(Originally published in Woman of Noble Character)
When I began writing Brimstone 1, I came to two important conclusions. The pilot would be a woman, and she would be the best in her field, a status only reachable after many years of achievement. These character requirements intersect in Jana McAlister, age 48. Per historic precedent, she came to the astronaut program by way of the military. Jana was a US Navy fighter pilot who flew F/A-18s over Iraq and Afghanistan in her early career and F-35s on special missions at the end. In 2020, five years before the events of Brimstone 1, Jana led a covert raid to destroy a banned nuclear weapons facility. She overcame a ground-based EMP weapon—electromagnetic pulse, designed to fry her jet’s systems—and downed three advanced MiGs guarding the base.
But exploits in the atmosphere wouldn’t be enough. Ever since watching Sally Ride as a first grader, Jana wanted to be an astronaut. She earned engineering degrees and won a slot in the astronaut corps. She was a young payload specialist during the Space Shuttle’s last days. In the 2020s, she flew twice to the International Space Station, the final trip in a new mini-shuttle that will be used as Brimstone 1’s orbital vehicle. Billionaire Baxter Moore III, the builder of the first Christian rocket, hires only the finest. Jana McAlister, with decades of service to God and country, meets the standard.
When I was a young screenwriter, my mom taught me to ask “What does the character want?” Jana is a world-class aviator, but she doesn’t rest on her laurels. She is committed to the success of Brimstone 1, naturally. But what lies beyond? Jana plans to retire after touchdown and start a Christian equine therapy ranch in her hometown of Clovis, NM. She endangers that dream by declining a grant from a company covering up its defective products. Baxter leverages her setback, replacing lost funds to fortify her promise to keep Brimstone 1’s secrets, her resolve wavering after viewing a startling video from space.
Mom would like the drama of Jana’s “want,” a contrast from her high-flying past, grounded and selfless but opening her to compromise. But she wouldn’t have me stop there. As the countdown approaches, Jana falls in love—with a man two decades her junior. She has much in common with protagonist Elijah Lindstrom. Both are brilliant engineers. Both fly drones for professional pursuits and personal enjoyment. Both are single and Christian. As a teen, Elijah idolized Jana when she was spokesperson for a national science club, initiating a life of discovery that leads him to unravel the first Christian rocket’s mysteries.
Jana fights the feelings. A man who had her standing—late forties, famous, boot-camp fit—would be expected to attract a gorgeous twenty-something and complete the conquest. Jana doesn’t count on such encouragement. She broke barriers in military aviation. She flew flawlessly in outer space. But she can never be “one of the boys.” She kisses Elijah furtively in sub-basements and on mountaintops. His heart races. Hers does too—and that’s the problem. Jana tells Elijah that loving him is the craziest thing she’s done outside of a cockpit. And “crazy” is unseemly for a mature Christian woman routinely given great responsibility.
Mom would approve of godly, capable, complicated Jana. She is the right person to pilot the first Christian rocket, a deliberate departure from the trope of the steely-eyed, male space jockey.
In identifying Scripture to embody Jana, I first selected Joshua 1:9 (NLT):
This is my command-be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
She opens her naval aviator’s Bible to this verse after returning the multimillion-dollar grant. The words have previously comforted her before combat and space flight.
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NLT) also symbolizes Jana. Substitute “pilots/astronauts/men” for “apostles” and the story of her achievement becomes clear, with all glory given to the Lord:
But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me-and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
The same verse applied to Mom who struggled at home and in Hollywood with diminishment and disappointment. Through the trials, she believed in Jesus, a belief that finally took root in me when I met another incredible woman, my wife Anni, in 2004.
“Character” signifies both a person and the overall quality of a person. “Strong female character” provides specifics. The fiction/reality duo of Jana McAlister and Elinor Karpf-Hager has propelled Brimstone 1. As a woman, you can demonstrate your own strong female character. Think you don’t have what it takes? Think again. Romans 5:3-4 (NLT) explains:
 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Jana and Ellie have backstories filled with refining fire. Review yours. Rejoice in proven endurance and resultant character. Note the keyword “endurance,” the ability to last, the passage of time establishing context. Jana is 48. She needed every minute of existence, the smooth and the turbulent, to become the pilot for Brimstone 1. (Please join me in resisting calls to make her younger in any movie adaptation.) This is my first novel, published upon my 59th birthday. I needed all those years to become a Christian sci-fi author. God blessed me in His good time.
Turning away from the past, do you worry about the future? Are your fears or dreams “too big?” Do you dare not speak of either? Silence is not strength, as 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT) teaches:
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
Weak, and proud of it. Being honest and vocal is the ultimate gutsy move for a strong female character. Admit what frightens or inspires you, and give it to God. In His name, I’m pursuing my passion in middle age, joyful and focused. Being seasoned is not just a “guy thing.”
I thank God for the presence of strong female character in my life. Thank God for its presence in yours.
Jason William Karpf is an author of Christian Sci-Fi and professor who lives in Minnesota with his wife, Anni. A history and trivia aficionado, Jason was a four-time Jeopardy champion. Brimstone 1 is available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and your local bookstore.