Siri Mitchell has crafted another beautiful story, as unique as it is
thoughtprovoking , interspersed with humour, delightful characters and the anticipation and heartache that characterises an attraction between a man and a woman.
Jackie Pert Harrision, a civilian working at the US Air Force Academy, has created a life for herself which is predictable and safe, protecting her emotions from the hurt of her mother's desertion. Jackie's security is disrupted when her office is divided forcing her to share with Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher, a new Academy lecturer. In order to vent her frustrations with this new situation Jackie begins an anonymous blog and is surprised at the interest it creates among readers. As Jackie starts to experience conflicting feelings for Joe, her blog becomes the only way she can express the joy, fear and confusion he has caused. When she discovers Joe has been reading the blog she is terrified he will discover her true identity and all she has fought to hide will be laid bare.
Siri Mitchell's characterization is superb! You will easily relate to Jackie and the supporting characters as realistic people who could live next door. Even Joe's initial "perfectness" is tempered as more of his history unfolds. Written in the first person, you will literally laugh and cry with Jackie, her heartache palpable to the point of agony at times but I guarantee it is well worth the ride. Excerpts of Jackie's blog and other bloggers' responses make a fascinating end to each chapter. As with Siri's other books, the message behind Jackie's journey of discovery will stay with you long after the last page is read.
Now you have read my review, keep going and read what Siri had to say in my interview with her.............
Siri, welcome to Relz Reviewz and thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into the life of an author.
Rel: Please share your writing journey with us.
Siri: I had been writing for 10 years, had written 4 books (the first no one will ever see; the second was Something Beyond the Sky ; the third was Christians Should Be More Parisian; the fourth was Chateau of Echoes ). I had accumulated 153 rejections from publishers and editors. And the thought of writing another book without a guaranteed sale was just too much to ask. So when publisher approached me about writing a fifth, I replied. “What an intriguing idea!”, all the while thinking, ‘Not on your life, buddy!” I let the idea drop for a couple months. Then God and I had a little chat. I told him concentrating on the things I didn’t have (i.e. a published book) was destroying the happiness that other parts of my life offered. Although I loved writing, I’d decided that it wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I was becoming bitter and cynical about everything. I told God I’d follow up all the trails I had at that point (several publishers to follow up with, etc.) and that if, at the end, there was no positive response, then I’d consider it a sign and stop writing. After that conversation, I got back in touch with an agent I’d contacted 4 years earlier. A month later (while we were visiting Canberra in fact) I got an e-mail that he wanted to represent me! And my last trail to follow was the one with the editor at Harvest House who had suggested the fifth story above. I got back in touch with him, scheduled a meeting, and wrote a few sample chapters. They liked what they read and contracted Kissing Adrien and Something Beyond the Sky. Chateau of Echoes was picked up by NavPress because a different author’s book had fallen off their schedule. They needed something fast and my agent sent them my manuscript.
Rel: A number of your books are set in countries other than your homeland, America (Kissing Adrien & Chateau of Echoes are both set in France). Why have you chosen to do that?
Siri: I’ve always been interested in other cultures. Even when we lived in Canada, I was fascinated by the differences in the cultures of two countries that are neighbors. Whenever I live outside the U.S., I try to look for the positive aspects of the cultures I’m living in. So many of our Christian friends assumed Europe is spiritually-dead and that we’d have a terrible time when we moved to Paris. Our experience was exactly the opposite. In writing this book I tried to show those well-intentioned friends how God is everywhere. Christianity is not an indigenous religion. Not for any people of any nation. None of us own it; we can't brand it with a national patent. But we can share it with all people of all nations. Because God doesn't just speak our language, he speaks everyone's language. I also wanted to investigate the idea that our Christianity may be cultural, not biblical. That some of the things we assume are necessary to faith are actually only necessary to our culture. I found some of the American parts of my Christianity were irrelevant in France. So what did that mean? It certainly didn’t mean God was irrelevant, it meant that my idea of him was. Since we’re created in God’s image, I think we all (even in our corrupted state), reflect pieces of him. And different cultures reflect different pieces of him. That’s why I think heaven will be so revelatory: we’ll all be together and we’ll be able to see God in his reality, not through poorly pieced together shards of him.
Rel: Have you written your books while living in the country it is set in?
Siri: Alas, no. It would have been much easier that way! I find I’m always at least one location behind. My husband is in the military, so we move a lot. From France we moved to Colorado Springs and it was there that I wrote Chateau of Echoes. From Colorado, we moved to Tokyo where I wrote Kissing Adrien. From Tokyo, we moved to our current assignment where I wrote The Cubicle Next Door (set in Colorado) and where I am currently writing a book about Tokyo. The worst part of writing about France when I was in Tokyo is that we’d put half of our books into storage (including most of our European guidebooks, because why would we need those in the middle of Japan?!) And our large wall maps of France and Paris as well. I had to buy a few reference materials like a one-way street map of Paris. I also use the internet for research. I have a very visual memory, so that helps a lot. I also prefer writing about places I’ve actually lived or visited, so that adds to the authenticity I think.
Rel: Do you read a lot Christian fiction if so who are some of your favourite authors?
Siri: I read both Christian fiction and general market fiction. Susan Meissner’s books are always heart-wringing. Ginger Garrett is my good friend and her books are wonderful. I love Tim Downs Bug-Man series – such a creative idea. I enjoyed Lorena McCourtney’s Ivy Malone books. I read Lori Wick’s ‘Sophie’s Heart’ every year; it’s like an old friend. I’m a big fan of historical mysteries. In the general market, I like Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series. I loved Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael mysteries. I guess I like history in general. I’ll read in binges: medieval histories for several months; WWI for several months, etc. One of my favorite authors is Rosamunde Pilcher. Her characters feel like normal people and her plots aren’t contrived. (Contrived plots or coincidences are big taboos for me – my editors will not let me write that way.)
Rel: Why do you write Christian fiction?
Siri: Mostly because I have a Christian worldview. I view the world through a Christian lens. I may experiment with a book for the general market if I can make the time, but it would still have themes that would be familiar to any Christian and it’s simply because that’s who I am.
Rel: Have you been published in the secular market?
Siri: No. But interestingly enough, in the U.S., Christian fiction is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry as a whole (in both Christian and secular markets). I’m not sure if it’s the same in Australia.
Rel: Please share a brief description of your journey with God.
Siri: I was raised in a Christian home by loving parents. We moved around when I was young (even spent 4 years in Canada), due to my father’s job, so we attended churches from many different protestant denominations. When it was time for university, I chose to attend a secular university. I don’t know whether it’s the case in Australia, but in America, Christians seem to have developed a separate but parallel culture. i.e. Christian schools, Christian music, Christian books, Christian fashion, Christian gyms and health-clubs, etc. I guess I just wanted out of the Christian fish bowl. Not for any bad or rebellious reason. I joined a sorority and enjoyed it, while still holding onto my Christian beliefs. While I was there, I came into contact with people making poor choices or living non-Christian lifestyles, but I was voted into the position of sorority ‘Chaplain.’ Instead of reading platitudes or reciting cute little poems, I ‘preached’ in non-threatening ways. Mustn’t have been too offensive, because I was president by my senior year. During those university years, I learned that people really watched the way I lived my life. That my actions spoke much louder than my words; that the best way to reach people was to be genuine rather than self-righteous. (And to do a lot of listening.) God taught me a lot of lessons about not judging people…which he continues still to teach me today!
Let’s see…after university I worked on campus for two years, during which time I met my husband (he was getting a master’s degree). We were engaged 6 months after we started dating and married one year (to the day) of our first date. My husband has taught me everything I know about having fun. He’s much like Adrien (from Kissing Adrien)in that way. He’s helped me understand that having fun (for fun’s sake alone) can also be a virtue.
When we moved to France (4 years), God taught me all about culture and faith and that if He doesn’t look like what I expected him to, that maybe the problem is with me and my assumptions and perceptions.
When we moved to Tokyo (2 years), God taught me that he is always with me, even when I can’t see him. That faith still works even in cultures that are very foreign. There’s only so much planning you can do ahead of time, only so much you can do to prepare. And then you just have to trust that the things you know and the things you have will be capable for the experiences that lie ahead. At some point, you have to move beyond preparation, past observation and just push out into life…however foreign to you that life might be. Maybe you sometimes feel like you’re stuck in the back of beyond; that you’re of no use to yourself or to anyone else. Maybe you feel like you’re just killing time until your life gets back to normal. The problem is that God doesn’t have enough of us to waste. No matter what you think, God has you where he’s placed you for a reason. Maybe he needs to teach you something, maybe he needs you to teach someone else something. Whatever the case may be, it’s best to just redefine ‘normal’ and get on with living life.
Rel: Borrowing one of Kevin Lucia's questions, who would you cast in the roles for "Cubicle"?
Siri: Hmm. For Jackie I’d say Selma Blair or Natalie Portman. (Actually, I would have said Winona Ryder or Ally Sheedy, but that would be showing my age, wouldn’t it?)
Joe, it would have to be Ben Browder.
Adele: Gloria Stuart
Betty: Julie Christie
Grandmother: Olympia Dukakis
Thelma: Judi Dench
Oliver: David Kelly
Rel: What are the projects you are working on now?
Siri: I just finished my draft for next summer’s release, Moon Over Tokyo (which you were kind enough to read for ‘Australian’!). The story centers around Allie and Eric, high school classmates (and enemies) who are suddenly reunited in Tokyo nearly fifteen years after high school graduation. Moon Over Tokyo is a novel that questions stereotypes on many different levels. Filled with exotic sights and sounds, from the din of Tokyo to the temples of Nikko, the shores of Kamakura and beyond, the novel follows Allie as she re-discovers her voice, re-thinks her past, and re-shapes her future.
Rel: Siri, thanks so much for your time - it has been a pleasure "visiting" with you!
Click here to see my review of Chateau of Echoes by Siri Mitchell