Saturday, April 11, 2009

Interview with Author, Jill Eileen Smith

As many of you know, I have a passion for God's Word. That passion finds its expression in many forms. These devotional posts are one form; however, several months ago, the Lord opened the door for another exciting opportunity to explore God's Word in a new way. I'm currently writing two novels - one, retelling the story of Job's life (release date 1/2011); and a second, depicting Solomon's early reign as seen in the Song of Songs (release date 1/2012). During my writing journey, I've met other friends with a similar passion to paint the pictures of Scripture with broad strokes of living color. Jill Eileen Smith is one of those friends. I asked her to share a little bit about the writing journey of her first biblical novel, Michal. I hope you enjoy getting to know her and will stop by her website or blog to find out more about this compelling retelling of David's first wife.

Mesu: How long have you been writing?

Jill: All totaled, not counting high school days, about 24 years.

Mesu: Why/how did you choose to write about Michal?

Jill: Initially, I didn’t. My first attempt at writing was a two-volume epic on King David. I tried to sell the epic 28 times but to no avail. One rejection letter, however, came from an editor at Harper & Row suggesting that I change the focus from David to Michal. At the time, I turned her down. Many years later, however, I could no longer ignore the prompting and wrote the book. Michal’s story became the first book in The Wives of King David series, and that same editor, Lonnie Hull Dupont, now with Revell, bought the series 16 years after that initial suggestion. So though I chose to write about David, I did not initially choose to write about Michal. Now, of course, I’m very glad I did.

Mesu: What new information did you discover about Scripture or your characters that surprised you, disappointed you; anything that made you angry or awed?

Jill: Hmm…this is an interesting question. I’m not sure I have a definitive answer. I had studied David’s life for at least seven years, so I knew his story fairly well. Michal’s story intertwines with his, but in some places when she is separated from David, the details of her life are left to the imagination. There really wasn’t much new information in Scripture to discover about her that awed or angered me. When I wrote this book I understood the Scriptural aspects in such a way that they were not new to me. Now in the current writing of Bathsheba’s story, I’ve discovered some interesting things, but I can’t share those yet because the book isn’t finished. J

Mesu: How did you research your book?

Jill: I studied the biblical passage a lot. I read commentaries on the passages, read it in other versions, studied Bible dictionaries, history, geography, customs and manners – anything I could get my hands on to help illuminate what might have been. In my current writing, I spent a day researching Hebrew word meanings in 2 Samuel 11 to better understand the scene and the characters’ motivations. The best research was a trip to Israel in 2008 – a wonderful addition to years of study.

Mesu: How is writing biblical fiction different than writing other types of novels?

Jill: I think the biggest challenge to authors of this genre is accuracy. Some will work hard only to set the stage of historical accuracy, not minding if they have to tweak the biblical account, as long as the story’s historical setting is correct. (All historical authors should research the period to stay true to the time and place.) But Christian authors have the added challenge of keeping the biblical account accurate, of not deviating from what is written in Scripture or changing the meaning. I personally think a Christian author of biblical fiction needs to study the Word, to know the whole counsel of God, not just the small portion where their story is set. There are times a person is spoken of later in the Bible and it’s important to read what is said about them outside of their specific story. It is also important to understand the Bible as a whole in order to stay true to its message.

Mesu: Does biblical fiction’s unique framework make it more challenging for the author or easier?

Jill: Short answer: It depends. Harder for the Christian author because of the need to weave the fine details of the Bible’s story in with their own fictional tale. Easier in that the plot is at least in part laid out for the author.

Long answers: I read a story about Esther recently written many years ago and now out of print. A wonderfully retold tale – though the craft – the telling and head hopping – would not bode well in today’s market. Still, the story is skillfully done. My one nit-pickiness was in recognizing that the author left part of the Bible tale out to fit her story. For instance, instead of showing Esther hold her banquet over two days before telling the king her plea, she tells him her request on the first night, the first time he asks. In Michal a similar situation arose when David evaded King Saul’s spear twice. The novelist must decide – leave one out for the sake of story or try to understand why and how it might have happened twice as stated in the Bible. The framework of Scripture is placed there by God and while these details might not matter whether they are included in our fictional stories or not, a biblical novelist is challenged with trying to understand how they might have happened and why they are included. Writing a redundant scene is not necessary, but perhaps the repetition makes logical sense and could add to the tension and conflict of the story.

Mesu: What other projects are you currently working on? Release dates?

Jill: Abigail: A Novel, Book 2 in The Wives of King David,
Turmoil marked her life—what price must she pay for love?
release date: February 1, 2010.

Bathsheba is in first draft stage – should release Spring 2011.

The Wives of the Patriarchs – titles and release dates to be announced. Books will focus on the wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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