Today, I am interviewing Timothy Moynihan, author of No Greater Love: An Afghan Memoir. I was asked by this author to review this book, after he found my blog on my Amazon Review Page.
I found this novella a compelling read with an important message. It really touched my heart. It's been a real blessing. Whenever a book does this, I am very curious to find out more about the author and what led to this story having the impact it did. I also wanted to review No Greater Love: An Afghan Memoir (NGL) as new authors needs all the encouragement they can get. Just like Moynihan's novella, this interview is also compelling and gives some valuable insight into a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is, sadly, very common with veterans and is not well understood or accepted by the general public.
Timothy Moynihan has a lot to say and he really engages you as you read this interview.
So sit back, close out the world and let Timothy Moynihan introduce you to his world of writing and his book No Greater Love.
Special Forces soldier turned author, Colonel Mike Sanchez, survived the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and converted his military experiences into a new career as an "inspirational" motivational speaker. But his heroic demeanor and outward confidence mask a burden he carries on the inside, the agonizing memory of two brothers with whom he served in the war. Caught off-guard at a public speaking event, Sanchez is compelled to expose the ghosts of his past and his searing memories of a bloody battle on a blasted Afghanistan hilltop where love conquered fear forever.
Tell us a little about yourself, your work and how you got into writing.
Well, Peter, let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to share my story. I have always been a voracious reader, since I was a child, and I always had a creative bent but I was all over the map – writing fiction, drawing cartoons, writing songs and playing guitar in punk rock bands. But I was undisciplined and unfocused. I basically joined the Army because ultimately I wanted to be a soldier. I saw the movie, Apocalypse Now, in 1979, and decided I wanted to be Captain Willard, the character portrayed by Martin Sheen. That meant being an Army Ranger and going into intelligence or Special Forces like his character. I wasted no time, enlisted in the Army when I turned 18 and was in boot camp three days after my high school graduation. I received an Army scholarship to college where I majored in political science. I found I could get by on the strength of my writing skills as poli-sci is all essays and papers. Mostly I played pool and wasted my academic years in sin. I eventually graduated and was commissioned as an officer. I didn’t get saved until 1991 at the age of 26. It was years later, when I began making up stories for my kids, that my wife encouraged me to write.
When did you decide to make a career of writing or what lead to you becoming a writer?
With my wife’s encouragement I enrolled in the Institute for Children’s Literature (ICL), one of the finest correspondence courses around, and learned my craft. I also learned that I didn’t really enjoy writing for children. That was 10 years ago. It’s taken me a while to get moving, really. I’ve always had two jobs – church ministry and government work – plus one wife and two sons. It takes most of my time just to do those things right never mind writing! My church is small by California mega-church standards but writing can never be my priority when people have needs. And the world is a needy place!
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
I ask questions of every writer I meet. Seriously. So I have a couple mountain peaks of wisdom people have given me over the years and would be embarrassed to leave someone out. But early on my first instructor at ICL told me to read Stephen King’s autobiography, On Writing, “if you don’t mind some salty language,” is how he put it. He knew I was a believer! But that book was tremendous – if you can get past King’s “salty language.” Stephen King may not be a believer but I can’t fault his craft or his work ethic. And his life story will make you want to pray for him.
Do you have any advice for others wanting to start writing?
Don’t do this because you want to become famous or rich. Write because you have stories in your head that won’t let go. Don’t wait for inspiration to write. Just write. And if you are a Christian, you better be grounded and involved in a good local church. Writers have egos and live in very private worlds – that’s why so many secular writers have issues – you need to keep your feet planted in Christ!
What are you reading right now?
I read everything, including lots of non-fiction, theology and some secular fiction. In the last month I finished The Shinar Directive by Michael Lake, The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent and I am now in the middle of a Nero Wolfe short story from a collection called Masterpieces of Mystery and Suspense, compiled by Martin Greenberg. I read my Bible every day and I rotate between a 1599 Geneva, a 1611 KJV and a NKJV.
What reaction have you had from your congregation when they discovered you were a fiction writer?
My congregation is completely unfazed and unimpressed, HA! HA! HA! No Greater Love is on Kindle and most of them don’t read on a Kindle – we are talking an average demographic between 19 and 30, lots of military families, ex-gang members and working class people here. And I am pretty low key about it with them. I have a “Pastor’s Recommended Reading List” on our church website I encourage all of the men to read through and it doesn’t include my fiction. But my church website is linked to my author website and I share No Greater Love in .pdf format with my interested combat vets who I believe will benefit from the message. They get the story and love it.
What has the reaction been from those of your congregation who have read the book?
Those who have read it say they like it but I am their pastor – maybe they think they HAVE to like it!
In my review of NGL, I made the following statement,
“I also feel that Moynihan has used his experience as a Pastor to develop the character of Mike Sanchez. I wonder also if some of the events described in this novella are based on his military experience or from other Christian soldiers as well to develop the character of Daniel. I would not be surprised.”
How much of my statement is true? How much of yourself and what you experienced is Sanchez or Daniel based on?
It’s absolutely true. Mike Sanchez is based on a real person I know but he’s a combination. His thoughts are my thoughts. The brothers in the story are loosely based on my sons, pastor’s kids who struggle with their faith. I wrote this out of love for them and love for the veterans I meet every day. But one thing I need to make clear: I have never been to Afghanistan. Nor have I been to Iraq. My Middle East experience is confined to Turkey and Israel. And my area of military experience in field operations was primarily “east of Pakistan.”
The question asked by the female youth triggered an episodes of Mike's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and him recounting the story of the Taylor Brothers. This question concerns why veterans seem to be very angry once they return to civilian life. Is PTSD and its various symptoms such as anger, something that you are passionate about and why is it so poorly understood by the general public?
Yes. Military PTSD is not exactly like other PTSD. There is a cultural angle. Most military people are put on an unrealistic pedestal by some or treated as fools by others. The military culture is completely alien to the comfortable, civilian, egalitarian world of pleasure and self-indulgence we have in Western culture. Any veteran returning from a deployment, even if they never engaged in combat, has to make this overnight bizarre adjustment from military operational status to going to the shopping mall with their spouse to pick out a living room set. It’s surreal. Now couple that with combat trauma that comes in various degrees – from guys in intense, house-to-house fighting for weeks on end, to those who “only” experienced an IED attack on a convoy, to one who sat in a logistics compound and played video games, to another who was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier and you can begin to understand why no civilian can really relate to what is going on inside the head of the returning veteran. On deployment, camaraderie, mission focus and the possibility of shared danger reduce life to a very basic level that is easy for the well-trained military mind to process. It only takes a couple of weeks home among well-meaning but complicated people (loved ones) who “don’t get it” to make the veteran wish they were back in the war zone. Sadly, it is the disconnected civilians back in civilization who, as politicians, are making short-sighted policy decisions about the conduct of the war. Or worse, are rendering judgements about military people they can in no way understand.
You have written NGL based what you know of the military, did you find this hard or does knowing your subject matter make it easier?
As I stated previously, I never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. I became a subject matter expert on them from afar but my operational focus was elsewhere. Having a variety of military experiences at every level, in every possible capacity, means I can write credible material whether the story is set in Kabul, Washington DC, Mexico City or Beijing. I also have extensive travel experience. I am one of those nuts who gets obsessed by a subject and immediately reads 3 to 4 books on it until I feel like I understand it. I love exotic people, cultures, places and history. I have a naturally high reading comprehension and retention level which helps. I love veterans and I love to hear their stories. But my “boots on the ground” knowledge is out-dated. I need to study just to keep up. I have church members, friends and family members who help.
Reading your bio on your website, you have one chequered career, very impressive! If I have it correct, you were not a Christian while in the military. Looking back now, can you identify any events or experiences that you can see that God used to lead you to Him? Briefly account how you became a Christian.
Several things pointed me to Christ. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools for 12 years. As a result, by 18 years of age I believed intellectually in Jesus but hated organized religion and stopped attending church. But in 1983 or so I read Countdown to Armageddon, by Hal Lindsay. It got my attention. It fit an apocalyptic world view I had carried with me since I was a kid (Shaped by science fiction -- Planet of the Apes movies and Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth comics). I couldn’t figure out why I never heard about Bible prophecy in Catholic School! In 1991, I fell off a cliff at Ranger School and cried out to God. At the critical moment someone saved my life. I was unhurt -- but something changed inside. A month later I was sneaking into Christian bookstores and looking for more Bible prophecy books. Desert Shield was taking place and I was beginning to realize it was all so true. A chance encounter with a Christian in my unit led me to his church where I was gloriously saved in March 1991. I have never been the same.
You are now a Pastor. Based on your military experience, have you ever considered being a military chaplain? From reading NGL, I can see you making a great impact on both those in the military now and on veterans.
I never felt called to the chaplaincy. The first church I pastored was in Hawaii and everyone was either Hawaiian or Micronesian. My current church is mostly military and we are reaching them quite well from the outside. I let the LORD decide where He wants me and it’s always an adventure!
The statement that Sanchez makes at the end of the novel,
That God does care, even if nobody else does. God cares, because God knows, God loves and God grieves...for us.
Is this based on what you experienced while in the military or since you became a Christian?
It’s a message I wanted my sons to read. So they could come to grips with their own faith struggle. It’s a message for every veteran as well. I love working with men. Most church ministry is too feminized to reach thinking men.
The message of NGL is based on John 15:13,
No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.
What prompted you to write a novella based on this verse? Was it because it intriqued you and thought this would make a great story or is it based on what you have seen and know from your time in military service?
I find it’s a definition of love that men can relate to. Most Christians view love as a “feeling” and this has sabotaged the church’s mission in reaching the lost. From what I read in the Bible, God really doesn’t care about our feelings. But Jesus gave Himself for us. If Christians could get that it would change the church in a decade… and the church could finish the work of world evangelism in a generation. And it would reduce the church’s un-Biblical dependence on psychological counselling to solve people’s “issues.” Many Christians simply haven’t been taught to love like Jesus does – sacrificially.
What kind of reaction were you hoping to receive from readers of NGL?
Well besides the inherent message in the story I wanted to use this novelette to establish my bona fides as a writer who can be taken seriously. I intentionally linked it to Prodigal Avenger, my novel, which I actually wrote first but hadn’t been able to get published. I really learned to write fiction with Prodigal Avenger. From an author’s perspective, I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer of thoughtful, inspirational fiction both men and women could enjoy. Yet this is men’s fiction and it needs to have the honesty and edginess that men can relate to. I hope my fiction fills a critical void in Christian publishing.
Congratulations on Prodigal Avenger being a Finalist in the ACFW Genesis suspense-thriller category. Are you working on having this published? After reading NGL, I am more than interested in reading this.
It’s still been shopped around by my agent, Les Stobbe. He is a tremendous blessing to me and has kept me encouraged. Publishers are interested but not committed yet. That’s all I feel comfortable saying.
What’s next, do you already have a new project in the works?
Yes, my follow up to Prodigal Avenger is called Double-Tap Angel and is about the conflict with ISIS. Also working on some non-fiction. A Bible study in Genesis and a study of Revelation 13 are all in my heart. Stay tuned.
Where Can Readers find You?
You can usually find me at my church, or on the road, or overseas; or maybe with my sons on an adventure; or off with my wife having fun. Or they can get to me via my websites below. Sorry, I am too sketchy about Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to go there. Pray for me!
Timothy, thank you so much for providing us with an insightful account of your military experience and what led to you becoming an author and specifically the background behind your novella, No Greater Love: an Afghan Memoir. I pray that others with find your account here encouraging and enjoy NGL and its sequels.
I look forward to reading them as they are published. I am sure readers of this interview share the same sentiment. We look forward to reading about your future success as an author.