What compelled you to write?
I am different from most. I had no desire to write for most of my life. I did well in school and scored high on any writing assignments, I just didn’t enjoy it. It was a task to get through. It wasn’t until my forties that I even considered anything fiction. The short of it is that our family served in Mexico as missionaries, and I found an escape through writing. I think I couldn’t process some of the pain and injustice around me, so I created a story world where I could. Where the good guys always won and where redemption was not just “possible” but guaranteed.
So, your debut novel, Something I Am Not … Why did you chose to write about human trafficking?
In a nutshell, our family (myself, hubby, and five kids) served as missionaries for ten years. We developed a ranch for kids in poor villages, at-risk youth, and broken families. Although depravity is all around us no matter where we live, for some reason in Mexico it walked down the street in broad daylight. It couldn’t be missed or ignored.
Our co-workers ran a women’s shelter. I say women loosely, however. Most could barely be called that. They were babies themselves (13, 14, 15 years old) trying to raise babies of their own. Many of their children were a result of abuse, rape, or incest. Some had been drawn out of trafficking. Not how we would expect—not the Cambodian girl on the arm of a white man (which is horrid in and of itself), but five-year-olds used in pornographic films so a mother could have her next fix. Tragic and incomprehensible.
About a year after we got on the field, the shelter closed down for a dangerous breach in security. All the girls were sent back to where they came from. We could do nothing. Nothing at all, but watch them go. A few months later, I saw one of the girls at church escorted by her “father.” When our eyes met, the vacancy in hers shattered my heart. I will never forget it.
I began writing. I wrote to escape. To try to process the world around me. And to offer another ending. One I could control. A redemption to the brokenness and depravity. I had no idea how the story would unfold, I just wrote. I didn’t know Billy would be sold by his father or that it would unearth a ring of slavery. But I guess it was all in there, needing to come out.
When I finished five years later, I asked God why I had written it. Where it all came from. What was the meaning of Billy’s story. Surprisingly, His answer wasn’t what I expected. Though the story can be and is for those in bondage, it's also for all of us. Any of us who feel lost. Incomplete. Not worthy enough to be loved. It’s a story of living under the lies of the wrong father. About who we are and where we belong. Living as an orphan without knowing the truth. And ultimately, it’s that moment when we come face to face with our real Father, the Maker of Love. And we finally find our home.
Billy’s story is about coming home.
Who inspired some of the scenes in Something I Am Not?
Some came from my dad. Not in the relationship between Billy (my main character) and his father, but in the scenes themselves. I have always been fascinated with my dad’s childhood. He grew up after the Depression. During a time, in my mind at least, that seemed slower than it is now. Boys spent most of their time with their buddies outside. My dad shared stories of trapping muskrats, shooting bee-bee guns, and accidentally burning down his garage (now he tells me it was only the couch). In SOMETHING I AM NOT, when Billy McQueen and his best friend Pepé shoot the pumpkins off of Farmer Sanchez's fence post and get caught by the sheriff, Pepé shoves the pellet gun down his pants to escape trouble with the law—that was my dad and his best friend (who happened to be the sheriff's own mischievous son).
Any of the boxing scenes in both of my books, SOMETHING I AM NOT and my newest, REGENT, also came from my dad. He grew up in Chatham, NJ. He and his buddy used to ride their bikes down to a boxing training center at the bottom of Snake Hill to watch the fighters. He spent hours ringside and I picked up many stories and boxing details from him. Especially the mention of Kid Gavilan in REGENT.
Tell us about your character Billy in Something I Am Not:
Billy is seventeen and trying to balance two lives. One with his friends and mentor (his voice of faith), and the other with his father in the boxing club. It’s an allegory in many ways of how we all live—balancing the voices of truth and lie. Living, often times, under the wrong voice—from others and often in our own head—that say we’re a failure and that we’re missing something we should have. That we could never measure up. That’s the story of Billy. That’s how he sees himself. Broken. Filled with shame. Alone. That’s his inner journey.
And where does someone run in the face of his deepest shame? Many times it can bring us to the destruction of ourselves, and of those around us. We can become the one thing we are actually running from. We can choose those things that we think help us escape it, but in the end, they speed up our own obliteration.
Or we can choose freedom. We can choose to live under the right Father. Finding wholeness at the foot of the cross. Believing in who we truly are despite ourselves.
Did you always know how the story would end?
Actually, no. I had a perfect plan for the ending. A very romantic, satisfying ending. When I got there, I wrote several versions of it. But nothing fit. It didn’t feel right. I tried again and again to have it turn out the way I wanted it. But ultimately, my characters themselves wrote the end of the story. That may sound odd, but it was true. They had taken on a life of their own. They knew how it should end. The romance is there, but it's not how you think it will go. Blame them. They took us there.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Any interesting hobbies?
When I’m not writing, I’m usually trying to catch up on everything I neglected. Laundry. Dishes. Feeding a stray child who looks starving. Talking to an abandoned husband. With a full-time teaching job lumped on, there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room. Though I love to paint, take long car rides with the eight of us jammed in, and play with our mini-horses.
Do you have any questions? Is there anything about the story or the author that you would like to ask?