I never set out to write biblical fiction.
When I began writing historical fiction about seven years ago, I dabbled in several time periods, but I didn’t find a story. Nothing reached out and grabbed me. No character whispered to me and said, “I want you to tell my story.”
That is, until one Sunday as I listened to the story in the Gospel of John about the Samaritan woman at the well. I’d heard about her many times, as I’m sure many of us have, and never really thought about this nameless woman. But this time, I started wondering. I started questioning.
Who was this woman?
Why did she have so many husbands?
Why was she at the well all by herself?
And the big question: How did her encounter with Jesus, the Incarnation, change her life and the lives of those around her?
As any writer of fiction knows, questions lead to stories. As I thought about this woman and her encounter with Jesus, a story came to me. It was in the voice of her daughter, Mara, and it answered those questions. By the time I got home from church that morning, I knew Mara’s story was the one I wanted to write, and The Living Water series came to life.
But as I spent years writing this series, I found that biblical fiction isn’t easy. The research process is intensive, and biblical scholars tend to disagree on just about everything. In addition, the Bible isn’t fiction. The people in it are real, living people. I can’t change what was recorded about them to fit my story so working within what’s already written in scripture is imperative.
And then, there’s Jesus. I love it when Jesus enters the story. I love imagining what it would be like to meet him face to face. Not only is he real, he is still with us. But I can’t —and I don’t want to—misrepresent or change in any way how he is depicted in scripture. I can guess what he looked like and imagine what he wore, but I can’t put words in his mouth. I’m sure Jesus said much that wasn’t written down, but I don’t know what it was so I stick very carefully to what is written.
The Well, The Thief, and The Tomb are about encountering Jesus. As I plotted and prayed, I asked myself these questions:
- What was it like to live in the time of Christ?
- How did it feel to meet the Incarnation, face to face?
- After meeting Jesus, how did my character’s lives, and the lives of their families and friends, change?
- Did meeting Jesus lead to a happily-ever-after? Or to THE happily-ever-after?
The Well explores these questions within the Samaritan town that welcomed Jesus in John’s gospel. When Mara’s mother encounters Jesus, her life is changed forever. But her new-found faith brings persecution and danger that only Mara can help her overcome.
The Thief, the second book of the series, is about the man who was born blind and his fictional sister, Nissa. After Nissa’s brother encountered Jesus, he was given what he wanted most desperately, his sight. But did his belief in Jesus bring him peace and happiness? Or did it, as with the Samaritan woman at the well, bring him more challenges, and even hardship?
The Tomb asks the same questions, but this time about characters we are much more familiar with: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. These were friends of Jesus, people he spent much time with. I loved getting to know them better and showing a relationship with Jesus that was loving and familiar. But even those who were already friends with Jesus, who loved him and believed in him, must have had moments when they questioned him. And how did this intimate friendship with Jesus change their lives? And how did the ultimate miracle, the raising of a man dead for four days, affect everyone who witnessed it?
As The Well, and this year The Thief, went out into the world, I found that the hard work of writing biblical fiction was well worth it. I hear often from readers. Many say they look at the passages in the Bible with new eyes and that they felt like they were right there in the story. Some even say that they felt a closeness to Jesus that they didn’t know before. My hope, as they put down my books and reflect on what they’ve read, is that readers will ask a few questions of themselves:
- What if I were to meet Jesus, face to face?
- How would an encounter with the Incarnation change my life, and the lives of those around me?
- Will my life be a happily ever after, or THE happily ever after, eternal life with Jesus?
Have you ever felt like you’ve had a real encounter with Jesus in prayer or while reading the Bible? How did it change you?
Today Stephanie is generously giving away one copy of The Thief to a commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
More on The Thief.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Nissa is a Jewish woman with a sharp tongue and no hope of marriage. Abandoned by the God she once loved, her only recourse is to depend upon Mouse, the best thief in Jerusalem, to keep her blind brother, Cedron, fed and the landlord satisfied.
Longinus is a Roman centurion haunted by death and failure and is desperate to escape the accursed Judean province. Accepting a wager that will get him away from the aggravating Jews and their threats of revolt, he sets out to catch the thieves harassing the marketplace.
When a controversial teacher miraculously heals Cedron, Nissa hopes for freedom from her life of lies. But the supposed miracle brings only more misfortune, and Longinus, seeking to learn more about the mysterious healer, finds himself drawn instead to Nissa, whose secret will determine the course of both their futures.
Cedron, Longinus, and Nissa are unexpectedly caught up in the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. As danger closes in on them from every side, they must decide if the love and redemption Jesus offers is true or just another false promise. How can the so-called Messiah save them from their shackles, when he cannot even save himself?
Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she’s explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. When she’s not writing, she’s feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.