Is there anything more joy-inspiring than being with children at play? We’re talking about children in a state of sheer, uninhibited delight in the hi-jinks of the present moment. Well, after a fairly long hiatus, I got to experience it yesterday.
A dear cousin now living abroad arrived at our door with the young family he’d attained since our last visit. Other family members gathered, and our playroom soon came alive! Our grandson, home from college, allowed his inner child free rein, and the next thing we knew the two munchkins were climbing onto his back, performing somersaults with him, and retreating in squealing mock terror from the monster his dramatic talents brought to life.
Did this disrupt our visit with their parents? Far from it. It brought the whole purpose of the visit into lively focus, and when the visit ended (sooner than we’d have liked it to) it left me feeling buoyantly aglow.
In setting out on my Bible adventure, I had to be certain I was choosing a translation that would encourage me to stay with it. I grew up with the King James, and its beautifully wrought language speaks to me as no other translation does. But it includes words that are either obsolete or now have a meaning quite different from what they did in 1611. How could I continue to enjoy the beauty of the KJV, yet not miss the meaning? My solution was The 21st Century King James Version. Unlike the New King James Version, it keeps “ye” and “thou” and “thee” (which I like because I can tell if the second person is singular or plural) and other words that have dropped out of use but which we still understand. In fact, it reads just like my old familiar friend except when a word like “conversation” (which then referred to one’s conduct or way of life) or “prevent” (which then meant “precede”) comes up. And it helps me out with words like “gins” (traps) or “reins” (literally “kidneys,” which were once considered the seat of the emotions as the heart is today.) It’s also helpful to have the poetry printed in verse form and the prose in paragraphs. So with The 21st Century King James, I am off to a successful start on my adventure, happily balanced between linguistic beauty and clear meaning.
Though I do in-depth study of portions of the Bible daily, I have been feeling the need of a better acquaintance with the Scriptures as a coherent whole. My read-throughs in different translations have been helpful, but extended over too long a period to really give the coherence I was looking for. Recently, though, I discovered Professor Grant Horner’s Bible-reading system online. It divides the Bible into ten sections ranging in length from 28 to 250 chapters. The idea is to read one chapter from each of these sections every day. This meant I’d be starting in the gospels, then moving on to the Pentateuch, the epistles, wisdom literature, psalms, proverbs, history, the prophets, and finally the Acts. Wouldn’t that be somewhat dizzying for my tidy little mind? Well, I have been at it for four days, and so far I’m happy to report that I’m really enjoying it and making connections between the Old and New Testaments that I’ve never made before. Plus I’ll have read the whole Bible in 250 days and some parts of it multiple times. I’ll admit to jotting a few notes, which is not part of the system, but even so it takes me only about 35-40 minutes. A great time investment, as I see it, as well as an adventure!
We may have been warned against judging a book by its cover, but, let’s face it, most of us do. . .at least to some degree. So the visual dimension of “Daughter of Jerusalem” loomed large when it came time to select images for the cover that would introduce it to potential readers. The images of first-century Jerusalem, especially of the Temple, were not difficult to locate. But finding the face that would represent our heroine, Mara, was another matter. At first I thought all I’d need to do was a Google search for “young woman with head scarf.” Surely a few intelligent-looking, reasonably attractive young women would turn up. But I found myself on stock-photo websites scrolling through cartoon figures, flirtatious hussies with come-hither looks, and sun-weathered candidates for National Geographic. Hundreds passed before my dazed eyes before one -just one – potential Mara finally turned up. And thanks to Meghan’s artistry, she now graces the cover of my book. Sometimes I wonder who she is and where she lives and whether she’ll ever know where her photo ended up. But to me, I guess she’ll always be Mara, the intelligent, spirited young daughter of Jerusalem.
For over ten years after “The You-Song” first rolled off my pen, it remained simply a draft. I tweaked it from time to time and shared it with friends and family–including, of course, some children. But without the visual dimension, it obviously was not going reach the hearts and minds of its young audience.
When our daughter Meghan Williams, a talented professional graphic designer, was working from her home, we began the online search for photos that would truly represent the kids “The You-Song” was all about. One by one, they found their way to just the right page of the book, leaping, smiling, laughing, dancing, hugging, writing, painting, swimming, swinging, reflecting, discovering. Just letting the beautiful songs they are ring out, they brought “The You-Song” to life. I don’t know their names, but somehow they feel to me like very loved friends.
A friend recently asked me why I chose to write my book, “Daughter of Jerusalem,” in the present tense even though its story takes place nearly two thousand years ago. My short answer is: to make it come alive.
Can’t you almost hear a friend telling a story about something that happened yesterday or last week and using exactly the same technique? (“So I run up to him and ask him what the heck he thinks he’s doing.”) That friend knows instinctively that the present tense invests a now concluded incident with the aliveness of this very moment.
I first tried using it for story-writing when it was suggested at a writer’s workshop I attended about 20 years ago. I could see that it made my story sing, and I’ve used it on occasion ever since. That’s not to say it’s appropriate in all situations, but if you like writing stories, it’s definitely worth a try. Let me know if you have success with it.
Picking up on last week’s observations re biblical fiction, I can think of no more challenging or more thrilling subject for an author to build a story on than the life of Jesus. The challenge, of course, is in doing him justice–catching even a glimpse of what made him who he was and presenting it in a way that rings true for today’s readers. In attempting this, I had to see Jesus through the eyes of my fictional characters, especially Mara. I found myself asking: What sort of scriptural teaching has she heard up to this point, and how would Jesus’ teaching have been different? What would draw her to him? How would her one-on-one encounter with him be initiated in an age when women’s interactions with men were so restricted? The answer that came to that third question was straight from the Jesus I knew from Scripture: he’d have known she wanted to speak with him. And the moment of this realization was nothing short of soul-stirring. It was insights like this one that made “Daughter of Jerusalem” the most thrilling writing project I’ve ever undertaken.
Why would someone who loves the Bible want to use it as a springboard for a novel? Wouldn’t that tend to trivialize it? I asked myself this question years ago after reading a fine biography of Paul. Why, after writing this factual history of his life, did Henrietta Buckmaster want to rewrite his story in her novel “And Walk in Love”?
After reading it, however, I began to understand. Her research and scriptural study had given her intriguing insights into Paul’s life and character. I think she wanted to take them even further–to envision what it would have meant to actually walk his walk. For this she needed to extend herself beyond the boundaries of historical scholarship and plunge into the deeper waters of the creative imagination. But this plunge of hers has value for Bible readers primarily because she was already well acquainted with the world Paul inhabited and the ideas that shaped his interaction with it. Far from trivializing the Bible, fiction–when rooted in fact–can bring it to life for its readers and allow them vivid glimpses into the Bible’s inhabitants and their world.
Until my two books were published, I had no inkling of the importance of the reviews readers post on websites such as amazon.com and bn.com. Last year a friend asked me to write one for her father’s book, which I’d told her I was finding very useful. That was my first review ever, and it was done more out of friendship than out of any concept of how helpful the review could be in promoting the book. The review I wrote yesterday of a novella about a young woman whose life is touched by Jesus’ healing works was quite a different matter. The book’s subject was so close to that of my “Daughter of Jerusalem” that I wanted to give it a rave review. But while I loved the spirit of it and appreciated its historical detail, it had some literary shortcomings I couldn’t entirely overlook. I really battled with myself over it, wanting to support the author but wanting to be honest to prospective readers as well. I hope that my final draft was fair to both sides. A book review is truly a gift to all concerned, and if anyone who reads this has read either of my books and is inclined to write a review, believe me when I say that I will be more than grateful!
Last Thursday I had my first opportunity to share The You-Song in a school setting. I was invited to the Principia to read and discuss it with two small groups of preschoolers. As they clustered around me with eager expressions on their faces, my colorful little book about their uniqueness was coming to life before my very eyes. And its message actually helped them make some steps forward. One little girl at first resisted moving to enable another girl behind her to see the book better, but as we encouraged her to show how she could “blend with other songs” around her, she did the right thing. Later on an unhappy boy was reminded that he didn’t have to let “the world’s jangle” muffle his song, and he brightened up right away. I left there that day showered with hugs and heartwarming memories.