Thursday, September 2, 2010

A View from Tessa Afshar's Window - Pearl in the Sand

As you know by now, debut authors hold a special place in my heart! This one is particularly special, because she tells the story of Rahab with such clarity and grace that you cannot help but experience a heart change as you read this story. Truly, I think Pearl in the Sand will soon join the list of Christian classics and become a part of everyone's library. It is a superb story!

Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Tessa as she visits today to talk about her journey into publishing, and into the the heart of God's love! It is a great privilege to have her here today!

Thank you so much, Kim, for inviting me to be part of the CFBA tour. It’s an honor to be here with you.

Pearl in the Sand is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to publication? What surprised you about this process?

What I didn’t know as I wrote Pearl was that there was no market for biblical fiction at the time. Had I been aware of this fact, I would have thrown in the towel. However, just as I finished Pearl, a shift started to occur in the market and Wendy Lawton from Books and Such Literary Agency, who had become aware of this change, took me on as a client.

Following a couple of close calls that didn’t work out, Moody Publishers contracted Pearl and will be releasing it on September 1, nine months after I had officially signed with them. I have to stop and say that I LOVE Moody; they have been phenomenal to work with. The whole process of writing to publication took just over two-and-a-half years, which is quite fast for a debut novel.

What has surprised me about the process of publishing is that most of my experiences of rejection have been internal. Many times, I have had to battle the forces of discouragement as I write, so I am astonished at the doors God seems continuously to open. I think this is a skirmish that I’ll have to face again. My heart is susceptible to self-doubt. But Jesus is greater than my heart. I don’t stand on my gifting or my strength, which are both limited; I take my stand on Him who holds my future. Or at least I press on toward that goal.

Share with us how you came to know Jesus?

Although I’ve lived in the Christian West since I was fourteen, I never heard the gospel until I was twenty-six. During a particularly difficult season in my life I had a vivid dream. In my dream I was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. From a distance I saw a man walking toward me and I knew instantly that this was Jesus. As He drew closer, I felt very disappointed. You see, He was homely! The only Jesus I had seen up to this point was portrayed by a couple of good-looking actors in TV movies. I thought, This is Jesus?

As He came closer I realized, Of course this is Jesus, for in His eyes I saw such depth of love and power that I almost fell to my knees. He asked me to follow Him and I did. In the dream not only did I know Him as Jesus, but I also knew beyond the slightest shadow of doubt that He was the Son of God, very God of very God, and unlike anyone else in the whole universe.

Shortly after that dream, friends began to ask me to go to church and Bible study. It was as though God Himself first opened a door in my inmost being and then He arranged for me to find out the facts! I simply fell in love with Jesus. There’s no other way to express it.

You have worked in women’s ministry for several years. Did researching and writing Rahab’s story give you new insight into the women you minister to?

Actually, the reverse happened for me. It was the women I ministered to through the years that helped me understand Rahab’s experiences better. Pearl in the Sand recounts the tale of a woman whose world was a mess, whose life was a mess, whose heart was a mess, but in encountering God, she found to her shock that her life was salvageable. More than that—it was valuable. She found that she was lovable. Working with women has taught me that most of us need to learn those truths in deeper ways.

Pearl in the Sand focuses primarily on Rahab’s transformation. However, Salmone undergoes a transformation that is no less remarkable. What can Christians learn about unconditional love from Salmone? What could they learn about looking at others as God does?

I am so glad you asked this question, Kim. For me, the primary lesson is that unconditional love is impossible in my own strength. Only by loving God and clinging very closely to Him can such love bear fruit in our lives.

My hope is Pearl will remind us that we can be the Salmone in any relationship: we can be the one who will faithfully commit to love someone else, even when he or she proves hard to love.

“Our faith was never in Moses or any other man. Our faith is in the Lord God. Every one of us is replaceable. Even Moses.” (P. 52) Bold statement, but true. Why are we so quick to idolize a man instead of giving credit to God alone?

I think most of us have an innate need for people who will help us know God better by their actions: they make us feel loved, or safe, or worthy. They portray to us some aspect of God’s character. But like the Israelites who started to worship the bronze snake for its power instead of the source of power behind it (2 Kings 18:4), we tend to cling to the people God gives to us as a gift. Most hearts have a thing for idolatry. We tend to be pretty talented that way.

As you researched this novel, did you learn anything that held special significance to you about the culture and time in which your story takes place? If so, what was it and why did it impact your heart or the story?

I was writing about a people whose lives were profoundly different from ours. They didn’t drive cars or use social media or go to the corner grocery store to buy pre-packaged food. They could fit most of their worldly goods in one chest. Community was the focal point of their identity; their relationships were interdependent and all encompassing. In many ways, their lives were simpler than ours. But they were also more complex; they had to depend on God for everything. I was convicted by how much stuff I own and how easy it is for me to start depending on my own strength rather than God’s.

Why do you think Christians allow fear of their circumstances to dictate their actions rather that resting in the assurance of God’s love and its unfailing security?

My guess is that most of our theology tends to be based more on our personal experiences rather than on the truths we know about God as revealed through Jesus and His Word. So if the experience of my life has taught me that my worst fears can come to pass, then it’s going to be very hard for me to believe God’s love can help me in any way. I will either want to control my environment so that bad things don’t happen, or I will fall victim to the lies of fear. When we spend time with God through prayer, or His word, or the fellowship of His people, He starts becoming more real to our hearts than what our experiences have taught us. I think only then can our hearts start catching up to our minds where faith is concerned.

I particularly enjoyed Salmone’s incredible patience with Rahab – even though he struggled sometimes! What/who was your inspiration for the development of his character? Have you ever had someone demonstrate this unconditional kind of love in your life?

Salmone is not based on any single person. I started with the skeletal facts present in the Bible: his background, his leadership position, and the kind of personality that would fit these roles. Then I asked myself what kind of man would Rahab need in order to start her journey toward redemption? So I gave him those qualities. But I also wanted Salmone to be real, imperfect. You may have noticed that for all his fine qualities, he can be grumpy and judgmental and proud, and he spends too much time at work. It’s not fair to set up a perfect paragon in fiction and then expect the men in our lives to live up to that!

Your website indicates there is another story in the works? Can you tell us a little bit about this?

My next story is set in Persia during the time of Nehemiah, just one generation after Esther. Sariah, senior scribe to queen Damaspia, has a brilliant mind and a mouth that won’t stay closed at the right time. Early in the novel, she foils a convoluted plot against the queen and is rewarded by the highest honor available in the Persian Empire: a husband of royal blood! Sariah is horrified. Her cousin Nehemiah tells her to trust the Lord, but Sariah cannot. Her unwanted marriage marks the start of the darkest valley of her life. But it also leads her into the arms of a God she has avoided since her mother’s death, and ultimately to great joy.

What exciting things has God done in your life through this journey to publication?

For one thing I have seen with my own eyes that all things are truly possible with God! I’m on a tremendous learning curve: publicity, social media, correct publication etiquette, time management. But I have also met some brilliant mentors; there are those in this industry who can quietly change your life by their encouragement and acceptance. I still work full time, so juggling all this isn’t easy, but it is glorious.

Any closing words of encouragement you’d like to share with your readers?

I’ll tell you what I learned from God this week: Despair is always an invitation to prayer. I don’t believe despair has its source in God. But what the enemy sends as a means of your destruction, the Lord uses as an invitation to deeper intimacy. Whenever you are tempted to despair, talk to your Abba. He loves you so.

1 comment:

Mocha with Linda said...

What a wonderful interview! I really enjoyed this book.