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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Historical Gems...Or Should I Say Jewels

by Guest Author Roseanna White

I love history. For as long as I can remember, I would sink my teeth into each detail I learned, and usually gnaw on it until it turned into a story in my mind. One of the things I love most about the Old Testament is the history it brings to us. Better still? When third-party history and archaeological evidence backs up the Bible stories I've heard since I was a child.

One of my favorites was always Esther. Last winter I was thinking about how I'd love to write a novel about Esther—yet my style isn't to use real people as my main character, it's to explain real events through fictional characters. Now how, I wondered, could I do that with the story of Esther? I was standing in the shower when it came to me—Esther was one of many young women brought to the king. What about the other wives?

As the idea brewed, I got out my study Bible and got a few facts straight. Like, you know, which king of Persia this was. I found that historians can't quite agree on this. Some insist it's Xerxes, others Artaxerxes, some pose others altogether. I like the arguments put forth for it being Xerxes, so I ran with that one with quite a bit of excitement—see, I already knew something about Xerxes. In college we had to read Herodotus's Histories, which details the Greco-Persian war and so the king who waged it.

Over the course of a few weeks, I reread Esther for the umpteenth time and reread the Histories, taking notes like crazy. Brought in some other historical data too, of course, and watched some documentaries on Persia. And you know what? The way it all clicked made me giddy.

In the book of Esther, the king is absent from the main story much of the time and seems fairly distant when he is there. We get only a few glimpses into his character—he had a temper on him, he was a fan of beautiful women (shocking, right?), and he was generous with those in his favor and impatient with those who weren't. Can the same be said of every king? Er, no, not actually.

In Herodotus, we get to know Xerxes pretty well. He's beloved by his people to the point of being revered as a god, though they were in a fact a monotheistic society. He was a man of passion and temper, who ordered people executed left and right when he was in a rage and offered them cities as rewards left and right when he was happy. And some of the things he's most remembered for are his affairs, one of which led to the deaths of a few of his closest family members.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too.

A few other facts snapped into place so beautifully that I became really convinced it was Xerxes in Esther. First of all, the timing. If you line up the events of Esther with the events of Xerxes' reign recorded by Herodotus and Persian historians, you get a few really cool clicks. First, that 180-day-long feast, where Vashti of the Bible refuses to come before his guests in her crown? That would have been when all the nobles were gathered to plan out the war. And the queen would have been about 8 months pregnant with her final child—pretty good excuse not to want to go before all the men in the empire and be judged for your beauty, eh?

There's a three-year gap between when Vashti is dethroned and when new young women are brought to the palace. Did it really take the king that long to cool off and think, “Gee, I better name a new queen?” Well, sure—because that's when he was at war! Pretty neat, huh? Herodotus has him arriving back in Susa (Shushan) within months of when the new virgins were scouted.

Maybe to some these things are small, but to the historical novelist, they're like candy. I had so, so much fun combining two history sources into one story—and yes, explaining it all through a fictional character. See, in my version, Kasia is the real reason the queen is deposed (let it be noted that Esther never says she's put to death, though that's the common notion). She's the reason for much of what happens during the war. And she's the unifying force behind the scandalous affair mentioned above and the arrival of new potential queens at the House of Women.

Because, you see, she was the one who held Xerxes' heart all along. And when a king with countless wives places his heart into the hands of a poor Jewish girl, trouble is bound to brew.

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How can she love the king of kings without forsaking her Lord of lords?

Kasia grew up in a poor Jewish home with more siblings than luxuries. But when a chance encounter forces her to the palace of Xerxes, she becomes a concubine to the richest man in the world. She alone, of all Xerxes' wives, loves the man beneath the crown. She alone, of all his wives, holds the heart of the king of kings. Traveling with Xerxes through Europe as he mounts a war against Greece, Kasia knows enemies surround her, but they’re not the Spartans or Athenians. The threat lies with those close to the king who hate her people. She determines to put her trust in Jehovah–even if it costs her her marriage.

Years of prayers are answered when Kasia's childhood friend arrives at the palace after the war, but even as she determines to see Esther crowned in place of the bloodthirsty former queen, she knows the true battle is far from over. How far will her enemies go to see her undone?

Combining the biblical account of Esther with Herodotus's Histories, Jewel of Persia is the story of a love that nearly destroys an empire . . . and the friendship that saves a nation.
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Roseanna M. White, author of A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, and HEWN Marketing.
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Roseanna is also a good friend, a regular guest here on Inkwell, and my critique partner. I'm very excited to say that I got to read this book far in advance and also help with the photo shoot for the cover. Oh, and that line about loving the king of kings without forsaking her lord or lords... Okay, obviously I'm a little excited. Jewel of Persia is already on my personal favorite list. It's currently available as an ebook on amazon.com, and will be coming out in paperback this summer. You don't want to miss this one. What historical gems have sparked your imagination? Who is your favorite Bible character. ~ Dina


25 comments:

  1. Hi, Inkies! I'm so glad to be visiting the Inkwell again! Can't wait to hear about the history that inspires all of you. =)

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  2. Hi Roseanna,

    As I reread the post this morning, I got excited all over again. This is truly a stunning novel. You are so smartical, as we say at my house.

    Here's a question I never asked. Is it Kasia pronounced like Asia, or like Casseea?

    Roseanna already knows, but I'll share with the rest of you, I wrote a short story in college about Delilah. That was really fun. I found some research suggesting she might be part Hebrew. Now wouldn't that make an interesting twist? Shamed by her Hebrew heritage she tries all the harder to prove herself faithful to the Philistine gods. I also had her as a temple prostitute, which of course is worse by our standards, but quite respectable by hers.

    I've also written poems about Eve, Deborah, Mary, and Mary Magdelene.

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  3. I learned that Roseanna was in the process of this book while I was doing the Beth Moore bible study of Esther. I can't wait to read this one, Roseanna!

    There is just something magical, if I dare use the word, about those moments when a historical fact just happens to add a new layer to your plot, and vice-versa.

    The writer's job is not necessarily to 'make stuff up' but bring a living energy to something that could have happened or has happened. I think it's about helping people see things clearer (okay... even if they are made up).

    I love biblical fiction or fiction based during biblical time and setting. A Stray Drop of Blood was incredible!

    Dina, maybe you could share one of those poems on our poetry page here at the inkwell?

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  4. Good morning, Roseanna. Thank you so much for visiting us today. Your book sounds fabulous and I can't wait to read it. I love books set in Biblical times, and there really aren't that many out there. Did any of you ever read any books by Joyce Landorf? I read every book she wrote, but my favorite of hers was about Joseph.

    Dina, your story about Delilah sounds fun.

    Roseanna, your book cover is stunning.

    Have a great day, everyone.

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  5. Actually, Deb, I changed them all to prose poems and discovered people like them much better that way for some reason. I did share the Mary one last year around Christmas time. So this is my new secret. Just take the poems out of the lines and put them in paragraphs and people suddenly like them. I was thinking about posting some more of them.

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  6. Dina, I am honored to be considered "smartical," LOL. Great word.

    As for Kasia, the website I found it on says it's pronounced kass-EE-uh. It's a name somewhere in the Old Testament, so I assume they based their pronunciation on something, ha ha.

    Debra, those moments are definitely magical, aren't they? That's really one of my favorite things about writing historicals. =)

    Suzie, I was SO pleased with my cover that words can't express it! I'm pretty sure our designer is one of the best out there right now. =) And of course, we get to thank Dina for spearheading the photoshoot--she found Perla, the model, for me, organized it all, and oversaw the shoot itself. All I did was provide the chiton she's wearing. =)

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  7. Wow, Dina, helping with the book cover! I'm so amazed. You have so many hidden talents!

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  8. She was awesome. I honestly couldn't have done it without her. Hence why her name gets to be in the dedication. =)

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  9. Thanks for sharing some of the backround. I often wonder how authors make their choices with their historical characters. I'm really impressed!

    I agree- great cover... You guys did that too???
    Wow...

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  10. Seriously, cool. Speaking of hidden talents, Suzie, I actually did a little bit of modeling around ages 14 and 15, but I was really that awful in between "normal" size that didn't work out in the long run. My daughter and I styled and posed Perla together. We had sooooo much fun. Total top model moment for us.

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  11. Dina, why am I totally not surprised? You look like a model in your picture. :-)

    I forgot to mention, the first book I wrote was set in Jesus' time. It's still in the closet. LOL! I so do NOT have a voice for Biblical times. But I still love to read it.

    Okay, I really must get off to work now. I just looked outside and it looks like frozen fog.

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  12. Thanks, Suzie. I figure my parents should get some return on the money they spent for modeling school.

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  13. I'm actually currently reading Jewel of Persia and loving it! I, too, wanted to inquire about how to pronounce Kasia's name. Thanks, Dina, for asking.

    Yes, when we historical writers find those little nuggets of information it's like we've struck gold or something! Eureka!! Good post. Back to my reading now :)

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  14. Oh, yeah. There's such a rush in finding that the histroy works!! I love that thrill I get during the research. The story suddenly comes to life.

    Hmmm, maybe this is how Dr. Frankenstein felt... I will stay away from cemeteries.

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  15. LOL, Lisa. No cemeteries for you. ;-)

    FYI, after my mom, while reading JoP flipped through the book and made me pronounce just about every single name for her, I took it upon myself to create a Characters list in the front complete with pronunciation guide. It isn't in the galley that Golden has, but it's in the digitals, the ARCs, and the finals. =)

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  16. I can't wait to read this book, Roseanna! I loved Stray Drop of Blood, and Kesia's (thanks for the pronunciation help, ladies!) story sounds wonderful, too. This was fun to read how it was conceived.

    And Dina, I am so impressed by the cover -- you and Roseanna did a wonderful job.

    When I'm doing research for a story and I come across a historical gem, it's such a fun feeling. Like my story is is rooted in something real but starts to grow wings.

    Thanks, ladies!

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  17. On February 3 I'll be sharing the full behind-the-scenes story about the cover at http://reviewsbymolly.blogspot.com/. It'll share Dina's role in making it happen, my communication with the Greek jeweler who designed the bracelet featured on the cover, and how above-and-beyond our designer, George of Tekeme Studios, went to get it just right. I'm just amazed at how the Lord helped us pull every aspect together into such a stunning cover!

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  18. And it sounds like you guys are now working on a gorgeous cover for Christine Lindsay's Shadowed in Silk. Another great book I got to read in advance. Love the name change by the way.

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  19. I love the new title too, and I can't to wait to see what Tekeme does with the cover. It's so exciting!! (And one of these days I will SO have actually be there for a cover photoshoot! I feel like I'm missing all the fun, LOL.)

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  20. I'm with you history writers, a gem from days long gone ignites my imagination. Roseanna's first book, A Stray Drop of Blood swept me away, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on Jewel of Persia. As for historical events that spurred my creative juices---well one of those is the magestic visit of The Prince of Wales to India in 1905. The pomp and magesty of British royalty to that exotic country inspired me to write my own British Raj novel. It has the pomp of glittering swords and red carpets too, but not any visits from royalty---only secret princesses of God. :)

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  21. Christine, your description of that event only makes me want to read your book all the more.

    It's so nice to see some of our HisWriters friends drop by! Thanks Roseanna. I've loved the behind the scenes details you've shared throughout the last year.

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  22. I'm just considering Roseanna an unofficial inky at this point. Hope that's okay.

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  23. I was admiring the cover again and thought you all would enjoy knowing that if you ever visit me you can see Kasia's beautiful wrap hanging over my living room window :)

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  24. LOL. And the beautiful chiton is in my closet. ;-) And the beautiful doorway behind her started life as a fireplace mantel . . .

    I'm honored to be an unofficial Inky. =)

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  25. what a fabulous posting...roseanna, i look forward to reading your latest masterpiece :)

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

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