Here's a quick teaser:
Given to the temple of Atargatis as a child, Delilah is raised to be a priestess to the Five Cities that rule Canaan. With her beloved friend Aylah, Delilah grows up under the watchful eyes of high priestess Derceto, who sees the devout young priestesses as valuable playing pieces in her political schemes.
In the hills of Canaan, the Israelites chafe under the rule of the Five Cities, and choose Samson to lead them to victory. A reluctant warrior, Samson is a man of great heart who prefers peace to war. But fearing a rebellion, those who rule the Five Cities will do anything to capture Samson. When Samson catches a glimpse of Delilah, he is ready to risk his freedom to marry her, and Derceto seizes the chance to have Samson at her mercy. The Temple's intrigues against Samson force Aylah and Delilah apart, lead Delilah to question her own heart, and change her future forever.
A glorious and inventive retelling of an ancient story, Delilah is a soaring tale of political turmoil, searing betrayal, passionate friendship, and forbidden love.
Welcome to Scandalous Women India! You've written QUEENMAKER, about King David's queen, Michal; WISDOM'S DAUGHTER, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and now, in your latest novel, DELILAH, you tell the story of Delilah and Samson. What was it about Delilah that compelled you to tell her story?
The fact that she's been vilified for so many centuries -- because her side lost. Flip the winner, historically speaking, and she's a great heroine.
What was the starting point for your research on the book?
My starting point is always the Bible (KJV, which I love for beauty of language.) The Crossways Bible Gateway is invaluable. (http://www.biblegateway.com/) Unfortunately, the Bible leaves huge gaps in its stories, which can be minefields for the unsuspecting author! In the case of King David (QUEENMAKER), I was happily writing along and came upon Absalom's revolt.You have to understand here that David is king, has the standing army, the city of Jerusalem, and a permanent water supply. Absalom has his rowdy friends and some trained war gerbils. Yet as Absalom approaches Jerusalem, King David happily chortles "We must arise and flee!" Leaving the poor author saying "Why, David? WHY must you do this thing?" Oh, that was a fun moment. With the Delilah story, it managed to escape my notice that I was going to have to bring down a temple on a lot of people...and I hate killing off people.
Tell us something surprising about the life of women in Philistia.
I'm not sure there's anything that surprising. In all of human history, the average woman ran her household and raised her children. She spun and wove; ground grain and baked. She was responsible for the household gods. Woman's work's never done, and it's always been cyclical. Some women ran their own businesses -- it still boils down to the women doing the work!
Tell us something about the Philistines we didn't know.
Well, to start with, the Philistines were an artistic, cultured people. The reason we now use "Philistine" to mean an uncouth, boorish ignoramus is because the Philistines lost out in the Clone Wars, aka "History is written by the winning side". The Philistines were the heirs of Minoan Crete, one of the golden highlights of ancient history. My other favorite bit of Philistine trivia is the dog cemetary. Fairly recently discovered, it contains the lovingly-buried bodies of hundreds of dogs -- not, apparently, dog sacrifices, either.
Although the book is called Delilah, it is told in multiple viewpoints. What was the impetus behind that decision, instead of telling the story strictly from Delilah’s POV?
Only Delilah's POV would have been too limiting. In first person, only what the person hears, sees, experiences, or is told can be on stage. Delilah couldn't know what Samson was doing, as she wouldn't be there. But even the other POV's in the novel all revolve around Delilah.
I was fascinated by the relationship between Delilah and Aylah. Normally in books they would have much more of an antagonistic relationship, but in Delilah they are good friends. Was that a conscious choice?
I never even thought of them as adversaries; they were dear friends from the book's inception. I can't imagine women without women friends; we need each other. (I read somewhere that women who emigrated out to the western USA during the Wild West period would die of sheer loneliness because they never saw another woman.)
You depart in many ways from the story of Samson and Delilah as it is written in the bible, particularly in the time line, since Samson’s story stretches over twenty years. What made you decide to make the changes that you did?
And oi, is Samson's story a pain for a writer! After the first stories about Samson -- he marries a Philistine woman, he kills 30 men just to get their clothes to pay off a bet, getting blind drunk, burning animals alive -- even the biblical narrator just sort of throws up his/her hands and says "And Samson judged in Israel twenty years" because clearly NOBODY would trust Samson to judge anything but a Miss Nude Canaan contest.
So I freely adapted the story. Sorry, but I'm not having any heroes who tie foxes' tails together and set them on fire. There have to be more efficient ways to burn your enemies' fields!
Could you explain a little about Atargatis?
Atargatis is one of the many fertility/mother/lover goddesses. One thing I loved with the information about a pool of sacred fish in her temple.
And finally how much of the book is fact and how much fiction, do you believe that Samson and Delilah actually existed?
Since we know nothing about Delilah except her name – people usually assume she was a Philistine, but all the Bible says is that Samson "…loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah." (Judges 16:4) – everything about the Delilah of THE IVORY GATE is fiction. I tried to set her in a specific time and place. While I designed the temple of Atargatis, ancient Ascalon existed and was a beautiful city to work with. It was a jewel; a rich trading capital, with a massive road that led from the harbor to the city gate. I imagine it as being as vibrant and volatile as New York City.
This is your third book based on stories from The Bible. What do you find compelling about biblical stories?
Well, at the risk of sounding like Miss Snark -- I find them compelling because they're compelling stories. No story stays in the public consciousness for over 3,000 years because it's DULL! And the Bible tells us just enough of any story to whet our appetites for more. (For example, after all he went through, Moses never gets to set foot in the Promised Land. Okay, how did he FEEL about that??)
What are you working on next?
I'm working on an epic romantic historical novel set in 1879-80 India. My next book from St. Martin's is on my editor's desk now. Currently titled THE MIRROR'S DAUGHTERS, it's another Biblical retelling, this time about Queen Vashti and Queen Esther.
Thanks India! Scandalous Women is giving away a copy of this fabulous book. Note this giveaway is only available to my American and Canadian readers. Here are the rules:
1) Just leave a comment with your email address at the end of this post.
2) If you are not a follower of the blog and you become one, you get one extra entry.
3) Twitter about the giveaway and let me know about it, and you get two extra entries.
4) The contest ends November 24rd 2009 at 12:00 p.m. and will be announced on November 25th.