Keith Clemons, author of Mohamed's Moon, as well as four other critically and financially successful novels, is in the spotlight for the Christian Fiction Blog Review this week. While I will be posting a review on Friday, today I want to share an interview with the man behind Mohamed's Moon.
**Most of the authors I know aren't able to make a living on their writing and have to have a "day job" to pay the bills. What about you?
KEITH: Alas, I have to admit this is true of me also. There will always be those who write one book and end up with a bestseller, but that’s not true for most. The vast majority of authors depend on a gradual slow build, gaining a wider reading audience with each new book until they have enough readers to provide a steady source of income. That’s certainly been true for me. For most of my writing career I’ve had to work to support my writing habit. Nonetheless, every one of my books has sold more than the one before. I actually believe my latest novel, Mohamed's Moon (which for me, is book number five), will be the breakthrough book that allows me to earn a living by my craft. And I have book number six already at the publisher waiting to follow it up.
K: While I want my books to be as engaging as possible, I don’t see myself as ever writing merely for the sake of entertainment. The Lord always gives me a message He wants me to convey. Thus, I wrote about the downside of euthanasia in If I Should Die, the effect Hollywood movies have on our youth in Above the Stars, the heinous act of child trafficking in These Little Ones, and the potential loss of our religious freedom in Angel in the Alley. Mohamed’s Moon, my latest novel, is geared toward helping people understand the differences between Islam and Christianity. All of these topics are as relevant as headline news, which is the very thing talk show hosts love to discuss, so, yes, I have been blessed to appear on numerous radio and television shows.
**Someone told me that your other books were self-published, yet they have all won awards? That's pretty amazing. I know you aren't the kind who looks for the glory, but what are some of the awards?
K: I have been blessed to have received six writing awards to date. If I Should Die was the winner of The Word Guild’s Christian Writing Awards, Best Contemporary Fiction category in 2004. Above the Stars won The Word Guild’s Best Contemporary Fiction in 2005 and received an Award of Merit the same year from the IPPY Awards for Religious Fiction. These Little Ones won The Guild’s Best Contemporary Fiction in 2007 and was also the winner of the TWG Independently Published fiction award. And Angel in the Alley won an Award of Merit in The Word Guild’s Independently Published Fiction category in 2008.
But while awards are great, if you’re looking for something to hang on the wall, the real miracle was the distribution I received. For a self published author to get their books into a broad base of bookstores is a nearly impossible. Yet the Lord has blessed me with the ability to get these books into virtually every Christian bookstore chain, as well as on the shelves of hundreds of independent bookstores. This, not the awards, it what has enabled me to garner such a wide reading audience.
**What was the subject matter of some of your other books? Are they all suspense?
K: Without intending to, I jumped the gun and addressed the subjects I’ve written about in a previous question, i.e. euthanasia, child trafficking, religious freedom, etc., so I won’t belabor it again, however, with respect to whether all my books are suspense, I would have to say, yes.
I don’t think I ever set out to be a mystery/suspense writer. I actually wanted to write books about people facing tough situations, how they respond, and the subsequent change it brings about. I wanted to write literature, but literature, in the classic sense, often moves too slow, so I began using mystery and suspense to hold the reader’s interest. Now I find my novels being described a real “page turners,” and the cliché “I couldn’t put it down,” being the phrase readers use most to describe how they feel about my books. That said, I still strive to use lavish descriptions to give my characters life and make the scenery real so the reader will see and feel everything the character is going through.
**Mohamed's Moon has been published by Realms, which is a division of Strang and a pretty major player in Christian publishing. Other hopeful authors would like to know how they came to publish your novel?
K :As already mentioned, I started off by self publishing, not because I wanted to, but because I believed it was what the Lord wanted me to do. It’s a long story, and rather than be tedious in spelling it out, suffice it to say that while I was still writing my first manuscript, I sought the counsel of several men I knew and respected to get their advice. I wanted their insights on how to go about getting published. Each of these men, Ron Hembree, the president of Cornerstone Television in Pittsburgh, Grant Jeffery, a highly prolific author and speaker, and Chuck Missler of Koinonia House, had published their own work. I didn’t know this, of course. When one-by-one they each advised me to do the same, I felt the Lord was speaking to me. God often does that. He’ll tell you something you may not particularly want to hear, and then confirm it through others. The first two times I went away shaking my head saying, “That’s not for me,” but the third time I figured I better pay attention. So, with a copy of Dan Poynter’s The Self Publishing Manual under my arm, I went out and published my first book.
The way Strang entered the picture is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. Self-publishing is a hard road to take, though it does have its rewards, but by the time I’d published book number four, I was growing weary of trying to do everything myself. It’s hard enough to write a book, let alone publish and promote it. I began to pray, “Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can continue this, but I want do what You want, so if You want me to continue, please give me the strength."
Unbeknownst to me, around the same time as I was praying, my fourth book, Angel In The Alley, was read by someone who knew someone at Strang Communications. They sent them a copy and the next thing I know, I received a call from Strang asking if I would be interested in having them publish my work. It’s not often a publisher goes out of their way to sign an author; it usually works the other way around. I had always said I would continue to self publish until the Lord showed me it was time to do otherwise, so I took it that this was what He wanted. Now I’m published by the Realms imprint of Strang and have a contract for the next few books I’m to write.
**What was it that caused you to write Mohamed's Moon in the first place?
K: I have a good friend, whose name is Mohamed, who grew up in Egypt as a Muslim. He was actually a member of President Mubarak’s personal security force when he came to know Christ. The story of his conversion and the persecution he underwent, which included several attempts on his life, inspired me to write about what Muslims experience when they embrace Christianity.
As it happened, once I started writing, the book took a different course and ended up being set in the U.S. and became less about persecution and more about comparing the differences between the two religions.
However, the idea of writing about the suffering Church didn’t go away. Hence, I have written a sequel that deals more explicitly with this topic. It is currently at the publisher’s under the working title Mohamed’s Song and is scheduled for release early next year.
**I know the main characters were not based on the life of your Arab friends, but were there some parts of their stories that were incorporated into your novel?
K: No, actually, while my friend Mohamed proved to be a valuable resource in terms of maintaining the book’s accuracy and integrity, we were careful not to incorporate elements of his own personal story. God has taken Mohamed through great suffering, but He has also given him a fantastic ministry that reaches Muslims worldwide. Mohamed teaches the Bible on the internet in Arabic, through which he has seen hundreds of Muslims come to know Christ. We are reserving his story for a book of its own.
**Your characters are all rather well developed. Who is your favorite and why?
K: That’s a really tough question. Asking an author who their favorite character is, is like asking a mother which one of her children she loves most. I like them all, I just like them for different reasons. They are flawed, to be sure, but I hope to be able to show God working through them, and ultimately so see His glory revealed in their lives. That said, if I had to pick one, it would probably be the small minor character I called Sami. He’s just an old grizzled servant, but I like the way his character reflects the good side of Muslim people.
**As I read through the book, my mind was filled with so many thoughts and questions. It would be a great book for a discussion group. What are some of the things you would hope for readers to take away with them after reading Mohamed's Moon?
Mostly, I want them to experience God’s love, especially in contrast with the god of Islam. In Islam, Allah has ninety-nine names, or attributes, but not one of them is “love.” He is “Awesome,” “Great,” and “Powerful,” but not loving. In Christendom, the Apostle John tells us “God is love.” In Islam, God is unknowable. In Christianity, God is approachable and desires that we know Him.
While it’s not likely many Muslims will walk into a Christian bookstore and buy this book, it is my fervent hope that Christians who read it will pass it along to their Muslim friends. The vast majority of Muslims are good decent people who shun terrorism, and want nothing to do the extremism that gives Islam a bad name, but they’re still lost in a belief system devoid of hope. As with every other world religion, Islam claims that deliverance from God’s judgment depends on the good works you do, and the expectation of His mercy. Muslims everywhere need to know that God loves them, and that through Christ, and only through Christ, can they receive an absolute assurance of salvation.
I would also like to encourage Christians everywhere to pray for Muslims. I meet with my friend Mohamed and a small group of believers every Monday evening specifically for this purpose. And we know of more than fifty other groups doing the same thing.
In most Arabic countries, it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. Both Iran and Egypt have laws working their way through their respective legislatures to make the crime of conversion punishable by death. Saudi Arabia will not allow Bibles into the country. The constitution of Libya states that all Libyan citizens must be Muslim. Virtually all Islamic states are closed to missionaries. But our prayers can change this.
There was a time when the Communist states of Russia and China were closed to the gospel, but the church prayed and today the walls have come down. In Russia, my friend Ilya Bantseev pastors a church located in Novokuznetsk Siberia with over a thousand believers. And the largest and fastest growing church in the world is in China. Praise God, our prayers can make a difference!
Thank you so much for your time and a lot more food for thought, Keith.
If you would like to read an excerpt from Mohamed's Moon, it is posted in a FIRST Wild Card Blog here from May.
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