Before I turn to the Q&A with Francine Rivers, I want to make a few comparisons between A Voice in the Wind and Rivers’ best-known novel, Redeeming Love, which I finally read last week. Michael Hosea, a California farmer, buys Angel, a prostitute, and—against her wishes—marries her and carts her off to his farm in the middle of nowhere. He proceeds to abuse her and wear her down, claiming to love her, until she succumbs to his love and lets go of her “anger” and “bitterness.”
While reading Redeeming Love, I was struck by similarities between Michael, its male protagonist, and Marcus, the male protagonist in Voice in the Wind. Both are very handsome and turn heads everywhere they go. Both have done well for themselves financially and are independent. Both are self-assured and confident. Both are handsy. Both behave abusively toward the women around them. Both sexually assault the women they claim to love.
At one point in Redeeming Love, Michael grabs Angel and kisses her in order to make her feel sexual attraction to him, to “prove” that she loves him, despite the fact that she has left him. Having just finished reviewing A Voice in the Wind, this feels very familiar. The dynamic is the same—Marcus assaulted Hadassah in this way to prove to her that she wanted him, despite her “no” to his proposition.
While reviewing A Voice in the Wind, I often wondered what Rivers actually thought of Marcus’ behavior. It seemed like Marcus’ treatment of Hadassah was portrayed as wrong because Marcus wanted to have extramarital sex with Hadassah, and not because he was sexually assaulting her. Indeed, Rivers never seemed to be quite aware that Marcus was assaulting Hadassah. I couldn’t help but wonder: Did Rivers object to Marcus assaulting Hadassah? Or only to Marcus’ interest in sex outside of marriage?
I think we have our answer.
If anyone has Hadassah’s mojo in Redeeming Love, it is Michael. Michael has this deep underlying confidence and peace that turns heads. He is a man of God. Michael prays constantly. At one point, Angel’s young friend, Miriam, wishes that there were more men like Michael out there. We can feel Rivers agreeing. How could any woman turn down that, we can feel Rivers asking.
For Rivers, sexual assault does not disqualify a man from being good and godly—providing he is sexually assaulting his wife, and not someone he is not married to.
Both Marcus and Michael are obsessed with women who do not want them (Hadassah, in the first case, and Angel, in the second). Each man uses sexual assault to prove to the woman he is obsessed with possessing that, deep down, she really does want him. He can make her feel warm and tingly, well, down there. As though that proves something.
Marcus, Michael. Michael, Marcus. Each man pursues an uninterested woman well beyond her boundaries. This is the central theme of both books.
As far as I can make out, there is only one real difference between Michael and Marcus: Michael married Angel before carting her, unconscious, off to his farm. Marcus sought to have sex with Hadassah without having first married her. That’s it. The sum total of whether a man is honorable is whether he marries her (with or without her permission) before assaulting and abusing her.
There are similarities between Julia and Angel as well. Both experienced trauma (Julia was married at age 14 to a man of 49, against her will), and both are used to fine living (Angel was a fairly high class prostitute). Both are portrayed as angry and bitter. Both need to be fixed. There are differences, of course. Julia has a slave girl she can take her anger out on, and her wants are much bigger than a little cottage where she can live alone (though her desire to be independent of men is familiar).
Still, one wonders why Angel could be saved, but Julia could not be. Perhaps it was because unlike Angel, Julia did not have a good, godly man kidnap her and spend years breaking her down into the good Christian wife he wanted her to be.
And now, let’s turn to the “conversation with Francine Rivers” included in the back of my copy of A Voice in the Wind. According to the book, the questions included in this section were actually written by “Francine’s Facebook community.”
What inspired you to write this story—and the rest of the series—and place these characters in first-century Rome?
Almost every story I’ve written since becoming a Christian has come from a question relating to a struggle in my own faith walk. With A Voice in the Wind, that question was “How do you live out your faith among family members and friends who are not at all interested in the gospel?” I became fascinated by the early martyrs and how they had the courage to die for their faith. So I decided to begin the story in AD 69-70 with the chaos and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Through the character of Hadassah, the answer came: it’s not what you say; it’s how you live that has the impact. Also, you don’t need courage ahead of time. God prepares you and supplies you with the courage you need to face difficulties when you need it.
Not to go out on a limb here, but if you’re writing a story that explores who to live out your faith among family member sand friends who aren’t interested, today, in modern times, it seems as though Ancient Rome is maybe not the best place to set it. Or at least, not like this—maybe some common, ordinary Roman who converted and whose family thought they had lost it, that might have been more interesting. But this, there’s a backdrop of official persecution the whole way. And there are power dynamics.
Watching Hadassah interact with her fellow slaves would have been far more instructive to how we live today, because we don’t typically have the sort of power dynamics Hadassah had with her mistress and her family—instead, our relationships are peer to peer. I’m still baffled as to how this story, set when it was, really helps explore the issue of living among family members uninterested in the gospel, today, in a country where no one is going to be thrown to the lions for being a Christian.
Was there a specific person Hadassah’s character was based on? How did you choose her name?
Hadassah is the Jewish name for Esther, who saved her people. Hadassah brought the light of Christ to everyone she met and impacted all those around her. She lived out Matthew 5:16. She drew people to Jesus by the way she lived.
For reference, Matthew 5:16 reads: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I’m going to assume that Rivers is talking about Hadassah in her answer, and not Esther, because that’s the only way this makes sense. There’s a big difference, though, between what Esther did, and what Hadassah did. For one thing, Esther actually did things. Rivers’ whole thing here is that Hadassah influenced those around her by simply living out the gospel. But Esther did more than just live a virtuous life, or show kindness to those around her. She had to actually intervene for her people.
Are we supposed to be seeing a strong parallel between Esther and Hadassah here? Because if we are, I don’t see it.
What about the title? Did you have that in mind as you were writing, or did that come later?
The Voice in the wind is the still, quiet Voice of the Lord speaking to Hadassah and to each of the characters who hunger and thirst for redemption and salvation that only God gives through his Son Jesus.
This was not hard to ascertain—though Rivers does not actually answer the question vis a vis when she determined the title.
How do you create such realistic characters?
Okay, okay, I’m composing myself. I just—what?!
To be fair, many of my readers found Julia to be a fairly realistic character—at least early on, but to a certain extent later as well. But one of the biggest complaints among regular followers of my review series was that Hadassah was such an enigma. She just sort of existed. She wanted to tell her masters about Jesus, we got that, but we never really got the sense of what made her tick. She didn’t feel real. Not really. She didn’t feel like she was actually processing what had happened to her.
Demetrius and Phoebe always felt somewhat flat to me. Marcus—Marcus felt real, but in a way that scared the bejeezus out of me. Marcus was not a nice person.
How does Rivers answer, though?
I try to show all sides to my characters. They have good and bad qualities and they change in the course of the story. I try to get inside them and speak the way I believe they would speak. I know a story has developed a life of its own when the characters begin to behave in ways I didn’t plan. I love when that happens. They begin to dictate the story as it unfolds. I watch. I listen. I record.
I am not a writer, nor have I studied literature in any depth, so I don’t know whether this is a particularly good way of presenting this, or not. I do know that I have many questions about Rivers’ portrayal of Marcus and Julia. What are their good qualities, and their bad qualities, according to Rivers? I’m honestly curious.
But I’m going to call it quits for this week. We’ll continue with Rivers’ Q&A next week.