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Former Marine lieutenant Robin Duncan is no stranger to corruption----but she's always been able to tell the "good guys" from the bad. Now she's tracking an insurgent killer through the Congo jungle---and as a ruthless global conspiracy emerges, she doesn't know who to trust. How can she protect innocent people? And where is God in all this? 400 pages, softcover from Tyndale.
Our Interview with Jeanette Windle
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
As a daughter of missionary parents, I grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. I married another missionary kid, and we have been in full-time international ministry ever since. Currently based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I’ve lived to date in six countries and traveled in more than thirty on five continents. Those experiences have led to sixteen international intrigue titles, including bestselling Tyndale House Publishers release Veiled Freedom, a 2010 Christian Book Award and Christy Award finalist, and its sequel, Freedom’s Stand, a 2012 Christian Book Award and Carol Award finalist and 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year finalist.
What is your favorite Bible verse?
I have too many favorite verses to list them all, but I would like to share one God laid on my heart during my teen years as a life verse: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
How did you get started writing Christian fiction?
I began as a journalist but branched out to fiction in part because I was sitting in the middle of stories too big—and sometimes too sensitive—to tell in any nonfiction format open to me. What I love about writing fiction is the tapestry it offers to weave together countless scattered threads—historical, political, social, spiritual—and the very real people involved, to create a single impact, a single focused spiritual theme. While the books I write are fiction, the peoples and places and issues they bring to life are only too true.
Why specifically “Christian” fiction? Because I am a Christian, and I cannot write without that worldview permeating every thought, plot line, character. I do not even understand how Christians can write a book that does not “leak” their faith and outlook on this universe. For me personally, writing has always been a call to share my faith in such a creative and interesting fashion that readers who may not necessarily even set foot in church will be drawn into the fictional world I have created and the loving heavenly Father they will encounter there.
What inspired your interest in writing Congo Dawn?
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 is the story of Dr. Helen Roseveare, who helped establish several mission hospitals and medical training centers in the Ituri Rainforest despite the violence and unrest of impending Congolese independence, and who was herself held captive for five months during the 1964 Simba rebellion. The largest of those training 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 the United Nations, the embassy, local law enforcement, or any other humanitarian or 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.
How did you come up with the concept for Congo Dawn?
For the story’s actual suspense thread, I’ve had personal opportunity to witness what a multinational corporation is capable of in 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 the striking arms of such corporations have historically consisted of foreign mercenaries. But today’s private military corporations are vastly different, possessing more firepower than the average country. What struck me was their lack of accountability to anyone 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.
On a deeper spiritual level, Congo Dawn addresses the age-old question of how a world filled with such darkness, injustice, and pain can possibly be the creation of a God of love. How can followers of Yesu (Jesus) in the bleakness of the 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; 1 Peter 4:13)? What value beyond our own comprehension might human suffering possibly hold that a loving Creator God permits it to continue?
How much of Congo Dawn is factual?
The story itself is completely fictional, as are all the characters and the Ituri Rainforest mission hospital of Taraja (which means hope in Swahili). But the setting, background facts, and basic premise are not only taken from true life in every detail but have been replicated in endless variations across Africa and other continents where injustice and oppression have prevailed over the years.
How closely is Congo Dawn based on your life experiences?
One surprise in researching the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri Rainforest region was just how closely it did resemble my own life experience growing up in the guerrilla zones of the Amazon, to the point where I had to beg my on-the-ground sources, “Give me something unique to the Ituri so I’m not just rewriting my own story.” Not just a similar equatorial jungle landscape with much the same plant and animal life, foods, and riverbank villages. But the same history of European colonial conquest, corrupt and oppressive aristocracies, equally unjust and violent rebel insurgencies. The powerful international corporations reaping vast natural resources, juxtaposed 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 are also present in the Congo, offering medical care, education, and the love of Jesus Christ in the midst of difficult and dangerous circumstances. And as in all my books, the emotional and spiritual issues with which the main characters wrestle come from my own spiritual journey.
How long did Congo Dawn take you to complete?
About eighteen months’ research and writing. I don’t write full-time but tuck in sprints of writing in between ministry, missions journalism, speaking, and international travel, which makes finishing each new title a challenge.
Do you have a favorite character in Congo Dawn? Why?
Picking a favorite character would be like deciding which of my children I love best. I will let the reader make that decision.
How much research did Congo Dawn take?
An enormous amount of research went into writing Congo Dawn. Just to start with, I read at least 20,000 pages on the history, current events, and political/social/economic background of the Congo region as well as collateral subjects such as conflict minerals, private military companies, and the inside-out of multinational corporations. But far more valuable were my many “boots on the ground,” including Congolese sources, third-generation expatriate jungle pilots and medical personnel, special ops, missionaries and adult missionary kids who have spent their lives in the Ituri Rainforest zone, and native Swahili speakers, including African Christian writers and publishers. And, of course, each part of the story was run past these same on-the-ground readers for approval before ever making it into print.
What was the most interesting tidbit that you learned while writing Congo Dawn?
As stated above, the most interesting tidbit in writing Congo Dawn was nothing new or different, but just how similar an equatorial Congolese war zone is to the Amazon rainforest guerrilla zones in which I grew up.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Finding time to write that next book while serving in full-time ministry as a missionary, missions journalist, editor, and speaker, among other ministry responsibilities. I often wish I could just hole up for a few months and write. But the very ministry opportunities around the world that cut into my writing also give me the material and inspiration for my next book. So it comes back to the challenge of finding balance and discipline to keep on writing no matter what is swirling around my daily life.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Rewrites. Getting the story down on paper (or computer screen) is a hair-tearing, heart-yanking, exhausting outpouring of spiritual, emotional, and creative energy. It is eminently worthwhile, but it’s also the hardest work I will ever do. But once the story is birthed, going back and working through each scene, polishing it up, cutting, adding, tweaking until I am sure every sentence says exactly what I want to convey, is both enjoyable and satisfying. And, of course, the very best aspect of being a writer as opposed to actually writing is receiving that positive feedback from readers who are loving the story and characters you’ve spent countless hours creating. Even more so, from readers who’ve been touched spiritually by the message of the book.
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by the seat of your pants”? Or somewhere in between?)
All of the above. By the time I’ve researched my next setting (such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I have a solid idea of the first part of the story and what political and spiritual theme I want to weave through it, 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 the 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, interviews with the “boots on the ground” that give authenticity to my characters, and 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 novel 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, and filling in plot holes. 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.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
After seven consecutive international intrigue titles, I am buried currently in a project that is very much outside that box, more The Da Vinci 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.
What message would you like your readers to take from Congo Dawn?
The same simple yet profound realization to which Congo Dawn’s protagonists are ultimately drawn. The coexistence of a loving Creator with human suffering is no oxymoron but a divine paradox those refined in the fires of adversity are best equipped to understand. The smallest flames of love and faith shine most brightly against the darkest night. Our heavenly Father really does know what he’s doing, and his ultimate plans for our lives and for all his creation will not be thwarted.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
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. The scenarios in my books are only too real. But if a life spent in some of the earth’s more difficult places has taught me more than I wish I knew about the depravity of which mankind is capable, it has taught me far more of God’s overriding sovereignty and love. If I did not have the absolute assurance that the course of human history and current events, as well as my own life, lie in the hands of a loving heavenly Father, I would not have the nerve to research, much less write, the stories that I do.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, I would like to invite any reader interested in knowing more about Congo Dawn, my other titles, or my own life journey to visit me at my website, www.jeanettewindle.com, and my personal blog, From the Eye of the Storm (http://jeanettewindle.blogspot.com/), or to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would also be delighted to participate with your local book club or discussion group through Skype video or online conference (or in person if I am in the vicinity).