The Nikki Arana File:
of As I Have Loved You
by C.J. Darlington
Nikki Arana Interview
"I believe you know God has called you to write when you are able to find joy in the obedience alone." -- Nikki Arana
Award-winning writer Nikki Arana is the author of The Winds of Sonoma, In the Shade of the Jacaranda, and The Fragrance of Roses, all part of Revell's highly praised Regalo Grande series. She has also written the stand alone novel As I Have Loved You. Nikki and her husband, Antonio, are the parents of two grown sons and live in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
C.J. How long have you known you wanted to be a writer?
Nikki: I never aspired to be a writer. I enjoyed writing poetry off and on through the years, but it didn’t occur to me to write a book, a short story, or even a magazine article. Then in 2001 my youngest son had just graduated from high school, and I decided to take some time for myself and try some things that had interested me but I’d never had time for. That led me to try writing. It was kind of a whirlwind when suddenly I was offered a multiple book contract. I actually told my agent I didn’t want to sign for more than one book. I had zero confidence in my ability to write. But she talked me into it and I contracted for three books, which became the Regalo Grande Series. It wasn’t until after I fulfilled that contract and was free to quit writing as a profession that I realized I did want to write, if I could write about issues that matter to me.
Many people are surprised when they hear you’ve sold everything you ever submitted for publication. You’ve said the reason for this is because you have a very specific approach. Could you tell us about that approach?
I started with the premise that if you write what they want to buy, they’ll buy it. I realize that sounds obvious, but you’ll find most people don’t write to a market, they write then try to find the market/publisher. I started with magazine articles. I bought magazines, read the articles, studied the content of the magazine, and then came up with ideas that I thought would fit the magazine and its readership. It worked. By doing that I built a nice résumé of published articles. Then I decided to try writing a book. I wrote a romance knowing that genre had a broad audience, and then I wrote a story that I was VERY familiar with and knew people were interested in. It was the story of how I met my husband. And just as people in real life found themselves drawn to the story, so did readers. My agent is now working on selling my fifth book. This time I have thrown caution to the wind and for the first time am writing something when I don’t know how Christian publishers will feel about it. It is about the need for safe houses for Muslims who convert to Christianity. But portraying Islam in a negative light is very controversial right now. I’ve decided to write the book regardless of whether it is ever published.
You’ve said, “I wish I would have known that my writing journey was a faith journey.” What do you mean by that?
Because I approached my writing as a business, I came to it with the attitude of making it happen. As explained above, I thought everything out and then asked God to bless it. Even though I felt God had called me to write, I didn’t realize that if it was truly His vision, He would prosper it. I spent a lot of time angsting about such questions as will my books sell well, will I get good reviews, will I be able to think of more stories, etc. It was not until recently that I realized all that kind of thinking comes from my flesh. Me, taking ownership of God’s vision. I am on a faith journey. I am trusting God to prosper what He ordains . . . or not. I will do what He asks to the best of my ability, and the rest is up to Him. It has been very freeing, and I am much more joyful now when I write. Coming to that understanding is allowing me to write a book about Muslims knowing it may never be published. It isn’t that I don’t care. You bet I’m hoping to see that book in print. But I am no longer validated by that.
Tell us about your latest novel, As I Have Loved You. Where did you get the idea for this story?
Like many of my books, it was inspired by a true story. The story of my oldest son’s marriage. I wrote my first book, The Winds of Sonoma, because it was a great love story, how the Lord orchestrated my meeting my husband. But when I witnessed my son handling the very difficult circumstances of his marriage, my own story paled in comparison. He truly lived out God’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” He was only in his early twenties; it was very inspiring.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The most difficult part to write was the love scene between the young couple. Jeff was a devout Christian who was saving himself for marriage. It took deep characterization of Jeff for the reader to believe he would do what he did. It was extremely difficult to layer all the emotions that brought the characters to that moment. I can’t give any specifics because I want those who buy the book to fully enjoy the journey and all of the twists and turns. Also, needless to say, being that the story was inspired by my own son’s experience, that made it much more difficult. Had that scene not been so critical to the plot, I would have omitted it. But it is that act that sealed his fate and sent his life into a downward spiral.
Going back to your Regalo Grande series. How much of those novels are autobiographical?
Only the first book, The Winds of Sonoma. There are scenes in that book that actually happened. But the rest of the books are about subjects I feel passionately about. The second book, In the Shade of the Jacaranda, is about abortion. The third book, The Fragrance of Roses, is about the need for more minorities to donate to bone marrow registries.
Which do you enjoy writing more—standalones or series? Why?
I’d have to say series. There is something quite lovely about sharing your writing days with characters you know well. They seem to speak to you more openly and share with you more deeply. I find the plots develop more easily and I am able to invest more emotionally because I am sure about who the people are. As all writers know, when you first start a book, characters can take on a life of their own and keep things hidden from you until the most inopportune time. And you find yourself losing control of your story.
How did you know you were called by God to be a writer, and do you have any suggestions on how aspiring authors can know whether God has called them to write?
I came to believe that God had called me to write when everything I sent out was accepted for publication, every agent I queried expressed interest in representing me, and within two weeks of my agent submitting my first MS, I had two offers and got a three-book contract. Pretty heady stuff. And because things happened that way, I thought it meant God had called me to write. But as I mentioned, back then I would wake up in the morning and say, “Lord, come with me today as I strike out on my journey. Help me find and agent . . . a publisher . . .(whatever my perceived need of the moment).” But now four books later, I get up and say, “Lord, I’ll go with You today. I will write the book You have put on my heart. And I release the outcome to You.” There is a huge difference in those two ways of responding to what you believe is His call.
I believe you know God has called you to write when you are able to find joy in the obedience alone. If you are looking outside that intimacy with Him for inspiration, motivation, and fulfillment, you are destined to become discouraged. When you put your faith in yourself or others your dreams will be finite. Only God can sustain us in this life, only His dreams for us are everlasting.
Share with us about your ministry to Muslims living in the US. Was there a particular incident that sparked this direction in your life or has it been more of a gradual thing?
This was truly a God thing. I have no explanation why God chose to give me this ministry. I live in Idaho and have never seen a Muslim in the twelve years I’ve lived here. But God arranged for me to meet one! While writing my third book, The Fragrance of Roses, God provided a highly unlikely resource to work with me for ten months on the medical aspects of that novel. He provided a Muslim research scientist. Dr. Mehmet Tevfik Dorak. Through this relationship we found common ground. The Muslim doctor had a deep desire to help find the cure for childhood leukemia, and had devoted his life to research. I had a deep desire to raise public awareness regarding the need for minorities to donate to bone marrow registries used by families of children with cancer. And so we worked together for a common cause. As the months passed a genuine friendship developed from the trust that was nurtured as we worked on the book project. When the book was completed, we made a decision that might surprise some. The Christian doctor in the novel who works to save the little boy’s life would be named Dr. Dorak. It was a fitting tribute because through that character a Muslim and a Christian had found a way to talk to each other and work together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
It was through this experience that I got a very personal understanding that Muslims are not only fellow human beings that we share this planet with, but they, like us, are sinners who Christ died for. And just as I was at one time, they are lost and need to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was the birth of that truth about the Muslim people specifically that allowed God to speak to me about ministering to Muslims in general, and sharing how that is done with Christians in particular.
What do you wish Christians knew about Muslims?
The vast majority of Muslims living here are moderate. They are as terrified as we are of the radical fundamentalists. But even more importantly, I wish Christians knew that when Muslims convert to Christianity they lose their families, their jobs, and sometimes even their lives. And right now, the body of Christ is not reaching out to help them.
When I knew God was calling me to write about them, I went back east and lived with underground missionaries who are evangelizing Muslims. I met with people, visited places, and learned about the evangelizing of Muslims from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. almost every day. I can definitely say that what I received from that experience isn't really what I learned about the Muslims, it is what I learned about myself and my relationship with Christ. Many have heard me say that we are living on the surface of our Christianity. I began to believe this, at least about myself, when I started attending a Messianic Jewish shule last year. That experience has given me a deeper walk. But after talking to numerous Muslims who have come to know Christ, I am clearer than ever that I hardly know Him.
Muslims who convert pay a huge price for their faith. All I talked to live under persecution by their former friends and family. Most have no jobs because they live in a Muslim community and are shunned. And of course there are those who have been deported and/or killed. As the days passed and I heard their stories I realized that my Christianity has cost me nothing. I can never know Jesus like they do. They have paid a great price to know Him. And they love Him as you would love someone who has saved you from certain death. Oh, I know He saved me from sin and death. But I don't know it experientially like they do. I know because I have read about it in the Bible. But I have never lived under the threat of eternal damnation like they have. Islam is an unforgiving religion, and God is presented as cold and unpredictable, judging you every moment, noting your sins, waiting for your death to exact His judgment. And there is no way to escape Him. That is as real to them as the assurance of salvation is to us. When they meet Jesus—and often He comes to them personally to overcome their fear of Allah—and they find out that He died in their place, that God exacted His judgment on Him, that Jesus suffered so they will never have to, they fall on their knees and worship Him. They worship and love Him in a way I never can. I have never experienced what life and death would really be . . . without Him. Though I do understand better now, thanks to their testimonies.
It is that experience that moves me to keep writing my next book.
What’s the best way someone can minister Christ to their Muslim friends without turning them off?
In this interview I have referred several times to the novel, Fear No Evil, that I’m writing. But I’m also writing a non-fiction book, Through the Eyes of Christ: Loving Muslims into the Kingdom of God. Yep, the question you’re asking takes a whole book to answer. The reason is because Americans know so little about the Muslims. The short answer is to reach out to them, establish a relationship with them, model Christ to them, and wait for them to ask you about Jesus. Never walk up to them and start witnessing. This is spiritual warfare and the entire thing must be a work of the Holy Spirit. I have learned it is not enough to serve God in this matter, you must allow God to serve the Muslim through you.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I would like to write a book of devotionals. We settle for so little in our spiritual lives. I would like to write short thought-provoking pieces that cause a spark in the reader’s heart as they realize all that is possible with God.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?
I am always excited to see what God is going to reveal. During my third book I found out that if I would trust Him and write the story as it came to me, He would take care of the details. I won’t go into it here, but there is a specific scene in The Fragrance of Roses where I didn’t want to write what was coming to me. I thought, that idea will never work. But I was beginning to learn to follow the Lord where He leads, and after struggling with it for about half an hour, I finally wrote what I was hearing. Within a few pages I saw how beautifully it solved a problem I had been having in the plot. From that point forward, I have trusted that still small voice.
Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?
Besides the beautiful lyrical words of the Bible, Oswald Chambers and Watchman Nee are two favorites. I can read a paragraph from any of their books, set the book down, and ponder for an hour.
What’s next for you book-wise?
My books about Muslims. I am so committed to that as a ministry, I’ve decided I probably won’t write anything else until I am sure God is through using me in that area.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I go down and live in the bush in Mexico from time to time. I am learning to read and write Hebrew.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Cruising on Lake Coeur d’Alene and having lunch with girlfriends.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Same thing I eat every morning. A boiled egg on dry toast with a cup of tea.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Tortillas, cheese, and diet Coke.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I’ve only been to Starbucks once. And I had someone else order for me.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
To get into a size twelve, write a Pulitzer Prize–winning book, and to be the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to draw a Muslim to Christ.
When was the last time you cried?
Writing As I Have Loved You.
Three words that best describe you:
Saved by grace.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
One of Il Divo’s CDs.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Remember to follow the Lord where He leads. His ways are mysterious and beautiful. Thank you for having me.
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.