Noah’s wife was given hardly a mention in the Bible–basically she entered the ark and then left it, not even graced with a name, although many scholars believe her name was Na’amah, which means pleasant or beautiful. “I am not always pleasant,” she says, “but I am beautiful.” That quote is not from Genesis, but from my novel, Noah’s Wife (Chalet Publishers 2009, 2010 and ForeWord Reviews 2009 Book of the Year for Historical Fiction). I’ve filled in the missing story based on evidence of a culture and a great flood that occurred almost 7,000 years ago.
The story: Na’amah is a brilliant young girl with a type of autism (now) known as Aspergers. Her only desire is to watch the sheep on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey—a desire shattered by the hatred of her powerful brother, the love of two men, and a disaster that only she knows is coming.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m an Alabama girl! Been writing for oh…umm..about 30 years. I love cutting- edge science, stuff about quantum physics, how our brains work, and the meaning of the universe. Classical music. Good books. The ocean (Gulf baby) and the mountains (I live on one and yes, we have them in Alabama, just no snow caps). Have four dogs, two cats and three horses, a wonderful family and I’m a grandmother. (Yikes, how can that be true?)
What inspired you to write this book?
A poem called “Noah’s Wife” written by a wonderful poet named Irene Latham (also an Alabama girl).
How did you choose the title?
From Sena Jeter Nashlund’s Ahab’s Wife. I recently had a chance to speak with her and confessed I stole her concept to write about an unknown person linked to a famous character. Can’t get more famous than Noah! She was very gracious and pleased that it worked for me. Isn’t it wonderful when writers help other writers?
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
The usual spate of rejections. I decided to give a boutique publisher a chance and let readers decide what they thought of the book. There are definitely pluses and minuses to having a small publisher, and everyone must make their own choice, but I am very grateful to Chalet for giving me the opportunity.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
My grandmother read to me when I was young and I learned to love books. I wanted to have the adventures I read about. My plans to be an astronaut didn’t pan out, so I had adventures by writing about them. Then, on the way to becoming a social worker, I accidently became a police officer. (Too long a story for here.) That has been a rich source of experiences for me, and many find their way into my stories, including perspectives on human nature I might not have had growing up as a sheltered southern girl.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I turn around three times and…no, that’s my dog, sorry. I love to sit outside when the weather is good. Mornings are the best time for me, but I have a full time job still, so I am a weekend warrior.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Although Noah’s Wife is an “alternative” story (I’m not sure what that means, but my book is fiction, set in a historical context and it is mostly generated from my imagination.) That said, I tried to use all the Biblical names and follow the story from this angle: What do I think might have really happened in that time/place without the overlay of moral/religious redacting that could have resulted in the story we have now?
The other names I used just sounded right.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
I learned a great deal about ancient history in the Middle East (and was so fortunate to go to Turkey thanks to the Turkish Cultural Foundation!) If I had written this novel before Google, it would have taken eight years instead of four. If you write historical fiction, especially ancient fiction, I recommend using the computer to check book resources to make sure you have the most current archeological information (there is so many new discoveries!). It’s also helpful to look at maps online so you have a sense of the landscape and where you are. It’s just invaluable. For instance, when I first started the story, just wanting to play around and see if my character was going to interest me, Na’amah announced that she was quite fond of sheep and knew everything about them. Well, I had to stop and figure out if there were sheep in 5500 BCE and if so, what kind of sheep, etc. Can you imagine walking into a library and trying to figure out what book that might be in and where? It is at your fingertips online. On the other hand, I have shelves of books too. Especially when you want to check information you think you’ve read, it’s nice to have the book physically at hand.
Why did you set the book in 5500 BCE?
The oldest written story in the world (Gilgamesh) has many of the details we find in the Biblical story, and the Genesis author(s) almost certainly borrowed from it. How did it get to the Hebrew people? Trade routes are one way, but also the Biblical story of Abraham says he came from the area where Gilgamesh was written (Ur). Seems logical he would have brought many of the stories and culture he grew up with. Geologists, as well as the explorer, Robert Ballard (who found the Titanic) have determined that a cataclysmic event in 5500 BCE caused a great flood, changing a fresh water lake above Turkey into the Black Sea and reversing the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates, which would have caused massive flooding in the land where Ur and Babylon sat (current day Iraq). That’s why.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I’d write a story set in my back yard.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
For most of my life, I loved science fiction and fantasy. My favorite author has got to be Frank Herbert for his masterpiece, Dune. (Named my horse, “Dune.”) I found him intriguing and thought-provoking. I rarely read that anymore, because I am so busy writing and doing research. I do listen to books on tape on the way to work and always have something to read on my iPhone in case I am stuck somewhere. I truly love anything well written and engaging.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
My work-in-progress is Angels at the Gate: The Story of Lot’s Wife. Yep, she’s the one who turns into a “pillar of salt” looking back at Sodom. I know, it sounds like I have a grand plan to write novels based on little-known (and unnamed) women of the Bible, but here’s how it happened: I was with one of the guys I work with. He tends toward the sarcastic as a personality trait. Out of nowhere, he cut his eyes sideways at me, and said with a doubtful lilt to his voice, “Noah’s Wife, eh? What’s next, Lot’s wife?” My first reaction: No way! Sodom and Gomorrah? Too dark and who the h— (pardon the expression) would the angels be? But, as the days passed, I found myself thinking about how I would do it, until I just sat down and wrote the first sentence—
“If the path of obedience is the path of wisdom, it is one not well-worn by my feet. I am Yildeth, daughter of the caravan, daughter of the wind, and daughter of the famed merchant, Zakiti. That I am his daughter, not his son, is a secret between myself and my father. This is a fine arrangement, as I prefer the freedoms of being a boy.”
And then one word kept following the next!
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
The only way to ensure failure is to quit trying. Rejection is hard, but you have to endure a great deal of it. If you are like me, each time will hurt, but pick yourself up out of that hole and start typing.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
The perfect reader for Noah’s Wife is someone who doesn’t mind being surprised.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?