By Murray Pura, an award-winning novelist and non-fiction writer. He has a Master of Divinity degree and a ThM degree in theology and interdisciplinary studies. For more than 25 years, in addition to his writing, he’s pastored churches in Nova Scotia, British Columbia,and Alberta. He and his wife, Linda, have a son and a daughter.
I’ve served as a pastor for 25 years and have also done missions work in nations as diverse as Ireland, Italy, Colombia, and Nepal. All during those years I was writing when I had free time. Sometimes it was devotional works and meditations, sometimes it was theological pieces, but most of the time it was story-fiction or nonfiction. I used the stories on the pulpit in Canada and the United States, I used them on the mission field, reworked them as dramas and acted them out in churches and in the streets. Whatever kind of story I wrote one thing had to be consistent: fiction or nonfiction, they all had to be stories that were carriers of truth.
In 2010, in God’s timing and not mine, doors began to open for writing contracts with publishers I never dreamed would be interested in me. Some wanted devotional and theological books, but most wanted fiction for the millions of readers who were hungry for well-written stories that would inspire, challenge, motivate, and, yes, delight. So I set out to do those very things with the tales that began to fill my imagination.
I’ve always loved historical fiction, because while technology and clothing and cultural norms may change, people do not. If you write about people in 1917 or 1863 or 1554, you’re writing about the people who pick up those stories to read in 2013. They recognize this very quickly. Customs are different, and language, but the human heart is the same just as the God of the human heart is the same. From Page 1, if you tell the story right, modern readers immediately begin to identify with the characters and take on their struggles and joys simply because they’re the same struggles and joys they also experience on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. The human in the 21st century can connect with the human in the 17th century because both are living souls made in the image of God, both are broken, both seek redemption and restoration and wholeness, and both are trying to find their way in a world and a life and a faith that isn’t always easy to understand or embrace.
In the same way that contemporary fiction allows readers to see themselves in the stories of other people in the world of 2013 and 2014, historical fiction permits them to see themselves in the stories of people of decades or centuries before. What I like to do is take ordinary men and women, the same sort of people my readers are, and plunge them into extraordinary circumstances: the outbreak of World War I; the battle lines at Gettysburg; the deck of the USS Arizona on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941; the witness stand at a witch trial in Colonial America; a prison camp in Nazi Germany in 1945. I want my readers to get totally involved in the drama of the moment and all its difficulties and dangers and grace.
How will the men and women in my stories pray? How will the Bible help them through peril and outright disaster? How will they help one another when a loved one is lost in combat or to a terrible disease?
What words will come to their lips when it’s time to speak out and save a human life? When will they fight? When will they lay down their swords?
What begins to happen with my readers is they take on the same struggles and decisions and wonder what they would pray, what passage they would seek out in the Bible, how they would bear up under the loss of a child or spouse, what words they would find to speak truth at a trial where everything was lies. And by doing so, and living out the story in their own hearts and souls, they begin to grow.
For the day comes when for many what was once fiction becomes fact. Some are thrown into the extraordinary circumstances of 9/11. Some open the door to two uniformed officers with hard news about their son. Some must somehow survive the ravages of a hurricane that has destroyed their home and is threatening to destroy their life.
Many have only the Bible and prayer to turn to when everything in their world is turned upside down and inside out.
At such times, some recall lessons learned when they lived out similar struggles through the lives of characters they identified with and came to love, stories that entered their hearts and minds with so much force they never forgot them, or what those stories taught about courage and the love of God and the power of prayer and the blessing of hope. They choose to emulate the faith of characters who never gave up and never stopped believing. They, too, choose to live and love and overcome, finding God and his grace during the darkest moments of their lives.
That is why I write.