The Caravan Street Team sat down with Tracy and asked her the questions we’ve always wanted to ask but never had a chance to! Come along with us and see what kind of questions The Caravan asked and the answers that Tracy gave us!!!
1. You have gone on so many amazing travels. What was one of your favorite things about visiting Ephesus?
I think it was the sense of being somewhere “where Paul walked.” Sitting in the theater, looking down over the Harbor Street where he was likely kept prisoner at times, I had this amazing moment of “I can’t believe I’m here” – the kind of moment that gives you chills and makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself.
2. For you, what is the hardest part of the writing process?
The actual rough draft, the first time I get the words out of my head, is the hardest part. I have to discipline myself to stop the research, stop the planning and plotting, and just start writing!
3. What is a typical day like for you, as an author?
Since last fall I’ve started a new routine, which is working very well for me. I get up at 5 AM every day and work on writing until about 8:30 AM. The rest of the day is given to the “business” side of writing and life, and my other business. Sometimes I’ll add in some more research or planning during the rest of the day, but those quiet early hours are when I’m at my most creative and get the most done.
4. What inspired the theme of So Shines the Night?
The idea of community is dear to my heart, and the struggle we all have to not live in isolation. I wanted to take a look at two people struggling to do the right thing, but going about it the wrong way because they were isolated both from other people and from God, and to see what would happen when they brushed up against a community like the first century church.
5. In your last book, Garden of Madness, the heroine came in contact with the Biblical figure Daniel. Does Daria get to meet Paul and interact with him in So Shines the Night, or does she view his ministry from afar?
Oh, it was great fun getting Daria and Paul to meet. Challenging, too, since everyone has a fairly specific concept of Paul and the way that I write him might not exactly conform to others’ preconceptions. Daria also meets some other biblical characters from the book of Acts, and I tried to portray them each struggling and human in their own way, wrestling with what it meant to be this new kind of Jew, this person whose Messiah had come.
6. When you visited Ephesus, what was it like to be in the same city that Paul ministered in centuries ago?
It was thrilling, to be succinct. There is a sense of “this is real – this really happened” that sweeps over you and pulls you back in time and into the world of the Scripture in a new and fresh way. I loved it.
7. What’s one thing you learned about Ephesus and its importance to Christians that you found surprising/interesting/challenging?
I had never realized or noticed until studying this time in Paul’s life, how much time he spent there (nearly three years). I always pictured him hopping around from place to place fairly quickly. I was challenged by the time that he invested in people’s lives, the relationships and bonds he formed. Later, when the Ephesian elders said goodbye to him, the book of Acts tells us that they were literally weeping. It’s easy for me to minister to people “from afar” but I was really challenged by Paul’s relational approach to sharing Christ.
8. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Keep writing. If you haven’t finished anything, keep writing. If you’ve finished something and are trying to submit and sell it somewhere, don’t wait for an answer, keep writing. If you’ve gotten some interest and it’s moving through the process, keep writing. The publishing industry can move very slowly, and the best way to be ready for your “big break” is to keep improving through practice, practice, practice.
9. What’s one thing on your bucket list (even if i you don’t have an official “list”)?
I think I might like to skydive someday. I’ve never admitted that before! (And now I’m terrified.)
10. What made you interested in writing ancient history fiction?
I’m not sure! It evolved in my mind, and I suppose it was the tie-in to biblical history, to the time period which informed my faith and held so many stories I already knew and loved. But I’ve never been content to look at Scripture through the single historical lens of the Judea. I’ve always wanted to see the Old and New Testament periods through the eyes of the world outside the Jewish people, from the pagan perspective.
11. How do you do your research?
It’s a multi-tiered approach, with very basic research at first (sometimes even juvenile non-fiction), to get a high-level view, then going deeper into the specific days/years I’ll be writing about, and then getting a broad view of the daily life and culture through dusty textbooks. All of this goes into my “notebook” and inspires specific plots and scenes. As I am actually writing the first draft, I often leave placeholders where more specific research is needed, like an XX where a number or detail should go. At the end, I go back and find all those placeholders and research the details, often online where it’s much easier to search for very specific information.
12. Can you share anything about your future projects?
The best way to get a sense of what I’m working on now would be to visit this page: http://tracyhigley.com/books/work-in-progress/ Although, don’t hold me to all those thoughts about the book I haven’t started yet – who knows where that will go!
13. What is your favorite thing about writing?
Seriously, writing is an isolated and lonely profession at times. I spend a lot of time in my office alone, working to put together stories that people will love, and that will touch their hearts. When I hear from readers, start to see the reaction to a new book, that is my favorite thing about the process.
14. Where is your favorite place that you have visited in research for you books?
Egypt. I’ve been there twice, and loved every minute of both visits. The people, the history, the culture – all of it is very near to my heart. It’s a connection I can’t really explain, but I hope to return again someday.
15. What is something new you learned while doing research for So Shines the Night?
That’s a tough one, because there were so many things! The whole city of Ephesus is such an interesting study. Because the river that fed into the harbor carried so much silt with it, the harbor eventually became too clogged for ships and the people basically abandoned the city. This rarely happens in the ancient world – most ancient cities, like Rome, are a mix of ancient, medieval and modern and you have to travel around to the pockets of ancient monuments that are left. In Ephesus, all you have is the ancient city, so it has this frozen-in-time feeling like Pompeii, which I loved.
16. Your books remind me of a time machine, whereas the readers are transported into the pages. How do you make the stories seem so real and life like?
Thank you so much for saying that! It is exactly what I aspire to, so you’ve made my day! I don’t have a simple answer, except to say that there’s nothing in the world I’d like more than a time machine, so it’s definitely a priority. One thing that I do before I sit down to write a scene is to take some time walking around in it in my head, trying to really experience the sensory of the scene – the sounds, smells, tastes, textures, colors, temperature, and spatial details. If I don’t do that exercise, often those things don’t make it to the page. But when I do, I believe it helps bring the scene to life.
17. How has your writing, research, and travels affected your spiritual life?
Great question. All of it has definitely given me a larger sense of the world and what God is doing in it, both now and through the past. It’s made me realize, as I’ve studied God’s work in the nations throughout history, that He has always been calling all people to Himself, and that He still is. It’s also given me a desire to see the kind of Christianity that was born in the fires of Roman persecution become part of our experience now – a living, breathing faith that radically transforms our lives.
18. What character has been your favorite through your writing journeys over the years and why?
Sophia,from Guardian of the Flame. She is the most like me, and ironically probably the character many of my readers have liked the least. She is withdrawn and isolated, and doesn’t feel herself worthy of interaction with people and although it’s probably more honesty than you asked for, I will say that I struggle with this idea often. She learns that she is loved and accepted by God first, and that God’s love makes all other relationships possible. It’s a lesson many of my characters are often learning, and it comes from a deep place within me.
19. What are your 5 favorite things, excluding your family?
Dark chocolate, BBQ chicken pizza, a good book, foreign travel, a movie that makes me cry.
20. What was the hardest topic to find info on that you’ve ever researched?
Writing Petra was difficult. We don’t have much information about the daily life of the Nabateans, compared to say the Romans or Egyptians. I had to manufacture more than I based on known facts, and that was more of a challenge, to make the setting and people seem real.
21. What’s your favorite city so far that you’ve used as a setting?
Probably Pompeii. It was really fun to be able to have people running around the city where I had actual buildings and layout to draw from – actual streets and temples, brothels and theaters and arenas. It was very real for me.
22. I think one of my favorite subjects in school was history. Are you a history lover, if so, have you always been?
Yes, and yes. I’ve always loved stories in general, both fictitious and historical. Loved escaping into a story from the time I was a young child. History was a natural extension of that, and I still hope to help people “time-travel” into the past with every story I write.
23. Where do you get the inspiration for your stories?
The setting is usually what inspires me first. Many writers start with fascinating characters or a compelling plot, but I usually start with a place and say “ooh – what would it have been like to live there, in that time?” After that, it’s often the real history of the place that begins to inspire the story itself.
24. I love the historical aspects of your books. It must be very difficult and take alot of studying to get all that information accurate and then make a believable story out of it. How much time do you spend studying the history of the place you are writing about?
Too much, perhaps! It’s a big part of the writing process – from many hours before I start writing, to research breaks along the way, to digging up specific details to fill in the gaps later. I end up with so much information and I want to get it all in there, so the challenge is to feed it to readers in a way that’s entertaining while informative, and not boring or overwhelming.
25. What can you tell us about the challenges of interweaving actual historical events with fictional ones?
It’s actually quite fun! The historical events give me sort of “anchor points” for the story and help me structure the plot. Then I fill in around them with all the fun fictional stuff. I really enjoy it when the place and time give me lots of history to work with.
26. What advice would you give other writers who want to bring their story settings to life and leave their readers feeling like they’ve been there?
Research is key, of course. Don’t skimp. You will end up with more than you can use, but you never know when a particular detail you’ve found will breathe life into a scene, or inspire a major plot point. Second, take time for the sensory. When you think about and make sure the page shows all the colors and sounds, tastes and smells, textures and feeling of a place, it will start to come alive.
27. As a fellow writer I know that every story seems to have one character who just captures your heart. Was there a character like that in So Shines the Night for you, and if so, who was it?
I think I might have had a little crush on Timothy, if you must know. And Lucas, well, sigh. I just had to rescue him.
28. How was the experience of writing So Shines the Night, compared to your other Seven Wonders novels?
It was much the same, with the addition of really being able to picture the city itself, as I could with Pompeii, after having walked the streets that are still so intact. It was also fun bringing in the “guest characters” from the book of Acts, and even an appearance of some characters from another novel (I’m not saying who – you’ll have to figure it out!)
29. How do you start writing a new novel? Do you make an outline, use a gazillion different colored Post-It notes on a big wall grid, just sit at the computer and knock it out, or what?
I am definitely an outliner and a plotter, but most of what I put together is on the computer. For the past few books I’ve been using a program called Scrivener, which I really like. I have notes in my personal “template” file that pertain to all stories – to the structure behind them – and I look them over as I plot through the scenes. For every scene I create a brainstorming worksheet before I write it – something that gives me the high-level look at what’s going to happen in the scene, and contains some of the sensory details I’ve imagined. I print this out and have it next to me as a I write the scene.
30. What advice to you have for someone who wants to write “The Great American novel’ and struggles to even get started? I know that’s broad…
Like any huge, overwhelming project, the best advice is just to start. See what kind of writer you are by getting started. Does an outline and a plot make you feel stunted? Do you fear the blank page and need to think it through first? There are tons of writing helps out there no matter what kind of writer you are. Find some, read and digest them, and then come back and keep writing.
31. Who is your greatest inspiration – as a writer, mom, Christian?…any and all of those criteria.
As a writer, I’m inspired by C.S. Lewis (of course), but also by Stephen Lawhead and Frederick Buechner, both of whom have the ability to pick the reader up and carry them somewhere else. As a mom, it is the awesome friends I have, whose daily interactions with their children I am privileged to witness, that inspire me most. And as a Christian? The lives of those who live big and adventurous for the kingdom – willing to love and risk because they are secure in Christ.
32. Do you and the main character have anything in common?
Daria is very independent, and thinks she can get things done on her own. It’s hard for her to ask for help. I can relate!
33. If you could travel through time to see any of the seven wonders, which would you choose.
Even though the Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt) is the only one of the Seven Wonders still intact, I would still choose that one – to travel back and see it in its glory, to see the people and the culture… ah, that would be amazing.
34. Do you worry about the integrity of the story when you have to add so much to the story to flesh it out from the actual Biblical account?
Yes. It’s a core value of mine that as I write fiction that brushes up against actual biblical events, that I not alter what we know of this history and people. I may not always get it right, and some may argue about their interpretation of what really happened versus mine, but I always strive to keep the integrity of the biblical account intact. There is plenty to “flesh out” around the reality, and I let myself get creative there, but not with what we truly know from Scripture.
35. While visiting modern day Ephesus, could you really get a “feel” for what it was like in Paul’s time?
Yes, the streets and buildings are in ruins, of course, but there is plenty there to know what the different buildings were used for and to picture the streets full of townspeople and the shops and temples being used. You can see mosaics and writing and all kinds of “daily life” things that make it easy to picture the city in its heyday.
36. How long did it take to complete this story from start to finish? Was that about an average amount of time?
This story took about five months, which is just a little shorter than average. I usually like to spend six to eight months on a book, but sometimes life intervenes!
37. What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve been writing about the Seven Wonders for awhile now, and when it came time to write about the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, it as a no-brainer that the action in Acts 19 would form the basis for the conflict of the story. From there, I had fun bringing it all to life!
38. What advice to you have for authors who are looking at writing early history such as this?
There is plenty to study, so get busy! Do your homework, honor the history even when it takes you places that are unexpected and challenging. Resist the urge to make your characters 21st century people in tunics (or “Baptists in bathrobes,” as my friend Randy says). It’s a challenge, but it’s important.
39. What is your favorite book you have written and why?
I am absolutely in love with the Beauty and the Beast motif, and Guardian of the Flame was my homage to it. I really loved writing that book.
40. You are not only a writer but also run your own business. When do you find time to write?
Over the years, the only way I’ve found time to write is by making it a priority. Sometimes other parts of my life didn’t get the attention they wanted/deserved. Lately, I’ve been finding that rising early (which is not natural for me) and writing from 5 AM to about 8:30 AM is working really well, and leaves the rest of the day for business and life-stuff.
41. What advice do you have for writers launching their first book?
Find your people. It’s tough, but there are folks out there who are very much like you and will love to read what you write. So the first step is truly understanding yourself and your special brand of writing. The second step is to make sure your books, your website, etc all match up to that special brand. And then start spreading the word to find those like-minded people who will be your best fans.
42. Why historical fiction?
I’m addicted to stories, and there’s a never-ending supply of them in history!
43. When you write speculative, how do you research and get information?
I haven’t written much speculative, except for my time-travel book and the little bit of the supernatural I bring into my ancient history. Since much of that is just out of my crazy brain, I guess I don’t do much research there!
44. What touched you the most on your travels for this book?
I think it was the sense of “realness” that being in the same city where Paul ministered brought to me. There’s a connection to faith and Scripture that happens, and it’s very powerful.
45. What do you hope people will take away from this story?
There are a number of themes I explored here, so it will vary from person to person, depending on where they are on their journey. I hope people will get a sense of the reality of the first century church, of Paul as a man. I want people to see that the love God has for us makes us secure, and that from that foundation we can risk to love others. I want readers to long for a sense of community that is found in the church of Ephesus.
46. What was the inspiration for So Shines The Night?
The 19th chapter of Acts was just too delicious to pass up!
47. How do you pick your character names?
It’s always hard. I want them to be historically accurate, but I also want people to feel connected to the characters and that can’t happen if they can’t pronounce the person’s name. I comb through historical name lists on the internet, looking for ones that aren’t too wacky!
48. I am an aspiring writer myself. I am currently working on a project for school and have taken a fairy tale and revamped it for today’s kids. Where do you find your inspiration for your stories and characters?
That sounds like lots of fun! I love fairy tales. My inspiration often comes from myth, fairy tale and legend – there is so much richness there, and themes that resonate with all people, from all cultures and times. Beyond that, the setting and history of a place really inspire me.
49. What is the condition of the Ephesian church today?
Ephesus was eventually abandoned as a city because the harbor became clogged with silt, so there is no real city or church there today. The nearest city is Selçuk, which is a predominantly Muslim population. I did a quick Google search in answering your question, and came up with this page, which is really cool: http://www.worshipinephesus.com/
50. What influence of the Ephesian church do you see on the culture in that area?
Well, the Temple of Artemis is in ruins, and certainly Christianity came to that part of the world during the medieval period. These days, the Christians are again the minority, but I am sure they are working hard to share the love of Christ with their neighbors.
51. In Revelation, Jesus commends the perseverance of the church of Ephesus, but He also says that they have left their first love and urges them to repent and do the things they did at first. What evidence do you see in Ephesus that the church received and did (or didn’t) act upon this letter?
That’s a really tough question to answer. We don’t have any writings specifically about the Ephesian church after that time period, but it is traditionally believed that after John’s exile to Patmos he returned to live in Ephesus, and also that Timothy pastored the church there. With these two godly men in place, and such a specific revelation to challenge them, it seems to me that God would have been doing mighty work there, as He continues to do around the world today.
Tracy L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. She has authored nine novels, including Garden of Madness and Isle of Shadows. Tracy is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures. See her travel journals and more at TracyHigley.com