From the time I was six years old, I expressed myself best with words on paper. And I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer. In my early years, that passion for creativity came in the form of poems, short stories and personalized birthday cards for family and friends.
The highest compliment I received in high school came from my tough-as-nails English teacher who scribbled these words on my essay: “You have the ability to write well.” Other teachers encouraged me to write throughout my school years. Whenever I had a choice in assignments between something to research or something to create from my own imagination, I chose the road of creativity.
As I longed to write, I also had a deep, intense faith in Christ which made its way into my stories and poems. Even at a young age, I longed to share my faith with those around me, and often, writing was the best medium I could find.
I studied English and French literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I found myself enthralled with the way my courses overlapped, enjoying art history and history as well. My college spiral notebooks became friends to whom I was sure I would return in the years to come to refresh my memory and inform me of art and history and literature.
As a child, my favorite books were Nancy Drew mysteries, horse stories by Marguerite Henry and C.W. Anderson, and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. As a teenager, I was inspired by Mary Stewart’s mysteries, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and Catherine Marshall’s stories of faith and adventure. In high school and college, I marveled at the way Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo wove together the lives of numerous characters from different backgrounds within the greater tapestry of the book. This I longed to do.
While at Vanderbilt, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Aix-en-Provence, France. That semester changed my life. My grandmother had often spoken to me of travel and literature and history, and that, combined with my studies, convinced me to spend the semester abroad. There, on the walls of great museums, I found the paintings I had studied on the screen in my art history classes. There I saw where great masters lived and wrote. A whole new world, this old world of Europe, opened up to me and I embraced it. But as I explored French cathedrals, I was saddened to see the lack of spiritual interest in the culture at large. The existentialism that I had studied in class played itself out in the everyday life of the French. I returned to the States and to my university changed and challenged. I wanted to go beyond what I had been given, a very comfortable, elite upbringing. I wanted to travel and write and share my faith with others. Did this kind of job exist? I was sure it didn’t.
And then God intervened in another remarkable way that I could have never imagined. After Christmas during my Senior year at Vanderbilt, I attended a five-day missions conference for students, (there were 17,000 of us there). I discovered an amazing thing: God had missionaries in France, and I felt God calling me there. Never had I ever dreamed of (or wanted to be ) a foreign missionary! My image of a missionary was a little old lady dressed in black serving God in some remote village. God soon showed me how flawed my image was!
After graduation, I spent eight months training for the mission field in Chicago, Illinois and then two years serving in a tiny Protestant church in Eastern France. Serving with me were a young couple, a single woman from Quebec and a single man from West Virginia. Those were years of testing, learning and being humbled, years of seeing the difficulty of the lives of simple people living out their faith in a hostile environment. They were also years of preparation. By the time I returned home, I was engaged to that single man, (a wonderful man named Paul) and pretty sure that our future together would one day again involve missions.
Paul and I returned to France in 1989 to help a French pastor start a new church in the city of Montpellier, in the South of France. Never in my wildest dreams as a student would I have imagined that seventeen of the last twenty-two years would be spent in France, nor that in France, God would fulfill my life-long desire to write. As a missionary, I wrote quarterly letters explaining my ministry to over 400 prayer partners back in the States. I determined to make these letters interesting, the best writing I could do. I returned to France, married with a toddler in tow, with another baby on the way. My ministry opportunities were limited. And so, those prayer letters became my writing outlet. Also, during my boys’ naptimes, I transformed the day’s catastrophe into an anecdote about life, and thereby kept my sanity.
Once again, I received so much encouragement from those who received my letters, that I kept my dream of writing articles, and one day a book. At a conference for our mission, I, eight months pregnant, waddled up to Jill Briscoe, well-known author and speaker, and asked if I could talk to her about writing. The result of our “talk” was her assignment that I finish an article I was working on, send it to her and she would publish it in her newsletter for ministry wives. She kept her word. Although I wasn’t paid a cent, I was thrilled beyond words. I was at last a published author! I continued to write for Jill’s magazine for women in ministry, Just Between Us, as well as for my missions’ newsletters and magazines.
Long before the word “journaling” existed, I kept a journal, and periodically in that journal I would cry out to the Lord, “If you want to do something more with my writing, show me how.” I also prayed that I would be able to write a book and dedicate it to my grandmother while she was still alive. These prayers went on for over 15 years.
While in the US during the summer of 1994, I attended a writer’s conference and met an editor who had at one time served as a missionary in France with my mission. I signed up for a 15-minute interview with him and presented my desire to write a women’s devotional book. He replied that his company was looking for a woman novelist. My ears perked up and I thought to myself, “I think the Lord has put me in the right place at the right time.” This editor explained to me the proper etiquette for presenting a book proposal to his publishing house and encouraged me to do so. I worked furiously on the project (I had been toying with ideas for a novel for several years), and a few months later sent him a sixty page proposal—including a long synopsis, a chapter-by-chapter outline, a character sketch of the protagonists and a copy of the first three chapters of the book. He called me immediately after receiving the proposal and enthusiastically said he’d be presenting my proposal to a committee in two weeks. There the committee could choose between several options: they could reject my proposal, show interest but ask that I send them a complete manuscript, or offer me a contract. In the end they offered me a contract! I was beside myself with joy.
Thus in a rather amazing way, the Lord began to answer my prayers that had spanned over twenty years: that I would be able to write a book and dedicate it to my grandmother while she was still alive. During the summer of 1996, I presented my 82-year-old grandmother with her copy of Two Crosses, (Victor Books). Soon after Victor Books, a subsidiary of Scripture Press, was sold to Cook Communications . My second book, Two Testaments, was published by the new owners in 1997. Unfortunately with the change-over, my third and final novel in the trilogy, Two Destinies, remains unpublished in America. All three books in the trilogy have been published in German, Dutch and Norwegian and I have had the privilege of traveling to each of these countries to do speaking engagements and book signings.
This Franco-Algerian trilogy takes place during the Algerian War for Independence from France (1957-1962). I chose this setting, knowing that most Americans were completely unfamiliar with that war. Yet daily, the papers were being filled with news of Algeria because of the civil war that is presently going on in that country. I felt Algeria and France would provide a unique, new setting for a novel. Living in the south of France, I also met many people who had lived through the war, either as French citizens, military or Algerians. I had many interviews with people, and visited all the sites in France which would be included in this trilogy. What was right before my eyes was more fascinating that anything I could have dreamed up! I also decided to weave some of the French Protestant history into this series, thus choosing the Huguenot cross as a main symbol.
I was especially excited that my first novel, Two Crosses, was published in French in 2001. There are few Christian novels available in French. My prayer is that this book will be used of the Lord as an encouragement to French Christians and as a tool for evangelism for people who might never step inside a church but could be attracted to a book which takes place in France. In the past few years, I have been greatly encouraged to hear of this happening.
My fourth novel, The Swan House, (Bethany House, 2001), takes place in my native Atlanta. As with my other novels, I combine recent history with fiction to create the compelling story of sixteen-year-old Mary Swan Middleton and her search for truth. I love Atlanta. My inspiration for this novel came from my upbringing in an affluent neighborhood and the struggles I had as I tried to understand my faith in Christ within the context of wealth. I spent my life watching my mother prepare meals for the poor of Atlanta, working alongside a home missionary from the Southern Baptist church. The stories I heard of God’s miracles in this place were used of the Lord to move me toward missions. The Swan House starts out with a schoolgirl’s dare and eventually brings the black and white worlds of Atlanta together. In this book, I hope to challenge the reader to examine her prejudices and find out where she goes to find truth.
My novel, The Dwelling Place, (Bethany House, 2005), is the story of a daughter’s struggle to reconcile with her mother and find her place in a family in which she has never fit. Many characters from The Swan House reappear in this novel, which, although set in present day Atlanta, nonetheless takes the reader back into the world of the turbulent 60s and specifically the events of 1968 in both America and France. The novel examines the themes of brokenness and healing, faith and forgiveness, surrender and sacrifice and gives an honest viewpoint of what the evangelical world looks like from the outside.
My new novel, Searching for Eternity, will be available in the fall of 2007. This story sneaked up on me and tapped me on the shoulder as I discovered the city of Lyon and her history. Following his father’s dubious disappearance, adolescent Emile de Bonnery is forced to leave his native France for Atlanta, Georgia, never suspecting what awaits him in the South of 1964—culture shock, racism, and friendship with a strange girl named Eternity Jones. He brings with him to America an odd collection of ‘treasures’ used by his father during the French Resistance. With the aid of these ‘treasures’, Emile and Eternity find themselves on a journey through abuse, betrayal and prejudice which will ultimately lead them into a spiritual quest for healing. Spanning four decades, their journey unfolds like a spy story and its conclusion shows what happens in the midst of complex human relationships when an adolescent goes searching for eternity.
I find my work as a mother, wife, author and missionary filled with challenges and chances to see God’s hand at work daily in my life. Inspiration for my novels come both from my experiences growing up in Atlanta as well as through the people I meet in my work in France. Many conversations within my novels are inspired from real-life conversations with skeptics and seekers alike.
During college, I once attended a class to help students prepare their resumes. I was asked to describe my perfect job. I wrote that I wanted to live in another country, help people, travel and write. It sounded foolish and idealistic. At that time, I had never once considered missions. But the Lord knew the desires of my heart. I often say that the Lord pushed me into missions because He knew that this calling was exactly where I could use my gifts and talents the best for His glory. I would never have chosen it for myself. But as I have obeyed Him, little by little, He has revealed a plan that far surpassed my hopes and dreams.
My life has not turned out in any way as I had thought. There have been many difficult, challenging times. But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. During my training for missions, the staff emphasized that missionaries must develop a good sense of humor, be flexible and realize that "different is not wrong". Living in another culture is a great way to be humbled, again and again, and it seems that this is so often God’s way—He humbles us before He uses us. In spite of the many challenges of living in another culture, especially one that is very resistant to the Gospel, I feel privileged to be involved in missions. To talk to others about Jesus, and to be able to write stories about God working in people's lives is something I will never take for granted. As I watch God change people's lives right before my very eyes, I have plenty of material to make my novels interesting, action-packed and realistic. I have discovered that God can do far more with our lives than we ever dream possible. This is what I hope to communicate in my books.