Jill Eileen Smith wants to learn more about how women lived in Old Testament times, and her research has taken her from the Bible to Israel. Jill is the author of the bestselling novels Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba, all part of The Wives of King David series, and of Sarai and Rebekah, from the Wives of the Patriarchs series.
A wife and mom, she lives with her family in southeast Michigan. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with family, whether in person or by hopping a plane to fly across the country.
Who or what initially inspired you to write Biblical fiction?
Many years ago, I co-taught a Bible study on the life of King David. When the study came to an end, I wanted more. I wanted to read a story that would take me there—to see his world, his life in living color. I searched high and low for a biblical novel to quench my thirst and did not find one that satisfied. So I began to write the book I wanted to read. It took many drafts and many years of study to write something marketable, but the initial desire began there.
God sometimes sends us down an unexpected path in life—one that ultimately blesses us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?
Yes, more often than I can even recall! The one that comes first to mind was the year all of our kids were going to be in school full time. That was the year I was going to at last be able to devote to pursuing a writing career. But the Christian school where they attended raised tuition, and with three children in school full time, the cost made it unaffordable for us. We did not care for the public schools in our area. We also had never seriously considered homeschooling. But that year I looked at my husband and said, “We could homeschool.” And he said, “Let’s look into it.” So the year they were all going to be gone, they all came home to school. My writing pursuits were put on hold for five years.
Let’s talk about your new book, Rachel (Revell, February 2014), the third in your Wives of the Patriarchs series. Please tell us about it.
Biblically, Rachel is the youngest daughter of Laban, brother of Jacob’s mother Rebekah (second book in the same series). Her older sister is Leah. We know from Scripture that Rachel is beautiful but Leah has “weak eyes.” For whatever reason, Leah should have already been married when Jacob came to town, but she wasn’t.
The story starts with Rachel meeting Jacob, and Jacob knows instantly that he wants to marry her. Seven years later, when they would have wed, Laban upends their plans with plans of his own, and what should have been a monogamous relationship between Jacob and Rachel turns into a polygamous mess with two sisters fighting over a husband and a constant battle to have children. Lots of conflict, with no easy resolution.
God often uses our stories to teach us when we’re writing them. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this book?
What I love about studying the people of Scripture is that when we dig deeper, we often see things in a way we never did before. Rachel, for instance, is often maligned for taking her father’s gods. She’s considered an idolater in some circles. But why did she do it? Motives are often more complicated than we see from a simple reading. Another common interpretation given by different commentators is the desire to connect Rachel’s own words, “Give me children or I’ll die” to the fact that she did eventually die in childbirth. But her death came with the birth of her second child—seventeen years after her first. Given the time that elapsed, can we really draw that conclusion?
I wonder, when we look at Rachel’s suffering and her early death, whether we do her an injustice to assume her death was her fault. I think writing her story has taught me to be more careful not to judge the reasons behind the bad things that happen. Only God knows why. It is up to us to trust Him.
Please tell us what’s coming up next for you.
I am working on two new series at the same time. The next full-length series is Brides of the Promised Land. The first book in that series is about Rahab and is currently on my editor’s desk. I am researching the life of Deborah so that I can begin to write book two on her life.
At the same time, Loves of King Solomon is an e-book only series (with a final print book compilation when the e-books are completed). The first book The Desert Princess releases August 5, 2014. I am currently writing the second book in that series, which is due to my editor March 15, 2014. My plate is gratefully very full!
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Chocolate caramel apples with all the trimmings from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory! They are the best! But I love all kinds of dark chocolate. Lately, I’ve been on a health kick, so my chocolate choice is cacao or ENJOY dairy free, soy free, chocolate chunks—melted—great for fruit dipping.
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I gave private piano lessons for many years, which actually helped pay for my trips to writer’s conferences to pursue my bigger dream. I love music! In my youth, I wrote music and sang solos in church, but God soon showed me (through another detour) that this was not where He wanted me. But I still derive great pleasure in music and listen to my favorite artists often—and am always looking for new ones to inspire me.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A worship song, like the Psalms.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Oh, that’s a tough one! Sometimes several at once. As an introvert, I’m the mysterious woman behind dark glasses. When I feel like I’m stepping completely outside of my element, I’m the little girl trying to walk in high heels.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
We are a cat family. I actually grew up with a dog, a little terrier, but my husband and I have had cats since our first year of marriage. Sandy was our first—he lived about twenty-one years, then Shadow who lived seventeen years, and now Tiger who is eight. Tiger is my little writing buddy, a tabby who loves to snuggle and doesn’t mind helping me by licking my fingers as I try to type.
Thanks, Jill! It’s great to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
Thanks for having me!
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For more information about Jill, visit her website or her blog. Jill’s photo credit: Amanda Matilla Photography
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