treason against the state. Even the farce of trumped-up adultery charges have been bandied about. Definitely apostasy, defined as the leaving of Islam for any other faith. In Sayed's case, Christianity. All capital charges punishable by death according to the laws of Afghan 'democracy'.

I first learned of Sayed's arrest last May when I was finishing the rough draft of Freedom's Stand (coming to a bookstore near you May, 2011) sequel to my last Tyndale House Publishers title, Veiled Freedom, set in Afghanistan. His situation so closely paralleled the story of Freedom's Stand, I might have been reporting on it instead of writing a fiction plot. Not a complete surprise. Conditions on the ground in Afghanistan as I'd been writing were such that I knew it was only a matter of time before my fiction became reality.

What is the story of Freedom's Stand? If Veiled Freedom addressed the question of what is true freedom (which cannot be bestowed on another people through arms or an aid package), the question Freedom's Stand addresses follows inevitably: once you've found that true freedom, how far will you go in sharing it with others? A costly question to be asked in Afghanistan.

As Sayed Mossa has discovered. His arrest came after cell-phone images of Sayed and other Afghans praying in the name of Isa Masih [Jesus Christ] and being baptized were aired by Afghan media. Said images drew a brief flurry of media attention in the West, far more so in Afghanistan where calls immediately went forth for the arrest and execution of Afghanistan's theoretically non-existent Christian minority.

Why non-existent? Sheer, unabashed politics. When the current Afghan regime signed on to its post-Taliban new constitution in 2006, among its provisions was that Afghanistan would abide by the universal bill of human rights, including the right of every human being to freely choose and practice their own religious beliefs. Of course thinking, concerned followers of Afghan issues (including myself) quickly pointed out that the same constitution established Islamic sharia law as trumping all other statutes. And under sharia law, leaving the religious fold of Islam was apostasy, a capital crime.

No real problem, Western governments voiced even as they expressed unqualified support of Afghanistan's new constitution and regime. Since Afghanistan was officially 100% Muslim with no worship place of any other faith permitted to exist, the blatant contradiction would not be an issue. As long as the 'free' governments pouring aid and arms into Afghanistan could keep blinders firmly in place that no Afghan had any desire for freedom to choose their own faith in God, that basic human right like so many others under the Karzai regime could be safely ignored.

Meanwhile, the Afghan mullahs had a different interpretation. Yes, adherents of other religions were free to follow their faith in Afghanistan. But that freedom did not mean Muslims were free to convert to another faith (though followers of any other faith were always welcome to convert to Islam!). Since every Afghan was Muslim by genetic default, the only possible adherents of other religions were members of humanitarian organizations or other foreign residents. Permitting Afghan courts to maintain apostasy from Islam as a capital offense while complying with international law.

Western blinders were rudely ripped away with the surfacing of those cell-phone images. This wasn't actually the first time since Taliban rule a Christian had been put on trial. A similar situation had arisen with the arrest of returning Afghan refugee Ahmed Rahman in 2006. But he was quickly dismissed as a mentally disturbed individual brainwashed into converting to Christianity while working abroad in an infidel nation. Under-the-table negotiations eventually declared him incompetent to stand trial and sent him back into exile, therefore permitting both the Afghan regime and their Western allies to neatly avoid the freedom of faith issue.

Unfortunately, those smuggled-out images of local, ordinary Afghans daring to lift their voices in prayer and praise to a name other than Allah could not be similarly dismissed as a single aberrant returning from exile. No one knows exactly how many Afghan Christians were actually arrested in the witch hunt following the airing of those cell-phone images or remain in prison today. Estimates range from two to twenty-five. But it is now only too evident that plenty of Afghans yearn for the same freedom to choose the recipient of their prayers that we in the West enjoy as our inalienable birthright. Freedom a decade of NATO and USA investment certainly haven't brought to Afghanistan.

So just who is Sayed Mossa?

Here is who he is not! He is not an anti-government agitator. He is not a smuggled-in tool of Western infidels. He is not a zealot trying to get himself killed.

Instead, Sayed is a quiet, ordinary man, forty-five years old, married to one wife with six kids ranging from 8 years of age on down. He is also an amputee, having lost his right leg when he stepped on a landmine. For fifteen years, he had supported his family and served the Afghan people working for the International Committee of the Red Cross as an orthopedic therapist to help other victims of war. What he has undergone since his arrest is too disturbing to repeat here, but I hope you will take time to read it for yourself.

While I knew of Sayed's arrest, was kept abreast of his situation, had even written the ICRS on his behalf, I like others had been asked not to pass on information on his case. Until his story hit international media this last week with the publication of Sayed Mossa's own plea smuggled out of a Kabul prison. Now it is time to speak up!

Sayed's day in court scheduled for Sunday, November 21, has once again been postponed, not such a relief since it means returning to the horrific environment of an Afghan prison. Meanwhile with those blinders ripped away, what are the forces that claim to stand for freedom on this planet going to do about Sayed Mossa? In Freedom's Stand (coming from Tyndale House Publishers in May), one of the main characters makes a forceful point when addressing a similar, if fictional situation: "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."

A statement I certainly hope remains fictional. But like Sayed Mossa's arrest, I have little doubt that if the current situation does not change, it is only a matter of time before my fiction once again becomes reality. Because I consider myself privileged to be an American, I would like to see my own government speak out unequivocally on abuses of religious freedom in countries receiving our arms and aid. I would like to see accountability attached to such handouts instead of the unrelenting compromise we've witnessed to date.

But there are at least ways we as individuals can make our voices heard. We can write our congressional representatives, demanding action. We can write the White House. We can speak out on blogs and through local media. Through letters of encouragement and support to those imprisoned for their faith. We can keep ourselves informed on the situation. Mindy Belz, editor of World Magazine, several of whose articles are linked in this blog post, has been offering excellent coverage of the situation. And we can pray.

Whatever we do--for the sake of Sayed Mossa and others like him, for the sake of our own children's future as free citizens--let us not remain silent!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Counting the Cost

I had thought I was finished with Afghanistan, the sequel to Veiled Freedom not only turned in, but enthusiastically approved by my editor, my thoughts already stretching ahead to my latest WIP.

Not that I will ever be done with Afghanistan. Over these last two years of living, breathing, writing Afghanistan, I have come to care too deeply for its people. The injustice and seeming hopelessness of its situation. The many friends who are 'boots on the ground' there, whether in military or humanitarian fields. The small, flickering lights in its darkness who are the Afghan Isa (Christ)-followers the world is told do not exist there. Not a day and often an hour goes by that I am not praying for that small corner of the world sitting smack in the midst of the Prince of Persia's territory (Daniel 10:13). Its people, its problems, its potential are bound permanently to my heart.

But books are not finished by turning them in. This last week I have been matched with a fabulous Tyndale project editor (thank you, Caleb Sjogren!), immersed in the cuts, tightening, trims of the final rewrites. So my thoughts were again gripped by Afghanistan as that nation headed to the polls for parliamentary elections this Saturday.

The elections proceeded exactly as I'd prognosticated. More than 2500 candidates vying for 249 parliamentary seats included hundreds of ex-warlords, mullahs, former Taliban along with more palatable options. Voter turnout was even lower than Karzai's fraud-ridden reelection last year, under 25%. But already reports of massive ballot stuffing, fake voter cards, proxy and underage voting, and violence are flooding in. One man who'd easily washed from his thumb the supposedly indelible ink intended to identify those who'd already voted bragged of casting eight ballots. A village readily admits to handing over more than 600 registration cards to the town elders to decide the communal vote. And so on.

Western governments are already putting a positive spin on what would be considered a catastrophe for any election on their own soil. 'Another step forward towards democracy'. 'One can't expect clean elections during war time'. 'Afghans must be congratulated for holding elections at all'.

Bottom line, does it really matter? The Afghan parliament holds no power to make laws, to enact change. Governance in Afghanistan has become synonymous with corruption, with Afghans today expending an average of one-third of their scant income in the bribes extorted to facilitate the smallest official transaction and even medical care. Violence continues to soar even as international watch-dog bodies rank the Afghan police and army as the nation's most corrupt institutions. This Saturday's elections would seem less cause for rejoicing than one more expensive exercise in futility.

So what hope is there for Afghanistan? For that entire war-racked region? For a planet that seems to be sinking into darkness so much faster than candles can be lit against it?

The same there has always been.

Two summers back I was in Kabul, Afghanistan, finishing research for Veiled Freedom and its sequel. By my arrival, the euphoria had long since evaporated of those early years after the Taliban overthrow when Afghans and their new Western allies alike had believed the fairy tale that freedom, human rights, and peace were just over the horizon, necessitating only enough time, aid, and guns to achieve.

The ratification of a sharia law constitution establishing Afghanistan as an Islamic fundamentalist republic had tolled a death knell for any hopes of real democracy with its freedoms of press, speech, thought, of faith. Gaudy mansions of politicians, warlords, and Afghanistan's 'nouveau riche', built on bribes, opium profits, and siphoned-off Western aid, dotted the landscape while children and widows continued to starve in the streets.

None of which deterred numerous humanitarian workers I was privileged to meet. These were no high-priced contract hires, but volunteers who'd raised their own support to serve as medical personnel, pilots, teachers, agricultural experts and so much more. Many had been in Afghanistan for decades, raising families there through Soviet, mujahedeen and Taliban eras.

I will never forget one particular female humanitarian volunteer I met that summer in Kabul. Despite 100 degree Fahrenheit weather, she was decorously draped (as was I) in hair shawl and long-sleeved, floor-length chapan overcoat in respect to her Afghan hosts. Unmarried and still young, she'd already volunteered several years in Kabul's university system. Now as a foreigner, a woman, and a known Isa (Christ)-follower, she'd begun to receive death threats. Not from mullahs or Taliban, but fellow professors and male students whose very livelihood and education were being funded by Western aid dollars.

I asked her thoughts about the future of Afghanistan. Did she see things as getting better? Would democracy and freedom eventually somehow ooze out of this mess on its own, as Western embassies fantasized? And what did the current deteriorating situation presage for the safety of volunteers like herself?

She looked at me for a long, silent moment. Then, calmly, quietly, she answered, "It's going to come to the shedding of blood."

She paused a full heartbeat before adding, just as calmly and quietly, "And I'm willing for that blood to be mine."

Her words came instantly to my mind when I received news of an International Assistance Mission medical team massacred this last month while returning from treating remote villagers in Nuristan, a remote, mountainous Afghan province near the Pakistan border. Like all volunteer aid organizations in Afghanistan, IAM submits willingly to unjust and oppressive laws restricting freedom of faith and speech in order to serve those in need. But they have never down-peddled that they are a Christian organization, followers of Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, and that it is in the name of Isa they love and serve the Afghan people.

The team--six Americans, one German, one Brit, and two Afghans--were all part of the expat humanitarian community in Kabul, and if I didn't know him personally, I was well acquainted by name and reputation with team leader Dr. Tom Little, an ophthalmologist who'd given thirty years of service in Afghanistan. I knew well the pilot who flew the team into the zone for their trip.

Shortly before the massacre, I'd received word of the death of another Kabul acquaintance, B.E. (for anonymity). A very elderly retired school teacher, she'd come to Afghanistan on a pension to work in literacy outreach among Afghan women. Younger aid workers I knew shook their heads at her indefatigable energy and commitment.

"All I want to do with my remaining years on earth," she told me, "is to let the love of Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, flow through me to Afghan women until the day I step home to heaven."

She received her wish. Friends worried she hadn't shown up for the day's literacy classes found B.E. lying on the floor of her apartment. A fatal heart attack, it was determined. I can only imagine the homecoming party and Kabul reunion heaven-side for these wonderful brothers and sisters in the family of God.

I've heard plenty of rumbling in the media about the motives of the IAM team and other Isa-follower humanitarian volunteers in Afghanistan. Why would anyone risk their lives for a foreign people in a country not their own? Big money? Ideology they wanted to cram down another culture's throats? Religious zealotry?

Here is what I know.

Each of these volunteers was in Afghanistan by choice and at considerable financial sacrifice. Like my friend, each had came to Afghanistan knowing it would be neither easy or safe. They came having already counted the cost. They came recognizing that their commitment might include the shedding of blood. They came willing for that shed blood to be their own.

And therein lies the hope for Afghanistan that neither guns nor aid nor elections have been able to effect. The hope for our planet. A motivation secular media cannot grasp.

Love. Unstinting. Unconditional. Self-sacrificing. Life-transforming.

Love of the Almighty Creator stepping into a troubled planet in the human form of Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, walking our dusty streets to draw us back to himself and in the end laying down His life on a cross in atonement for our sins.

Love of Christ-followers abandoning comfortable homes and lives to step into a troubled nation in some distant corner of the planet, laying down their lives in service to a people who too often do not even appreciate their sacrifice.

Sacrificial love is, incidentally, also the theme of Veiled Freedom's sequel, perhaps why it has been so much on my mind this week. Once you've found true freedom in Isa Masih (Veiled Freedom), just how far will love take you in sharing that freedom with others (Freedom's Stand)?

The IAM team, B.E. and others have answered that question unequivocally in the spilled scarlet of their own blood. And I am so privileged to count them among my brothers and sisters in the family of God. May their willing sacrifice touch Afghan hearts with the love of Isa. May new lights be raised in the darkness because of their testimony. And in this season of loss--no, not truly loss, but only a going on ahead--may their families and friends be enfolded in the loving arms of their Heavenly Father and sweet comfort of the Body of Christ.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Do It!

I am often asked how I began my writing journey towards being a published author, as though armed with that knowledge, the supplicant could simply replicate the process and accomplish the same. Like everything else about my life, I cannot really recommend my own path as typical. The truth is, I wrote my first book out of sheer boredom.

My husband and I were the only expatriates at the time in a southern Bolivia city, working with a Christian ministry organization. While my husband traveled the Andes mountains two weeks at a time, I was stuck at home with three preschoolers, no car, no TV, no 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. Stories scribbled while my babies slept became Kathy and the Redhead, a children’s novel based on my growing-up adventures at a missionary kids boarding school.

Like most writers, you will find the path to writing success a very individual journey. But there are a few strategies that can help maximize those possibilities:

1. Just 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]. Invariably, these idea-hoarders are bursting to let me in on their secret--so long as I promise not to steal it. Be sure once I’ve heard it, I’ve yet to be tempted!

The only way to write a book, an article, a short story, a poem . . . is to stop talking, sit down, and do it!

Which brings me to the second strategy.

2. Discipline--be persistent!

How does one sit down and write that book? By writing the first page, then the second and on to the third until the book is finished. Plenty of people start books. Too few finish them. The persistence to keep on going, no matter how far away that finished goal seems, day after day, page after page, is what makes a writer, not a great book idea.

Having written now fourteen novels, three of approximately 250,000 words, I’ve learned not to even think of how much remains of the project—it is too discouraging to look 18 months down the road—but just of the next scene, the next chapter. As I discipline myself to do this day after day after day, fourteen times now I’ve had the pleasure of suddenly realizing that I’ve written the last paragraph and can scribble ‘The End’ at the bottom of the page.

The difference between the successful writer and the drop-out is not their talent, but their persistence.

3. Write what you know.

A protagonist peeling off a parka in the middle of the Amazon. An experienced archeological team in the Peruvian Andes leaving an Inca find-of-the century unguarded to go eat supper (and then displaying horror that their find is stolen!). A Colombian drug lord choosing a backwoods English village for an operating base (because the author is from that village, making it easy to describe), instead of Miami, Rio, or anywhere with a swinging night life. All these tell me that the writer whose manuscript I’m reading hasn’t the smallest personal knowledge of the settings they’ve chosen to write about.

Your writing can only breathe reality and authenticity if you know what you’re writing about.

4. Don’t stop there . . . always pursue new knowledge.

On the other hand, what's the fun in limiting settings and plot lines to one's own personal experience! I’ve kicked around some of the planet's wilder settings, which is a wonderful advantage as a suspense novelist, if not so comfortable in real life. But I also research thoroughly enough to put the pieces of what I dig up together with what I already know on the ground and extrapolate--well, let's just say, intel some government agencies figure I shouldn’t know!

I never stop learning. Everything I hear, read, experience, research for a writing project gets filed into my mental data banks. You want to know about Guarani ethnomusicology, Mennonite history, the unparalleled brutality of the French in their colonies, I can pull out the stats. If I can see no present use for that data once the project involved is over, be sure that someday it will crawl into the pages of some other book I write.

5. Listen to editors.

Editors are smarter than you think. If they tell you something isn’t good enough, don’t run out to self-publish. Start rewriting!!

I would not be where I am today if it weren't for editors who took time to tell me where I was going wrong even while rejecting my manuscript. Or if I hadn't taken their advice and plowed it back into rewrites. If nothing else, the editor knows what sells. So if they’re willing to take their time to give advice, a wise writer pays attention.

Too many quite talented writers never make it to print because they’re just too proud to submit their work to an expert critique or too lazy to go back and improve their rough draft.


One of my sons loves music, but as a teenager played no instruments, had never had a voice lesson, and to my ear at least could only just carry a tune. So I was astounded to find out he was now lead singer of the youth worship band. When I broached him diplomatically about his lack of any musical training or visible native ability, he informed me airily, “Oh, Mom, you don’t have to have talent any more to become a pop star!”

Since then he has been lead singer for countless ‘gigs’, including at Miami's Hard Rock Cafe. Confirming a long-held conviction of my own concerning my teens’ choice of music styles!

There is a truth, though, that it is not innate talent or grammatical skills that make a great writer, though those do help. Many with ample talent and fine writing skills will never write a book—because they never get around to it! Like the hare and tortoise of Aesop's fable, they will be passed along the path by the writer who perhaps doesn’t have Hemingway's genius, but has a passion to write that keeps them plugging along, writing, rewriting, tearing apart and putting back together. Each rewrite a little better until one day an editor takes a look at their work and says, "Hey, this is fabulous!" And suddenly (actually, make that many months later!) they find their byline on a printed page.

Bottom line, there's only one real strategy for writing.

Just do it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Miami, Misadventures, and an Aussie Book Club

Spent the last two weeks on the road, arriving back to Lancaster, PA's biggest snowfall in history, more than 30 inches on the ground. At this rate, we'll need to get used to that white stuff on the ground, and Al Gore needs to make a new movie. Not much of an apology for how long it's been since I've attended this blog; if I did this for a living, I'd be deservedly fired by now.

But the two back-to-back trips that made up my absence were SO worth time away from home and that new manuscript I'm scribbling madly to finish. February 1-7 I taught an advanced fiction track at the Asociacion Latinoamericano de Escritores Cristianos (ALEC) 10th Anniversary conference in Miami, FL, as well as meeting with numerous writers I've mentored from various countries on their personal manuscripts.

A focus of the conference was brainstorming on how to promote the publication and marketing of Spanish-language Christian fiction. I've been a finalist judge on the 2008 and 2009 Spanish-language Christian novel contest, sponsored by Thomas Nelson with more than 170 total manuscript submissions from over 20 Spanish-speaking countries. One of the highlights of this conference for me was seeing a dozen Spanish-language Christian novels from three publishing houses, of which I'd had a hand in the original manuscript and mentoring writers for every single book. Some of the fruit of ten years mentoring Christian writers across the Spanish-speaking world.

The ALEC conference ended just in time for me to join my husband Marty, who is president of BCM International, for the CrossGlobal Link (formerly International Foreign Missions Assocation) CEO cruise from Orlando to the Bahamas Feb. 7-11, along with 22 other couples in mission leadership. At least that was the plan. The first of snowstorms that have set records in Pennsylvania cancelled my hubby's flight, so I sailed alone (or as alone as 22 other couples can be!).

After various misadventures, rescheduled flights, and a roundabout route, Marty was able to join me at the first stop, Freeport, just as the ship docked so only missed the first night. It was SO relaxing and fun, a break Marty and I didn't realize how much we needed until we were enjoying it. Our return flight was on time, but our vehicle was parked in long-term parking, where many of the cars were simply white mounds. My Montana-bred hubby had thought to leave shovel, boots, gloves in the vehicle just in case, so we dug ourselves out in far less time than I'd have expected.

All to say that I'm home until I fly to Scotland for a conference next week, so should have time for proper blogging. But instead I'm finishing that new manuscript, so let me share with you instead a Book Club interview that Relz Reviewz (Australia) has just posted on Jeanette Windle (that's me!), Veiled Freedom, Afghanistan, and writing.

Thanks, Rel, for rounding out my blog so beautifully for this week (and possibly this month!).