I’m so happy to welcome Jud Nirenberg, the author of Samson’s Walls to my blog today. Thank you so much for the informative guest post!
Readers, don’t forget to check out my review of Samson’s Walls at the end of this post. Enjoy!
Samson’s Walls by Jud Nirenberg
Getting there hadn’t been easy but I finally had a meeting with a major New York publishing house. I walked into a huge room on the 9th floor, overlooking the Hudson River and sat in a hard wooden chair, miles of polished wood floor away from the two editors who looked, impassively, at me. They asked me to describe my book about Samson, the Biblical guerilla leader and his relationship with Delilah. I started to explain the tragedy of someone torn between what he wants and what his God has planned for him. He leads his people to war, risks his life and the lives of others in a vain attempt…
One of the editors cut in.
Do you realize most people who buy novels are women?
Yes. Yes, right.
And historical fiction? Almost all women. Well, except the civil war stuff. But for what you’re doing, all women.
And you wrote a guy book? About a tough guy who fights battles? Who visits prostitutes?
Well, no. It’s about people who are isolated, who carry a huge weight and who are trapped by…
Can you rewrite it from Delilah’s point of view? Call it Delilah’s Walls or something?
Yeah, we could work with that. And change your name to something, you know, gender neutral.
We discussed the possibility for another few minutes before I found out that they hadn’t read a single page of the book. They were discussing its market worthiness without looking at the book itself. I tried to explain what’s undying in the characters and their efforts to use one another but we were out of time. This isn’t a macho war novel. It’s about a man who can lead groups but can’t form personal links and it’s about a mentally tough woman who looks out for her community by dealing, as best she can, with his desires. It’s about the horror of a grand plan that doesn’t take your little human needs into account. There was no time in the meeting for that.
Samson’s Walls came from a desire to make sense out of a piece of the Bible that felt enigmatic to me. Samson is in the Book of Judges, among key leaders of the Hebrews at a time of conflict and growth. But the Bible doesn’t show him leading anyone at all. He’s a Jewish hero and an enemy of the Philistines but all he seems to want is to be with Philistine women. He has an unhappy life, does the Lord’s will and dies a miserable, humiliating death for it. He wants nothing more than to share his life with a woman, to love and be loved, so he devotes himself to mass murder and violence. Naturally, I wanted to spend months upon years of my free time immersed in this guy’s life.
I wanted to roll around in his failure to connect to people. I wanted to understand the person or people who wrote the version in the Bible, a version which tells us Samson’s father’s name but not the mother’s and which tells us that Samson falls in love and that he kills dozens of people for his bride but doesn’t bother to tell us her name. I wanted to fill in some of the missing pieces.
After months of research, looking into everything from past adaptations to archaeology to textual (Bible) criticism and after writing the whole story down once, there were still months of rewriting. And for a writer of historical fiction concerned with getting the context right, a Biblical setting is a fast-moving target. We’re living in a sort of golden age of scholarship and archaeology for those interested in ancient Canaan. New findings shake up old beliefs all the time. Sometimes, I’d see a new book or an essay in the Biblical Archaeology Society’s journal and find that I’d need to make a change to keep up with what scholars now know.
The essentials of the story stayed the same. Samson’s desire to break out of his loneliness stayed. The Hebrews and Philistines, Samson and his wife’s people, Samson and Delilah all are miserable bound to each other and only hurt themselves and each other by their inability to share.
I did make some of the changes the New York publishers suggested. But it’s still about a boy put under tremendous pressure by the wishes of his family, his people and his religion. It’s still about a man who never really learns how to be together with anyone and it’s about the way that he, Delilah and others struggle to survive and to take some responsibility for the people around them in a very unforgiving world. I found a publisher who agreed that the story isn’t a guy book. Samson’s not a misogynist, even if he lacks social skills and not all women insist on a book from a female character’s point of view. Samson’s Walls is, I hope, universal. It’s about loneliness and the walls that keep us, as individuals and as groups, apart.
As the paperback comes out this month, I’m looking forward to finding out what meaning other people find in my rendering of Samson’s life. I’ll keep an eye open for your comments.
Samson’s Walls by Jud Nirenberg is the story of a real man who lived in Biblical times. Most people will already know Samson’s basic story – Delilah, the Philistines and his famous hair – but this book takes the age old tale and turns it into an engaging page turner.
I love Biblical fiction and I really liked this book.I especially like that you don’t have to be well-versed in Scripture to enjoyit. In fact, you probably don’t have to have ever heard about Samson at all to read and like it. It has something for everyone. Love and war and history with some fiction thrown in to give it a bit of extra flavour. I like that the author added just the right amount of fiction so that it’s still completely believeable and gives it that extra boost to make it more interesting.
Read the book. I think it’s something men and women will like. It was published at the end of last year and is available in paperback and even for your Kindle!!