Interview with Historical Novelist Donald Joiner : Invitation to a Book
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Interview with Historical Novelist Donald Joiner

by marbob00 marbob00 on 11/04/15


frontsmallcoverGeorgia native Donald Joiner is a veteran who served during the Korean War era. A retired school superintendent and a lifelong student of history, Joiner has been married for fifty-two years and is a proud father and grandfather. He has taught Sunday school in his church for forty years. Joiner has also authored two previous books about antebellum churches in Georgia. Connect with the author on Facebook.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Antioch Testament. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: When the novel begins, it’s 2004 during the height of the insurgency in Iraq. An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group brought with them from an ancient Christian monastery in northern Iraq. Barely clinging to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully guarded bundle to an American chaplain stationed at the army base.

When the bundle is unwrapped, the chaplain finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent back to the states. Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally-recognized linguists begin the arduous task of translating it.

What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing; the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in ancient Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out. What the linguists do not know is that a fanatical Iraqi insurgent cell is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the manuscript before its secrets can be revealed.

I’ve always been intrigued by the remarkable transformation that occurred among Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. The bible tells us that before that event they had a motley collection of fishermen, laborers, and revolutionaries seeking to drive out the hated Roman occupiers and the restoration of  David’s earthly Jewish kingdom. The New Testament tells us quite a lot about them before the Resurrection, but very little afterward.

What happened to them? Where did they go? What did they accomplish? How did they die? From the fragmentary evidence left to us in early Christian traditions, I decided to tell the rest of the story. The Antioch Testament is a work of historical fiction, but it is based on early church traditions.

Q: What do you think makes a good work of historical fiction? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: 1. The historical setting is very important. Events that take place in your story must be based on actual events of that particular historical era. If you get these events, dates  or characters out of historical sequence, rest assured some of your readers will point this out and discredit you.

  1. Characters in historical fiction should reflect knowledge available to individuals at that time. You don’t want characters of the first century AD, for example, carrying firearms centuries before firearms were invented or writing on paper centuries before paper was available.
  2. The plot in historical fiction should be based on actual events that took place in that era or surrounded by known historical situations particular to the era.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I tried to develop the individual characters of the apostles based on evidence about them available to us through their depiction in the New Testament as well as what ancient church traditions had to say about them.

Ignatius of Antioch. the character responsible for telling the story of the apostles, is believed by Syriac Christians to have been appointed bishop of that city by St. Peter himself and Antioch was in fact a central by way for early Christian disciples on their various missionary journeys in the East. Tradition tells us Ignatius was a companion of several apostles and because most of them traveled through Antioch I decided that Ignatius would be the ideal character to tell the story.

Early traditions guided the plot of the story. If tradition said an apostle carried out missionary activities in Persia, I placed him there in the midst of events going on in that era in that location. Once I placed an apostle in a specific location, actual historical events guided the plotting of the story.

As an example, since tradition said St. Peter was martyred in Rome, I had to get him there and have him arrested while preaching in the catacombs, and taken to prison, then to trial by a magistrate, then to a place said by tradition to be the location of his execution.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: The army chaplain, the one responsible for sending the ancient manuscript to America, is a composite of several ministers I have known. Though very severely wounded in Iraq, he convinces his unbelieving brother to accompany him on his quest to have the manuscript translated. The character of the brother is based on someone I knew personally.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: The antagonist character  was easy to create. Osama bin Laden hated the West in general and the US in particular; despised Christians and plotted the events of 9 – 11. I modeled Zaid Al Rifia, the leader of the fanatical Iraqi cell, on what we know of bin Laden.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Throughout the book I placed telephone conversations between Zaid and his agent in America telling about the efforts of the insurgent group to track down and get their hands on the manuscript. Something outside the regular storyline can add tension and excitement to the main theme of the story.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I utilized a map of the Roman Empire with place names of the first century AD. I also inserted large chunks of historical events such as the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in Judea, the struggle of Queen Boadicea against the Roman legions in Britain, and the war between the Romans and Persians in the East. I also inserted Emperor Nero, Roman General Vespasian, and other historical characters to lend credence to the story.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: My theme all along was to demonstrate the incredible sacrifices made by Jesus’ apostles in order to be obedient to his last command that they carry the Good News to the far corners of the world.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I think writing is hard work. Writing historical fiction can be especially difficult. You better get the historical events in the story right. There are many history buffs out there who pride themselves on knowing intricate details about various historical eras. The author may be writing historical fiction, but he can count on his readers knowledge about the historical events surrounding the characters in the novel. If he gets dates wrong or mishandles historical characters or events, the reader will be sure to share his errors with others and cross him off the ‘must read’ list.

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Title: THE ANTIOCH TESTAMENT

Genre:  Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction/Suspense

Author:  Donald Joiner

Publisher: Seraphina Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Donald Joiner, a veteran who served during the Korean War era, is a lifelong student of history.  Joiner’s passion for history shines through in his debut novel,The Antioch Testament, a sweeping, suspenseful novel resplendent with rich historical detail.

When The Antioch Testament opens, it’s 2004 during the insurgency in Iraq.  An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group has brought with them from a northern Iraqi Christian monastery.  As he clings to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully-guarded package to the American army chaplain. When the bundle is unwrapped, Army chaplain Charles Monroe finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent to Augusta, Georgia, his hometown.  Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally- recognized linguists begin the arduous task of interpreting it. What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing: the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out.  Unbeknownst to the interpreters, a fanatical Iraqi insurgent organization is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the ancient manuscript before its secrets can be revealed.   Some secrets may be worth dying for—but these secrets might even be worth killing for.

Imaginative, inventive, and intriguing, The Antioch Testament explores the lives of the apostles after the resurrection. A thoughtful and thought-provoking page-turner, The Antioch Testament is a carefully-crafted page-turner with a pulse-pounding plot, and engrossing storyline.

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