Christian Historical Fiction Author, Carol Ashby

Carol Ashby website image
Carol Ashby, author

This week please welcome Carol Ashby to the blog.

Welcome Carol, and thank you for agreeing to tell us about Carol Ashby, author. It might interest readers to know that the ‘featured image’ on this blog is from Carol’s website and provided by Walters Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Carol’s novels are set in the time of the Roman Empire. A little later in time than the Apostle John series, but about people living with the challenge of death for their faith.

A little of my history will put how I write in perspective.

I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and worked in research for many years. You could say I’ve been a professional writer almost all my life since being a scientist means writing many technical journal articles about your research. That background makes me obsessive for getting the details of my time period correct. It also equips me to pull information from books by history professors and use it to make my stories as historically accurate as I possibly can.

Most historical fiction writers try hard to get their history right, but some time periods are easier than others. Fortunately, the Roman Empire has been a popular topic for a long time, and there’s lots of information available. I now have more than six dozen books by experts in Roman history. (Yes, I’m a bookaholic, but what writer isn’t?)

To make my characters behave like “real” people true to their own time, I study everyday things like normal household activities, food preparation, clothing and uniforms, and medical practice in the Roman world. It can be very dangerous to be in my novels, and I actually use the translation of the 8 volumes on Roman medicine written by Celsus during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius.

Sketch of Roman man in toga

We history buffs love sharing the details of our favorite eras. I’ve turned my research into a Roman history website. You will find the link at the end of the post.

 I try to add something new every week. Some topics include slavery, adoption, and why you’d really want to be a Roman citizen if you were charged with a crime. I’m working on an article on medicine right now.

Did you know the Romans did cataract surgery?

Books by Carol Ashby

The novels of the Light in the Empire series are set in different provinces of the Roman empire at its peak, between AD 114 and 122.

Two are published now, and four more will be releasing during the next two years.

The first, Forgiven, is set in Judea where a family of Messianic Jews whose son was killed by a Roman soldier care for an injured Roman officer after his own brother tries to murder him to inherit more of the family fortune

The second, Blind Ambition, is set in Germania where a German Christian risks having her whole family executed for their faith when she finds a Roman officer left for dead by robbers and takes her enemy home to care for him.

These stories are about people who struggle to live out their love for Jesus when the desires of their hearts or the demands of their culture are pulling them in another direction. Sound like a contemporary problem?

If your own experience is anything like mine, I bet you’ve experienced that struggle yourself.

But there’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing a friend you care about who didn’t even have God on her/his radar begin to ask questions about life and eternity. That’s a unifying theme in all my novels. Each one is a story of hope about human love and spiritual transformation, a story about how our faithfulness can inspire another to open his or her heart to God.

What got me started writing Roman?

From the safety of living the US, I’ve been watching and praying for my Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who risk everything and sometimes pay the ultimate price when they stay true to the faith. I couldn’t miss the parallel between their lives and those of early Christians during the time of Roman persecution. A few months before I retired, God put it on my heart to start writing stories about people living their faith in dangerous times.

As a follower of Jesus working as a scientist, I’ve had many opportunities to share with my friends why I believe. It’s those years of honest conversation with friends and colleagues that guide how my characters approach their lives. The believers know why they believe, and it isn’t just because they grew up in a culture influenced by Christian teaching. My characters who are not Christians at the beginning of each story ask the same questions I’ve been asked by friends. They wrestle with the intellectual and emotional questions that confront them when they see how a genuine believer lives out what Jesus taught in a time when that might get them executed by the Roman state.

When I talk with someone about my faith, it has nothing to do with trying to prove I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s because I want to share the most wonderful thing any human can experience. It’s because I’ve seen how God loves me more than I can even imagine, even though I can never be good enough on my own to earn the right to be in the presence of all that’s perfect and holy. He loves me enough to take human form and be tortured to death on a Roman cross for my sin to give me an escape route from the death I deserve to life with Him.

God isn’t some fairytale figure made up to comfort or scare us.

If that were the case, my scientific training would have “cured” me of belief before I even got my undergraduate degree. But it was my first biochemistry class that guaranteed I would believe in God, whether it was culturally popular or not.

Paper and pencil cartoon

Give me 5 minutes with paper and pencil, and I can show you some simple facts of molecular biology and the easy math that lets you calculate the probability of getting heads or tails when you flip a coin. That’s all I need to prove it’s statistically impossible for life to have accidentally started. Once the math and science convince you there was a designer, how could a person not start asking questions about who that designer is, does he want you to know him, and what is he willing to do so you can?

My stories are about selfish ambition, envy, greed, hatred, love, painful loss, and world-view transformation set in the Roman world at the peak of the Empire. But nothing has really changed between then and now except our technology. God still loves us and wants a loving relationship with each of us. The mental and emotional struggle that can keep someone from accepting that hasn’t changed one bit in 2000 years.

I love writing stories where someone struggles through the swamp in the valley to reach the bright sunshine of the mountaintop beyond. The beauty of writing historical fiction is having a setting that’s enough different from our own daily experience that it’s easier to set aside our cultural conditioning to consider what we believe and how we might want to live as we enjoy a compelling story

Carol, thank you so much for sharing your writing, and yourself.

It has been an honor and a privilege to hear from you.

Now… if you want to explore Carol’s website and enjoy the benefit of her research here is the link to get there. (You will find links to buy her books there also.)

http://www.carolashby.com

Enjoy,

Susan

Blessing of Christian Historical Fiction

Potter and the clay

Whether Biblical Fiction or Christian Historical fiction is an ‘Ugly Truth’ or a ‘Blessing’ is up to each reader to decide. It is a personal choice.

The title of this weeks post in the series is ‘The Blessing…’

I have been greatly encouraged by the response of the named authors in last week’s post on Christian, Historical fiction. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, some of the writers on my list are more in the category of Biblical fiction, than Christian Historical Fiction. Still, I wonder how many of us – without deep study are aware of how much ‘New Testament’ principles are in what we refer to as the ‘Old Testament.’

Biblical Fiction or Christian Fiction?

Bible. One book, many stories

I am inclined to believe that the Bible is one book with two testaments as some of my studies revealed. This seems to be confirmed by Jesus Himself.

“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me,” 
John 5:39 Berean Study Bible.

 

For myself, I learn a lot from Biblical fiction writers such as Lynn Austin, Mesu Andrews and Jill Eileen Smith… mainly because the encourage me to see people or events in the Old Testament through different eyes… fresh eyes. I will never forget living through the construction of what is known as ‘Hezekiah’s tunnel’ – something that is easily read over in Scripture.
But I cannot just focus on the books of the aforementioned authors – all the writers who are skilled, and work hard with their research really do open the Bible to being more than stories… but being about people, the culture and the times.

Biblical fiction bears fruit

Present and past -

Last Friday I had the pleasure of speaking to a very welcoming church group. It was an enjoyable experience… and also illuminating. Another speaker, a member of their congregation shared his experience of living in Holland under Nazi rule. What he said was not fiction… but given that he was talking of events 73 years ago, it was historical. As I listened to his tale of living without electricity, gas, transport other than walking – my mind wandered to the number of times writing my book series where I had wished Naomi had a ‘proper’ cooker, or some of the key characters had even a landline telephone. The ‘perils’ of writing historical fiction, be it Christian or non-Christian remain the same… the lives of the characters, and their language was different to ours today.

The male speaker I referred to earlier certainly had the setting correct… well, he should, he lived through it. He talked about the culture of evening soirees where people visited each other and had musical evenings. I have seen this type of culture in good quality films of the period. This man was a walking historical experience.

An 'ugly' bit...

I recently gave up on a ‘Christian, Historical Fiction’ book because the main character seemed to have been plucked from modern times, stuck in a Biblical setting… and was so out-of-character with the mores of the time and culture… I could read no further.

Ugly bit over!

The gifted ones.

The authors I mentioned… and the others I read… clearly did not live through the events they write about. However, they have the gifting and determination to use the gifts to help the rest of us to ‘see’ the events – and people they write about.

These are the ones who open a window – or a door to Biblical fiction and help us discover the people.

Thank YOU!

Many thanks to those of you who completed the survey. Interestingly, there seems to be a fairly even split between readers who like Old Testament fiction and Christian Historical Fiction. The survey closes on the 5th July, so there is still time to have your say. Remember, it is anonymous, has six short questions, most of them multi-choice so if you like more than one item you can tick (check) more than one… or them all.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFGD7KV

I will share the results with you, naturally.

Next week's guest...

Next week we have the privilege of hearing from Carol Ashby… who is a Christian, Historical Fiction writer. Not to be confused with the English actress Carol Ashby… this Carol Ashby is a retired scientist, with a passion for getting the details right.

Her novel, Forgiven, explores… well, I will leave it to you to find out next week. (I am often upbraided for giving ‘spoilers’ – so I am turning over a new leaf.)

Not a spoiler but – it is a fascinating story

Cover of Forgiven

As for this week’s featured image…
‘I am the potter, you are the clay’ seems appropriate to Christian/Biblical Historical Fiction writers. (Based on Isaiah 64:8)

Tread softly…

Susan

PS
Another link to the survey
                               https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFGD7KV

The Ugly Truth About Christian Historical Fiction

Christian Historical Fiction books

Readers either love or hate Christian Historical fiction. There are very few who ‘sort-of like it’. If you, as a reader, say you do… my guess would be that it depends on some of the things I will cover in this post.

Stay tuned!

First, what is the ‘ugly truth’ about Christian Historical fiction?

  1. Well, for one – like all historical fiction, the books are usually long.
  2. Sometimes the term ‘Biblical’ fiction would be a better description.
  3. Another downside is it is a bit difficult to check the details.
  4. Then comes the fear – what if the author is trying to convert me?

Another ugly truth is – sometimes the author IS trying to convert you.

On the other hand, some authors enjoy writing about this time period and like to share what they have discovered. These authors open a door to the past to help you to understand what the time and culture was like for the characters in the novel.

For some, readers and authors, it is digging into the pages of the Bible and finding the people, the way they lived, seeing the challenges they faced.

There is yet another ugly truth…

Discovering the people behind the stories might change the way you view the Bible.

Image representing Christian Historical Fiction
Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-11-20 22:51:31Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

To make it more understandable, and to improve the reader’s experience I have researched this topic.

Why?

Because of the comment made by a minister that my writing reminded him of a book series by Lynn Austin. (Which I take as a great compliment because I enjoy Lynn Austin’s historical fiction books. Yes, I read Christian Historical Fiction as well as write books in that genre.)

I made a list of authors of Christian Historical Fiction.

As well as Lynn Austin there is Francine Rivers, Jill Eileen Smith, Mesu Andrews, Carol Ashby,  Diana Wallis Taylor, and Nina Gould. A new author I have just discovered is Linda Lee Chaikin, who writes in more recent historical times. These are just a few of the famous Christian historical fiction authors currently writing – and my apologies to the ones I have missed. (I read more than those listed.)

I usually read reviews… so please, readers – review the books you read – it helps the rest of us choose what to read next.

Here is the first key to understanding reader’s feelings about Christian Historical Fiction.

(This I figured out from studying reviews for a wide variety of authors in this genre.)

The subject ‘Christian Historical Fiction’ is too broad and can be quite confusing for the reader.

Why?

Because there are many time periods in Christian Historical Fiction books…

  • Beginning of time – as with the Adam, Eve and family novel.
  • Various Old Testament biblical times

These first two categories are Biblical history but are usually grouped together with the following…

  • Time of Christ
  • Time of the Apostles
  • Toward the end of the apostolic age (where the Apostle John Series is set)

Then there is the 2nd century – where Diana Wallis Taylor writes, and later, the Medici/Huguenot era where Linda Lee Chaikin’s Silk House Trilogy is set.

Then there are various ‘modern’ ages also classified as Christian Historical Fiction.

  • There are also ‘categories’ within these ages.
  • Biblical – based on scripture (Old or New Testaments)
  • Biblical background purely fictitious characters.
  • More modern still in the time of the US… Western pioneering.

Christian Historical Fiction Readers –

Clock faceWhen you buy a book you are investing more than just the price of the book – you are making an investment of your time. In this day an age more and more people are time-poor.

 

I created a survey to try to help both readers and writers by narrowing this expanse of time classified as Christian Historical Fiction down.

My motive… well, if we know what period and type of Christian Historical fiction we are interested in it can save time and money because, as readers, we can make an informed choice.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFGD7KV

What do I mean save time and money?

By choosing the wrong era… or the wrong category.

More than once I have been reading a book – and given up on it because it was not what I expected it to be.

So, this survey should help authors and more especially readers. Yes, writers want sales – and reviews, but more importantly, authors want to serve/entertain/even educate readers… depending on what the reader wants.

Hey! Did you readers know how much power you have? LOL

There will be guest posts, reviews and background information on books/authors who write in the different eras and categories.

This post was born out of the minister’s comment about my writing… and my frustration with some of the books which said they were Christian Historical Fiction – but were not.

Come, join me for the next few weeks. You might find it interesting. Stay with the series throughout July and you might just find that the title ‘Ugly Truth about Christian Historical Fiction’ should read – ‘The Blessing of Historical Fiction.’

Susan

Here is another link to the survey at the end. It should not take long, a couple of minutes at most. It asks for no identifying details or household income, just your reading preferences in this genre.

It is for readers, bloggers, authors – anyone who is interested and any age group.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CFGD7KV

Click the link to the short survey and respond to the questions – thanks… future readers will thank you.