Bonnie S. Calhoun
the Founder and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online
Magazine . She is also the Owner and Director of the Christian
Fiction Blog Alliance which is the parent organization for
Meet the Author:
I have had the opportunity to "meet" Tessa Afshar because as the CFBA (Director of Christian Fiction Blog Alliance), we had the pleaser of touring her debut book. And as fate would have it she also joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers and I am the Zone Director for the Northeast, so that put her in my path once again. So without further adieu, I will let Tessa talk!
My life changed in a Colorado hotel nestled in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain. I sat in my plush room with the marble bathroom the size of Lichtenstein, battling discouragement as I thought about the events of my first day at the Writing for the Soul conference. The publishing industry, I found, had been hit hard by the recession. Editors, cinching their belts, showed little interest in debut novelists without proven sales tracks. They were polite and tried to be encouraging, but there were many more hopeful writers than there were opportunities for contracts.
I attended a class where two professional writers minutely examined and discussed the first two pages of my manuscript and put a final dent in my publishing dreams. I had signed up thinking it would just be twelve students with the two teachers, not realizing that the class was open to any conferees. As red line after red line crossed through my words, I sat in the room full of strangers, sinking lower in hope and expectation. I thought no one would ever want to read this book.
What I didn’t learn until months later was that among the spectators was the acquisitions editor for Moody Publishing, Paul Santhouse. And in spite of all those red lines, he actually liked what he heard and would later read the manuscript Pearl in the Sand.
All evidence that first day pointed to defeat. There seemed no way for this novel ever to see the light of day. But what appears like defeat is sometimes God working out the details of His plans. He forges victory out of bleak prospects.
The next day I met Wendy Lawton, the award-winning agent from Books & Such Literary Agency. As we spoke through my fifteen-minute appointment and into her break, I felt the burgeoning of tenuous hope. By the end of our time, Wendy took me on as a client, something she said she never did at conferences.
Pearl in the Sand is based on the story of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot famous for having saved Israel’s spies from death. Wendy shared that had we met three months prior, she would have had no interest in a biblical novel because they were almost impossible to place. Then there had been a sudden opening in the market, making Pearl a timely manuscript. So had I known while I worked on this story that there was no market for it, I would not have kept writing; I would have given up on my dream.
But God sometimes plants dreams in our lives for a season not yet here. Noah built his boat while the sun shone. Joseph prepared for a famine when the harvest overflowed and the cows bulged with fat. I wish I could say I wrote Pearl in faith. Truth be told, knowing my weakness God kept me in the dark.
I wrote it because I love Rahab. A Canaanite harlot married one of the leaders of Judah—a man from one of the most distinguished families of Israel. As if this marriage was not in itself astounding, the birth of her son placed Rahab in the lineage of Jesus. Some of the DNA of this former harlot swam in Jesus’ blood stream.
I became truly committed to writing the book, however, during a visit to Florence. Walking over Ponte Vecchio—the famed seven-hundred-year-old bridge straddling the Arno River—I noticed it had tiny shops built right into its walls. They bulged out of the sides of the bridge like odd-shaped barnacles on the hull of a ship. Walking over this bridge reminded me of the story of Rahab.
The Bible tells us that her house was built 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 living within walls. Most of us 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. Immediately I was hooked. I wanted to write about walls, about living in them, about pulling them down. I wanted to write about Rahab.
This is the story of a woman whose world, life, and heart were a mess, but in encountering God, she discovered that her life was salvageable. More than that—it was valuable. She found that she was lovable.
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. Women today need to know God as the wooer and pursuer of their hearts. Sometimes the most glorious breakthroughs of life come through a vector of God-ordained pain. 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.
It isn’t enough to write a book and get published. You also have to sell it. As Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series that sold 63 million copies, wrote in Christian Writers Guild Blog, “Debunking a Myth,” “Neilsen BookScan says the average book published in the United States currently sells fewer than 250 copies a year and fewer than 3,000 overall. Of the 1.2 million titles BookScan tracked in 2004 (during publishing’s heyday), 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies.”1 The odds are against writers.
The old means of launching a book into success through use of book catalogues and ads are simply not as effective anymore. Today, a strong Web presence including social media and blog tours help establish a kind of word-of-mouth-on-steroids network. Every person a writer reaches is of tremendous importance, because that person has access to many more, and if you can turn her into a committed fan, then you have created a small, dedicated advertising army.
Some writers build a social media presence long before being published, establishing an important future fan base. For me, this was not the case. I have about as much technological savoir faire as a flea; I have never tweeted, and I went on Facebook for the first time just before Pearl in the Sand was published. This process of building a strong Web presence can take an average of five years. I had six months.
So imagine my absolute shock when Moody ran out of its first printing on the third day of release.
Much of this surprising success is due to the amazing folks at Moody who have put endless hours and enthusiasm into this project. But ultimately, I think this is simply a God thing. And really that’s my point. We can drive ourselves crazy with depressing statistics, discouraging circumstances, and impossible odds. No matter what your job, in this economy you may eventually have to face some or all these factors.
However, God is strong. He is able. He is an ever-present help in trouble. He can cover our gaps and shortcomings. And He still has a few tricks up His Divine sleeves that you haven’t thought of yet.
Visit Tessa at http://www.tessaafshar.com/