Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writing in a Vacuum by Tessa Afshar

My life changed in a Colorado hotel nestled in the shadow of the Cheyenne Mountain, over one mile above sea level.

The change started with a wall of immovable discouragement as I navigated my first full day at a major Christian writing conference in February 2009. The publishing industry, I discovered, had been hit hard by the recession. Editors, cinching their belts, showed little interest in a debut novelist with hardly the ghost of a platform. They were polite. They tried to impart confidence to those of us who were trying to break in. But the fact remained that there were many more hopeful writers than there were opportunities for contracts.

With every hour I sank lower in hope and expectation. I thought no one would ever want to read my book, Pearl in the Sand, a retelling of the story of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot famous for having saved Israel’s spies from certain death in Jericho.

The evidence of my senses pointed to defeat. That first day at the conference, 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.

Wendy shared with me that she would have had no interest in a biblical novel if we had met three months ago because they were almost impossible to place. Then there had been a shift in the market, making Pearl a very timely manuscript. It dawned on me that the whole time I had worked on this story, there had been no market for it. I had written into a vacuum. Had I been aware of this fact, I would not have had the courage to keep writing; I would have given up on this 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 wished I could say I wrote Pearl in faith. The truth is, knowing my weakness, God just kept me in the dark.

What I didn’t know was that during the conference, Paul Santhouse, then Acquisitions Editor at Moody Publishing, had heard the first two pages of Pearl in the Sand in one of the breakout sessions. It had stayed with him enough that he had asked to see the manuscript when Wendy went shopping for a contract. And that’s how I was published.

This May, my second book, Harvest of Rubies will be released by River North, the fiction arm of Moody Publishing. Harvest of Rubies is the story of Sarah, the prophet Nehemiah's fictional cousin who can speak several languages, keep complex accounts, write on tablets of clay, and solve mysteries. As a result, the talented Sarah is catapulted into the center of the Persian court—working long hours, rubbing elbows with royalty, and becoming the queen's favorite scribe. Yet a devastating past has left Sarah with two conclusions: that God does not love her, and that her achievements are the measure of her worth—a measure she can never quite live up to. And then she meets Darius Pasargadae, a man accustomed to having his way. A wealthy and admired aristocrat, the last thing he expects is a wife who scorns him. Throw two such different people together and the sparks fly as Sarah learns to overcome the idols that bind her. 

It seems impossible to me that I am working on my third novel and coming up with ideas for my fourth and fifth contracts.

Here is my point as I write this article. 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 marketer, the best advertiser, 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.

Tessa Afshar was voted “New Author of the Year” by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader’s Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an M.Div. from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.

Connect with Tessa:
On her website - http://www.tessaafshar.com/

1. Jenkins, Jerry B., Christian Writers Guild Blog, Debunking a Myth, September 21, 2010.


  1. So many times we get caught up in what it selling, but as Christian authors, we have to remember that God is in charge of our writing. If He lays a story on our hearts, He has a reason. It may not always lead to publication, but we must always follow His leading.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Tessa!

    1. That's so true, Angie. I loved writing Pearl in the Sand, even though as an unpublished writer at that time I had no idea if it would ever become a book. If we love what we work with, and are in step with God, then whether we are published or not, we will have victory.

  2. The novels sound interesting and I shall place them on my list. Thankyou.

    I also love the book covers.

    Wonderful article. You gave me a lot to think about.

  3. This is a very inspiring piece. Also, your novels sound intriguing.

    1. I'm so glad you found my experience inspiring. Finding traces of God in each other's lives has power to help us see truth instead of the lies of worry or fear or defeat.

  4. What a beautiful story of publication. God is good at surprising us with his blessings!

    1. Amen to that, Ocleanna (love your name!)

  5. I recently finished Pearl in the Sand and told just about everyone I knew about the life it brought to the story of Rahab. Before I could finish my book review, I had already picked up Harvest of Rubies! As an inspiring, and inspired, writer Tessa's story gave me hope. Thanks for sharing.


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