Shaping a Genesis week from the chaos of my life
I’ve been following weekly posts on Liz Curtis Higg’s blog. She first caught my attention with a series on favourite Bible verses but she tore them apart in a way I’d never done before. Then she ran a series on Bad Girls of the Bible, and next week will be starting a series for her latest book–The Women of Christmas. I think the book is one I’ll revisit every Christmas from now on. From the back cover copy: “A sacred season is about to unfold for three women whose hearts belong to God.
Elizabeth is barren, yet her trust in God remains fertile. Mary is betrothed in marriage, yet she is willing to bear God’s Son. Anna is a widow full of years, yet she waits patiently, prayerfully for the Messiah to appear in the temple courts.”
Recently, Liz stopped by Muse and Meander for a chat. Here’s what she had to say.
Hi Liz, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. I forget how it is that I stumbled onto your blog, but I’m certainly glad that I did.
Me too, Crystal. :>)
The writing style in The Women of Christmas is similar to your Wednesday Bible study posts. I enjoy how you take verses phrase by phrase, and sometimes word by word, relying on several different translations to make your point. I’m a process-person myself. I’m interested to know what yours is. Care to share?
First, I download the portion of biblical text we’ll be exploring into a Word document, then I break the verses into phrases, spreading them slightly apart. The whole process seems less daunting when I’m focusing on one phrase at a time—both visually and mentally. Bit by bit, I end up with a full blog (or a chapter of a book), without ever having to stare at a blank page.
Once I have my primary translation in place (usually NIV), back into Scripture I go, checking out forty or so English translations (http://www.BibleGateway.com is a great resource for this). I’m especially looking for common threads or wildly different takes on the same word.
Next, I look at all those phrases in Hebrew (for OT) and Greek (for NT), using http://www.BibleHub.com. I try not to overdo such language studies—after all, I’m not a scholar!—but the original languages are helpful when you’re trying to sort out why one translation says this, and another one says that.
Then comes the most important part of all. I read slowly through the text with all its nuances, while I pray and wait to hear from the Lord. Not audibly! Just in my heart and mind. What is he trying to show me? to teach me? to change about me? I make notes beneath each biblical phrase, so I won’t forget those aha moments later when I start writing.
The weaving of Elizabeth’s, Mary’s and Anna’s stories is so rich in detail. As a writer of historical fiction, research must be something you enjoy. How did you conduct the research?
You’re so right: I love digging deep in search of the truth. Once I’ve done all of the above preparation, it’s time to pull out my commentaries—Matthew Henry is my favorite, but lots of modern commentators are wonderful too—and see what these well-schooled men and women have to offer. If I need to know more about the historical and cultural context, I have several books on my shelf, like Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs by Howard Vos and The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times by Ralph Gower.
Just to give you a sense of it, I had 153 pages of notes on my computer before I began actually writing The Women of Christmas. With all the research and prewriting done, this part goes a bit faster. Even so, a 1500-word blog takes me 8-10 hours to finish. (I know. Crazy.) Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I can only write 200 polished words an hour. Some days I get on a roll and the words come much more quickly, but again, only if I’ve done all the research first.
My process for fiction is quite different, because I tend to research as I go, rather than all at once. I have almost a thousand books about Scotland, so I have to be careful, or I’ll spend all day pouring over those books and get absolutely nothing written!
I’m guessing that you have visited the Nazareth and Bethlehem, and travelled the routes these women travelled. When did you go, and what was the most amazing thing you learned?
I did indeed visit Israel exactly two years ago, and will be heading there again in late January with friends. There really is nothing like seeing where Mary lived, where she visited Elizabeth, where she gave birth to Jesus.
Israel is drier and hillier than I’d imagined. And the juxtaposition of ancient and modern architecture is breathtaking. Faith clearly matters in that part of the world.
One of the highlights of our tour was experiencing Shabbat—the Sabbath—in Jerusalem. Everything basically stops. The streets are empty, a hush falls over the city, and the faithful make their way to the Western Wall of the old temple to pray at sunset on Friday. That whole evening lives in my memory like a movie.
For a virtual tour of Israel, here are my photo blogs from 2011: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/category/blog/israel-trip/
I’ve been working on my first and second novels, and am realizing that writing helps me to understand what I think about something. What did you learn about yourself as you were working on this book?
C.S. Lewis once said, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” That’s so true, isn’t it?
While writing The Women of Christmas, I was astounded by the vital role the Holy Spirit played in the nativity story. When Elizabeth said in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women!”, that was the Holy Spirit talking. When Mary burst into song, using language elevated far above her age (about 12) and her station (poor), that was the Holy Spirit at work. And all this thirty years before Pentecost!
What did I learn from that? When I’m prompted to share some new thought on the platform or on the page, that is not Liz being clever; that’s the Holy Spirit, being faithful to God’s Word! It’s a matter of honoring the Lord in everything and taking credit for nothing. Believe me, that’s a lesson I need to learn anew with every book I write and every message I share.
What’s next for you?
I have one more nonfiction project, releasing in October 2014 (still a bit under wraps), and then back to Scottish historical fiction I go. If you’ve not read my 2012 Christmas novella, ‘tis the season once more for A Wreath of Snow, set in Victorian Scotland.
Where can we find The Women of Christmas, and learn more about you?
The Women of Christmas should be available in stores everywhere. You’ll find lots more about the book and direct links to various online retailers here: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/the-women-of-christmas/
Like many writers, I have several places to meet with readers online:
Bible Study Blog: http://www.LizCurtisHiggs.com/blog
For readers who love fiction, these spots are just for you:
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of more than 30 books, with 4.5 million copies in print, including her nonfiction bestsellers, Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them and The Girl’s Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God Who Rocked Her World. Liz has presented more than 1,700 inspirational programs in all 50 United States and 14 foreign countries, including New Zealand, Thailand, and South Africa. She’s been honored to be a speaker with Women of Faith this year, bringing a message of hope from her latest book, The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna.