I have read most of H.B. Moore’s books, but I feel Esther the Queen to be her masterpiece. For this reason, I wanted to interview her about the process of writing it.
1. How did you spiritually prepare yourself to write this magnificent story?
The story of Esther is an incredible example of a woman’s courage and faith in an era when women were often kept to the background. Her story is very inspirational, and it has also been told and presented in many different mediums such as literature and film. I knew I had a hefty task ahead of me… trying to decide how my presentation would be “different” and unique enough that someone might be interested in reading it in addition to the other great works out there. The more I researched and read, the more I realized that I couldn’t really embellish or come up with any fanfare to make her story come alive any more than it already was on its own. My job was to present the story as it was. A story that was enough in and of itself. And one that deserved to be told again.
2. The book was so true to life; I felt as though I were present. What research did you do to bring Esther’s time to life?
I read many accounts of Esther, including the Jewish Apocrypha that deviates quite a bit from the Biblical account. But the more I read, the more I decided to stick to the story in the Bible. There were plenty of questions to be explored and answered from the scriptural text itself. My research file includes notes from various Encyclopedias and scholarly works, which mainly centered around King Xerxes and the kingdom of Persia. There are varying opinions of who Xerxes was and what he accomplished. It seems the Esther’s story is more straightforward, whereas the king’s story leads into murky waters.
3. What scriptural references led you to develop this character which evolves from an uncertain girl to a woman of courage and wisdom? How did Esther come alive for you?
I stayed very close to the King James Bible version of Esther’s story. This is primarily because the publisher [I was going through] markets to an LDS audience, and the KJV is the scriptural text they use in study. In order to develop Esther’s character, I wanted to know more about Queen Vashti, and why she was put away, and how that might affect Esther’s perception of going into a marriage with a man who had a volatile first marriage. I wondered how she’d feel about marrying outside her faith and to a man who had many concubines. She went into the marriage knowing all of the good, the bad, the ugly, so to speak, and her eyes were open to the sacrifices she’d have to make. I felt that family and religion would be very important to Esther, and these beliefs only added to her sacrifice. She may not have known the extent of how hard it would be until she was in the middle of it. But I think her uncertainties blossomed into courage and strength as she took upon the mantle of a queen, and understood that she served all of the people of Persia-including the Jews-and she would save many lives if she stood up for her people.
Characters come alive for me when I try to put myself in their place and feel what they feel. I wonder how I’d react in that situation, or given the life and experiences of a character, what would that character do? This came into play as I wrote Haman, the villain who prepares an edict to exterminate the Jews. I didn’t want him to be a stock character full of hatred with no real reason. He needed a motivation. He needed to be emotionally involved. He needed to be vengeful for something that happened to him on a personal basis.
4. I know you are a discovery writer. How much of the story you wrote did you know beforehand? Or did your character tell you the story?
I was a bit rusty on the story, knowing only the basics, and having never studied it in depth. After reading the Biblical account, I knew I wanted to move the plot from the first meeting between Esther and the king (which is not part of the Bible story), to the point that Esther has to petition the king to save the Jews from destruction. In actual time, this would take several years, so I needed to condense the timelines. And the question became how many scenes to spend on which parts of the story. The basics are, of course, outlined in the Bible, but most important to Esther’s story is the character development. What were her motivations? What was in her heart? Once I wrote the first chapter, establishing her devotion to her relatives, it seemed that Esther already had the seeds to become a compassionate queen who would put others before herself. And it would set her apart from any of the other women who were competing for the queen-ship. Esther surprised me a few times… she was definitely more tolerant than I would have been in certain situations, but I think part of it was that she truly fell in love with the king. This might be a debatable point, but as I was writing about her, it felt natural and solidified the way I believe she would have lived her life-with her whole-heart and with pure intent.
5. What was the process by which you “discovered Esther?”
About two years ago, I bought a poster of Esther and gave it to my daughter. The poster shows an Esther who is strong, powerful, and determined (from the “Who Is Your Hero” collection). Most of the other Esthers depicted in art are of a lovely woman, which is wonderful as well, but I looked at my daughter’s poster many times and realized that Esther must have had a very strong and determined spirit. When my publisher turned down a novel I had written on Eve, they said that they’d hold a release spot for me if I could turn in another novel within a couple of months. That was very little time to write, research, and edit a manuscript. I knew it would have to be a prayerful decision. Esther seemed to fit the bill-a noble heroine and a compelling story. Yet, it was intimidating because I knew so little about her, and I wondered if I could pull it off. I had readers on alert, reading 50 pages at a time as I wrote, and I was able to make my publisher’s deadline.
6. Can you tell us if you have any further plans to bring Biblical heroines to life? This is a true gift you are blessed with.
I’m very interested in writing more Biblical fiction. I have nine historical novels on the Book of Mormon published, and I deliberately turned to Biblical fiction in order to change things up for my readership. I’ve had many people suggest Ruth to me, who I think it an incredible woman as well. Some of it will (unfortunately) be determined if Esther the Queen is well-received in the marketplace. I have two other manuscripts turned into my publisher (a non-fiction manuscript called The Divinity of Women, and the next installment in The Newport Ladies Book Club series), so I have a little more time to make a decision.
G.G. Vandagriff is the award-winning, bestselling author of sixteen books. Visit her at http://ggvandagriff.com