Please welcome Stephanie Landem to “My Times and Places.” I first met Stephanie at a critique group we were both a part of and soon recognized a sister in the Lord. She was unpublished at the time. It has been fun to see her grow as a writer. I loved her biblical fiction, especially The Tomb, the story of Martha of Bethany. She just released In A Far-Off Land. It’s still biblical fiction in a way—a retelling of one of Jesus’ most well-known parables, this time set in 1930s Hollywood. It’s a wonderful read with great characters you will really care about!
Stephanie, the idea for this book obviously came from Jesus’ parable of The Lost Son (sometimes called The Prodigal Son). What made you decide on 1930s Hollywood as the right setting for such a retelling?
Stephanie Landesem: I’ve always been drawn to the parable of the Merciful Father. I think of how the Pharisees reacted when Jesus took this well-known tale of a terrible son and turned it on its head—showing how the Father is waiting to receive and forgive even the worst of sins. I feel like that parable especially transcends place and time. And so, when I visited Hollywood a few years ago, I had the light bulb moment that here was a perfect place for my prodigal daughter to run to, and the ‘great famine that hit the land’ could only be our Great Depression that drew such a desperate line between the wealth of the few and the poverty of many.
LH: "The Merciful Father." I like that name for this story. And I love comparing “the great famine” that came on the land to the Great Depression! You’ve said on your blog how much you love researching your historical fiction. What was the most surprising/fun thing you discovered?
SL: In all my books, the thing that amazes me the most is how no matter what time period or setting, the people of the past are still very much the same as us. The clothing and transportation and food is all different, and that is fun to research, but people of all times and places are looking for love, security, family . . . and for God. It’s just how it plays out in their particular history that is the surprising element of historical fiction.
LH: You incorporated lots of real historical figures, most in cameo roles like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, but William Randolf Hearst plays a significant role and it’s not pretty. What did you feel you needed to do to make that work?
SL: I did a lot of research on these cameo characters to make their actions in the book realistic to what we know of the real historical figures. Charlie Chaplin really was the kind of man who would make a scene in a restaurant to save a pretty girl, and as for Hearst, his manipulation of the media and involvement in more than one murder is a well-known part of his biography. So I loved finding the right people for the right rolls in my book. A bit like casting a movie!
LH: It's hard to believe what a big name like Hearst can get away with. Like the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance “in a far-off land” and ended up feeding pigs—totally disgusting for a 1st-century Jew—Mina sinks to the lowest low of using her beauty and her body to get ahead in Hollywood. I was impressed with how tastefully and yet realistically you handled that for a Christian audience.
SL: I knew going into this book that Mina would need to do some pretty despicable things in order to truly be the prodigal daughter who asks for and receives radical mercy. But sin is universal. We all have friends, family members, even perhaps ourselves, who have sunk to great depths of sin—often through bad experiences or trauma. And yet we love them and want the best for them, which is what forgiveness is all about. So I used those experiences as a way to make Mina a sympathetic character despite her bad choices.
LH: You're right. We all sin and we all need a merciful Father. The last page says “The Happy Ending,” although it’s not a traditional “happy ending”—Mina does not fulfill her dreams and make it big in Hollywood. She couldn’t if you were to be true to Jesus’ parable. Without giving away the ending, can you tell us why it is happier than “success” would have been?
SL: As with all my fiction, I love a happy ending. But what we all need to strive for is “the” happy ending — unity with Jesus, forgiveness, and ultimately spending eternity with him in heaven. I hope within the pages of In In A Far-Off Land, Mina has taken an important step towards that kind of happiness.
LH: I think that would have been hard to do in the Hollywood you have painted for us. What’s next for you? What can we look forward to from your wonderful, Christ-centered imagination?
SL: My next novel is based on real historical events in 1930s Los Angeles. While the Great Depression was deepening in our country, Germany was coming out of its own economic disaster with the help of a new leader, Adolph Hitler. Most Americans hardly knew his name, but he was already working on a plan to infiltrate our German communities with National Socialists and turn Americans against their Jewish neighbors. He especially wanted to gain control of the Jewish-run Hollywood movie studios in order to spread his anti-Semitic propaganda. Only one man really believed Hitler to be a threat, a Jewish lawyer named Leon Lewis. He took it upon himself to set up a private spy network of Christian men and women who infiltrated the growing fascist groups in Los Angeles and worked together to stop the Nazis plans.
Codename: Edelweiss is a fictional re-telling of how Leon Lewis and his spies foiled Hitler’s plan to take over Hollywood.
LH: Wow! That sounds fabulous. And it is the same world that Mina and Max knew in In A Far-Off Land. I can’t wait to read it! Thank you for joining us today. May your books reach many hearts and nudge them toward that eternity with Jesus you spoke of as "the" happy ending.
Here is my review of In A Far-Off Land on Goodreads.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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