Author Joan Embola’s debut novel, The One Who Knows Me, released this past week!
Author Joan Embola, I’m so honored to have you for my first author interview on this blog! Joan is the author of The One Who Knows Me, her debut college-age contemporary fiction novel focusing on faith and mental health. You can find her book here on Amazon!
Q: Joan, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: Yes, of course 🙂 My name is Joan Embola. I was born and raised in Cameroon in west central Africa but I’m now based in the U.K. I’m the oldest of three children and the only girl. I work as a physician associate and spend most days of the week diagnosing, treating and managing patients. I love writing, I have a YouTube channel and I do a little bit of podcasting as well. I love to journal, sing, crochet, and play the ukulele.
Q: You work in the medical field for your “day job”. What drew you to that, and what drew you to writing?
A: I was never one of those people who “knew” they were going to work in the medical field from a young age. My interest in the medical field grew when I fell in love with science subjects at school, but I never knew what job I wanted to do specifically. From 2014 to 2018, God led me on a roller coaster ride which required a lot of trust, and I finally realised the role of a physician associate is what suits me best.
In regards to writing, I’m also not one of those people who have “always wanted to be a writer.” If someone told me five years ago that I would be a published author of two books this year, I would have laughed in their face. My writing journey began when I was a teenager. I used to write poems to God as a way of helping me deal with my emotions. I initially wrote these poems for myself, but years later, God encouraged me to compile them into a poetry devotional which I published in 2018. The idea for my debut novel came as a surprise because I never thought I would ever write fiction. But as soon as the inspiration hit me, I couldn’t help myself. God helped me navigate a few initial doubts and fears, but once I was in, I didn’t look back.
Q: The One Who Knows Me focuses on mental health. Traditionally, this is a subject that was taboo in so many societies. It is still, sadly, taboo in many societies and in many churches today. What drew you to focus on this topic for your debut novel, and to specifically tie it into a journey of faith?
A: When I wrote the first draft of this novel, it was all in Teeyana’s POV and Jayden didn’t even have a POV. But with each draft I realised that there was more to Jayden’s story. So when I wrote drafts 2, 3 and 4, I gave Jayden his own scenes but they only existed to support Teeyana’s character arc. After the fourth draft, I gave the book to my first round of beta readers and one of them was an editor who really helped me understand how to map out a character arc and give more depth to Jayden’s perspective. As I outlined the whole book again, Jayden’s story started to become clearer to me. That was when I realised that I couldn’t tell the full story and show the light of Christ without tapping into the characters’ mental health journeys. I had always known the book was going to be about a journey of faith, so including the mental health elements added more depth to it. I was scared to tackle these topics at first and I tried to talk myself out of exploring them many times, but God kept nudging me in that direction until the full story was written. Getting God’s approval was the only thing that mattered to me and I pray that all those who read this book will understand that they are not alone and that God is with them as they go through deep waters.
Q: Both of your main characters, Teeyana and Jayden, each have their own journeys of faith and mental health in this story. Who do you relate to more?
A: I definitely relate more to Jayden. He is the character after my heart but he also was challenging to write. I relate to the fact that Jayden’s past experiences prompted him to encourage others, and help them see God’s goodness again. I also relate to the fact that Jayden was seen as the “strong friend” and he struggled to be vulnerable with others. The problem with being the “strong friend” is that people can find it hard to believe that you too can have your own struggles. But it was very refreshing for me to write about Jayden learning how to depend on God for strength to deal with his daily struggles.
Q: The line that resonated with me the most as I read The One Who Knows Me was a thought that runs through Teeyana’s head late in the novel – “I always try to keep everything under control, because that is where my confidence comes from ”. As a Type A perfectionist, myself, I felt that deeply. I lived in that headspace for many years, and I still fight it, sometimes. Can you speak to the origin of or the thought process behind this line?
A: Yes, so I think this line specifically came from the fact that at the beginning of the book, Teeyana struggled to see God’s sovereignty as a good thing. She kept trying to ‘run away’ and wanted nothing to do with God because things weren’t going according to her plan. I think a lot of us can relate to that because we want to control everything and when we can’t do that, it becomes really hard for us to accept it and that’s when anxiety kicks in. Over the last few years, I have learnt that the secret to truly experiencing perfect peace in Christ is total surrender. The Bible says in Isaiah 26:3 that God will keep in perfect peace those who trust in Him, and those whose minds are stayed on Him. God has ultimate control, He holds the whole world in His hands, He sustains the universe and He will always win. We will fail and continue to fail when we try to rely on our strength and hold on to things we can’t control. But when we surrender our burdens and our cares to God, He takes them and in exchange, He gives us peace and comfort.
Q: Without giving away spoilers, can you tell us a bit about your favorite part of the book to write, and the part that was the most challenging?
A: I really loved writing about the romance between the main characters and I also loved writing the scenes where the main characters had their “aha moments” and when they finally learned the lesson they needed to learn.
The most challenging was certainly navigating through Jayden’s mental health journey and particularly the backstory with his older brother. It was hard to write those scenes without feeling for the characters.
Q: It’s been so great to have you, Joan! Before we go, can you tell us a little bit about the sequel and your inspirations for it?
A: Oooh I’m so excited to share book 2 in the Sovereign Love series. This book is set to release next year (by God’s grace) and more details will come over the next few months. Book 2 follows Teeyana’s best friend–Amara and this book was actually inspired by a book I read last summer. I was so annoyed by how certain topics and issues were treated in that book that I was inspired to write a book which tackled similar issues but from a Biblical perspective. That’s all I can say for now but I will reveal more information in the next few months. Subscribe to my free author newsletter to get the news first.
Joan Embola is a UK-based Cameroonian-Nigerian Christian author who aims to share God’s love one word at a time. She writes books about diverse characters whose hope-filled stories point to the sovereign love and goodness of God in our broken world. She is a qualified physician associate and also the founder of Love Qualified, a ministry dedicated to encouraging others to experience the sovereign love of the one true God who has qualified us to be His beloved ones. She is a passionate lover and teacher of God’s Word, and she shares this passion on her YouTube channel, blog, and podcast. When she’s not writing or curled up with a book, you’ll find her watching movies, YouTube videos, or making memories with her family and friends.