Mesu Andrews' take on Job, Love Amid the Ashes, was our July selection and we had a fabulous discussion on our thoughts and responses to the story. Mesu graciously answered our many and varied questions which I am delighted to share with you.
Mesu's debut release gave us much to think about as we reflected on the Biblical accounts of Job and Dinah, the horrific experience Job struggled through and his faithfulness to God.
*some spoilers ahead*
RBC: How long did the writing process of this book take you and what was your 'plan of attack' in writing it?
Mesu: I began researching the book in October 2008 and found the first tid-bit of info on Job’s wife—I saw the possibility of Dinah mentioned in a commentary and was hooked. With biblical fiction, research continues throughout the writing of the manuscript. It seems I never know enough to write a full scene without digging for more information! My first rough draft was submitted to Revell in March 2010, one year before release.
My “plan of attack” (love that) is always the same with any biblical story. I look to Scripture first for all the unalterable FACTS. That includes looking for any small reference that might be tied to the story in other books of Scripture. It also means viewing Scripture as one story on a single timeline—not looking at it in separate books. Such a view generally ties me into ancient history, which is my second step in research—historical documentation. Ancient texts, archaeological findings, and geographical information about the specific land I’m describing are crucial elements to pull readers into the story. My third step is good ol’ fashioned imagination. That’s when we get to hang the tinsel on the leaves and branches of the tree.
How did you choose the characters names and did the characters remind you of people you know?
Oooh, great question! Many character names were given in Scripture or historical texts. When I must name a character, I use several websites (Biblical Baby Names, Muslim Baby Names) to find something that fits the personality of the person I’m portraying; however, I also must choose names that a reader won’t stumble over. For instance, Sayyid seemed relatively simple to read and means “master.”
While writing, I didn’t portray the characters with certain people in my life in mind. But as the book progressed, I saw similarities in my characters and my family and friends. No one is exactly like any of my characters, but I think there’s specific resemblance of several family members in the characters. My husband is Job to me. He led me to the Lord and helped me overcome some of the shame that plagued my B.C. days. My daughters are Dinah and Nogahla, and my son-in-love is Aban. Not totally, but close. :)
With all the editing work done on a book, has your book changed much from your initial conception of what the story line was going to be?
ABSOLUTELY! Here’s the pitch sentence my editor thought she was getting: When their possessions were lost and their children killed, Job’s wife stood strong beside her husband. But where was God when the man she loved more than life drew near to death? Join the powerful journey of a woman wooed by God toward personal, intimate faith. The book is a little different, eh? But I have THE MOST WONDERFUL editor in the whole world! And evidently, she liked the final story better.
The picture of the lady on the front cover is a fair haired blue eyed woman. I suspect that that wouldn't have been common in Israel - usually darker hair & eye's. Who made the decision to use that picture? Do authors get to have a say about a front cover or is this decision left entirely to
the publishing house?
It’s so funny that you ask that. One blogger’s review really fussed about the model, but I actually wanted this fair-haired, blue-eyed model! I didn’t do a very good job of it in the book, but my conclusions after researching Jacob/Leah’s heritage is that Leah’s eyes may have been called “weak” (Gen. 29:17) because they were light in color. Crazy, huh? When you think about Esau’s red hair, we also can imagine fair coloring. Though it’s not what we picture when we think of today’s typical Middle Eastern tones, the research I did showed it was not only possible, but even likely that some of Leah’s children might have inherited her gene for lighter coloring.
Authors, from what I’ve heard, don’t usually get a lot of say on their covers. This was actually the second cover for LAtA. Revell had even gone so far as to publicize another cover but pulled it and reshot this one when their sales team felt the first one fell short! Amazing people to work with, they’ve included me on lots of decisions. I love Revell’s team!
I too have a chronic illness - what advice can you share from your journey?
Embrace it, and then release it. I fought fibromyalgia for years. And then I fought POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). Then I fought migraines. I tried every new cure, every possible answer. I recently ordered a new book on fibromyalgia. It’s the first thing I’ve read about fibro in almost 6 years. Why? Because the more I read about it, thought about it, tried to get rid of it—the more mastery it had over me. Granted, there are some days, when the pain is undeniable, and I can’t concentrate on anything else. But most days, I find something else to bury myself in—a new project, a good book, more research. Hours go by without a single thought of my discomfort.
Distraction doesn’t take away the pain, nor does it remove the need for my Umpteen-bajillion medications. But it replaces my angst with peace. I still pray for healing, and then I leave the timing and details up to the Lord.
Reading your book made me want to go straight back and read Job again. What character / story will feature in your next book?
First of all—THANK YOU! That is the greatest compliment I get. If the book sends you back to Scripture, the Lord has answered my prayer! Woohoo! Okay...now...you asked about the next project...
Love’s Sacred Song is scheduled to release March 2012. It’s the story of Solomon’s Song of Songs – a young king’s royal passion refined by a shepherd girl’s sacred love. But that doesn’t tell you what you REALLY want to know, does it? Here’s the inside scoop:
This one nearly killed me...but it’s the one that gave me wings. Love’s Sacred Song was the original manuscript that I submitted to Revell with my proposal in 2008, but because the story involved King Solomon, they asked if I would wait to publish it until Jill Eileen Smith’s Wives of King David Trilogy was complete. They offered a second book in the interim (story of Job), and I accepted. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. I originally wrote the Solomon manuscript back in 2000, my first-ever attempt at fiction. So, when it came time to blow off the dust and prepare the rough draft for submission...it was ugly. I’ll describe the process with a question. Which is easier—to remodel an old house or build a new one? Well, my Solomon “old house” was a mess! Thus, the reason it almost killed me.
The reason it gave me wings...obviously, because it was the ms that earned my first contract. But the story itself changed my relationship with Jesus—and therefore my life forever. I not only understand God’s love in a whole new way, I actually feel it—both in receiving it and giving it back to Him. I adore Him and truly know his relentless love.
What was it about Job's story that made you want to delve further into it, for the purposes of writing a novel?
Curiosity and stubbornness. J I’d always wondered who Job’s wife was, and I began a quest into historical literature to discover if anyone dared name her. Sure enough, they did. Sitis was the name given to his Arabic wife in the Testament of Job.
Stubborn...yep, stubborn. I can’t stand to read God’s Word and not understand it! I heard Jill Briscoe say once, “It’s important to read Scripture until God speaks to you in word or concept.” Well, I trudged through a lot of Job without understanding it, so I decided to read it, study it, research it, and write about it—until I understood what God wanted me to hear from it! See. Stubborn.
I have been wondering about the slight twist in Dinah's story. The Bible clearly states that she was defiled, which conjured up quite a different scenario than the one you describe in Love Amid the Ashes. How did you come up with the scenario in the book?
A few things worked together to create that twist. First, I love Anita Diamant’s Red Tent. In her story, Dinah was not raped; however, I wasn’t willing to go completely away from the Scriptural context (remember my action plan—step #1 = Scripture is unalterable Truth). My second reason wanders a little, so follow me...I promise I’ll land the plane eventually.
While reading commentaries on 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1 and 2 Kings, the scholars often talk about the way the Chronicler (for example) has left out part of the story in Kings because he didn’t want to present a certain Judean king in less than glowing terms. Keep this in mind as I go to reason three...
When I was sixteen, I allowed myself to be taken into the private home of a twenty-something-year-old man. Had I reported what happened in his home to the authorities, he would have been arrested for (statutory) rape. I was young and confused. I didn’t consider it rape at the time, but my father would have.
Now, imagine the writer of Genesis (probably Moses), recording the lasting record of God’s Chosen People—Jacob’s clan. Was his daughter raped by Shechem? Yes, she was in a city, alone, where she shouldn’t have been, with a young man she shouldn’t have been with. Scripture declares it as truth. But the absolute revulsion with which Jacob treats his sons after their vindictive slaughter makes me wonder if there might have been more to Dinah’s relationship with Shechem than Scripture’s details revealed. Because my story is FICTION, I can raise the question, cause the reader to ponder, without asserting that it is truth. And HOPEFULLY, it will cause the reader to go back to Scripture and re-read the story of Dinah, Shechem, Levi, Simeon, Jacob, etc...
Pressing folks back to Scripture is ALWAYS my goal. I won’t ever (purposely or knowingly) write anything that contradicts God’s Word; but if I feel the context of Scripture as a whole supports a little twist, I will shadow long-held beliefs to stir your curiosity.
What was the most difficult part of this book for you to write?
Job’s despair after Sitis’ death was without a doubt the most difficult part of the book to write. When the man of faith finally questions God, questions everything... I get teary just thinking about it. My critique partners are ruthless. :) I had to rewrite that section several times because I just couldn’t get real. I wrote it with too much control, too much of a “it will all turn out” philosophical viewpoint. It was as if I had to revisit the days of my own dark illness, the days I MYSELF questioned God...which is what I had to do before I could write Job’s true despair. I’m glad I wrote it, but I’m thankful I don’t have to write it again. :)
Thanks Mesu :) Look for Part 2 of our interview, coming soon!