It never rains but pours! On Friday, Lisa T. Bergren was here for an interview (check it out here) and today, I'm delighted to welcome Jill Eileen Smith! As you saw from my review earlier today (click here to read it), I was on the blog tour for her newest book, Sarai, and loved it. I highly recommend it! By going and reading my review, you can read the press release about the book as well. For now, let me welcome Jill to Austenitis! (And make sure you read the whole thing...there's a giveaway!)
Jill, welcome! I'm so glad you were able to come by. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
I’m wife to Randy (best husband ever!), mom to three wonderful adult sons, servant to two sweet but sometimes demanding kitties...aspiring Bible scholar, amateur historian, musician, and above all- a disciple of Jesus Christ. When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family, reading for pleasure, bike rides to the park, and getting coffee with friends.
My writing journey began in my teens with some sappy poetry, which didn’t go very far. In my early adulthood, I set writing aside and tried my hand at every handicraft that interested me, but nothing ignited my passion. A Bible study on King David led to the desire to read a novel on his life. When I couldn’t find one that satisfied, I sat down to write the book I wanted to read. My artistic passion was born. Twenty years of learning the craft and many trials later, The Wives of King David saw print.
And "The Wives of King David" was your first series! Tell us about your latest release, Sarai.
Sarai, book one in the Wives of the Patriarchs series is the story of Sarah and Abraham.
Here’s the back-cover copy:
He promised her his heart. She promised him a son. But how long must they wait?
When Abram finally requests the hand of his beautiful half sister Sarai, she asks one thing—that he promise never to take another wife as long as she lives. Even Sarai’s father thinks the demand is restrictive and agrees to the union only if she makes a promise in return—to give Abram a son and heir. Certain she can easily do that, Sarai agrees.
But as the years stretch on and Sarai’s womb remains empty, she becomes desperate to fulfill her end of the bargain, lest Abram decide that he will not fulfill his. To what lengths will Sarai go in her quest to bear a son? And how long will Abram’s patience last?
Did you have any experiences that prompted your love of Biblical fiction?
When I was in my teens, I read Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes. It was a love story of Joseph and Mary, which brought the biblical story to life for me. I closed that book and thought, “These people were real!” The Bible became a living, breathing book to me and its characters people I wanted to get to know.
Please describe for us your writing process - how long does it take you to write a novel?
I start with research into the biblical account of the story. Then I pour over books on culture, geography, history, and the life and times of each era. I study maps and calculate ages and distances traveled. One little word in the biblical account can lead to a day of research. I’ve studied everything from the history of silk to how long sheep carry their young. As I write, the need to describe things can make me ask questions like, “How do you climb a date palm tree?” Since I don’t have one in my backyard, YouTube videos are the next best thing!
Commentaries can be helpful and frustrating because they will focus on the basic points of a verse and not comment on that one little word that suggests something I need to know! Research takes at least a month or more, and I continue to research throughout the months of writing.
Research also includes making an idea board with pictures of my characters, writing character sketches, and paragraph summarizing of the story. The book goes through at least three or four rewrites, is read by one or two critique partners, and is read aloud by me to listen for rhythm before I finally turn it into my editor.
It is very important to me that I get the biblical part of the story as close to the Scriptures as possible, so I take care to not rush into an opinion on how things might have been without study and prayer.
I've always wondered if authors read aloud their stories ahead of time. :) Back to Sarai...what are some of the fictional qualities you chose to give Sarai and why did you chose to portray her this way?
I see Sarai as a woman whose desire for a child overshadows her faith. While Sarai does believe in Abram’s God, she has not met Him face to face. Her servant Hagar has that privilege years before it comes to Sarai, who has not personally heard His voice nor the promises that He has given to Abram. While she is normally a strong woman, in this one thing that she cannot control, she wavers.
This lack of trust in the promise that God will indeed give Abram a son and heir, leads her to do some things she would not normally do if she weren’t so tempted and so desperate. In more than one instance her lack of trust leaves her with deep regrets.
While I cannot know whether Sarai did some of the things I portrayed her as doing, I did so to show the greater grace of God. Sarah, like each one of us, was born in sin and needed forgiveness and redemption. I attempted to think as she might have thought in the culture of her day, faced with the idolatrous practices of those around her. Not everyone in Abram’s camp believed as Abram did. As is true for us today, each one of us must choose. Sarai was no different.
What’s coming next? Can you give us a little preview?
Rebekah, book two in the "Wives of the Patriarchs" will release next year. This book could end up being one of my favorites, but it was by far the hardest book I’ve ever written. In the end, I saw Isaac and Rebekah in a whole new light. I can’t wait to share the discovery with readers!
Oh, I can't wait to read it! Which published book of yours is your favorite?
That's tough - as books are like children, and there is no way you can pick a favorite among your kids! But if I had to choose among the books so far, I would say Bathsheba is closest to my heart. Her story and the questions of "why did this happen?" between David and Bathsheba, is what prompted me to study David's life in depth in the first place.
Finally, your favorite classical book...?
Pride and Prejudice - wonderful witty dialogue! Fabulous romance!
Great choice. :) Thanks so much for coming, Jill!
Jill has offered to give away one copy of Sarai to one person living in the continental US!
All you need to do to enter is answer this question: have you read anything by Jill Eileen Smith before? If so, what?
+3 -- blog about it. (Not tweet, not Facebook, leave me a link!)
+1 -- comment with something encouraging for Jill!
+2 -- follow Austenitis.
Got it? Then enter! And good luck. This giveaway closes on March 12, midnight.