The Cross & the Pen: Liz Curtis Higgs
- Thursday, March 25, 2004
If you’ve never heard Liz Curtis Higgs speak ... if you’ve never read any of her articles (she’s written more than sixty articles for Today’s Christian Woman alone!) ... if you’ve never been delighted by her wonderful works of nonfiction ... well, you just haven’t lived!
But better than all these combined is the joy and delight of speaking to Liz personally. She is just as you’d imagine her to be! So, imagine how excited I was when I had the opportunity to e-mail my good buddy after reading her latest book, "Fair is the Rose" (Waterbrook), her second work of fiction. As two fiction authors we had a good deal to speak about. Wanna listen in?
Eva: Liz, you are, of course, known for your humor and your nonfiction. But I happen to know from speaking with you in the halls of CBA's convention is that your love is fiction. What enabled you to make the writing transition, especially with your fans?
Liz: The women who read my books are exceedingly generous of spirit! They "transitioned" with me from my early, mostly-funny books like "Only Angels Can Wing It" (1995), to my children's fiction like "The Parable of the Lily" (1997), to my fiction/fact/funny Bible studies like "Bad Girls of the Bible" (1999), to my light-hearted contemporary fiction like "Bookends" (2000), to my heartfelt historical fiction like "Thorn in My Heart" (2003) and "Fair is the Rose" (2004). What might look like a leap of faith to some folks felt like a crawl of faith to me! Although the Lord showed me clearly in 1995 that historical fiction was where I was headed, I never dreamed how meandering that path would be. It's a joy unspeakable to finally be settled into one genre.
Eva: Liz, I am sooooo happy for you!! So, let’s talk about the latest book! "Fair is the Rose" is the second book in a series. The first was "Thorn in my Heart." What inspired these stories?
Liz: Three things: (1) My love for history and historical fiction (nine out of ten books I read are historical novels); (2) My love for Scotland (I've been there six times for a total of eighty days, covering eight thousand Scottish miles in my rental cars); (3) My love for the women of the Bible. After researching the women I included in "Bad Girls of the Bible" and "Really Bad Girls of the Bible," there were some women who defied category-not exactly "bad girls," but not really "good girls" either. Two in particular, Leah and Rachel, spoke to my heart. I thought, "Wouldn't it be grand to explore their stories, not as a nonfiction study, not as a novel set in biblical times, but as a novel set in a very different time and place: 18th-century Scotland?! "Thorn in My Heart" gives us a fresh look at the character of Leah, and "Fair is the Rose" tells Rachel's story. Though some of the details of these stories must, by necessity, be changed to fit the time period, the heart and message of their life stories remain true to Scripture.
Eva: I happen to know you did a LOT of research. What lengths did you go to in order to assure your readers they would get the BEST in historical fiction?
Liz: In addition to the research trips already mentioned, I have collected a rather extensive library-six hundred and thirty-five books to date-focused on Scotland in general, and the 18th century in particular. My Scottish bookshelves are labeled, "Architecture," "Art," "Birds," "Burns” (as in Robert, the poet), "Costume," "Customs," "Domestic Life," "Folklore," and so forth. I consult my resource books constantly as I write. I also have a Scottish cartographer and bookseller who not only drew the map for the front of the novels, but who also reads my first drafts and catches anything that does not ring true.
Eva: Liz, personally I find it difficult to write in “dialect” unless it’s Southern, which is my roots. How difficult is it for you to write in the Scottish "brogue?"
Liz: A Scottish "brogue" really refers to the accent, the sound of the language. What I'm writing is dialect, involving vocabulary and grammar. Scots, the common language of the Lowlanders in times past, fascinates me. I have five Scots dictionaries to help me find just the right words to sprinkle through the story, enough to give it flavor without (I hope) slowing the reader down. When I can, I choose Scots words that sound like their English counterpart. I also tried to use words in a familiar context or define them elsewhere on the page, and I included a glossary in the back. It helps to have read many 19th-century books written in Scots, and to have taped interviews with modern Scottish folk who still use a few of the guid auld wirds.
Eva: (laughing) The what?
Liz: C'mon now, girlfriend, just read the words exactly as they appear, and you'll see that you DO know them! That's the beauty of Scots – though it may be spelled differently, it sounds much like our English: "good old words."
Eva: Oh, yes! Of course! I was jest funnin’ with ya! (My Southern pops out again!) Okay, let’s talk theme. Betrayal and forgiveness are the themes (In my opinion, anyway!) found in "Fair is the Rose." They are the underlying themes of the Bible as well and most likely a thread running through all of our lives. How much of yourself did you have to pull from to write about such tender topics?
Liz: Here's what has surprised me about writing fiction: I thought I would be telling someone else's story, but in truth, novelists draw from the very deepest places in themselves, sometimes without even realizing it. The themes you've mentioned are indeed in my novels. Loving someone who does not return that love. Trusting someone, only to have them destroy that trust. Extending forgiveness in the most difficult of circumstances. Receiving forgiveness, knowing it's undeserved. Yes, I've been there. We all have. I have to go there again emotionally when I write such scenes, and am often reduced to tears. It's a fairly therapeutic process, if you can live through it! Yet it's in those dark moments that I most sense the presence of the Lord in my writing loft and feel the deepest connection with my characters and my readers.
Eva: Oh, Liz … I know exactly what you’re talking about! Sometimes I come away from my work of fiction feeling like a dishcloth and I have to ask my family to just “leave me alone for awhile.” But in the end, we hope for the best for our readers, even if it means wringing ourselves out. Liz, what do you hope your readers come away with at the end of the book?
Liz: A sense of hope, even in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. An assurance of God's promise to Jacob, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go" (Genesis 28:15). An awareness of God's plan unfolding around us in unfathomable ways.
Eva: Amen. Would you do something for me? Would you pray for our readers, those who have felt betrayed ... and/or seek forgiveness?
Liz: Heavenly Father, comfort the hearts of these dear ones who need to know they are forgiven by you. All of us have failed you. ALL of us. Your Word tells us, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and our hearts know that to be true. Yet your mercy is boundless and your love is higher than the heavens and deeper than the oceans. Your Word assures us, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). You love us, Lord, even in our sin. Remarkable! Now help us forgive ourselves and put our guilt in your trustworthy hands. Then, help us extend grace to those who have failed us, Father. Those people-family members, friends, loved ones-who have hurt us, betrayed us, withheld their love, refused to forgive. As you have forgiven and loved us, Father, please help us forgive and love others. "Forgive, and you will be forgiven," (Luke 6:37) is your promise, and we stand on it this day. In the name of Jesus, whose death gave us life, and whose resurrection gives us hope, Amen.
For more information about Liz Curtis Higgs, drop by her website here. Look for "Whence Came a Prince" (March 2005) and "None but the Brave" (March 2006).
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson is the author of "Shadow of Dreams", "Summon the Shadows" and the recently released and highly anticipated "Shadows of Light." She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.EvaMarieEverson.com.
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