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Interview with Barbara M Britton

Far too often in the Christian community, we encounter and are inundated with a strong focus on the larger-than-life characters from the Bible. The stories of Noah, Moses, Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, and Paul are repeated year after year in every lesson, sermon, and Bible study curriculum. What might happen, though, if the names that don’t receive a huge spotlight are suddenly given a significant story of their own? How might perceptions or lives possibly change because of newly found truth brought to light? That’s exactly what our featured author for this week does in each of her novels.

Barbara Britton writes Biblical fiction, but she loves to expand upon the characters she discovers buried in the middle of the stories nearly everyone knows if they spend any time in a church or a God-centered experience.

“It’s amazing how many [Bible characters] I find since I’ve been a Christian for over three decades," Barbara says. "Discovering new people and stories in the Bible reminds me that God’s Word is living and active. It never grows old or boring…well, maybe Leviticus.”

God is the author of the greatest story in the world, so it stands to reason that a never-ending supply of fascinating stories could be fashioned from the wealth of characters given any sort of part in that great story.

“I learned about the daughters of Zelophehad from a fellow Bible leader who brought the orphaned sisters up at our meeting, and I’m so glad she mentioned them. If a character sticks around in my head and becomes like a real person to me, then I know God wants me to write their story. Writers will understand this phenomenon. My husband can’t fathom having a brain that works this way.”

In her most recent release, Barbara zeroed in on Ittae the Gittite, an exiled Philistine who became a tremendous help to King David.

“What bonds Ittai and David is their faith in God. I hope readers will see that God doesn’t play favorites. God saved a Philistine warrior and brought him into King David’s life at the divinely appointed time.”

Considering the animosity between the Philistines and the Israelites and knowing David’s earlier story of killing a Philistine giant, bringing members of these two cultures together and showcasing their unlikely friendship is just the sort of story Barbara loves to highlight.

“I chose Proverbs 18:24 as my theme verse for Defending David. ‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ (NIV)”

Defending David follows the pattern you will find in all of Barbara’s novels. Just like the Hebrew people’s lives centered around God because they knew His law and the history of His miracles, Barbara tries to keep God at the center of her life and writing too.

“I enjoy studying God’s Word, and I try to show characters growing in their relationship with God and growing in their knowledge of Scripture. We are all fallen beings and make mistakes. Some of the most ratifying—but difficult—scenes to write are those when a character has strayed from their relationship with God and is returning to a place where God is at the center of their life.”

But writing Biblical fiction, just like writing in any time in history, comes with its own unique challenges. Not only are you bound as a writer to the accuracy of that time, but you are also restricted by the broader implications of theology. Entire belief systems have been built upon the theological foundations and understanding of certain truths presented in the Bible. Contradicting them is out of the question, so Barbara instead focuses on the actions, beliefs, and behaviors of the characters she has chosen to use.

“A lot of my books follow chapters in the Bible. I always say God has the best storylines. Where I can be creative and unique is in bringing a character’s personality, wounds, speech, and skills to the story.”

This might include showcasing a character’s birthplace or specific hobby they enjoy doing as well as their personal experiences, which make them the ideal individual for the situation.

Sometimes, this also means leaving out certain details to protect the integrity of the story or shield the reader from unnecessary facets of a certain character. Barbara says she “writes short,” so there isn’t often much that she edits out of a story, but she does tone down certain things.

“When Absalom arrives in Jerusalem, he takes the ten concubines David left behind and sleeps with them on a rooftop. This was standard operating procedure in historic times, but we don’t need to know too many scandalous details to understand what happens.”

Regardless of genre, though, one truth remains unchanged.

“Make your characters likeable. You can even give a villain a sympathetic trait. Readers that feel emotion toward a character will follow them to the last page of the book.”

To do that as a writer, you must be willing to delve deep into your character’s backstory and understand everything that makes them tick. For Biblical fiction, a visit to the actual places where the stories in the Bible played out would be ideal. Barbara would love to visit Israel, but in the meantime, she digs further into the Bible and cross-references Scripture to gain more knowledge about the broader picture of the story. She also consults multiple commentaries and other trusted sources to glean the details she needs.

Sometimes, what you need isn’t so far away.

“Years ago, I was a chaperone on a youth retreat to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. I sought out a weaver to see how they made rugs as I was writing about a character whose skill was weaving.”

Looking for connections and reliable sources right where you are can prove to be invaluable to any writer. For Barbara, the best money she ever spent to invest in her career has been paying the dues and membership fees to several writing organizations in which she’s involved. These include ACFW, RWA, and SCBWI.

“Writing organizations hold meetings, workshops, and conferences where you can meet other writers, pitch to agents and editors, and learn more about crafting a book that will sell.”

You can also meet other writers, find critique partners, bolster your writing skills, and establish lifelong friendships.

And there’s no better time to start than right now! Like many authors, when Barbara was a teenager, she had no idea she would become an author.

“I didn’t even know it was a career option,” she says.

So, if you’re young and reading this, glean all you can from your writing and grammar classes in school. No matter what your age, if you have a passion for writing, get connected wherever and however you can.

We all are created with a unique story to tell. Barbara makes it a priority to tell people about Jesus through her Biblical fiction.

“I feel blessed to know God and to write for the Christian market.”

Your story will come from who you have been designed to be, so like Barbara, dig deep in God’s Word, find those connections to strengthen you, and discover your niche.

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