My guest blogger today is Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds, a romantic thriller with roots in reality. Donelson says:
There has been a great deal of discussion about reality versus imagination in memoir, but something that’s often overlooked is the role real events and people can play in fiction.
That is especially true in a novel like Heart of Diamonds, my high-concept romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo. The plot concerns the White House, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an American televangelist in a diamond smuggling scheme that is uncovered by an enterprising TV reporter, Valerie Grey.
One of the main characters in Heart of Diamonds is Gary Peterson, the American televangelist who owns the diamond mine. He’s a fabulously successful man of God, a close pal of the President of the United States, and utterly devoted to making a quick buck or two if the opportunity presents itself. He also has a right hand man, missionary Thomas Alben, who runs the diamond mine for him and does most of the dirty work in the operation.
All of these characters are fictional, of course, but they had their genesis in the real world. The whole concept for Heart of Diamonds sprang from an article I read in Time Magazine about the cozy relationship between Pat Robertson, the famous American televangelist, and Mobutu Sese-Seko, the dictator who raped the Congo for thirty years. When I found out Robertson owned diamond mines and timber concessions in the Congo-making profits from slave labor, no less –I simply had to write a book about it.
The Robertson-Mobutu connection is fascinating. Mobutu was essentially put in office by the CIA. He ran the country for three decades and stole literally billions of dollars. During that time, he had one of the worst human rights records in Africa.
The other member of the tag team is Pat Robertson, one of the most successful evangelical preachers of all time. He founded the 700 Club, ran for President of the United States, and has millions of followers around the world who subscribe to his version of Christianity. You wouldn’t think these two men would be buddies, but they were.
Robertson had many business interests in the Congo-and it just wasn’t possible to operate there at the time without the direct approval of Mobutu. It was also well-known that you didn’t get that approval for free. Apparently, Robertson and Mobutu got along famously. The Time article reported that one time, Robertson and his wife and their entourage were flown from Paris to Kinshasa on one of Mobutu’s personal Boeing 707s. In Zaire, Mobutu himself took them on the presidential yacht on a ride up the Congo River to visit one of his estates.
Robertson had a relief program in the Congo that is still functioning, Operation Blessing, as well as a private concern called the African Development Company, which made investments in mining, lumber, agriculture, transportation and power generation, supposedly with an eye to plowing the profits back into humanitarian efforts. One of those investments was a diamond mine in a small town south of Tshikapa near the Congo’s border with Angola. That’s the site of the diamond mine in Heart of Diamonds.
One of the men who ran ADC for Robertson was Bill Lovick, a former minister of the Assemblies of God who was dismissed by the church in 1985 for questionable fund-raising practices. Readers of Heart of Diamonds may find some interesting similarities between these men and some of the characters in the novel, notably televangelist Gary Peterson, the missionary Thomas Alben who runs the diamond mine, and Moise Messime, the President of the Congo.
The more I learned about these guys and the things they were doing in the Congo in the name of Jesus Christ, the more intrigued I became. Heart of Diamonds isn’t their story-the smuggling scheme, the connection to the White House, the U.S. military involvement, and many other elements are completely fictional. The characters are figments of my imagination, too, although they certainly have personality traits similar to some real individuals.
What is very real in Heart of Diamonds is my portrayal of the terrible plight of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the direct result of the unadulterated greed of people trying to control the vast natural resources of the country. Mobutu may be long gone and Pat Robertson’s business interests gone with him, but the brutality continues.