Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with W. Tod Newman, author of The Eyes of Gehazi.
FQ: This is a very unique story - where did you get the idea/inspiration to write it?
NEWMAN: I remember reading about this person named Gehazi who had all of these things that his culture valued: a decent and very respectable job, a motivating mission, and close connection with powerful people. Yet still, when faced with a hard choice, he fell flat on his face and suffered what seems a pretty disproportionate punishment. It made me wonder why this had happened and I felt like I needed to tell his story.
The magical realism element comes from my love of the work of Garcia-Marques and Borges and the way they infuse wonder into their gritty realism in a way that their characters simply take for granted. This type of writing seemed very relevant for a story about a man who lived in a desert and worked for a Prophet six hundred or so years before the time of Christ, so I took it on.
FQ: The story is listed as historical fiction. How much of the story/events based on real events?
NEWMAN: Gehazi’s story is captured in a few different places in the Hebrew books of the Prophets (aka, the Old Testament) but it is clearly told out of order and there are lots of gaps. I spent a lot of time trying to put the snippets of history in chronological time so that I tell Gehazi’s story more completely. This allowed me to determine where in the timeline of the prophet Elisha this man Gehazi had been present. Some of this helped uncover likely motivations that led to Gehazi’s eventual fall.
FQ: Why do you think some people choose to have faith to a higher power, while some choose to create their own fate?
NEWMAN: This is a challenging question, because it’s pretty hard to get inside peoples’ heads to determine why and how their belief structures have been formed. I’m happy to give it a shot and you can see what you think! In Bayesian logic, belief is developed through the evaluation of evidence where a weaker “prior” belief is improved through evidence into a stronger “posterior” belief. Of course, this works great for machines, but people are more complex. Sometimes the strength of the evidence is exaggerated and other times, evidence that would change a prior belief is ignored. I think politics is my best example of this effect. When the choice to believe or not has more of a metaphysical edge, though, I think that the decision might be most impacted by the private state of the human at the time.
FQ: In line with the previous question, do you have a message to those two different groups of people?
NEWMAN: Not really, but I suppose that never updating one’s belief upon better evidence or never searching for better evidence is probably going to have negative impacts. Remember that the Greeks considered the Fates to actually be a higher power. Some people today associate the idea of “fate” with something more like random chance, but I don’t really think that is what people at their deepest core are truly able to believe.
FQ: Who was your intended audience for this novel and what do you hope for them to take away from reading The Eyes of Gehazi?
NEWMAN: I think that maybe I wasn’t writing for an audience when I wrote this book. I really just love telling stories about characters who struggle with decisions and their own liabilities. Because of this, Gehazi became really interesting to me. I would hope that some would find value in the book, though. I certainly think that there are people who could be positively challenged by Gehazi’s growing understanding of the darkness in his self-centered approach to life and who therefore might be able to see a personal path out of that sad world.
FQ: Could you describe your spiritual and personal relationship to your God? Are you religious?
NEWMAN: I have heard a number of trite and disappointing answers to this and I’ll try to avoid them because they’re all too small for the question. In the Christian Bible, Peter says to always be ready to share the reason for your hope. I do experience hope from my belief in a personal God who loves and is interested in humanity. In the same vein, I have been heavily influenced by writers like C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, who often described themselves as reluctantly religious but compelled to invest their writings with images and metaphors describing a God who cares. Like them, I would hope to not be seen as a “Religous Author.” Religion, to me, describes a culture created by humans around their beliefs, and as such, is sometimes disturbing and other times is beautiful. I also believe, and I often infer in my writing, that to some degree, absolute truth exists and can be known.
FQ: Has there been a miraculous time in your life that you’d like to share?
NEWMAN: Can I get away with saying that life itself is a beautiful miracle? I don’t have any personal magical realism moments like we see in Gehazi’s story, but I truly love reading these kinds of books because they make the point about what we have lost by separating the magical and miraculous from our common experiences.
FQ: I see that you’re publishing the book a few chapters at a time/per week on your website. Why take this tactic? Do you believe it will allow more people to discover your writing? Is it a way to “spread the faith” so to speak?
NEWMAN: I suppose I don’t mind going against the grain. I love the idea that much of what we consider classics were published serially. Obviously podcasts and Netflix series have shown that humans love the tension of serial publication. I have no idea at all if this will help more people find my books, but I sure hope it will. It seems to me that there are elements in Gehazi’s story that could be compelling and useful to some people who are struggling.
FQ: One of the things you discuss on your website is the importance of research. What suggestions would you give a new author starting out on a similar project? Did your research needs ever become overwhelming?
NEWMAN: Yes, I think I’m fortunate that I love the research. I met James Michener once and the importance he placed on research was extremely challenging to me! I suspect I will never be able to approach his greatness in this area, but I find that I’m not satisfied if there are inconsistencies in my understanding of a setting or subject. This keeps me focused on getting details right.
Perhaps some of the best advice I could give a new author is to do their due diligence on research, but don’t ever assume that it will be completely done. Start writing before you think you’re fully done with your research or you may never start!
FQ: Your first several books were about pirate adventures and while they did emphasize “faith, trust, humility,” they were in a different genre. Do you see yourself returning to books in the “Pirate series” style or more historical fiction books such as The Eyes of Gehazi?
NEWMAN: The Pirate books came about by accident, and the story is fun. I had been writing for years, but had always failed to finish. Either the characters got annoying or my confidence in my knowledge of the setting began to be unconvincing to me and I would stop the book. I bet this is a common story.
The Pirate books started with bedtime stories, as one might easily be able to tell. My son, Zach, struggled more than most little boys with making good decisions, so every night he would hear stories about “the good Pirate Zach” who faced the same kinds of decisions, struggled through them, and overcame. Eventually, I realized that I needed to organize and capture the stories. The books began to be less about bedtime stories for young kids than they were telling powerful stories to older children. I compiled them into a single volume years ago. Reading the trilogy takes a reader through the ages of a child’s life in the few hours it would take to finish.
I don’t anticipate returning to these kinds of tales, but I continue to be interested in the combination of Old Testament historical fiction combined with magical realism. I’m currently working on a book that I’m calling The Prophet and the Queen that explores the Prophet Jeremiah and his battles against the deity, Ishtar, who was in his day known as The Queen of Heaven.