The Recipe for Writing Historic and Religious Fiction

I always thought writing total fiction, out of your head, would be the easiest type of writing. No real facts for people to check. No real history for the writer to keep checking. Well, now I think I was wrong. Historic and religious fiction is easy. Historical accounts provide the skeleton, the support for a fictional story. Stories from the Bible and the Apocrypha are never complete, so they too provide the structure around which to build an interesting, engaging story. That is what I did when I was writing Ill Gotten Gain.

I started with a simple question that I had as a teenager in church: “What happened to the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas by the Chief Priest for betraying Jesus?” The facts were sketchy. Thrown back into the Temple by Judas … some say because he was filled with angst, some say because he was fulfilling the prophesy of Zechariah (Zachariah 11:13), some say it was because Judas reported Jesus to the Chief Priest for blasphemy and he was paid 30 pieces of silver because that was the published amount the Chief Priest would give for reporting a blasphemer and the reporter could recant by repaying the money. Regardless, as reported in Matthew 27:10, the Chief Priest gathered the coins “and gave them for the potter’s field…” (KJV)

So, there you have it. Not much of a skeleton, but enough to raise the question in my mind. I let the idea “stew,” sort of “cook” in my mind. When I decided to write the story I had a lot of “beefing” up to do to make it a story. So I needed a recipe that would make the story something people would want to read. I decided the coins would be cursed, everyone who had them for any amount of time would die in a similar way as Judas. So I started with a pinch of mystery and a dash of horror. I needed a road map to move the coins through time and space and a list of the characters to be “my characters.” The road map started in Jerusalem in 33 AD as the Bible said. I knew a lot about Charleston and some of its idiosyncrasies, so I decided that is where the story would be set and end. The meat of the story was the coins. The vegetables, if you will, were a group of savory and unsavory people. An antique dealer who was disturbed because he wasn’t accepted by the socially elite in Charleston. A little hot sauce in the person of his love interest who was accepted because she could trace her Charleston lineage for many generations. I added a “root doctor” to add a little “earthy” taste of mystery. A variety of other characters were added to complete the color and texture to the stew. And, finally the spices, a powerful state senator, a Cardinal, an Opus Dei Priest, an ubiquitous handy man, and a few others including an anthropomorphic Grandfather clock. Simmer until well cooked. In my case it took 40 years to simmer and result in a completed manuscript. It was tasty enough to entice Mike Parker of WordCrafts Press to publish it.

If you decide on religious fiction, consider these resources: the writings of Flavius Josephus, a noted historian writing near the time of Jesus; Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus provides a better understanding of the surroundings; the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, also known as the Dead Sea Scroll; the Apocrypha, an assemblage of other writings that were not included in the King James Version of the Bible; and there are many others, but if you are not Jewish, I would also suggest A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.

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