The Well, the first book in The Living Water Series, is a spectacular debut novel. I don’t cry easily while reading, but the book’s portrayal of sacrificial love left me with tears streaming down my cheeks. How did you come to fiction writing and how long was The Well brewing (or bubbling), so to speak, before its publication?
As for my writing journey, I can see now that I was inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. When I decided to write historical fiction, I had no idea what or whom or when I wanted to write about. After about a year of no ideas, I was ready to give up. Then, one day at Mass not long before Easter, I heard the Gospel account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Sitting in my pew, I began to wonder about her—who was she? Who was her family? And most of all, what happened to her after she met Jesus?
By the time I got home, I knew that it was her story that I wanted to write. I even had a rough idea of Mara’s character and that of her mother, Nava. Since that day, I find my best inspiration at Mass or at our perpetual adoration chapel.
The most research I did for my debut novel was watch a YouTube video about riding two-up on a Harley Davidson. Obviously your series required more diligent study. Aside from the Bible and biblical history, did you read any fiction as well? (For instance, Louis de Wohl’s novel The Spear, which, like The Thief, features Longinus as a main character.)
I did do a lot of research for the Living Water Series. It seemed that every time I sat down to write, I discovered there was more I needed to know about the culture, the laws, the food, and how biblical people lived. Fortunately, I love research. As for fiction, I used a great deal of sources for research, but I stayed away from most biblical fiction. I worried that I’d lose my writing voice or second-guess my story if I read in my own genre. Now that the series is done, I’m catching up on some of my favorite biblical fiction authors.
I once heard a woman say, referring to the Bible, that it was the only book she read; she had no need to read another. Her remarks stand in stark contrast to a quote about fiction, which I discovered in Dean Koontz’s most recent novel, Ashley Bell. He says, “You should have more faith in fiction. It lets you come sideways at the truth, which is the only way anyone ever gets near it.” As someone who has fictionalized stories from that Bible, how close do you think Koontz is to the mark with that statement? What would you say to the person who maintains there’s no place for fictionalized accounts of Bible stories?
I love Koontz and completely agree with him. I think fiction has the advantage of touching readers’ emotions, rather than just their intellect. We can know that Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, but when we read a fictional account, we can be there—see the empty tomb, feel awe, sympathize with the great joy of Martha and Mary—and so we enter more fully into the miracle. As long as we don’t contradict what is actually stated in the Bible, fiction is one more way that we can meditate on the biblical events.
I’m wary of biblical fiction that portrays Jesus saying or doing things outside of what we know from Scripture, but you beautifully and seamlessly incorporate words and scenes from the Gospels into your novels without adding or detracting from the biblical canon. Did you create any rules for yourself as to how you’d handle Jesus as a character?
First, I prayed a lot. Mass and perpetual adoration were the perfect places to ask for God’s help in portraying his Son.
Second, I tried to sketch a physical picture of Jesus without being overly specific. I like to think everyone has their own picture of Jesus in their heads and I don’t want to contradict that. Also, I tried to keep him very real by describing things like the touch of his hand and the smell of his clothes. Or even when Martha noticed that he really needed a haircut!
And last, I didn’t put words in his mouth. Jesus no doubt said many things that weren’t recorded in the Bible, but I don’t think I’m qualified to guess what they were. So I used only words that were recorded somewhere in the gospel accounts and make sense in the story.
You’ve recommended The Thief as Lenten reading material. I the think The Tomb, which brings the story of Lazarus to life (pun intended), makes great reading for the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has declared. When would you recommend reading The Well?
All three of the books are taken from what the Church calls The Scrutiny Gospels—readings from the Gospel of John that we often hear on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. These are the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. Because of that, all of the books of the series are ideal for Lent and the Easter Season.
What are you working on now? If I’m right, it’s biblical, historical fiction, but not from the biblical era. Is that correct?
After writing The Living Water series, I was ready to try out a new historical era but still wanted to stay with a biblical theme. I’m working on a novel based on the story of the Compassionate Father – also known as the Prodigal Son.
The Prodigal in my story is a daughter who leaves her Midwestern family for the ‘freedom’ of Hollywood in its Golden age, the early 1930s. Her determination to become a star leads her to ruin and finally, in her desperation, she realizes that only by going home and asking for her father’s forgiveness will she truly become free. She also must face her sister, who is less than willing to forgive her offenses. I love everything about writing this story – especially the research!
Next fall, watch for a new book coming out from Ave Maria Press. I’ve joined with a group of Catholic women to write a five-week meditation for Lent. It will include six original short stories from me of women encountering Jesus before his crucifixion (tentatively titled: Walking in Her Sandals).
Thanks for having me on your blog, Carolyn, and for sharing The Living Water Series with your readers.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/stephanielandsem
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