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Interview with Mesu Andrews

Author Mesu Andrews is a prime example of how God works in mysterious ways. More than twenty years ago, a mysterious health problem put Mesu in bed for six months. It just may have been that select time that God decided that's how He was going to turn Mesu's life around from being not only a Christian speaker, but also to being a writer – and specifically a Biblical fiction writer.

"During that terribly difficult time, I thought I might explode with all that Jesus was teaching me," she says. "I couldn't travel to speak anymore, so I began writing down the devotionals He shared with me through Scripture each morning."

She attended her first writer's conference in 2001 but discovered no one wanted to publish a devotional "by a nobody pastor's wife from Indiana." For the next six years, Mesu asked her agent to knock on every traditional publisher's closed door. In 2007, Mesu says a dear friend asked this insightful question: "Why not teach like Jesus did – with stories?"

Mesu attended other conferences, and at one signed up for Gayle Roper's Fiction Mentoring Intensive. An editor from Revell was at that conference and looking for Biblical fiction. "I was the only one in attendance who submitted a [biblical fiction] proposal—a bad one. The editor told me, 'You've got some real issues, but I think you can tell a story.' And the rest, as they say, is history."

Speaking of history, studying it is something Mesu has done a very deep, deep dive into with all the research she's done in order to write her novels. Mesu writes stories of kings and queens, and she also so happens to be a queen herself – the Queen of Research, that is.

Her Christy Award-winning novel Isaiah's Daughter took six years of research! She admits that yes, that novel was tough, but at least it was set in Israel. Her newest release, Potiphar's Wife, is set in Egypt.

"Any book set in Egypt is immediately challenging because of the sheer volume of research to sift through. So much of it is contradictory since scholars seldom agree on anything. On my first day of research for Potiphar’s Wife, one resource boldly proclaimed (paraphrased), 'No one will ever prove exactly when Joseph sojourned in Egypt.' Wonderful. For six months, I chased the invisible rabbit down the hole and finally placed Joseph in the Hyksos period."

Mesu's go-to resource for Potiphar's Wife was the most expensive book she's ever purchased: The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period c. 1800-1550 B.C., by K.S.B. Ryholt. She said the book wasn't riveting reading, but the author's name or that book was in every footnote and bibliography of every resource she read.

The single-most helpful research tool Mesu uses for all her novels is the Jewish Study Bible (JSB). Since she writes strictly Old Testament novels, the JSB provides verse-by-verse commentary on the Torah by a committee of rabbis much like the various Christian Study Bibles that contain both Old and New Testaments.

Two trips to Israel also, without a doubt, contributed to Mesu's research. She and her husband, Roy, led a touring group there in March 2020, which was the 20th anniversary of their first visit.

"We had fun returning twenty years later to see how much Israel had changed—and how much it was still the same. We were blessed to have the same tour coordinator that Liz Curtis Higgs used for her tours, a woman who had led large corporate Israel tours for more than thirty years."

Now, Mesu also uses "regular" research tools – like the Internet's multiple sites and the religious stacks in the nearest university library (Appalachian State) to do onsite research. She scours multiple sources to study about historical and cultural settings and original languages.

Earlier on in life, Mesu also used various Bible studies to help in her research and understanding God's Word. In the late '80s and early '90s, she completed the only five studies Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) had at that time. Genesis was her favorite study, which she did twice – and which is the part in the Bible where the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is mentioned. (Hmmhh, God working in mysterious ways here again?)

When Mesu began teaching Bible studies for her local church, she used Ann Spangler's Women of the Bible devotional study, and Mesu became enamored with the Shulamite princess. Even though Mesu had studied Scripture a long time, she never understood Solomon's Song of Songs. But, in Ann's study, the way Ann presented the shepherd girl, it made Mesu dig deeper. Fifteen years later, Mesu's novel about this, Love's Sacred Song, was published.

Going way, way back, during Mesu's early days of discovering God's Word, she used her now-retired pastor husband's college textbook to learn about the Old Testament.

"It was dry and academic, but I highlighted almost every sentence! When we found a church we loved, the pastor's wife gave me an NIV Study Bible. I devoured the notes and read it cover-to-cover in less than a year. Nave’s Topical Bible was also a helpful resource in those early years. When my husband started seminary, I gained access to the library’s academic resources, and my research world exploded!"

Because Mesu has done so much extensive research and study, it's easy to believe the declaration in her author bio that states she has a "deep understanding of God's Word." Does Mesu agree that understanding comes from her research, or / and the understanding comes because God specifically gave her the gift to understand it deeply?

"Discovering new things about God's Word is my deepest joy, and I remember facts, themes, and concepts for years! This—from a woman who doesn’t remember what she ate for supper last night—seems like a gift from my God.

"When I read His Word, I see truths that others tell me are unique. The truths aren’t a new doctrine or a change of theology, but rather a different perspective on traditional interpretations. Much like my books that shine a light on women in the shadow of well-known male Biblical characters, I read God's Word paying attention to the 'little' words or supporting Scriptures that can sometimes open a whole new world of understanding."

This unique perspective and understanding plays into why some of Mesu's novels are about the "Bible's Bad Girls" – like Potiphar's wife, Zuleika. Now, Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguards. Zuleika tried to get Potiphar's Hebrew servant Joseph to sleep with her, and when he refused, she claimed Joseph tried to rape her, so Potiphar had Joseph put in prison. Not too much else is mentioned in the Bible about Zuleika (not even her name), so one, that means Mesu had to do a lot of creative guessing about what Zuleika's personality might have been like and why Zuleika did the things she did; and two, that begs the question of why would Mesu choose to write about "one of the most notorious women" in the Bible.

Mesu discovered the name of Potiphar's wife, Zuleika, was given in both the Quran and The Legends of the Jews. Mesu says she borrowed a lot of Zuleika's personality traits from those historical accounts. Zuleika was apparently entitled and snarky, but Mesu says she was worthy of redemption because she was created in the Creator's image.

Mesu says she didn't actually choose to write about Zuleika. She intended to write three books about Joseph and how God formed his character—chosen, chained, champion. Zully is the woman who formed his character while Joseph was chained. Leah formed his chosen years in The Reluctant Rival: Leah’s Story (Guideposts, 2021), and Asenath will form him as a champion in Mesu's 2023 release with Waterbrook & Multnomah: In Feast or Famine.

One of Mesu's recent blog posts talks about how she's never been drawn to "nice girls" and always liked her ornery classmates maybe because Mesu was a little spicy herself. So, does this mean Mesu could perhaps relate to Zuleika in some way in the personality area – because Zuleika had her own little attitude?

"I was definitely 'spicy' as a kid, but I don’t remember being mean or entitled. I didn’t relate to Zully (her nickname in the book) at all in the first draft. She was actually the hardest character I've written to date. My editor suggested I make her older and a young widow (instead of a sixteen-year-old brat). Those two simple changes made her more likeable in my mind, at least she was someone I could spend 400 pages with!"

Most people probably do not like Zuleika at all, since most know little of her besides her seduction attempt and her accusation against Joseph. Because of the research and imagining Mesu has done in trying to figure out Zuleika and her life, will those readers will feel sympathy at least for Zuleika, and / or look at Zuleika as not such a bad person?

"I hope after readers finish this book, they'll rush to their Bibles to see which parts are Truth and what’s fiction. I pray they’ll feel the satisfaction that no one is beyond God’s reach, but also know that Zully’s sin was never condoned. There's a difference between understanding or sympathizing with someone's sin and excusing or disregarding it.

"This book forced me to walk a fine line—and search my heart daily—to be sure that even 'good people' weren’t excused from sin simply because they made up for it with kind words or deeds. Sin has consequences, but there’s no corner too dark for God’s redemption to reach."

Mesu's current work in progress is the sequel to Potiphar's Wife. In this novel, Joseph is released from prison and marries Asenath, the daughter of a pagan priest. Mesu hopes some novels after that one will perhaps contain some of David's lesser-known wives, or other women in the shadow of Biblical heroes.

Are there other future writing plans?

"My recently retired husband has a plan for what we'll be publishing until 2028! The schedule includes some of those devotionals I wrote in the early 2000s, as well as some short-story Biblical fiction (all to indie publish)."

What? Those devotionals "that started it all" with Mesu changing from being a Christian speaker to a writer will get published? See? God does work in mysterious ways!
Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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