Narelle here. I'm delighted to have the pleasure of interviewing ICFW member Jeanette Windle today on our blog. We are also giving away a copy of Jeanette's brand new release, Congo Dawn.
As daughter 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 more than thirty on five continents. Those experiences have birthed 16 international intrigue titles, including bestselling Tyndale House Publishers release Veiled Freedom, a 2010 ECPA Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist and sequel Freedom's Stand, a 2012 ECPA Christian Book Award and Carol Award finalist and 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year finalist. Jeanette mentors developing nation writers in both English and Spanish on all five continents.
While former Marine lieutenant Robin Duncan is no stranger to corruption or conspiracy, she has always been able to tell the good guys from the bad, and the Congo jungle at first seems no different. But as her security team tries to track down an insurgent killer, Robin has to face a man who broke her trust years ago, and she discovers the gray areas extend farther in this jungle wilderness than she anticipated.
A ruthless global conspiracy begins to surface, run by powerful men who can’t afford to leave any witnesses. Her life at stake, Robin doesn’t know who to trust and wonders how she can help protect innocent people. Why is God silent amid all the pain and injustice? And how do these people of faith continue to rejoice in their suffering?
Narelle: What was your inspiration for writing Congo Dawn?
Jeanette: Growing up in the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, I was captivated by missionary biographies from its second-largest African counterpart, the Congo. Among them the story of Dr. Helen Roseveare, who helped establish several mission hospitals and medical training centers in the Ituri rainforest despite violence and unrest of impending Congolese independence, herself held captive for five months during the 1964 Simba rebellion. The largest of those centers Nyankunde was in turned razed in 2002 during the continuing conflict that has taken more than five million Congolese lives in the last decade.
Today's fighting is greatly aggravated by the value and pursuit of conflict minerals in that zone. As always, it has been the mission pilots, medical personnel both expatriate and Congolese, and other followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ, who have been first back into the conflict zones well ahead of United Nations, embassy, local law enforcement or any other humanitarian and corporate interests. Their courage in shining bright the light of Yesu's love in one of the planet's darkest corners gave voice to this story.
For the story's actual suspense thread, I've had personal opportunity to witness what a multinational corporation is capable of in dark corners of the Third World when no one is watching (an experience in itself too unbelievable to write up as fiction). In Africa as elsewhere, both the protective and striking arm of such corporations has historically been hired foreign mercenaries. But today's private military corporations are vastly different, possessing more fire power than the average country. What struck me was the lack of any accountability to outside oversight beyond some paid-off local warlord. So what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power in a Congolese rainforest where the ultimate 'conflict mineral' is up for grabs? Coming up with one very plausible possibility birthed Congo Dawn.
Narelle: I love how you describe the international settings in your books in a way that brings the characters and stories alive on the page. Have you visited Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? How did you undertake your research for Congo Dawn?
Jeanette: The Ituri rainforest of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is actually the first book setting where I haven't spent significant time on the ground. There are two reasons for that. One is that the story of Congo Dawn along with its spiritual theme is one that could be replicated across Africa and the planet, including places I have indeed lived, so that I had many choices where to set it. I chose the Ituri because its own poignant history encapsulates so well the theme of this book and because the Ituri is so similar to my own background setting, growing up in the planet's "other Ituri", the guerrilla zones of the Colombian Amazon rainforest. Not just a similar equatorial jungle landscape with much the same plant and animal life, foods, riverbank villages. But the same history of European colonial conquest, corrupt, oppressive aristocracies, equally unjust and violent rebel insurgencies. The juxtaposition of vast natural resources reaped by powerful international corporations with an impoverished, often starving indigenous population. The same issues of conflict minerals (and drugs) fueling guerrilla insurgencies. The same mix of an imposed nominal Christianity with animistic native religions.
On a more positive note, the same jungle mission communities so familiar to my own childhood offering medical care, education, and the love of Jesus Christ in the midst of difficult and dangerous circumstances. The jungle base featured in Congo Dawn, Taraja (Hope), is actually based on true-life Ituri rainforest medical compound Nyankunde, where famed missionary doctor Helen Roseveare served in the 1960s, destroyed during a rebel massacre in 2002. While attempts continue to reopen Nyankunde, the on-going fighting in the region is another reason I wasn't able to go in personally.
But I was blessed with wonderful "boots on the ground" technical readers and research sources among the intrepid bush pilots and medical personnel who have been the first to go back in as well as native Swahili speakers, Special Ops, third-generation expatriate missionaries who've spent their lives in the Ituri rainforest zone, etc. And of course I researched thoroughly, running each piece of the story back past those same on-the-ground readers for approval before it reached print.
Narelle: Michael and Robin, your hero and heroine in Congo Dawn, have complex backgrounds that provide strong emotional conflict in the story. Please give us an insight into the struggles Michael and Robin face in Congo Dawn.
Jeanette: Michael and Robin both come into the story from backgrounds of loss, sacrifice, grief, not just for themselves but others. A question Robin asks at one of the story's high points perhaps sums up best the struggle both wrestle with: “I would give my own life to stop the pain I’ve seen. To stop little girls and boys from being raped. Or just as bad, forced into armies where they’re turned into killers . . . To keep families from being torn apart by war. Children dying of preventable diseases for lack of a dollar’s worth of medicine . . . So am I more compassionate than the God who created all these people, created all this beauty? There’s the question, and I’ve never yet found anyone who can give me a credible answer. How can an all-powerful God who claims to love humanity look down on our planet and watch such unspeakable things happening, innocent people hurting and dying, bad guys winning over and over again, so much suffering, without it breaking his heart? . . . Without ever reaching down and putting a stop to it?"
It is a heart cry with which I think every reader can identify, and my prayer is that in walking through Robin's own journey, readers will find answers of their own to the core questions of this story. How can a world filled with such darkness, injustice and pain possibly be the creation of a God of love? How can followers of Yesu [Jesus] in the bleakness of an Ituri rainforest conflict zone or any other dark corner of this planet take seriously a Scriptural mandate to rejoice in their suffering [James 1:2; I Peter 4:13]? What value beyond our own comprehension might human suffering possibly hold that a loving Creator God permits it to continue?
Narelle: Congo Dawn explores the roles multi-national corporations may play in developing countries. What difficulties do the local people face when confronted with foreign companies looking to exploit their natural resources?
Jeanette: Human nature--and greed--being what it is, local populations are rarely considered when it comes to developing natural resources, other than as a handy labor source to exploit for extracting them. As far back as the European colonial era or the United Fruit Company in Central America, foreign multinationals developing local resources has too often been a one-way flow of wealth into those foreign coffers, leaving poverty and devastation at a local level in countries that should be prosperous. In the DRC, for instance, rubber, diamonds, gold, oil and numerous other mineral reserves make the Congo one of the most naturally wealthy regions on Earth. But as memorialized in the Joseph Conrad classic 'Heart of Darkness', that wealth spawned one of the most brutal colonial eras ever documented. Once Portuguese explorers discovered the Congo in the 1500s, slave raids and trading decimated its population. Under Belgian colonial rule, millions more died through forced labor and horrific working conditions in rubber plantations and mines. This didn't change of course under the succession of dictators and brutal warlords who replaced foreign colonialists, but now rake in profits hand-in-hand with multinational corporations. Changing that would require that profits from a region's natural resources to be ploughed at least partially back into developing that region (as the Congolese character hoped in Congo Dawn). But for that to happen requires above all a change of attitude and action in those responsible, and that will never happen without the transforming love of Jesus Christ changing human hearts.
Narelle: Robin asks a number of tough spiritual questions relating to injustice and suffering. How has your faith influenced your writing?
Jeanette: Perhaps the most vital way in which my faith influences my writing is that it is always the spiritual struggles, lessons, hope and redemption through which God has brought me that come alive in the pages of my books. If I am madly scribbling away with tears pouring down my cheeks as my characters wrestle through issues birthed out of my own spiritual journey, I've learned by experience those are the very scenes readers will write me about later, sharing how that message impacted their own lives--and how tears streamed down their own faces as they read.
Narelle: Writers are often encouraged to “write what you know”. How have you real life experiences impacted the type of stories you write?
Jeanette: Having lived now in six countries and traveled in more than thirty, including some of the planet’s more difficult corners, I do write about the world I know, a world well outside Western "First World" comfort zones. While everything in my novels is based on actual events and situations in the countries of which I write, not all is necessarily from my own life. A good example: depictions of jungle captivity in my Colombian guerrilla zone novel The DMZ came not from my own experience, but from personal friends who did spend up to years in captivity.
However, one advantage of having traveled in thirty-plus countries on five continents is that I can pull a lot of sights, sounds, smells, and experiences from my own memory banks, whether the taste of Afghanistan's fine dust in the mouth, the moist fragrance of a high mountain cloud forest, or the chittering, cawing, croaking orchestra of an equatorial jungle.
More importantly, the emotional and spiritual threads of my novels and their protagonists have been birthed very definitely from the life journeys through which God has taken me and the spiritual battles and lessons involved.
Narelle: Please share your writing process with us. Are you a plotter or do you write by the “seat of your pants”? Do you write every day?
Jeanette: I tend to write in chunks of time because I am also in full-time ministry, so I may be on the road for a week, a four-day conference, even a month ministry tour, when I am concentrated completely on the event at hand. If I write then, it will be short articles, interviews, ministry communication. On the flip side, as I answer this question, I am getting ready to take my husband to the airport for a ten-day Asia ministry trip, during which I will be completely alone at home. I plan to write morning till night on my newest WIP (Work-In-Progress).
As to process, all of the above. By the time I've researched my next setting (such as the Democratic Republic of Congo), 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). But the middle is rather broad, opening up in detail as I get to that part of the story.
In rough draft, I will take a week or two brainstorming all kinds of speeches, personal feelings and spiritual thoughts, descriptions of places I've been or researched, thoughts, interviews with "boots-on-the-ground" that give authenticity to those characters, ideas I plan to work into the book, even if I don't know the order they will come into the story. Then as I actually write the story, I can go back and pull those nuggets from my files. I also keep a notebook through each book so that if I think of anything, even if it is for a future part of the book, a conversation, thought, etc., I jot it down so I have it when I get to that part of the story.
By the time I’m done, I have a great story with terribly messy prose. But I’m an excellent editor, so I start back at the beginning, rewriting, rearranging, filling in plot holes, etc. Then comes one last polish for actual prose and grammar. At this point, I am always astounded at how well it has all come together.
Narelle: Please tell us about your upcoming releases. Are you planning to set more books in Africa?
Jeanette: I may eventually. But after seven consecutive adult international intrigue titles and a children's international mystery series, I am actually buried currently in a project that is very much outside either of those boxes, more The DaVinci Code meets Michael Crichton's Timeline than anything I've written to date. It is a story that has been bubbling for years, and I am excited about where it is going. But I hope I won't be leaving you in too much suspense if I reserve the details until I am much further along.
Narelle: Jeanette, thanks for your fascinating and insightful answers. I loved Congo Dawn and I'm looking forward to reading your next book.
By commenting on today’s post you can enter the drawing to win a copy of Congo Dawn. A print copy is available for North American mailing addresses, electronic copy for international. The drawing will take place on Friday, February 1 and the winner announced on Sunday, February 3. Please leave an email address [ ] at [ ] dot [ ] where you can be reached.
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To learn more about Jeanette Windle and her books, please visit her website. http://www.jeanettewindle.com/
NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She recently sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Heartsong Presents line.
She has published Bible Studies on Smashwords and blogs regularly at http://30MinuteBibleStudies.wordpress.com
Narelle is a co-founder of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA) http://www.acrba.blogspot.com
To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.