Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Delightful Author and A Great Book

It's been tucked away in my mind and on my computer, and I'm so excited now to share with you my interview with author DiAnn Mills. She has written many books, both historical (how I first discoverd her) and contemporary. Last year she began a new series in a new (for her) genre, suspense, with the Call of Duty series. I reviewed Breach of Trust last spring, just a few days before I had the privilege of meeting DiAnn in Dallas at the Book Expo. Now the second novel, Sworn to Protect (it underwent a title change late in publication), is out and it is just as phenomenal as the first book was. Enjoy my visit with DiAnn as we discuss both of these books, as well as her philosophy of writing.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

My husband and I were married in 1994. In 1996 he said, “Would you stop telling me that someday you’re going to write a book? Just do it. Quit your job; I’ll give you a year. If you can get anything published, you don’t have to go back to work.” And I said “Okay, I will!” Never realizing that sometimes it takes people years and years to get anything published, but I was blessed. I started getting articles and devotionals and short stories published and working on a book at the same time. I took it on as a full-time job. I worked a minimum of 8 hours a day. I read the books that writers write about writing. I read in the genre that I wanted to write. I attended and participated in workshops and conferences. And I wrote and wrote and wrote, and my first book came out in 1998, which was very much a blessing. And Breach of Trust was #43, I think.

Wow, that’s a bunch.

Now I also wrote a lot of novellas, which are short and don’t take much time to write. And when I started, my youngest was a senior in high school, so I had the time.

So did you start out with historical? Has that been your main genre?

My first one was a historical; my second was a contemporary. But I’ve always wanted to write a suspense novel.

What drew you into that?

Personal preference in reading. I like things a little edgier, by which I mean a little twist, a little turn. I like a good love story, but I want something else with it. So there are a lot of dead bodies in my books! Not to glorify violence or anything like that, but a situation in which a Christian protagonist reacts or responds according to a Christian worldview rather than a worldview that doesn’t glorify God. And I’m being really serious about that, in that I want the Truth shown. That’s one of the most important things to me: to show Truth.

That’s one of the things I appreciate about your books and some others I’ve read. I’ve read some pretty sappy Christian fiction, and that’s not realistic. Jesus didn’t even live or talk like that.

Right. He was in the bars; He was down with the street people. And I don’t care how good a Christian you are; bad things happen to good people - that’s life! We wouldn’t grow in our faith if bad things didn’t happen and we didn’t return to God and learn from it and go on from there.

One of the themes I really liked in Breach of Trust was Paige struggling with the aspect of being a Christian and going back to being a CIA operative and how that played out because there is a certain amount of deception and killing. What made you go down that road? Do you know some people (and did they tell you and then say “I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you”?!) How did you research that?

First of all, when it came to getting research for CIA, I phoned [Washington] D.C. and asked to speak to a P.R. person. Which was kinda funny – I spoke to a man and told him who I was and why I was calling, and he said “Excuse me for just a minute.” And I thought, “Oh now he’s going to turn on the recorder.” When he came back, I asked him, “Did you tell the fellow in the next cubicle that you wished you hadn’t picked up this phone?” And he laughed. But there are only so many things that they can tell you, or they wouldn’t be a secret, operative agency. They can tell you ,“That would never happen” or “We would never do that”. And I asked for any movie recommendations (there weren’t any) and any books that I could read that would give me background and information. And that’s how I did the research.

But as far as Paige is concerned, I just put myself in her shoes. What if I were an operative? How far would I go? Do I believe deception is wrong in the course of security? That kind of thing. And the truth of the matter is, some of us are called to do things that other Christians don’t understand, like she was. I remember the scene where she was standing in front of the mirror with the wig and the short dress and the “come and get me” look and wondering how far she should go -- remembering, of course, before she was a Christian, and how far she DID go. And I wanted to show that as a legitimate part of everything we do. What is the line? How far should we go? How has God called us to handle that type of situation? And I think it went right back to Rahab in the Bible.

So yes, I think some of us are called to do things a little bit differently. You mentioned that some Christian authors write very sweet things and there’s a lot of scripture and there’s a level of “preachiness”, as some of us might say, and some others, that’s what they want. But I don’t believe in that. I believe in reality. We live in a sinful world. We are “in the world, not of the world” and we have to respond and react accordingly. I hope that answers your question.

Absolutely. Now, the next book in this series, it’s not a follow-up; each book is a stand-alone but they’re the same type of novel where someone works in a certain position.

That’s right.

The next one is about border patrol?

Yes. I went to McAllen, Texas and rode the line with some border patrol agents who were very, very sweet. And they have a TOUGH, tough job. I was amazed at their dedication, their loyalty to each other, their commitment to their job. So there was a driver and then there was another agent riding in the back seat. And we were standing along the Rio Grande [River] and we kept getting closer and closer because I wanted to see. And he’d say, “Ma’am, ma’am? Do you see those people on the other side?!” But I wanted to see it all!

Anyway, it’s about a woman who’s a border patrol agent. She was married to a Mexican-American, and – this is all I will say – on the day he was murdered she found out that he was pro-immigration. She was a border patrol agent, stopping the illegals from coming in, and he was pro-immigration. And he was doing some things that would cause her to lose her job and she gave him a choice – "me or what you’re doing". And he was murdered that day. So it’s two years after that and [she has] a lot of guilt. I show both sides of the immigration problem, and I did that purposely, to show those that are against the illegal immigration and those who are for it and why, and I wrote it from the viewpoint of the immigrants coming in and the border control. And I did that for a reason; I wanted to be fair and unbiased with the situation as it is. And it is big in the news now; that was surely a God thing. I loved writing that book.

I loved Breach of Trust. In fact, it’s set in Oklahoma. My husband’s from Oklahoma, more of a rural area. We were driving through Oklahoma, and I happened to think, “What would happen if a CIA operative had to hide out somewhere, that her family thought she was dead, and [she had] a whole new identity?” and I thought, "yeah, this would be it." Rural Oklahoma, the middle of nowhere. And what could I have her do? Well, I’m a church librarian, and librarians have this certain connotation, and I thought, “Okay, that’s it! That’s what she’ll do.” So I had a good time writing it.

And I had to use Africa. I have a big passion for Africa, especially for the Sudan, so I was able to put that in there too.

Now I’m so different – I’m a cut-and-dry organizer. And you just think up things out of the blue. How do you just dream up something about a border patrol [agent] or whatever?

I think it’s just the way my mind works. Let’s say you’re driving in your subdivision, and you see a roll of carpet on the curb. You think, “Oh, they got new carpet!” Not me. I’m thinking, “There’s a body inside there. I just know it!” That’s the way my mind works – “what if?” I kiddingly say that when I was a child, I got spanked for lying; now I get paid for it.

So you’ve always had an active imagination, even as a child?

Oh yes. I wrote my first book when I was in the second grade on a Big Chief tablet. It was a western – a shoot-em-up, bang-bang western. But I never had the guts to really go at it until my husband [convinced] me. I wanted to but I was afraid. You know, fear of failure is as strong as fear of success. What if I did write a book and it was published? That means the next one would have to be even better. What if I could never do it again? So the “what if” thing comes into play. Fear of failure and fear of success are both very strong deterrents. I wasn’t afraid of success; I was afraid of failure. I’m a very Type A personality, and the thought of trying something and failing was really strong. But he pushed me to do it. And I can see where God used him to make me get out there and do what I needed to do.

I believe Christian writers are in a ministry. It is my ministry. We all have friends and neighbors and family who are unbelievers, and they have no desire to come to church. They don’t want any part of it. They don’t want a Bible. They don’t want a non-fiction book. They won’t even come to our house because we might say the big J word! But they’ll pick up a fiction book and see a character who has a Christian worldview, and suddenly they begin to get it. It’s like a seed – I think we’re farmers.

* * * * *

Listening to that interview made me smile all over again! She is a delightful lady. As I mentioned before the interview, Sworn to Protect is incredible. As timely as if it were ripped straight from the headlines, it portrays the task of the border patrol in stopping illegal immigration, as well as - as Diann said - the view from the opposing side. Danika Morales is a top-notch border patrol agent, and it makes her crazy that her husband's killer has never been located. She's determined to keep her eyes and ears open for any clues or leads that might provide answers for this unsolved crime. In the meantime, this top-notch agent fights to stop the influx of illegal drugs as well as undocumented immigrants. Tough as nails on the job, Danika's tender side is evident in her off hours as she lovingly cares for her four-year-old daughter, who not only is processing the loss of her daddy but is deaf as well. When Danika learns that she herself is on a hit list, she vows to do whatever is necessary to ensure her daughter is not orphaned.

Her determination regarding her dating life appears to be as much in jeopardy as her life when she encounters Dr. Alex Price. Alex is sweetly persistent when she claims that she has no time for a man, and she eventually realizes that it's nice to have a good friend. However, when he "fesses up" to some secrets he's been hiding from her, she decides she can trust no one. Toss in an overbearing brother-in-law (who is also a border patrol agent) and a niece's disappearance, and there are plenty of reasons for Danika to lie awake at night.

In spite of living in Texas, I really hadn't thought that much about the border issues, but I can tell Diann has done her homework before writing this gripping novel. I'm already eager for book three in this fantastic Call of Duty series to be published!

* * * * *

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Sworn to Protect (Book #2 in Call of Duty series)

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (March 4, 2010)

***Special thanks to Mavis Sanders, Corporate Publicist, Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Award-winning author DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. DiAnn's first book was published in 1998, and she currently has more than 40 books in print, with combined sales of over one million copies. In 2009, Tyndale House introduced Breach of Trust, Book #1 in her Call of Duty series about women with dangerous occupations. Six of her anthologies have appeared on the CBA best-seller list. Eight of her books have been nominated for the American Christian Fiction Writers' book-of-the-year contest, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader's Choice award for 2005 and 2007. Lightning and Lace was a 2008 Christy Award finalist.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive; Romance Writers of America's Faith, Hope, and Love chapter; and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a mentor for Jerry B. Jenkins's Christian Writers Guild. DiAnn and her husband live in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (March 4, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414320515
ISBN-13: 978-1414320519


We are truly a nation of immigrants.
But we are also a nation of laws.

Brent Ashabranner

McAllen, Texas

The Rio Grande was not just murky. It was toxic. Danika Morales respected the river’s temperament—lazy and rushing, crystal and muddy, breathtaking and devastating. To many illegal immigrants, its flowing water signified hope and an opportunity for a better tomorrow, while others viewed the river crossing as a means of smuggling drugs or spreading terrorism. But for Danika, the depths meant death, and it didn’t discriminate among its victims. That was why she chose a Border Patrol badge and carried a gun.

Shortly after the 8 a.m. muster, Danika snatched up the keys to the Tahoe assigned to her for the next ten hours and checked out an M4. A hum of voices, most with Hispanic accents and clipped with occasional laughter, swirled around the station. A labyrinth of sights and sounds had succeeded in disorienting her. A daze.

She took a sip of the steaming coffee in hopes no one saw how the day’s date affected her. Her hands shook. The twelfth of July. The second anniversary of Toby’s murder. She thought she could handle it better than this, but the raw ache still seared her heart.

“Tough day for me too,” Jacob whispered beside her. “We can get through this together.” The familiar tone of voice, as in many times before, nearly paralyzed her. Jacob sounded so much like his brother.

She stood shoulder to shoulder with her brother-in-law and glanced at his muscular frame and the silver streaks in his closely cropped hair, everything about him oddly different from Toby. Gone were the gentleness, the patience, and the outstretched arms of love.

“Thanks. But I’m all right.”

He frowned, a typical expression. “Well, I’m not, and you shouldn’t be either.”

She was in no mood to rile him today. “I miss Toby every minute of the day, but we have to move on. He would have wanted it that way.”

“Not till his murderer is found.” Jacob’s jaw tightened. “I’m disappointed in you.”

Danika took another sip of the hot coffee, burning her tongue. Caustic words threatened to surface and add one more brick to the wall dividing them. “I want the killer found too. I’m committed to it. I think about him every day and mourn for our daughter, who will never know her daddy. But I choose not to spend my time harboring hate and vengeance.”

“You must not have really loved my brother.”

The words cut deep, as Jacob must have known they would. No woman could have loved Toby like she did. “I refuse to be browbeaten by you anymore. Your hate is going to explode in your own backyard one day.” She stopped herself before she lit a match to his temper. Actually, she’d rather have been dropped in the bush for the next ten hours with a shotgun and a can of OFF! than argue with him. But the time had come to distance herself from Jacob.

“Hey, Danika,” an agent called, “do these belong to you?”

She turned to see wiry Felipe Chavez carrying a vase with a huge bouquet of roses. They remembered. She swallowed a chunk of life. “Oh, guys, you didn’t have to do this.”

Felipe made his way toward her. The other agents hushed; then one of them started to clap. She smiled through the tears as he handed her the clear glass vase. The sweet fragrance no longer reminded her of death, but of life and her resolve to live each day in a way that commemorated Toby’s devotion to her and their little daughter. Perhaps this was what the two-year marker meant.

She took the roses and studied the small crowd of agents. Good men, all of them—even Jacob.

“We cared about what happened to Toby too,” Felipe said with a grim smile.

Danika brushed her finger around one of the delicate petals and formed her words. Memories had stalked her like a demon since last night. “Don’t know what to say except thank you. Toby was a soldier for his own cause, and he spent his life doing what he believed in. Just like all of us.”

One agent shook his head, frowned, and left the room. Far too many explanations for his disapproval raced through her mind. But Danika needed to put the ugliness behind her.

She set the flowers on the long table in front of her. “Today is the second anniversary of Toby’s death. All of you have looked after me and my daughter, especially during holidays and special occasions. His death is why I’m more dedicated than ever to help protect the border.” She paused, sensing her emotions rushing into chaos. “I appreciate your remembering him and the sacrifice he made, especially since his beliefs were controversial.” Enough said.

She took a deep, cleansing breath. “I brought doughnuts.”

And they were buttermilk, Toby’s favorite.

She glanced at Jacob, hoping to end the tension between them. How Barbara could stay married to him was beyond her comprehension. He treated her and their four kids like yesterday’s trash.

Danika wound through the crowd of agents, greeting those who offered condolences and others who offered a good-morning.

The field operations supervisor, Agent Oden Herrera, stood in front of the flags—the U.S., Homeland Security, and the Border Patrol. Pushing the emotions of regret and grief about Toby aside, Danika captured the supervisor’s attention. “During the muster you said intel had picked up a cocaine drop last night?”

Herrera walked to a wall map and pointed. “Like I said earlier: arrested seven men and two women right along here, your area. A kid had a small bag of cocaine on him. Most likely a deterrent. The drug smuggler either hid it before being apprehended, or he’s still waiting for someone to pick him up. Dogs have been out there most of the night, but Barnett and Fire-Eater are headed that way in a few minutes.”

Danika finished her coffee and made her way into the stifling heat and stopped by Jon Barnett’s truck. As Fire-Eater’s handler, he had everyone’s admiration, and the Belgian sheepdog had a reputation for being the best of the K-9s. Barnett snapped on the dog’s leash and waved.

“I hear we’re working the same area today.” Danika refrained from patting Fire-Eater. Some days he wasn’t people friendly. After seeing the dog in action a few times when he’d found drug runners, she sometimes felt sorry for those he brought down.

Barnett grinned and wiped the sweat already beading on his face. “He’s a good dog, Morales. Just needs a little help with his people skills.” He laughed, his freckles deepening in the intense sun. “And he’s great with the wife and kids. Like another member of the family.” He pulled out his keys. “Do you want to talk? We have a few minutes.”

All she really wanted was for the day to be over. Talking increased the chances of liquid emotion—which was more lethal than the river flowing between the U.S. and Mexico. “No thanks. I’m fine.”

“Do you need to talk?”

“It’s been two years.” Therapeutic or not, she would not open up, even to a sweet guy like Barnett. She’d spent hours building a reputation as a tough agent, and she wasn’t about to take a nosedive now.

“Right, and the sooner you admit that today has crept up on you worse than a case of food poisoning, the better you’ll feel.”

She had to agree. “Have you turned psychologist?”

“Fire-Eater and five kids taught me all I know.”

“I had a dog when I was a kid,” she said, looking for any subject except Toby. “Gentle, sensed my moods, smart. My best friend. Sure missed him when he was gone.” Danika blinked back a tear, despising her reaction. She stared at Fire-Eater rather than look into Barnett’s face.

“I bet he slept at the foot of your bed.”

Fire-Eater climbed into the backseat of the double-cab truck.

“Sometimes in it. We even shared meals. I didn’t like meat, and he’d eat it for me.”

“Who’s your best friend now?”

She swallowed the ever-increasing lump in her throat. “Toby’s gone, and I have a tough time in church.”

“Confession is a beginning. Any family?”

“Toby’s family has been good to me.” Never mind Jacob. “My folks never approved of my marriage.” She sucked in a breath. It hissed like the poisonous snakes she feared. “Well-meaning friends do this to me.”

“Do you feel any better?”

Sneak. “Yeah, thanks, doc. You—”

Fire-Eater barked. No doubt anxious to get moving. The animal and Jacob had similar personalities, but today she’d rather be with the dog.


Danika turned off Old Military Road and bounced along a narrow dirt and gravel path, bordered by tall, thick grass and brush and laden with prickly pears on the Rio Grande side and more thick brush on the other. Jon had radioed ahead and reported signs from last night, but nothing new. Every agent was on alert. Trouble brewed along the entire two-thousand-mile border between Mexico and the United States. Drug cartels were slaughtering innocent people in the streets, and those on the U.S. side feared it was only a matter of time before the fighting spilled over the line. Not on her watch.

She drove slowly past the few houses perched on the right side of the road, most of which had been stash houses at one time or another, havens for illegal aliens and drug smugglers. She stopped the truck beside a well-worn trail to look for recent signs in the dirt. After a generous spray of mosquito repellent on her uniform and hands, she stepped into the stifling ninety-degree heat and bent to study the hours-old footprints indicating where the illegals had gained access into Texas before being apprehended. Most of them only wanted an opportunity to better themselves, but others had a darker agenda. At least she hoped the footprints had been accounted for.

A breeze from the north fanned her face and offered a brief reprieve from the unrelenting sun. The tall grass with its thick growth waved as though mocking her commitment to the Border Patrol.

Fifteen minutes later, Barnett radioed a call for assistance.

“Spotted a man wearing a backpack near the 112 sensor. He headed into the carrizo.”

Danika ran back to the truck and raced her vehicle toward Barnett’s location. She wanted to tell him to wait for backup and not search through the thick grass alone, but she knew Barnett and Fire-Eater were a team and stayed on the traffic. The smuggler probably hid on a rattler’s nest.

She was the first to respond to Barnett’s request. Pulling in behind his truck, she unclipped her HK from her belt while radioing her arrival. She grabbed her cell phone and dialed his number.

“Barnett, I’m here,” she said. “Tell me you’re not in the middle of the carrizo.”

He chuckled. “Fire-Eater’s after him. I’m skirting it. Neither one of us is coming out until we have our man.”

She pocketed her cell phone and followed the agent’s footprints on the dusty road until they disappeared into the thicket. Hot as it was, the Kevlar vest felt good, even if it was worthless against a stab wound or a shotgun blast.

Fire-Eater barked, snapping Danika’s attention toward the riverbank. The dog growled from somewhere in the depths of the overgrowth.

Gunfire cracked in the still morning air. Alert to the danger, she pulled her weapon.

“This is the United States Border Patrol! Come out with your hands up!” Barnett’s voice roared.

Another shot fired. Fire-Eater yelped.

Blood pumping, Danika yanked out her radio. “Shots fired. Shots fired. Agent or K-9 may be down.”

Two more shots pierced the air.

When Barnett didn’t respond, she clicked the radio in place on her belt. “Barnett,” she yelled, “tell me you’re all right.”


A dark-haired man emerged from the right side of the road several yards away, wearing a backpack that no doubt contained drugs. His attention scattered in different directions.

“Alto, o disparo,” she said.

The man turned and fired at her before racing across the road. The bullet angled to her left. Danika returned the fire and sank a bullet into his thigh. He fell, and she raced toward him.

“Drop the gun, or I’ll be forced to shoot again.”

He kept his fingers wrapped around it. She wrestled with the rage that always seemed to lie below the surface of her control. If she killed him, she could claim self-defense. But her job title meant self-control.

“I said drop the gun.” She fired above him and kept running in his direction.

He lifted his hand and aimed. Instinctively she pumped a bullet into his hand. His wound caused a burst of blood to splatter the ground and the quiet air to echo with obscenities. Still he refused to release the hold on his gun.

“Do you want your whole hand blown off?” She stood over him and clamped her booted foot over his injured hand.

He screamed, and she pointed her firearm at his face. Danika trembled. She wasn’t a murderer, but anger did struggle to rule her emotions.

“You’ll pay for this,” the man said. “I know who you are, and there’s a contract out for you.”

“You aren’t the first or the last to threaten me.” She picked up the man’s gun, an older model Beretta. With his leg and hand bleeding, he wasn’t going anywhere. She slipped the handcuffs from her belt and clamped them on his wrists. Rolling him over, she brushed his bleeding leg against the hard ground, and he moaned. Where was backup? Please, let Barnett be okay. Five kids. A respected agent.

“The drug cartels will destroy the Border Patrol.”

“Big talk for a man in handcuffs.”

“You wait and see who wins.” He spit on her boot. “You’ll never find out who killed your husband.”

She smothered the gasp that nearly stole her breath. How did the man know her? know about Toby’s death? He clearly had inside information—information that couldn’t have been obtained easily. Unless Toby’s murder was related to something bigger than she had imagined.

Focus. Now was not the time to weigh the shooter’s words. Later she’d look into it.

Her gaze searched the area. An outstretched arm poked through the overgrowth where the downed man had attempted to cross the road. She hurried, gun raised, eyes taking in every inch of the brush. As she grew closer, she saw the rest of Barnett’s body sprawled on the trodden grass. Blood soaked the ground, creating a small puddle of red against the vibrant green. Danika bent to his side.

Barnett moaned. “He shot Fire-Eater,” he whispered. “Get him.”

“I have him cuffed. Hold on. Help’s coming.” She pulled out the radio. “Need EMS. Agent down.”

She hadn’t been there for Toby, but she could be there for Barnett.


View blog reactions


Kim said...

We're linked up Linda! GREAT interview! I'd love to meet DiAnn!

quilly said...

These books aren't just on my "Read if I have the time someday" list, they are on my "Buy and put in the pile" list. And I may very well put them on the TOP of the pile. The more I hear about them the more interested I am.

DiAnn Mills said...

Thank you so much for the comments! I loved writing this book and exploring the Border Patrol through Danika's eyes!