Thursday, March 6, 2014

Biblical Fiction That Shows Us Jesus

Stephanie Landsem is with us today. She lives in snowy Minnesota, but she writes about people who met Jesus in first-century Palestine. Read to the end of this blog to find out how you can win a free e-copy of her latest novel, The Thief, released just last week. Here’s the description:

Nissa is a Jewish woman with a sharp tongue and no hope of marriage. Abandoned by the God she once loved, her only recourse is to depend upon Mouse, the best thief in Jerusalem, to keep her blind brother, Cedron, fed and the landlord satisfied.

Longinus is a Roman centurion haunted by death and failure and desperate to escape the accursed Judean province. Accepting a wager that will get him away from the aggravating Jews and their threats of revolt, he sets out to catch the thieves harassing the marketplace.

LeAnne Hardy: I loved this book. Part of the tension for me was the knowledge that two thieves were crucified with Jesus. Which of the characters we are getting to know (and in some cases love) will die at Golgotha? The author sticks closely to what we know from Scripture even as she expands on events with her fictional characters.

Thank you for being with us today, Stephanie. Nissa in The Thief pretends to be a boy. Mara in The Well, the first book in this Living Waters series, is also an outsider. Do you see yourself as a rule breaker? What draws you to women who are?

Stephanie Landsem: When I read the Bible, I see that Jesus was drawn to outsiders. The Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, the sick and diseased. He didn’t come to preach to the well, but to heal the sick. Perhaps that’s why my heroines are women that are desperate or on the fringes of society, to show that Jesus is present to them, no matter what their past sins.

LH: The crucifixion scene was very moving. How hard was that to write?

SL: It was extremely difficult. I remember sitting down and thinking “Why did I think I could do this?”  I read many accounts, spent a lot of time in prayer, and went through a box of tissues before it was done.

LH: I had to reach for the tissues reading it! Near the beginning of The Thief, Nissa’s brother Cedron is healed of his blindness in a fictionalized account of John 9. Later he is beaten and left with a limp. I found myself wondering why Jesus didn’t come back and heal the limp. What did you want to show us by Cedron being healed of one thing, but left to suffer another?

SH: As in The Well, I explored the question of what happens after an encounter with Jesus, the Incarnation. Once Cedron believed in Jesus, would his life be magically better and perfect? Or would he have even more challenges to face and how would he face them? We’ve seen that believing in Jesus isn’t a recipe for a perfect life on earth, but it will get us to the perfect life with him in eternity.

LH: Cedron is a Zealot. He has militaristic expectations of the Messiah. I found myself wondering about expectations we have of the Messiah today, like why doesn’t everybody get healed? What other expectations do you think we have of Jesus that he may, or may not fulfill? (I’d love to see readers chime in on this in the comments, too.)

SH: That’s a good question. Cedron had a simplistic view of Jesus based on what was happening in Jerusalem at that time. But God’s plan isn’t simple at all, as we know, and we can’t think that we ‘know best’ what he should do. I think it’s a mistake that’s easy to make when we’re facing personal hardship.

LH: Your books are biblical fiction. Do you start first with a Bible story you are drawn to or with a character?

SH: I start with the character and go from there. I like to wonder about the parts of their lives that aren’t written in the biblical account. Who were their families? How did they fit in their communities? And mostly, what happened after they encountered Jesus?

LH: Your books are full of historical details that bring the place and period to life. What are some of the techniques you have found most effective for historical research?

SH: I start with the Bible, then often read commentary and devotionals about that passage to get many interpretations of it.  Then I order many books from the Minnesota Library system and get an overview by paging through them. I find they have all sorts of resources from general history to compilations of papers published by historians, archeologists, and theologians. Many books have maps and sketches that are very helpful - such as when I was researching ancient Jerusalem for The Thief. It's really a treasure trove! After I get the majority of the research done and am writing the story, I use the internet when I come up against a specific question. For The Thief I needed to know what a first century Roman lock and key looked like and found it instantly on Google. For The Tomb, my WIP, I often go to for questions on common Jewish practices.

LH: I’m sure you find much more interesting material than you end up including in the book. Do you have any guidelines to offer fellow-writers about when to include a research detail and when to leave it out?

SH: That’s a hard one. I hate leaving anything out. I usually know when I hit upon an historical detail that stands out as very different from present day. When I say to myself “Wow, that’s fascinating,” then I know it must be included.

LH: The Thief stands on its own, but it also includes characters we met in your first book, The Well. What was the thinking behind that?

SH: I thought it would be fun to have a minor character from The Well make an appearance in The Thief, and Longinus, the Roman soldier, seemed like a good choice given the setting of Jerusalem. But as I started writing him, he became a major character and one of my favorite ones that I’ve written so far!

LH: It isn’t often that a novel leads me into worship, but this one did. The scene at the foot of the cross shows Jesus full of power even as he submits to death. Each character brings his or her own story to the cross and there finds the mercy and forgiveness Jesus offers us today. The Thief will be wonderful reading for the Lenten season.

Comment on this blog by Friday, March 14, to enter a drawing for a free e-book of The Thief. I would love to hear your comments on our expectations of the Messiah, but that is not required. Don't forget to leave your e-mail address encoded to foil phishers. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries. Void where prohibited by law.

Add pop over to Stephanie's blog to enter not just to win a free book, but a Kindle fire for reading it!

Thank you, Stephanie, for being with us today.

SL: Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure to answer your questions.


LeAnne Hardy enjoys a critique group with the talented Stephanie Landsem. LeAnne hasn't published any biblical fiction to date, but her stories reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind, and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more at .


  1. That sounds like a really unique slant, Stephanie. I am amazed at the amount of researching you did to make it ring true. I love researching the Victorian Era, but Biblical history is far more exacting, especially when you are dealing with Jesus' life. Congratulations. And thanks LeAnne for the informative interview. Yes count me in, please.
    ritagal at optusnet dot com dot au

    1. Thanks, Rita. Research is time-consuming but I find it to be the most rewarding part of writing. Good luck in the drawing!

  2. I love Biblical fiction, ladies. I really helps to remind me that these were real people with real trials and struggles. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I agree. It gives you a new perspective when you read the Bible.

  3. This book sounds fantastic, Stephanie!! Keep up the great work! :)

  4. Stephanie and Leanne, thanks so much for this interview. I am currently working on a book designed to bring some of the lesser-known women of the Bible to life. I'm battling with whether I can bring fiction into this non-fiction book, instead of constantly saying, "Might have been" or "Perhaps". Any thoughts? And ooh yes please. This is a book I need to read! shirl dot corder at gmail dot com.

    1. That is a difficult task, Shirley. It is a lot easier when it is fiction. Good luck and I'll think on your question.

  5. Wow! This book sounds great
    God bless you Have a terrific day

  6. This sounds very interesting. I know I enjoyed Tosca Lee's story of Judas Iscariot, and having that time period and setting brought so much to life.

    1. I enjoyed Iscariot, too, Valerie. Good luck with the contest.

  7. Thanks for the lovely interview! Glad to hear about all the details behind of what sounds like a fascinating book!


  8. Stephanie and LeAnne, great interview! I enjoy reading Biblical fiction and I'm intrigued by the premise of this story :)

  9. Stephanie, this just blows my mind. What an interesting project. I must read this book. LeAnne, thank you for interviewing Stephanie. Great job.
    jrlight620 at yahoo dot com

    1. Happy to oblige you all. Stephanie is such a wonderful person as well as a great author. I love having a chance to let people know about her books.

  10. Congratulations to Rita who won the drawing! I know you will enjoy The Thief.