When I first had the idea for Favored One, I had just moved to London, and (unrelated to that) the Roman Catholic Church was trying to make some decision about the nature of Mary or something. My friend Fortune’s Gale brought up the topic in an email once, and said something about Mary being the God-bearer, but how in a way God’s people all are. This set me thinking for the next ten years at least. I started thinking about being a missionary (which I was at the time) and what it meant to feel like God had called me to “bear Him” to other people. Over time, I learned about lectio divina, and then I learned some variations on lectio divina, including having quite a few opportunities to put myself “into” a Bible story, as written, and imagine myself a character within it.
Favored One became a years-long exercise in that kind of lectio divina.
I agree with the Literary Agent who (albeit politely) declined to represent it, that in the novel I stick pretty closely to traditional interpretation of the Gospel (with a few minor details diverging from my extra-literalist brethren). It is entirely possible that, in doing this, I wrote badly, but she didn’t say that. She just said it was not to her taste, and that she didn’t receive enough “new insight” into the familiar story.
I can’t quibble with anyone’s taste, and maybe the book really is not that insightful–although I remember realising things myself that I never had before when I was reading the Gospels and writing the story together. It’s just that I have encountered this kind of suggestion in the past–by people who haven’t read the book. “I think you should put a little more of yourself in there, and a little less of the Bible,” they suggest. I like to think I really genuinely did both.
You see, here’s my take. There’s plenty of Biblical fiction out there that retells a story in the Bible in such a way as to “scandal up” the already scandalous bits, or to play them down, or to tell you that something else actually happened instead, and especially to imply that what you had always been told about it isn’t really how it was, so you feel like you’re getting simultaneously ancient and brandy-new secret information just for you. And you know what? That’s fair enough. I know not everybody believes in the Bible the way I do, and if they’re somehow interested in it anyway, well, I don’t think that’s bad.
I just wanted to do something different–because honestly, I think that in this day and age, sticking with the orthodox interpretation or with a more literal approach is actually the “different” one. Except maybe in Christian publishing circles, but I doubt the majority of American literary agents–or the reading public–are encountering those stories much, so it doesn’t seem fair to consider that the standard or norm from which to diverge.
The question I was trying to answer (for myself, at the very least) in writing Favored One was, imagining these stories literally happened, how would a real, believable character react to such crazy events? I feel like the Bible either gets completely demystified so as to be entirely uninspiring, or so super-spiritualised it’s completely unrelatable.
But then I thought about fantasy novels and magical realism, and I thought, what if everything in the Gospels could be retold as if everything in them literally happened (I mean–like they already are, of course, but with more detail), from the point of view of a woman that they happened to or around? I guess I hoped that it would provide some food for thought and/or a sense of getting inside a very familiar story for people who thought they knew it already–not by changing it up, but by opening it up–humanising it, as it were.
Either way I had to switch up the story a little. The woman’s point of view would automatically do that, since the Gospels were written down by men, and so would the details to fill out the story. I just think that while people all over the place are open to considering the idea that the stories Bible didn’t literally happen, couldn’t we consider that they did? Or at least imagine what it would be like if they had?