Friday, September 10, 2010

Tessa Afshar -- remember that name.

Her first novel "Pearl in the Sand," is getting rave reviews. Right now you can read the first three chapter of this wonderful novel -- free -- by going to the the author's website.  And then you'll probably want to know more. Tessa's life would make its own great adventure book.

Born in a nominally Muslim family in Iran, where she lived until age 14, Tessa enudred English boarding school before moving to the U.S. permanently. In her mid-twenties, she converted to Christianity and now holds an MDIV from Yale University.

When not writing, Tessa leads women's and prayer ministries for a New England church.

She was gracious enough to answer some of my questions.

 Pearl in the Sand is a historical novel about ....?

Pearl is based on the story of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot who is famous for having saved Israel’s spies from death. She then went on to marry one of the leaders of Judah, and is in the lineage of Jesus. Think about that: some of the DNA of this former harlot swam in Jesus’ blood stream! 

Is that what drew you toward her story?

My fascination with Rahab actually started in Italy. During a visit to Florence, I noticed that Ponte Vecchio—the famed bridge straddling the Arno River for almost seven hundred years—had tiny shops built right into its walls. They bulged out of the sides of the bridge like odd-shaped barnacles sticking out of the hull of a ship.

Walking over this bridge reminded me of the story of Rahab. The Bible tells us that she lived in the bowels of a wall too. Her house was built right into the defensive walls of Jericho. I wondered what it was like to live in a wall as I crossed Ponte Vecchio. 

Then I realized that we all know a little something about that. Most of us have to contend with walls in the interior places of our souls. Walls built on foundations of pride, fear, rejection, loss; walls that keep others at bay and shield us from drawing close enough to get hurt again. Suddenly I was hooked. I wanted to write about walls, about living in them, about pulling them down. I wanted to write about Rahab.

Her imperfections appealed to you as a writer?

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. For her, this process happened through the love of a godly and persistent man who was nonetheless, flawed.

God started the most significant part of Rahab’s life by literally pulling down the walls of her home around her. As traumatic as that moment must have been for Rahab, she could not have moved on to the future God had planned for her without it. In a parallel pursuit of healing for her broken soul, Pearl in the Sand portrays a God who just as determinedly set out to ruin the walls surrounding Rahab’s heart. 

And there's a lesson in that for women today?

I think women today need to know God as the wooer and pursuer of their hearts. They need to know that sometimes the most glorious breakthroughs of life come through a vector of God-ordained pain. More than anything I hope the reader of this story will come away with a deeper glimpse into her own soul, and a more profound understanding of God the Father. 

But you chose to write about that through historical fiction, not contemporary drama.

I love indoor plumbing and heat and air-conditioning and the miracles of modern medicine. But there is a lot that our world has lost through the ages: a true sense of community, a recognition of our dependence on others and on God, a clear sense of right and wrong, a general romance about life. Historical fiction is a way of getting more in touch with some of these things. It’s not the only way, but it’s one of my favorite ways. Besides, the clothes rock.
For the people out there hammering away on a manuscript, tell us about your journey to publication.
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 the novel, 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's been the most difficult part, start to finish?

What has surprised me about this journey 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 to open. I think that in spite of His faithfulness, 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.

1 comment:

  1. If you enjoyed Tessa's novel, you might want to check out her new Sands of Jericho reader contest.

    The prize is valued at over $200 and includes perfumes from the Bible, and an incredible golden jewelry box.

    You can see the contest here:

    :) Emily