By Ellie Whyte
Mesu Andrews is an author and speaker who has devoted herself to passionate study of Scripture. Harnessing her deep love for God’s Word, Andrews brings the biblical world alive for her audiences.
She’s published four books, Love Amid the Ashes, Love’s Sacred Song, Love in a Broken Vessel and In the Shadow of Jezebel. Another is scheduled for release in March 2015, The Pharaoh's Daughter.
The following is a recent interview with Mesu.
PLUS! ENTER THE GIVEAWAY
Tell us a little about yourself.
I lived in the flatlands and cornfields of Indiana all my life until 2007, when my husband took a teaching position in Portland, OR, at Multnomah University. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been spoiled with beautiful views and lush green landscape year round. My Rottweiler-pitbull Bouzer loves to sit with me while I write in front of my fireplace on those frequent rainy days. We have two married daughters and four grandchildren, who now live scattered across the country—I hope to be racking up the frequent flyer miles. I was raised in a Christian home, though I call myself a spiritual “mutt” since my mom’s Charismatic, dad was Quaker, and grandparents were Pilgrim Holiness then Nazarane and then Wesleyan. Eee-gad! Talk about confused! I turned away from religion as a teen and embraced Jack Daniels (whiskey) instead. When a near tragedy almost cost my life, an old high school friend introduced me to the REAL Jesus, and I’ve been enamored with Him since—Jesus AND that old high school friend. I married the friend six months later, and our first daughter was born nine months and two weeks after that. When people say Jesus changes your life…they aren’t kidding! He CERTAINLY changed mine! Because of my confusing theological heritage, I’ve always yearned to understand God’s Word for myself. I was a stay-at-home mom, while my hubby worked as a teacher/coach, then was called to pastoral ministry for fourteen years. I worked part-time along the way as an optometric/ophthalmic technician and administrative assistant in several capacities. But my heart was always attuned to studying the Word—no matter where I earned a paycheck.
How did you become a novelist, and did you always want to write?
I never dreamed I’d be a novelist—not in a million years! I was an off-the-charts extrovert, who needed people-interaction like I needed air to breathe. I loved God’s Word with a passion and watching others fall in love with Jesus as I taught adult Sunday school classes and women’s Bible studies was almost as fulfilling as my own relationship with Him. My teaching opportunities expanded to retreats and conferences, when I began sharing the study on Song of Solomon, and folks began asking for the study in written form. So, in 2001 I attended my first writers’ conference, intending to get that one Bible study published and be on my merry way. Talk about a reality check. One editor laughed. Another one told me to stick with speaking. A third said he wouldn’t publish a Bible study on the Song of Solomon if Billy Graham wrote it—too controversial. I was utterly deflated, returned home to start speaking again, certain I’d never publish anything. A year later, my health took a dive, and I was in bed for six months. God’s Word nearly burned a hole inside me, so I began writing devotionals and sending them out to family, friends, and speaking contacts. My health never returned fully, so writing has become my voice. I’m now more of an introvert, enjoying my quiet, alone time with Jesus as much as I used to enjoy people time. Since I don’t have any theological training or degrees, no one was interested in my Bible studies or devotionals, so a very wise editor—and my nagging best friend—convinced me to take the truths I teach in my studies and use parables to teach—as Jesus did. I, of course, am not nearly as good at it as the Great Teacher, but story is a wonderful method to convey a message in a memorable way. So, to answer your question—No, I didn’t always want to write. But God gave me the desire of my heart before I even knew it was a desire! Writing keeps me in God’s Word and feeling productive—even when I’m physically limited by chronic illness. Our God is sooooooo good!
What do you think is significant about Christian fiction?
How about if I tell you what I believe is significant about Christian BIBLICAL fiction. Did you realize there’s biblical fiction out there that’s NOT Christian? There is. Lots of it. When I started writing my first biblical novel, Christian houses weren’t publishing much biblical fiction, so I read the only stuff out there—secular biblical fiction. Oh my. Think about some of the Old Testament stories. They’ll make you blush! And for those who don’t hold Scripture as unalterable Truth, authors in the non-Christian market left out biblical details—or added information—that presented treasured biblical Truths in shades of gray. I believe it’s vital that Christian publishers continue to provide strong biblical novels for those seeking edu-tainment from Bible stories. Perhaps the same argument can be made for all Christian fiction. Christ-followers love to read: Romance, Suspense, Historical, etc. I don’t believe Christian fiction should be unrealistic, portraying of a Pollyanna worldview, but I believe its significance rises from the unalterable Truth and hope at the core of every plotline: God is enough.
How do you hope your readers react to the stories you write?
I hope they read the last page, close the book, and rush to their Bibles to discover which parts were Truth and which were fiction! I always write an Author’s Note in the back to give little hints about how I formed some fiction aspects of the story, but the Scriptures listed at the beginning of each chapter hopefully give readers a glimpse at the Truth woven into the fabric of each page. I love it when readers ask me specific questions on biblical fact or fiction because often I can give them a particular reference or topic in Scripture to study. Or I can tell them how my wacky imagination came up with the idea.
What responses to your novels have affected you the most and why?
I’m always most pleased to hear that folks have read the Bible with new passion and new understanding after reading one of my novels. With all my heart, I believe that a better understanding of the context of a passage helps us apply it more fully to our lives. Knowing who wrote the passage, when they wrote it, why, and to whom—all these things make a huge difference when trying to understand how the Lord might speak to us today with His Living Word. God and His Word never changes, but how we apply that message is relevant to every generation. I get SO excited when folks read Job, Song of Solomon, or Hosea with new eyes!
How has being a novelist impacted your relationship with Christ?
I used to spend much of my time reading Christian Living books. Purpose Driven Life, Sacred Romance, Pursuit of Holiness were some of the books that shaped my inner world. The authors of these books had amazing insights into discipleship, the “how-to’s” of Christianity, and they challenged me almost daily with some new aspect of obedience. Now, I spend most of my time in research of ancient cultures and in the Bible. My discipleship and obedience must flow directly from God’s Word to my soul. I simply don’t have time to fit in another study, so it’s Jesus and me—and it was really hard at first. I felt adrift because I’d been relying on studies to lead my relationship. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing unless the studies stop, like mine did, and then we’ve got to sink or swim. I think I’m still dog-paddling. The lessons my characters learn in the novels are often my personal tutorials reflected on the page. I suppose we’re all a work in progress, aren’t we?
Other than writing great novels, what other goals do you have for your life?
I want to love my family well. Our parents are getting older, and we want to honor them with the same love they’ve shown us. We’ve got grandkids now, and I want to be a part of their lives, even though we’re far away. The Lord recently blessed us with a miraculous little parcel of land in the foothills. We’re not sure what He has in mind for that—maybe a writers’ retreat someday or a short-term pastors’ haven (since we spent fourteen years in ministry and know what “needing a break” feels like).
As a writer, what influences have inspired you the most to write, and continue writing?
I'm always inspired at writers' conferences because spending time with other writers re-ignites my passion for God's calling. I find similar encouragement on several writers' loops, where we share questions and answers about the craft, profession, and life in general. My greatest inspiration, however, comes directly from God's Word. Whenever I read Scripture, I see fascinating things--stories, lessons, and people--that I need to share with someone. Since my health keeps me at home much of the time, writing has become my megaphone to share these fun things. God is the most exciting thing in my life, and He's extremely motivating!
Every writer struggles with various aspects of their writing journey. What has been the most difficult aspect of writing for you, and what come the most naturally?
The most difficult aspect of writing for me is the writing craft itself. I've studied God's Word in-depth since 1989, but I was a Bible teacher--a speaker--not a writer. When health issues decreased my speaking schedule, I turned to writing and have found it one of the most difficult things I've ever tried to do. To present the facts in a cohesive plot line through well-rounded characters with snappy dialogue...will I ever get that right? The Spirit within me gives knowledge and insight through the research, but to communicate that knowledge in a way that is both entertaining and spiritually significant has been a challenge that I continue to wrestle with. It keeps me leaning on Him every day.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring writers - either something you adhere to, or something you wish you had known when you started writing?
Stop writing to get published, and write for the Lord. When I finally released the dream of publishing, the Lord gave it back to me. I'd been writing non-fiction for seven years because that's what I knew--Bible studies. I wrote everyday, had a fabulous agent, but never had a single nibble on a proposal. A friend nagged me to write my Bible study on Song of Solomon as a parable--a story, fiction--something I had no idea how to write. So I attended an intensive fiction mentoring clinic, and at the same conference found an editor who was looking for a biblical fiction manuscript. My first contract came three months later. Totally God's timing, and praise God for nagging friends who help us hear God's change of direction! Sometimes it feels like we're moving backward before the Lord takes us forward, but be teachable, moldable, reachable. And the Lord will meet you there.
As a reader, which stories excite you the most to read, and do you have any favourite novelists?
I read almost exclusively biblical fiction because I try to seek out the best of my genre to recommend to my audience. I'm passionate about getting good biblical novels into people's hands because I believe Jesus proved the power of story. He taught with parables because people remember best what they learn through a story. Don't you remember your pastor's sermon better when he uses illustrations to make a point? And my favorite author? I still love Francine Rivers' MARK OF THE LION series, but there are so many great authors in biblical fiction's recent resurgence. Tessa Afshar won a Christy Award this year for her fantastic novel, HARVEST OF GOLD; and Tosca Lee's, ISCARIOT, won the ECPA fiction book of the year. Biblical fiction is on the rise, and I couldn't be more thrilled!
What are some of your most favourite places on the internet to visit, that help challenge you as a writer, and encourage you as a reader?
I'm such a geek! My favorite websites are all research sites. I spend lots of time choosing biblical names for my characters. I comb through maps and ancient cities and miniscule things like cosmetics and furniture and dwellings in a particular era (right now 1250 B.C. Egypt). My only leisurely browsing is Facebook, and when I feel really lazy I play on Pinterest! ;)
What can you tell us about your most recent and upcoming novels?
My recent release was IN THE SHADOW OF JEZEBEL (Revell, 2014) and was one of the most difficult books I've written. It touches on the subject of physical and emotional abuse--and the healing God can bring through the love of His people. It was a tough subject, and one that I didn't want to present as trite or easily "fixed" with pat answers. I pray it ministers to those who need healing in those areas. My current WIP is THE PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER, scheduled to release in March 2015 (Waterbrook/Multnomah). Here's the "blurb" describing it: "Scarred by memories of her mother’s death during childbirth, Anippe is terrified to give her husband Sebak the son he wants and deserves. When the Pharaoh orders Hebrew males murdered at birth, Anippe rescues a newborn from the Nile, believing the gods have answered her prayers for a son. But could her handsome boy rule Egypt one day? Or will someone hear the Hebrews call him Moses and destroy everything Anippe holds dear?" I think folks will be excited to see some familiar Egyptian history in this one. King Tut plays a key role, and my research uncovered a plausible Egyptian identity for Moses--on the wall of the Karnak Temple.
Do you have any parting words?
That's a dangerous question--writers always have more words! My parting words are these--Read the Bible first. Read Christian fiction a lot. Read biblical novels to get the best of both.
ENTER THE GIVEAWAYPost a comment about this interview and enter the Rafflecopter draw for a print copy of one of Mesu's books, LOVE AMID THE ASHES, LOVE'S SACRED SONG, LOVE IN A BROKEN VESSEL, or IN THE SHADOW OF JEZEBEL - winner's choice. ONE copy to be won. A valid comment on the blog is an entry requirement into the draw. Contest open to entrants in any country able to receive deliveries from The Book Depository, and ends on Saturday, 11 October.
Visit Mesu's Author Portfolio Page at Soul Inspirationz // Christian Fiction Site to find links to her website and other online hangouts, as well as her list of books and a Featured Author Interview.
ELLIE WHYTE is a long-time supporter of Christian fiction and is the founder and owner/operator of Soul Inspirationz // The Christian Fiction Site which relaunched after a 5-year hiatus in January 2013. Ellie also has aspirations for her own writing career, and has begun working on a project set in New Zealand in the 1850s.
Pinterest: SoulInspiredNZ http://www.pinterest.com/soulinspirednz/
Google+: Soul Inspirationz http://plus.google.com/+Christianfictionsite-SoulInspirationz