Beth talks to Stephanie Landsem about her Living Water series, her start in the genre, and how she prepares to write scenes which include Jesus.
Beth: Your newest novel The Tomb: A Novel of Martha just released on March 17. Would you mind sharing a bit about this story?
Stephanie: I like to describe the Tomb, A Novel of Martha, as a surprising story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. As I say in an introductory letter at the front of the book, The Tomb is not an attempt to recount the historical events that took place in Bethany two thousand years ago. Instead, it is a re-imagining of how Martha, a woman who was “anxious and worried about many things,” might have been transformed into the faith-filled woman of John 11:22, who said to Jesus—as her brother lay in his tomb—“Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
We’ll never know Martha’s true story. Instead, I hope to bring to you her message: no matter what sins and doubts haunt our pasts, we can lay our worries and anxieties at Jesus’ feet, and he will, in return, give us “the better part.”
Beth: How did you come to be a Biblical fiction writer? What compelled you to write this genre and the stories in the Living Waters series specifically?
Stephanie: I always knew that I wanted to write historical fiction, but I have to admit I never considered biblical fiction. Then, one Sunday I was listening to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and I started thinking about her. I mean, really wondering about her. Who was this woman? Why had she been married five times? And most of all, how did her encounter with Jesus change her? By the time I got home from church, I knew that her story was the one I wanted to write. When Howard Books purchased The Well and contracted me for two more books, I knew those books would also explore personal encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John.
Beth: Novels set in Biblical and ancient times require a lot of research. What has been the most rewarding experience during your research thus far? What has been the most exasperating? The most surprising?
Stephanie: I love research and probably spend far too much time on it. The most rewarding experience is finding those bits of historical facts that make your story come alive. I especially love studying archeological finds from Israel. When you see these bits and pieces of everyday life of ancient times, you can more easily imagine how people lived, worked, and raised their families. The most exasperating part of research into biblical times is that so much is unknown. There are conflicting accounts and opposing theories among historians, archeologists, and biblical scholars. It requires a lot of research to determine which accounts I’ll use in my narrative.
Beth: After reading the first two Living Waters books, I came away so impressed with the way you handled scenes where your characters encountered Jesus. How do you prepare for these types of scenes?
Stephanie: I start by reading the biblical account very carefully. Then I read commentary by trusted biblical scholars. The most important step is prayer—I ask for wisdom and guidance to present this story in the way God desires and pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration.
Beth: I loved both The Well and The Thief, and I found Nissa and Longinus from The Thief to be especially gripping characters. When it comes to your characters, which one that you’ve related to the most? Which character stands out as your favorite?
Stephanie: Picking a favorite character is like being asked to choose your favorite child! I love Nissa as well. She was an atypical Jewish woman who was forced into actions she knew were wrong to save her beloved brother. In a way, Martha is her opposite—outwardly, she’s the perfect Jewish woman, but also in a desperate situation to protect the family that she loved. Despite their difference, I can relate to both of them.
Beth: What made you want to become a writer? Which writers have inspired you?
Stephanie: I’ve always been a reader and a daydreamer who loves history, so I guess wanting to write historical fiction comes directly from those three things. I read pretty broadly—historical, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and occasionally horror novels. Any author that can grip me with great characters (Dean Koontz is a master at that), amazing settings (like Colleen McCullough’s historical fiction), and compelling storylines (anything written by Siri Mitchell) will inspire my own writing.
Beth: What does your writing process look like? Do you write freehand first, do outlines, character sketches, etc? What writing quirks or habits that you’ve picked up along the way?
Stephanie: I start with research. I order stacks of books from the library, watch documentaries, and scour the internet for information on the time period. That usually gives me plenty of ideas for plot and characters. I keep my notes on research and characters in a binder. Then I map out my story on a big piece of tagboard using post-it notes for each scene. I go through a lot of post-it notes! I move the scenes around and make changes as I write but the structure helps me stay on track.
Beth: Do you see yourself continuing to write Biblical fiction or “traveling” to other time periods? If you did write in another genre, which one would it be?
Stephanie: I love biblical fiction and have plenty of ideas for new stories in that genre. But the history buff in me wants to explore some new time periods. I’m pretty confident that I’ll stay with historical fiction since that is always my first love.
Beth: What projects do you have coming up? At least a hint of what the future holds for your readers that you can share with us?
Stephanie: I’m working on an idea for a story using the parable of the prodigal son—this time a daughter—set in depression-era Hollywood. I think the research for that one would be a lot of fun. I’ll let you know if that works out 🙂
Beth: Please do! That sounds like it could be quite the story. Thank you for joining us, Stephanie!
To find out more about Stephanie and The Living Water series, visit her website.