I have a very special treat for you this St.
My friend Janeen Zaio has just released her first historical novel
for kids about a Jewish boy, Eli, who wants to be a treasure hunter
and discovers one far greater than any treasure. I had the great
pleasure of reading both the first draft and the final book, and what
a book! Janeen has created a riveting story that’s hard to put
down. It’s action-packed, funny, and
possibly change your life!
I’ve known you for 10 years. What a beautiful time we’ve had
together. But it isn’t until five years ago that you mentioned you
were writing a book and I’ve been so privileged to read your story.
I love historical fiction, but especially any story set around the
time when Jesus walked this earth. Please tell us why you had to
write The Treasure with a Face.
you, Vijaya. I’m so glad that God brought you to Charleston! You’ve
been a great friend, and you were the first person to read The
Treasure with a Face. That
draft was very different from the final version, largely because of
your influence. Whether it was giving me craft books, introducing me
to the Catholic Writers’ Guild, or giving me honest feedback, your
help and encouragement was instrumental in getting it published.
was such a pleasure and I learned what you can accomplish when you’re
focused on this ONE thing.
began writing the night I pondered the question that keeps Catholic
parents awake at night: Would my boys remain happily Catholic? We
both know many Catholics who have left the Church for exciting
activities at megachurches, and the megachurch in our area is almost
irresistible. It looks like a beautiful resort and has amazing
activities for kids, a café that rivals Starbucks, and rockin’
praise music. (I know you prefer Gregorian Chant, but that praise
music is really GOOD!) My boys were ages thirteen and fifteen, and I
knew that at some point, friends would invite them to attend that
church, so I had to make sure they understood that the communion
there is not Jesus’s living Body. I wanted them to appreciate the
unparalleled gift of Christ’s Real Presence in every Catholic
tabernacle. Once you understand that with your heart and soul, you
can’t possibly leave the Catholic Church for games and lattes.
know that stories are much more compelling than lectures, so I
started developing the plot for The
Treasure with a Face to impart that
lesson. Although my boys grew faster than the story did, I hope I can
reach other children with an adventure story containing a subtle
message about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
really struck a balance so that the story is a great deal of
adventure and fun with a message that’s not preachy. Was that hard
you know, my first draft was
too preachy. Only a little :) Then
I changed the plot line to add more adventure. My protagonist Eli is
an aspiring treasure hunter who wants to find treasure as a way to
escape from being his demanding uncle’s metalsmithing apprentice,
so he resolves to find the ultimate treasure: the Ark of the
Covenant. That’s not going to be easy – the Ark’s been missing
for hundreds of years, flames reportedly shoot out the bottom of the
Ark, and people who touch it tend to die, but Eli has a plan. Surely,
Jesus knows where the Ark is hidden, so Eli sets out to meet Him.
amidst my character crawling through glowing caves, running along the
walls of ancient Jerusalem, and outwitting villains, I was able to
weave in the events that reinforce the theme of Christ’s Real
Presence in the Eucharist, but leave the “preaching” to the
discussion questions at the end. I’m a retired homeschooling mom so
the discussion questions are designed to get kids to think deeply but
also to share some interesting facts. For example, do you know the
most exotic place anyone has ever taken the Eucharist? The answer is
on page 258.
do! And there was just a story about it in Shalom Tidings. Your back-matter is excellent, with Q&A and glossary. So smart to leave the teaching in the back for the kids who read everything and for teachers. I should think about doing something similar for Bound.
could picture everything so clearly in your story and it brought
ancient Israel to life. Please tell me the kind of research you had
to do to make it so immersive.
thank you for saying that. I love reading private revelations in
which the visionary follows the life of Jesus and makes you feel like
Apostle, so that really helped me understand the landscape, food, and
customs. I read many other books with maps of ancient Jerusalem and
pictures of the Holy Land today, and there were many good websites
like bible-history.com, but my favorite way to learn about ancient
Israel was to visit The Holy Land Experience in Orlando. It’s a
Christian theme park that has short theatrical productions about
Biblical events, a huge replica of The Temple in Jerusalem, and an
enormous replica of ancient Jerusalem.
had no idea there’s a Bible-themed park in Orlando. I will
definitely have to visit, given that covid-rulz have cramped
international travel. My sister went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land
right before covid became news and she’s soooo grateful. What
are some of the themes in your book?
the main theme is that Jesus is alive in the Blessed Sacrament at
Catholic churches today, so you don’t have to live in ancient
Israel to meet Him. Another
theme is paraphrased from St. John Vianney: “You are what you are
in the eyes of God and nothing more.”
love that! So true.
I think that message
is so needed in this world. Another theme is that Jesus died to
of us, no matter what sins we have repented of, no matter our race,
our job, or our family situation. Amen! I
know you’re a cradle Catholic, but did you always have devotion to
always had the head knowledge that the Eucharist is truly Jesus, but
about 20 years ago, it occurred to me that I should be more
enthusiastic about receiving Him. I should be metaphorically skipping
up to receive Him instead of going through the motions. So, I started
praying that God would give me zeal for the Eucharist, and a few days
later, a friend gave me Scott Hahn’s book The Lamb’s Supper. That was the
beginning of my realization that we have an unparalleled gift in the
Catholic Church. I started to embrace the Eucharist with my heart and
soul and became more mindful of Christ’s Real Presence.
is so beautiful. I love it when you pray for a virtue or an insight,
the Holy Spirit illuminates your soul on it. But beware of praying
for patience or humility because I’ve discovered that I’m
literally turned into a patient or humiliated in some way.
of patience, I am so impressed that it
took you only five years from conceiving
this book idea and publication. I was in
your shoes nearly 20 years ago and still haven’t managed to write
that first story of my heart to my satisfaction. Please tell us your
path to publication.
you and I both trust that God’s timing is always perfect! We
prioritize our vocation as wives and mothers, then do our best and
leave the results up to God. You’ve had amazing results, by the
way! I couldn’t put Bound
you. It’s because the story was literally given to me in its
entirety. I wish it would happen more often because it’s such a joy
when the writing flows.
me, that first year of writing was like wandering in the desert for
40 years. There was a much more direct route available, but I didn’t
do you mean by a more direct path?
I could do it over again, I would've taken more time to learn the
craft of writing BEFORE I submitted my early manuscript to
publishers. I was so eager to get my story out there, but now I can
see that I wasted time submitting it to publishers when it wasn't
ready. I can totally see why they rejected the old version. There are
so many writing no-no's that I didn't know about. For example, a
weather opener in a new chapter tells the editor you're a newbie. So
much for, "It was a dark and stormy night..." Who knew?
Haha! Have you heard of this? Home | The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest (bulwer-lytton.com) Thanks
for clarifying. But really, the only way to learn to write a novel is
by writing a novel. I’m glad you dove in and then learned aspects
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who say they want to
write a book but don’t.
wrote the first draft THEN learned how to write. I didn’t get
serious about learning until my third rejection from a publisher.
(Looking back on it, I’m glad that version was rejected because
this new version is much better.) So, I hunkered down and spent an
entire summer watching online fictional writing classes taught by
Erin Brown Conroy. They’re recorded classes through Homeschool
Connections, a Catholic homeschool program. I was thirty years older
than the average student, but the classes were incredibly helpful. A
year later, when I finished applying the lessons to my manuscript and
rewriting it, I immediately sent it off to Perpetual Light Publishing, and they agreed to publish it.
I still remember the excitement and thrill knowing it’d be a book
that kids could read. Please
give us some insight into your decision-making process in choosing Perpetual Light Publishing because there are so many different
avenues to publish right now.
thrilled to be working with Perpetual Light Publishing. They're a
hybrid publishing company, which was a good fit for me versus
self-publishing or traditional publishing. Being completely new to
publishing, I wanted someone to do the typesetting, cover art,
printing and distribution but just as importantly, I wanted mentors
who could share resources and marketing ideas.
publishers sometimes reject a good manuscript simply because the
author doesn't have a platform, meaning she doesn't have a following
already, whether it's having a TV show, being on the speaking
circuit, or having a podcast, etc. Publishers know that a platform
will enable the author to sell right away which reduces their risk.
hybrid publisher can take a risk on someone without a platform
because an author pays for their services, so they won't lose money
if the book doesn't sell. For example, Perpetual Light offers a la
cart services or bundled services. I paid them for professional
editing, typesetting, cover design, printing, and distribution, then
we share in the profit off each book sold. Their contract is very
generous to authors, so it was definitely the right choice for me.
They've also been great at helping with marketing, whether it's
sharing contacts or promoting my book.
founders of Perpetual Light are Erin Broestl and Jeanie
Schoonover-Egolf, and they’re amazingly talented editors and
writers. Erin wrote God Made the
Moonlight, which Jeanie illustrated,
and Jeanie writes and illustrates the Molly
McBride series. They were excellent
collaborators, and they worked incredibly fast — 9 months to
publication. In fact, the book contract arrived on December the 8th,
the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the book was published on
the eve of Our Lady’s birthday! The timing was a sweet little
“God-nod” since Our Lady plays a small, but pivotal role in the
a talented team. The cover is gorgeous! And
I must say, the interior is sweet too. You
mentioned a treasure hunt for kids. Please elaborate.
part of my book launch, I’ve created the Escape with the Ark
Challenge in which children ages seven and up solve clues and tackle
challenges in their own search for the Ark of the Covenant. It’s
like an escape room, but it can be held outside or in a gym.
look for clues at the landmarks of ancient Jerusalem such as the
Temple and the Coliseum and experience some of the same things Eli
experiences like crawling through a glowworm cave. One clue requires
kids to find dye to reveal a hidden message on a scroll. Another
challenge has them guess which person they should ask for directions,
a Roman or a Pharisee. If they guess incorrectly, they have to dig
through the “garbage” at the Valley of Gehenna to find the next
going to travel around the Southeastern U.S. hosting these events.
Parents can go to JaneenZaio.com. to request that I host one for
their Catholic school or homeschooling group.
sounds like so much fun! Truly, you are bringing all your gifts to
this project. I often have a saint or
two who make themselves known to me, who come onto my radar for
specific stories and to whom I turn to for help.
What saints did you ask to intercede for
you as you wrote?
asked for the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis and Manuel Fodera
who aren’t canonized yet, but I’m sure they’re in heaven. They
were young boys who died of cancer in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
Each of them showed great devotion to the Eucharist. Carlo called the
Eucharist his “highway to heaven” and Manuel called it a “bomb
of grace.” The other unofficial saint is the baby I miscarried,
whom we named John Sebastian. I’m sure those three helped make this
book and the Escape with the Ark Challenge more fun.
next for you? What’s God calling you to do?
addition to hosting the Escape with the Ark Challenges, this spring
I’ll host a True North Book
Club which allows students around the world to watch recorded
sessions online where we discuss each chapter of The
Treasure with a Face and give author
secrets. We also talk about literary devices and vocabulary, so it
can be a language arts class for schools and homeschoolers.
also love to speak at homeschooling or Eucharistic conferences. I
give two different talks:
Ways to Help Kids Have Zeal for Christ’s Real Presence and 40
Ways to Be an Ambassador for Christ’s Real Presence.
that, we’ll see where God leads me, but it would be fun to write a
sequel to The Treasure with a Face or
to take a Eucharistic miracle and develop a fictional story around
so exciting, Janeen. I know you will follow God’s call with
single-minded devotion. May He bless all the works of your heart
the best advice you ever received--on prayer, on writing, on
marketing? What advice do you have for new writers?
best advice on prayer is from our mutual Friend: “Come to Me, all
you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I often
go into Eucharistic Adoration stressed out but come out peaceful and
too, Janeen. It is amazing.
of the best nuggets of advice I ever received on writing is from you,
Vijaya. You said, “Write about something you’re passionate
about.” Now that I’ve read The
Treasure with a Face about a hundred
times, I can see why you have to love what you’re writing, or it
would be very tedious.
let’s not forget that passionate means you’re willing to suffer
best marketing advice I have for writers is to find your audience and
figure out how you
want to reach them. So many people think social media marketing is
the only way, but I think relationship marketing, while not as
efficient, can create more loyal customers. Things like speaking
events, book readings, and scavenger hunts might be more
time-consuming, but they allow you to interact with your readers on a
personal level, which is far more gratifying.
a person who doesn’t have any social media presence at all, I am in
complete agreement with what you say about building relationships.
And it’s a lot more fun too.
advice for new writers is that it’s never too late to start.
I’m reading that book right now by Julia Cameron.
and my unsolicited advice for everybody is the last line in my book,
“Wherever you’re living, whenever you’re living, go discover
the living Jesus for yourself.”
Thank you so much, Janeen, for taking the time to chat with me.
Please share where they can find you online.Link
to my Facebook page, Janeen Zaio, Ambassadors for Christ's Real
to my Facebook page, The
Treasure with a Face by
to my MeWe page, Catholics Who Love the Eucharist
what is your favorite donut?
have a list of my faves but THE very best one is sugar-coated,
custard-filled, flaky croissant donut from the French chocolate cafe
you have it, folks! The donut ministry helped tremendously during our
conversion, so take note. Coincidentally, while we were having this conversation, I was having one with Grace Wynter over at WriterUnboxed. See: Author Up Close: Vijaya Bodach—Play. Dream. Believe. – Writer Unboxed