Barbara Britton: Perfume Pics, Coloring Pencils, and Records: An Author’s Unconventional Tool Box

Have you wondered what it would be like living in Biblical Old Testament times?

So has author Barbara Britton. In fact, she digs into O.T. history to create story worlds from 1000s of years ago. Her wanderings start with map-making and music.

Last year I read the first book from her Tribes of Israel series: Providence: Hannah’s Journey, based on II Kings 5. I loved it! I felt like I was right with Hannah through the dangers of fleeing and getting captured by the enemy: Naaman, commander of the Syrian army–and plagued by leprosy.

This series has teenagers as the heroes and heroines. In Biblical times that would be equivalent to a twenty-something today. Thus, Barbara’s stories can be read as Young Adult (YA). Nevertheless, these books prove that the best YA fiction can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults, too.

The other two in the series are:

Via Barbara Britton

Today, Barbara shares a bit about her unconventional method for creating characters and story worlds.

I write Biblical fiction because God has the best story lines.

Barbara: My characters adventure through the times of Israel’s kings and Judges. I’d love to visit Israel, but the settings for some of my novels have changed over centuries. Today, they are different countries or war zones. So, how do I bring ancient characters and landscapes to life? I use skills I learned in art class.

How do you create? Say something about your creative process.

Barbara: I’m a visual learner. You can talk to me about a concept, but I like to see charts and diagrams. When I move my characters within a setting (city, state, or country), I draw maps with colored pencils. The artwork is placed above my desk, so I can easily see which direction my character is wandering and identify the terrain.

Here’s a picture I drew for “Building Benjamin.”

Via Barbara Britton

Do you know where all the tribes of Israel lived?

Barbara: I do now, but before I wrote the book, I was a novice.

Mapping my setting grounded me in my novel.

Since I haven’t been to Israel, I use YouTube videos or travel agency videos to show me what cities and landscapes look like in the present day. If friends have visited or live in the location of your novel, ask them for pictures or videos.

You’ll notice a photo of a man in the picture. I taped him there because I have a use for those annoying perfume advertisements that fall out of flyers and stink up my kitchen.

When I see a person who embodies my character,
I tape the picture above my desk.
This fellow reminded me of my character Eliab.
The look in this perfume ad captured
the ‘feel’ of my character.

Unfortunately, you may need to explain the faces on your office wall to visitors.

Music helps me get in the mood to write. I have theme songs for all my novels.

When I hear the song associated with each book,
I am transported to the world of my character,
or am surrounded by his/her emotional state.

You don’t need to have just one song per book. You can have a song per character. Or pull together songs with the intensity of the scene you are going to write.

The song I chose for Eliab in “Building Benjamin” was “So Far To Find You” by Casting Crowns. The emotion in the singing and words relates to the grief both my characters shared.

Any tips for others who want to write?

Barbara: Don’t forget to write down everything you do to further your writing career on a daily planner. I have a small planner on my desk that lets me keep track of all my business and creative pursuits. You can design one yourself or buy one with little squares.

The best advice I received as a new writer was to join a professional writing organization and to attend writing conferences. Publishing is a business best done in community. An author needs a lot of support to launch a book into the world, and a publishing journey can take time.

My journey took nine years.
Publishing is full of rejection.
I received over 200 rejection letters before I finally sold a book.
But I loved writing and every time I sat down to write,
I was excited about my story.

Writing buddies encouraged me through the difficult times. I belong to the American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Wisconsin Romance Writers, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. These organizations have been a tremendous help to me on my journey to becoming a published author.

I call aspiring authors “pre-published” authors.
Never give up on your dream.  

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Barbara M. Britton lives in Wisconsin and writes Christian Fiction for teens and adults. She has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. Barb brings little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. You can find out about Barb’s books on her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Which Old Testament era or story most intrigues you?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

P.S. Next time: Hear how Barbara Britton and Liz Tolsma contend with the writing and revision process in their novels.


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18 thoughts on “Barbara Britton: Perfume Pics, Coloring Pencils, and Records: An Author’s Unconventional Tool Box

  1. What a fascinating process! I love the perfume ad folks.
    I’ve heard of Barbara but didn’t realize she lives in Wisconsin.
    Thanks for a great interview, and some valuable ideas.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Anita. Long ago, I threw out the perfume ads until I started seeing my characters in their faces. And as someone told me recently, I live behind the cheddar curtain.

        1. Barbara, I’m wondering how you decided on writing the 3 “Tribes of Israel” stories you’ve written. How did you choose which story to start the series? Were you in a Bible study or a class?

          1. Good question, Laura. I had been teaching a chapel series on “Young People in the Bible Who Did Great Things” and I taught on the servant girl in II Kings 5. I realized that would make a great story, so I wrote a similar storyline for “Providence.”
            I stumbled upon the end of Judges and wondered why I hadn’t heard THAT story before. Alas, “Building Benjamin” was born. And then I noticed I had missed the daughters of Shallum in Nehemiah’s adventure, so I wrote a story based on Nehemiah 1-8 from a daughter of Shallum’s POV. That became “Jerusalem Rising.”
            My next novel is from the book of Numbers…the daughters of Zelophehad. Another great story I had missed.

          2. I guess you’ll never run out of O.T. material to write stories about! I’ve read through the O.T. before and I still find new things each time. The name Zelophehad doesn’t ring a bell at all! It’s great that you can bring these characters to life in a new way by writing historical fiction.

            How long does it take you to write each book? From first draft to last. And does the first draft take the longest?

  3. The first draft is the longest. I write on a notepad, then transcribe it to the computer, and then I edit from the printed pages. It takes me about 6-9 months to write a book depending on how much material I have from the Bible.

  4. Wow Barbara, such a great process! I may have to try one or two of these tricks…tools….if I ever get to work on my own stuff again LOL!

    Great interview and advice too.
    Beautiful blog Laura!
    Good luck and God’s blessings to you both.
    PamT

  5. There may be no more beautiful and poignant love story in the Old Testament than that between Jacob and Rachel. The most touching words were how Jacob worked all of those years in order to get permission to marry Rachel, and as the Bible puts it, “it seemed but a day for the love they shared.” Now that is a heart melter!! And I know the same is true for God’s love to us as well!

  6. Barbara, I’m with you on the maps and music! What a help it’s been to draw timelines and maps for my historical fiction. Yes, everyone tells me if I want to know what Israel was like in Bible times, I have to go there. That’s really hard to understand because, like you say, it has to be different after 2,000+ years.

    And the music! I think for me, I put it to emotions rather than characters, but the same idea. Problem is I get in trouble with copyright when I want to put the lyrics in the text:-(

    I look forward to looking up your books. I always tell my Sunday School kids, if they want to read some exciting stories, they need to read the Kings and Chronicles. Their parents always give me weird looks, but I still stand by it. They are great examples of God at work in an imperfect and stubborn group of people. Gives me a lot of hope 🙂

    1. I agree, Elizabeth. Those Old Testament stories do give hope. And an author who wants to make historical fiction out of them wouldn’t have to exaggerate to spice it up!

    2. Hi Elizabeth,
      You’re right! There are so many interesting stories in the Old Testament. I’ve made a series out of some of those stories. I’m always amazed at how I find stories in the Bible that I never knew existed. We tend to circulate the same stories in our Sunday School curriculum, or the same characters. Sometimes a different POV on a story will change it enough that students will discover new things.

      I desperately need my maps! The older the better.

      Thanks for all your insights.

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