Monday, March 19, 2012

SARAI: by Jill Eileen Smith

Fiction Monday!

I usually do "Fiction Fridays" here on WOMAN OF FAITH, highlighting great Christian fiction or books that are at least family friendly, but I fell behind last week, so welcome to Fiction Monday! My guest today is author Jill Eileen Smith, here to talk about her new release, SARAI. (Isn't it a beautiful book?)

Hi, Jill. 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.

Congratulations on that! You got great reviews. Tell us about your latest release.

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?

I admire that you go so far into the past to find your stories. 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.

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!

Research takes at least a month or more, and I continue to research throughout the months of writing. This 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.

You sound very diligent. Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a designated office space?

I love my laptop and a Lazy-Boy recliner, which is where I do most of my writing. I have a desk that is ergonomically better than the recliner, but I don’t use it as often. My office is a converted wet bar off our family room.

Love that! Can you share some of the fictional qualities you chose to give Sarai and why 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.

You've certainly made me curious to read the book. Do you have a life verse or a mission statement that guides your writing?

I do: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth.” Psalm 115:1 NKJV

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another ...” Isaiah 42:8a ESV

What’s coming next? Can we have a 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!

Thank you, Jill. Your books sound delicious!
Take a closer look at the book on Amazon Amazon

Or purchase a copy at CBD

Or at Barnes and Noble.

About Jill:
Jill Eileen Smith is the bestselling author of Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba, all part of the the Wives of King David series. Her research into the lives of David's wives has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. She lives with her family in southeast Michigan.

Bathsheba was named Top Pick 4 1/2 stars from RT Book Reviews for March 2011, and the book received a starred review from Booklist which means "Outstanding in its genre."

Do you plan on reading Sarai?. Let me know in a comment and I'll choose one commenter to win a (surprise) package! Hint: Guaranteed to please any reader of Christian fiction.
Warmest Blessings,



Diane Archibald said...

I haven't had the pleasure (yet) of reading any of Jill Eileen Smith's books, but I am looking forward to it. As a Bible study leader, I would love to take advantage of the research Jill has done about the lifestyle details of the culture, and incorporate that into each Bible study lesson. Imagine the new insights we will have! And the best part...the detail is all wrapped in beautiful prose. How yummy! I hope I am chosen to receive this surprise package. (Grin)

Sandi Coughlin said...

I would love to win a surprise package.

Liz R said...

I definitely plan on reading Sarai. I'd love to win the surprise package!


Whitney Lowry said...

I am currently reading Michal. I love it! Jill makes her characters so real, you can feel everything they feel. I can't wait to read Sarai!

Loraine Ertelt said...

I love to read fictional books about women of the bible. Also Jill would be a new-to-me author and finding new Christian authors is always a joy!

Loraine Ertelt
Loveland CO

Lynn said...

I'm in the middle of reading it right now.

Linore Rose Burkard said...

Nice to see you here, Diane. And thanks, all of you ladies. I am just as eager to read SARAI as you. The surprise package will contain similar Christian fiction reads from my bookshelves and one of my books.
Make sure you all leave your email (Whitney and Lynn, I don't have your emails. Some winners never get their books because I can't contact them!)

One good book I read (alas, on my Kindle, so I can't include it in the package) was HAVAH, the story of Eve. Seemed incredible to me that anyone could go THAT far back in history, but the book was really, really, good.

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Thank you to all who have commented this week! To those who have not yet tried biblical fiction, I encourage you to do so. There are many good authors out there in this genre, who bring the stories of the BIble to life in the reader's imagination.

Linore, I've read Tosca Lee's HAVAH and loved it! She did a great job with Eve's story.

Thank you for having me on your blog!
All the best to each of you!

~Jill Eileen Smith

Jill Eileen Smith said...
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Jill Eileen Smith said...
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Jill Eileen Smith said...

Sorry about the triple posting! I'm not sure what happened, but that's why it shows deleted posts.

(And it's not even Monday!) :)