Years ago, my cousin’s son lived in Calcutta ministering to prostitutes through an organization called Word Made Flesh. I was deeply moved by their work. I wrote him an email:
“I admire what you’re doing in building relationships with the girls in the red light district there. That takes a special kind of courage. Missionaries of all kinds have it rough because they are thrust into a different culture and it often takes months—even years—to build the trust necessary to even begin presenting the gospel. And here you are, a man, trying to build trust in girls who have only been USED by men! You are willing to be mistrusted and patiently pry at the cracks of the walls between their hearts and yours. And you have nothing to gain personally, really—you want to see them eventually come to trust in the Savior. You are a bridge.
I certainly see the value of strong, Christian men doing this (women, too). It seems like these lost girls would have to experience that trust in a man as a link to trust in general.”
“I felt so encouraged after reading your email. We have had a lot of people (mostly Indians here in Calcutta) tell us that they don’t think men should be involved in ministries to prostitutes. However, we fell that it is vital for these girls to have men treat them with the respect they deserve. It was great to hear that someone who is removed from the situation sees the value in what we are doing.
It definitely seems best to have men and women working jointly in this area. There are elements that neither of the sexes can offer on their own, so partnering works best.”
It was a ministry in which honorable men treated prostitutes as worthy. Much as Jesus treated such women during his walk on earth. As the Word made flesh.
This situation came to mind while reading Lori Altebaumer’s A Far Way to Run. It addresses the trauma of human trafficking—not in India, but here in the USA. It spotlights victims as well as those who try to put a stop to it. People like Shayne Wright and Ethan McGregor.
A Far Way to Run is a compelling story about overcoming the past to discover your purpose. This novel chronicles what happens when a woman traumatized by a violent sexual assault must make a life-defining choice to continue hiding, or stand up in the face of evil to save a stranger.
Shayne Wright returns to the Texas town where she grew up for a funeral and accidentally gets caught in a human trafficking scheme gone wrong. When she stops to render aid at an accident, she ends up with a gunshot wound to her shoulder and a target on her back when the trafficker believes she stole his money.
Her plan to stay the night at the old family farm becomes complicated when she finds it has been leased to a man working through some past demons of his own. Former military sniper Ethan McGregor is here on a reconnaissance mission for an organization that fights human trafficking. The complications keep coming when her prodigal brother shows up. When he tells Shayne and Ethan he saw a woman being held against her will, Ethan’s interest intensifies, thinking this might be the human trafficking he’s here to uncover. Shayne, on the other hand, wrestles with trusting her brother.
Her conscience propels her to search for a way to help, but knowing the woman is being held at the place where she’d been assaulted makes her wary. It doesn’t help that she’s kept the attack a secret. The one person who knows her secret is also obsessed with her. When he abducts her, she finds out her strength to face evil is stronger than the shame she fears.
The beautiful writing in this story belies the anguish at its heart. The first line pulled me in: “There is more than one way to bury a person.” Shayne Wright knows all about that firsthand. She thought she could outrun her demons. But she can’t.
She returns to her hometown, Turnaround, Texas, for a friend’s funeral, and decides to stay a bit longer at her deceased grandfather’s home. But someone else beat her to it. A stranger, Ethan McGregor, has already taken refuge there.
Though rough around the edges and plagued by anger issues, Ethan is an honorable man with an honorable purpose, which we understand better as the story continues.
To complicate matters, Shayne’s unreliable brother Levi shows up unexpectedly, but he might hold key information for rescuing a woman in trouble. Assuming he’s telling the truth.
Shayne, Levi, and Ethan are all broken people holding their respective secrets close: rape, addictions, broken relationships . . . If they’re going to be of any help, they must take some risks. Trusting each other is the first of many such risks.
Shayne’s struggles with trust, lack of confidence, and succumbing to her boyfriend Nick’s tactics make sense considering her earlier trauma. She’d never revealed what happened, so she remains locked in time. Buried, as it were. Buried alive, with all the emotional fallout.
Fortunately, there are happy moments with comic relief and quirky characters to balance out the weighty issues.
The tension and intrigue exist from the get-go with an understanding that Shayne has been hiding her previous trauma in an effort to go on with her life. And things are coming to a head. But so much is conveyed through introspection—good stuff but sometimes impeding the storyline, with no dialog or interactions for long segments. At times, so many thoughts whirled through the dialog that I had to go back a page to remind myself of what was just said.
One particular scene is relayed more as a summary even though it could have been milked for dramatic effect. After all the buildup, I wanted to live that scene in the moment with full dialog.
This story sparks empathy for human trafficking victims, something we should care about deeply. The faith aspect is strong and meaningful. Though dark and gritty, this novel is worthwhile. But I suggest sandwiching it between two light-hearted ones.
A Far Way to Run is book 2 of the Turnaround in Texas series.
Join me for some Q & A with Lori Altebaumer.
Questions about A Far Way to Run
A Far Way to Run deals with the tough issue of human trafficking. How and why did you decide to tackle this in a novel?
Lori: This book brings attention to the reality that human trafficking is all around us. But that wasn’t the original thought behind this book. It started with just one conversation between Shayne and her brother, Levi. I started asking why is she so angry with him? What happened that led to this moment?
As I uncovered the story, though, I found that human trafficking connected with the arcs my characters needed. Human trafficking is very real and much closer to home than we want to believe. It doesn’t have to look like the images of women standing on dark street corners. It’s the teenage girl–or boy–next door. The world is filled with predators waiting to take advantage of them.
Through ministering to women, I’ve heard stories that break my heart and make my blood boil. That has convinced me I don’t want to live in a bubble denying those things don’t happen. My job is to wake the reader up to that reality.
I think of this story as being more about becoming the women we were meant to be. I hope it shines a light on a much larger tragedy, but it’s really about each of us embracing our “for such a time as this” moment. We won’t fight a war we don’t believe we are in. But when we understand the truth about who we are and who God is, we are game changers. Nothing in our past can disqualify us from having great purpose in our future.
How did you create your heroine Shayne and your hero Ethan, and how did you decide on the story premise?
Lori: The premise grew from the scene mentioned above. Only a betrayal of the worst kind could cause such damage to a sibling relationship. Uncovering that betrayal helped me to see what needed to happen to force them to face the past and become stronger people by the end.
Shayne was incredibly wounded and angry but determined to not expose any of her feelings. But she was also an empath, which made hiding her true feelings even harder. She had an intense longing for something she was denying herself. What was it and why? She didn’t want to be seen, and she certainly didn’t want to stir up conflict. I could see glimpses of her strength, so what would make her act in such a passive way, especially around her brother?
The more I learned about Shayne’s backstory, the more I realized she’d once been a strong, independent young girl. What made her change (at least temporarily) wasn’t what happened to her. It was her love for her family and her desire to protect them from the pain the truth might cause.
Ethan was a bit of challenge, much less open about himself than the others. He, too, was angry, and as I uncovered his backstory, I understood why. The question was, “What would bring a man like him out of his anger so he could forgive himself?”
His experiences left him with a jaded view of the world. He was searching for something good, something pure. He needed to feel the urge to protect. He needed something to revive his heart and give it something to fight for.
The answer was Shayne. Her innocence made him want to protect her and guard those qualities—emotionally, too. She gave him hope that something good still existed. But because of his own guilt, he also doubted his ability to succeed in helping her.
Did your characters hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Lori: Our characters tell us things we can never figure out on our own. That’s crazy writer talk, but sometimes characters are discovered more than designed.
I don’t think I create my characters as much as I just open the door and let them into the interview room in my head. Some I have to ask to leave, some don’t fit and leave on their own, and some take a long time to open up. But I sense when I’ve found the right personalities to accomplish what needs to happen in the story—ordinary people put in situations where they’ll do extraordinary things. At times, my characters redirect the story line, but if their direction doesn’t make the story stronger, we have a staff meeting… and then do it my way.
What did you have to research to make this story authentic?
Lori: I hate to admit that some of the worst parts of this book aren’t things I had to research. From my time of ministering women, I’ve heard too many heart-wrenching stories. The enemy has orchestrated wicked schemes in hopes of destroying the femininity and beauty of God’s daughters. I could write a thousand books and not run out of material on that subject.
I also follow some specific groups who are actively engaged in fighting human trafficking. Reading about what they are doing keeps me informed.
I did the most research for how to crash an airplane. I have a friend whose husband in a crash investigator. He’s enthusiastic about what he does, and I received detailed diagrams and documents that were way over my head. I just wanted to know where the bullets should hit and how the plane would respond when they did. But he was an excellent resource. If I made any mistakes, it wasn’t because he didn’t give me the right information—or enough information.
And I always double check anything I have law enforcement doing in a story. I’m thankful to have family and friends I can call on for that. I have such respect for what they do. I never want to misrepresent something that involves them.
How does A Firm Place to Stand (first in this Turnaround in Texas series) compare to A Far Way to Run?
Lori: A Firm Place to Stand was my first novel. I think it helped me get some of the butterflies out. That gave me confidence to be bolder with a lot of things in the second book. I let my characters be more wounded and go to darker places.
Of course, the main characters are different. Maribel in A Firm Place to Stand is a bit sassier and more hardheaded. Shayne in A Far Way to Run is more withdrawn and guarded. Whereas Shayne hides herself by withdrawing, Maribel almost goes the complete opposite direction. That’s the easy answer.
The deeper answer is that A Firm Place to Stand deals with the issue of finding freedom in forgiveness of both others and of ourselves. A Far Way to Run looks into finding restoration by overcoming the lies we’ve been told as well as the ones we have told ourselves.
Questions about writing
Which books and/or authors have most inspired you in your writing journey?
Lori: I have to give a good amount of credit for starting my writing journey to Tamera Alexander. I love to read author interviews (never thought I’d be writing one!), and I read one where Tamera told the story of what got her started writing. It resonated with me, and I remember thinking “I think I could do that.”
Then I read Francine Rivers’ A Voice in The Wind. That book impacted my Christian walk in a profound, life altering way. I knew in that moment I wanted to do that. I wanted to use words and story to change lives.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share examples of how a story grew from an initial idea. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Lori: My stories tend to grow out of a single scene or image or maybe a bit of dialogue, as is the case in A Far Way to Run. Something takes hold and stirs my emotion until I begin to explore or unravel a bigger picture. Sometimes there’s a big enough story it becomes a book, but sometimes it may a short story. And sometimes it may just be for my benefit, to teach me an aspect of craft or make me a better writer.
Of course, I also lean on setting and theme too. I love the place where I grew up—the landscape and the people, so you’ll find most of my stories set in a rural Texas environment. And I am passionate about women rising to call to adventure and heroinism in the battle of good over evil. Those are two things you are likely to find in most of my work.
I have been a pantser, but I am trying to navigate myself into a hybrid of the two. I can’t do extensive plotting without getting bored—and the story never seems to follow my outline once I get to going. On the other hand, working as a panster means so much rewriting! I think I may have actually written about five or six books by the time I get one done the way it needs to be.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Lori: I am excited about the book I’m working on now. Again, it started with the image of a scene that randomly popped into my head. A woman walking across a truck stop parking lot late at night and encountering man who was interested in more than a passing howdy. This woman had some major confidence, not to mention witty comebacks. She was tough.
As I writer, I hope that each book I write is better than the one before. I am always trying to learn the craft and improve my storytelling ability. My goal is to go deeper into the wounds we carry and paint a path to healing with my words.
I also don’t see myself a genre writer. I just want to tell really good stories that capture the reader’s attention and propels them into a truer reality.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
The best way to learn how to write a book is to write a book. We can read all the books on craft, attend the conferences, and study the masters, but until we actually sit at the computer and type THE END on a completed story, we don’t grasp the magnitude of the undertaking. We best learn the use of tools by using them.
Back to Laura . . . On a different note . . .
If you like southern historical fiction, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968 rather than contemporary Texas, the story highlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden. Additionally, in August, All That Is Hidden became the winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
I invite you to join my monthly newsletter for updates, freebies, and giveaways. Sign up and I’ll send you a free gift: www.StandoutStoriesNewsletter.com
Lori Altebaumer Bio
Lori Altebaumer is only half-joking when she tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. A love of story and words, along with a wild imagination, fuels her passion for writing both fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, A Firm Place to Stand, was recognized as 2020 AWSA Golden Scrolls Awards winner and selected as a finalist for multiple Selah Awards and the BRMCWC Director’s Choice Awards in 2021. A love of God fuels her passion for sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. A life-long Texan, Lori is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart. Now that her nest is empty, she enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for another visit with author Sherri Wilson Johnson.
Meanwhile, have you read A Far Way to Run? What dark, gritty fiction have you appreciated? What difficult themes would you like to see more of in fiction? Answer in the comments below.