Authors do a lot of crazy things while researching their novels but my all-time-favorite research experience was the month I spent as a volunteer on an archaeological dig in Israel. The first books I ever wrote were the 5-book Chronicles of the King series, based on the life of the biblical King Hezekiah. I needed to know what everyday life was like in 700 BC, but more importantly, what it was like to see the Israeli sky at dawn and at sunset, and to breathe the Middle Eastern air. I was gleaning much of my historical information from reading Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, and when I saw the listings for summer volunteer dig opportunities, I knew I had to go.
I ended up choosing the dig at Tel Batash–the biblical city of Timnah, made famous by Samson (see Judges 14:1). But Timnah was also one of the cities that King Hezekiah fortified when the Assyrians threatened to invade his land. Previous digs at Tel Batash had uncovered storage jars he used for army supplies, sealed with his signet ring. I would have loved to find one of those seals! And so off I went to dig in Israel for a month with my oldest son, Joshua, who was 14 at the time.
The dig began with a tour of Israel that included all the important archaeological sites, then we settled into our beautiful resort hotel in the hill country outside of Jerusalem. Our wake-up call came at 4:00 am every morning (the stars were still out!) and we left for the site by 4:30 to beat the heat. I used to joke that if God wanted me to see the sunrise, He would have put it later in the day! But what a wonderful experience to watch the sun dawn every morning from the top of the tel, accompanied by a chorus of doves in the almond grove below us.
We worked until 11:00 am when the temperature grew too hot, moving bucket after bucket of dirt. “Archaeology is planned destruction,” the head archaeologist would remind us. My work site was at Timnah’s main city gate where we found the cobblestone pavement from Samson’s time. It was such a thrill to think of him walking that very street. My son wanted to find a skull—and he ended up finding an entire skeleton. He had lots of expert help unearthing it, of course. I thought the dig experience would get archaeology out of my system but it turns out, it merely whet my appetite. I’d love to do it again!
When I finished the Chronicles of the Kings series a few years later, I decided to use my experiences to write Wings of Refuge, a novel about a woman who goes on an archaeological dig in Israel. The story gives readers an idea of what my experience was like, but I also tell two parallel stories, one about the founding of modern Israel, the other about Christians in the First Century who lived in the ruins that my heroine is excavating.
In the meantime, I’ve written novels with other historical settings, but readers continually ask if I’ll ever write another series like the Kings. Well, the answer is YES! I’ve begun writing a 3-book series called The Restoration Chronicles, based on the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Once again I needed to travel to Israel to research this series, but this time I had the enormous pleasure of staying with my daughter and her husband who were living in Jerusalem. We had a great time traveling around and researching together. (And she didn’t make me wake up at 4:00 am!) The first book in the Restoration Chronicles, “Return to Me,” will be out this fall.
Going on an archaeological dig had been on my “bucket list” for a long time—what’s on yours? And by the way, the oldest volunteer was in her eighties, so you’re never too old to dig.