For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Dana McNeely. Dana pens historical novels set in Bible times. When not writing, reading, or struggling with social media, she wanders her personal Eden dreaming up new stories. No serpents allowed!
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I almost never got published. Discouraged by rejections, I had a talk with God. “I thought you were saying ‘wait,’ but perhaps it was ‘no.’” I thought a while. It seemed a logical conclusion. “I think I’ll give up on Rain. Maybe quit writing altogether.” After another moment, at peace with my decision, I said Amen and went to tell my husband.
The next day, I got a Facebook IM from a stranger. “Hello. Are you the Dana McNeely who wrote Rain, and if so, have you sold it yet?” Angela Ruth Strong, a published author, had judged Rain in a double-blind contest four years prior. When her publisher expressed interest in adding a biblical novel, Angela recommended Rain – and began searching to discover my name and whereabouts, an interesting story in itself. But to cut to the happy ending – in less than a month I had a contract with Mountain Brook Ink.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
Whirlwind is the sequel to Rain and continues the story of Elijah with returning and new characters. Here is the back cover blurb.
A king’s downfall and a love that transcends war
Spurned by potential suitors, Miriam travels to Jezreel to care for her cousin’s son. There, the precocious seven-year-old works his way into her heart. When Arameans swarm the land like locusts, Miriam focuses on the safety of her young ward but promises adventures beyond the city walls when the war ends.
Gershon, a quiet and kind vintner, is happily building a life for his wife, son, and aging parents. But when his wife dies during childbirth and war looms on the horizon, he must make a decision—will he take a new wife before his heart can mend?
Meanwhile, Dov, a young officer crosses paths with the “bird girl” he remembers from the past, now grown to womanhood. That she is a beautiful woman matters not, as he is a career soldier. Unexpectedly charged with leading Ahab’s army against the Arameans, Dov anticipates death and defeat in Samaria, but when a prophet pledges victory, Dov vows to fight to the end.
When an unlikely victory brings freedom, a bright future seems imminent. Then one afternoon Miriam witnesses a tragedy and must flee with the boy to keep them both safe. With henchmen on their trail, will they find refuge—and her heart the home she’s longed for?
Why did you choose to write a story set in Biblical Times?
Although I had been trying to write in other genres, I’d stop about halfway through. One day as I perused 1 Kings 17, it was as if the Lord stuck his finger on the page of my Bible. The scene came alive for me. I saw the boy gasp life-giving air, stare uncomprehendingly into the prophet’s eyes, and jolt upright, images of his visit to the Other World swirling in his head.
I wrote a scene and showed it to my critique group. They loved it and encouraged me to keep writing the book that became Rain. I’ve come to love this genre and never want to write anything else.
Have you lived in or visited the Middle East? What research was required to set a book there?
I’ve never been to the Holy Land, although I hope to be able to visit someday. Instead, I’ve gathered many books and DVDs that describe and show the geography, terrain, and weather of the areas I write about. I pore over them and am always adding new resources to my stash.
You write the story in Elijah’s time – when was that? What research was required to write during that time period?
Elijah was a prophet to the north during the time of Israel’s divided kingdom – around 875 to 842 B.C.
First, I studied everything the Bible had to say about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel. Next I turned to two old books about Elijah by F.B. Meyer and A.W. Pink. To learn more about the ancient historical period, including food, customs, politics, and religion, I used my library, interlibrary loans, and loaded my own shelves. Other biblical authors generously recommended resources.
Is the story about Elijah or about fictional characters who might have interacted with Elijah? How did you manage the balance of fiction and fact, especially around a Biblical character?
Elijah is a prominent character in both Rain and Whirlwind and has chapters in his POV. However, Rain centers on a Aban, a young acolyte in the pagan temple of Ba’al. He is also a biblical character, although unnamed in the Bible. Whirlwind, released December 2022, centers on Miriam, a fictional character, whose personal tragedy forces her into Elijah’s path.
I had read a best-selling novel about Jacob and his family. It was a riveting story, but some of the biblical parts were changed. I thought, wouldn’t this have been a much better story if the truth of the Bible was adhered to, and only filled in with fiction.
That’s how I write. Anything biblical, truth, cannot be changed. After I’ve chosen the sections of scripture I’ll include, I research history and customs and layer those in. By now I’m imagining fictional characters to interact with the biblical characters and sometimes to tell the story.
Were resources easy or difficult to find on these topics? Do you have a favorite resource?
When writing my first book, I struggled a little finding resources, but Interlibrary Loan allowed me to obtain almost any book mentioned in bibliographies or novels. If I found the book helpful enough, I added it to my personal library. Since Rain and Whirlwind are in the same time period, I used most of the same resources for both books. The two books on Elijah mentioned earlier are favorites, but another I liked is Great People of the Bible and How They Lived.
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
There is so much out there, but since I’m a combination plotter and seat-of-the-pants author, when I like a piece of research, it’s in my book. Whirlwind has some really fun information about eagles, horses, weapons, and battles.
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
Yes, I do! I’ll be writing two more in this series, following the exploits of the prophet Elisha, Elijah’s successor. The first will center around a returning fictional character from Whirlwind and three or four biblical characters, one a young girl beloved by all. That’s all I can share for now.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I offer a free novella, The Eyes of the Lord, to newsletter subscribers. TEOTL is a prequel to Rain and Whirlwind.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Dana, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of Whirlwind where might they be able to do so?
Both Rain and Whirlwind are available at ChristianBook.com, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. EBooks are available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?I love to connect with readers through my newsletter, website, or social media. Links are listed on my website DanaMcNeely.com and in my Linktree.
Over Sunday Dinner next week author Tracey J Lyons will join us. See you then!