My to-do list. And my dilemmas.

a monkey lays on its side, clearly overwhelmed
My poor monkey brain is tired of going around and around these issues. Take pity on it.

Here are the things I need to do in order to (finally!) finish The Giant Slayer:

  1. Hire someone to do a few fussy fixes on the cover and add some things once I make decision #2.
  2. Decide what the series will be called.
  3. Finish formatting the print version (and finish making fussy little changes to the text).
  4. Transfer the final version from InDesign back into Word, and format it for the ebook.
  5. Decide on what the second book will be called (so I can insert a teaser first chapter, and include a “hey, if you want to find out when Name of Book 2 publishes, sign up here” kind of page on my website).
  6. Get another author photo done, since I look very different from the current one taken a year and a half ago.

Since two of these are decisions with no clear answers, I’m stuck. But I’m putting the list and the dilemmas out here, both for accountability and to solicit input.

2. Name of series.

My instinct is to call the series “First Kings,” so The Giant Slayer would be First Kings, Book One. But my issue is two-fold.

You can only have one First of anything. My dad was particularly nonplussed by how both Saul and David could both be a first king. My explanation is that Saul is the literal first king of Israel, but David was the first king in terms of what we think of as a king: he established a political, cultural, and religious center that wasn’t attached to any one tribe, lived in a grand place and had wealth (sometimes from conquered countries) that Saul could only have imagined, organized the military and developed Israel’s first permanent fighting force, brought back the Ark of the Covenant, and unified the country. If I explain that somewhere in the book, in a charming, sort of amusing way, is that enough to justify both the two firsts problem, and the slight confusion some readers may get that I am not, in fact using any material from the biblical book also called First Kings?

If not First Kings, then what else could it be?!? Feel free to brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you credit if yours is chosen.

5. Name of second book.

The first book is The Giant Slayer, and the third book will be The Shepherd King. The second book is about David’s years on the run in the wilderness, building the men who come to him into a unit yet refusing to enter into any kind of fight with King Saul (who is hunting him down). He’s attempting to solidify support among the people, and he winds up as a mercenary for Israel’s arch-enemies, the Philistines. The one title I can’t let go of is The Reluctant Rebel. But that’s too many syllables compared to the other two books, and reluctant is too complicated of a word. But I like what it gets at. Yes, David became a rebel, but only because Saul treated him like one by constantly trying to kill him. So to survive, he had to act like one (although he drew the line at fighting fellow Israelites and killing Saul). So he was reluctant.

What else can I call it?!? Please brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you the glory of a shout-out in my acknowledgments if your title is chosen.

So there you have it. My to-do list and my dilemmas. I really do hope someone who is better at names than I am can hook me up.

But I’ve never been there

a dog sniffs the air with its head out the car windowPlease pronounce the been in the title with verve and so it rhymes with seen. This is so it will take part in an event that I didn’t witness, but have heard about enough times that I might as well have. A Canadian friend was in a play at his U.S. college in which he had to utter the line, “Canada! I’ve never been to Canada.” He apparently said that been in as Canadian a way as possible, to the high amusement of all his friends–so much amusement that they still tell the story some 30 years later.

Given that this post is about writing a book (series) set in a place I’ve never been, it’s a fitting anecdote to start with.

Also, that isn’t quite true. I went to Israel when I was nine. I remember being shocked at the soldiers walking around with automatic weapons, being weirded out that they searched my kid luggage at the airport. I lost a ring a friend had given me as a goodbye gift. It was very hot and very dry and there was one really straight road that felt like it was out in the middle of nowhere.

These are not observations to build a fully-fleshed world out of.

And that’s what I have to do in The Giant Slayer (and subsequent books): recreate the world of 1,000BCE in Israel. Youtube is a glorious friend; all I have to do is search for people hiking in any part of Israel and someone out there filmed it and put it online, so I can get sights and sounds. I can read a lot of books that contain snippets I can use about flora and fauna, camping in the wilderness, what it’s like inside a cave, what a shepherd’s life is like in countries where the kids still take the flocks out. But there’s one sense none of these help me get at: smell.

What does it smell like in the morning during the dry season? During the rainy season?

How do their different bushes and trees perfume the air?

What does their honey taste like?

What is the difference in smell when you go from a dry area to where a spring is? How close to the spring can you smell the difference?

How does the ground smell up close?

What do the rock outcrops smell like after they’ve been baking in the sun all day?

Those are all tiny details that I don’t have access to that I’m desperate for. I can make it up, of course, and I do, but how much better it would be to have something to use as a springboard for my imagination. If you have been to Israel and have any memories of the smells you experienced, let me know in the comments. Seriously. I’ll thank you in the acknowledgments.

***

Today, a friend posted a poem by Billy Collins about “trying to manufacture the sensation” of being in a place you’ve never been and doing a thing you’ve never done. I think it’s lovely and evocative.

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July
BY BILLY COLLINS

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one—
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table—
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

 

Cloaks and slings and the siren song of authenticity

Or, the pleasures and perils of writing about three thousand years ago.

As the publication date for The Giant Slayer gets closer and closer (I’ve declared it to be October 1), I’ve been taking care of what seem like thousands of details. Besides all the super-fussy stuff like registering ISBNs, I’ve written a glossary and a discussion guide, and started a Facebook author page (insert craven plea to head over and “like” it).

I knew I had to do a Facebook author page eventually, but I’d been dragging my feet. What would I do on such a page? I didn’t want to just repeat my regular Facebook posts, and, despite my recent posts here, I don’t want to talk about the process of publishing or even about writing (not because I think the latter is bad, but because there are already so many people who do it so well). And then I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! and had my aha moment.

What better to do with my hundreds of pages of research and dozens of pins on Pinterest, than share them?

So that’s what I do. Every day, I share one tidbit about ancient Israel. So far, I’ve covered ovens, the unique properties of the white broom and white squill plants (particularly when one might be on the run in the wilderness), and how the clothing did not resemble Jedi robes.

I’ve been jazzing up my research tidbit with a photo, which has meant more research. Which has meant making adjustments in my manuscript. While there’s still time.

replica of ancient sling
sling from http://celticclans.oakandacorn.com/

For example, I’d been thinking of the sling as an open leather pouch with four lead strings, but it’s far more likely that it was a leather (or “skin” as David would have referred to it) pouch with two leads, one of which had a loop at one end to slip over a finger, and the other with a knot at the end, to hold onto during the revolution and then let go of in the launch. Here’s a video that demonstrates it quite nicely.

From Biblical Archeology Daily, photo by Seung Ho Bang
From Biblical Archeology Daily, photo by Seung Ho Bang

Ovens were totally different than I’d been imagining: they looked more like open volcanoes than like a wood-fired pizza oven. I’d had a soldier sitting on an oven while he watched David’s front door (while David escaped out the back), so I had to change it.

a homespun cloak/cape
The closest image I could find for how I now imagine a farmer or shepherd’s cloak to be.

And despite my research, I’d had firmly planted in my mind that tunics had sleeves and cloaks looked like Jedi robes — probably because I’d sewn too many costumes for church Christmas pageants. Also, in my defense, the few contemporary illustrations I found were of kings delivering tributes to other conquering kings, so there were sleeves and full-length garments. But people living subsistence lives didn’t have fabric to waste for sleeves, and a full-length garment would only get in the way during lambing or plowing. So I had to change the text again to make sure I removed any references to sleeves, and to ensure that cloaks were wrapped or draped around a person, not put on like a bathrobe.

So these are the perils of writing about 3,000 years ago: nobody really knows about daily life for sure, but we have enough hints that we can figure things out. Which means I can still get it wrong. Since one of my goals in writing this story has been to put the reader into 1,000 BCE, I need to get as much right as I can, with as many details as possible to make it feel like an authentic, fully-fleshed-out world.

Join me on my Facebook page or Pinterest board and keep me honest!

A new metaphor for this stage

For years, when people have asked me how this writing/publishing thing was going, I’ve described it this way:

I’m doing everything I can to get hit by lightning. I’m out there in an open field carrying golf clubs and flying a kite with keys on it and anything else that might help me get published.

That was back in the day when I was still pursuing traditional publishing. I really liked that metaphor. It communicated both that I was working hard and that success was not guaranteed — after all, getting hit by lightning is fairly rare. Just as it’s fairly rare to get a traditional publishing deal, even with a well-written, engaging story.

But now that I’ve decided to become an indie publisher, I need a new metaphor. It took a friend asking me about my garden to get me there. My garden is usually a bit slower than other gardens in my neighborhood, so while everyone else’s peonies are in full and blowsy bloom, mine are like this.

fat peony bud in my garden

Fat buds.

That’s the stage I’m at in my publishing journey: the fat bud stage. Everything is there, ready to burst forth, but not just yet. The Giant Slayer is still with my Old Testament expert, but as soon as she’s done with it, I’m only three steps away from publishing it (edits, proofreader, book designer).* At the same time, I’ve got a picture book project brewing that we’re independently publishing through a Kickstarter campaign that will be live in mid-August. My words are all done, but I’m setting up the campaign and waiting for our illustrator for get me some art so I can get the website going and let everyone know about it. (There’s more information on my Books page.)

I’m SO CLOSE.

It could be driving me crazy, how close I am, but I spent too long wallowing in disappointment not to enjoy this stage of being on the verge. Fat buds aren’t as showy as full blooms, but they’ve got their own beauty.

Do you have a metaphor for an endeavor you’re in the midst of?

Edited to add: my expert is done! My bud just got fatter 🙂

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats — I Hope

forthcoming October 6, 2015
forthcoming October 6, 2015

Last week, I found out something that gave me both hope and dread: Geraldine Brooks, a bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is publishing a novel about Israel’s second king, David, this year. So am I.

Oh, the stew of reactions I had.

Dread. She will suck all the potential attention my book(s) could potentially get.

Vindication. I was right that the time is ripe for fictional treatments of biblical people.

Curiosity. Her retelling will be different from mine. Here’s the blurb:

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

I am aiming my book at young adults and she’s aiming hers at adults, which is my way of saying that she writes gorgeously, for a literary fiction audience; I don’t. I am using fewer points of view, just David and Saul, to her possible six. I am using Western English spellings. But I loved her novel, People of the Book, and I kind of can’t wait to see what she does with David and all those people in his life. Will her characterizations be similar to any of mine? Will any be polar opposite?

Hope. If people are interested in her book and they look it up on Amazon, maybe they will sometimes find mine, as well. Discoverability is a big issue when independently publishing, so this might bring a few more eyes to my project than it would otherwise have gotten.

Which brings me to:

Determination. Brooks’s publication is as good a reason as any to try to get all three of the books in my series published this year. Which would be crazy. But I’m going to try. So it will be crazy.

Right now, The Giant Slayer (Book One) is with an Old Testament expert to make sure I get matters of culture at least plausible. Then it goes to the final proofreader, and then to the book and cover designer. The Giant Slayer could be out by summer. Contact me to be put on the list of those who will find out first!

 

 

Spark My Muse: I’m on a podcast!

This is a brief post to alert my readers to my appearance on Lisa Colon DeLay’s podcast: Spark My Muse. (Click on the title of the podcast to be led to it; you will have to crank the sound on your listening device when the podcast gets to the interview.)

We talk about my upcoming book, The Giant Slayer, and I do a brief reading from the opening scene. We also talk about how we forget that the people in Bible stories don’t know the endings of their stories, and how reading the Bible with that lens can help us see ourselves in the stories. Lisa also asked me how I spark my creative muse, and I quite like my answer: listening both broadly and deeply. In the podcast, I confess that I relate much more to Saul’s struggles than I do David’s, although David is a much better example for me, especially in his response to his own failures.

To you, I will also confess that I do way too much practicing being interviewed when I’m driving around in my minivan, but I think it paid off. It was fun to do and I don’t think I sound either like a lunatic or like a bore, so I count it as a success.

I hope that you find something you can count as success (whether or not someone else would) today.

On opening the clenched fist

You know how you can take months (even years) to struggle through an issue, unable to move on or let go or make a decision or whatever the problem is, and then in one moment, the angst is sloughed away? I had that experience recently.

A friend was giving the children’s message at church to illustrate  Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man who wanted to know whether he was doing all he could to get into the kingdom. Jesus loves him — this is an important part of the verse, I think, and one we don’t often focus on, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). Jesus loves him and, in a glance, knows him, and knows that he has a problem with the love of money of which he needs to let go.

The children’s message involved a raccoon and a jar.

my great-grandmother's jar

He explained that raccoons love shiny things, and if they spy a shiny object at the bottom of a jar, they’ll stick their paw in and grab it.

sticking my hand in the jar

But then, sometimes, the neck of the jar will be too small and they can’t get their clenched fist out. They don’t want to give up the shiny item, so they don’t unclench their fist — and they’re stuck. All they have to do is let go of the shiny item, and they’re free.

I can't get my hand out!

But they don’t.

This was me. I mean, the photo is of my hand and my jar, but also, in broader areas of my life, I was clenching something tight in my fist and I wouldn’t let go. I was good and stuck. The thing I was holding: the desire to place my novelization of the story of David and Saul with a conventional publisher. Or with an agent who would then find said publisher.

Some of this desire was practical. It’s a novel for young adults, and (as of this writing) they read paper books more than e-books. In addition, being traditionally published can put you in libraries (both school and public), which are a major discovery tool for kids. Besides, lurking around inside me, still, is the girl who wants the gold star: “I’ve done something good — now acknowledge me!” Traditional publication would be a great big gold star.

And then it didn’t happen.

At first, I looked deeper into the story (after whining for a bit), and discovered some holes that needed filling. So I filled them. Still…crickets. While I’m the good student who wants the gold star, I’m also the daughter of an entrepreneur and do-it-yourselfer (long before that term even existed). I read James Altucher‘s blog, who’s such a believer in the idea that he titled a book, Choose Yourself. I’ve been following news about self-publishing for years.

I wasn’t ready. I put off every decision deadline I gave myself, still holding out for that one more chance. Stuck. Unable to get any traction on revising the next book in my stuckness.

Until that children’s message.

I opened my clenched fist and decided to self-publish. Like so many big decisions, there were no fireworks or giant resolutions. Just a quiet, calm, “yes.” Since then, I found an editor who doesn’t know me and sent her the manuscript; as an editor, myself, I know the value of an outside eye. I’ll start talking to cover designers soon (one lives a block away from me). A Calvin Seminary Old Testament professor recently joined my church, so I’ll ask her to look it over (for an honorarium, of course) to make sure I haven’t gotten any of the cultural stuff wrong. I’ve booked a room in Alexandria, VA for 6 days while my daughter is at a youth conference there, to take a writer’s retreat and get cracking on Book 2 — the best advertisement for your first e-book is your second e-book, so I’d like it to come out about 3 months after the first one. That’s my list so far.

Even my fortune cookie agrees. Here’s this evening’s widsom: You create your own stage and your audience is waiting!

Do you have any advice for me? Any areas you’ve come unstuck from recently? Any areas in which you’re stuck?

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m going to say this straight out, rather than ease you and me into it, and possibly lose some of you in the process: I believe that God communicated with me with words.

It was last fall, just as I was realizing that all the work I’d put into the David and Saul story was coming to nothing. There were a couple of rejections yet to arrive, but most of them had come in with no requests for more material. My queries were dead on arrival. Even the two publishing contacts I’d made in person came to nothing, as well. Not “no’s,” but nothing; no communication at all. I’d been so hopeful. This was the project that could really go somewhere. It felt so different from any of the other work I’d done, better, right-er. It was the idea I’d been praying for, the idea that brought together so many of my passions. And then zilch.

So I went outside to do some raking and complaining to God. And then this message filled me (I say that because I didn’t hear an audible voice, just a strong impression of these specific words):

“Just because my hand is on you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

On the one hand, this is confirmation: God’s hand is on me.

On the other hand, it’s going to be hard.

God is rarely this clear with me. When he’s communicated something specific before, it’s subject to interpretation. It’s more usual for God to communicate with me by what I call piling on: the same word or idea coming at me from everywhere. Recently it’s been the word “practice” — prayer practice, writing practice, Pilates practice, spiritual practice, practice, practice, practice. A good friend who is a spiritual director and a poet is the one who started it: “That’s why we call it a practice, because we’re not very good at it yet.”

Because I’m not very good at it. Yet.

Indeed, the book project I’d been so dejected about: there was a big hole in it. I needed my winter of whine to make me realize it. So I put in the work this spring. Writing practice.

I recently added something to my prayer practice. Most days, I write my prayers, freeform, but after my friend the spiritual director/poet recited the following prayer at book club and I cried my way through the whole thing, I knew I had to add it. It speaks hard to me as a writer, impatient for success, for publication. For (dare I say it) validation.

The author is fascinating, as well, and I plan to look into his life in more detail: he was a Jesuit paleontologist during the first half of the 20th century. He studied evolution and explored the spiritual implications of that scientific work. Look for something about him in the future here at won*der.

For now, here is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer:

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability —
and it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually —
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense
and incomplete.

There are so many moments in this prayer that pierce me. “the slow work of God.” “And so I think it is with you.” “his land is leading you.” “accept the anxiety.” “in suspense and incomplete.”

This is hard.

But I’m practicing. This past weekend I stepped out big time to attend a writer’s retreat, the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers. It was small. Fewer than 20 people. There would be no hiding. I was anxious. Okay, I was terrified. I would have to put myself out there as a writer, with other writers. But I accepted the anxiety and went and met wonderful people. We laughed and cried and prayed and worked together in the kitchen and ate very, very well. I was so deeply encouraged by my time with them, both specifically (after I read my work) and generally, as kindred spirits driven/called to work out our faith and our lives in words that we are driven/called to share. I hope I was able to encourage even one person there as much as I was.

So I’m moving ahead with a little more courage than I was before. Revising my materials. Getting ready to send out It Is You again.

Practicing my trust of the slow work of God. His hand is on me. But it isn’t going to be easy.

What are you practicing? What might accepting the anxiety give you the courage to do?

 

 

 

Why I Do What I Do

“What I do” is turn the power of my imagination, my knowledge of story, and my historical research onto biblical stories in the hopes of developing a better and deeper understanding of who God is and what God wants of me by way of what God wanted of his followers in the Bible, and to share that with my readers.

That’s all 😉

Sometimes, the Bible is its own barrier. The way of life 2,000 – 4,000 years ago was so different from our own that there are all kinds of things we miss: jokes, radical ideas, contemporary ideas biblical writers may have been trying to counter.

Not to mention the differences in translations. Look at these two versions of Psalm 116, verse 5

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! (NLT)

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. (NRSV)

That’s mostly a matter of style; some will prefer the more casual, others the more formal. But sometimes there’s a difference in substance, like in Psalm 138, verses 17-18 (emphasis mine):

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! (NLT)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. (NRSV)

Those are not the same thing. In the NLT, God’s innumerable thoughts are about me and they’re precious. In the NRSV, God’s thoughts are general and weighty. Many other translations combine the two, and have God’s thoughts as precious, but, again, they’re general thoughts. Just that one translation choice makes the difference between a God who intimately knows me and is thinking about me all the time (like a parent thinks about their child all the time) and a God who’s, at worst, inaccessible or, at best, impossible to understand.

And then there’s this: the Bible can be boring to read. There. I’ve said it. It’s out there. The more I know about the context of its writing, the more interesting I find it, but there’s no denying that getting through a book like Numbers is a real slog. If I were the editor of the Bible, several books would have been half as long, because so many verses are (unnecessarily!) repeated almost verbatim within the same book, sometimes the same chapter.

We are the problem, too, sometimes, when we approach Bible reading with too much seriousness, too much pressure to hear from God in a way that applies to my life right now; we can wind up confused and discouraged when the Bible doesn’t deliver.

A friend who read the first of the final drafts of It Is You admitted that she didn’t much like reading the Bible because she couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t get into what was going on. Indeed, it can be difficult to read, the ideas opaque, the stories violent, the heroes unheroic by today’s standards. She said that my writing brought the story of David and Saul alive for her in a way her own reading never had and that she had been engrossed in the story. That, right there, is why I do what I do.

I’m not the only person who uses imagination and research to explicate the Bible, of course. Children’s worship leaders do this every time they ask kids the “I wonder” questions. And anybody who’s been in an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship inductive Bible study does it.

My husband and I are back in an IVCF-style Bible study for the first time in 15 years, and it’s fantastic. And illuminating. For the first meeting, one of the leaders read the entire book of Ephesians out loud to us — just as it would have been read out loud, in its entirety, to the church at Ephesus. I was astonished at how different Paul’s words felt with that presentation, as opposed to the few-verses-at-a-time pace I was accustomed to. It was a much more encouraging and uplifting book than I’d ever thought.

And then, at the next meeting, that same leader shared some historical research with us. She noted that, in Ephesus, at the time, the ideas of Fate and Destiny were heavy burdens. Seers made a living both predicting your fate and accepting payment so you could buy off the more unpleasant parts of your fate. And then in comes Paul with his idea of predestination. In Ephesians 1:5, we are predestined to be adopted as sons of God — feminist though I might be, I’m sticking with sons here, because this means that daughters and lowly eighth sons were, by God through Jesus, given the higher status of the son who will inherit his father’s wealth. “Adopted as sons” is a good and radical thing, in this context.

In fact, the two times predestination is mentioned in verses 1-14, it is used in the same breath with adoption (v.5) and inheritance (v.11). This, to me, says that God has already made us part of his family: no matter what happens to us (our “fate”) or when we discovered him, God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, has already embraced us. In this reading, predestination takes away the heavy burden of worrying about our fate, which is the exact opposite of my previous understanding of the term. I find this very exciting and freeing.

And now I’m sharing it with you, my readers. In the hopes that you, too, will appreciate this take on predestination in Ephesians.

So, what do you think?

 

 

 

Joab, the War-Crazed Traditionalist

Joab is David’s nephew. As I’ve written him, he’s a couple of years older than his uncle, David, which is an example of me stealing from life: in my mother’s family, the oldest nephew is older than his youngest uncle. In high school, the nephew apparently took great pleasure in needling his uncle about this in the crowded hallways.

We first meet Joab in It Is You just after David  has killed his first lion. Most of David’s family responds with a combination of awe, irritation, and hostility, but not Joab:

“Show-off!” someone shouted from behind the family.

They turned around and David went up on his toes to see his accuser.

“Always boasting,” the voice continued.

By then, David knew: it was Joab.

A smiling Joab broke through the rest of the family. “You go off to live with the king and then come back and kill a lion with your bare hands. How are the rest of us supposed to compete with that?”

When Joab goes off with David on a mission to find running water for David to clean himself with properly (there’s a spring a few km away), we get a sense of his life’s obsession.

Joab shouldered him sideways. “Someone said that the king has been training the men of Benjamin all winter. That true?”

David nodded.

“Man. You get to hang out near the army, see their weapons, watch them train. You get all the luck.”

David shrugged.

“Details. I need details.” Joab held his bundle out in front of him. “I’ll drop your clothes right here and make you walk back naked if you don’t tell me something soon.”

“Okay, okay.” David laughed. “A hundred or so men from Benjamin live in Gibeah and train year-round. Commander Abner hopes it’ll grow when the tribes see the success of an army more like the armies we’re fighting against. We’ll never again scatter in fear because an army lines up in ranks against us.”

Joab drove his right fist into his left palm with a satisfying smack. “Oh yeah.”

In this scene, David is 14. At 17, Joab is just a few years from the age of military service (20), close enough to imagine himself as a soldier.

As they walked back to the village, they weighed the merits of various weapons and retold old battle legends until David said, “But our best weapon is the Lord. Only He can throw a whole army into confusion so they kill each other and all we have to do is stand and watch and reap the plunder.”

“See, that’s why you’d make a great king,” Joab said. “You say stuff like that and even I want to follow you into battle.”

“Did you have a fever that boiled your brain while I was gone?”

“I’m serious.”

David pointed at the half-dead fig tree ahead of them. “You’d follow that tree if it meant you could be a soldier.”

Joab sniggered. “You’ve got me there.”

In the rest of the series, I build on that basic character trait: he’s always primed to fight.

After he hears that David has left King Saul and that the Lord has told David that he’ll be king some day, he does the one non-traditional thing in his history: takes off with his two younger brothers — leaving his father with nobody to work the land with him — and joins David. I think his war craziness is behind this. It was a calculated risk to give him a chance to command his own army, just like he and David used to play when they were kids.

In the early years of being on the run in the wilderness with David, and there are less than a hundred men with them, David takes his parents to Moab to ask the king to protect them. He’s gone for at least a couple of weeks. During that time (in my version), Joab gets the men all riled up to march on Gibeah and overthrow Saul. David has to talk them down and remind Joab that the Lord hasn’t given him the go-ahead for that.

This is a continual frustration between the two men; after all, David twice refuses to kill Saul when it’d be easy to do so. It deepens when David becomes king and has to learn diplomacy. It gets really messy in the story I told this week (Parts I, II, III, and IV), because David is trying to wrestle people into a new age and Joab doesn’t recognize either the dawning of the new age or the need for one.

Saul was the first king, but he wasn’t like what we think of as a king now. There was no golden throne, no formal court, no glorious castle at the capital of the country. There was no capital until David made one in Jerusalem. Saul was more like the most powerful tribal lord. So when David tries to get Joab to see that he should put away the idea of getting revenge for the death of his brother for the greater good, Joab just doesn’t see it.

As I see them, Joab is right and David is right. Joab is correct that every custom of Israel says he has the right to kill the man who killed his brother. It’s a little dicey in that Asahel was killed during a combat situation while he was chasing the people who were retreating and who gave him every chance of stating his intention and avoid being killed. But, in Joab’s eyes, his brother was killed, therefore he can seek revenge.

But David is also right. It would be better for Joab to sacrifice that old tribal ideal in order to make a peaceful transition to a united Israel possible. Abner was going to go out and negotiate allegiances for David, so that Ishbosheth would see every tribe arrayed against him and give up without a civil war. With Abner dead, there was nobody else with as much clout with the Saulean traditionalists to present David’s side with any authority.

When David makes Joab attend Abner’s funeral, it’s a public shaming. Joab does become commander of the tribal army (but not of the elite, permanent force), but the balance of power between him and David is way on David’s side until David sends word to put Uriah at the front line and then retreat behind him to leave him alone. But that’s a story for another day….