Author, Author! Joel Thimell

9 Sep

Today, Joel Thimell, author of The Saga of The Patriarchs series is visiting By The Book. The two books in the series, Long Road Out of Ur and Where Your Treasure Lies, are Biblical fiction featuring Abraham, Sarah, and Lot. Joel is a new-to-me author, so I am very interested in his books and his writing life. Welcome, Joel!


By The Book: Many authors say that they have always been a writer — making up stories as a child. When did you first become a writer?

Joel: I studied journalism after college and worked as a writer for several years — but I never believed in my ability to write fiction. Dialogue, in particular, frightened me. How could I know what all these people were going to say all the time?

BTB: Was there a special someone, such as a teacher, parent, or other relative, who encouraged you to pursue writing?

Joel: I had two English teachers (a mother and her daughter) my senior year of high school. One taught Creative Writing and the other, American Literature. They would read my papers out loud, first to each other over the phone, then in front of the class the next morning. Although I would have happily buried myself in a hole rather than feel all those eyes upon me, somehow I also found it quite gratifying that they seemed to enjoy these silly little creations of mine.  

BTB: Why did you choose Biblical fiction?

Joel: I did not choose Biblical fiction — it chose me. I used to sit in church and Sunday School and listen to Bible stories and wonder: “How did those people have the strength to do such amazing things? Someone ought to write a book about them.” Years later, it finally hit me, that maybe I was that someone . . .

BTB: Were there any obstacles you faced in your journey to publication?

Joel: Like most people who write a novel, I dreamed of it appearing on the shelves of my local library and in bookstores around the country. And like 99.9% of new authors, I discovered that was just a dream . . .

Publishing houses used to have staffs of people who read new manuscripts looking for hidden treasures. Not anymore. Agents used to hunt for new talent.  No longer.

Most new authors can’t even get their queries answered by a publisher or an agent. I was “lucky.” I have a close friend whose sister is the non-fiction editor for a major Christian publishing house. She ran my three sentence blurb by her colleagues in the fiction aquisitions area who told her that I didn’t fit their formula.

And even if an agent or publisher likes your work, most won’t consider accepting it, unless you have a ready-made social platform with thousands of subscribers. So after 8 months of no’s or no answers, I decided to publish myself using Amazon.

BTB: What types of research do you pursue? Books, on-site visits, etc.

Joel: Although I have never been to Iraq, Egypt or Israel (the setting for my books), I have traveled extensively in primitive areas of Africa. I took a dugout canoe safari with a native guide through the Okavango Swamp which inspired several scenes in Long Road Out of Ur. A whitewater rafting trip down the Zambezi River found its way into Where Your Treasure Lies.

I spent eighteen months in the library researching Ancient Sumer and Egypt before writing the first line of my first book, Long Road Out of Ur. If I was going to make the story of Abraham and Sarah more meaningful to a modern audience, I needed to immerse myself in their culture. I needed to understand what they wore, what they ate, how they thought and spoke, lived and died.

I read over 20 books and hundreds of internet articles detailing Sumerian religion, history, politics, laws, trade, commerce, food and drink, literature and family relations.

BTB: What does a typical writing day look like? Are you structured or informal in your writing schedule?

Joel: I have discovered that I need to write whenever the inspiration strikes. Often, a scene will pop into my head as I’m turning the lights off, so I jump out of bed and jot it down before I lose it. I usually walk at least one hour per day (to fight my diabetes) and I will hash out diaogue and the next scene while I’m out. As soon as I return, I write it down.

BTB: How long does it usually take to craft your books? (from outlines/first drafts to final edits)

Joel: My first book took nearly nine years to complete. I owned a small cafe which kept me busy during the day, so I could only write after my two daughters were tucked into bed late at night. After closing the cafe, I decide to write full-time, so that I would not wake up in retirement one day wishing that I had finished my books. So the sequel, Where Your Treasure Lies, only took about eighteen months.

BTB: Can you tell us a little about what inspired your latest novel.

Joel: I started with the intention of writing the backstory of Abraham and Sarah. The Genesis story begins when he is seventy-five years old and God calls him to leave his family and the Land of Ur. When I read that, I wondered why God would want him to leave his family and what had they been doing for those 75 years in Ur.

I tried telling the story in the third person, but it felt too distant and impersonal. I tried letting Abram tell the story, but I struggled to relate to someone who spoke to God face-to-face. So I told the story through the eyes of Lot, who I thought might be more relatable to someone like myself who don’t feel like a spiritual giant.

BTB: What do you want your readers to take away with them after finishing one of your novels?

Joel: My hope is that readers will see that the God of the Old Testament is full of love, compassion and grace for rebels like Lot and me, just as He is in the New Testament.

BTB: Readers always want to know what is next for an author. Do you have any works in progress you can share about?

Joel: I haven’t decided what’s next yet. My current series, The Saga of the Patriarchs, was purposely left open, so I could move forward with Isaac or Jacob, or backwards with Shem or Eber. Or I might shift gears and try my hand at a Western (I love Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour) or a mystery/suspense novel.  Any reader suggestions are welcome.

Although the Flood remains a vivid memory, and the Tower of Babel lies in visible ruins–man continues to rebel against God.  Savage wars, brutal slavery, and pagan idols rule life in ancient Sumer.  Still, a faithful remnant have not bowed the knee to Nanna, the dread moon god.

Long Road Out of Ur introduces us to Abraham, Sarah and Lot before they were famous.  As the eldest son of the next Patriarch, Lot expected a life of comfort while his father, Haran, commander of the mighty Horse Warriors, expected him to follow in his footsteps. But nobody expected God to make young Abram leader of the family, and somebody isn’t happy.  Soon, the entire clan is thrust into the middle of a shadowy struggle for wealth and power with no clear sides, no holds-barred, and no end in sight. And Lot is the fall guy.

Everyone knows that Noah was the righteous man that God rescued from the Flood. And serious Bible students remember that God sent ravens to feed Elijah during a lengthy drought. But Lot? The guy who barely escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with his daughters? Why was he rescued by God? Was it just because his Uncle Abraham pleaded with God for him? Or is there more to the story?

Where Your Treasure Lies, tells the dramatic story of the calling of Abraham and Sarah into the Promised Land through the eyes of Lot, one of the most misunderstood heroes of the Bible. Many Christians think of him as a villain or a fool, at best. But the Apostle Peter called him a “righteous man” who was “tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard.”

As the eldest son of the Patriarch, Lot expected to lead his family someday. But God had other plans. When his father dies in the land of Ur, Lot loses everything to Abraham, whom God chose in his place. Despite this, Lot follows Abraham into the Promised Land trusting that God will provide, only to find that the Land of Canaan isn’t the Garden of Eden.


Passionate about writing, food and travel, his love of adventure led Joel Thimell to hitchhike from Kenya to South Africa, whitewater-raft the Zambezi River, canoe the Okavango Delta, explore the Ngorongoro Crater, climb Mt.Kilimanjaro, and hike the Chimanimani Mountains. The thrill and terror of those first-hand experiences are brought to life in Lot’s own adventures.

Joel began his career as a government bureaucrat and erstwhile journalist and is now making amends to society as a starving author. He shares his non-existent garden in Tennessee with endless hordes of mosquitoes, six squirrels, three jack rabbits, a ravenous herd of deer and an elusive mole named Darwin.


Thanks Joel for sharing with us today!


%d bloggers like this: