Congratulations on your 12th biblical fiction novel, Potiphar’s Wife! Potiphar’s wife is nameless in the Old Testament, mostly known as the deceptive woman who seduces Joseph. What inspired you to not only give Zuleika a name, but to tell her story? How did you find her name?
My favorite characters to write about are the unnamed or under-celebrated women of the Bible. If God thought they were important enough to include in His permanent record, I think they’re important enough to research! So, my research usually begins like most people—I Google it! I was more than a little shocked to find Potiphar’s wife named in both the Quran and Ginzberg’s, Legends of the Jews (Vol. 2). Her story with Joseph in those documents bordered on comical, but I included some of the details in Potiphar’s Wife since the recounting was so similar in both Muslim and Jewish traditions.
Can you give us a brief overview of Zuleika’s journey in Potiphar’s Wife?
When an earthquake nearly destroys the Isle of Crete and kills many of those she loves, Princess Zuleika of Crete relinquishes her future as Minoan queen and travels to Egypt. Though willing to become Pharaoh’s wife if he’ll restore her homeland to its former beauty, she’s appalled when Egypt’s giant king agrees to send aid but passes her off to his best friend, the captain of his royal bodyguard. Potiphar, too, is displeased. As a lifelong soldier and contented bachelor, he’s offended when Zully makes it clear she’s humiliated by a husband with no royal title. In Egypt’s cauldron of political turmoil, Zully’s childhood friend finds his way to Potiphar’s villa and inserts himself into her life—but is he the savior she needs? Her longing for home and what might have been becomes her only focus, blinding her to the good gifts Elohim has given her. Zully will do anything—to anyone—to return to Crete, and it costs her everything.
Have you been to Crete or Egypt? If so, how did your personal experiences influence your writing? How did you go about bringing them to life in an accurate, detailed manner?
I’m sad to say I have NOT been to either Crete or Egypt! My hubby and I had so hoped to take a reader group to Egypt in 2022, but (sadly) we’re still not confident enough in international travel to book a trip like that more than a year in advance. I’ve been grateful for LOTS of YouTube travel videos and travel vlogs. Since I’m very visual, I find photos online and look at those as I write specific scenes so I can describe the locations with a little visual aid. Best I can do from my little basement apartment in the Appalachian Mountains! LOL!
During your research, what did you learn about the biblical hero Joseph that surprised you? What do you hope readers take away from his character in this story?
We know from Gen. 37:2 that Joseph was seventeen when he was sold into slavery and that he was thirty years old when he was released from prison (Gen. 41:46). I had thirteen years to work with—no parameters from Scripture or history—to describe his life in Potiphar’s household and the circumstances surrounding Zully’s (Zuleika’s) false accusation. That’s a lot of time to fill! I gave him Ahira to show that Joseph was no “choir boy.” He felt the normal desires of a man for a woman and knew how to love well. The thing that surprised me most was the Rabbinic teaching on Joseph’s level of temptation—that he was thoroughly tempted by Zully’s repeated offers. I NEVER thought of Joseph as being tempted. But why wouldn’t he be? Even if he was a ‘Christ-figure,’ as described in question #3 above, we know Jesus was tempted but didn’t sin. When I read and re-read Gen. 39:6-20, I noticed Joseph explained his reasons for refusing on every occasion—except the one time Zully caught him by the cloak. That time he simply ran. I felt in my spirit that that time might have been different. That time—he might have been too tempted if he’d paused to speak. I’d never considered such a thing before crawling inside Joseph’s skin to write his character. It may or may not be true. The Bible leaves it open to our interpretation—to our need at the time we read it.
You’re in the early stages of your next book, In Feast or Famine. What can you tell us about it?
In Feast or Famine imagines the life of Joseph’s wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera—priest of Ra at the Temple of On (Heliopolis). Asenath is another character that’s given only a quick mention in Scripture but a historical record offers significantly more story. The historical novel, Joseph and Asenath, was written in ca. 400 A.D. (yep, biblical fiction is a long-standing tradition!) by Jewish rabbis. It was then adapted by Christians and used by both traditions to show how Elohim desires every race, tribe, and tongue to worship Him.
In the ancient novel, Asenath was kept in a tower from very early in her childhood. She’d never seen a man—other than her father—until she met Joseph face-to-face. She’s a pagan priestess, as her father has taught her to be, and she must decide whether she will serve her gods or become a true wife to the handsome vizier who loves his God more than he loves her. In Feast or Famine is the first true sequel I’ve ever written and will continue Joseph’s story from Potiphar’s Wife. When Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, he’s released from prison and given a wife he doesn’t want. Sound familiar? How does a godly man handle the same situation Potiphar faced? Can he care for a pagan priest’s daughter? How does a godly man love through feast and famine?