Monday, March 25, 2024

Rebekah and Isaac: A Biblical Novel


Coming July 2024!

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Author’s Note


Through conversations with my father, S. Kent Brown, and Dr. Kerry Muhlestein, in addition to reading several books and watching podcast discussions on Abraham’s family, which included insights from Camille Fronk Olson and Dr. Daniel Peterson, I discovered my first impressions of reading the applicable chapters in Genesis were quite wrong. Not everyone has the interest or ability to dive deep into a particular ancient family’s lives, and I appreciate the scholars and historians who carve out the path for me when I’m working on a historical novel.

Among historians and scholars, there is debate on some of the details of biblical events and dates. Muhlestein states that Abraham was born about 1943 BC, which places his adult life in the middle of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (From Creation to Sinai by Daniel L. Belnap and Aaron Schade, 243).  This paints a picture of the interactions that Abraham had with the people of Canaan, as well as the Egyptians as they traveled the caravan trails and occupied various cities over the decades.

Abraham and Isaac’s world would have included trading with Egyptians since Beersheba and Hebron are along the trade route to Egypt (ibid, 244, 249–250).  They would have been exposed to the human trafficking of slaves (ibid, 250),  and of course the religious rites of multiple gods and human sacrifice (ibid, 252).

Abraham’s tribe was large, possibly around 2,000 people in his community (ibid, 467).  His tribe consisted of multi-generational households and multifamily clans (ibid, 466),  making Abraham’s personal household in the hundreds. We know that Abraham’s tribe had 318 men trained in combat, who went to the aid of Abraham’s nephew Lot (see Genesis 14:14).  

Interestingly enough, there’s a parallel between Abraham’s flight from Haran (see Genesis 12:1),  and Rebekah later leaving the same city and her family behind. Both did so at the behest of Adonai.

Eliezer, who is mentioned as Abraham’s chief servant and faithful steward, may or may not have been the servant who went in search of a wife for Isaac (see Genesis 15:2; 24:2).  For story purposes, I used Eliezer’s name and developed his character as the servant whom Abraham called upon for that very sacred task.

One hurdle I came across was whether Rebekah’s father, Bethuel, was alive at the time of Eliezer’s arrival and Rebekah’s commitment to marry Isaac. Camille Fronk Olson points out that the ancient scholar Josephus believed that Bethuel had died, and this is why Rebekah runs to her mother’s house (or tent) to report the arrival of Abraham’s servant (see Women of the Old Testament by Camille Fronk Olson, 55; referencing Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, 1.16.2).  But in discussion with my father, he related that women often owned their own tents in Bedouin society, so that would explain why Rebekah named the family tent as her mother’s house. We also learn that the handmaid Deborah is sent with Rebekah to Canaan, along with other damsels (see Genesis 24:59, 61; 35:8).  This would be part of the bride price for Rebekah.

Abraham lived as a nomad and didn’t stay in one place year after year. He traveled with the seasons to find the best grazing land for his cattle, herds, and flocks. Scholars believe that Canaan had significant rainy seasons during Abraham’s lifetime, so the topography wasn’t as barren as we modern thinkers might believe (From Creation to Sinai, 349–50).  Muhlestein mentioned in a conference call that Isaac was more sedentary than Abraham, and Jacob became more sedentary than Isaac. This created a mixed nomadic lifestyle, in which they still lived out of tents but were increasingly sedentary.

According to Muhlestein, Abraham built altars of worship in locations such as Hebron, Beersheba, Bethel, and Shechem (ibid, 346).  When Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, surely this was a repeated nightmare of when Abraham’s father attempted to sacrifice him. Child sacrifice was not uncommon in the ancient world, and it was believed to be a form of worship to the god Molech (ibid, 364).  Of course, Abraham’s sacrifice was requested by Adonai and not false idolatry.

Now onto the difficult part of the story where it’s hard to understand Abraham’s and Sarah’s actions toward Hagar when they sent her away. Hagar is Sarah’s slave—possibly from Egypt, although we do not know with certainty. Due to Sarah’s barrenness, she enlists Hagar to bear children with Abraham, although the children will be born in Sarah’s name.

Hagar becomes pregnant, but living under the rule of Sarah becomes intolerable, so she flees (see Genesis 16:6).  An angel of Adonai entreats Hagar to return to the tribe and reveals the blessings that will come her way, including naming her son Ishmael. Hagar then returns. When Isaac is born to Sarah years later, this displaces Ishmael. Although Ishmael is promised the posterity of twelve princes and the future of a great nation  and his covenant blessings are ensured because of Hagar’s return and Ishmael’s eventual circumcision, he is not the birthright son (From Creation to Sinai, 472).

Tensions mount again between the two wives, and when Isaac is weaned (making him about three years old), an incident occurs that involves Ishmael mocking Isaac. This must be the last straw in a series of events because Sarah tells Abraham to “cast out this bondwoman and her son” (see Genesis 21:10)  much to Abraham’s grief. But when he inquires of Adonai, He confirms Sarah’s decision, and reiterates that Ishmael will become his own great nation. Something that he couldn’t do living a subservient life under Isaac’s future rule and birthright status.

Tradition states that to remove Hagar from the tribe, Sarah has every right to sell her back into the slave trade. But Sarah instead sets the woman free to live her own life, unencumbered by the rule of Abraham and Isaac, which will, in turn, allow Ishmael to become his own ruler of a future nation (From Creation to Sinai, 413, 472, 474).  In this way, Hagar is released from her marital obligation to Abraham. Her son, Ishmael, can now establish his own tribe and become the patriarch and forefather of the Ishmaelites in Islam.

Although Rebekah and Isaac’s marriage was closer to an arranged marriage, since neither party knew each other before the betrothal, Rebekah had full rights to accept or refuse the marriage offer. This is why we see Rebekah being consulted, even after her father and brother have agreed to the betrothal (see Genesis 24:58 and From Creation to Sinai, 477).

How long was the journey from Beersheba to Haran? Likely several weeks one way. Olson stated that the caravan would have spent at least a month on the trail (Women of the Old Testament, 51).  The caravan would have been impressive with ten camels, perhaps ten men, traveling with supplies and gifts. Olson also points out that Rebekah’s jar would have held maybe five gallons of water, and with ten camels who consume twenty-five to thirty gallons of water, she filled her jar about fifty times (ibid, 51).  

Rebekah likely heard of Abram, Sarai, and their story of leaving Haran. Rebekah wouldn’t have known much of what had happened after they left, so any news about Isaac would be new to her. The presentation of gifts by Eliezer to Rebekah and her family was essentially securing the betrothal agreement, although I added an actual ceremony to the story.



Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Under the Java Moon: now available

Photo: Heather & Marie Vischer Elliott (Rita), Aug 2021 

In August 2021, I had the privilege of meeting Marie (Rita) Vischer Elliott for the first time when she traveled to my home state. My husband and I visited with her for a couple of hours, and she told us stories about her remarkable life in her lovely accent. Marie is now called Mary by family and friends, but I refer to her as Marie in this story for clarity. During our first meeting, Marie and I were both vetting each other. I wondered if I’d be able to do justice to a story that Marie had kept to herself for so many decades. She wondered if she was truly ready to share such private and difficult memories.

Marie told me that her family never spoke of the war after it ended. Her parents had wanted to fully move on. Years later, Marie ventured to ask her mother some questions, but her mother gave precious few answers. The topic was still considered a closed book to the past. Because of all that she’s endured, Marie never wanted to watch war movies or read about wars. She especially stayed away from stories about concentration or prison camps and their victims. Like her parents, she was keeping her past firmly behind her.

Yet, a slow change came over Marie in recent years, and she was surprised to realize that she wanted to share her past. She wrote up a brief summary of her experiences, and she began to tell her family about what had happened to her. The lock she’d kept on her memories and fears was slowly turned, then opened.

Marie’s remarkable story begins when she was a child, living in Indonesia (then called the Netherlands East Indies). Both her parents were originally from the Netherlands. Her father, George Vischer, who worked for the Royal Packet Navigating Company (KPM), was stationed on Java Island as his home base.

World War II left very few countries unscathed, and Marie’s family was divided up, then sent to live in Japanese prison-of-war camps after Japan invaded, conquered, and then occupied Indonesia. Marie, her mother, grandmother, and younger brother Georgie were sent to the Tjideng camp, which interned women and young children. Men and older boys were sent to their own camps. This began a period in Marie’s life that would shape her childhood, her future, and her beliefs.

Having read dozens of books about the World War II era over the years, I hadn’t ever read anything about the Dutch people’s experience in Indonesia. When I searched for books or films about the subject matter, I was only able to find self-published memoirs. I bought everything I could find and began to read.

I was already excited to write a historical novel about Marie’s early life just from what she’d shared with me in our first meeting, but I had no idea the impact of the war on Indonesia and its people until I dove deeper into research. Story after story, shared by former POW camp victims, revealed experiences long-buried. At the end of this novel is a list of the memoirs and other historical sources that helped frame this book.

As a backdrop to Marie’s story, it’s important to understand why Indonesia became an strategic asset to the Axis power of Japan during the war. Due to the oil embargos against the Axis powers, the oil fields that spanned the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) drew Japan to the islands since they were searching for mineral resources to fuel its war effort. To the Japanese, the Dutch colonies were a diamond in the Pacific.

In the early 1600s, the Dutch joined other traders such as the Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabia, etc., bent on securing trade routes and trade posts throughout southeastern Asia and the Americas. In 1602, in order to establish a dynasty over other traders, the Dutch founded the world’s first multinational trading empire called the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) or Dutch East Indies Company. This began the next two centuries of the VOC running trading posts. When the VOC declared bankruptcy in 1796, the Netherlands government took over, and the Dutch colonization of the East Indies went into full effect. Over the next several decades, Dutch families moved to Java and Sumatra, seeking opportunities in private enterprise.

On the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (December 8 in the NEI), the NEI was spurred into action, and they declared war on Japan. Every Dutchman the age of eighteen or older was conscripted into one of the Royal military branches to undergo accelerated military training. Overall, the Dutch relied mostly on the Western Allied powers for help. But the Allies were busy defending other Pacific Rim countries such as the Philippines and Singapore, leaving the NEI vulnerable to attack.

Battles raged between Japan and the Dutch, on land and on sea, ending with the Battle of the Java Sea, in which the NEI and Allied fleet was soundly defeated. Three days later, Japanese forces landed on Java Island, and one week later, on March 8, 1942, the NEI governing body officially capitulated to Japan.

As a result, over 100,000 Dutch men, women, and children were funneled into prison camps. An additional 40,000 Dutch men became prisoners of war, many of them shipped to work camps in Burma, Japan, and Thailand.

The Dutch-Indonesians, or Indos, were caught in the middle. Descended from Dutch and Indonesian marriages, due to the decades of intermarriage from Dutch colonization, the Indos were given a choice: live in the prison camps or serve the new Japanese regime.

With the takeover of the NEI by the Japanese, everything related to the Dutch culture was replaced by Japanese culture. Even Batavia, the capital of the NEI, was renamed to Jakarta. The Japanese language was taught in schools, the Japanese calendar implemented, and local time became Tokyo time.

Over 6,000 of the 18,110 islands of the Indonesia archipelago are inhabited, and in 1941, the Dutch population made up most of the Europeans living throughout the islands. The total population of the NEI was about 60 million people. To understand the scope of the loss the Dutch people suffered throughout the prison camps in Indonesia, by the end of the war, 30,000 European internees had died, but even more sobering is that a total of four million civilians perished, which included Indonesians and Indo-Europeans, as a result of malnutrition and forced labor.

Under the Java Moon follows the story of Marie and her family, as they endured the hardships of living in a POW camp during World War II. At the end of February 1942, Marie’s father, George Vischer, fled for his life with a group of naval officers in order to join up with Australian Allied forces. On a fateful day in March 1942, Marie Vischer was ushered out of her home. Marie, her elderly grandmother, her mother, and toddler brother were forced into a women’s prison camp ran by the notoriously cruel Japanese commander, Captain Kenichi Sonei.

This is Marie’s story.

Available at most retailers!
Book Club Kit available here.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Book Tour with Julie Wright


Join me and author Julie Wright!

Las Vegas, Nevada September 5th

12-1 Deseret Book

5750 Centennial Center Blvd

Upland, California Sept 6th
3-5 pm Ensign Books
1037 W Foothill Blvd Upland, Ca

Redlands, California Sept 7th
3-5 pm Ensign Books
700 E Redlands Blvd Ste 1 Redlands, Ca

Costa Mesa, California Sept 9th
11-1 pm Deseret Book
2200 Harbor Blvd Ste 8110 Costa Mesa, Ca

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Salem Witch Museum--book signing

Bucket List. Check.

For several years, the Salem Witch Museum has been carrying paperback copies of the book I wrote about my 10th great-grandmother Susannah North Martin, CONDEMN ME NOT. I've long wanted to do a book signing there, and now I'll be heading to Massachusetts in a few weeks and signing at the Salem Witch Museum on June 22, 12-4:00 pm. Join me if you're in the area!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Spring 2023: Young Reader's Edition of The Paper Daughters of Chinatown


In 2019, I visited the Cameron House in San Francisco for the first time. Founded in 1874, originally established as the Occidental Mission Home for Girls, the Cameron House has a long history of bringing aid and relief to the community of Chinatown, ( My purpose in visiting was to learn more about the remarkable women who worked as volunteers in the early years, including former mission home director Donaldina Cameron, in preparation for writing the historical novel, The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (September 2020, Shadow Mountain). But one visit to the Cameron House, and I was deeply touched by the life and service of Tien Fu Wu.

In 2021, my publisher asked me to write a Young Readers version of The Paper Daughters of Chinatown. I hesitated because I was reluctant to go back into the depths of research that had brought me so much heartache. So I decided to read a few other YR versions of favorite books of mine. I discovered that most of them were either co-written or ghost-written. That gave me an idea. If I could share the emotional journey with a co-author while writing another version of this heart-wrenching story of what took place in San Francisco's Chinatown, then I would seriously consider it. The first writer who came to mind was Allison Hong Merrill. The minute I thought of her, I knew without a doubt, that she would be a stellar co-author. Allison had been my first reader of the original manuscript and had given me excellent insights. She'd also recently published a deeply personal memoir that left me grateful to have such a fierce and loyal friend.

Still, I was nervous to ask her because the deadline was pretty tight, and I needed her to be completely on board with not only the entire writing and editing process, but future marketing. I emailed Allison, and she replied almost immediately, even though she was flying in a small plane with almost nonexistent reception. Her resounding YES only confirmed I'd made the right choice. This was echoed over and over as we hammered out the plot and put together an intense writing and accountability schedule. We both agreed that the main character of this new version would be 6-year-old Tien Fu Wu. We kept part of the Donaldina Cameron story arc from the original book, but completely rewrote her chapters with a different focus. (So, yes, you can read both versions and come away with two stories.)

“Auntie Wu” or “Tien” as the residents of the mission home called her, was brought to Chinatown as a paper daughter in the late 1800s. A loophole in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 created a dubious opportunity for slave owners or members of the criminal tong to bring Chinese women into the country under false identities supported by forged paperwork. In this forged paperwork system, the young Chinese woman would memorize her new family’s heritage and claim to be married or otherwise related to a Chinese man already living and working in California, and the paper daughter was allowed into the country. “Upon arrival in San Francisco many such Chinese women, usually between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, were taken to a barracoon, where they were either turned over to their owners or stripped for inspection and sold to the highest bidder” (see Unbound Feet by Judy Young, 27).

Such was Tien Fu’s experience. In the records from the Cameron House, we learn that Tien Fu was called Teen Fook or Tai Choi before her rescue. In an entry dated January 17, 1894, her rescue is detailed: “Tai Choie alias Teen Fook was rescued by Miss Houseworth, Miss Florence Worley and some police officers from her inhuman mistress who lived on Jackson St. near Stockton St. The child had been very cruelly treated—her flesh pinched and twisted till her face was scarred. Another method of torture was to dip lighted candlewicking in oil and burn her arms with it. Teen Fook is a pretty child of about ten years old, rosy cheeked and fair complexion” (see Chinatown’s Angry Angel by Mildred Martin, 46).

Adjustment to new life and expectations in the mission home wasn’t a simple road for any of the girls and young women, especially for Tien Fu. She harbored deep resentments for anyone who was in a position of power over her, but through the months and years of love and consistency, Tien Fu flourished and became an integral part of the mission’s work. She served as a translator for the mission home director, Donaldina Cameron, when they went on rescue work. Tien Fu wanted to continue contributing, to give back, and to serve those in need. She was determined to get a college education so that she could open more doors and serve in greater capacities in the mission home and throughout the community.

The mission home found a sponsor for Tien Fu’s education, and she spent four years in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and two years in Bible Training School in Toronto, Canada (Martin, 153). Before leaving San Francisco, she promised Donaldina Cameron that she would return to the mission home and continue to work for the cause. True to her word, Tien Fu returned to San Francisco and spent the remainder of her career as a champion for the women and girls of the Chinatown community. She truly lived a dedicated life in service, faith, and love as she persevered through extreme challenges, while lifting others with her along the way.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Now available: In the Shadow of a Queen


I'm thrilled that IN THE SHADOW OF A QUEEN is now available in Hardcover, e-book, Audible, Audio CD, and Bookshelf Audio

My interest in royal families dates back to the 1980s when I began reading about Queen Elizabeth I. Monarchies have always fascinated me. Queen Victoria became of particular interest to me when I learned more about her five daughters and the contributions they made to women’s causes throughout Europe by establishing schools and founding charities. Not only that, but her daughters also became the voice of the Crown. Queen Victoria relied on them to serve as her private secretaries while she battled with severe depression and kept her eldest son—and heir—at arm’s length.

More specifically, Princess Louise interested me because she deviated from the traditional path of royals during her era by marrying a commoner and pursuing the masculine career of a sculptor. One might consider the modern embodiment of Princess Louise to be Princess Diana, who was also committed to the downtrodden and redefined what it meant to be a royal.

My family lineage extends to British royalty, as does my husband’s, and I tried in vain to find a direct link with Princess Louise herself. There was no link since she didn’t have children, but my husband is a distant cousin to the Argyll family.

I spent a full six months researching and writing about Princess Louise. Even in the editing process, I was still discovering nuances and tidbits. Princess Louise might have been a member of the most prestigious royal family of her time, but she took a step back from glitter and glamour and found ways to positively impact the lives of others, even when the climb was straight uphill. She had a queen for a mother, and Louise’s voice was often strictly controlled and limited to what was considered acceptable for the era. Yet she managed to carve out a fulfilling life and push through barriers in order to achieve her hopes.

It was my honor to write her story.

For all things Queen Victoria & Princess Louise, join the Facebook page here.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Hannah: Mother of a Prophet


Thank you everyone for the wonderful reception of HANNAH. I’m excited that it’s now available on paperback on Amazon for those who don’t have access to a bookstore that carries my books (or are Prime shoppers like me. Haha).

I once had a conversation about one of my biblical novels with one of my agents, who is Jewish, and she told me, “I think you know more about my religion and history than I do.” Even if I’ve done a lot of focused research, I always use advance readers who are historians, scholars, or members of the faith or culture I’m writing about (now called “sensitivity readers”). Not everyone wants to write a book about their ancestors or heritage. I wrote Condemn Me Not about my 10th great-grandmother. It was a passion project the spanned 4 years of starting and stopping. I recognize that there are traumas in many people’s backgrounds, and they don’t want to dig them up and write about it, even if it’s important to not forget history. This also makes me appreciate authors who work to bring stories to life for me as well, so that I can keep learning and growing.
When I wrote RUTH, I felt that yes, I needed to do my research and have the right advance readers and experts give me feedback, but ultimately it was a story of two women, one a daughter-in-law and another a mother-in-law. My mother-in-law passed away several years ago, but I was able to use her example and our relationship as a springboard into the characterization.
Back to HANNAH. I’m not Jewish or Hebrew. I've never struggled with infertility. But as a woman and a mother and a sister and daughter (all human stuff), I was able to glean the emotions that Hannah might have gone through, in addition to watching my older sister go through years of infertility and frustrations with wanting a family and not being able to have one. (She now has 6 children, so she experienced more than one miracle.)
One of my favorite reviews on Hannah is from a Jewish reader (Carol F, NetGalley), “It was interesting to read a Christian view of Hannah and Samuel. It was smooth reading and full of information. Why did I really want to read this? My Hebrew name is Chana or in English is Hannah. My father, may his memory be a blessing, is Samuel. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.”
Thanks again, my friends, for supporting a small Christian author who is hoping to bring more interest and understanding to our sisters in the scriptures.