Monday, June 8, 2009
An Interview with Tom Davis
Let’s get right to the big question: What was your inspiration for this
Adanna’s story is based on a real story. The first time I went to Africa, I was constantly confronted with tragic real-life stories of beautiful children. It was unbearable. There was one little girl I met outside of the capital city of Swaziland; she had the most precious, innocent
face I’d ever seen. She was happy and filled with joy. Then the director of the orphanage told me her story. He said she was rescued from an abusive situation, although at first they didn’t know how badly.
They took her in and loved her as their own. She had the typical signs of neglect: filthy from head to toe; ratty, shredded clothes hanging from her body; and bruises and cuts from being hit with sticks and hands. The first day she was there, all the kids met together
in a group to play a game. When the game started, this little girl was unable to hold her bladder and had an “episode” in front of everyone. At first the teachers believed that she had never been potty trained. Day after day, the same thing occurred. They took her to a doctor and realized that the abuse was much more severe than they assumed. Both of her parents died from AIDS, then a distant uncle took her in. Her life was reduced to the life of a slave. She was forced to work fifteen hours a day, and her uncle sold her body to men in the community so he could have money for alcohol. Then he began violently raping her on a daily basis. Thus the reason for her incontinence.
Her story became the story of many little girls I met throughout Africa. It was more than I could handle. It still is. I was compelled to act and had to tell their story. I have to believe that as people read Scared, they will be moved with compassion and also compelled to act.
What other characters or circumstances are based on real life? Without revealing specifics (unless you want to), where did they all come from?
Almost every character in the book is taken from a real relationship I have with someone in Africa. For example, Pastor Walter is one of the people I admire most in Swaziland. He is a church planter who cares for hundreds of orphans in his community. I know that in times past, Walter has fed the many orphaned children he cares for while his own children have gone hungry. He’s an amazing man. The faith he has for God’s provision in his life surpasses mine in so many ways. He gives out of the very little he has, when it’s difficult for me at times to give out of my abundance. I remember when he told me about how he was called to care for all of these orphans in his village. He said that the Bible verse that kept ringing in his ear was James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion is taking care of orphans and widows in their distress.” So he said to God, “Hey, God, You know I am a poor man. Send me some wealthy people to help me.”
God’s response was immediate: “Listen, boy, put your hand in your own pocket, and give to them as I have given to you.” That’s what Walter did. Today, he cares for one thousand orphans
in eight different care points. He’s truly an inspiration to me. In fact if you visit www.ScaredtheBook.com, you can view a documentary on the life of the real Pastor Walter.
Some of the events are real. The story about the organization pretending to help people after the flood is true. African people have been used and taken advantage of in terrible ways—another reason why it’s so important that people who genuinely care get involved,
keep their word, and show them what love really looks like.
Clearly the themes in Scared are things you’re passionate about. What
drives that passion?
I believe everyone needs to know about the suffering the children in Africa endure. It’s the definition of injustice and shouldn’t be allowed to exist in the twenty-first century. I know this is difficult for people to hear. After all, nobody likes to feel helpless or guilty regarding situations such as this. I assure you that’s not my intention. But reality is reality.
What I want people to know is how easy it is for them to make a tremendous difference in the life of a child suffering in poverty. A mere five dollars can be the difference between life and death. That amount of money can provide life-saving malaria medicine, one hundred meals, or a mosquito net.
My passion is driven from the core belief that not only can everyone in the West do something to help children trapped in poverty, they must. God’s kingdom comes when God’s people tackle issues like these and change the circumstances because of their love. We are the answer, that’s why we must act.
This is your first novel. Describe the process you went through. What
did you learn along the way?
Grueling—that describes the process. I’ve written three nonfiction books to this point, and writing them came more naturally. Nonfiction tends to be more linear, which is how I’m wired to think. I’m so left-brained! Writing a novel was a completely different process. I paid the price for the years I didn’t pay attention in English literature and grammar classes in college and high school! I had to go back and relearn those English lessons in a very short period of time.
A novel is more like a tapestry. Every scene, every chapter, every word has to be woven together. And everything, and I do mean everything, has to be described. In nonfiction that’s not necessary, but in fiction it’s a must. What did I learn? I learned that anything is possible if you put all your heart, mind, and soul into it. Believe me, there were times when I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the finish line. There were days when nothing I was writing made sense, nights when nothing would come out right, and weeks when I couldn’t write because of my crazy
schedule. I probably wrote over one thousand typed pages just to get three hundred. Of course, I had the help of some brilliant people throughout the process, like Lisa Samson, Claudia Mair Burney, Moira Allaby, and Steve Parolini, who helped me chisel off the rough edges and
shape it brilliantly. In the end, I’m very pleased with how the novel turned out. It’s a difficult story, but one that focuses on the true meaning of life and where we all need to place our hopes no matter what country we live in.
How did the story change from your first draft to the published version?
There were several major changes that took place. One was Stuart’s character. At first, he was much more self-centered and egotistical; he wasn’t likeable at all. Don’t get me wrong; he of course still has many issues to work through in the first half of the finished book. His character was inspired by a man named Kevin Carter. You may not recognize his name, but you would know a picture he took. It was a photo of a little Sudanese toddler on the way to a food center who had fallen in the dirt. She was completely emaciated and obviously on the brink of starvation. In the background sat a well-fed, quite plump vulture waiting for her to die. It’s horrific. Well, Mr. Carter became famous for that shot and later won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Becoming famous for a photo like this, along with the evil and suffering he viewed through the lens of his camera was more than he could bear. He committed suicide about sixteen months after taking that photo. Here’s a portion of what he left in his suicide note:
“I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer
Stuart was headed along the same path as Kevin, but the encounter he has with Adanna changes him. He undergoes a transformation that re-creates his values and his view on life, which turns him into a new man.
I also changed the number of tragedies that happened to Adanna. Sadly, what happens to her in the book happens to millions of children in our world today. It’s injustice of the worst kind. But I couldn’t do one more terrible thing to her; I couldn’t bear it. There was a scene were she had to sell her body for a loaf of bread to feed her brother and sister, but I took it out. The ending is completely different than I wrote it the first time. It was changed about three times. Previously, Adanna didn’t die. She became a bit famous for her poem and went throughout Africa speaking on AIDS and abuse. That was heartwarming, but it wasn’t reality. This ending is the right one. It fits. It hurts, but it fits.
You include a rather sly (and subtle) reference to Children’s HopeChest in Scared. Tell us more about that organization and your role in it.
Ha, ha, yes, very sneaky of me! Without a doubt, Children’s HopeChest is my passion. It represents what I will do for the rest of my life. I’ve seen this organization save the lives of so many widows and orphans around the world. The key for HopeChest is relationships. We want
to empower people to actively engage in the lives of the poor. The heart of HopeChest is to be the living reality of that James 1:27 passage I mentioned earlier: “Pure and undefiled religion is taking care of widows and orphans in their distress.” We do that by providing for their needs in five areas: physical needs, education, medical/dental, emotional, and spiritual. It’s a holistic, redemptive, long-term approach to care for orphans in a way that is practical. Our goal is to provide the necessary love and care to widows and orphans so they become leaders in their communities. They will be the generation that leads their countries out of poverty, death, and despair. That’s what we believe.
My goal is to connect everyone who has a heart for this kind of ministry to HopeChest in a way that transforms their life, and the life of the widow or orphan they touch. If you’re interested in engaging at that level, check out www.HopeChest.org or call or e-mail me!
What do you hope readers will walk away with after spending time
in Adanna’s world?
I hope through Adanna’s voice and life, readers are moved on such a deep level about the plight of orphans like her that they are compelled to act. There’s one startling truth I’ve discovered in helping the poor in our world, and it’s this: The difference between life and death for widows and orphans in our world is me and you. Seriously! As I’ve said, five dollars can be the difference between life-saving malaria medicine and death; it’s the cost to provide clean water to someone for a year; and it also can provide one hundred meals to orphans in Africa. Every single person reading this can do that.
I think it’s also healthy to walk in other people’s shoes. Scared provides the opportunity to do that. To see the world through the life of an orphan growing up in Africa, in the midst of complete destruction is alarming. I can’t help but to ask the question, what if it was me or my kids? What if we were the ones born in a different place? This is more than just being thankful to live in America. It’s about identifying with someone else’s pain and being moved with
It’s my firm belief that God has already sent the answers to solve the world’s most difficult issues, and the answer is people like us getting involved. So take a step to help, just one, and it will change your life forever!
What are some practical ways readers can help the situation in Africa?
One, go to www.ScaredtheBook.com. There’s a contest going on right now that will help three incredible African orphans win the dream of a lifetime! An all-expense-paid education—primary school, secondaryschool, even college and university. Whenever I talk to kids in Africa, they always tell me their number one need is an education. Not food, not water. Why? Because they say that without an education, they’ll die anyway. On the Web site, you can be a part of fulfilling this dream and vote for the winner. This is a writing contest, and whoever receives the most votes will be declared the winner in each category: short story, memoir, and poetry. We are also raising a million dollars that will go in an education fund to help pay for thousands of orphans’ education. Check that out at www.OrphanEducationFund.org.
Two, you can help provide one hundred meals to needy orphans in Africa. How? Go to www.5for50.com. There are five practical steps listed that will help you really make a difference in the lives of the poor. We’ll even send you a free bracelet just for signing up. You can get my nonfiction book Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, and get educated about the problem so you can position yourself to make a difference.
My blog is another good resource, www.CThomasDavis.com. It has tons of links, stories, and resources to help you on your justice journey.
Last but not least, check out the Children’s HopeChest Web site, www.HopeChest.org. There you can sponsor a child, sign up for a trip, or find out how to be more involved.
Are there plans for more novels? Nonfiction works? What’s on the drawing board for the future?
Scared is actually the first book of a series I’m writing. The next book finds Stuart Daniels in Russia exposing one of the most villainous and evil industries on the face of the earth, the child sex-slave trade. This book is a thriller, keeping you on the edge of your seat from the very first chapter. It is a headfirst dive into the culture and history of Russia and includes a dangerous confrontation with the mafia in an attempt to free girls who are sex slaves. Stuart will be stretched more than ever. He goes underground in hiding at an orphanage and meets a little boy who is an artist and changes his life.
I’m also working on a nonfiction book that focuses on merging ancient Christian practices into our lives in a way that reveals the kingdom of God through everything we do. I’m very excited about both of these projects. Stay tuned to my blog to find out more about when these will release along with special contests I’ll be running and information about videos of Africa and Russia that helped inspire these books.