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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Debut Author Jill Eileen Smith

Jill Eileen Smith has more than twenty years of writing experience, ranging from articles and short stories to reviews and blogs. Her writing has placed or won prizes in several writing contests. In addition to homeschooling her three sons, Jill has taught piano and women’s Bible studies. She enjoys baking, traveling, scrapbooking, and the antics of her two lovable cats. She lives with her husband and sons in Southeastern Michigan.

Tell us about your new release:

Michal: A Novel is the story of the life of King David’s first wife.

Can their epic search for true love survive a father’s fury?
The daughter of King Saul, Michal lives a life of privilege—but one that is haunted by her father’s unpredictable moods and competition from her beautiful older sister. As a girl, Michal quickly falls for the handsome young harpist David. But soon after their romance begins, David must flee for his life, leaving Michal at her father’s mercy in the prison that is King Saul’s palace.

Will Michal ever be reunited with David? Or is she doomed to remain separated from him forever?
You can go to the book’s
website for book club questions, Bible study questions, and more.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

My “what if” moment was more like a “why” moment. I co-taught a women’s Bible study on David’s life and when it ended I wanted more. I wanted to read a novel that would take me there. I searched high and low but could not find one that satisfied. So I set out to write the book I longed to read. The nagging question – “Why did David, a man after God’s own heart, need so many wives?” The romantic in me begged an answer.

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

Funny—sure. Now it’s funny because I can laugh at my own naiveté. But there were times when I wondered if I’d made a big mistake.

When I began this novel journey, I knew nothing about writing fiction. My first attempt was a two-volume epic on David’s life that garnered 28 rejections and a suggestion from an editor at Harper & Row to refocus the story on Michal. I turned her down! Of course, I had my reasons and they made sense to me at the time. Now I realize that God’s timing wasn’t then, but such an opportunity was something a more seasoned author might not have passed up. I was definitely not seasoned!

Sixteen years later I had written the book (it wouldn’t leave me alone!) and that same editor, now at Revell, enthusiastically bought the series. The story had come full circle.

Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

My journey lasted 20 years and began with that two-volume epic on David’s life. After 28 rejections, I packed that book away where it will remain! I really didn’t know enough about the fiction writing craft, though I did rewrite that story at least three times. After tucking it in a box, I wrote about six more novels and a few novellas trying to break into publishing. Michal was one of those novels, as was its sequel Abigail, though they both went through a lot of revision.

How I found out? Well, that’s a story in itself. My agent, Wendy Lawton, signed me for Michal in Feb. 2006. We both knew Michal would be a tough sell, and after over a year of shopping it around, she told me we would have to shelve the book for a while.

In the meantime, I’d written a suspense novel that she planned to promote at ICRS that summer (2007). In July, around the time of ICRS, I felt the intense urge to pray. I asked the Lord if He was ever going to use The Wives of King David series. I had loved the series for so long—had I wasted my time, nearly 20 years of my life? In my praying, I had this fantasy of an editor coming up to Wendy at a conference or ICRS and asking if she had any biblical fiction.

The next month I received an email from Wendy. Did she have the latest copy of Michal because Lonnie Hull Dupont at Revell wanted to see the full manuscript! Turns out, Wendy was at a conference in Oregon and sat next to Lonnie. Lonnie mentioned to Wendy that Revell was going to look for a work of biblical fiction. My fantasy prayer had materialized! Is God amazing or what? Wendy sent Michal to Lonnie who loved it and took it to committee and by October I had an offer! Those three months were the longest of my life!

Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Not so much writer’s block as trying to make a plot work. I have to outline a story to know where it’s going, but then I like to write seat of the pants. There have been times, especially in genres other than biblical fiction (and I’ve written in several) where I would get a literal headache trying to make a story come together. But I don’t usually suffer writer’s block.

I might write a scene that stinks and have to change it later, but I write what comes to mind. I also pray for guidance. With biblical fiction, I ask the Lord to tell me what these people were like, since they were real and He knows them better than I do. That’s not to say my imagination and interpretation are direct inspiration from Him. But I do take care to consider and seek His insight into their character and their stories. It’s an important place for a biblical novelist to start.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

Yes, I would consider myself a visual writer. I don’t need visuals constantly, but I do need to see my characters. I took Deb Raney’s suggestion of making an Idea Board and “cast” my characters from actors and actresses. I searched Jewish actors and actresses on the Internet for my biblical series (for other books I’ve used clothing catalogs) as well as pictures of places in Israel. (Actually, King David is the only character I “cast” from a non-Jewish actor. A Jewish director cast him as a Jewish man in a movie once though so I figure that counts.) He’s the closest thing to how I see David that I could find.

When I find all of my pictures, I print them and paste them to a large poster board and hang the poster board in my office above my desktop computer. I write from my laptop so I don’t look at the pictures as I write, but it does help to set the mood when I see those posters.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

Writing in other genres is different for me than writing biblical fiction. In other genres, I struggled with character development. With biblical fiction it’s different because I don’t have to do personality tests or study Greek archetypes to find their personalities. I study the Scriptural story a LOT and I get to know them as they are portrayed there. Then I let my mind take off and fill in what’s NOT there. But I start with being really sure I’m accurate on what IS there. When there is not a lot in the Bible about a particular person, coming up with a plot can be a real challenge.

How do you overcome it?

Study more. Pray. Read other authors. Let my mind dwell on a particular character. Right now I’m getting to know Uriah, Bathsheba’s first husband. I’ve never written anything from his point of view until now, so as I delve into his thoughts, I get to know him better. Some authors interview their characters or answer questions about them. I do one of two things—I either write paragraph summaries from that character’s POV or just start writing scenes from their point of view. I don’t usually know my characters really well until I’ve written the first draft, which is why I like time to rewrite before a book is due. It’s what works for me.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write my novels on my laptop in one of two recliners – either in the family room or my bedroom. Lately, I’ve been hibernating in my bedroom. It’s cozy and warm up there and quiet. I light my scented Yankee Candle Café Au Lait and prop my feet up. I answer emails and do other writing-related projects more often from my desktop in the family room – used to be a wet bar – now my office. (See attached picture of my tiny office.)

What does a typical day look like for you?

There is no typical day. LOL! I fit in writing whenever I can. I’m a wife and mom first – always have been – so I take care of domestic needs and chores most mornings. Some days I run errands. I’m in that sandwich generation with elderly parents and adult kids and that poses its own set of issues. So a lot of days writing doesn’t happen until late in the day. Other times, when I’m on deadline, I make it a priority first thing and write for an hour or two or so before doing other things.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I have never been a 5-10 thousand word a day person. My tendonitis and carpal tunnel would give me fits if I typed that much that often. I do have to watch how much I type, which is partly why I only write an hour or two at a time. (And I exercise most days to keep from having problems.) When I’m setting a word count, I’m happy with 1-2 thousand a day. Some days, the words flow, other days, they trickle.

Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?

Both, actually. Editing because I love to make a story better. But I also love the joy of starting something new. There is a wonderful feeling that comes with the actual creative writing process that is lacking when I edit, unless that editing includes creating new scenes.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Two from Galilee by Marjorie Holmes – I fell in love with the Bible after reading that book. Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers because I still remember those characters years after I read the books. Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw a YA book on ancient Egypt because it was a great story. (They are all historical fiction – my favorite genre.)

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Write what you love, not what you know. You can always learn what you don’t know now. I learned a ton about David and his wives and ancient Israel in my seven plus years of study. But I would never have studied David’s life if I didn’t love David and his story in Scripture. You will spend years on a book before it goes to print—time spent in research and writing and editing and marketing and answering questions about why you wrote the story, etc. If you don’t love your story, you’ll get sick of it fast. And if you don’t love your story, the writing quality will reflect that. Don’t write just to be published. Write because you love the subject.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in your journey to publication?

Learn the craft. I’ve judged for several contests in the past few years and many of the entrants were nowhere near ready for publication. That’s not to say they should not enter a contest because the critiques can be quite helpful. But too often people think anyone can write a book without realizing how much study goes into writing a book well. I wrote a two-volume epic before I knew what I was really doing, but that didn’t mean it was well-written. I had no real support back then, didn’t know books on the craft were so available. If I had to do it over again, I would study the craft first or at least while I was attempting to write, not after years of thinking I knew what I was doing when I didn’t.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

The most important thing for a Christian writer to do, in my opinion, is to keep the Lord their primary focus. Pray about your writing. Pray with an attitude of absolute surrender. Right before I got the final call from Wendy telling me that Revell wanted to buy the series, I remember sitting in my car listening to Amy Grant sing “Sweet Will of God.” I was crying and praying and once again had to surrender the entire dream of publishing to Him, no strings attached. Hard as it is, I still try not to focus on the publishing. The goal of life is to complete the work God gave me to do, whatever that may be, and of pleasing Him. We cannot know until it happens if we will ever see our books in print, just as we cannot know anything about our futures. Life isn’t about being published. It’s about obeying Jesus Christ.


  1. Jill, your writing journey resonates with me (another 20 year journeyer), and encourages. Thanks for this interview. Michal sounds intriguing. Beautiful cover! That's awesome how God answered your prayer for its publication. Congratulations!

  2. Jill! I don't think I knew you had a contract. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than you. God took you the long way but He had/has a plan! Congratulations Jill! I'm so happy for you!!!!!

  3. Jill, I've told you before how much I love this cover. It's absolutely stunning. And I can't wait to read the story. Yea!!

    Oh--and in the interview you mentioned an attached photo of your office.'s not posted, is there a way to see it? *grins*

  4. Thanks to Jill and Ronie, the office pic is now here. I had it filed in the wrong folder and couldn't find it at first.

    A red-faced Ane will now slip back under her rock. :)

  5. I'm sorry--I really just wanted to see the pix because *I* am a very visual person. I have my own character sheets of my characters that I keep in a plastic protector in front of my keyboard. Can't write without it. :-D

    THANKS, Ane!

  6. Thanks Lori - I pray your journey ends exactly as you hope!

    Gina - thanks so much! I thought you'd heard about the contract. It's been too long since we "talked." :)

    Ane - thanks for fixing the picture -

    and Ronie - being a visual person is good, yes? I love making Idea Boards. :)

    Thanks for posting my interview on Novel Journey!


  7. Jill, I always enjoy hearing your writing story. I especially appreciate your words of advice.

  8. Thanks so much, Sally!

    And to all who mentioned the cover - didn't Revell do a great job? I can't thank them enough - I couldn't be happier! :)


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