Today's interview is with Lois Drake, author of ISSA: The Greatest Story Never Told. Be sure to read my review of the book!
Jennifer Walker: What inspired you to write Issa?
Lois Drake: From the time I was a teenager, I felt there was more to Jesus’ message than meets the eye. Spirituality was and is very important to me, so I began to ask questions. When I was in college, I had two professors who introduced me to the concepts of divinity within, reincarnation, and similarities between Christianity and Eastern religions. It wasn’t until about ten years later, though, that I came across a book by Elizabeth Clare Prophet called, The Lost Years of Jesus. Mrs. Prophet documented a mysterious Buddhist manuscript that said Jesus went to India and the Himalayas to study and teach. Her book really got me started and inspired me to put the text into story form so these important ideas could be contemplated by many—especially our youth.
Jennifer Walker: How much research did you do before writing Issa? Talk a little about how you conducted your research.
Lois Drake: My research came from many sources. My collaborator, Fred Peck, gathered materials mainly related to the Kushan civilization. He collected academic books, interviewed professors, dug into research papers and combed the Internet for pieces to this fascinating empire that later disappeared.
Meanwhile, I gathered spiritual concepts from the Bible, The Lost Years of Jesus, other books on the world religions, and an array of related books and Internet sites. Spiritual books from Summit University Press were particularly helpful in bringing concepts of the world religions together and shedding light on Biblical passages and Buddhist and Hindu precepts.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, some of my research came from my earlier travels to Tibet and China. I went to Tibet on several trips knowing that it was said that Jesus had gone there too. My purpose was to help children. My husband and I started a non-profit organization called Friendship Homes and Schools to support an orphanage there and later arranged homes and education for impoverished children in other parts of China as well. Now after over ten years the non-profit has moved on to other endeavors for young people, but the experience of working with a Tibetan lama and his friends gave me insight into what Jesus might have experienced two-thousand years before.
Since Issa was published, I have also had the opportunity for extensive travel in India which really reinforced the scenes depicted in the novel. Many people in India have heard that Jesus came to their land, and outside Madras is the Saint Thomas Basilica believed to house the relics of this disciple who went to India after the crucifixion. So there are definitely connections between India and Jesus’ work.
Jennifer Walker: How many of the events and people in Issa: The Greatest Story Never Told are based on historical record, versus your imagination?
Lois Drake: The Kushan king, Taktu, and prince, Vima Kadphises, are historical characters though very little is known about them and even the dates of their reigns are in question, though the empire was solidifying during Jesus’ lifetime. Some history is pieced together from their coins and other artifacts. A later Kushan king, Kanishka, was famous for building a huge Buddhist shrine in what is now Peshawar, Pakistan, and he also convened the first Buddhist Council. Since the Kushan empire extended over central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and other areas, we can easily imagine the panoply of religions that were tolerated peacefully within the realm: Zoroastrianism, early Hinduism, Judaism, early Buddhism, and others.
The accounts of where Jesus went in India and the situations he encountered came directly from the English translations of the Buddhist text. Unfortunately, the original document was last seen in 1939 at the Himis Monastery in Ladakh and has yet to reappear. The sites mentioned, however, can still be visited in India and are revered as holy places of Krishna and Gautama Buddha.
I imagined a story based on these foundations and juxtaposed preparation for an earthly kingdom of the Kushan people with Jesus’ preparations for a heavenly kingdom.
Jennifer Walker: Tell us a little about you: your interests, family, pets, hobbies.
Lois Drake: I grew up in southern California but spent most of my adult life on a quest for spiritual truth that led me to many places. I took my elementary educational credential in California and landed my first job in Haines, Alaska, teaching second grade for two years. I loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time along rivers and fjords before going inside to write short stories or poetry. From Alaska I corresponded with schools all over the world and ended up teaching kindergarten in Finland for two years. There I enjoyed the mysticism of the quiet beauty of nature and the Finnish epic poem of folklore, Kalevala.
Next, I pursued a career in advertising in California which lasted for many years before I married in my early forties. Although my husband and I have no children, we love young people and assisting them with their goals. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing to that audience. Although none are published, I also have a lot of fun writing children’s stories with spiritual themes.
My main hobbies are hiking, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, and even drawing amateur cartoons! I like knitting but I only knit scarves because they are straight and simple. I think I have enough scarves now.
Jennifer Walker: Do you have any other writing projects, past or upcoming, you would like to tell us about?
Lois Drake: I’m working on the sequel to Issa: The Greatest Story Never Told. The first book is about Jesus as a teen in India. The second book is about his return as a young adult from the Himalayas to Galilee. This episode of his life is also documented in the Buddhist text published in The Lost Years of Jesus and I’ve created episodes to illustrate the scenes. This novel has been especially poignant to write because Jesus is now a young adult facing challenges that many of us can identify with.
Jennifer Walker: How did you become a writer? Is it something you've always wanted to do, or is this a recent development?
Lois Drake: For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be an author. Somehow that term was with me even in elementary school. When I was eight or nine I wrote poetry and drew pictures to go with them. I wish I still had some of those early creations. But like most of us, I put away my childhood dreams as I made my way through life. Interestingly, though, all of my careers had to do with children or writing.
Although writing is hard work, for me it is also a way to enter deeply into the inner sanctuary of my being and commune with God whom I credit as the source of all uplifting creativity.
Jennifer Walker: What was the process you went through to get Issa published? Was it frustrating? Easy?
Lois Drake: First, I learned that if I wanted to be published I had to put away my ego. By that I mean that if a writer is very sensitive about critiques and reviews, getting published will be a painful experience. I say that as I smile because working with Snow Mountain Press was a wonderful experience of teamwork. But it wouldn’t have been so pleasant if any of us had insisted that “my way” was the only right way. Working in advertising for many years I learned that many artists are very attached to their creations remaining untouched.
This could not be the case with Issa. I knew it would have to go through thorough review for fact-checking and theological accuracy—at least to the best of our abilities. I would estimate that the editing and rewriting process took a few years and I would guess that more than forty people gave input!
In the end, I am very grateful to all of them because the teamwork truly brought the novel to a higher level than my earliest draft. I received new insights all the way. But I have to admit, it was hard to edit so many times. Nevertheless whenever I edited I could always say afterward, “That’s better!”
Jennifer Walker: Did anything interesting happen while you were researching and writing Issa?
Lois Drake: I’m sure every author has the experience of sitting down with a blank laptop screen or piece of paper before them and saying, “Now what?”
I found it interesting that if I began early in the morning and said a prayer, the story unfolded itself. I would force myself to put down something even if I was only working for fifteen minutes. That something always led to the next thing. I worked from an outline I created in the same manner based on the research.
Many times the story would come together while I was out hiking or sleeping at night and the next morning I would be able to begin again. In this way, even though I had to imagine what it might have been like two thousand years ago, I felt that Jesus was helping me prepare this novel.
Jennifer Walker: If you were banished on a desert island and could have one item with you, what would it be?
Lois Drake: I used to think about this question even as a child. My answer was always, “The Bible.” And it still is. Why? Because if you read the Bible through the heart rather than through the head (and without the filters of traditional doctrine), and if you ask Jesus and Buddha to explain it to you, I believe you will find everything there to lead to union with God and your own ascension which I believe is the goal of life.
That said, you will notice my emphasis on the heart. Nurturing the divine spark in the heart is the most important “survival tool” to me, and if I couldn’t have any item, I would invite the Christ, the Buddha to dwell in my heart and I’m sure I would be transformed.
Maybe I need to be banished on a desert island!
Jennifer Walker: Who is your favorite author?
Lois Drake: What a difficult question. I really enjoy reading biographies of heroes, spiritual work, and some fiction that helps raise consciousness.
I would say my favorite fiction author is C.S. Lewis for The Chronicles of Narnia. His art of writing makes us love his lion-character, Aslan, so much that we learn to love the Christ. I believe the Christ or the Buddha is a higher consciousness—the universal Son of God—that can reside in each of us and was manifested in Jesus and the great saints and sages of East and West. Lewis’ lion helped me contact the courage and the supreme sacrifice we are all called to make as we strive to become a Christ or a Buddha.
For non-fiction, hands-down my favorite author is Elizabeth Clare Prophet not only for The Lost Years of Jesus but also for other esoteric work that helps explain the deeper meanings and mystical similarities of the world’s great religions. One of her most popular books is Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil. In it she publishes and comments upon the missing Book of Enoch. In today’s tumultuous world, that’s another great story to help us make heads and tails out of all the darkness we observe. That may inspire me to yet another novel.