Elizabeth is a Georgia native but lives in Lyon, France, where she and her husband serve as missionaries. A novelist who writes what she calls “entertainment with a soul,” she has authored acclaimed novels including The Dwelling Place and The Swan House, which was named one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year and one of Georgia’s Top Ten Novels of the Past 100 Years. Look for Two Testaments, her sequel to Two Crosses, in stores now, and Two Destinies, the third book in the trilogy, set for release in September 2012. The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a brand new grandson. Before we start, here’s the story of Two Crosses in a nutshell:
The glimmering Huguenot cross she so innocently wears leads her deep into the shadows.
Elizabeth: When we first moved to Montpellier, France, as missionaries in 1989, I didn’t even know that Algeria was located just across the Mediterranean Sea from France, but I soon learned a lot about both France and Algeria. The first two books in my Secrets of the Cross trilogy take place during the Algerian War for Independence from France (1957-1962). I chose this setting, knowing that most Americans were completely unfamiliar with that war. Yet daily, the papers were being filled with news of Algeria because of the civil war that was going on in that country. I felt Algeria and France would provide a unique, new setting for a novel.
Living in the south of France, I also met many people who had lived through the war, either as French citizens, military or Algerians, and interviewed some of them. I was able to visit all the amazing historical sites in France which would be included in this trilogy. What was right before my eyes was more fascinating that anything I could have dreamed up! I decided to weave some of the French Protestant history into this series, thus choosing the Huguenot cross as a main symbol.
Another inspiration came from the semester I spent as a student in Aix-en-Provence, France where I discovered a completely new world. Finally, I enjoyed including my love for art and literature in the novel.
Edgewise: If you were to describe the Huguenots to someone, what would you say about them? What do you find inspiring about this culture of people?
Elizabeth: The name Huguenot was given to French Protestants who were influenced by Martin Luther’s preaching early in the 16th century, and who later established a reformed church following the teachings of John Calvin. By the middle of the 16th century, there were about 2,000 congregations and perhaps 1.5 million believers. As the French Protestant church grew it came into increasing conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and the monarchy. The continuing effort to eliminate rather than tolerate these Protestants resulted in a century of bitter persecution and fighting. During the 17th century, many Huguenots were tortured and killed for their faith. Others were forced to abdicate or be imprisoned or worse. Many Huguenots fled to other countries where they were welcomed. As I studied these people, I was especially inspired by their love for Christ and their willingness to suffer for what they believed. They endured terrible persecution, yet most held steadfast to their faith. I include bits and pieces of their stories in Two Crosses.
Edgewise: Did research for this book take you out of France?
Elizabeth: Only in my mind! It was actually quite dangerous to travel in Algeria while I was writing the trilogy Two Crosses, Two Testaments and Two Destinies (1994-1998) because of the civil war going on in that country. However, there are many Algerians living in France, and especially in the south where I lived and I was able to interview Algerians, French citizens (pied-noirs) who had lived in Algeria until the independence, as well as many missionaries who had served in Algeria and were now living in Montpellier. I researched books, watched documentaries and learned an incredible amount, much of which never made it into the trilogy, but I needed to know the details so that the story was believable.
Edgewise:What’s your typical writing style? Plot and outline or does the story develop as you go?
Elizabeth: I would say that I use a mixture of the two. I usually have a fairly detailed synopsis which includes a pretty good idea of the plot and some sort of outline of the chapters, as well as character sketches of the main protagonists but there is quite a bit of the story that develops and changes as I go along. The characters rarely behave as I had originally planned=)
Edgewise: Did anything happen in the book that surprised you?
Elizabeth: David and Gabby just kept getting into arguments and Gabriella really had a hard time learning to keep her mouth closed!
Seriously, with historical fiction (even recent historical fiction, as this book is) the writer must do extremely careful research. But there is still a large part of the story that is fiction. What surprised me was that after I had written a good bit of Two Crosses, I found newspaper articles that confirmed some of the fictive parts of the story. Truth is truly stranger than fiction! For instance, as I researched espionage tactics, I found out that some of my crazy ideas had actually been used during the war.
Edgewise: Tell us more about the series that Two Crosses is a part of:
Elizabeth: Here is a brief summary of each:
Two Crosses: In late 1961 as Algeria’s war for independence from France is coming to a close, two crosses, symbolic of another time in history, draw together a host of characters in an unforgettable story of love and war, forgiveness and revenge. (Available June 1, 2012) Two Testaments: In March 1962, as the ceasefire takes effect in Algeria’s war of independence from France, extraordinary circumstances force ordinary people to question their preconceived notions of faith, trust, and control. (Available June 1, 2012)
Two Destinies, set in France and Algeria near the end of 1994, is the story of the persecuted church in North Africa, the terrorist activities in the midst of Algeria’s civil war, the desperate homeless people in France, and courageous individuals willing to risk their lives to help those in need. (Available September 1, 2012) As I’ve said, these novels are historical fiction and they have quite a history themselves!
The first two books in this series came out in the mid 90’s, but a company buy-out led to a moratorium on adult fiction – thus the third book was never published in English. In spite of that fact, all three books have been best-sellers in Europe. Then in 2010 David C Cook Publishing House contracted the revision and republishing of the entire series.
I find the issues addressed in these novels more timely and relevant to Americans than when I first wrote them. Ever since 9-11, Americans have become much more aware of the Muslim world. In these novels, I tackle faith questions and issues which Americans now read about and see on the daily news.
Edgewise: What do you love most about your life in France? And the least?
Elizabeth: What I have appreciated during our almost 25 years in France is the slower pace of life in this country. Our ministry calling has often been very challenging and stressful, but I have grown to appreciate the French mentality that bigger is NOT better, than Sunday afternoon walks and eating meals together as a family are very important. As I said once, walking to the bread store each day to get your bread and hanging clothes out on a line to dry are not wastes of time!
Oh, by far the hardest is being far away from those we love—our family and friends. Now, even our sons are in the States. Although we raised our two sons in France, they returned to the States for college. Our older son married a wonderful girl and they just had their first child. Being far away from our first grandchild is very hard right now. It never gets easier or less complicated to live in another country.
Edgewise: What has God shown you in your years in France that you probably wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?
Elizabeth: God has shown me that He is enough, and He will provide. I have had to depend on Him in so many ways that I didn’t need to during my comfortable years in America. I’ve learned that inasmuch as I depend on Him in every area of my life, He is faithful to provide: financially, emotionally, spiritually, provide ‘family’ when our family is far away, provide opportunities to share His love to a very doubting society. I love what Psalm 121: 7-8 says “The Lord will protect you from all evil. He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.”
I think the person who is the most surprised that I am still in France after 25 years of missions work is ME! I’m a homebody who doesn’t like to take risks. But our great Lord has been faithful to gently push me out of my comfort zone again and again and again so that I cling to Him and trust Him for each new step. It has been a wonderful adventure and I am over-the-top thankful that the Lord has given me two vocations—writing and missions.
Thanks for being here, Elizabeth. Friends, if you would like to win a copy of Two Crosses, just drop a comment here on the blog and make sure you include your email address. Post your comment by midnight on Sunday, July 29 2012, Pacific Standard Time. Winner will be chosen by random,com. U.S. and Canada addresses only, please.