On Writing The Prince’s Psalm
Ironically, as I sit down to write this, I feel underqualified to advise anyone on how to write an historical book on the scale of The Prince’s Psalm.
I know I actually did it. I have a copy. But I feel very fortunate that I was gifted such an amazing story as that of the tale of Jonathan and David to work with. I also had wonderful counsel from the likes of Anne Rice, as well as a wealth of excellent and indefatigable readers and editors. And it’s worth noting that it took ten years, four computers and countless tablets, Kindles, drafts and versions, to get me from from start to publication. I’ve even written and published other books in the interim.
But, aside from taking my time – which causes me to remember with some humility that time available to write and edit is inversely proportional to demand for one’s work– I did plan, research and write The Prince’s Psalm and I’m very proud of it.
To be fair and brutally honest, my beloved novel was an excellent door stop for most of the ten years that have passed since the journey began. It took me three years of that time to research and write it. I could have gotten a graduate degree in the same amount of time. In a way I feel like I did.
Research was the biggest part of the job.
I’m not religious. I’m not a Biblical scholar. I’m not even sure anyone would call me a scholar. I didn’t know the time period when I started. I don’t consider myself Christian let alone Jewish. When I began the book, I had not even read the first book of Samuel. Or the second one. Or the Old Testament or the new one. I had read the first three verses of 1 Samuel chapter 18 and I was so swept away by their romantic poetry that I decided I would someday tell the story of these two men. (So I may not even be that bright!)
What I lack in common sense I make up for in impractical sense. I’m a bit of a romantic. I’m also of the mind that it doesn’t take much effort to come up with reasons not to do stuff. Not stuff like skydive or swim with the sharks or ride a bull named Fu Manchu. Hard stuff. Stuff that requires more effort than just falling, or falling in. To my mind, being an Olympic is swimmer is as difficult as writing a novel. That’s the kind of hard stuff I’m talking about. The kind of stuff where the amount of time and skills one needs to acquire just to qualify for the job is staggering, and the odds against eventual success are astronomical.
But when I began The Prince’s Psalm, let’s just say I long on ideas and short on options. The most positive spin on what that meant was that I had the time to do justice to the project.
I began with the book of Samuel. I read and reread the book. I read books about the book of Samuel. I teased out the story of Jonathan and David in the first book and found my ending in the second.
Only when I understood the story itself could I fully appreciate the magnitude of what I had foolishly decided to do. And even then I was wrong about the project’s scope. Every day taught me how much I didn’t know about what I was doing.
After Samuel, I had to get a sense of David’s entire life. His story stretches well beyond Samuel. His legend is bound up with that of Israel, messianic prophesy and Christianity itself. Even though I was only interested in telling a small part of his story, I thought it was important to have some understanding of what came before and after, so I could understand his choices and actions in the slightly more than fourteen years of his life on which I planned to focus. Outside of the Bible, there is almost no evidence that David existed. There are only those few pages and a single reference to the House of David on an Aramean stone tablet. That’s it. Kind of surprising for someone as household-word-famous as David. So, on the one hand there wasn’t a lot to research. But the scarcity of material actually quadrupled the demands of my task.
I started with the geography of the region. I came to understand where David was from. By looking at how other people of the time period and from David’s social class lived, I began to get a picture of his life. I built the actual world in which David might have lived and then I put the David I found in the Bible into that world. Inadvertently I started writing a bible of sorts, filled with the names of people, places, details and my sources and reasoning for including them.
There was so much to learn, it was hard for me to know when I was ready to begin work on the novel. When I decided that maybe I should read the Pentateuch, I reasoned that unless I was going to become a rabbi or stage my belated bar mitzvah, it was probably time to start writing my own book.
I began with a scene that’s now near the beginning of Chapter Three, The Book of Eliab. The scene takes place at the family farm, or karmel as I learned it was called from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (which I still need to return to Anne Rice because it’s one of her copies!) and revolves around the return of David’s father Jesse (Ruth 4:22) and seven older brothers (1Samuel 16:6-11). I learned from the book of Ruth that the karmel had been bought by David’s Great Grandfather, Boaz, along with David’s great grandmother, Ruth, the widow of Boaz’s kinsman, Elimilech. Being women, Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi (who may have been more to each other than just in-laws see: Ruth 1:16&17) weren’t really able to own the land, so Boaz purchased it and Elimilech’s wife keeping the land, and Ruth, in the family. The deal was struck when Boaz accepted the sandal of the rightful heir and agreed to marry/buy Ruth. The book of Ruth also tells us that the family place was located outside Bethlehem and was of some considerable size.
From Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible (also Anne’s, and too disgracefully dog eared to return now) and from various writings about Canaan in the 10th century BC, it became clear that the men folk would have left the karmel for the comforts and politics of the city following Passover and after the two grain harvest in the spring. The livestock would have been left to graze on the stubble of the harvest and the grass in the hills. The women would have been left to tend to the fruits and vegetables, as well as the large number of shepherds and hands who lived on the karmel. More importantly, by leaving David among the women, I wanted to convey David’s place in his family. Not disrespected, but closer to being one of the women folk in the view of his kin (1 Samuel 16).
I also learned Jesse and the brothers would have returned for the fall harvest, ahead of the rainy season (Zondervan’s) and the harvest holiday season (Judges and Leviticus).
Okay, so once I had worked all that out. I was ready to write the scene.
To set the scene I knew the names of David’s sisters and nephews (1 Chronicles 2:16). I had his mother’s name wrong at first following a misreading of a verse in 2 Samuel later corrected from readings in the Talmud. I had invented clever names for servants from Hebrew and Arabic words. I knew the likely structure and layout of the house from texts on archeology of the region and inferences about life in the time period. I’d even found appropriate psalms from the book of the same name that I could cull to make into earlier works composed by a young and adolescent David, words for him to sing as he strummed on his harp (lyres hadn’t been invented yet). And I began.
And I got as far as breakfast.
And then I realized that I didn’t know what they ate for breakfast. Or what they called breakfast, or when they ate, or how they kept track of the passage of time or referred to the passage of time during the course of a day, and a thousand other questions. I ground to a full stop again. And again. And again.
I could go on and on, as evidenced by the rather compendious work that is The Prince’s Psalm.
Suffice it to say, I did enough research to determine what I didn’t know and then I went from there. I learned enough to get started, went as far as I could and then hit the books again. I think if the internet hadn’t been invented when I began, this book might have taken me my entire life. (And I’m not dead yet.) Here’s hoping I achieved enough authenticity to do justice to the story of Jonathan and David. It was their love for each other inspired me write The Prince’s Psalm in the first place. But it was their courageous commitment to each other that kept me going when the work of bringing their story to paper proved more daunting than I had ever imagined.
About the Book
Publisher: DSP Publications
Length: 480 Pages
Category: Historical, Spiritual
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Release Date: 7 June 2016
Blurb: 1 Samuel 18:1 & 3: “And it came to pass… that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.”
David not only slew Goliath, he won the heart of Prince Jonathan, heir to the throne of Israel. They were star-crossed warrior lovers whose passionate affair changed history and gave rise to the nation of Israel, a legacy that has endured for 3,000 years. Their epic love story stands at the center of a religious tradition that shaped the world.
But Jonathan and David were also two men torn between duty and tradition, driven by their undeniably passionate and physical love for one another. Who were they beyond the historical facts given in the Bible? What were they like—as men? This modern-day novel tells the story of Israel’s first king and the man who captured his heart.
About the Author
Eric Shaw Quinn is a New York Times bestselling author. He grew up in and escaped from small towns in the south. Among his greatest fears is the dread that they will find him and make him go back, not that small southern towns are so bad, but he fears his marksmanship scores would be too low.