We discussed the writing life, and why I chose to write about Helena, the mother of Constantine, in The Pilgrim.
Would love to hear your thoughts about the podcast.
We discussed the writing life, and why I chose to write about Helena, the mother of Constantine, in The Pilgrim.
Would love to hear your thoughts about the podcast.
Q: Helena, the protagonist in THE PILGRIM, is a strong and determined, yet flawed and hurting woman. She’s someone anyone – particularly women – can relate to. When you researched, did you discover some of those elements about her “real life” character, or did you “read in” those qualities as you recreated her fictitious persona?
Davis Bunn: There were a few character points that all of the legends about Helena agreed upon. She did live on what is now the Dalmatia coast while her husband the general went off with the Roman army.
He did divorce her, and then retired to a villa filled with young maids. As the husband vanished from history, the disgraced wife, a woman without title or future, grew into a figure that still holds power today.
Another element on which all the legends agree is that Helena had a vision, just like her son Constantine, only hers said that she was to go to Judea on pilgrimage.
From that point on, almost everything is in disagreement. So I picked and chose. And to this I added three questions:
Answer: She traveled as a real pilgrim would. Without entourage.
Q 2: What internal state might reflect this outer atmosphere?
Answer: I decided to make the timing of her journey be while she was recovering from the divorce. As a Roman woman of means, she was expected to hide herself away in disgrace. Instead, she travels to the ends of the empire on a quest from God. And she takes with her all the emotional baggage that makes her human.
Q 3: How does this woman respond to God’s call at such a time of crisis?
Answer: To me, this was the biggest challenge in the story. Creating a woman obeying God, and yet doing so in utter human frailty.
This has been my own personal experience: that God does not call us when we are content and life is good. God calls us when he wants us to act, and the most important part of this act is relying on God for guidance and strength.
In other words, Helena needed to be weak. Just like us.
The Pilgrim releases July 17, 2015, from Franciscan Media.
Has God given you a quest? How are you responding?
This is a more difficult question than it may first seem. The period when Constantine became the first Christian emperor is one about which so much has been written, and yet so little detail is known.
For example, no one knows for certain where his mother, Helena – the main character in my story The Pilgrim – was born. There are three main legends, and I used the one that has the greatest sense of historical resonance, that she was British, and her father ruled one of the provinces taken over by the Romans. Her husband was a general who met Helena in the local market and fell in love at first sight.
So one problem was deciding which of the many legends to use as the basis for this story. The second problem was timing.
Again, there were many different versions of when Helena had her own vision and felt called by God to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In this case, I decided not to use the most popular one in today’s world, that she was a grandmother and her son was already emperor.
Instead, I brought all the major elements of their lives together into a relatively short time span. I wanted to create a sense of dramatic action that would resonate with today’s reader. This same problem, as a matter of fact, was faced 70 years ago by T S Eliot, the last major author to write about Helena.
What can be said is that the era and the people were carefully researched. When I first came to study about this crucial moment in our Christian heritage, I was granted a position as Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Oxford. My two tutors during this wonderful period were Bishop Kallistos, head of the Orthodox Church of England, and Reverend Donald Sykes, president of one of the Oxford colleges and a Roman historian.
So the answer is, the facts have been studied, the legends too, and then I tried and make a story from them that would ignite a sense of passion in today’s reader.
The Pilgrim releases July 17, 2015, from Franciscan Media.
When you read a historical fiction story, how accurate do you expect the story to be?
While it’s wonderful to receive such support from readers and to have such treasured stories revisited, I have suggestion for bloggers who post reviews of my books: focus on the timing.
Bloggers who regularly review books are pressed by the PR people with whom they link to review books in advance of their publication. The aim of this is to generate that all-important whirlwind of initial interest.
This helps new titles to be placed in the minds of readers in those crucial early days. Small privately-owned Christian booksellers limit their shelf-space for fiction titles these days. Which means if a title of mine is to be widely read or even sold, it must garner the attention of buyers in those early weeks.
In order to have a genuine impact, and help your favorite authors, it would be great if your first focus was upon reviewing the most recent titles.
Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
P.S. If you’re looking for a book to review, may I suggest The Pilgrim? It releases July 17, 2015, from Franciscan Media.
I want you to know that I am having to throw away the Song of Acadia series of books that I purchased. It didn’t take too much reading in the first book to see that you hate your fellow Christian brothers and sisters who are Catholic.
I have seen this same cutting sarcasm in other books by other authors and I am perplexed at how one can consider themselves to be Christian yet use the power of the published word to put down other Christians because of differences in beliefs. Is that not a sin in your Bible?
Do not all Christians believe in the One, True, Triune God? Is there not “Power in the Word”?
Do you think what you are doing is pleasing to the God that we both believe in? I don’t!
I am 57 years old and I have been a Catholic all my life. I attend Mass every Sunday and then some. I have lived in several states and many cities and have attended many different Catholic churches and not once in those 3,000 to 4,000 Masses has a priest ever spoken in a cutting way towards our fellow Christians. They may speak of our differences but never in an uncharitable way.
When we use the “word,” written or spoken, we bring life or death. To bring death is a sin against the 5th Commandment.
I read the work of many different Christian writers. I often learn good lessons from them as they open my eyes to new things about God. How sad that you emphasize hatred and consider yourself a Christian writer. Just using the word God here or there doesn’t make up for the unkind words.
And, Mr. Bunn, like so many of my fellow Christians who hate Catholics, might I suggest that instead of hating our religion based on bias from those who have educated you to be so, that instead, out of curiosity, you study what we Catholics believe about ourselves from OUR point of view. You will find there is no need to hate us. Of course our enemies speak ill of us. Therefore, what they say is biased. Seek truth.
While I do understand your sensitivity to the issue, I must tell you that of the 2.5 million readers we have been blessed with for this series, you are the first to form this impression.
My wife, mother, and sister are Catholic. I am writing a series based upon the early church for the largest Catholic publisher in the US.
There are indeed people within the evangelical Protestant community who hold to this bias, I am sorry to say. I am not one of them.
What we tried to do in the Song of Acadia series is demonstrate the extreme tension between two communities in Canada’s early days.
I don’t have a Protestant heritage. I have a Catholic heritage. I thought the devotional made it sound like my faith didn’t count. You weren’t talking to me. But, I love Jesus, talk to Him personally, daily; I read the scriptures; I tithe and I listen to God. I felt like your characterization was exclusionary. I don’t understand it.
So I stopped reading the book for a long time. I picked the book back up and finished it on Easter. It was wonderful. But I haven’t figured out how to process this Protestant discussion.
I have wanted to address this very issue since completing The Turning and the accompanying devotionals, but I was not sure how. Your email, in truth, is an answer to a prayer. By far the best way to speak about this is in response to a reader.
Let me begin by saying that I am married to a Catholic, a wonderful woman who has taught me more about faith than any person alive. My mother and my sister have both converted to Catholicism. I have recently been asked to write a series for the largest Catholic publisher in the United States.
But this particular book, and the devotional lessons, were written for a conservative US Christian publisher. And the reason why I felt called to write on this subject – the one specific intent above all others – was because far too many evangelical Protestants have lost all touch with the contemplative aspects of our faith and our Christian heritage.
Too often these days, such people see the whole issue of spiritual contemplation as being a “Catholic” concept. And this simply is wrong. It hurts me to hear it referred in this way from the pulpit, because it reflects a “majority opinion” within many churches that just does not jibe with who we are and what has formed a foundation of our Christian heritage from the very beginning.
This devotional is first and foremost aimed at the Protestant believer who (and I mean this quite sincerely), has most likely never had contact with the message of contemplation. In order to break through this barrier, it was necessary to specifically address their incorrect assumption that the discipline of attentiveness is Catholic in nature.
First of all, the majority of lessons that shape Christian contemplation predate what we today refer to as the Catholic church. I suppose the better way to speak of this is by referring to today’s structure as the Roman church, as opposed to the Eastern church or Orthodox church. If you are interested in how this issue specifically relates to the discipline of contemplation, may I suggest you read a truly wonderful book by Phyllis Tickle, former Senior Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly, titled The Age of the Spirit. In any case, the whole concept of Christian contemplation is grounded in the Old Testament and given its first formal shape in the time of persecution during the second and third centuries.
But what is far more vital for today’s Protestant audience, the people who in my opinion need these lessons the most, is that the discipline of attentiveness—what today is referred to in the Catholic community as contemplation—was a vital component of the Protestant movement from the very beginning.
That is why I wrote the second lesson as I did. My intention was never to exclude the Catholics. In later lessons more than half the examples I used in describing life-changing revelations came from Catholic believers.
But there are any number of wonderful texts from Catholic sources, including many contemporary writers, about the wonders of spiritual silence. And yet these are simply not known or discussed in many Protestant churches. It is tragic and unnecessary, in my opinion. Their walk would be richer for including this. Mine certainly has been. And in order to reach these people, I addressed their incorrect assumptions at the starting gate. The founders of the Protestant denominations both practiced contemplative prayer and urged it among their followers.
We should all do so today, and learn to listen better.
Since I write a fair number of series books, readers often ask me whether there be a sequel. Here are my responses to that question as it pertains to the following titles:
Will there be another Marcus Glenwood book?
At present, Marcus is not expected to re-emerge, but because of the deep bond I still hold with that character, ten years after completing the work, anything is possible.
I know this probably does not satisfy, but just so you’re aware, I have been discussing with a publisher the possibility of doing a book about a woman attorney in central NC.
I just finished The Book of Hours, and I must know: Is there a sequel? I can’t believe you left me “hanging” with the last paragraph! Surely you finished that great story somewhere.
No, Book of Hours was a stand-alone. But for your information, I have recently started work on a new novel that takes me back to the combination of romance, faith, and drama that has sparked such interest in Book of Hours readers. It is so new it has not even received an official title yet.
Strait of Hormuz was unquestionably a winner! BUT, despite the most welcome and imminent availability of The Turning, Linda asked me to urge you to get busy working on the NEXT Marc Royce series! Does that speak volumes?!?
We are both awed by your ability to capture and communicate your incredible imagination in a way that draws us into the hearts and minds of the characters. You have a marvelous gift and are so gracious to be sharing it with us!
First of all, I’m delighted that you both enjoyed Strait. But I have to tell you, I have said a firm farewell to Marc and Kitra for the moment. Maybe in the future, who knows, but for now, well…
A study guide to go with The Turning, is available as a free PDF download.
I absolutely love the Heirs of Arcadia series. At the end of The Night Angel, there was an excerpt printed for the next book, listed as The Loyal Renegade. I was mystified as I had already purchased Falconer’s Quest. I read the excerpt and was happy it seemed to go on right from the end of The Night Angel. Then I picked up Falconer’s Quest and was disappointed to find it began much later in time. Where can I get a copy of The Loyal Renegade? I can’t find it mentioned on any of your book lists. I am reluctant to begin Falconer’s Quest until I find this missing book to read first.
Your comment is right on target. There was indeed another book intended between Angel and Renegade. But Janette Oke—with whom I wrote the original Acadia series and who retired because of ill health—felt good enough to return to writing, and asked if I would “hurry up and finish” that series, so we could do another. This new project with Janette became the trilogy called Acts of Faith, based upon the last chapters of the Gospels and the first three chapters of Acts. In any case, I “fast-forwarded” through time and encapsulated the drama intended as a separate book into the first three chapters of Loyal Renegade.
I hope you enjoy that final story in the series.
Thank you, readers, for keeping me on my toes by graciously pointing out flaws in my research. You teach me to much! Here are a few bloopers observant readers picked up on.
Under American law you cannot add a defendant to an ongoing trial. It would deny that party due process, time to prepare defense, knowledge of previous testimony, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Maybe in China, possibly in Italy where the process is bizarro, but certainly not in the US or UK either.
No federal judge would consider or take up an offer to be a special prosecutor. You don’t give up a lifetime sinecure for a temporary position with less pay. The prestige flows the opposite direction.
Only members of the US Supreme Court are called Justice. Those of lesser federal courts are Judge.
Counsel in trial are not allowed to interrupt closing or opening arguments by objection. That’s the practice and procedure, if not actually the law. You have them continually doing so and the presiding judge overruling. No, she’d be finding that lawyer in contempt of court, after one warning.
You say you consulted with attorneys in NC about legal points. Don’t consult the same ones next time.
Well, sir, this was certainly an eye-opener of an email. And I am indeed grateful for your thorough examination of the text. It’s amazing to me on two counts: First, that you still seemed to enjoy the story despite its evident flaws; and second, that you hung in there to the end.
It is hard to express just how much pleasure I receive from emails like this, where there are avid and emotional bonds forged between my work and intelligent readers like yourself.
One suggestion. I think you might enjoy giving Lion of Babylon a read.
I just finished reading Imposter and enjoyed the book very much. However, some of the segments about the Air Force had distracting errors. Granted, I would notice more than most because I’m a major in the USAF, but I feel this undermines the authenticity of the story and is easily corrected. I hope this comes off as friendly help rather than criticism.
If it helps, here are some examples of errors in the book (from the Kindle edition):
Loc 4721: The Air Force does not have corporals.
Loc 4784: The description of the VOQ is like nothing I’ve ever stayed in, except when deployed. Usually, they are at least Motel 6 quality.
Loc 4921: The “no-fly rule” you describe is called “quiet hours,” the purpose being to avoid disturbing the surrounding community.
Loc 4987: Again, the Air Force does not have corporals.
Loc 5103: Annie gives Matt a salute, suggesting the uniform she gave him was that of an officer. On Loc 5076, Annie dresses Matt as a loadmaster. But a loadmaster is an enlisted crew member, and they wear flight suits, not fatigues. Similarly, she calls him a flight officer on Loc 5089.
Loc 5141: Matt bought a paper at the PX at Andrews AFB. The Air Force calls them a BX (Base Exchange). The Army calls them a PX (Post Exchange). Both fall under AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service).
I’m not sure how useful this is or whether you can (or want to) update the book. If you ever need someone to review references to the Air Force in the future, I would be willing to help.
First of all, please accept my heartfelt thanks for the thorough analysis that you have offered here. Imposter has been out of print now for three years, so the actual changes will need to wait for a re-release. But the corrections are nonetheless much appreciated.
My contacts for Imposter were all within the police and federal law enforcement agencies. I “winged it” (terrible pun) on the USAF side, which basically happened because I didn’t have somebody to run the manuscript by. These issues often arise in such cases, and I apologize for the glitches that interrupted the story’s flow.
My husband and I have recently come across your books and have read several and are searching for more. I am presently reading The Night Angel and wanted to make you aware of an error on page 198. The first paragraph on that page is talking about a butter box and how the butter is made by pouring the skimmed cream into the box and pressing out the whey.
Unfortunately, butter is not that simply made. Whey is the liquid pressed out when making cottage cheese. To make butter, you must shake it (or churn it) until the butter particles form and then collect together, pour off the buttermilk, and then, with a large paddle-like spoon, press the butter against the side of the bowl until all the rest of the buttermilk is squeezed out. Then you can form the butter.
I hope this information is of use, although I know it is probable that you have already heard the same information from others of your readers. Again, my husband and I really enjoy your wonderful books, both the adventures (both of us) and the Acadia books (myself).
Thank you and your husband for the very thoughtful email. Yes, this has been noted, and while the correction came in too late to be included in the reprints, it will most certainly be done in any future versions. I actually researched this point, but what I obtained was clearly a shortened version of the full act.
I do hope you and your husband enjoy the remaining stories. Please let me add that the story mentioned at the end of Night Angel was combined with the one that followed, and turned into one final book. Janette felt well enough to come out of retirement, and we wrote the trilogy based upon the first chapters of Acts. I did not have the time to do both, and was uncertain how long she and I had to work together on a project we had been discussing for many years.
We talked about loads of topics, including my use of the pen name “Thomas Locke” for two new series Revell is publishing.
Q: Does the idea of an emissary parallel anything specific to your own experience?
Davis Bunn (aka, Thomas Locke): It absolutely has a personal connection. Emissary is a Latin word that means ambassador.
My wife, Isabella, and I live for part of the year in the UK and the other part in the US. Increasingly, in our ministry efforts outside of writing, she and I are the only Christians in the room. We feel as if we are emissaries to the world.
During the time we live in the US, it’s easy to become insular. It’s a simpler and more comforting existence if our world is restricted to the community of believers who see the world the same way we do. In the US, our friendships and contacts can mostly be centered around fellow Christians.
Both situations feel right. But the direction we’re feeling called is to this community outside our faith community: the general university system, general entertainment, the growing world of nonbelief. In the Creative Writing class I recently taught at Oxford, for example, I had 29 students. Four of them were devout Muslims. If I am going to honor their creative efforts, I have to do it from the standpoint of explaining where I’m coming from, in terms of my own world view. But our differing life experiences and world views cannot color the way that I view the quality of their writing. I have to live out my faith in a way that speaks without words.
This has been a main reason for writing Emissary. I’m trying to reach out and to communicate a sense of hopefulness in a manner that meets my readers where they are.
Davis Bunn: Isabella and I marked a turning in our own outreach when we were invited by a seminary in Easy Germany to travel there about a week after the Berlin Wall fell. We arrived the day the East German government granted permission for churches to open after they’d been shuttered for 40 years.
We walked to what had been the main cathedral in the city and saw a young man standing in the doorway. He was staring at a poster that showed fields blowing in the wind and had the Bible verse, John 3:16. The young man looked at the words in absolute, complete confusion. He’d never seen them before.
During that moment, my wife and I both got the sense that this type of ministry was where we wanted to be.
Q: Many of your readers are drawn to the Christian message that permeates your stories. Now that you’re writing under the Thomas Locke pen name, will you stop writing inspirational fiction?
Davis Bunn: My hope and prayer is that I have many new faith-based stories to tell. In fact, several are in the works.
As with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, the books I’m writing under the Thomas Locke pseudonym present a clear moral structure, but the Christian message is far more muted than in my other works.
For details, see my answer to “Why are you using a pen name?”
The discussion continues on my Thomas Locke blog. Check out these posts: