Everyone’s Story welcomes Middle-grade and YA author Sylvia Stewart. Sylvia and I have become acquainted on Facebook and I’m so glad we have. Sylvia’s a lovely woman with a wow-fascinating background, which I’ll let you viewers explore for yourself (smiling here!). In fact, Sylvia has a lot to share with you this week: a book excerpt, a few words on what has influenced her writing, and plus, I’ve interviewed her. I hope you enjoy. Both Sylvia and I look forward to hearing from you.
My Past’s Sweet Influence by Sylvia Stewart
I first arrived in Africa about two weeks before my sixth birthday. As our DC-6 landed, I remember seeing tall palm trees flash past my window as we tore down the red dirt landing strip. When the dust had settled at the end of the runway, we taxied to the terminal and soon walked down the air-stairs into a wall of humid heat.
I soon learned to love the sights, sounds and smells of Africa: the acrid scent of some tropical plants; grasslands hiding trails of pinching ants; the white-hot heat of near-the-equator sun which could quickly burn fair skin; the distinctive cry of guinea fowl roosting for the night and the gentle call of doves, sounding to me like a widow’s mournful cry—“Yusuf, come home again! Yusuf, come home again! Yusuf! Yusuf!”
Our mother home-schooled us for two years. When we went to Rethy Academy in the highlands, we left behind malaria-bearing mosquitoes and lived where we were able to have fresh milk and vegetables. Writing letters home to our parents started me down the writing path.
When I grew up and married, my husband and I applied for appointment as missionaries to Malawi, in East Africa. We spent 21 years there in ministry and learned to love not only Africa, but Malawi in particular. Malawians are warm-hearted, friendly and full of life. Malawian children especially tugged at my heart. And the publication of three pre-teens’ mystery novels set in Malawi, East Africa.
We hadn’t lived there for very long when I decided I wanted to write a story for Malawian children. Kondi’s Quest took 24 years to write and hone into a story that children would love to read. Since then, two sequels joined the first novel, completing the Mysteries in Malawi series.
Questions for Sylvia Stewart:
Please tell us about what is at the heart of your novel Kondi’s Quest.
The theme of Kondi’s Quest is that, no matter how difficult life can be for a pre-teen, having Christ as one’s personal Savior will bring peace in turmoil, and also make it possible to live a joy-filled life. Knowing Christ as one’s Savior and Lord is the heart of Kondi’s life—the heart of the whole Mysteries in Malawi series, in fact.
Why have you chosen the reading audience of pre-teens for Kondi’s Quest?
Kondi is twelve, and she faces issues that other 12-year-olds face. Although this is basically a ‘tweener’s” story, adults will also be able to relate to her problems and find peace and satisfaction in living for God.
I was once told, “If you feed the lambs, the sheep will be able to feed, too.” The Mysteries in Malawi series as a whole is not written down to a child’s level. The story is approached in language that is suitable both to adults and to pre-teens. Children, even as young as eight, have been known to enjoy Kondi’s story.
In what ways can an American, or for that matter any non-Malawian child relate to Kondi?
Kondi’s family and personal problems are universal. She struggles with living in a drunkard’s family, fear, anger toward others, getting along with others, and anger towards God. These issues are found in every culture and in every human condition.
What’s life like in Malawi, Africa? Are there any one or two things in particular that one cannot imagine if never visited?
Statistics for 2016 show that Malawi is the poorest country in the world with a GPD of $226.50 per capita. Hunger and poverty are real. Earning enough for the basic needs of life means hard labor by every member of the family, even children when they are old enough to help. Malawi has no mineral resources to boost its economy, so it is a purely agricultural nation. When rains fail to come at the right time and in the right proportions, Malawians will starve. For the past two years, rain has either caused flooding during the planting season or has not come at all. People are starving.
Maize (what we call field corn) is the staple of the Malawian diet. Right now, the price of maize is the most expensive in all of Africa. This poorest country has the most expensive food.
Corruption is rampant in most African countries, and, in Malawi, graft is very common, so supporting countries have withdrawn their financial subsidies. This makes the prices of commodities and necessities rise even more drastically.
Even though Kondi’s story is told when it was a better time in Malawi, Kondi helps her mother, who has a sewing business. Kondi does embroidery on baby clothes and dresses to increase the value.
Although you’re retired from mission work and settled in the American NW, are there any Malawi traditions/customs that you still honor?
We don’t keep Malawian customs or traditions. Malawi was a British protectorate, so Malawian want to be as “western” as possible—preferably American. To them, the USA seems like heaven. So their own customs and traditions are constantly changing.
A little bit different from Kondi’s Quest, tell us about Seattle Rayne.
Seattle Rayne is a Christmas novella set in Seattle. Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:
Loneliness has hovered over Rayne DeMarco’s life ever since leaving East Africa to live on her own in Seattle. Frequent infusions of coffee have neither enlivened her flagging business as a freelance writer nor her social life. Seattle’s gray winter skies seem to mirror her life.
Then a mama cat with three rambunctious kittens finds a home in her above-the-garage apartment, and a handsome Montana cowboy, Matt Hayes, walks back into her life. Bring in a puppy who needs a little love and you have a Seattle romance that is as sure to warm your heart as the hot coffee Seattleites crave.
Favorite book: The Bible—I read it daily. I also have several favorite authors: Jane Austen, Miss Read, Mary Stewart, Zane Grey, Irene Hannon, Kristen Heitzmann.
Favorite movie: Right now I’m really enjoying the series, Foyle’s War, set in England in the 1940’s.
Favorite meal: African curry, which is adapted from Asian curry. African curry differs in that no vegetables are cooked in the gravy other than onions. Then fresh vegetables and fruits are added as condiments on top of the rice and gravy.
Favorite holiday: Christmas, even though Christmas day in Malawi seemed to be the hottest and muggiest day of the year.
Favorite dream: To write another book.
Sylvia’s Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Meet @SylviaStewart3: retired missionary turned author, setting #MG novels in #Malawi (Tweet This)
Interview on @SylviaStewart3: Africa, novels for Malawian children, and life in Malawi. (Tweet This)
Did 24 years of honing her writing craft pay off for @SylviaStewart3? (Tweet This)
Sylvia Stewart first arrived in Africa two weeks before her sixth birthday. Her parents, missionaries to the then Belgian Congo, had been assigned to the northeastern part of the country.
With her brother, she attended a boarding school, Rethy Academy, in the highlands. Their mother contracted a tropical disease when Sylvia was nine years old, and their father hurried his family home to the U.S. A year or so later, when God miraculously healed her, they returned to the Congo for further missionary service.
Sylvia was able to spend her junior and senior years in high school in the States. Just before her first year of college, her parents left her with friends and returned to the Congo.
Sylvia and her husband, Duane, spent almost 32 years in Africa, sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and his power to save. They worked twenty-one years in Malawi and eleven years in Ethiopia. Their ministry was in evangelism and Bible School teaching and administrating.
Places to connect with Sylvia:
For a short time only on Goodreads:
Sylvia and I look forward to your comments.