Thursday, September 10, 2009
An Interview with Ginger Garrett
1. Where did you get Mbube’s name and how do you pronounce it?
Mbube is a Zulu word for lion, and it is also a form of African song, sung most often by men. Mbube is pronounced “Em-boo-beh.” I like to think of him as Bob Marley meets the Hulk. I don’t know why, but all the guardian angels in my stories appear in my mind as Africans. Africa was the continent that sheltered Jesus Christ as a young child when King Herod was hunting for Jesus to kill Him.
God reminds us in the Bible that “out of Egypt I called my Son.” Africa gave shelter to a young Christ, to God, and I believe there is an evil out there that has never forgiven Africa for that. If Africa protected the young Jesus, it’s easy to imagine angels as supernatural Africans who protect us, too.
2. You’re saying you believe in the Devil?
I believe there is an active, intelligent evil in this world, an evil that is at work to destroy everything God considers beautiful. This evil has several names in Scripture: the Enemy, the Evil One, Satan, Lucifer. Those names have become so perverted in our culture that I hate to even reference them. The Devil to us is a mascot for canned ham. It’s a masterful piece of public relations, don’t you think? The Devil as a mascot for ham, angels as sweet cherubs that offer no protection, and Jesus as a wise teacher in cool sandals but not really capable of outrageous miracles. Everything in that scenario is so innocuous; it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. There is a shocking truth hiding beneath that thin frosting. Someone is hoping we don’t scrape through it.
3. How did you choose the subject matter for each book in the Scribe series?
I picked the three most important moments in medieval history that changed women’s lives forever:
• Anne Boleyn gave us the right to read, including, but not limited to, the right to read the Bible. (And thus, book one, In the Shadow of Lions.)
• The women who survived the Black Death, though their names are lost to us, created a culture of survivors who launched the great Renaissance of science and art. We, too, must answer the question they faced: Amid so much suffering and pain, how then shall we live? (And thus, book two, In the Arms of Immortals.)
• For the final book in the series, I will be telling the tale of the witch hunts in medieval Europe. Women with strong wills, strong minds, or women who no longer had families were targeted for death. “Christians” both instigated the murders and stopped them. The Church was forced to confront perilous questions: What, and who, defines a woman? Are women more prone to sin and moral weakness? Do women have an equal place in God’s kingdom? (And thus, book three, In the Eyes of Eternity.)
I think book three will be, by far, the most difficult book to write in the series. But it is my belief that we are indeed “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” These women of our past are waiting for us to make courageous, dangerous decisions … or suffer again as they
4. Did you exaggerate the symptoms of the plague? It seems that people died very quickly. Were you just in a hurry to finish the book?
Eyewitness accounts claim victims could die within a matter of minutes. Many stories were of a plague victim walking down the street, and if someone went out to meet them, the healthy person died within minutes of contact. Some historians and scientists refuse to believe these claims, for the claims do not fit our modern beliefs of the plague.
We also assume past generations were not as smart as we are. (This applies to the Bible as well. Although the books that compose the Bible were written by eyewitnesses, we refuse to believe what they tell us because it doesn’t fit our modern beliefs.) One question I try to ask myself as I research is, “What if it is all true? What if those eyewitnesses were right, and some died within minutes?” We would be able to immediately rule out all the plagues we know, which take much, much longer to kill. We would be left with no explanation … and we are of an age that cannot bear to live without explanation.
Which was, for me, the greatest problem of the Black Death and this novel: the question of why? Why did God allow a plague to sweep in and decimate the world? We often hear the estimate that the Black Death killed up to half of Europe. That’s true, but we should also say that the plague wiped out a huge number of people all over the world, including Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and even remote frozen islands. Why would God allow that? Was He
mad? After all, every plague mentioned in the Bible was associated with a divine punishment for bad behavior. God had set a precedent of sending plague as punishment.
When the plague struck, everyone asked, “Why?” They immediately began pointing fingers. The Jews, in particular, were blamed. Thank God, the wise Pope spoke out against this belief and ordered that Jews be left unharmed. (But he was unable to stop many mass murders.) I can only begin to explain this violence when I remember the AIDS epidemic at its beginning. The hate and violent speech directed at gays stunned me. Those claiming to be Christians said they “knew” as a biblical certainty that God had sent AIDS to punish gay people. (Children were dying, too, but this was conveniently ignored. Was God mad at them or did His divine wrath just have a scattershot pattern?)
So much damage is done by Christians when we attempt to answer the question of why. No answer suffices, no words can heal that wound. It is a sacred suffering. Perhaps if God gave us answers, we would find comfort in them instead of Him. How many senseless words are spoken at bedsides and funerals? “It was God’s will.” “This was God’s plan.” “Everything happens for a reason.” We find comfort in them and we shouldn’t. There may be a truth in those statements, but none of them is the whole Truth. We have to find comfort in the mystery of God, and there are no human words that can reach into that place and illuminate it. We were not created with minds that allow us to comprehend the ultimate answer, yet God left us with the capacity to question. That’s the mystery in itself, I guess.
5. You say the Black Death was the death of the angels. How did you see this reflected in art from the period?
In the art that was created after the Black Death, Christ became more “human.” Crucifixes began to show a suffering Christ, a God in pain who was naked and bleeding. Christ was still portrayed as divine and “untouchable” in many paintings, with gold and illuminating light, but we now needed to emotionally connect with His suffering. Art also began to show Death walking among the living, walking with priests, menacing unsuspecting women from dark shadowy corners.
A fascination with demons crept onto our canvases, while angels went from strong, sizable defenders to chubby babies who could barely hold their heads up, much less carry a sword. Art from this period has profoundly impacted our spiritual lives today. We still picture angels as sweet, innocuous beings, while we imagine demons as powerful creatures to be feared. We are out of balance.
6. How long does it take to write a novel?
I don’t know. I’ve never written one. I have, however, written a lot of sentences. I write one sentence, and then do this over and over, day after day, until I find I have filled up hundreds of pages. Then I begin deleting sentences, one by one, over and over, day after day, until I find I have deleted dozens of pages. Then I send it to my editor and bury myself face first in a plate of chocolates.
If I begin thinking about writing an entire novel, I’ll choke from stress. Novels are big undertakings. But sentences? I can write those.