Wednesday, March 17, 2004

My interview with Liz Curtis Higgs

Here is a transcript of excerpts from my radio interview with one of my favorite authors, Liz Curtis Higgs!

CINDY: One of the joys of hosting this interview show is that I get to indulge in one of my favorite things...Christian fiction! I'm especially delighted today because my guest is one of my very favorite authors. I was hooked when I read her book, "Mixed Signals." Since then, I've also read "Book-ends," and now the first two in a historical fiction series "Thorn in My Heart," and "Fair is the Rose." The author is the delightful Liz Curtis Higgs. Liz, welcome to Weekend Magazine.

LIZ: Always a blessing to be with you, Cindy--thank you for being such a faithful reader. 'Course, that "Mixed Signals" was about radio, so I knew you would connect with that one.

CINDY: Exactly, and actually, Liz, you and I have a lot in common...not the least of which is that you actually started out in radio. Tell me a little about your background in the radio business.

LIZ: Well, it now seems like a very long time ago, 'cuz we're talking about last century, but I did radio in college, you know, the old 10-watt station. Somebody came and knocked on the door and said, "You know, you could make a living at this...why don't you take an air check to this guy?" And I did, and he hired me. That's not the kind of story you're supposed to tell, it's supposed to be difficult, but God was very kind.

I did not know the Lord when I started in radio, met him about halfway through...introduced by two great people who worked at my radio station and had a new walk going with the Lord, and took one look at me and said, "Here's a project," (chuckles) and that was in 1982, so I'm celebrating 22 years in the Lord.

Radio led to speaking just because I had such a wild turn-about. You know, I was a "sex-drugs-and- rock'n roll" kind of girl--anybody whose read "Bad Girls of the Bible" already knows this about me, and Cindy, I left work on Friday saying "PAR-TAY!!", came in Monday morning saying, "Praise the Lord, I've been baptized!" ...and people really notice stuff like that. So, a lot of people had a lot of questions, and pretty soon I was being invited to share my testimony. Now, you and I know that being on the radio is one thing... being in front of a live, looking-right-atcha audience is something else again...and I was scared to death. I had no concept of public speaking as being what God would have for me.

But as soon as I got up there a mantle of peace fell on my shoulders, and I haven't stopped talking since!...
segued from radio into full-time speaing in 1987, and then that of course led to writing, because people would say,
"Don't you have any of this material you're speaking about in book form?" And Thomas Nelson Publishers came to me back in 1992, ten years after I was saved, and said, "Do you have any books you'd like to write?" And I said, "Well, I was an English major in college, all I've ever really wanted to is be a writer--yes, I do!" So, here we are now,
21 books later, with many fine publishers, most recently with WaterBrook press, so it's been quite a journey, my dear.

CINDY: I read on your website that you have been writing stories since you were a little girl...yet another thing that you and I have in common. But you said you wrote whole, like Nancy Drew-type mysteries.

LIZ: I did! in those marble notebooks, you know the ones we used to buy. I would decide,as I began the story, now is this a 160 page book or a 240 page book? and I'd buy the Marble notebook in that size, sharpen up my number 2 pencil, and off I went. I still have them all--they're just a hoot--but what it does show me is that God plants those desires in our hearts, I think, at a really young age, and wise is the man or woman who listens to that,deep inside them. What would you do for free? What did you do as a child out of sheer joy? And now, could it be, not just an avocation but a vocation? And so (I came) full cycle, back to writing again ten years ago...and particularly fiction about five years ago.

CINDY: By the way, my mom and my sister asked me to pass this along to you. My mom is a pastor's wife in Round Rock, Texas, of a little Baptist church, but my dad has been very ill and my sister's husband has taken over the pastoring of the church. But they've been doing a ladies' Bible study of "Bad Girls of the Bible," and they just adore you!

LIZ: Well, give them a big hug back for me!

CINDY: They've been doing, I think, a video version of it.

LIZ: Yes, there's a video, there's a book, and then there's a workbook. And so lots of churches have been different things, it just depends what your study style is, how you want to go about it. But it has been a joy to create packages that minister when I can't physically be there.

This has been my radical sabbatical year from speaking. I'm home all of 2004, writing and mothering my two teen-agers, who, believe me, need a mother (chuckles). And it's been just thrilling to step back and to be home full-time
and yet know that because God's so gracious, the ministry still continues--the books are still out there,
the videos are still out there, so I can be home and still's great.

CINDY: Well, let's talk about your latest book, "Fair is the Rose." I had been looking forward to this book ever since reading the first in this series, "Thorn in my Heart." I enjoyed both of the books VERY very much, Liz. You've taken a familiar story and put it in a unique setting...can you explain?

LIZ: Sure. Well, when I wrote "Bad Girls of the Bible," "Really Bad Girls of the Bible," and "Unveiling Mary Magdalen," I was looking at various women in Scripture, and in the process came across some women who were--mmm,
I don't want to say they were bad, but they weren't exactly good either. Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. The more I studied their stories, the more I thought, "Wow, this is an amazing story!" just as an historical truth. And I thought, "Wouldn't it be exciting to retell that story, to breathe new life into it, but rather than tell it in the Biblical setting, to pick it up and move it to, say, 18th-century Scotland? (chuckles) and I hope that I did that successfully because my goal is merely to make us look afresh at these incredible stories that God has written. Because I believe they're so powerful you could put them in fifth century Ireland or 11th-century Italy, or wherever you wanted to put 'em,
and the power of the story should shine through if the author can stay out of the way.

So that was the goal of "Thorn in My Heart," really talked about Leah's story. She is the most amazing woman in the Old Testament to me, because she has every reason to be miserable, every reason in the world to whine. She's married to a man who does not love her, didn't choose her, doesn't have any time for her, although he does seem to be able to fill her up with babies,(laughs) but not with love, and she keeps crying out to the Lord, "Maybe now my husband will love me, maybe now my husband will cleave to me."

And then she gives birth to this fourth child, and says, "This time I will l praise the Lord." And I think that's incredible. I think most women would say, "This time I want him dead! I want him out of here, I don't want to keep trying to love a man who doesn't love me back." And instead, Leah comes to this incredible place of grace and of praise. And of course, Judah, that fourth son of praise, is the one in the lineage of Christ ...not Rachel's babies; Leah's son, Judah. ...So,
she's just an amazing story to me, and that's what we told in "Thorn in My Heart." But of course, we all know,
Genesis just keeps going and going, so the story wasn't over.

"Fair is the Rose" explores the story of Rachel. Of course, Leah and Jacob--my Leana and Jamie-- are still in the book, but we're focusing a little bit more on the Rachel, or in my case, the Rose character in 18th-century Scotland.

CINDY: Another one of my favorite authors, B. J. Hoff, once told me that one of the things you should do with fiction is
keep asking the question "What if?"

LIZ: That's right.

CINDY: And that's what you've done with this story. "What if Jacob and Rachel and Leah lived in 18th-century Scotland?" Another thing that I'm jealous of you about, Liz, is that you got to spend quite a bit of time in Scotland researching for these books. Tell me about that experience; that must have been amazing.

LIZ: It was incredible, Cindy. And I'm so grateful for all those frequent flier miles; that's how we pulled that off! (chuckles). I have been there six times, most recently in October...spent three weeks there doing a "Heart for Scotland" tour. In the process of researching the books I also fell in love with the country and it's people. And they are so hungry for the truth over there.

Many of the churches are dying, literally closing their doors, or combining congregations because they're so small now;
but people are very, very hungry for the Word, and it was my thrill to teach Bible studies in homes and in hotels or just wherever God opened a door. So I've fallen in love with the people as well as this incredible country and all its history.

I believe in doing all my Biblical homework, so we did 90 commentaries and 14 translations to get the Biblical story right...and then, I'm embarrased to say (laughs) about 650 books on Scotland are up in my library upstairs, in my writing loft...kinda overwhelming, but I keep finding one more gem that I just have to own, and you know, they're used books, so sometimes they're pretty cheap! But, I'm grateful to have those resources so I can get that part of the story right...

...Rose, in "Fair is the Rose," is a very intriguing woman. I'm gonna ask you a quick question, Cindy: did you finally like Rose? Where were you with her?

CINDY: I like her better than I did in the first book...

LIZ (laughing): OK, good!

CINDY: It's really funny, though, because I think I told you the last time I interviewed you about "Thorn in my Heart," is that, in the Biblical story, I've never liked Leah. I've always pulled for Rachel, and thought that she was the one I would more identify with. But in this one, you can't help but love Leana, who is the Leah character. I do like Rachel--I mean, Rose, more in this book, and she's more sympathetic in this book, but she's still not my favorite character, to be honest (laughing).

LIZ: No, I know. And you know,the truth is, all I was trying to do was to recreate the scriptural situation, and the Rose--I mean, the Rachel, rather (I'm doin' it too!) of the Bible is not terribly likable. We begin in "Fair is the Rose" at Genesis 30:1, where Rachel says, "Give me children or I'll die!" She's such a drama queen, for starters, but very selfish. We don't see her caring a great deal about her sister's feelings.

In fact, later in that same section...Leah says to her, "Is it not enough that you've taken my husband? would you also take my son's mandrakes?" And, ooh, it's hard to read, frankly, in the Genesis account. My goal was to make both sisters as sympathetic as I could...also to get poor Jamie to grow up a little bit. The Jacob character frustrates me no end, and so Jamie does as well, but he's's coming.

CINDY: The fact that, of course, polygamy, or plural marriage, wasn't going on in 18th century Scotland--and I won't reveal exactly how you did this, because I want people to read the book, but you did get around that.

LIZ (sighing): Yeah, and that was a gift from God, of how to do that, because I had a plan, a plot all laid out as I always do for my novels, and then God always has His own plan which is always better (chuckles). But I got deep into this story, probably 50-thousand words into it, and realized that the way I was going to take the story to try and recreate the polygamist experience was simply not going to work. We wouldn't buy it. We'd all be going, "Nah, come on." And so, I was literally on my face before the Lord and I said, "I want to honor Your Word, and I want to recreate this situation in a believable way; please show me how to do that. " And ta-da, here came this plot twist
I hope worked for you and gave us that emotional and spiritual experience of what it must have been like for this little family.

CINDY: It did, and I've got to tell you that felt so strongly for Leana. Rarely has a book so touched me, and just...I don't know, that's what wonderful writing does. I've got to also tell you, Liz, that your writing is just nothing short of beautiful. Your descriptive--just the way that you brought this story to life--is just really, really beautiful, and I just want to commend you for that.

NOTE: Liz tells me that there will be two more books in this series. The next one, "Whence Comes a Prince," resolves the story of Jamie, Leana and Rose. The final one will be a prequel about Alec and Rowenna, the Isaac and Rebekah characters, and it will be set in Scotland during the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

For more information about this wonderful author, visit her website.

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