by C.J. Darlington
Jeanette "J.M." Windle Interview
"...unless a book is ripping out your heart and soul as you write, it won't deeply touch the reader either." -- Jeanette Windle
As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly 30, including Afghanistan. She has more than a dozen books in print, including political/suspense best-seller CrossFire, Betrayed, and the Parker Twins series.
Read our previous interview with Jeanette here.
C.J.: You wanted to be several things when you grew up, but being a writer wasn’t one of them. When did you discover the desire to write fiction?
Jeanette: I wrote my first kids book, Kathy and the Redhead, which was all true-life stories of growing up at a missionary kid boarding school in the Andes of the Colombia/Venezuela border. That was so much fun, I decided to try pure fiction, and since we were sitting in the middle of the Bolivian Inca ruins, jungles, etc., my children's mystery/suspense series was a logical bridge from true-life to fiction. Many scenes, characters, and background were taken from my own real life, while fiction allowed the fun of stretching tame reality to REAL adventure. Once you get the taste of creating worlds and peoples of your own imagination, it's addictive. I've never stopped since, just moved from children's mystery to adult suspense.
What did the process of writing your first novel look like and how has it changed over the years?
Messy! I'm not one of the 'plan to the last conversation' writers. By the time I've researched my most recent setting, I have a solid idea of the first part of the story, what political and spiritual theme I want to weave through, and I know the ending (an essential because if you don't know the ending, you end up painting yourself into a corner or wasting months of dead-end writing you have to cut). The middle is rather broad, opening up in detail as I get to that part of the story. But I am a good editor, so by the time I've written it all, then gone back to the beginning and polished and trimmed, it all comes together. I would say I'm more polished since that first novel, but though I think each book will get easier, it never does. Mainly because unless a book is ripping out your heart and soul as you write, it won't deeply touch the reader either.
Your latest novel Veiled Freedom takes place in Afghanistan. I know you visited the country for research and were probably already very familiar with what to expect. But was there anything you discovered that particularly surprised you?
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, and restaurants catering to Afghanistan's new aristocracy
and the expatriate community, where a cappuccino costs more than the
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 was it that compelled you to write about Afghanistan?
I was as totally committed to the hope of the Afghanistan invasion in 2001 as my prologue characters. I have had many friends working in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and like so many reading this interview, I believed new hope for freedom and peace in that region was on the horizon. 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 U.S. dollars and the blood of Western coalition 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. If trillions of dollars in aid, all the weapons the West can bring to bear, and a lot of genuine goodwill as well aren't enough to bring about lasting peace and democracy, then what is the true source of freedom--and its cost?
What do you wish the average American knew about the Afghani people, culture, etc.?
I'm not sure I could come up with a list. But I think in reading Veiled Freedom, those parts of Afghanistan that touched me most will come through clearly.
Did you have a message in mind when writing Veiled Freedom or did that come about organically as you wrote?
The message that true freedom cannot be handed from the outside is in the prologue, which is the first part of the book I wrote. But the profundity of the freedom that comes through a face to face encounter with the love of Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, definitely unfolded organically during the process of writing.
Your previous novels took place in South America. Did you find yourself changing your writing style at all when switching to a different continent?
Not so much writing style, but I had to do much more research and immerse myself in the country in order to write with the same realism and depth. What was interesting was to find the parallels even in the differences. The corrupt 'narco-democracy', poverty, struggle to survive, the aid and international diplomat/military world, even the 'freedom fighters', so close in passion and motivation to the Colombian guerrillas where I grew up, were familiar. All of which made it easier to understand the Afghan character than coming at it cold from a North American setting. The biggest difference is Islam, which I have come to know fairly well in recent years.
Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?
I don't know that I have a favorite. I came to identify separately and deeply with each of the three main characters, Special Forces Master Sergeant Steve Wilson, humanitarian aid worker Amy Mallory, and Afghan returning refugee, Jamil.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about missionary work and what would you say to someone who has this misconception?
The missionaries are perfect or in some way spiritually superior (only someone who's never actually worked with missionaries has that misconception!). The problem with this misconception is that people either 1) put missionaries up on a pedestal or 2) think themselves not spiritually perfect enough to serve in missions.
In truth, missionaries are simply forgiven sinners like everyone else, with warts and all, who have obeyed God to carry the best news in the world to the ends of the earth. Whatever one's gifts and experience, there is a place in missions somewhere on the planet where you can make a difference.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I have a biblical sci-fi blockbuster that has been bubbling for years. I hope to get to it after finishing the story Veiled Freedom began.
What would you say has been the hardest part about writing Veiled Freedom?
Everything. And the more I came to know Afghanistan, the harder it was to capture the country on paper. The story was too big and the spiritual warfare too great. I can honestly say Veiled Freedom, of all my books, finally saw print only after a lot of time on my face before God and in tears. I found my heart truly breaking for the pain and injustice the Afghan people were facing, especially women and children. And I had to keep my eyes focused on the hope that is in Isa Masih, Jesus Christ, just because from a human standpoint it is so hopeless. And believe me, despite the occasional hopeful news interview one hears, I met no one over there who doesn't think it will continue to get worse before it gets better. And yet there is always the 'But God' factor. There are good things happening, but they don't happen through official channels nor do they make the news.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?
The greatest low point I encountered was the closing down of the children’s department at my first publisher, effectively stranding my first juvenile mystery/suspense fiction series as well as those of a number of other authors. But that frustration ended up giving me the time gap and encouragement to write my first adult novel, CrossFire, set in the counter-narcotics war in Bolivia where I was then living. I might still be churning out only children’s series were it not for that life interruption. And that series did end up coming out with Kregel Publications as The Parker Twins Series.
What’s next for you book-wise? I hear it might be a sequel to Veiled Freedom. :)
Yes, I am currently writing the sequel to Veiled Freedom. So for all who are concerned as to what is going to happen in the characters' lives (and I'm already inundated with such queries), just be patient!
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Please pray for the sequel, Freedom's Furnace, as I finish the writing. It is proving as much a spiritual battle as Veiled Freedom.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I am a mirror-image twin; I'm the left-handed one. I knew how to handle a machete long before I could ride a bike (age six) and still can't believe teens today can't carry pocket knives around.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Mango pickle (India's version of salsa, only hotter), garlic, my husband's homemade hot sauce (is there a pattern here?)
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Chocolate-mint mocha, extra espresso, no whipped cream.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
At least a dozen more books. I'd like to cross off Australia as my last continent (besides Africa, where I will be this fall) and take a jaunt to visit fans in New Zealand along the way. To be honest, every time I check off a goal, a new one I never expected pops onto the horizon.
When was the last time you cried?
Hmm, the last emotional scene I wrote in Freedom's Furnace; like, maybe yesterday?
Three words that best describe you:
Wander-foot. Inquisitive. Independent.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Don't own one. If I'm alone, I'm writing, which I do in absolute quiet,
a legacy of growing up without electricity where background noise was only
the wind in the trees and animal life. If I'm not alone, there never seems
to be occasion to be listening to music, at least of my own choice. :)
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.