By Tessa Afshar
It's rare that I cry over a book. But author Tessa Afshar has a way of finding the deepest part of a character's soul and putting it on the written page. And I cry.
Her newest release, Harvest of Rubies, is the beautiful story of Sarah, cousin of the prophet Nehemiah, and her new life as a scribe in Queen Damaspia's Persian court. Afshar excels in writing fiction with the most important truth: how much the God of this universe loves us. Each one of us. Not only does He love us, He seeks us out, desperately wants a relationship with us, and cares about every detail of our lives.
Afshar weaves a love story between Sarah, the scribe, and the aristocrat Darius. But she takes it even further. She gives us an unexpected love story between Sarah and God. She shows us the all-consuming compassion and love that He has for us. The way Afshar is able to get to the deepest part of my soul through her writing, and remind me of my worth in God, is amazing. And again, I cry.
I've found myself, with both of her books, putting them down before I get to the end. I don't want to be finished. I want to read more and I savor those last pages. Afshar has a God-given talent for creating characters, giving them life, putting them in the midst of trouble, and making it excruciatingly hard to put the books down. Through her writing, she gives us a God that is a redeeming, compassionate, patient God who wraps His arms around us until we grasp those truths. As a reader, we are immersed in the time with vivid descriptions and a story that will be remembered for a long time.
Be sure to leave a comment below and enter the drawing for a free give-away of Harvest of Rubies from Tessa, and publisher River North. The winner will be announced on May 31st!
I had an opportunity to interview Tessa Afshar. Here's what she had to say:
I was born in Iran to a nominally Muslim family, and lived there for the first fourteen years of my life. I moved to England where I survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte’s writings, before relocating to the United States permanently. My conversion to Christianity in my twenties changed the course of my life forever.
What gave you the desire to write Biblical fiction?
That was not the plan! I have always loved historical fiction, and I have a healthy dose of respect for the Word of God. I did not dream of putting the two together, however, until God gave me a fascination for Rahab. What I realized as I wrote Pearl in the Sand is how biblical fiction can help bring readers into a deeper understanding of that time period.
Your books are rich with Biblical history and you have a remarkable talent for bringing the Bible to life. How do you research your novels?
Thank you, Julie! Biblical novels require two separate threads of research: historical, which requires a solid knowledge of the period, its geography, culture, food, scents, and any other detail you can manage to unearth. I find that academic books are still the best source for this kind of information. Online knowledge only goes so far. The second thread of research, of course, is biblical. I read the pertinent texts a number of times, do word searches in the original language, sift through commentaries, listen to sermons. Then I try to pull these two threads together in such a way that feels seamless and unacademic. Finally, I beg God for grace. I beg a lot.
I adore your characters. They are so well formed that I find myself praying for them in the midst of a trying situation, and giggling when I remember they are just characters. How do you go about creating them?
You just made me laugh out loud. Your words have captured that illusive relationship with a beloved character that most readers long to experience. As a writer, it’s my job to weave a connection between my readers and my imaginary characters. Recently, a woman told me that after finishing Pearl in the Sand she felt like she was saying good-bye to a friend. That’s what I hope will happen with every novel. A central character needs to be imperfect in such a way that a reader can relate to, and still captivate the reader’s affections.
What do you want readers to take away from Harvest of Rubies? What does the story mean to you?
I want them perhaps to see a little bit of themselves in Sarah. Many of us struggle with finding our worth in our accomplishments as Sarah does. Harvest of Rubies asks the primal question of identity: who are we? What gives us value? Do we live as if we believe our own theology? As a recovering achiever, this is a question that hits close to home for me. God has been healing me of false measuring sticks for years now. Like Sarah, I used to feel only as good as my latest achievement, and fear of failure cast a long shadow over me. I hope that I live a much healthier life now.
I love the way you incorporate Nehemiah into Harvest of Rubies, and Joshua in Pearl in the Sand. Who are some of your other favorite men and women of the Bible?
I think mentors are an important part of the life of faith. We all need someone more mature than ourselves to come alongside us and demonstrate the love of God. David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He has the makings of a great friend: he is honest with his emotions and easy to relate to. I can imagine him praying when you are in trouble; making mince meat of anyone who dares to harm you; being the life of the party by playing astonishingly moving music; and commiserating with you from the bottom of his heart when things aren’t going well. And the whole time, he would build up your faith.
Do you have a current project you are working on?
The sequel to Harvest of Rubies is called Harvest of Gold. I am hoping to finish that by early fall.
Do you have any writing advice for those trying to enter the world of publishing?
We can drive ourselves crazy with depressing statistics, discouraging circumstances, and impossible odds. However, there is a truth that we sometimes misplace: God is strong. He is able. He is an ever-present help in trouble. He can cover our gaps and our shortcomings. He is the best agent, the best marketer, the best editor you can find; after all, He too is a writer. Our destiny is in the palm of His hands, and though we are buffeted by the winds of adversity and the wiles of our enemy, God is far more powerful than both.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Christian service. How has God blessed you in that field?
He has taught me to judge less and love more. He has taught me that our enemy is powerful, but God is much greater.
Are there any other genres you’d like to try?
One day I would like to try my hand at a fantasy. I have a trilogy knocking around in my brain somewhere. But that won’t be for a long time. I need first to establish myself in my present genre, which is a sort of biblical psychological romantic suspense. It’s a complicated genre, and I’m pretty sure I just made it up! I figure that’s my job—to make up things, so I better do it well.
Julie, thank you so much for inviting me on your wonderful blog. It’s been an absolute pleasure. If your guests would like to visit me on my website, the address is http://www.tessaafshar.com/ or visit me on my Facebook author page where there is always some new discussion going on: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tessa-Afshar/337761827820?ref=ts
Tessa, thanks so much for being a part of my blog today! I'm excited about your next book and look forward to reading it. So, hurry! We are waiting...impatiently!
Don't forget to leave a comment below and enter the drawing for a free copy of Harvest of Rubies from Tessa and River North!