Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blog Tour: The DMZ (Interview & Review)

It seems as if terrorism is on the forefront of everything we see - especially in light of Sunday's news about Osama bin Laden.

But even before this week's events - actually even before Sept. 11 - Jeanette Windle began crafting a story that shows how terrorism is alive and well, not only in the middle east, but also in South America.

Using a "ripped from the headlines," Windle has created a story that simply incorporates information about countries, places and situations she has encountered during her life journey.

"Since my books take 18-24 months researching and writing, it always astounds me how current their content is to the news by the time they reach print, something I could never plan," Windle explained.

Drawing from her life as the daughter of American missionaries living in Columbia,  Windle has created The DMZ to include the guerrilla zones, as well as their possible ties to Muslim extremists.

"Having finished a novel set in the counter-narcotics war in Bolivia, where I had a front row seat (CrossFire), I wanted to write a novel about the fascinating country and people in which I grew up," she said. "As I researched what was currently happening there, this is the story that emerged."

Connections Within The Pages
Windle finished this novel actually on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Other than the normal revisions - which take place as a novel is moved from the rough draft stage, the story remains the same - with terrorists planning a flight-related campaign on US soil, from the safety of Columbia.

"It was certainly an extraordinary experience having a story I'd researched and written coming to life in the news," she recalled. "I remember getting a conference call the next day from my publisher, saying: 'We're watching your story on the news.'"

Windle said a line she gave one of her characters - which eventually became part of the book's advertising campaign - took on a greater impact in light of the national tragedy: "Those who are not willing to bleed and die for what they hold dear will always be held captive by those who are." 

"I wrote that phrase thinking of the country where I grew up as a missionary kid and loved dearly the 40 million people being held hostage by less than 20,000," Windle explained. "In a recent poll at the time of my writing, the top Colombian choice on how to handle the guerrillas was to have the Americans come in and defeat the guerrillas for them.

"I never dreamed how relevant that phrase would become to all of us by the time it actually went to print."

While everything in The DMZ is based upon fact, the suspense plot is fiction.

"The original news clipping mentioned about the Iranian 'humanitarian project' in the demilitarized zone is an actual one," Windle said. "In real life, the U.S. embassy did manage to derail it, which permitted me to use it for my fiction plot.  But I always wondered what Iran's Plan B was.

"Interestingly, that Plan B has actually materialized very closely within the last year on the Venezuelan side of the border, another startling example of seeing my fiction in the headlines."

Other areas of the novel, including depictions of  Columbia guerrilla camps, cam not from Windle's own experience, but that of friends who spent years in captivity.

"The small Colombian town described in the middle of the guerrilla zone is the same where I spent my own teen years, now in the middle of a guerrilla zone," she continued. "Many of the other characters in the book, including the revolutionaries themselves, are birthed from counterparts I actually knew in Colombia."

Windle said she identifies with her main character - Julie - a missionary kid journalist heading back into the jungle zone where she grew up.

"While I've had friends who did lose their parents because of ministry, I did not lose my parents in the jungle [as happens to Julie], though I spent much of my growing up years separated from them at boarding school," she said, "and once I left home at age 18 for Bible college in Canada, the next time I saw them was at my wedding three years later (and this was well before e-mail/Facebook, or even regular postal service in the Colombian jungle zones).

"The issues of sacrifice Julie deals with in the book that God's call to service inevitably demands, not only from missionary parents but their children, is one with which every missionary kid comes to terms at some point in their adult life. My main character Julie's spiritual struggle was definitely birthed out of my own. So is her conclusion. Whatever the cost, laying down one's life in service to God is indeed worth it!"

Turning News Into Fiction
Windle said as she crafted the novel, using Muslim terrorists using a South American country as a way to strike out at Americans, she wasn't playing on stereotypes, but rather writing the simple truth.

"I was actually stunned to discover the extent of Islamic jihadist involvement in the Colombian guerrilla zones where I grew up," she said. "The question became, why would Islamic fundamentalists ally themselves with leftist revolutionaries whose ideology they loathe? The answer to that birthed The DMZ as simply one fictional possibility."

However, Windle does not consider one billion Muslims as the "bad guy."

"Like millions held captive under communism or the Nazi regime, they too are for the most part also victims of an oppressive totalitarian regime that dictates on pain of death how they pray, think, eat, sleep, live," she said. "The current uprisings across the Middle East are an indicator of how much the average citizen of Muslim nations also want freedom to make their own spiritual, moral, political choices.

"One must remember that in Western nations, Islam is viewed as a religion people choose to follow; in the Muslim world, the reigning totalitarian political regime rules over even the smallest aspects of people's lives without there being any personal choice involved."

Windle said The DMZ, like all of her books, is based upon the reality "on the ground" in the countries to which God has taken her.

"We are told as authors to 'write what we know.' I write about the world I know, a world outside of safe American borders," Windle explained. "The scenarios in my books may be only too real. But if a life spent in some of the planet’s more difficult corners has taught me more than I wish I knew about the depravity of which a godless mankind is capable, it has taught me far more of God’s overriding sovereignty and love.

"If I did not have the absolute assurance that the course of human history and current events as well as my own life lie in the hands of a loving heavenly Father, I would not have the nerve to research, much less write, the stories that I do.

"My ultimate goal in every book I write, however much a "thriller," is to share with the reader my own heartfelt conviction that, for all the turmoil and conflict and pain in our world, this universe does make sense and has both a purpose and a loving Creator."

Turning Beliefs Into Fiction
Windle believes - and the theme runs through her novels - that "Christians are not called to safety from life's storms, not for ourselves, our families, our country."

"We live in a culture here in North America, even within the church, that emphasizes watching our own backs, demanding as our right to be free from the danger and risk and storms so much of the rest of our planet is currently facing," Windle said. "But the Creator God we see in Scripture is not about safety and tranquility.

"Look at the images in the Psalms especially. We serve a God who rides on the wings of the wind, who makes storm clouds His footstool, whose laughter crashes through the thunder and lightning, who shakes the earth with His passing.  Our God is mighty, awesome, powerful, even wild. But He is  not about safety and tranquility."

God, Windle said, never promised a safe, quiet life for His children.

"On the contrary, the God we serve is calling His followers to be out there standing strong in the storm, because in the world of chaos and uncertainty in which we live, someone has to be out there nailing down the loose roof shingles and pulling people from the floodwaters," she said. "If that sounds frightening, it  shouldn’t be because our safety is not, and never will be, in the absence of the storm, but in the presence of a God who loves His children passionately.

"Which is why, in the rising storm assailing our world, the underlying message of The DMZ and all my books is not one of fear or doom-saying but of hope, challenge and faith in a loving heavenly Father who holds my life and yours, regardless of what is happening around us, in the absolute safety of His Almighty hand."
What I Thought
When I first learned of the storyline of this novel, I was intrigued. I've found myself drawn to books set in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, but never considered how terrorism may not limited to the Middle East, but may in fact be spreading to South America.

I'll admit, I was drawn to read the book by Wiindle's mixing of news and fiction. That aspect alone was intriguing.

First off, you should know this book is hefty. It's probably not "beach reading" - it's large both in size and well, depth of story.

Because of the way Windle has crafted the book - she takes the first 100 or so pages to set the back story - it took me a while to get into the "meat" of the story. That was a bit frustrating.

However, I'm glad I hung on, because this is one of those novels that will make you think - you may even find yourself doing your own research to determine what is real and what is fiction.

This novel is a solid three on the scale of three to five stars. It's well written and researched. It will definitely make you think. You may not agree with everything Windle's put into this novel - but I do think her experience as a missionary kid (or MK) in Columbia gives the book an air of authenticity.

Windle's written a few other novels (you can find out more on her blog), and at least one has caught my eye several times in the bookstore. After having the opportunity to interview and read The DMZ, I'll probably pick up at least one more book by Windle. She's definatley an author on my "go see" list (go and see what they've finished the next time I'm at the bookstore looking for something to read!).

FYI - This novel, meant to be a stand-alone, does finish with a bit of an open ending. At this time, Windle said she doesn't plan to craft a sequel - but that could change.

More About The Book
Jeanette Windle's book The DMZ (Kregel Publications, 12/21/2010, ISBN: 9780825441936), a suspense novel that takes place in the jungles of Colombia, weaves her knowledge from her own childhood in Colombia with her meticulous research that even the US government couldn't ignore it. But Windle turned her government questioners into fast fans of her work with her attention to detail and skill at telling a compelling story.

In The DMZ, Windle explores the relationship between the Islamic fundamentalist groups and the guerrilla warfare in Colombia. More than a decade after the end of the cold war has chilled the Marxist rebel movements around the world, one hot spot remains-Colombia. The inexplicable loss of three major US assets draws the attention of the world to the Colombian demilitarized zone-the "DMZ." Are the local Colombian rebels responsible? Or is a deadly Middle Eastern secret cloaked by the jungle canopy of the DMZ?

Among the contingent of politicians and media headed for the DMZ is reporter Julie Baker, whose parents had been missionaries in Colombia. Old hurts and terrors resurge as she revisits the place of her birth-and her parents' deaths. When Julie's own abduction by guerrillas triggers a time bomb that has been ticking under the feet of the US for a decade, she is left with more questions than answers.

With the fate of two countries resting in her hands, Julie must put aside her own terror to face just what God's call to sacrifice will mean for her past and her increasingly uncertain future.

About The Author
As the child of missionary parents, Windle, an award-winning author and journalist, grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones.

Currently based in Lancaster, Pa., Windle has lived in six countries and traveled in more than 30 on five continents. She has 15 books in print, including political/suspense best-seller CrossFire, The Parker Twins series and Tyndale House Publishers releases: Betrayed, Veiled Freedom, and Freedom's Stand.

Online Resources
Find out more about Windle on her website: http://www.jeanettewindle.com/
Check out Windle's blog: http://www.jeanettewindle.blogspot.com/
Or friend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeanette.windle
Find The DMZ: At amazon.com

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail. 


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