Today we have an interview with new author Jill Eileen Smith whose debut novel, Michal, was published earlier this year by Revell. Here is my review of Michal which I greatly enjoyed. Biblical fiction is one of my favorite genres and it was awesome to see a new twist on a familiar character. And without further adieu, an interview with Jill Eileen Smith.
To get things started, if you were to introduce yourself as an ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
Dark chocolate peppermint mocha - is that a flavor of ice cream? It is for coffee. :) Dark chocolate anything is my favorite.
This is your first published novel. What has the experience been like for you?
Surreal. I'm still in awe of all that God is doing and has allowed with this first book. I've experienced ups and downs I hadn't expected - one of which is hoping I don't disappoint my readers with the next books. When you hear good things, you hope you keep hearing them!
What made you choose to tell Michal's story?
I started out about 20 years ago writing a two-volume epic of David's life. An editor at Harper & Row suggested I turn the focus of the story to Michal. At the time, I turned her down - and shortly thereafter Harper discontinued their biblical fiction line. In the meantime, I wrote other stories. I wrote Abigail's story first but Michal's tale would not let me go until at last I wrote the book. Long story short - that same editor, now at Revell, bought my series 16 years after her initial suggestion. God had brought the story full circle.
How did you do your research?
The research began when a friend and I co-taught a Bible study on David's life. When the study ended, I wanted to read a novel on his life, but couldn't find one that satisfied, so I decided to write the book I wanted to read. That led me to more research on the era and customs of Bible times, landscape, geography, commentaries, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, roles of women in the Bible, flora and fauna, foods and animals - the research is on-going - culminating in a trip to Israel for a first-hand look at the place.
You've taken very familiar characters and put a different spin on them, at least in this reader's eyes. Did writing this book make you change the way you think about any of the characters?
Yes. At first, I could not find a positive ending to Michal's story. The Bible ends its expose on her life with the phrase: "Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children to the day of her death." This comment followed on the heels of her caustic words to David, and so the whole thing seemed rather tragic and I did not want to write a tragedy. Yet, her story would not leave me, and as I studied and wrote, I came to ask how might this have all fit together and why did she act as she did? What made her despise David in her heart? Motivation is a key question in any genre, but since the what (the facts) doesn't change - the how and why become all the more important for the characters in biblical fiction. The more I examined motives, the more sympathy I felt for Michal. I began to see a possible end to her story that offered hope and redemption. So I wrote the story with that hope.
From your story, it sounded like Saul had issues with depression or was bi-polar due to his constant mood swings. The Biblical explanation is usually demon possessed. What do you think was the reason for his downfall?
His unwillingness to repent of his sin. Saul blatantly disobeyed God's command to kill the Amalekites and God tore the kingdom from him because of it and gave it to David. But God was merciful to Saul and offered him numerous years to repent. I believe the demons that came to torment Saul were actually sent as an extension of God's mercy. Who among us doesn't seek relief when we are in torment? And yet how often do we turn to the Lord and ask Him to search our hearts, as David did, to see if there is any wicked way within us? Affliction can be used of God to bring us to see things His way. In Saul's case, God used demons to torment Saul in order to show Saul his need of a Savior, to call him to repent of his pride and rebellion, but Saul never did. The final act of rebellion came when he sought a medium to call up Samuel from the dead. Chronicles tells us that Saul died because of that act - God' call to repentance ended with Saul's death. Saul's pride and rebellion led to his affliction. (The Bible verse says that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord was sent to torment him. I tried to show (through his mood swings) what that torment might have looked like.)
One of my favorite/disgusted scenes in the book was the bloody foreskins. I think it's the most memorable scene in the book! How was it to write that?
Honestly, like any other scene. As I come upon something in Scripture (not just in my imagination) I have to imagine what that might have been like. So I had to envision how David would manage to get so many foreskins and you can't get past the thought that these things would have been smelly and bloody and being small probably decayed pretty fast. So I wrote it as I "saw" it in my mind's eye. :)
What is your favorite Biblical movie?
The Passion of the Christ
What do you say when people say Biblical fiction is wrong because we shouldn't make things up about the Holy Scriptures?
I would say that I agree we should not add to the Scriptures. Nothing I write is God-breathed. My work is not holy and should not be believed as absolute truth. I would never in good conscience add or take away one jot or tittle from God's Holy Word.
But biblical fiction is not Scripture - it is fiction. I think it is important for biblical novelists to stay true to the Bible and to the whole counsel of God - to not make up any story (even those that fall into other genres) that would alter God's eternal truth. But who among us doesn't read the Bible and not try to see those people in our mind, to envision what they went through, to wonder what they thought, how they felt, what motivated their decisions? That's what Christian biblical fiction tries to do - to read the biblical account and piece it together - especially if it is told in separate places in Scripture (like the accounts in Samuel and Chronicles and Psalms and more in recording David's life). And in the piecing, study the culture and the times and try to see what is meant by what is recorded. Good Bible teachers do the same thing in their sermons. A biblical novelist has just expanded such teaching and put it in story form.
My prayer is that my readers will come away from my work with a better understanding of the story, a greater love for the Bible, and perhaps a deeper longing to know the God who wrote those Scriptures in the first place.
Who is your dream Biblical character to write a story on?
David - which I'm already doing. His life has been my passion for years - this series is the series of my heart.
What are you working on next?
Bathsheba’s story is in the works. Abigail is on my editor’s desk. When I finish The Wives of King David, I will begin work on The Wives of the Patriarchs – first planned book is about Sarai.
Any last words?
"Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." I want to leave a legacy, not so much of the books I've written but of the way I've loved my family and friends and even strangers God has put in my path. I want to live with no regrets, and always look with longing to see my Savior's face. That's my goal.