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Neta Jackson


BIO

Born in Winchester, Kentucky, in 1944, Neta Jackson is the daughter of a Christian school principal father and a school librarian mother. Her childhood took her from Boston, Mass., to Longview, Texas, to Seattle, Washington. She barely noticed because she always had her nose in a book --- when she wasn't drawing pictures of horses.

Her love of perfectly placed words never wavered. As a high school senior, she took the winnings from a Scholastic Magazine First Place Award for story writing and bought a typewriter. She hasn't quit writing since.

She planned to attend Wheaton College but spent her first year in a Bible college closer to home. Husband Dave said he is glad she did. That is where they met and fell in love. Neta stayed true to her dream of attending Wheaton the next year and left Dave behind, trusting that if God meant for them to be together, things would work out.

Hundreds of letters later they were married. After two children, one foster child and grandchildren of their own, Neta and Dave enjoy one of the most successful writing partnerships ever. Their TRAILBLAZER series and HERO TALES have stacked up such prestigious awards as the Angel Award of Merit from the Education Clearinghouse Product Review, Best Children's Book of the Year from the CBA New Zealand and the ECPA Gold Medallion Award.

YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP is a solo project for Neta.

When not pounding out another great story, Neta enjoys gardening and genealogy and adores the new experience of grand parenting. She and Dave worship at the Worship Center in their hometown in Illinois.

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INTERVIEW

January 18, 2006

Neta Jackson used to be best known in the Christian literary world as the co-author (with her husband Dave) of a 40-volume series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes for young readers. Dave, however, believed she could write contemporary faith fiction --- and pointed out that all the material she'd ever need was right there in her Chicago prayer group! Now, more than 100,000 copies and four novels later, Jackson has made a name for herself with her Yada Yada Prayer Group series.

FaithfulReader.com's Cindy Crosby chats with Jackson about her most recent book, THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS TOUGH, the racially-motivated slaying of her friend and co-author Ricky Byrdsong, her husband's recent brush with blindness and cancer, and a few of Jackson's New Year's "resolutions."

FaithfulReader.com: Your latest book, THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS TOUGH, seems more pointedly issue-driven than some of the previous books in the series.

Neta Jackson: GETS TOUGH may seem more issue-driven, but my purpose was not to tackle the problem of hate groups per se; rather it was to use that situation as a vehicle to show how real spiritual warfare is. Satan wants to "divide and conquer" and will use any means to drive a wedge between the various parts of the Body of Christ. I wanted to show up-close and personal through my characters how not only bigotry and hatred but also misunderstandings and offenses threaten to undo us on a number of levels. Good intentions are not enough. We need to stand together even when circumstances threaten to split us apart. We need to "get tough" with the spiritual weapons at our disposal --- praise and worship (which mess up Satan's working conditions, big time), praying in unity, praying in the authority of Jesus' name, and praying Scripture to keep our focus on God's promises, not on the problems.

FR: Was this book influenced by the 1999 slaying of African-American basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong?

NJ: Sure, the story situation for GETS TOUGH was inspired by our relationship with Coach Ricky Byrdsong, who was shot in the back by a white supremacist on a shooting rampage just a few years ago. Suddenly this kind of tragedy was not just a headline in the newspaper, but the devastation of a family who were dear friends. Yet God taught us so much in the aftermath of that tragedy, not the least of which was the attitude of faith, forgiveness, and trust in God evidenced by the Byrdsong family --- and how intentional we need to be about NOT letting Satan drive us apart.

FR: You and your husband, Dave, co-authored a nonfiction book, NO RANDOM ACT, based on Byrdsong's martyrdom. Tell us a little bit about it.

NJ: Dave and I were in the middle of working together with Ricky on his book, COACHING YOUR KIDS IN THE GAME OF LIFE (Bethany House Publishers), when he was murdered. And yet by God's grace, Dave and I were able to finish that book in Ricky's voice with the invaluable help of his wife Sherialyn and many of his fellow coaches. We are grateful he was able to leave this legacy, full of wisdom and insights (and humor!) for parents from his many years of coaching college basketball.

However, once we finished the book that was on Ricky's heart, we felt there was another story to tell --- a story of spiritual warfare evidenced by the contrasting stories of two men. One, a privileged young man from a wealthy home who somehow believed that to make himself important, he had to bring others down. The other, a young man who grew up in poverty, but chose to be grateful, chose to put his faith in God, chose to build other people up. We alternated the stories of the hate group that spawned Ricky's shooter, with stories of Ricky himself, showing the consequences of the choices these young men made, until finally their stories intersected on that fateful day. But the book NO RANDOM ACT (WaterBrook) is not a tragedy, but a story of faith overcoming the worst Satan can throw at us.

FR: The multi-ethnicity of your characters is one of the most appealing things about your novels. Was this intentional, and if so, why did you feel it was important?

NJ: Definitely intentional. God has blessed me with sisters in Christ from several different racial and cultural groups, and I have come to realize that it's not about being politically correct or something we "ought" to do, but how much I NEED these sisters, just as Paul talks about in I Corinthians 12. Scripture talks about Jews and Greeks (Gentiles), slaves and the free, all being knit together as the Body of Christ --- and the same is true today! Paul says we can't say to the other parts of the Body, "I don't need you." And yet, I'm afraid most people in the pew don't sense that we NEED our brothers and sisters in that Spanish-speaking congregation across town or that little storefront church on the corner or that megachurch out in the 'burbs. We too easily slip into our comfort zones when it comes to church and worship and, as a result, miss out on the depth and richness of the whole Body of Christ.

FR: I notice there is a real openness to the differences among Christians in how they worship and express faith that is emphasized in your books. How does this reflect your own Christianity?

NJ: I think I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but I truly believe that the differences in the way we worship, our different faith journeys, are meant to ENRICH the Body of Christ --- and yet too often, these differences (whether denominational, worship styles, or cultural expressions) keep us separated, even suspicious of each other. Yet, if we call Jesus Lord and Savior, then we're FAMILY. Discovering that God's family is MY family --- and like all families, they're mine for better or worse (grin) --- has been one of the most exciting chapters of my Christian journey. (And yes, it IS a journey.)

FR: One thing I've appreciated in the Yada Yada series is your realistic portrayal of marriage and parenting teenagers rather than over-spiritualizing what a Christian family looks like.

NJ: Oh, yeah. Family life is a trip, isn't it! But it's still one of God's best ideas. I'm so grateful to my husband for his faithfulness to our children and me. I love being part of a family --- even though our kids are grown and we have grandkids now. (If we'd known how much fun it is to be grandparents, we'd have done that first. :-) But I'm also learning that we never stop being a parent, though our job description changes. Now my primary job as a parent (and grandparent) is to PRAY. And that's no small potatoes. Our families are under attack and we need prayer warriors to "get tough" and "fight back"!

FR: Every Christian family I know has wrestled with some tough issues!

NJ: Family life is not perfect, even in the "best" families. Why did we think it would be? Look at God the Father --- his first two children blew Him off and we've been giving Him trouble ever since. And one of Jesus' most poignant parables is about the prodigal son, to teach us both about the love of God AND what parental love looks like. God loves us unconditionally. He is faithful even when we are unfaithful. I'm so glad we have God's example of how to love our families.

FR: Speaking of family, you and your husband of 40 years have been through a lot recently with his health. That must have really taxed your own prayer life!

NJ: Yes, 2005 was a difficult year, especially for my husband who had FIVE eye surgeries on his left eye, then found out he had thyroid cancer. He had to keep his face down for three weeks at one time; another he had to have both eyes bandaged and stay on complete bed rest because he had some retinal detachment, but they simply couldn't do another surgery without damaging his eye further. But God is so faithful, walking with us even through the darkest, scariest times.

FR: How did prayer figure into this time?

NJ: Our prayer groups --- Dave meets with a group of brothers every week, just as I meet with my own group of sisters --- held us up when our own faith faltered. I remember one night when Dave couldn't go to his group, but the women were meeting at my house, so we brought him into the living room, sat him down, and my sisters laid hands on him and prayed up a storm. And praise God, Dave's eye is stable, he can see (with the help of a contact lens plus his glasses), and the cancer was highly treatable. GOD IS GOOD!

FR: There seems to be a real emphasis on forgiveness --- both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves --- expressed throughout the books. Does this mirror anything you've had to learn in your own faith walk?

NJ: Funny you should ask that. I remember a turning point in my young marriage, when I was mad at Dave about something and it occurred to me that he didn't get up that morning saying, "How can I make Neta mad today?" No, like a lot of men (hee hee) he was clueless about something that meant a lot to me, and I suddenly realized that marriage was really about living in a state of forgiveness toward one another --- realizing we're both human and we will fail each other, we will disappoint each other. For me that meant not being quick to take offense, communicating my expectations rather than "he should know that," being quick to forgive. Of course, I didn't learn all that overnight.

FR: How about forgiving yourself?

NJ: The same is true about learning to forgive myself --- or maybe more accurately, truly receiving God's forgiveness. I used to try so hard to be "a good Christian girl" (the Jodi in me), that (a) I had a hard time admitting that I might also be at fault, or (b) if I did realize I was at fault, then I was devastated. I felt so terrible if people really knew the real me, etc. One day I asked an older Christian woman to help me know how to handle my negative feelings when other people "made me angry." As we talked together she said, "Neta, you've never accepted the fact that you're a sinner." Ouch! But it was true. Even though I grew up in a godly home, I'd never fully understood what it meant to be FORGIVEN, to be "set free"! But God's reality is that He already knows I'm not perfect, I AM "just a sinner" like everybody else, and God wants me to own it, confess it, receive His forgiveness, so He can set me FREE! It isn't about condemnation; it's about freedom.

FR: Anything else?

NJ: Another turning point in my life was realizing that forgiveness is the heartbeat of being a Christian. "Forgive one another, as I have forgiven you." What right do we have to withhold forgiveness from someone when GOD has forgiven us big time, even sacrificing His own Son, who took all the punishment for our sins. And the most amazing thing is that forgiveness not only frees the person who did wrong, but frees the person who was wronged! Because as long as I hold my resentment toward another person for what he or she did to me, I allow that situation to hurt me again and again every time I think about it. (Satan loves this.) But when I forgive, I allow God to set my spirit free.

FR: You live in Chicago, the setting for the novels. Are you a city girl?

NJ: Believe it or not, I'm really a country girl at heart! I grew up in Seattle, but I was crazy about horses and even went to stay on my uncle's ranch for the summer when I was 13. I lived in a fantasy world full of horses and dogs and ranches. I also feel lost in big crowds or mega-churches. My husband is even MORE of a country boy. He loves growing vegetables (dog-walkers along our alley always stop and admire his "designer garden"). But…God planted us in Chicago. Hmmmm.

FR: Is there anything about the city you've found you enjoy?

NJ: As cities go, Dave and I have grown to love Chicago. This is where God began to teach us about how diverse and how beautiful the Body of Christ is. And the city itself is so…alive. Chicago has a breathtaking skyline along Lake Michigan. The city is so rich ethnically --- from Greek cuisine to Cambodian grocery stores to Indian clothing stores to Irish music festivals, all kinds of cultural festivals. Even though it's a large city, many areas have a "neighborhood" feel, with block parties and neighborhood organizations. And parks! Chicago has parks everywhere. I have to admit, the beaches and lakefront parks make Chicago a very "livable" city. (Even a dog beach!)

FR: Are there some challenges living in the "Windy City?"

NJ: City life by definition is more intense, noisy, concentrated, busy. And like all cities, Chicago has its grief and pain --- the homeless, the poor, the fatherless, gangs, too many youth in prison, drive-by shootings, drug dealers --- that swallow too many families, too many children. It's a mission field at our doorstep. Which is good! But many times I feel overwhelmed, helpless, and inadequate to cope with the needs all around me. I admire those Christians whom God has equipped to make a difference on a large scale. For me, it's learning to love one person at a time.

FR: Will you stay in Chicago, then?

NJ: My husband and I still fantasize about the log house out in the country, slowing down the pace of life, being renewed by God's creation. But it would be hard to leave our multitude of friends, family, and grandkids. (Not to mention how spoiled we are with such immediate access to great libraries, museums, concerts...)

FR: Your Yada Yada books obviously resonate with readers. What do you hear from them?

NJ: If my reader letters are any indication, it's downright scary how many "Jodi Baxters" are out there! (grin) So many readers say, "I thought I was the only one whose mind wandered during worship" or "thought those things but wouldn't dare say them" etc. But seriously, my reader letters are the best reward I could have as a writer. Just to hear how God has used these novels to challenge and encourage women in their prayer life, their worship life, their relationships makes my day! Some readers ask "the real Yada Yadas" to pray for heartbreaks and challenges in their own lives (we do). But maybe the most amazing thing has been the many readers who say, "We're starting our own Yada Yada prayer group!" Literally hundreds of prayer groups have started around the country, women praying together, because of these novels. That humbles me greatly --- and also makes me want to shout HALLELUJAH!!!!

FR: Does any particular letter stand out?

NJ: The shortest reader letter I ever got really cracked me up. "I love the Yada Yadas. Write faster." (Sheesh! I wrote her back and said, "Read slower.")

FR: Who mentors you in your writing?

NJ: I belong to an online group of Christian novelists called CHILIBRIS, many whose names you would recognize. These writers freely share their craft, either in our online conversations or at our yearly writers retreat. (No outside speakers. We just share with one another.) I have learned much from these other writers and am grateful that ChiLibris has helped us as fellow writers be "encouragers along the way" rather than "competitors."

FR: How about prayer mentors?

NJ: I have a couple of sisters in my prayer group, both African American, who have taught me by example about praise as a weapon of spiritual warfare, about healing prayer, intercessory prayer, about praying NOW about everything. Also, Stormie Omartian's books on prayer and Beth Moore's PRAYING THE WORD have had a huge impact on my prayer life.

FR: You and Dave have co-authored a 40-volume series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes for young readers. What were the challenges of making the jump to contemporary fiction for adults as a solo author?

NJ: Like jumping off a cliff! See this footprint on my backside? That's my husband's foot, who kicked me off. Really, I was quite comfortable writing books for children and nonfiction for adults together with my husband as a writing team. But Dave had a vision that I could write adult fiction for women; he even said the stories were in front of my nose in my prayer group. He has encouraged me every step of the way (like making supper and doing all my promo mailings and reading my manuscripts and laughing in the right places and telling me when it doesn't work). ALSO, I am grateful Integrity Publishers took a risk on me, since I was pretty much known as a children's writer until Yada Yada.

FR: Anything else?

NJ: I'm very aware that Yada Yada has been a God-thing from the get-go. It's like bringing my measly five loaves and two fishes to Jesus, and HE is the one who multiplies them! Who would have imagined a novel about PRAYER would sell so many books? Or the prayer groups that have started as a result? Or women's groups and retreats asking me to speak about prayer and worship. (Who me? I'm still in prayer kindergarten!) But women are hungry and thirsty to go deeper with God and each other. And God has given me a precious speaking partner, Pam Sullivan, the co-leader of our real-life prayer group, to travel and team-teach together.

FR: When you're not writing --- or praying --- what would FaithfulReader.com readers likely find you doing?

NJ: Building tents in my bedroom with my four-year-old grandson (weekly overnights), trying to keep my plants and flower boxes alive, going for walks or bike rides with my husband, listening to gospel music and dancing my praise, feeding the birds and pooper-scooping the cat box, watching video movies at home, editing my digital photos and making too many photo albums…and I confess, talking on the telephone to all my sister-friends.

FR: It's January! Tell us what your resolutions are for the New Year.

NJ: Hmmm, I don't usually do New Year's resolutions. BUT I do usually ask God to give me a "word" for the year. For about 10 years, that word was about building some aspect of my faith: 1997 "Faith, not fear"…1998 "Faith is a verb"…1999 "Unhindered faith"…, etc. LAST year, however, I did resolve to read through the Bible in one year. I was so amazed that I kept at it!!! And I finished the whole Bible!!! (Well, it took me one year and three days, but hey.) THIS year, however, God has given me another "word" for the year. We were studying the psalms in our prayer group, and I got curious about all the words for how to praise God --- extol, praise, exalt, glorify, etc. So I started looking up those words. And the meaning of EXALT blew my mind: "To give LAVISH PRAISE." So that's my word for 2006 --- to give God LAVISH praise! (Even if it makes me look foolish.)

FR: How about the fun stuff?

NJ: My husband and I do have one other FUN goal for 2006 --- you might call it a New Year's resolution: To take a special trip  --- a getaway out of the country (!) to celebrate our 40th anniversary this year. Wahoo!!!!!! (Ask me next year if we did it.)

FR: I see there's a companion book to your series, THE YADA YADA PRAYER JOURNAL.

NJ: THE YADA YADA PRAYER JOURNAL (which is a 60-day devotional based on the first three YY novels and their themes --- grace, forgiveness, redemption --- came out last April 2005! It's hardcover, a beautiful book, and only $10. I would love to hear from readers who take this journey with me. The devotional was my chance to share my heart with readers and take this devotional journey together.

FR: What's the next novel you're working on?

NJ: THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS CAUGHT is Book five in the series and I'm halfway through the writing. GETS CAUGHT will be released in early summer 2006. Book six will wrap up the series (no title yet) and will be out in spring 2007. After that, I don't know. I would LOVE to do a "Yada Yada Celebration Cook Book" with all sorts of different cultural celebrations and cuisines that ordinary families could enjoy. But like everything else, I'll have to pray about it and see what direction God sends me.

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INTERVIEW

Click HereJanuary 21, 2004

Neta Jackson and her husband Dave are an award-winning writing team, best known for the Trailblazer books --- a forty-book series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes. In this interview with FaithfulReader.com reviewer Bethanne Kelly Patrick, Jackson shares with readers the inspiration behind her first solo novel, THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP. She also talks about her relationship with Dave and their roles as advocates for racial reconciliation, as well as the obstacles that people of different races must overcome when attempting to form friendships with one another.

FR: Tell us a bit about the culture from which Yada Yada Prayer Group evolved; that is, women's spiritual conferences.

NJ: Actually, I have never been to one of the really large women's conferences, like Women of Faith, attended by thousands from various states. But I have been to several in the Chicago area, held in a hotel, sponsored by a single church, in which I was a minority in a very different culture than my "comfort zone." So some of the incidents (and reactions) written into the book definitely grew out of my own experience. Frankly, I'd love to see a Chicago Women's Conference bringing together women from various churches in our local area.

FR: Did you get the idea for this book after attending one of these conferences? If so, tell us about that --- did you have an Aha! moment?

NJ: The inspiration for THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP grew out of a women's Bible study I've been part of for years, a very diverse group of women every bit as crazy and wonderful as the characters in the book. The stories of grace and redemption in the REAL group are incredible --- and it was my husband who said, "You ought to write them into a novel." I wasn't sure my Bible study sisters would go for that, but to my amazement, they've been very supportive. Of course all the characters and stories have been fictionalized. Several members of the women's Bible study went to a women's conference together, but that was after we'd been meeting together for several years. However, for the book I just turned that around and had the Yada Yada Prayer Group meet at such a conference.

FR: Talk about Jodi Baxter, the self-described "good girl" and protagonist of this book. What is her major flaw? Aren't a lot of us like Jodi?

NJ: I get a lot of letters that say, "I'm just like Jodi!" I don't think that means all those readers have the same personality or situation as my main character; but, like Jodi, we are sincere, we have a good spiritual foundation, we put on a good front to others, we want to do the right thing --- but inside we're fussing, we don't always apply what we know about God's promises and trust, we'd rather stay in our comfort zone, we're a bit judgmental about the flaws in other people while rather blind to our own. She's a bit self-satisfied, like a lot of us. Sometimes God needs to shake us up, take us through deep waters to learn some of the most basic lessons: God loves us --- no matter what! God forgives us --- no matter what! And . . . the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We're ALL just sinners, saved by grace.

FR: The other characters are an incredibly mixed (but joyously so!) bag. Did you base them on your observations, or did they come along as your story developed?

NJ: Several of my main characters --- Jodi, Avis, Florida, Nony, Ruth and Yo-Yo --- are inspired by real people in my life. Oh yes, and Stu! (Don't we all have someone who tends to get on our last nerve?) But some are entirely fictional --- like Adele, who showed up in chapter 3 and I liked the character so much, I kept her and gave her a major role. (She and MaDear play an even larger role in book 2!)

FR: Jodi has real problems with her husband's occasional beer drinking. What does this tell us about her and about their marriage? How does this further Jodi's story?

NJ: Oh yes, the beer. I wanted an issue between Jodi and Denny that allows her to feel pretty self-righteous, even though it blinds her to her own failures and sin (her anger, her jumps to judgment). That's why it's so devastating that it's Jodi's anger that triggers the major crisis in the book. To discover that she's "just a sinner" is almost more than "good girl Jodi" knows how to deal with. But that's the point. To bring Jodi --- and the reader --- to the point where we KNOW that it's only God's grace that covers our sin.

FR: Your own marriage, to fellow writer Dave Jackson, is a long, productive and loving partnership. Tell us about your relationship, and about your work as evangelists and advocates for racial conciliation and collaboration.

NJ: Oh, goody. I get to talk about Dave! Dave is definitely God's gift to me --- husband, best friend, writing partner, a true soul mate. We met at age 18 and have been married 37 years. Dave has encouraged me to stretch so much when it comes to my writing.

For many years, we've been writing books together --- especially the Trailblazer Books, a series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes for young people (40 titles!) --- as well as several nonfiction books for adults. We have different writing strengths, so we have been able to help each other --- once we learned how to take each other's "critiques!" (That'll "make or break" a marriage for sure!)

As for racial reconciliation, it's been a LONG journey --- through the turbulent '60s and '70s, dealing with our own good intentions yet many failures along the path of racial reconciliation. I think we'd pretty much given up thinking we could "make a difference" when Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein asked us to help them write their book, BREAKING DOWN WALLS: A Model for Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife. Working on that book and working with those two brothers gave us hope and the encouragement to begin right where we are: one relationship at a time.

Along the way we have realized how deeply our lives are being enriched by our sisters and brothers of color, especially those who share our faith. Several years ago we decided the next step for us was to put ourselves into a situation where WE are the minority and responsible to black leadership. That is why we became members of The Worship Center, a multi-racial and multi-cultural church that is primarily African American. God's timing is amazing, because at TWC we met Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University basketball coach. He wanted to write a book for parents called COACHING YOUR KIDS IN THE GAME OF LIFE, but needed help.

We partnered on his book --- but before we finished, Ricky was shot and killed by a white supremacist on a shooting rampage throughout Chicago in 1999. We were devastated by the utter waste of such hate --- but by God's grace we were able to finish his book with the help of his amazing wife, Sherialyn Byrdsong. But that whole experience lit a fire within us to write another book, exposing the seeds of hate that divide us. So Dave and I wrote NO RANDOM ACT: Behind the Murder of Ricky Byrdsong (Waterbrook, 2002). Writing that book was a watershed for us. "We've come this far by faith . . . can't turn around . . .!")

FR: Do you belong to a prayer group like Yada Yada? If so, how long have you been involved?

NJ: Yes! At one time we all belonged to the same church. Then as people went elsewhere, the group disbanded. But while I was writing Yada Yada, several of the sisters said, "We really NEED that Bible study and prayer." So the original group came back together, with a few new additions --- only now we represent several different congregations in our area of Chicago. It's been such a gift to me! --- not to mention a gold mine for new story ideas. My Bible study sisters laugh (so far!) and say, "We better watch what we say or it's going to end up in Neta's book!"

FR: One of the things the women in Yada Yada do is to visit each other's churches. However, none of them belongs to a mainstream Protestant denomination. Why?

NJ: That's a good question. I haven't been asked that before! Probably because I've never been part of a "mainstream" Protestant church (my background is primarily evangelical in either nondenominational or Anabaptist congregations), and the women who inspired "The Yada Yada Prayer Group" come from some of the traditional black denominations. But I think that would have been good --- and maybe it's not too late! We don't yet know Stu's background . . . hey! You've given me an idea!

FR: As mentioned, you work towards racial collaboration, and you include a lot of it in this book. Friendships between Jodi and Florida, Jodi and her boss, etc., illustrate that these women have more in common than they would ever have imagined. What is the greatest barrier to friendships between women of different races in our society?

NJ: Sometimes it's lack of opportunity. As the majority in our country, white Christians still function in "mostly white" situations --- especially in our neighborhoods and too often in our churches, places we often make our friends. And vice versa --- most blacks and Hispanics worship in black or Hispanic congregations. In many ways, we are still a largely segregated country.

Sometimes it's lack of understanding. White folks don't really have to deal with issues of race, not in the same way blacks or Hispanics or other minorities in our culture do. We can take it or leave it. But that's not true of others who must function in a white society. We can't get all our learning from books about the "issue." Some things we will never understand until it's our friend who is dealing with the effects of racism. We need to walk the journey together, be there for each other, be willing not to talk so much and learn to listen.

It takes INTENTIONALITY to step outside our comfort zone to make friends. We have to believe it's important. We have to get rid of our motive of doing something "noble" and instead realize how much we need each other. Christian sisters from other races and cultures have so much to give each other. I have learned so much about "walking in faith," about praising God in the midst of truly difficult circumstances, about compassion and strength.

And it takes being willing to hang on during the hard times. There will be hard times in ANY relationship if it goes deep enough. I tell you, there have been times I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails! That's one reason our women's Bible study keeps our focus on the Word and on prayer. Because sometimes that's the bottom line, the glue that holds us together.

But don't get me wrong. It's also been a journey of LOVE and FRIENDSHIP, downright FUN, and bellyaching LAUGHTER! Sometimes we tend to take ourselves so seriously. It's healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves and with each other.

FR: Another collaboration, both racial and religious, that you use in this book is between Christians and Jews --- one member of the prayer group, Ruth, is a Messianic Jew who runs a deli where they serve traditionally Jewish foods. What is the greatest barrier between Christians and Jews today? What do these women teach each other?

NJ: I explore that a little more in the second book. Yada Yada attends services at Ruth's Messianic congregation during the Jewish high holy days --- Rosh Hashanah etc. I try to highlight how much our Christian spiritual heritage is rooted in the Jewish faith, especially the concept of "remembering" God's faithfulness through the Jewish festivals, as well as those prophets who "repented on behalf of the people." It's very powerful when you bring it down to some of the conflicts in the book that have both personal and racial overtones.

As for the touchy subject of sharing our faith with Jewish brothers and sisters --- I think one of the most important things (in ANY kind of cross-racial or ethnic or cultural or religious situation) is to learn to SIT AND LISTEN for a while. Don't come charging in with all the pat answers. One of my Christian author friends decided to do just that, and attended a weekly Torah Study at a nearby temple for five years. They knew he was a Christian, but he came primarily to learn. The result was a wonderful book titled THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MOSES by Athol Dickson (Brazos/Baker, 2003), which has helped my own understanding of my spiritual heritage.

FR: There are many other examples of Christian reluctance in your book --- Jodi's jealousy of one woman's poise and money; Yo-Yo's slow acknowledgement of her growing faith; etc. Talk about how you used the women's stumbling blocks to advance character development.

NJ: Yikes! Isn't it suppertime or something? You ask such challenging questions!

I guess I'm just trying to be honest about the often messy road to growing up spiritually. It's fun to give that messiness to my characters instead of having to own up to it myself! But in my experience, every person has both strengths and weaknesses. One of my weaknesses was not wanting to admit my weaknesses! (The Jodi Syndrome) So in giving each character some areas that need work, as well as areas of strength, and having to confront choices --- that's like real life. I like the term "character development," because I definitely want my characters to be moving forward, but the only way to do that is by confronting our weak areas and being willing to grow. A not always comfortable process --- but it sure beats the alternative!

FR: Where did your central metaphor of the mismatched socks come from --- was it something you had in mind, or did it grow as you wrote?

NJ: Shhh. I didn't think about the socks until I saw the cover design and I thought, this designer is brilliant! She captured it! So . . . I worked the "crazy mismatched socks" into my story. All thanks go to my wonderful cover designer, who probably has no idea how many books the cover alone has sold.

FR: Will the Yada Yada Prayer Group's saga continue?

NJ: Yes! In fact, I just finished the second book, THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS DOWN. I introduce a new character, based on a true story, and it is a powerful story. I am so grateful this woman agreed to let me use her story in this way. It was a very emotional book to write because her story is entwined with Dave's and mine, so in some ways this is a very personal book --- though fictionalized, of course! Several other threads get picked up from book one and take on a life of their own in book two --- even took me by surprise!

I also have a contract for a third "Yada Yada" book, following the same characters, so I will be starting that soon (I hope). Fortunately there are several characters who need to rise to the top, situations not neatly resolved, so I think there is plenty of story material left.

FR: The men in these women's lives play an important role in the book, too --- could you talk about that a bit, please?

NJ: I am a strong believer in the importance of friendship and "sisterhood" among women, and I wanted to write about that. But I also truly believe that men and women were made in the image of God, we both have qualities that reflect God's awesome complexity, and in God's perfect order, men and women need each other and complement each other. The men in Yada Yada aren't perfect by any means --- just like the women! --- but I also hope I treat them sympathetically. I care about them. I want them to grow, too.

FR: This book is yours, not something you wrote with your husband. Do you see the two of you working on more individual projects in the future?

NJ: This is new for me! We've worked on so many book projects together, that it was pretty scary diving into writing a full-length adult novel on my own. As usual, it was Dave who kept saying, "You can do it! You can do it!" After we concluded the Trailblazer series, we decided to try some individual projects. Dave is working on some great ideas --- he loves research, even for novels. At the same time, I am also working on some children's books. I have a picture book, GRANDMA AGGIE AND THE BLESS YOU BIKE RIDE, coming out this spring, and two "pet parables" coming out this fall --- both from Kregel Publications. Frankly, I love writing for children. It's the adult novels that have taken me by surprise.

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