Fortunately, I like research. I love poring over books and articles and discovering amazing things that would work well in a story. One of my favorite discoveries was the medieval times belief that twins had to have been fathered by different men. Oh, wow! Fodder for a great plot twist!
Unfortunately, there are no twins in Esther.
When I approach a novel about a biblical character, I don’t simply rely on the Bible for my facts. It is my touchstone, my basis for truth, and I am always careful not to contradict the biblical account because I believe in the Bible authority and historicity. But those Bible characters lived in a real world in which other events were happening as well. There are other characters involved in their stories, often people from vastly different positions in life. Not everyone followed the true God, and even those who professed faith didn’t always act on it.
I also find things in the biblical account that are often ignored or glossed over. I study various translations, because sometimes a certain translation will completely ignore something that is given weight in another translation. For instance, when I was writing about Joseph, I learned that he was imprisoned in a jail in Potiphar’s house–right under Potiphar’s wife’s nose! How interesting that must have been!
We don’t have many documents from the Persian era, but a Greek named Herodotus wrote a great deal about the Persians and their kings. I relied heavily on his work in writing Esther, and learned amazing things about Xerxes, Esther’s husband and king, and Vashti, the former queen. I’m telling you–that man had to be mentally ill. I think he might have been bipolar, for his mood swings were evident and his temper was legendary. He could turn on someone he loved in a minute–so we can easily see why Esther feared for her life when she approached him uninvited.
I came to admire Persian society, actually. They invented the postal system. They allowed religious freedom. They allowed a great deal of person freedom to men AND women. When they subjugated another empire, they didn’t force those people to follow their religious laws, but were rather tolerant (unlike the Babylonians who originally enslaved the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem). Several Persian kings–Darius, Xerxes’ father, and Artaxerxes, Xerxes’s son–were generous with the Jews and allowed the rebuilding of the Temple. They had keen eyes for beauty as well, creating lofty, gorgeous palaces with vibrant colors and mosaics.
I also studied several Jewish books about Esther, picking up several threads of Jewish thought I would have otherwise missed. Those books helped me understand Esther’s and Mordecai’s mindset.
In summary, when I write a book about a biblical character, I don’t consider it biblical fiction as much as I consider it historical fiction. Bible stories take place on a rich canvas of history, cultures, and peoples, and I can’t imagine not learning as much as I can to fill in the details.
I hope you’ll enjoy the research in Esther as much as you enjoy the story.
Tomorrow: the writing.