I saw Liz Curtis Higgs in person for the first time last summer at the She Speaks Conference in North Carolina. I had read many of her books over the years and enjoyed her dynamic personality in radio and TV interviews. I knew that she would be the perfect speaker to end the conference on Saturday night.
What I wasn’t prepared for were the tears that filled my eyes after she finished speaking. In classic “Liz style”, she spun stories of her latest journeys and all that she has learned along the way. She shared her testimony and made us laugh and cry simultaneously. But what I remember most is what she did right before she left the stage. She turned around with her back to the audience, raised her hands heavenward and praised God. I could hardly contain my emotion. That image is still with me.
She made an indelible impression on me both as a writer and a Christian. I am beside myself to welcome Liz Curtis Higgs to my place today!
Would you share how you came to faith in Christ?
In a nutshell, I spent a decade of my young adult life in pursuit of pleasure, from drinking to drugs to overspending to sex. The more risk involved, the better. It’s a miracle I survived without getting arrested, having to declare bankruptcy, or contracting a disease. When I hit bottom, two dear souls—new to the faith and full of grace—gathered me in their arms and loved me into the Kingdom.
They didn’t say, “Believe in God;” not at first. They said, “God believes in you. God loves you, Liz. God has a plan for you.” Though I was skeptical, I was willing to listen because they clearly cared about me. Through them I heard and saw the unwavering truth of God’s grace: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Finally, I believed those words and realized I was loved and I was forgiven. His grace truly is amazing!
How did you begin your career/ministry as a speaker and writer? Did you feel called to it?
I was a radio personality at a secular station when I embraced the grace of God. Word soon spread among local churches that I was a new believer, and so I was invited to share my testimony. (Scary, because at that point I didn’t know what a testimony was!) One invitation led to another, until I was speaking ninety times a year, working six days a week on the radio, and expecting our first child. Something definitely had to go!
Radio—my full-time, pay-the-bills job—went by the wayside, as I took a leap of faith and hung out my shingle as a speaker. My speaking ministry and our two kids both grew slowly but steadily. In God’s perfect timing a publisher reached out to me and expressed an interest in a project I was working on. I am so grateful for God’s calling and equipping. All the applause, all the awards, all the glory goes to him alone.
What are some of the challenges you faced as you changed careers?
To be honest, I think of it more as adding careers, rather than changing them. I was a radio personality at a secular station when I met the Messiah, and remained in that career for another five years while he prepared me for a speaking ministry. Now when I’m on the air, I’m on the other side of the microphone, being interviewed. After all those years of experience, I know what to expect when a station calls!
During those early speaking years I also finished my degree in English, preparing to do more writing. When God opened that door, I was ready to walk through it. Initially I focused on humorous nonfiction books for women, then on children’s books, then on lighthearted contemporary fiction, followed by the Bad Girls of the Bible series, then Scottish historical fiction, before circling back to write more biblical nonfiction. Still with me?!
I’m so glad readers and retailers have been willing to go with me down each of those very distinct avenues. Every project has grace at the heart of it, so perhaps that core message is what holds it all together.
Of your thirty published books , which one is your favorite?
Bad Girls of the Bible, for two reasons: it’s my readers’ favorite and it’s the first book in which I used Scripture as the starting point, rather than simply finding verses to support whatever message I was sharing. My writing is expository rather than thematic. Both methods work, of course. I just learn best when I look at one section of Scripture from beginning to end.
Creating stories and studying the Bible are my two favorite pursuits, so I wanted to find a way to include both passions between the pages of one book. To counteract the typical response to the stories of women in the Bible—“But that was so long ago” or “Those stories don’t apply to my life today”—I open each chapter in Bad Girls of the Bible with a contemporary fictional version of a biblical Bad Girl. Delilah becomes Lila, a hairdresser from Dallas who cuts the hair of Judge Sam Nazar, a powerful man with enemies on the bench.
Their colorful tales draw us into the action, until we reach the dramatic climax of the story, at which point I segue into the biblical account and take the reader, verse by verse, through the real story, weaving in lessons worth learning from these infamous females.
Would you share a little about your process as a writer?
I keep two readers in mind while I write: one is the woman I was just before I came alive in Christ. A woman who’s been around the bend a few times, had her heart broken once too often, and lives in fear that she’s gone too far, done too much. The other is a Christian woman who’s known the Lord for a long time, yet still harbors unanswered questions and a boatload of guilt. Neither of those women wants a sermon—she’s wants the truth, spoken in love. So, that’s my goal as a writer.
From a purely practical standpoint, I import into a Word document the verses I’ll be studying, then look at each verse in a dozen (or two or three dozen!) different English translations to grasp all the nuances, adding those discoveries to my document.
Then I go through each verse, slowly and prayerfully, asking God to speak to my heart, showing me what’s between the lines, what’s unstated but implied, and what requires further research. Next I work through stacks of commentaries, seeing what educated believers from the last three centuries have found in these verses. Finally, it’s time to write the book itself, often with 50-60,000 words of notes in my computer, and my heart bursting with the joy of telling the story afresh.
How do you make the transition from your role as wife and mother in 2013 to eighteenth-century Scotland?
My writing study is designed to make that transition happen quickly. Take a look:
I’ve always said the only thing fiction and nonfiction have in common are punctuation! Otherwise, they’re completely different. Nonfiction is very compartmentalized, like fitting the pieces of a puzzle together. But fiction is like oil painting with words. I have only a vague idea at the start of things how the finished product is going to look. You begin with a small dab of paint in the corner and start moving across the canvas. Each brushstroke affects the next as the picture slowly emerges. Only in the final chapters, and sometimes not until the second draft, do I grasp the theme of the novel.
It’s all about the characters for me. They determine the direction of the plot. As the artist, my goal is to disappear. To have no voice of my own and simply give my characters voices so they can tell their story. Like I said, fiction is a completely different process from nonfiction. Scary and exhilarating and full of discovery.
Though I do tons of research and include enough historical details to keep things interesting, in truth I go straight for the heart when I write fiction. Women invariably describe the emotional roller coaster they’ve traveled while reading my novels, which delights me. Only when we embark on the characters’ journeys with them can we learn something about human nature—our own in particular—and discover how a loving, grace-giving God responds to those who seek him.
What is one of the greatest lessons God has taught you in ministry or in life?
To count it all joy: the good, the bad, the easy, the hard, the fun, the frustrating. Every detail is according to God’s plan and for our good. It’s more than just accepting God’s will for our lives; it’s embracing it with both arms. For those of us who write and/or speak, God is our agent, our editor, our publicist. We need to knock on doors and, when God opens them, walk through without fear, knowing we don’t need to push and prod and promote as if everything depends on us. God has this. He truly does.
What advice would you give aspiring writers and speakers?
Be patient (nobody, including me, wants to hear that!). Sow seeds in good soil. Build relationships, hone your craft, learn from others. Attend one good writers conference a year. As for the writing itself, stay in your chair, stay on task, and try not to get too distracted by social media.
I also recommend writers read the very best literature from many genres. The wider your reading, the better your writing. Research as though you were working toward a PhD. And dedicate yourself fully to your calling.
Finally, keep grace and hope at the center of your work. As Madeleine L’Engel wisely said, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe…but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Here’s the Latest from Lizzie…
Starting today Liz begins the Bad Girls of the Bible Thank-You Tour. She will be visiting four cities in six days! and in three cities she’ll be doing live Bible studies. Check it out, she just might be near you! All events are free, of course, but seating is limited so reservations are required. Today she is in Peabody, Massachussetts visiting Christian Book Distributors. Here are links to keep up with the rest of the tour…
Tuesday PM in Oklahoma City: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/events/106/oklahoma-city-oklahoma/
Wednesday PM in Nashville: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/events/107/nashville-tennessee/
Saturday AM in Grand Rapids: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/events/108/grand-rapids-michigan/
On my weekly Bible study blog we’re unpacking The 20 Verses You Love Most: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/category/the-20-verses-you-love-most/
On Pinterest I’m creating boards for all ten of our Bad Girls of the Bible, inviting readers to offer suggestions: http://www.Pinterest.com/LizCurtisHiggs
And on YouTube you’ll find my rendition of “Bad Girls Gone Jazz,” featured in the new edition of Bad Girls of the Bible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3HdqLPDxoE
New in stores July 16…
Bad Girls of the Bible
An updated edition with an in-depth Study Guide
An all-new, chapter-by-chapter Bible Study Video
Coming September 17…
The Women of Christmas:
Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna
To find out more about my books, messages, and travels…
Bible Study Blog: http://www.LizCurtisHiggs.com/blog
Click here to enter to win the newly updated “Bad Girls of the Bible” and companion DVD!