Lisa Harris is a Christy Award winner and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel for 2011 from Romantic Times. The author of almost thirty books, including Dangerous Passage, Fatal Exchange, and Hidden Agenda, Harris and her family have spent twelve years living as missionaries in southern Africa. They currently live in Mozambique where she leads a women’s ministry and runs a nonprofit organization that works alongside their church-planting ministry. Learn more at www.lisaharriswrites.com.
Janet: Welcome, Lisa, and thanks for taking time to join us. I’m sure this is a busy time for you, with the release of your new novel. Each installment of Southern Crimes builds on the previous ones, and Hidden Agenda has a pretty major spoiler for the earlier books: Michael Hunt is alive. I’d been secretly wishing for this, and I hope he can stay alive until the end of the book!
Lisa: Thanks so much for having, Janet! I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell Michael’s story. There was something about him that just wouldn’t let me go! 🙂 So, yes, I loved writing his story, and don’t worry… I had to have a happy ending to the series!
Janet: Hidden Agenda is book 3 in the Southern Crimes series. Do readers need to read books 1 and 2 first? Tell us a bit about the series.
Lisa: I did my best to make each story a stand alone book, meaning the main mystery in each book does conclude. But the three books are definitely tied together. So while you can read book three by itself, to get the entire Hunt family story, it’s best to read them in order.
Janet: I agree! One thing I’m curious about: you’re serving as a missionary in Mozambique, an exotic location in its own right. Why did you decide to set these stories in Atlanta?
Lisa: Several years ago, I wrote Blood Ransom, a novel that focused on human trafficking in Africa. At the time, I had no idea this was an issue in the US. With this new series, I decided that setting this story in the US, the backdrop of human trafficking would not only make an exciting story, but would also help people become aware of this very real issue. Atlanta ended up being the perfect backdrop then for this new series.
Janet: I see your Love Inspired novel, Taken, which releases next month, is set in the US and in Paris. Might we see some fiction from you that visits African settings?
Lisa: Yes! I have several, actually. Blood Ransom and Blood Covenant are both romantic suspense set in a fictional African country and deal with human trafficking and refugee camps. An Ocean Away is a historical set in Rhodesia and New York City in the 1920s. Earlier this year, LIS published Deadly Safari that is set in South Africa. I’m really excited because LIS wants me to continue writing international romantic suspense which I love! I just finished another one for them that will come out next fall and is set off the coast of West Africa.
Janet: It’s great to see more international fiction! Lisa, in the Southern Crimes series, you don’t just give us “cop dramas” – your characters have complicated family dynamics and relationships, which makes them feel more real. Avery is dealing with life as a widow and single mom, Emily hears her biological clock ticking but doesn’t need a mate to be complete, and Michael’s humanity will come out as we read his story. I’m sure this helps you relate to them as you write. What do readers say about your characters?
Lisa: That is exactly what I want my readers to feel, Janet! I want my stories to be fast-paced and exciting, but I also want to show how real people might react to difficult, intense situations. And how God can use them in spite of their weaknesses. My publisher just showed me a review from Suspense Magazine that I love. The reviewer said, “Harris’ appealing characters—especially deaf and brilliant Ivan, a great example of someone with a sensory challenge who is not disabled because of it…” I loved that a reader saw that.
Janet: Now that I’ve read the novel, I can say I appreciated Ivan as well. Do you have a favourite character in the series?
Lisa: That is so hard! I’m going to go with Emily in book two, because I think she’s the most like me. I would have been terrified in the situation she faced, which is why I loved watching her struggle and grow through the experience.
Janet: Thinking about Hidden Agenda, what’s the novel’s theme? Or what do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Lisa: I’d like them to be able to look at their own lives—their own faith—and realize that God is still in control even if everything seems to be falling apart. At one point in the story, Michael says, ‘Sometimes there simply aren’t answers. At least not the answers we’re looking for. Walking through the fire forces us to face God. To strip our souls of all of the charades we play, until we see only Him.‘ That’s what I want for my own life. To truly see Him!
Janet: Michael’s experiences earn him the right to speak like that. There’s nothing trite in his words. These novels must have required a lot of research. What’s the oddest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?
Lisa: You’re right. I Google the craziest things, sometimes. Things I wish I didn’t know about the cartel, the beautiful Georgia barrier islands, electronic bugs, spy equipment, and bombs for example. One interesting bit of trivia I recently learned was that you can pretty easily escape if ever tied up with duct tape. (At least according to YouTube). That was a surprise to me. One of the most interesting books I ever had to research was An Ocean Away. I read a couple fascinating books about the culture of Rhodesia that were almost a hundred years old, as well as New York City trivia from the 1920’s. I had to force myself to stop researching many times in order to actually write!
Janet: Is there another Southern Crimes novel in the works, or what’s next?
Lisa: No, sadly I’ve had to leave the Hunt family behind as far as writing goes. But I’m not currently writing another series for Revell that will come out next Fall that I’m super excited about! It’s a series about a missing person task force. More information about it soon!
Janet: I’ll be watching for it! What got you started writing?
Lisa: It was something I always wanted to do, but didn’t really start until my eldest was born. He was the perfect baby and slept a lot while I was a stay-at-home mom with no car. So I decided to write a book and I did. I haven’t stopped writing since!
Janet: What’s life like when you’re not writing?
Lisa: While I do write pretty full time (this year especially) I’m also very involved in our ministry here in Mozambique. And until a few months ago, was also homeschooling at least some of our three kids. I also coordinate our women’s ministry and run a non-profit (www.theECHOproject.org) that allows us to help people’s physical needs we encounter every day alongside their spiritual needs.
Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
Lisa: While we don’t go often enough, I love going to the Indian Ocean and watching the humpback whales breach while they’re migrating off the coast. It’s so beautiful!
Janet: That would be amazing. What’s one thing you wish people knew about life as a missionary?
Lisa: I think some people tend to romanticize mission work, but it’s not as exotic as it might seem. Life here is day in and day out a part of people’s lives around us. Like everyone there are ups and downs, and we see a lot of really tough things along the way. But in the end, we know we’re called and the hard parts are worth it.
Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?
Lisa: Somewhere quiet outside, like a drive through Kruger Park, or a walk along the beach. A place where I can be reminded of God’s presence.
Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a difference for you?
Lisa: I like to remind myself that this life is temporary and heaven is waiting! I love Paul’s reminder in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison!”
Thank you so much for having me, Janet!
Janet: Thanks again for visiting, Lisa. Readers, feel free to leave questions or comments on this post, and please note that Lisa is offering a free cozy mystery ebook when you sign up for her author newsletter.
For more about Lisa Harris, including her books and ministry and photos of Africa’s wild side, visit her website: lisaharriswrites.com.
Hidden Agenda, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2015)
Michael Hunt is alive—and on the run. Presumed dead by friends and family, the undercover assignment he’s been working for the past eight months has just been blown. With a hit out on his life and corruption inside the Atlanta police department, Michael finds himself hunted by both the cartel and the law. His only hope is the daughter of the man who wants him dead.
Book 3 in the Southern Crimes series.