she and her husband moved to Iowa where they started their family of seven kids, and she began writing to cope with severe PTSD. She began college part time in the mid-2000s, as she continued to research and write Visions of a Dream. Justine earned her BLS from The University of Iowa, and is now working on a Master’s Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University.She has a lot to share with us today, so let's get started!
Justine, welcome to Interviews & Reviews!
How long have you been writing?
I've been writing since I could hold a pen after my 1990 car accident in California. I sustained a severe brain injury, was in a coma, and was paralyzed, but after I woke up writing was what helped me recover. I felt led to write, like it was a prayer for recovery. When I walked again we moved to the Midwest, and I began to write journals and then books. Visions of a Dream was the second book I began to write, and the extensive research I did for it helped to organize my thoughts and remember where I couldn't before. The more notes I took for my book, the more structured my mind became. I've been writing then, for 27 years.
What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
For me, the most difficult thing about writing was reading what I had written, or reading anything at all (due to my brain injury). My eyes didn't focus on a line until years and years of practice and training myself. I also couldn't remember what I had written or where I was going with it, and it was hard for me to comprehend a sentence, which was one of the things that I staunchly worked on - focus. Through that focus, my mind started to heal, and through taking college courses my mind is even further disciplined. I'm now working on my Master's degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University.
Do you talk to your characters?
Yes! I feel I have to in order to understand them, I have to interact with them in my imagination. I have to day dream about them (the first step of writing for me). In that way, I can organically understand how they would react to a certain situation.
Your recovery from your accident is fascinating. I admire your courage and your determination. Do you think God used your accident to get you to write? In other words, would you have been a writer without the accident?
YES, I absolutely believe that I'm writing today because I was in the accident and because I almost died. I needed Jesus so much after the accident and writing - and research - was where he led me to reach him again. I wrote prayers when I needed him most, and I wrote stories because that's where my prayers led. I would have never even communicated again if not for writing, as my thoughts were so disorganized and my words were so jumbled. My car accident and brain injury were the biggest gifts I've ever been given in my life, since it gave me purpose and meaning, and led me to write. My car accident took me out of the direction my life was going (I was interested in politics but wasn't sure) and set me on a course of writing and being a mother (since my husband and I eventually had 7 kids). It essentially made me stop, take a breath, and put me on a different course. Having nearly died, I knew not to question Jesus.
Do you have a favourite Scripture verse?
Song of Solomon, the entire chapter 5 because it reminds me, in symbolic terms, of my near death. For example, verse 7 speaks to me about how hard life (the watchmen) was on me during my accident and subsequent recovery, and how bitter my recovery was.
Are there any authors that have inspired your own writing?
Emily Bronte, the Bible, Rumi, Plato, for they all gave my imagination freedom.
immersed himself in the Persian culture when there, then he immersed himself in the Egyptian Culture when there, and also the Indian culture when there, for he believed in the individual beauty of each culture rather than assimilation. The exploration of his heart and mind becomes the greatest legacy he leaves behind in the world.
What inspired you to write this book?
I knew I wanted to write about Alexander the Great after watching a documentary about him a few years after my car accident. I recognized his fortitude and his determination, and I knew I wanted that in my own recovery. I knew I needed the faith and the persistence that he had. The more I researched him, the more he inspired me, and the more I knew I could persevere as he did. I got to know who he essentially was through his actual words, that his officers brought back from battles, in Arrian - and I began to understand his motivations and I was fascinated by them.
Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Definitely. My goal for Visions of a Dream is to show that the world's religions and cultures beautify each other and enrich each other, which was Alexander the Great's vision for the world in the 4th Century B.C. He valued the distinctions of people and fell in love with their beliefs, traditions, and prophesies - and he was fearless about including them all into his own spiritual journey. Through Alexander's spiritual story, people can be inspired by each other's courage rather than fearful of each other's differences.
You place a lot of your success at recovery on Alexander's own faith, persistence, and determination to succeed. Yet he believed in many gods rather than the one true God. How and when did your faith in Christ come into play during your recovery?
I don't think Alexander believed in many gods, I think he believed in a single, universal god who happened to have many different names according to what different cultures understood. I don't think he believed in any sort of duality at all. For example, his own name was Alexander, though the Persians could only pronounce his name as Iksander - still the same person, but different name according to what the people of that culture understood and could explain. They were still ruled by the same king though they pronounced his name differently. I think that was his attitude toward world faiths/names for god (like ancient Judaism believed that there were 72 names for god, as an example, though I do not know if they still do). It's a broad sweeping belief in his mind, may be how to explain it. There are so many common threads in ancient religions that I understand him. I'm a Christian, yes, and I admire Alexander for being so fearless in his faith that he could believe the different gods of the world were essentially one, and regardless of the name he worshiped the one god. He didn't feel his own beliefs were under threat. A prophet I have him meet in Jerusalem in my book prophecies about Christianity, but I wanted it to be done in a way that was as ancient as the times for which I was writing. It was essentially a translation for him - each place translated god's name differently. India had many gods but I think he tried to understand rather than ridicule or correct. I think the only person whose religion he did not respect was his mother's, who practiced a type of cult religion that I can tell through the writings of Arrian he did not respect. Also, I wanted to be authentic to each ancient culture that Alexander encountered, and since they each worshiped differently and their paths toward oneness were structured differently, I wanted to give an authentic sense of that. The story also deals with God within human relationships, and how those were interpreted in different cultures.
Personally, in my recovery, I felt led to Alexander, led to watch the documentary that day, wherein I found inspiration in Alexander's openness and perseverance. I had just almost died and woke up from a coma, and though I had my husband and we were starting a family, I was led to seek inspiration (the first book I had begun to train my eyes to read was the Bible, and I'm at a Christian site even though Alexander may not be classified in today's terms as Christian because it's honestly where I feel the most comfortable). When I felt led to study Alexander, it was because Jesus' intention was to heal me through him which was why I felt led to him. Jesus uses many different ways and I knew at that point to question nothing he led me to, after all, I had just been resuscitated. In this way I understand Alexander's openness to various translations of god and the different ways of embarking those paths.
Alexander the Great figures prominently in Bible prophecy, particularly in the book of Daniel. Is this aspect of how God used him featured in your book?
Yes and no (not literally matching up with the Bible, while adhering to a general prophetic thread throughout the story). What I've done is have Daniel's descendant talk to Alexander in Babylon, during one of the times he most needs it, and Daniel's descendant shares some of Daniel's insights into life and prophecy that helps Alexander see how wisdom relates to him too. Daniel's descendant also speaks to Alexander about the Jews' captivity in Babylon, as well as Nebuchadnezzar (he shares a story about Nebuchadnezzar's wife missing the mountains and forests of her native land); and when Alexander is in Jerusalem he learns wisdom through another biblical prophet. These were my favorite parts of the book to write, the parts that I felt the most free in as a writer. Alexander not only believed he was in line with Jewish prophecy, but he also believed he was fulfilling the prophecy of each culture he came into contact with. I loved the historical depth in these parts.
He was bent on conquest and conquered many kingdoms, yet you state that he was inclusive of all people. No one likes to be conquered, how did he stop the people from rising up against him?
He respected them and allowed them their freedom, and they respected him for doing so. I think the person in history who gave him the reputation of being the crazed conqueror was Alexander's former tutor Aristotle. Aristotle called Alexander insane for embracing other cultures rather than forcing the Greek culture on all those that were conquered, and because Aristotle's nephew was also in Alexander's army word would get back to Aristotle quite easily (Alexander was also sending back scientific samples to Aristotle along the way). Aristotle was of course influential. All those in Greece and Macedonia also believed that the Greek customs should be spread to those whom Alexander had conquered, rather than him adapting to their ways. The old guard Greeks and Macedonians in his army ended up mutinying in India because of this issue, as well as the fact that Alexander integrated those whom he had conquered into his army and the original soldiers were jealous. The Greeks and Macedonians insisted that they were his "brothers," not the "foreigners" whom Alexander conquered and called his brothers, but he wouldn't have their hard-line view. I think he was fascinated by the cultures of people and the beliefs that made them tick, and I think he saw the truth in each man's religion (he felt that all gods were essentially one). I also think Alexander hardened a lot when his men started to mutiny, as he couldn't fathom the betrayal of these men whom he would die for and who would once die for him.
He was a great military general (some say of all time). Were there certain strategies he employed to go to war? If so, what can we learn from him today that might help us in regards to the war on terror?
My main resource, among many, was Arrian, an ancient historian. I loved how in detail Arrian went into Alexander's strategy, and I learned military maneuvering through it - but Alexander was never predictable. He never employed the same surprise tactic twice - but the main thing he did that I truly noticed was garner the genuine love and devotion of his men. They wanted to jump at the chance to die for him. He also listened to the stories and grievances of each of them, and he would even tend to their wounds himself which was well known among them. His men felt as entitled to his legacy as he did - though completely out of love and oneness with him and not ambition or entitlement.
In regard to the war on terror, Alexander did begin to lose some of his first fights in the mountains of India because he wasn't accustomed to their disorganized way of fighting...and with these fights in addition to the Indian weather, as well as Alexander's genuine love of the people he conquered, the army mutinied. But even given this, I don't think that Alexander would have been overcome by the terrorists in today's midst. I think that Alexander would have tried to learn about them and understand them, and he would have found something within them that he would use to their disadvantage. When he was approaching Tyre and the envoys went out to greet his army, Alexander requested to worship their god in their temple - however they said no, which resulted in Alexander's siege upon Tyre (for six months) until he conquered the remote island. I think he would have dealt with the war on terror in much the same manner (he would have tried to get into their heads before he struck in a round-about way).
God works with us all in different ways to help us grow and learn. I find it fascinating that He used Alexander the Great to help you on your road to recovery. Thank you for sharing with us today.
If you would like to find out more about Justine visit her website at http://jhemmestad.wixsite.com/justine-j-hemmestad
Her book is available on Amazon.