Christian Fiction Online Interview, May 2012
by Kim Ford
You are a native of the South – Atlanta specifically - what has God shown you by sending you to France for most of the last twenty years? Do you miss Atlanta?
The Lord has been faithful to teach me so much about Himself during these years! I truly believe that He called me to France not because He needed me in France—He is perfectly capable of getting His work done without me—but because He knew that I would need Him more in France. Stripped of the comfort of my upbringing and living in a post-Christian, post-modern culture, I had so much to learn about trusting His timing and His ability to provide for all of my needs. In France, my family and co-workers encountered a lot of spiritual opposition and psychological resistance to the Gospel. I learned to hang on tight to Jesus and that He was in control even when many things in my life seemed out of control. I also learned the joy of simple things like a slow meal around the table and a long walk on a Sunday afternoon.
I do miss Atlanta—my entire extended family lives there as well as some of my very dearest friends. I love the city and have enjoyed introducing readers to Atlanta through my novels, The Swan House, The Dwelling Place, Searching for Eternity and The Sweetest Thing. It never gets easier to live far away from loved ones. Now that both of our sons and our daughter-in-law (and soon-to-be-born first grandson) live in the southeast (our sons grew up in France and graduated from high school in France), we try to get back to Atlanta and the southeast more often, at least once a year.
Quoting your words in an earlier interview: 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. Is this still a thought that resonates in your life after so many years on the mission field?
Yes, yes, and yes! It’s a biblical principle: Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” As believers, if we are going to produce anything for God’s kingdom, we have to die to ourselves. Living in France was the fertile ground on which the Lord brought me (and continues to bring me) to the end of myself again and again and again. Things didn’t turn out how I’d planned, how I’d prayed, how I’d expected the Lord to show up. But He DID show up and in a much deeper, bigger, better way than my little creative mind could invent. It was humbling and then, surprisingly, oh, so freeing. Over and over I learned ‘when I am weak, I am strong’ and ‘now to Him who can do exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or expect…’ It wasn’t up to me to be ‘successful’, but rather to be faithful and obedient and let God work through all the circumstances of life on the mission field.
You felt God calling you to mission work many years ago, and all along the journey you were also writing things down. Can you tell us how you were inspired to write Two Crosses and what that story means to you?
I like to choose relatively unknown points in history and bring them alive for the reader. After having lived in Montpellier, France for four years, I had heard quite a lot about the Algerian War for Independence from France (1957-1962). However, I figured, if most Americans were like me, they knew absolutely nothing about this war (maybe they didn’t even know that Algeria was just across the Mediterranean from France). I wanted to introduce them to another part of history, and to the unfamiliar culture of North Africa as well as the more familiar and much loved South of France. That was the background for Two Crosses. The story itself combined everything I love to read about: history, art, literature, mystery, romance, and adventure.
I had been writing stories in my head (and eventually on paper) ever since I was six years old. Having prayed for many years that the Lord show me if He wanted me to do something more with my writing, I attended a Christian writer’s conference while on furlough in 1994. To make a wonderful, long story short, four months later, I had a contract for Two Crosses. It was indeed a dream come true—but a dream proceeded by 20 years of writing and prayer! I was ecstatic. Everyday when I sat down at my computer to write, I felt like I was getting a hug from the Lord.
How did the re-release of this trilogy come to fruition from Cook publishing? What do you hope the fans of your other stories will find in the message of this trilogy?
Two Crosses and Two Testaments were originally published in the late 1990s, but because my original publisher was bought out by David C Cook and a moratorium placed on adult fiction, Two Destinies was never published in English, although it was published in Dutch, German and Norwegian. Fast forward to late 2009. My wonderful editor and friend, LB Norton, was having dinner with Don Pape at Cook and my name came up. Don got in touch with my agent, Chip MacGregor, and expressed interest in getting Two Crosses and Two Testaments back into print and publishing Two Destinies for the first time. I was elated, of course!
My later novels are mostly set in the South of the United States, and specifically Atlanta. With the trilogy I hope my readers will fall in love with France, the country that draws more tourists than any other country in the world, the country I now call home. I also want my readers to understand more about North Africa. But mostly, as with all of my novels, I hope the themes of forgiveness, courage, faith and trust—in the midst of life’s big and little tragedies—will resonate with my readers.
In the trilogy, I introduce differing faiths. My characters are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, atheist. I believe these novels are even more relevant to my readers today than when I originally wrote them in the late 1990s. Ever since 9-11, Americans have become much more aware of the Muslim world. In these novels, I tackle faith questions and issues which Americans now read about and see on the daily news.
Who is your favorite character in the trilogy? Does he/she share any of your own personality traits? Why is he/she your favorite?
Gabriella, the twenty-one–year-old protagonist of Two Crosses, is probably most like me: creative, well-intentioned, loving art and literature, always saying too much, with a true love for the Lord Jesus. Many readers tell me they can relate to the cynical young teacher, David Hoffmann, with his doubts, his anger and questions. I love six-year-old Ophélie with her complex personality and an almost mystical sense of perception. Mother Griolet, the seventy-three-year-old ‘renegade’ nun, has a lot of down-to-earth wisdom; she’s feisty with gentleness. I don’t have a favorite, but when you stay with your characters for three books, oh, they become friends. And I have loved re-editing these novels, making the characters a little fuller, more three-dimensional. I’ve learned a lot over the past eighteen years and I hope it shows in the ‘new and improved’ trilogy.
What research is required to recreate a Civil War (Algerian/French)? How does this process differ from writing a more modern story set in America?
It involves tons of research. When I wrote the trilogy, Google wasn’t around. I did all of my research by reading French history books, watching documentaries in French, and doing face-to-face interviews with people who had been involved in the Algerian war for independence from France and now lived in Montpellier, where I lived. Also, I had many dear missionary friends in France (and specifically Montpellier) who worked with North Africans in France as well as in Algeria and provided me with invaluable information.
In these books, I also talk about the Huguenots, the first Protestants in France who were heavily persecuted in the 17th and 18th centuries and many fled to America. The Huguenot cross, worn by many French Protestants today, became a symbol in my story, drawing the characters together in surprising ways.
One challenge is to portray another culture truthfully, and I found that much of what I read had biases for and against the Algerian people. I was careful not to take sides in the trilogy, but rather present the real-life events as a background for my story.
As I’ve said, I write what I enjoy reading—I like to learn history from novels—and so I am very careful about research. That said, all of my novels have been what I call ‘recent historical inspirational fiction’ (a mouthful, I know!) and therefore I have always done more research than probably goes into writing a more modern story set in America.
Again, quoting your words from an earlier interview: “My desire is to offer the best literature I can write, drawing the reader into a story that is compelling, believable and sprinkled with historical detail. I seek to give a realistic picture of what faith lived out in this world looks like, and, as always, I hope that my stories can be appreciated by all audiences, not just those readers who hold my same religious beliefs. It is a delight to receive confirmation of this through reader letters.” Can you tell us about the most memorable letter you’ve received from a reader? What impact did it have on your writing?
There have been so many letters that encourage me. Frequently I receive letters that say that one of my novels has been used by God in a way that changed a reader’s life and her perception of faith, that she found the novel deep and transformational. These letters are extremely humbling and encouraging and are also an answer to my prayers that the Lord will use my novels as ‘tools’—that believers will find the ‘soul’ in my novels and then pass them along to others who may never step inside a church, but who need to hear the wonderful news of Jesus in a realistic, non-threatening way.
Are you working on a new project as you get ready for the re-release of the Two Crosses series?
I actually am working on two different proposals. I haven’t shown them to my publishers yet, so I can’t say anything else, but I’m very excited to be writing again after having taken 18 months off with our new job in the mission (see next question) and with editing the trilogy.
Share with us the most exciting thing God is doing in your life right now. What is He teaching you about Him?
My husband and I have begun a new role with our mission agency called ‘Member Care’. We’re responsible for the spiritual well-being of our missionaries throughout Europe. We still are based in Lyon, France, but we travel a lot. We are able to listen, care, encourage and challenge our missionaries simply because we have been through much of what they are going through. We’ve left everything to move to a new culture, we’ve struggled with homesickness, chronic illness, raising children far from family, endless good-byes, ministry sorrows and on and on. The Lord is showing me again that our pain, our sorrow, our questions, our heartache, our absolute over-the-top joy, our repentance, our tears are never wasted. I love God’s economy. Loss is part of life, but God doesn’t waste the pain. He teaches and comforts us in the midst of pain so that we can then care for and encourage others.
I am also so excited about the release of The Secrets of the Cross trilogy. It is another example of God’s economy. It has been hard to have the third book in the series never published in English and it was hard to have the first two out of print. I never really dreamed they would all be published within three months of each other. It’s another warm hug from my wonderful Lord.