It’s the kind of thing authors dream of – a book, complete with plot, characters and timeline just drops into your head.
For Mary Mendenhall, it’s not the stuff of dreams. It’s what happened to her when she was praying in a chapel in Kampala, Uganda.
“In 1998, after my first book (‘Michael and the Ice Princess: A Mystical Romance’) came out, I was in prayer at the Protestant chapel,” she recalled. “It was as if this book fell into my head. Names, places, plot – it was all there.”
It may have been all there, but it took 18 more years before she got “The Wrong Side of Eternity: A Present Day Passion,” (CreateSpace, 2016) into print.
The book was recently named a finalist in the Book Excellence Awards, and was named Award Finalist in the “Fiction: Multicultural” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. In 2016, it garnered the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award
Mendenhall, 57, and her husband were missionaries in Uganda from 1994 to 2000.
“We arrived two months prior to the genocide in Rwanda, which broke out six miles from us,” she said. “Reading the Christian mystics helped me cope. I wrote my first book while the war was raging next door.”
“Michael and the Ice Princess: A Mystical Romance,” had its roots in a short story Mendenhall had written for her husband before they married. She wrote the book longhand by the light of kerosene lanterns, and completed it while homeschooling their three sons and teaching music and drama at the local Anglican church.
It was originally published in 1997 by Avon Books in England. When that publisher folded, she released the second edition in 2011, through CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing company.
“Neither of my books are what you’d call typical Christian fiction and they aren’t marketed that way,” Mendenhall said.
“The Wrong Side of Eternity” is set alternately in Uganda and California and offers a paradigm of struggle between faith and the secular world. It traces the story of missionary Stephen O’Connell, his family and friends, and interweaves the stories of Ugandan school headmaster Geoffrey Mahoro and his niece, Charity Ntambara.
“It’s a missionary story like no other,” Mendenhall said. “Spoiler alert – the heroes of the story are not the missionaries.”
She said the novel is very autobiographical.
“Everything in this book either happened to me or happened to people who shared their stories with me.”
A write-up in Kirkus Reviews said, “Even non-believers will find this world engrossing, particularly as it may be one that’s new to them. A demanding but rewarding religious story.”
Mendenhall summed up the subtle message of the book.
“If you’re going to turn the Gospel into an exercise of judging, it will lead to relationship destruction.”
“I take risks,” she said. “I’ve never had anything to lose. The story is bigger than me.”
Though she began writing the book in Uganda, its publication was delayed when Mendenhall was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2000.
They returned to the U.S. and she and her husband later divorced.
“I still had kids to raise and all my financial resources went toward getting healthy,” she said.
In 2010, she moved to Davenport to be near her aging parents and resumed writing in earnest in 2013.
Currently, she’s currently working on small work of nonfiction, “The Dream of St. Clare: Reflections of Divine Dependence.”
Mendenhall, an RN, also works three days a week at Lakeland Village and is still dealing with the effects of Lyme disease.
“Grace and willpower is my secret,” she said.
Mendenhall’s books are available at Auntie’s Bookstore and Kaufer Company as well as on Amazon.