Drug dealing, terrorism, and smuggling are not typically the images that come to mind when you hear the words "Christian fiction," but in "FireStorm" (Kregel Publications, 2004) author Jeanette Windle captivates readers with a tale of suspense and intrigue that will keep you glued to the pages.
Windle, who currently resides in Miami, Florida, with her family, spent much of her youth living with her missionary family in parts of South America which are currently in the center of the drug trade. She has managed to fuse her knowledge of the area and her gift for storytelling into a fascinating sequel to her first thriller, "CrossFire." Readers will emerge from their experience of having read this book thoroughly satisfied with a story well told, and encouraged by a message of faith and hope.
Q: Jeanette, I've been a fan of your previous writing, including "CrossFire", "The "DMZ", and the "Parker Twins" series, and know that your writing has been greatly influenced by your previous life as a missionary. Could you please start by telling our readers about your upbringing and background?
A: As a child of missionary parents, I grew up in the rural towns of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones and the background for my second political/suspense novel "The DMZ." My husband, Marty, and I served as missionaries in Bolivia, the setting of my first adult political/suspense novel "CrossFire," for 15 years. In June 2000, our family moved to Miami, Florida, where Marty serves as vice president of general services for Latin America Mission. I continue to write, as well as teaching writing conferences and mentoring Christian writers in a dozen nations around the world. We have four children from ages 13 to 21.
Q: For our readers who have not yet had the opportunity to read "FireStorm," please summarize the plot of the story.
A: "FireStorm" is a sequel to "CrossFire," my first adult political/suspense novel set in the drug war in Bolivia. In "FireStorm," protagonist Sara Conner escapes the ruins of the Cortez drug empire to find sanctuary in Miami. But is she really safe? And what of special agent Doug Bradford? Can a relationship formed under fire survive the stress of Doug's dangerous profession? When old enemies resurface, the trail of suspicion leads to the lawless Tri-Frontier region of South America where drug-dealing, smuggling, and terrorism hide behind the tourist trade of Iguazu Falls, the world's greatest cascades. A routine drug raid catapults Sara and Doug into a raging firestorm that sweeps across international borders ... and this time the flames of terror burn in their homeland.
Q: How did you come to the decision to write Christian fiction? Has it been difficult to combine writing such intriguing books while staying true to your spiritual roots?
A: Why do I choose fiction to write? One, I am a story-teller by nature, and for me, telling stories is as much a creative gift God has woven into my being as He has woven art and music into others. My medium simply happens to be the printed page. Jesus Christ knew the power of story-telling. Matthew 13:34 tells us Christ used parables (a fictional tale with a spiritual meaning) any time he spoke to a crowd. As best-selling author Madelaine L'Engle once said, "Jesus wasn't a theologian. He was God telling stories."
Why do stories have such power? Because the simple declaration of truth – even great spiritual truths – largely touches our minds. A well-told story touches not only minds, but hearts and emotions and soul, carrying readers into a world where they can experience those truths for themselves, feel along with the protagonist's pain and betrayal, friendship and injustice, the despair of evil and the hope of God's righteousness and power. And when we as writers manage to do it right, an academic statement of spiritual truth can become an interactive experience that permanently impacts the way a reader thinks and feels and acts. Which is why a fictional novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," had a greater impact on the anti-slavery movement than all the preaching from pulpits.
Does a good story have to be fiction? No. There have been many well-told true-life stories that have touched my own life as well – Elizabeth Elliot's "Through Gates of Splendor," Isobel Kuhn's books and many missionary biographies. But our own lives have limited stories while fiction gives an infinite canvas on which to paint the stories of people and places, historical and political and social realities – and of course, the spiritual journeys and truths woven through them. In fact, the first Christian fiction – and the spiritual impact it had – is given to us in the Bible. Check out 2 Samuel 12 where the prophet Nathan's tale of a rich land owner stealing a poor shepherd's only lamb stirs David to repentance over Bathsheba.
Q: Your writing is so convincing and well researched. How do you manage to include such a tremendous level of detail in your writing?
A: That's easy. Like my protagonists, I've spent my life on the ground in these places. As a daughter of American missionaries, I grew up in the rural parts of Colombia which are now guerrilla zones. When we weren't at the missionary kids' boarding school across the border in Venezuela, we lived the lifestyle of a Colombian villager – reading by candlelight and Coleman lamp, traveling the rivers in long, dug-out canoes to the riverside villages up on their stilts where my dad would preach, hiking up Andes mountain and through the jungle. Today every place I lived as a child is a guerrilla hot zone. The small homesteading town in which I spent my teen years, Saravena in the eastern plains of Colombia, has been a guerrilla base for years and is, in fact, the basis for the fictional town of "The DMZ."
After Bible college in yet another country not my own, Canada, my husband and I spent 15 years as missionaries in Bolivia, one of the world's top-five most corrupt countries, where I had the dubious pleasure of watching firsthand the development of a narco-democracy and getting to know – and interview – many of the players on both sides of the equation, which became the background material for "CrossFire."
If not a typical American upbringing – and certainly not always comfortable – it was a lifestyle that proved the greatest possible training to be an investigative writer. I learned to be wary, observant, always looking over my shoulder and asking who, what, why, when, where and how. I also research thoroughly, and I can tell you our intelligence services has full reason to be concerned at how much information is out there if you know how to put the pieces together.
Q: Unfortunately, in today's world we face so many threats from drugs to terrorism. Does writing thrillers impact upon the way you look at the world? What role does your faith play in your writing?
A: I would say rather that the way I look at the world has impacted my writing. A life spent in some of the sleazier corners of our world has taught me more than I would choose to know of the absolute depths of mankind's capacity for sin. But those same experiences have brought me face-to-face with a loving heavenly Father who yearns for His lost creation and holds me securely in the palm of His outstretched hand. My ultimate goal in every book I write, however much a "thriller," is to share with the reader my own heartfelt conviction that, for all the turmoil and conflict and pain in our world, this universe does make sense and has both a purpose and a loving Creator.
Q: Do you have any future projects in the works? Will we run into Sara and Doug again?
A: Yes, I am always working on the next book. This one is not a Latin-American political/suspense thriller, but that is all I'll say about it for now. And no, I don't plan to write another book involving Sara and Doug (though I said that after "CrossFire" too!). I have had a number of requests to give Ramon, Doug's DEA partner in "CrossFire" and "FireStorm," his own book, so that just might materialize when I finish the novel I'm working on now.
Q: Thank you so much, Jeanette Windle, for sharing the gift you have for storytelling and for hours of inspiration and entertainment. Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
A: Yes, the two themes that thread together through the pages of "FireStorm":
1) We are not called to safety, but to stand strong in the storm.
2) Our safety is not in the absence of the storm, but in the presence of God.
We live in a culture here in this country, even within the Church, that emphasizes watching our own backs, demanding as our right to be free from the danger and risk and storms so much of the rest of our world is facing. But the Creator God we see in Scripture is not about safety and tranquility. Look at the images in the Psalms especially. We serve a God who rides on the wings of the wind, who makes storm clouds His footstool, whose laughter crashes through the thunder and lightning, who shakes the earth with His passing. Our God is mighty, awesome, powerful, even wild. But He is not about safety and tranquility.
And whatever we might wish, God never promised a safe and quiet life to His children. On the contrary, the God we serve is calling His followers to be out there standing strong in the storm, because in the world of chaos and uncertainty in which we live, someone has to be out there nailing down the loose roof shingles and pulling people from the floodwaters.
If that sounds frightening, it shouldn't be because our safety is not, and never will be, in the absence of the storm, but in the presence of a God who loves His children passionately. Which is why, in the rising storm assailing our world, the underlying message of "FireStorm" is not one of fear or doom-saying but of hope and challenge.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous websites, including DigitalCropper.com, ChristianColoring.com, CatholicMom.com – and an avid reader. AgapePress gratefully acknowledges her contribution of this interview.
© 2004 AgapePress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.