Mesu Andrews is the Christy Award-winning author of numerous inspirational novels including The Treasures of the Nile Series, the Prophets and Kings Series, and Potiphar’s Wife, the first book in her The Egyptian Chronicles Series. Her deep understanding of and love for God’s Word help her to bring the biblical world alive for readers. Mesu lives in North Carolina with her husband, Roy, and enjoys spending time with her tribe of grandchildren.
In this interview, Mesu shares some of her thoughts behind her new book, In Feast or Famine.
FF: What inspired you to write In Feast or Famine?
I’ve always loved Joseph. Who doesn’t? He’s the quintessential underdog who conquers every trial with a heart focused on God and a life full of grace and forgiveness. However, since most readers like a strong female main character, I wrote the first book in The Egyptian Chronicles, Potiphar’s Wife, about a woman who was the complete antithesis of Joseph’s character. In Feast or Famine was such a pleasure to write about the second half of Joseph’s life because though his arranged marriage was with a high priest’s daughter, Asenath has been recorded in Jewish history as the first convert to Judaism. It makes sense since both her sons were eventually included as two of Israel’s twelve tribes. I had so much fun writing the ups and downs of their romance and loved imagining how they might have dealt with their very different faiths.
FF: What can you tell us about the main characters in your book?
The first book in The Egyptian Chronicles left Joseph in prison on the false charge of raping Potiphar’s wife. So, In Feast or Famine opens while poor Joseph is still in prison. Though his faith in Elohim is strengthened when he interprets Pharaoh’s nightmares about Egypt’s fourteen years of impending feast and famine, he must immediately accept the bride Pharaoh offers him or die for disrespecting the young “god” on Egypt’s throne. Devastated, Joseph must renege on his promise to marry the woman he’s loved (their story in Potiphar’s Wife) but trusts the God who has just made him second-highest ruler in Egypt to help him love the wife forced upon him. Asenath, having been sequestered in a tower since she was a four-year-old child (after watching her mother’s brutal murder), is equally displeased with the match. Her father, Potiphera—the high priest of Ra at the temple in On—has been secretly allied with rebels against the Hyksos rulers since their violent coup. He, too, was present when Hyksos soldiers invaded Memphis and murdered his wife. He’d grown powerful as On’s high priest and, unknown to the ruling Hyksos, had prepared his daughter as the prize to marry whichever pharaoh who would mount a successful coup to restore a pure-blooded Egyptian king to the throne. When Asenath discovers her husband-to-be is Hebrew—considered a Hyksos since he’s from Canaan—Asenath’s despair drives her to a life-or-death decision that echoes into eternity. Learning one’s life purpose isn’t clarified overnight, Asenath unravels her God-given destiny after a long and harrowing journey.
FF: What did your process for In Feast or Famine entail, from the original idea to researching, outlining, and writing?
My writing process has been different for every novel I’ve published. Maybe that’s why I still feel like a newbie even after writing thirteen books! In Feast or Famine had lots of Scripture to incorporate with historical research, so I started by reading Genesis 37-47 repeatedly—until I was familiar with which parts of Joseph’s story was in each Bible chapter. I made a spreadsheet (I’m a spreadsheet addict) of all the Biblical facts that needed to be included in the manuscript. When I moved into the historical research, I immediately discovered an ancient Jewish piece of fiction, written sometime between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. called, Joseph and Asenath. I was thrilled to be reading what may have been the first biblical fiction! My initial drafts are notoriously hideous. It tend to get all the necessary facts and details recorded without giving much room for the emotional “warm up” or “cool down” between the characters to get them to those next steps in the plot. This time I worked hard on emotional connections between characters, slowing them down to feel more plausible. My gracious line editor calls it, “working on the on ramps and exits.” It’s excruciating, but the line edit is actually my favorite part because it’s where I add the spiritual concepts that sing to my soul. After all the details are in there, I can relax and begin to meditate on what God was doing in each character’s heart!
FF: What did you enjoy most when writing about the character of Asenath? What about Joseph? How would you describe their relationship and their romance?
In the ancient fiction, Joseph and Asenath, the authors included their version of the couple’s courtship, struggles during early marriage, and Asenath’s rocky beginnings with Joseph’s family. Though I borrowed very little from the ancient story overall, the concept of Potiphera raising Asenath as a virgin priestess in the tower of On was too fascinating not to include! Like a Biblical Rapunzel, Joseph saves Asenath and becomes even more of a hero in this book than I’d ever dreamed. I love their romance, their innocence, including all of Asenath’s reticence that stemmed from being sequestered in a tower for fifteen years. Her father had been the only man she’d been close enough to touch from age four to nineteen. Transferring her trust from portly, middle-aged Potiphera to the virile, handsome Joseph had to be done slowly, carefully, and oh, so romantically! Oh, what fun! And Joseph wasn’t worldly wise either. They came together with all the hesitation and insecurities, trusting—eventually—that a plan bigger than their own was at work in their lives. Isn’t that what every believer must eventually realize if we hope to find peace in our earthly sojourn?
FF: What do you hope readers take away from Asenath’s journey, from her mother’s death to her arranged marriage and beyond?
I see so much trauma in people’s lives today from their childhood through their teens and into latter years. Perhaps trauma hits every generation, and it’s only more apparent because of the global communications we now access. Whatever the reason, I hope those who read Asenath’s story will see a woman whose early life was unbearably tragic but became divinely victorious. I believe part of Asenath’s story, both in Scripture and in the historical document, points to her surrender to God’s given purpose for her life. For years, she’d been prepared to become what her father demanded, yet she was willing to let go of her plans, her dreams, her training—and go God’s way. When she unclenched her fists and opened her hands to let God give her His good gift, she discovers it’s very similar to what she’s prepared to do but even more fulfilling! I could write Asenath’s story because my experience was similar when it came to thinking I knew what my life’s purpose was. I was certain I was called to be a Bible teacher, speaking at conferences and retreats, wherever the Lord opened doors. And He began opening those doors in 1995. However, by 2002 I lay in bed for six months without any real answers to my medical issues, and the speaking dream was over. That’s when I wrote my first novel. Sometimes God’s plans are different—but oh, so much better!
FF: In what ways do you think contemporary female readers will connect with Asenath?
Asenath struggles with childhood trauma as so many women do today. Asenath has two precious friends, young women she calls “sisters of the heart,” who grew up with her in the tower. They’re taken away when she marries, and she longs for female friendships—like so many of us do—so every moment they’re together is like honeyed water to a thirsty soul. The father who was supposed to protect Asenath instead betrays her. She feels powerless in a world of powerful men and feels trapped in a marriage to a man who initially loves another. Just when she thinks she can trust her husband, he, too, disappoints her. Asenath is traumatized yet strengthened by hardship, trusting yet wizened by duplicity, and beautiful yet unaffected by praise. I believe she’s a woman we can not only connect with but also admire.
FF: Why do you think it’s important for us to reflect on the lives and stories of women in Biblical times?
Before I started really studying my Bible, I used it more like a “How To” manual or a reference book for pithy quotes. I quoted this Scripture or that when a circumstance called for it but never really thought of the people in it as real life historical figures like those I learned about in school: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, etc. When I began studying the culture and stories of the people in Scripture, they became REAL to me. I not only knew their names, I learned what they might have eaten, what their beds were like, their shoes, their clothes. I’d been to Israel in 2000—before I ever intended to write novels—but all the locations we’d visited and the land itself came rushing back to me in vivid memories. I HAD WALKED ON THE SAME ROCKS WHERE THESE PEOPLE WALKED! There are no words to explain what that did to me. I was awed. Changed. I wanted everyone to know these people in the Bible are real! I wanted my readers to become so enamored with my fiction that they were driven to their Bibles to find the TRUTH! That’s still my guiding passion. I’m still a Bible teacher—through writing now.
FF: Does it take you time to let go of your characters after you’ve finished writing?
Nope. I might be hanging out with Moses during my daily quiet time while writing a book about Joseph and then a blog post about Sarah. All the Biblical characters are so very real to me, it’s like chatting on the phone with one of them and then calling someone else. I might still be thinking about that earlier conversation, but when I get engrossed in the second person’s life and happenings, I’m completely there. All in. I suppose that’s one good thing about being “overly focused,” as my husband so kindly calls it. I also forget to eat while writing or editing. I had to get an Apple watch that reminds me to do those things! LOL!
FF: What authors or books in the Christian historical fiction space inspire your writing?
Oh! So many! My writing heroes (those I read when first starting out) are Francine Rivers, Lynn Austin, and Angela Hunt. I totally fan-girled when I met them! The dear friends who started this Biblical fiction journey alongside me and are still close to my heart: Connilyn Cossette, Tessa Afshar, and Jill Eileen Smith. I want to add indie-published or small-house authors to the list I deeply admire. My hubby and I recently started publishing a few indie titles, and I know readers buy our books because they trust the writing I’ve done through traditional publishers since 2011. I have HUGE respect for those who began their publishing careers without a traditional publisher. Indie and small-house authors must strive from the beginning—with only social media marketing—to prove their skill and get one golden review at a time. Here are just some of authors I admire most: Jenna VanMourik, Dana McNeely, Naomi Craig, and Barbara Britton.
FF: What are you working on next?
My next release comes in August, a Guideposts book about Sarah (Title TBD) in the Extraordinary Women of the Bible Series. I’m really excited to finally get my first non-fiction published, Deep-O-Tionals: Devotions with Depth. Parts 1-3 of Genesis are available now, and part three makes a great companion study for In Feast or Famine since it covers Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50. I’ve just started working on my newest fiction project—a four-book series on the wives of David who are listed in 2 Samuel 3:2-5. The first book about Ahinoam and Abigail is scheduled to release in October 2024. Since the Bible describes David as “a man after God’s own heart,” I believe David had a very special heart too. Can’t wait to explore his complex household!
Feast or Famine
The Egyptian Chronicles Series #2
Genres: Historical, Biblical Fiction
Release Date: May 9, 2023
Thrust into an arranged marriage, the daughter of ancient Egypt’s high priest plays a pivotal role in Joseph’s Biblical narrative in this powerful novel from the award-winning author of Potiphar’s Wife.
After four-year-old Asenath’s mother is murdered by Egypt’s foreign rulers, the child is raised to be a priestess by her overprotective father—high priest of Egypt’s sun god. For fifteen years, Asenath is sequestered in the upper levels of Ra’s temple, convinced it is her destiny to heal the land by becoming queen to the next Egyptianpharaoh. But when Egypt’s foreign king instead gives her as a bride to the newly appointed vizier—a Hebrew named Joseph—her entire world is shaken.
Beyond the walls of her tower, Asenath discovers treachery, deceit, and conspiracy that force her to redefine her destiny and weigh where her true loyalties lie. Can she still trust the gods of Egypt? Or is Elohim, the foreign God of her husband, the one who will heal her nation during the feast and famine to come?
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