Friday, February 1, 2013

February Features: Biblical Fiction Author Jill Eileen Smith

I am so excited to kick-off this month of February Features with lovely author Jill Eileen Smith! This woman is possibly the prominent voice in CBA Biblical Fiction today, after having first impressed readers with her exciting debut novel, Michal, and her subsequent Wives of King David series. With a flare for romance, a passion for the truth of Old Testament characters, and dash of epic intrigue, Jill Eileen is not an author to miss!

She is also one of my Mummy's bestest of friends. J

I am pleased to introduce her to you today. Here is a little bit about Jill Eileen:

Jill Eileen Smith is the author of Sarai, book one in the Wives of the Patriarchs series, and the bestselling author of the Wives of King David series. When she isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with her family--in person, over the webcam, or by hopping a plane to fly across the country. She can often be found reading, testing new recipes, grabbing lunch with friends, or snuggling one or both of her adorable cats. She lives with her family in southeast Michigan.

Jill Eileen took time out of her incredibly busy writing schedule to be with us for an interview today! I hope you will enjoy learning a little more about her and her newest book, Rebekah, book 2 in the Wives of the Patriarchs series.

And be sure to check down at the bottom for the chance to win YOUR CHOICE of one of her novels!

 Welcome, Jill Eileen! So glad you could visit the Tales of Goldstone Wood Blog. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality . . . tea or coffee?
Jill Eileen: To put it somewhat succinctly, I’m a wife (35 years to the best man ever!), mom of three adult sons, writer, cat owner (or perhaps cats’ servant) aspiring Bible scholar, amateur historian, musician, and above all – a Christian. (Tea – definitely!)
Hoorah for cats! Best possible source of writerly inspiration, along with a cup of tea. Tell me, what led you into the writing life? Were you always a storyteller?
Jill Eileen: I’ve always loved stories. I loved to read from childhood on. But I didn’t start writing until I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read. So I decided I would write it. Of course, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! But eventually, I learned.
That's the best possible solution when you can't find the book you want . . . write it yourself! Makes me smile. What inspired you to write your debut novel, Michal, specifically?
Jill Eileen: In short – my editor, Lonnie Hull Dupont. She didn’t know it at the time though. When she was editor at Harper San Francisco, I queried her about my two-volume epic on King David. She suggested I turn it into a novel about Michal. Na├»ve as I was at that time, I kindly turned her down. But God’s timing is never wrong (to quote my mom). I eventually wrote Michal’s story because the idea, once implanted in my mind, would not leave me.

How about your most recent novel, Rebekah? What led you to write it?

Jill Eileen: My contract. J I had proposed a Wives of the Patriarchs series to my editor even before Michal released. She asked to see what I had, and a few months later we had another contract for a three-book series on the wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I didn’t realize then how hard Rebekah’s story would be to tell!

Sometimes, the harder the book is to write, the more worth-while it is in the end. I hope that will prove the case with Rebekah. I know it's my mother's very favorite of your books so far!

Do you find it easier or more difficult to write under contract? What difference does a deadline make to your creativity?

Jill Eileen Stress is definitely higher. But I have always written under “fake” deadlines. I’m a driven person, and even before I sold, I would tell myself I wanted a particular book finished by such and such a date. Then I would break that down into a daily or weekly word count. I still do that. My full-length novels are due in December, but I aim to finish their first drafts by June. I don’t think it hurts my creativity to set deadlines. But I do pray a lot over each scene.

Can you pick a favorite character from the Wives of the Patriarchs series? Why does this character stand out to you?

That’s kind of like that question – who is your favorite child? It’s hard to play favorites, though Isaac and Rebekah did just that with their twin sons!

I like different characters for different reasons. I understand Sarai better, having walked with her through so many struggles, and I know the pain of waiting! I felt sorry for Hagar, and wanted people to see her through eyes of grace. Rebekah – I can relate to her love for her son, though not her favoritism. And Isaac became much more heroic in my eyes after writing their story.

Rachel has my sympathy. Jacob even more so—all he wanted was to marry Rachel. And Leah…she faced some hard-won struggles.

So no, I don’t really have a favorite. They are all unique and I loved getting to know them! (I can’t wait to meet them in heaven someday.)

What inspires your work? Where do you turn when you need a renewal of inspiration?

Jill Eileen: I’m not sure I always feel inspired. The truth is, I usually feel inadequate to do the work and sometimes fear I will fall short of previous work or I will not please the Lord in the process. I know He gave the contracts, so I’m learning to trust Him to give the stories. But I have to spend time asking His guidance over scenes, in understanding characters, even in plot development. Unlike some authors, ideas don’t invade my every waking moment. I have to ask God to grant them.

Sometimes I just need time alone with the Lord. I’m talking about the kind of time where I find a quiet place and just read and read the Scripture – a whole book at a time or more. It’s like drinking water after being parched, and I don’t do this often enough. When my life is over, I don’t want to be remembered for the work I’ve done, for the books I’ve written, but for pleasing Him, for completing what He gave me to do, for loving those He has put in my life with His kind of love.

On a practical level, I find renewal in taking breaks, even vacations when we can get away, going for bike rides, listening to music, watching a favorite show or movie (Downton Abbey is my current favorite), talking to my kids, having tea with a friend.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

Jill Eileen: I am not a fan of first drafts, though I do love the creative part that comes when we first put the scenes on the screen. I tend to stress that the story will come together and make sense. (I do paragraph summaries before I start, but I’m a partial SOP (seat of the pants) writer, so I’m not always sure how it’s going to come out in the end.)

My favorite part is making my Idea Board! I love casting my characters in picture form. I look at those boards as I write. They are very inspirational, as I’m a visual person.

If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?

Jill Eileen: Oh, that’s not a fair question! To avoid offending any of my wonderful author friends, I will pick the woman who is now with Jesus and whose book made the Bible come to life for me—Marjorie Holmes and her book Two From Galilee. That book never fails to evoke emotion in me! I just read it again this past Christmas.

I know Rachel is the next book due out.  Can you share any exciting tidbits about it?

Jill Eileen: Rachel’s story gave me a new appreciation for Jacob’s plight. The poor man was desperately in love with Rachel and wanted only her. He could not have imagined ending up with four wives, and was often manipulated to give them children. I think there is a good reason Moses (by God’s command) later added this law for the children of Israel: “Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.” Leviticus 18:18 The story is filled with marital strife!

What are you actively writing right now?

Jill Eileen: I just finished Naamah, the first novella for the Loves of King Solomon, which is due March 1. I’m waiting for feedback on it before I turn it in. I’m expecting initial edits on Rachel in a week or so, and I will begin work on Rahab, book one in the Brides of the Promised Land in February.
 So much good reading coming up then from this prolific author! Thank you so much, Jill Eileen, for taking the time to answer all of these questions.
February marks the release of Rebekah, the newest novel in the Wives of the Patriarchs series. Here is the synopses:
When her father dies and she is left in the care of her conniving brother Laban, Rebekah knows her life has changed forever. Her hope for the future is restored when she falls in love with her cousin Isaac, and their relationship starts strong. But marital bliss cannot last forever, and the birth of their twin sons marks the beginning of years of misunderstanding, disagreement, and betrayal. The rift between them grows wider and wider until it is surely too deep to be mended. And yet, with God all things are possible.

Join bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith as she fills in the blanks around the biblical women behind the men we know well. Her in-depth research and creative storytelling bring Rebekah's unique story alive with romance, heartache, and the power of forgiveness.
And now . . . . Jill Eileen has kindly offered a giveaway! One lucky winner may choose any one of her novels, either from the Wives of King David or the Wives of the Patriarch series. Isn't that exciting?
Follow the steps below to get your name entered. The more options you do, the more times your name will be entered, and the more chances you will have to win. And be sure to thank Jill Eileen for her time today." rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway


Hannah said...

This is wonderful to find out more about these books! I've had my eye on them for quite a long time. Biblical fiction has always interested me, but there's so little of it. And I love the front covers! T

Unknown said...

I've always been intrigued by the women of the Bible, and I love that Jill Eileen Smith has devoted her life to fleshing out their stories! Thank you! I hope to be able to read these stories sometime soon (especially Rebekah, seeing as she's my namesake :)).


Unknown said...

A question for Jill Eileen Smith: Have you had the opportunity to travel to the places you write about in order to conduct research?


Bookishqueen said...

@The Writer..., Rebekah is my namesake too! I have not read any of these books, but once I saw that one was about Rebekah, I decided I had too.

Anonymous said...

Jill, I love the historical research that you put into your books. What sources did you use to learn about the historical customes, practices, etc. that you include in the biblical stories? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

After writing these stories did you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to change something in your own life based off what you learned about these women (ex. not showing favoritism for a certain child as Rebekah did)?

Judy said...

Jill, what is your favorite book that you have written and why?


Meredith said...

Thanks so much, Mrs. Stengl, for posting the interview of Ms. Jill Eileen Smith. I've never read any of her works, so I'll definitely have to check if anything is available in either Braille or audio. I love biblical fiction, because lots of authors point out things I'd never thought about. I hope she does a book on Leah, too. She's the wife I feel the most empathy for because she was forced into her situation. I can't wait to meet her one day and ask if she loved Jacob from the beginning and if it was always unrequited, or if it was a relationship that grew over time for both her and him. Also, Leah was visually impaired, so, naturally, I'm biased toward her. Rose Red's character reminds me a lot of Leah for some reason.

To Hannah: If you like biblical fiction from women's perspectives, I'd definitely recommend the book Havah, by Tosca Lee. It's so beautiful and really emphasizes the equality that God meant to exist between women and men. God bless.

Hannah said...

Thank you, Meredith! I'll have to look into that book.

To Mrs. Smith,
I forgot to put this in my first comment, but thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for so graciously providing one of your books for a giveaway.

Molly said...

Miss Jill, I hope you want to do Esther someday....? I absolutely love that character; she is my most favorite character in the Bible.

Stacey said...

I love Jill Eileen's books. They are all wonderful. I don't need to be entered, since I already have all her books. I just wanted to say I enjoyed the interview!

Meredith said...

To Molly:
I love Esther, too, and I get chills every time she says, "If I perish, I perish". I only pray that I'm as brave and faithful as she if the time ever arose to stand up for what is right. Isn't it amazing that God works all through her life, yet the Book of Esther never mentions His name? It's hilareous how seeming coincidences happen, (particularly how Haman comes to the king to request permission to hang Mordecai and ends up being the one to parade him around on a horse throughout the city). Ha! Talk about God's poetic justice!

Anyway, if you like Esther, then I recommend Ginger Garrett's book, Diaries of Queen Esther. It was a finalist for the 2010 Christy Award. God bless.

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Thank you - all of you for your wonderful comments! I will try to answer them all and hope I don't miss anyone.

Hannah - I love the covers too! Revell does such a good job on them, don't they? They always make me smile. :) And you are welcome about the book giveaway. Thanks for participating!

Beka - Thank you for your kind words. And I hope you get to read my book about your namesake! :) Yes, I have been to Israel in 2008, which was perfect timing because it came right after I sold my first series. It was wonderful to finally see so much of what I'd only viewed in pictures up until then.

Bookishqueen - or should I say Rebekah? I hope you get a chance to read your namesake's story too.

I'm going to post the rest in another comment lest Blogger think this too long.
~Jill Eileen

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Gattagirl - First I read the biblical account and anything in the Bible that is pertinent to the story. Then I read cultural atlases, life and times books, commentaries, anything I can find about the times. For a list of some of the books I've used, check out the Bonus Features link on each of the books pages on my website.

Laura - often as I write, I find myself in the middle of some type of struggle. The struggles can be spiritual, relational, physical, or emotional, and they can get pretty intense. And then suddenly, I will have a sort of epiphany that perhaps the character I'm writing about felt the same way when xxx happened to her. And I realize that God is using my own personal trials to give me empathy for the people I'm writing about. I think it has helped me to be less quick to judge others, including the people of Scripture, based on just a quick reading. If we walk a moment in their sandals, we might see things from a very different perspective.

Judy - It's hard to pick a favorite. I loved King David's story for a long time, which caused me to want to know the women who loved him. As I wrote each book, I came to appreciate each one for different reasons. I wasn't sure how I felt about Sarai at first, but as I felt the pain of her longings and waiting and trying to fix things herself, I could SO relate! But Rebekah's story was the toughest to write. I didn't expect to love her story, but I do. Sorry, that doesn't really pick a favorite, but they're all like my children! :)

~Jill Eileen

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Meredith - You're welcome for the interview, and thanks for all of your kind comments. My books are not on audio or in braille, but if you have a Kindle, they are speech enabled. As for Leah - I might take a different approach to her story than your suggestion. I wonder if she had a choice or not? It seems to me that Rachel was the one slighted on her wedding night. And poor Jacob! All he ever wanted was Rachel and he ended up with four wives. But Leah is an intriguing character in her own right - and I hope if you read my Rachel someday you like my take on her.

I would also agree with Meredith's suggestions about Havah by Tosca Lee and Ginger Garrett's book on Esther. Angela Hunt is also coming out with a book on Esther, so look for that too. She has a trilogy on Joseph that I thoroughly enjoyed and her book SHADOW WOMEN is one that is truly memorable.

Molly - I am not currently contracted for Esther, and right now, I don't have a strong desire to do her story. If God has other plans, I will certainly listen! But there are so many books on her - I'm not sure I could do one justice.

Stacey - thank you for that kind vote of confidence! I appreciate you!

~Jill Eileen

DiannePf said...

When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a writer?

Thanks! My daughter and I just love all your books. We can't wait for more.

Dianne P.

Jill Eileen Smith said...


Somewhere in my mid twenties I realized I loved to write and wanted to see my work published. I've been told by friends that I talked about writing even in my teens, but I don't remember having that strong urge to be a writer until later.

I'm so glad you are enjoying my books! Thanks for telling me.

~Jill Eileen

Hannah said...

Mrs. Smith, I forgot to ask--Do you have plans to write about Deborah or Ruth?

Meredith said...

Ms. Eileen Smith:

Thanks so much for these wonderful answers to questions. I hope to read your book about Rachel someday because I know it will provide some insight I haven't considered. That's what's so wonderful about Scripture, isn't it? God always reveals different and deeper aspects of events each and every reading. I suppose when it comes to both sisters, it's important to remember that God worked in each of their lives for their good and for ours. Without Leah, no Judah's line of descendants, and without Rachel, no Joseph who would ultimately save his family from starvation, thus preserving Israel. Amazing and so like God to bring good out of evil. Thanks for reminding me that Rachel was indeed slighted. I didn't mean to imply that she was somehow inferior to Leah. Thanks again, and God bless you. I actually did find a Braille version of Machal, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Shopgirl said...

Thanks for the interview! I picked Deborah since I don't recall a book about her yet. Who is your favorite Biblical person? shopgirl152nykiki(at)yahoo(dot)com

Molly said...

To: Meredith! :-)
Thanks for recommending Diaries of Queen Esther. I'll definetly see if our library has it! :-)
From Molly ;)

Hannah said...

Molly, there is also a cool biblical fiction series written diary style from the perspective of young girls observing biblical heroines. The series is called Diaries of the Promised Land, and the first book is "Persia's Brightest Star", which is about Esther!

I really loved those books (still do, but they're pretty hard to find. Nevertheless, look into them! :)

Hannah said...

Whoops! It's actually called the Promised Land Diaries and they're by Anne Tyra Adams.

Amy C said...

I have never read any Biblical Fiction before. I have some of Jill's on my kindle that I have been wanting to read.
I love this interview! Nice to get to know Jill.
Thank you so much!

Amy C said...

Jill, besides Biblical period, What other time period in history interests you?

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Hannah - Yes, Ruth and Deborah are in my contract for the Brides of the Promised Land. Next out is Rachel in 2014, to finish the Wives of the Patriarchs. Then Rahab is first in the Brides' series - releases in 2015, then Deborah in 2016, then I think Ruth is next - 2017, and Hannah - 2018. One a year. But somewhere in between there will be the novellas on the Loves of King Solomon. Thanks for asking!

Meredith (you can call me Jill!) :) I'm so glad you found a braille copy of MICHAL. I didn't know one existed. And yes, you are right about Scripture. There is so much richness to be found if we but take the time to mine its depths. God is NEVER boring! And He has a way of giving new light to old passages no matter how many times we've read them. I'm sure when I get to heaven, I will discover many things I missed about the many people He's immortalized for our benefit.

Veronica - my favorite Bible character has to be King David. I fell in love with his story when I co-taught a Bible study on his life many years ago. I spent a lot of time thinking about why he fell into sin and why so many wives? Especially since he was a "man after God's own heart." His story gives me hope, and his psalms great comfort that God can use any of us.

Amy - thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy whichever book you read. Besides the Bible eras, I love reading novels set in ancient Egypt, the Renaissance era, and the 1920s-1930s. My grandma told me stories of that time, and I've actually written one novel set then (not published). It's a fun era to research.

Thanks to all for your thoughtful questions!
~Jill Eileen

JoJo said...

Who is your favorite bible female character you've written about?

Molly said...

Well thanks, Hannah!! I do like reading diaries from someone else's perspective; which could count for all the Dear America books I used to read and now have piled up in our bookcase.....ahem.
I shall certainly look into these books; thanks!

Clara said...

I've been looking at these books for quite a while, and I think that me and my Mum and sister would love these!:)

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Jojos - that's a tough question! I have loved each story for different reasons, but if I had to pick - like if my life depended on it! - I'd say Bathsheba was my favorite to write about. I love the story of God's grace in her life.

Thanks to everyone who has commented. You all are a blessing!

~Jill Eileen

laurie said...

A question for Jill Eileen Smith: Have you had the opportunity to travel to the places you write about in order to conduct research?

Jill Eileen Smith said...

Laurie - I have been to Israel in 2008, which did help with research. My husband took about 1300 pictures while I took notes. I look at those pictures nearly every day. It is always better to see a place in person rather than just in pictures. But most of my research still has to come from books. While I would love to travel to Iraq and Egypt to research, the unrest over there leads me back to my books instead. :) Maybe someday...

Thanks for asking!
~Jill Eileen

Imblest said...

Hi Jill,

Thank you for sharing your heart for your work on Anne Elisabeth's blog. Since I have a daughter with a voracious reading appetite, I really appreciate finding out about other authors, especially Christian authors, and their books. I'm sure we will enjoy reading your stories.

Thank you, Anne Elisabeth for hosting and keeping your blog so very interesting. I love all the writerly and bookish interaction amongst the Goldstone Wood imps!

Jill, what advice do you give to aspiring writers of novels?

Our Lord blessings!

Danny said...

Thanks Anne Elisabeth and Jill Eileen for this post. It’s always great to hear about successful Christian authors. I look forward to reading your books in the near future.

I’m entering this giveaway for my wife who is always looking for new authors to read. Her favorite is Francine Rivers and for posters looking for a great author, Rivers is fantastic. She has a series of novellas called Bad Girls of the Bible. This and any other of her books are highly recommended.

Question for both of you similar to Imblest’s question: What advice do you have for aspiring authors especially for those wanting to write both Christian and secular fiction?

Thanks and good success to both of you!


Jill Eileen Smith said...

Becky - Thank you for your kind words. I hope your daughter enjoys my books, if she gets the chance to read them. :)

As for writing advice - study the craft. Writing a novel is like learning to play an instrument, like the piano, or draw a picture. (Both of which Anne Elisabeth does very well!) I used to teach piano, and as with any art, you start with the basics and practice, practice, practice. The same goes for writing. Learn the craft's basics and write, write, write. Take classes, read how-to books, attend writer's conferences, join a critique group - all of those things can help. And read voraciously! A lot is learned just by reading good writers.

I hope that helps!

Danny - Francine Rivers has written some of my favorite books - like the Mark of the Lion series. But it is Liz Curtis Higgs who wrote Bad Girls of the Bible. Both authors are very inspiring and encouraging!

The advice mentioned above would be the same for Christian or secular fiction. The only other thought for a Christian novelist is to join ACFW. ( They offer a wealth of information and opportunities you won't find anywhere else. But learning the craft and actually completing the work are the hardest to do. Great pianists take years to get where they are. Good writers are not much different.

Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

~Jill Eileen

Danny said...

Thanks for the writing advice, Jill Eileen. I will check out ACFW.

You are correct about Bad Girls of the Bible being written by Higgs. I was thinking of Lineage of Grace a series of novellas by Rivers.

Becky said...

Jill Eileen, thanks for taking the time to answer so thoughtfully.