William Faulkner once said that “writing a novel is like building a chicken coop in a high wind—you grab any board you find and nail it down fast.” The writing of a novel can be a long-term battle in a headwind. And when you are writing an historical novel, you have a lot of facts flying that you might use to build that literary coop. But alas, the sustained headwinds are so brutal that many of those facts just sail right past you. Even if the coop is missing a few factual “boards,” you hope the story is still complete.
I love writing novels, the ones in progress, and the ones I still hope to write. I love taking the stories from biblical history and using my imagination to bring characters and events to life that have existed in mystery. I am bringing a vanished world to life on a page, inviting a reader into a world rich with human dimensions and dynamics.
I am not an historian. The skill of the historian is to take the verifiable facts as they happened, and while they attempt to tell those facts in such a way that are interesting and give a reader a solid sense of place and time, they can’t make stuff up. That is the rule of the game for the historian.
The novelist need not adhere to such a rule…completely. Certainly, they must assembly the pieces (historical facts) that fly in the headwind so that the chicken coop at least resembles a chicken coop. The reader wants to be secure in the knowledge that the novelist has done the research and has created an accurate and believable setting in which the characters may exist.
But the novelist is free to get inside the character’s heads and hearts and describe what is going on. I allow myself the freedom to invent, and thus, allow myself and the potential to feel a human connection to the characters. Hilary Mantel of Wolf Hall fame says, “If we want added value—to imagine not just how the past was, but what it felt like, from the inside—we pick up a novel.”
This is what I attempt to do each time when I set my fingers on the keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen. I want to know “what it felt like from the inside” in the biblical fiction I have written. I invite all readers to take that journey with me in my series The Song of Prophets and Kings.