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Interview with Tessa Afshar

Often, people who are converted later in life, are the ones who become God's most faithful followers. This holds true for author Tessa Afshar, who was born to a Muslin family in Iran, and didn't convert to Christianity until she was in her mid-twenties.

She then put her full heart into following God, learning more about Him, and spreading His Word to others. This was all part of a path she followed after being converted, which included: obtaining a Masters of Divinity from Yale University; participating as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School for a year; spending 20 years working in women's and prayer ministries; speaking regularly at women's events where she encourages and strengthens the faith of females; and becoming a full-time writer of Biblical fiction.

Tessa's conversion story is so wonderful! Most of us aren't fortunate enough to have God speak to us in such a vivid, powerful way, but He clearly was inviting Tessa to become one of his beloved daughters when He came to her in a dream, during a particular difficult season in her life.

"In my dream I was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. From a distance I saw a man walking toward me and I knew instantly that this was Jesus. As He drew closer, I felt very disappointed. You see, the only Jesus I had seen up to this point was portrayed by a couple of very good-looking actors in TV movies. But the Jesus of my dream was not handsome by any stretch of the imagination! I thought, 'This is Jesus?'

"As He approached I realized, of course this is Jesus, for in His eyes I saw such depth of love and power that I almost fell to my knees. He asked me to follow Him and I did.

"Shortly after that dream, friends began to ask me to go to church and Bible study. It was as though God Himself first opened a door in my inmost being and then He arranged for me to find out the facts! I simply fell in love with Jesus. There’s no one like Him."

Jesus wasn't the first one in a love story who Tessa fell for—the heroes in romance novels grabbed Tessa's heart when she was a teenager. She enjoyed reading Harlequin paperbacks, and books such as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre (Tessa's "favorite book of all time") by Charlotte Bronte.

When Tessa was thirteen her parents divorced, so Tessa, her sister, and her mom moved to England. Once there, Tessa attended a boarding school for girls where the students were required to attend church. Those who were of a different faith background were allowed to sit on the balcony and read their own faith books during the service. The "faith books" Tessa brought to read? Romance novels she'd sneak into the church by hiding them under her uniform!

While Tessa acquired a love for reading fiction, particularly historical fiction, while at boarding school, she was also unknowingly obtaining something else that would relate to her writing career: the experience of what it's like to be an "outsider."

In Thief of Corinth, heroine Ariadne runs away from her mom and grandpa in Athens to go live with her father in Corinth. Ariadne feels like an outsider for a long time in her dad's city: a lot of girls are mean to her, and other people, both male and female of different ages, really look down upon her for being a female competing in the male-dominated Isthmian Games.

Tessa "absolutely" pulled from her own familiarity in this area to write certain scenes revolving around that. She said her own experience of moving from one country to another (Iran to England), learning to speak a new language, and trying to fit into a new culture definitely gave her a first-hand taste of being an outsider.

"I know what it’s like not to fit in. But then, so do most of my readers, even the ones who didn’t go to boarding school in England. I think it’s called high school!"

She used her understanding of being an outsider to add authenticity and deep emotion to not only her newest release, but for almost all her other novels as well.

"Most of my characters are outsiders: Rahab, Ruth, Lydia, the woman who bled for 12 years before she was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment. I think we are all meant to feel like outsiders in this world. Feel that we do not quite belong. Our citizenship is meant to be in heaven; like Abraham, we are sojourners in this world."

Another issue covered in Thief of Corinth that Tessa drew upon her own dealings with is the wounds of divorce. Her parents divorced when she was young, and so did heroine Ariadne's parents. While Tessa didn't find the writing of those scenes cathartic—because she said that is an old wound for her that God has already worked on deeply—she does know that wounds from divorce are common, and at times they can be crippling.

"I wanted to acknowledge that. Capture it with words for my readers who are currently grappling with the confusion and separation and pain that often accompanies a divorce."

Many other situations besides divorce, and many other relationships besides those of spouses (or ex-spouses) are contained in this novel. There is the love for parents and the desire to be valued in their eyes; there is teen animosity toward parents and how that can build over the years and cause misunderstandings; there is the bond—and rivalry—between siblings; there is the joy shared between female friends—and the anger and pain shared between female foes; and there is the romantic love between young adults.

Even though this novel is set in first century Corinth, all these situations and relationships are very "relatable" to readers today in 2018. And, even though this book is in the genre of Biblical fiction, and does indeed have many real people from the Bible mentioned in it, readers from both sides of the coin—Christians and non-believers—will be able to relate to the people and subject matter in Thief of Corinth.

In fact, one reason Tessa wrote this novel in the way she did was because fans asked for a book they could share with non-practicing Christians. Tessa said in most of her novels, conversations about God are frequent and saturate the story from the beginning. While this is fine for Christian readers, she said for secular readers the pervasive presence of God might be too much.

"I wrote Thief of Corinth with a lighter touch, more sensitive to those who are unaccustomed to conversations about the Lord. People unfamiliar with the Bible and the church who would normally cringe at the thought of reading Biblical fiction. Ironically, a lot of Christian readers seem to be connecting with the story!"

Maybe that connection comes from readers identifying with what Tessa says is the most central thread of this novel: love. "The fallen nature of it, the imperfection and brokenness of it, the sole solution to all our struggles, Jesus Himself."

Will Tessa continue to write about love in her next novels? Of course! Her current WIP is a novel based on Priscilla and Aquilla, which will be the second novel in this series based on minor characters in the book of Acts. Tessa said she wanted to write their story because they're the only couple in the Bible who minister together, and that every time one of them is mentioned, so is the other.

"Priscilla is a leader in the church alongside her husband. And Paul says they actually saved his life! Clearly, they lived a life of adventure, travel, and love. Perfect fodder for a book."

Will Tessa continue to write Biblical fiction novels? Of course! However, this wasn't the genre she intended to focus on in the beginning of her career, when she wrote her debut novel Pearl in the Sand, based on the story of Rahab. "I did not realize that I was choosing my genre in the long run. I think it was a choice God made for me, one for which He prepared me through years of training and experience. Now, I realize it's a perfect fit."

Maybe another choice God made for Tessa was having her get connected with a lot of other Christian writers, by becoming a member of ACFW in 2010, and attending several of their annual conferences.

"I love ACFW! Attending conferences is a must not only for writers seeking publication, but also for experienced writers. We need to keep learning and building relationships. ACFW is one of my favorite conferences. At the ACFW and similar conferences, you will find a multitude of opportunities to meet agents, editors, mentors, and more. I cannot stress how important these events can be for our careers."

What upcoming writing projects are on Tessa's To Do List? Moody Publishers (the publishing house for her first four novels), offered her a contract to do a Bible study and DVD, which is due to release in 2020. She also will work on the third novel in this book of Acts' series, which will be the story of Theo, who was the foster-brother of heroine Ariadne in Thief of Corinth. The woman that will be Theo's match is mentioned in Acts, but the Bible never mentions her by name.

What kind of things will Tessa be doing as she goes about accomplishing these future tasks? One, she may enlist the help of her engineer husband, once again, to figure out for any scenes that might need it in her new novels, about how to cleverly hide important items if you lived in the first century. Two, Tessa may continue to research that time period by reading, as she reads every spare moment she has, even when she brushes her teeth! Three, she may continue to learn how to bake and practice making ancient Roman recipes (some recipes are already positioned to be included in her new novels). Four, she may eat chocolate chips and raw almonds, some of her favorite foods to eat while writing, or if she's particularly stressed about a scene, she just may snack on a chunky piece of cake!


Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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