Sometimes the loudest voices in our lives are the ones we need to silence the most. In Tracy L. Higley’s latest novel, The Queen’s Handmaid (Thomas Nelson/March 18, 2014/ISBN: 978-1-4016-8684-0/$15.99), the author explores the importance of finding our identity in God and not in the opinions of others — no matter how large of a presence those people are.
This search for true identity is the foundation for The Queen’s Handmaid, a story that will take readers on an adventure through an ancient world and give them a unique understanding of the culture and setting into which Jesus was born. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, in 39 BC, The Queen’s Handmaid connects the history we learn in school with the Bible stories of childhood, giving readers a peek into a lost world.
Q: The Queen’s Handmaid is set in Egypt, Rome and Jerusalem in 39 B.C. How did you first become interested in this time period?
I find so much of ancient history to be fascinating — and I especially love connecting the world history we learn in school with the Bible stories of childhood. I loved researching this period for a previous book that featured Cleopatra, and it was fun coming back to it, to explore her relationship with Herod the Great.
Q: What kind of historical research did you do in preparation for writing this book? Have you been able to travel to Egypt and/or Jerusalem where the story takes place?
My research is done on a variety of levels, from quick overviews to get story ideas to deep research once I have the period, setting and historical events nailed down. And yes, the best part of my research has been travel! I’ve visited Egypt, Rome and Jerusalem, exploring the sites and getting inspired!
Q: Is it difficult to create the settings in which your characters live, given that the story takes place more than 2000 years ago?
I love creating the settings! One of my favorite parts of writing is being able to take readers on a journey through the sights, smells, sounds, colors and textures of the ancient world.
Q: Can we expect to see biblical characters throughout the pages of this story, and if so, what was it like to bring them to life?
The main biblical character readers will encounter is Herod the Great. We know him from the stories of Jesus’ birth, but for me, getting to peek behind the scenes at palace life and the mind of this man who was both a great leader and a murderous madman was challenging and exciting.
I absolutely believe each of us has a unique calling, a grand adventure planned out for us before the foundation of the world. Staying open to our own hearts and the way God both whispers and shouts His plan to us is so important. In my experience, most people have a sense of their own unique calling, but fear keeps us from it.
Q: Your heroine works hard at what she does, but she doesn’t trust people easily. Are you guarded the way she is or do you find it easier to believe the best in people?
I think I’m probably too trusting, actually. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful relationships, unlike Lydia’s challenges. But I know that for so many people, trusting others does not come easily.
Q: You’ve said the main theme for this novel is that our identity is found in God and not in what others think about us. Is this something you’ve wrestled with, and how do you learn to care less about what people think and more about what God thinks?
This goes back to trust, in my opinion. When we make people too “large” in our lives — allowing them to define who we are — we become focused on achieving and performing to please them. This is Lydia’s challenge, but I think it applies to all of us. We are all trying to gain the love and admiration of others in our lives, to feel good about ourselves. The only way we can escape this self-oriented life and really live our calling is finding acceptance and love in the God who will never fail us. He frees us up to love others well, without arranging our lives to please them.
Q: What are some of the great conflicts your heroine faces that the modern-day woman might relate to most?
For one, I think 2000 years later, it’s still a challenge for women to be comfortable with themselves outside the definitions of husband and family and to find their unique place in the world. Also, unfortunately, fighting against corruption and cruelty never goes out of style! To take a stand against evil for the sake of those we love is part of our calling, whether ancient or modern.
Q: How does your heroine overcome her fear and live a life of courage?
Practice! No, really — these things don’t come easily, do they? A series of challenges begins to teach Lydia about where true strength comes from, to help her see the gifts she has within herself and the God who can work through her. It’s the hard stuff that teaches, for Lydia and for all of us.
Q: The Queen’s Handmaid falls into the genre of biblical fiction. Some people are leery of this category because it puts the words “biblical” and “fiction” together. How would you describe the genre, and what encouragement would you give to skeptical readers in hopes that they would give biblical fiction a try?
I could go on here for awhile, but one thing I will say is that we “fictionalize” our Bible stories all the time, for the sake of understanding. Every time we picture the Christmas story with three wise men or even the innkeeper at the door, it’s an expansion of the scant details that are there. When a story expands the Scriptural record without contradicting it, we are immersed in that time and culture in a way that makes the story, and subsequently our faith itself, so much more real.
Q: What do you want readers to walk away with once they turn the last page of The Queen’s Handmaid?
I would hope readers leave with a sense of satisfaction with a story well-told, a broadened understanding of the culture and setting into which Jesus was born and the inspiration to go out and live an adventure of their own!