Reviewers use all sorts of adjectives to describe inspirational fiction author Tessa Afshar’s work. Words like whimsical, intriguing, romantic, prophetic, faith-filled, daunting, grace-filled, dangerous, redeeming, heart-pumping, heart-stirring, sad and joyful – all at once.
Hi, I’m your host, Julie Wheeler. And on this week’s show, historical fiction author Tessa Afshar talks about her latest release, The Persian King, set in Babylon in the sixth century BC.
And she shares something of her remarkable life; at 14 years of age, speaking no English, moving from the Middle East to a British boarding school, and then becoming a Christian in her early twenties and completing a Masters in Divinity at Yale.
Best-selling romance author Debbie Macomber says of her work: “No one brings the Bible to life like Tessa Afshar.”
Our Giveaway this week
Our Giveaway this week is Mystery with Romance, a group of best-selling authors once again joining together to offer a great range of books for you to choose from and download for FREE including Sadie’s Vow, Book #1 in my latest trilogy Home At Last.
And remember – if you enjoy the show. Leave us a review so others will find us too. Word of mouth is the best way for others to discover the show and great books they will love to read.
Links for things mentioned in this episode
Song from Psalm 137
By The Waters of Babylon Boney M: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FgDles4xq8
And Don Mclean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBy_b7z_dU
Herodotus: Greek historian and biographer; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus
Philippians 2: 10 – 11 Every knee shall bow
Women Who Risk by Tom and Joann Doyle: https://www.amazon.com/Women-Who-Risk-Secret-Agents/dp/0785233466
The re-telling of Ruth: In The Field Of Grace – Tessa Afshar: https://www.amazon.com/Field-Grace-Tessa-Afshar/dp/0802410979
The Peasant King: https://tessaafshar.com/books/the-peasant-king/
The Hidden Prince: https://tessaafshar.com/books/the-hidden-prince/
Where to find Tessa Afshar online
Introducing historical fiction author Tessa Afshar
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Tessa. Hello there, Tessa, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Tessa Afshar: Jenny, it’s an honor to be with you. I’m really looking forward to our time together and I hope that my New Zealand friends will enjoy our conversation, and everybody else around the world who’s listening to this podcast.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. So you know folk in New Zealand, do you?
Tessa Afshar: I don’t, it’s just one of those gorgeous countries I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve heard so many amazing things about people from New Zealand and what I’ve seen on TV of your gorgeous country makes me want to come and hang out.
Jenny Wheeler: You’d certainly be known here to New Zealand readers because your fiction that you write, the inspirational fiction, both biblically and historically based, is described as “seriously good inspirational fiction.”
Tell us about your latest book, which is The Peasant King. That’s the one we’re going to be discussing today. It is a biblically based story and it goes right back to Babylon in the 6th century BC. A famous period, even to non-believers, that’s a famous period in history. Tell us about the background for that book.
Babylon and Biblical prophecy
Tessa Afshar: Yes, absolutely. I’d be delighted to. And first of all, thank you so much for telling me that the readers in New Zealand like my books. That makes me so happy.
The Peasant King, as you mentioned, is set during 6th century BC. This is about 50 years into the people of Judah being captive in Babylon. And according to the prophets at this point, we know that their captivity is supposed to end after 70 years, which is a mere 20 years from now, but no one knows how this is even possible.
Babylon is still the most powerful nation in the world and no one can beat them. So how can God’s promise be fulfilled at this point?
And we have bigger problems than the timeline when you study the Bible. You read that the prophet Jeremiah has foretold that Babylon is going to be conquered by the rulers of the Medes, but the king named by the prophet Isaiah at this point is the ruler of a poor country called Persia, not Medea.
And it’s 20 years before these prophecies have to be fulfilled and we are nowhere near the fulfillment of them. The King God has chosen as the rescuer of his people at this point has little power.
In fact, he pays tribute to the Medes who are the second most powerful nation in the world. So how is he going to become the king of the Medes and fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy and be on his way to fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies as well?
The whole thing seems hopeless, and that’s the background of The Peasant King. It tells a story of these impossible doors that God opens before the Persian king and how God fulfills Jeremiah’s promise.
It’s really about a year of miracles. That’s all in the background of the story.
By the waters of Babylon…
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. There’s a famous psalm that refers to this period, Psalm 137, which talks about the captives sitting by a river in Babylon and their captors ask them to sing.
They obviously are well known as musicians and the psalm says, “how can we sing when we’re captive and we just want to lament.”
That has been picked up by a lot of popular musicians in our own time, and I can think of two.
I’m quite old and ancient now, but two in my lifetime, Boney M and Don McClean both had hit records referring to these verses in Psalm 1 37. Why do you think that it has such a resonance even for us today?
Tessa Afshar: I’m quite ancient myself, but I like even more ancient things like reading the Bible.
And I have to say, I think that Psalm would have been written closer to the initial captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
So many decades before this period. And yet at the same time, I think that sense of it, that the weeping of the loss of it, is probably deeply embedded in the consciousness of these captives.
They have lost their whole nation. And to us, it’s resonant because all of us understand the experience of loss, the experience of loss of something big.
And I think particularly today, I live in the U. S. I’m a citizen of the U. S. even though I wasn’t born here, but I feel the change, the rapid changes of this culture, of this society.
And sometimes I can’t get my head wrapped around it. And sometimes I feel like the captives in Babylon and I want to sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep for what I feel is going.
And I feel like the world is in a place where I’m so unfamiliar. I’m a stranger. And as Christians, we are meant to be strangers in this world.
A stranger in a strange land
This was never meant to be our home. we’re renters. Our permanent home is elsewhere.
But I think that there are things that happen in life, whether on a personal level, or sometimes as in this period where it’s national events cause you to feel like truly a stranger and you want to sit and weep for what’s been lost.
Jenny Wheeler: The psalm does use that phrase, doesn’t it? A stranger in a strange land, I think that’s the sense of it, if not the actual words.
Tessa Afshar: Yes, exactly. And I think, as Christians, we understand that at the very core level, we are strangers in this world. We’re meant to be citizens of a heaven.
We’re meant to be residents of Eden and our citizenship is not here. It’s in heaven. There’s a part of us that always resonates with that sense of being strangers.
This is not the way it’s meant to be.
Jenny Wheeler: In your books you create a narrative which is wonderfully detailed and believable. But how much do we actually know historically from the sources of this period? And how much of it do you have to create from your imagination?
Tessa Afshar: What a great question, Jenny. For this particular book, as far as the Bible is concerned, the Bible in the prophecies tells us about this Persian king.
What it doesn’t tell us is how does this transformation happen? How does he go from being the ruler of a fairly small country with few resources to the head of an empire strong enough to overcome the Medes and the Babylonians, the two most powerful nations in the world.
Opening doors of bronze
We are not given a glimpse into that transformation from the Bible, but the secular sources, the historians who are close to this time do provide us with quite a bit of information.
They are the ones who tell the story of the transformation. The thing that the Bible tells us is God promises this Persian king. He says, “I will equip you. I will go before you and I will open the doors of bronze before you.”
The doors of bronze symbolize that which is impossible for human hands to open, to break down. And God is saying, even though you don’t know me, I am going to do this for you. And then when you study the historical accounts. these secular accounts consistently say, ‘but this is impossible.’
How did he win that battle? This shouldn’t have gone this way. And that’s when you read it through the lens of the Bible, you realize the Lord really did equip him. The Lord really did open doors of bronze.
There is some detail that we know. My main characters are actually fictional and I’m telling their story alongside this whole historical account in the background.
There are many things we do know. The ancient Persians are also, to a large degree, tremendously mysterious to us because they don’t leave a whole lot of information about themselves.
I use what resources are available and then there are some things that I absolutely just have to make up or imagine or dream up.
Jenny Wheeler: Now those original sources, are they available in English or do you have to have help with translation? How does that work?
Tessa Afshar: Oh, goodness, no. People like Herodotus for example, the English is absolutely available and then there are secondary sources, scholars who’ve dug into these original sources and they have processed them and they are able to compare them.
Persian history seen through their enemy’s eyes
Because I’m not a historian, I write novels. And I need the help of those who are actual historians and are scholars in this area to say, yes this is what it was probably like.
And it’s really helpful because historians more recently in the last 20 years or so have discovered a lot more about Persians, because if you read the older modern sources, they’re not as reliable because they’re relying so much on only what the Greeks said without really putting it through a process of how reliable is this?
And the Greeks were the enemies of the Persians. If you read American history through the eyes of let’s say a Russian at this point or something like that.
You know that how they perceive things and how they described leaders is not necessarily always accurate.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, I know what you mean. The Peasant King follows on from a previous book called The Hidden Prince and you can read them both as standalones, but they naturally fit together, telling similar events chronologically.
And in The Hidden Prince, the prophet Daniel appears as a pretty important secondary character.
He’s not quite one of the principal characters, but for a lot of people who know that name in the Bible, even if it’s just Daniel in the lion’s den, it was great to have all of the detail filled in around what life might’ve been for Daniel in this period.
Tell us about that first book and what inspired that.
Tessa Afshar: I consider these two books a duology. Created to be standalone, as you mentioned, but personally, my preference as a reader always is to read things in order.
So if you want to read one of these books, I would say pick up The Hidden Prince, which is 20 years before The Peasant King.
It’s the events of the childhood of this Persian king and again, two main fictional characters who play an important fictional role in the story that we do have from history.
Tessa’s primary goal – to write a fun story
And I love always bringing in biblical characters as secondary characters. So we get to know them a little bit.
We get to know the biblical background in a fictional setting. I don’t want my readers to pick up these books and feel like, oh my goodness, I just wanted a fun novel, and I feel like I’m reading a Bible study.
I want them to read an exciting story. I want to keep them up at night. I want them to laugh out loud.
I want them to get a few tears in their eyes and to have a genuine experience of reading a fun novel but at the same time to bring these threads both from the Bible, from these characters and from God.
Daniel is one of those few people in the Bible that we don’t get to see the negative side of. He’s presented at this as this incredibly brave, courageous and wise person.
And I really wanted to reveal him a little bit. There, is no mention by the way, in Daniel of whether he was married or not married.
Some scholars say he might have been a eunuch, but other scholars very strongly disagree. The Bible doesn’t say he is or he isn’t. The Bible is silent.
I came to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t. And so that meant. was he a single man into his late life or he never married, which is very unlikely for someone of his position and wealth.
I decided that he was married. If he wasn’t a eunuch, then I decided he was likely to be married.
And I gave him a wife just so he could have some enjoyment in my book. I guess now I also love the character of his wife and sons play a role in the story in The Hidden Prince.
So yeah, I think the role that Daniel plays is this character who is the older man with all the wisdom, with all the faith, who comes alongside the younger ones who are in their twenties and are struggling to understand, how do I live in this world as a captive?
And then when they fail, how do I survive my failures?
‘Historical fiction written in Biblical times’
Jenny Wheeler: You write both historical fiction as well as biblical fiction. So you’ve got other stories which may not have a biblical origin, but are still set in the ancient world.
For you as an author, is there much difference between how you handle the biblical fiction and the historical fiction?
Tessa Afshar: Yeah, I think, I personally prefer the term historical fiction written in biblical times to biblical fiction because the way I look at the Bible.
There’s no fiction in the Bible, do you know what I mean? This is my source of truth with a capital T and I take that very seriously and novels by virtue of what they are inherently are made up to a large degree.
When you write historical fiction, the history informs the novel, but you’re still making stuff up. That’s the whole nature of it. Sometimes I have a main character who is in the Bible.
So my story about Rahab; my story about Lydia’ or the woman with the issue of blood. These characters are in the Bible, the main characters, I think that for me, is closer to what I would consider a biblical fiction, even though I would still prefer to call it fiction set in biblical times.
But the stories like The Hidden Prince or The Peasant King, which have central characters who are fictional for me, those are historical fiction.
Jenny Wheeler: In both books you refer to a verse in Deuteronomy which speaks of God’s ‘little by little’ approach. There’s a famous verse which a lot of people use to help them get through times when their patience is being tested about how God’s pattern often is to move little by little rather than do everything in one big rush.
I’ve seen some interesting comment that you’ve had online about this particular approach and how for our own times with instant gratification and particularly now with the digital age ‘little by little’ is even harder for us to accept than it might’ve been a few hundred years ago. Tell, talk a little bit about that.
Little by little the road to wisdom
Tessa Afshar: Jenny, I have to make a confession. I forgot that I had used that verse in The Hidden Prince as well.
I thought I was just using it in The Peasant King, which has, I think, a more central thread. And then I have a devotional coming out in the next year. So it’s part of the devotional as well.
And I think the reason this is been so much on my mind is because God has been really speaking to me through that verse in Deuteronomy, where God says to his people they’re about to come into the promised land. And he says, you will take the land little by little and not all at once. And he has a reason for that, because if they take it all at once, actually they won’t be able to be on top of it, so to speak.
I feel like our brains need to be retrained into the little by little because so many of the most important lessons of God are learned in the little by little places where when you are in pain or when you are longing for something, when there is a desire that’s unmet, you want an all at once answer.
You want the pain to go away. You want this emptiness to be filled, but it is in the little by littles, in the waiting places, in the learning to trust in God, places in the. believing in God for something places that our faith grows. As long as we receive things all at once, our faith remains childish and shallow.
But when our faith is tempered in the little by little places of God, where he teaches us to wait on him, I think that faith is much more powerful and deeper and more able to navigate this world, which sometimes can be so hard.
Jenny Wheeler: Absolutely. You lived in the Middle East in a nominally Muslim family until your early adolescence. And then you were suddenly wrenched into life in an English boarding school, which you say very nicely, you survived. That must have been a very traumatic experience for you.
Tessa Afshar’s remarkable life story
Tessa Afshar: In some ways it was. The reason I left my country of birth was that my parents divorced and my mom and my sister and I ended up going to England where I went to boarding school. So it wasn’t merely that I started attending boarding school. It was that I lost my language, my home, my father remained behind and he was the parent to whom I was particularly attached.
I lost my extended family, my friends, my food, there was a lot of loss. And that is tremendously wrenching. I think for me, that has taught me what it’s like to come into things as an outsider. And the Bible is full of people like that.
People like Rahab, people like Ruth. I think in many ways the Bible is a book of outsiders whom God turns into Insiders, those who belong to him. So I think that was an experience that I learned very early in life. And as hard as it was, Jenny, I feel like the Lord used it for great good in my life.
Jenny Wheeler: Now you converted to Christianity in your twenties, that also is quite a remarkable next step given your background. How did that come about?
Tessa Afshar: I was very blessed in that I was born to a very supportive family. My father, for example, never disciplined us kids. There were three of us, never once physically disciplined us. And part of that was because he was a physician and he didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with us at home.
He was a very busy man and he said he didn’t feel he had earned the right to discipline us like that. I had a privileged upbringing. We were nominal Muslims, so my mother didn’t wear the hijab and we didn’t pray five times a day.
My father had been trained in medicine in France and so there was a lot of kind of westernized approach to life, although we also had a very Middle Eastern, very the Islamic worldview had left its mark for sure.
Part of that I always say, for example, even from an eternal perspective for Muslims, when you are thinking about eternity, do I go to heaven? Do I go to hell? Like your eternal destiny ultimately it comes down to.
Gaining an understanding of grace
When you die there’s literally these scales that will measure your good deeds versus your bad deeds.
And it’s all up to you, how you have lived and how you have served God and whichever side is heavier, that’s the side you’re headed for.
It really impresses upon you this notion that life is up to you, whether you’re good or bad, whether you are happy or sad, whatever you accomplish in every level, life is up to you.
There’s very little grace. I had that mindset of if I am good enough, if I am smart enough, if I work hard enough, if I’m kind enough, if I’m whatever enough, if I’m enough, then I can have a successful life.
And I think in my young age I understood success to mean to have happiness and to be well, established and all of that.
And when I was in my twenties and I think that there are a lot of. Westerners, there are a lot of even Christians who have the same mindset. It’s sad.
We have almost Muslim mindsets, we forget about the deep grace of God. We forget about the fact that the Lord says the first step of faith for us Christians is to say, actually, I failed.
Actually, I have failed and I can never succeed enough to meet the goodness of God. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
So our first step as Christians is to say we are failures and we will never succeed. And that is very different from the mindset of saying, I just have to be good enough.
I just have to achieve enough. I just have to do enough in order for God to love me or in order for God to bless me. And in order to be protected from harm. I
t just doesn’t work like that. But that was my mindset. And so when I was in my twenties, I went through a very difficult season where my whole world essentially fell apart.
Reading romances in church
And that lie was revealed. The lie that I am not in control, that I cannot I cannot force my own happiness or success. And it’s just not up to me. There’s nothing I can do to change this situation. It was a very difficult year just to cope. I felt like I had wrecked my life.
I felt like I could never fix it again. And I had no recourse because I didn’t know the gospel. Now, when I was little when I was in my teens and I was in this. English boarding school on Sundays, we had to go to church. The boarding school was not Christian. It wasn’t faith based, but British boarding schools tend to be extremely traditional.
And back then, at least part of the tradition was on Sunday, you go to church. So on Sunday I went to church, but I was told because of my background to sit upstairs in the balcony and read my own book of faith, which would have been the Quran.
But I didn’t speak Arabic. And you have to read the Quran in Arabic for it to have any effect, to be efficacious from a faith perspective.
And if you read a translation, it just doesn’t count. When we say read the Quran, we think it’s the same as reading the Bible for us because as Christians reading the Bible is really foundational for our faith and developing our faith. But for the Muslims, this is not the case.
This is not one of the five tenets of Islam. It’s good for you if you read it in Arabic, which I couldn’t. I was told because I was told to read the Quran, I thought I can’t argue.
I was too shy to tell them all of this. What I did was I essentially decided. I will read. I used to sneak romance novels under my cloak to church and read romance novels, which is to say I did not hear the gospel.
And I did learn a few things about love, but I’m not sure that’s what Jesus had in mind.
My sister eight years later, because she’s younger attended the same boarding school and she actually at that time had to sit downstairs and she said she never heard the gospel either.
Sometimes you can attend a church where you don’t hear the gospel, unfortunately.
So anyway, in my twenties when I went through this really terrible time, I did not know the gospel. I didn’t have anywhere to turn to. I didn’t have the answers and I was longing for them. I was thirsty for them.
A dream that changed Tessa’s life
Then one night I went to sleep and I had a dream. And in that dream, I was by the Sea of Galilee and there was a throng of people who were followers of Jesus.
And in the dream, I saw a man walking toward me and I knew that this man was Jesus. I was very curious to see him and find out what does he look like?
When he was close enough for me to see him still in the dream state, my first reaction to him, I’m embarrassed to say, was disappointment. I think I’m going to be one of the few people in the world who’s going to go down with that reaction, with my first encounter with Jesus, because it was such a shallow response.
My reaction was disappointment because my only exposure to Jesus in my waking hours had been through a couple of movies that they would show during Easter and Christmas, both in England and I think less in the U.S. but especially in England.
In both versions, Jesus was really good looking. In one actually he was blonde and blue eyed, and in the other he looked very Hollywood good looking, but the Jesus of my dream was very plain.
And it wasn’t until months later when I would start reading the Bible, when I would see the verse in Isaiah, where it says he’s not much to look at.
But in my dream, I didn’t know that. So, my first response was “was that Jesus?” like God couldn’t do any better for his son?
As he walked closer all such nonsensical thoughts just flew from my head. I was able to see his eyes. And in his eyes, I saw such love as I have never experienced, nor will I experience on this earth.
And I’m a very loved person. I’m in a happy marriage. I have a very dear family, but the love of Jesus is utterly perfect and unbroken and mighty. It’s a love that knows you through and through. But alongside that love, I also experienced and saw a power, the likes of which I had never experienced.
Love and power irresistibly combined
Later on in the Bible, I would read that nothing was created that was created except that it was through him, that the stars were put in place through him, that named by him, that he is the one who holds all things together. That was the power that I saw in his eyes. I didn’t know all of this at the time.
I just knew that looking into his eyes, I almost fell on my knees because that combination of love and power is overwhelming.
I don’t know if you remember this verse in Philippians where it says every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And I have learned through that dream that when we come face to face with Jesus, we will bow and we will confess that he is Lord.
You cannot not do it. And so in the dream, he asked me to follow him. And I did. And perhaps the most amazing part of the dream was that in it, I knew he was the son of God. I knew he was Very God of Very God. I couldn’t have explained it. I just knew whatever he said would come to pass, even if it was an impossibility that I could rest the weight of my life on him, that he was entirely trustworthy and he was entirely powerful to do what he promised.
So I did follow him. And when I woke up, I had three days of unshakable peace in a season where I had no peace. And that was extraordinary, but I wasn’t a Christian yet because I didn’t understand the gospel. I didn’t understand what it meant to give my life to surrender everything to him.
All of my conscious questions and objections still ruled my mind and I had grown up in a house where that was very nominal, on every level.
When it came to faith, we believe that all faiths were the same, that it was a creation of God, my parents believed in God and so did I, but we didn’t believe in any religion and I didn’t understand that Christianity was different. That Christianity is not religion, that Christianity is a relationship.
I didn’t understand that. It wasn’t for a while. After that, when I returned to the States from England, where God allowed me to be surrounded by Christians, and these are bold Christians, they were loving Christians. They invited me to their home, they cooked for me, they loved up on me, and I could tell that they were different.
Living out Corinthians 13
So I kept asking what is it about you? And they kept saying Jesus. And I felt like I was above that. I said okay. But besides that, besides all your religious stuff, what is it about you? I want your secret.
And they said, no, you don’t understand the secret is Jesus. And so for a while, like it was these just crazy Christians that I fell in love with first, and it was through them that I saw Jesus, their choices were just different from everybody else’s their actions their love.
It was just so different. And I think as Christians, most of us don’t understand. We feel so ordinary. We are so aware of the ways we fail Jesus.
We often don’t recognize how much power flows through us because of the Holy Spirit. When we come face to face with unbelievers, when we open our homes to them, when we love up on them it’s Jesus himself who works through us to show himself to them.
So eventually one day. I had this thought, but what if 99 percent I’m right and they’re wrong, but what if that 1 percent I’m wrong?
What am I missing out here? And I always say jokingly, God just needed my 1%. or needed my 0. 1%. And that really was it. I don’t know how, but one day I fell in love with Jesus.
That’s all it was. I fell in love. I didn’t understand the intellectual understanding for me came afterwards. Initially I had this absolute emotional connection with Jesus where I felt like he loved me and I loved him.
It was first Corinthians 13 when I read that love is patient. Love is kind. When you read that whole passage, we read it in our in our weddings, it’s not a wedding passage. It’s great for weddings, but it’s a passage for every day.
And I realized I want to be loved like this. And I want to be able to love like this, but there’s only one person who has ever truly loved me like this, and that’s Jesus, that’s the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and I am, I’m hopelessly going to fail at it, unless He is with me and loving through me.
Jenny Wheeler: Now you went on and did a Masters of Divinity at Yale. So you really did go into the more intellectual side of it and base a logical understanding as well.
How did you then get into writing fiction? And now we just must keep it, a little bit short because we’re going to run out of time soon.
How did you make that transition from Yale and then 20 years in ministry into writing fiction.
Moving from ministry to writing novels
Tessa Afshar: When I first became a Christian, I told Jesus that this is going to be a very private thing between us, but you can’t fall in love with someone and not want to go and tell everybody about it. And I knew that I was being called into that study. And so I just did it obediently. I never knew how I would use it.
Although God opened the door for me to go into prayer ministry, women’s ministry for about 20 years. I had always wanted to be writer since I was a child.
In my twenties, I wrote a couple of serial romance novels cause that’s what I wanted to be before Jesus. I wanted to be a romance novelist, but I think Jesus had a different plan for me.
And so he closed those doors. And because I was fragile to rejection, actually I came very close to being published and they did ask me to send more books because they liked my writing. And today as a confident writer, I know that’s a really important invitation. But back then I just heard the no.
And so after that I was so afraid of writing. Every time I would start something, I wouldn’t finish it because I always told myself oh this is terrible.
No one is going to want to read this. And it wasn’t until Jesus brought some healing into my heart in that area of rejection, of fear of failure, that I with him finally finished a novel.
And that went on to be my first novel that was published.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. That’s wonderful. We do always like to ask our authors what they’re reading as well, because the people that listen to this podcast, many of them, most of them are passionate readers looking for their next good read. What do you like to read yourself? And what would you like to recommend to our listeners?
What Tessa is reading right now
Tessa Afshar: I read all sorts of things. The thing I read least of is biblical fiction because to me it almost feels like work. It’s so different from what I do that it’s not my favorite genre.
I love historical fiction. I love, some whodunits and adventures and thrillers. Right now, I’m reading a book that’s nonfiction called Women.
Who Risk (by Tom and Joann Doyle) and it’s the story of women from the Muslim world who have come to Christ and who are at great risk to their lives changing their families one person at a time, changing the world one person at a time.
I just am a great lover of books. I read every day. Sometimes I read. One nonfiction and one fiction.
I brush my teeth with a book. Books are never far from me., I also love older books like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Anything like that.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, if you had your creative career over again, is there anything you’d change? And if so, what would it be?
Tessa Afshar: I would start sooner. I would start writing sooner because, on the one hand, it’s been a blessing to be, as I call it, a late bloomer because during those years, Jesus was putting spiritual deposits in my soul.
So the books I write today, I couldn’t have written when I was in my thirties. Maybe certainly not before then, but at the same time I feel like I definitely had stories that I could have told back then, but my fear of failure stopped me and blocked me.
So I feel like – and this is probably an issue for many of us, not just for writing, but for other dreams in life as well. And it’s something that you have to press against, but press against it with God.
The Holy Spirit needs to show you the root of that fear. Why is it that failure is so scary? Why is it that rejection makes you feel like you have to reject it first before someone else can.
Learning the root of these wounds, the root of these fears will help release you into your call.
The most precious accolade of all
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. You’ve now had your books translated into many languages. You’ve been shortlisted for numerous awards and there’s lots of glowing reviews including, I love the one from Debbie Macomber who’s a best-selling romance writer who said you bring the Bible alive like nobody else.
Amongst all those accolades that you’ve had, is there one that stands out for you as most precious?
Tessa Afshar: It’s not necessarily words, but when my father was close to the end of his life, he had a copy of one of my books. It was my book on Ruth – In The Field of Grace – and wherever he went, he would take that copy with him. There are things that he would lose because he was in his nineties and he was.
Not always very present to the moment, but he held on to that book.
Jenny Wheeler: That is precious. Was he still in the Middle East then?
Tessa Afshar: No, he came to the U. S. and he lived with us for many years.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, great. So you didn’t lose that contact. That is precious.
Tessa Afshar: My father came to Christ and was baptized when he was in his seventies. That is an incredible privilege and blessing and the knowledge that one day we will be reunited? It means a lot. He was very proud of the fact that I wrote, for some reason, that was the book that he clung to.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s beautiful. Now tell me, Tessa, what is on your desk for the next 12 months? Tell us about Tessa as author looking ahead. What are you working on now and what are you hoping to achieve?
Tessa Afshar: Jenny, you’re the first person I’m going to tell about and so your listeners will be the first people who will hear about my next project just a little bit, because right now we’re focusing on The Peasant King, of course, but the project I’m working on right now, it’s called Esther’s Court.
It’s a series of three novels of three different women who work for Esther, who work in Esther’s court.
The current book is a cook who works for Esther. So Esther is in the background as a support character. You do hear from her, but she’s not the main character. The main characters are these fictional women who work for Esther and are mentored by her.
The Peasant King – out now
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds fantastic. Now, just getting back to The Peasant King, just tell us the publication date. It’s just about to be published or it’s just been published? It is new, isn’t it?
Tessa Afshar: Oh, it’s absolutely new. It officially comes out here on November 7th.
And I wanted to clarify, because I think I talked about The Peasant kKng from the perspective of the background history, just for in case the readers or the listeners were interested in that kind of thing.
But this is a story that’s told from the point of view of an ordinary woman, Gemma, and a mysterious prince, Asher, who are faced with an impossible task.
And they are both these fictional characters who both have to conquer the ghosts of their own past before they can fulfill their destiny.
It’s one of my more adventure based novels. There’s a lot of overcoming and as I said, adventure and romance going on because in the background, of course, you have this story of this impossible situation where God has to open these doors of bronze.
I think, for me, as much as this was more of an adventure novel, I also hope that my readers… will be able to connect with this God of the impossible. Because we need to remember that he’s a God who opens the doors of bronze in our own lives.
Just as they did many centuries ago for the Persian king. And I hope readers will be encouraged to face the ghosts of their own past. And remember that our choices on this earth are of profound kingdom value because I think sometimes we underestimate that.
This duology, The Peasant King and the first one, The Hidden Prince play a very special part in my life, possibly because it’s centered in Persia.
Where to find Tessa Afshar online
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, that’s beautiful. Now the final question we always ask, do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you either online or in person?
Tessa Afshar: I love hearing from my readers. I hang out on Facebook. I hang out on Instagram. My website is tessaafshar.com and I read every single message that doesn’t get caught in my little net online.
I don’t always have time to answer every single email, I’ll be honest, or every single message. I do try sometimes a year later, after you’ve forgotten you ever wrote me anything, you might hear something from me because I do backtrack.
And I just love my readers. They mean the world to me. They are… incredible. Some of the things they share, some of their prayers, it’s astonishing. So I want to thank my readers and say, come and hang out with me in any of those places.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. And we’ll have all of those links in the episode show notes as well. Look, thanks so much, Tessa. It’s been wonderful talking to you today.
Tessa Afshar: Jenny, you are wonderful. You’re a sweetheart. Thanks for all the great insightful questions and blessings on your listeners. Bye
Jenny Wheeler: Thank you. Bye now.
Tessa Afshar: Bye.
If you enjoyed Tessa Afshar you might also enjoy Lindsey Davis and Ancient Rome
Lindsey Davis has had a long and celebrated career as the creator of the Falco and Flavia Albia mysteries set in ancient Rome. But when she started out, publishers weren’t interested in the period.
Nobody, they told her, wanted to read about ancient Rome. She persevered, brought ancient Rome to life, and created a whole new sub-genre in popular fiction with lots of authors following in her footsteps.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and today Lindsey talks about her remarkable series – first with 20 Marcus Didius Falco books and now 8 books in a follow-up series with a female investigator, Flavia Albia.
Next week on Binge Reading
Next week on Binge Reading. Historical mystery author Jim Eldridge and his World War II mysteries, the latest one is Murder at Down Street Station.
Who knew that before Winston Churchill moved into the now famous underground War Room banker, he took refuge from the Luftwaffe’s bombs in a disused underground station.
Fact is so often stranger than fiction.
That’s next week on The Joys of Binge Reading podcast. And just a reminder before we go. If you enjoy the show, leave us a review so others will find us too.
That’s it for today. See you next time and happy reading.