Thursday 30 August 2018

Interview with Novelist, Julie Helms and her debut novel, Gods They Had Never Known

Today I am interviewing debut novelist, Julie Helms, author of Gods They Had Never Known, just released. I volunteered to review her novel when she asked about a Facebook Author's group about the publishing process.

I am fascinated by the topic of fallen angels and their offspring, the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6: 1-4, and the physical and spiritual implications and evidence throughout history leading to their re-emergence before Jesus' return.

Being very impressed with this novel with its adherence to the Biblical account of this topic and the spiritual warnings from God concerning fallen angels and Nephilim, I wanted the backstory to Helms' novel so I offered to interview her about it.

What follows is a detailed and comprehensive account of Helms' journey to becoming a published author and how she crafted this novel relating to this controversial topic and what the Bible says about it.

So sit back and let Julie Helms expound on these two topics.

Julie, thanks for stopping by to discuss your novel and the topic of fallen angels, the Nephilim and God's judgement of them. How about you start by telling us 
a little about yourself.

Thanks, Peter, I was very excited to discuss the backstory of my novel when you offered to interview me! 

I am a married mother to two grown daughters, living in Pennsylvania. I own a homeschool curriculum store which serves our local homeschool community with educational supplies and curricula. I am also a free-lance editor and writer. My husband and I live on a small farm where we raise Corriedale and Cormo sheep (imported from Australia!) for their superior wool. We also have goats and chickens.

Authors tend to use one of two methods to develop a novel, plotting it out (plotter), or as it came to you (pantser, that you write by the seat of your pants). Which one did you use or was it a bit of both?

Definitely a bit of both. I plotted a very general outline—I knew where I wanted to end up, but the story in between revealed itself to me along the way, through many unexpected twists and turns.

What obstacles did you encounter while developing this novel? How did you overcome these?

Probably the biggest issue was making time to write. I’m not a spontaneous person, so I really needed to schedule the time in order to actually do it.

How has being an author impacted your relationship with Jesus Christ?

I needed to do a ton of biblical research to make sure I stayed true to the Word, so that kept me in my Bible a lot! I also had many discussions with God about what He wanted from me through the whole process. There were discouraging moments (writer’s block, insecurities…), but I always felt his call to persevere.

Do you have a favourite genre?

For pleasure reading, I turn to historical fiction or crime drama. When I’m in a more scholarly mood, I’ll read nonfiction on Bible doctrines, especially anything to do with the supernatural in the Bible.

What have you learnt about becoming an author?

It is a whole lot harder than I anticipated! Some authors produce several books per year—I can’t even fathom the brain power that must take. I wrestled with my novel every step of the way. It was awesome seeing the work come to life before my eyes, but it did so slowly.

You write well. Have you always found this to be an easy feat? Some authors engage in a writing course before they write their first novel. What have done in this regard? Would you encourage other budding authors to do so?

Well, funny story here. In high school, an English teacher sent a progress report home to my parents. In part, it said, “Julie can’t write, and she’ll never be able to.” He was probably correct in that, at that time, I could not. The following year, a different teacher worked with me so that I felt at least competent at a basic level. But I had already internalized the message: don’t bother trying to write—you will fail.

In college, I had two different English professors (required classes, not voluntary) call me out during class for having done an outstanding job on a writing assignment. I remember the second one was a pass/fail assignment to write a Greek comedy. The prof said there was one paper that he couldn’t just give a pass to, he had to give it an A. Then he had me stand up. I felt completely embarrassed in front of my peers in that lecture hall, and I was angry at the professor because I somehow thought he was mocking me. I knew ‘I couldn’t write and would never be able to.’ I threw away the paper and never returned to that class. The vice president of the university called me into her office one day and asked me why I wasn’t majoring in writing. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the memo either!

After I graduated (with my biology degree), I wrote nothing for 20 years. And that is a lesson on how powerful words can be, especially to a young person.

Around age 40, I discovered I was good with editing. That was safe because it wasn’t writing. I quickly gained jobs as a free-lance editor, most notably on the marketing materials for CreateSpace. But I started to feel a little niggling in the back of my mind that I wished I could write. My first attempts were on online content sites with a pseudonym, mostly nonfiction. And the articles started selling! Once I began writing, I just fell in love. I wanted to write a novel.

My biggest hurdle then has been overcoming this constant mantra somewhere in the back of mind that I can’t write.

Before starting the novel, I took two online writing courses in fiction from Gotham University. I actually started this novel in the second class. I do recommend writing courses for aspiring writers. There is a lot that goes into the process—some of it is intuitive, some not so much.

One thing I learned is that you tend to write in the same style you like to read. The Gotham teacher identified this in me immediately. She asked if I liked 19th c. authors. Hawthorne and Poe are my absolute favorites. I just love how they use words. I read their works out loud just because of how they use the language—it is magical to me. I discovered Jane Austen much later, but same deal. But my teacher pointed out that I can’t write that way in the modern world—way too wordy. Well, you can, but no one will read it. So writing classes are a good thing.

(As a post-script here, while reviewing my answers to this interview it finally came back to me what the topic was for that first college paper I wrote. I haven’t thought of this for 30 years now. It was a compare and contrast of the God of the Bible with the gods in The Odyssey—apparently I have been fascinated with the topic much longer than I realized!)

What are you reading now?

Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom 

Now that your novel is published, what’s next, is there another project in the works?

There is the potential for a prequel or sequel to Gods. This is just in the thought stage at this point.

Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?

I am an avid reader, so this is hard to narrow down. I do remember reading CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce and thinking, “this…I want to do this!”

Now let’s discuss your novel!

So that our readers will know what we are talking about here is the description of the novel: 

They will enhance your lives, expand your fortunes,
better your health, destroy your soul.

The Guardians look down from their mountaintop to the valley of men below—and they desire the women they see. Abandoning their rightful home, they commence their plan to infiltrate mankind amicably but with disastrous consequences.

Haven, a young man of strong faith, lives in the pleasant valley that is now under invasion. A blind prophet has been warning the people for years, but Haven seems to be the only one listening. The Guardians, who look like men--but are not-- exchange forbidden knowledge for the use of the mortal women. The people love the new technologies and how they improve their lives, turning a blind eye to the monstrosities that are born of these unions. As violence and depravity increase in the valley, Haven desperately tries to warn the people—and the woman he loves—that judgement is coming, putting himself in the crosshairs of both the Guardians and their malevolent offspring.

In this epic retelling of 1 Enoch: Book of the Watchers and Genesis 6:1-4, experience the plunge into chaos when the divine order of creation is violated, leading to idolatry, corruption, and the threat of extermination.

How long did it take you to write Gods They Had Never Known?

Two and a half years. I started it in my Gotham writing class, so there was a lot of learning along the way. I hope a future one will go much more quickly!

You have classified this novel in the following genres:

·Genre: Speculative Fiction,
·Sub-genre: Mythopoeia, where you state:  

[a writer uses a well-established mythology (in my case biblical theology) and places it in a fictional setting to bring the ancient teachings to the modern reader. CS Lewis and Tolkien are the best-known examples of this.]

I have not heard of mythopoeia as a genre. Is this a name you have created or is it a new emerging genre?

I believe JRR Tolkien coined the term as a genre. I had struggled to figure out exactly what genre my novel was…nothing seemed to really fit. A little bit fantasy, a little bit historical fiction, a little bit of allegory. When I came across the definition of Mythopoeia it seemed it had been defined with my book in mind—a perfect fit!

What is the significance of the title, Gods They Had Never Known?

It is a phrase from the Bible. In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses the Israelites and gives them a rundown of their history. He says,
“They sacrificed to demons that were not God,to gods they had never known,to new gods that had come recently,whom your fathers had never dreaded. (Deuteronomy 32:17 ESV)
The point is that the demons became the focus of worship for the people and that the demons weren’t always there—they had arrived “recently.” This is a major plot point in the novel.

I am also passionate about fallen angels, which includes their sin and its consequences resulting in the Nephilim of Genesis 6: 4 and mentioned in other places in the Bible. What triggered this passion?

My passion for the stories of the Sons of God and the Nephilim came through Bible studies I taught on the subject in my church. I had almost a universal reaction from my students—“Why haven’t I ever heard of this before? It’s right here in my Bible!” That’s when I realized a fictional story incorporating these biblical concepts would be one way to teach people about them. Before this, I was originally made aware of the concepts through the scholarly writings of Michael Heiser.

Mine was when I read Dwellers by Roger Elwood. Not only did it introduce me to the subject of the Nephilim but raised the speculative question, “Could a Nephilim be redeemed by God?

You have outlined in your novel how the answer to this question could not be possible from a spiritual and Biblical point of view and also as part of the nature of God. Roger Elwood provided the same answer as you with this same theology.

This question is an example of a topic that polarises Christians. This same question of redemption has been asked of the fallen angels and the answer is stated in the Bible, and you include this in the novel, yet some Christians fail to see that salvation and redemption are reserved for humans only. I find this a spiritual tragedy and shows a misunderstanding of who God is and His nature/attributes and also of Biblical principles and doctrines. I feel this is due to a lack of effective teaching from Pastors, Elders and the Church in general. What do you think of this?

I have found, on the whole, churches and their leadership absolutely shy away from discussing most of the ‘negative’ supernatural aspects of the Bible. I am blessed to be in a church now, that though they don’t preach this stuff, after reviewing my Bible studies they felt I was within the bounds of orthodoxy and allowed me to present it.

Have you read any other Christian novels that deal with the Nephilim?

I have read Michael Heiser’s The Fa├žade, though that deals more with the alien and government conspiracy take on it. I really enjoyed Jon Saboe’s series The Days of Lamech and The Days of Peleg.

Any from secular authors?

No. Bad theology about angels/Nephilim in fiction drives me crazy. I’ll read secular nonfiction on the topic with a huge grain of salt, but I can’t get into a fictional story.

Why do you consider that secular authors write novels based on fallen angels and Nephilim and deviate from the biblical record concerning these two entities?

I think we as human beings, Christian or not, are fascinated by the supernatural—we are by nature spiritual creatures, so we are going to be drawn to all things spiritual. Unfortunately, Christians are often discouraged from pursuing knowledge on this even though it is right inside our Bible. Secular people have no such problem and will sample from any of the available mythologies to fuel their stories. They have no loyalty to the word of God, so there is no reason for them to adhere strictly to the truth within it.

In some of these novels, they are both romanticised and idolised, yet you have adhered to the biblical and non-biblical accounts of them. Your thoughts?

We’ve done all sorts of things to angels over the centuries—we’ve made them women with long flowing hair, we’ve made them reincarnations of humans who have died, so now we make them rugged handsome men who may have rebelled but they are really good guys underneath so we should be sympathetic (ala Nicolas Cage in the City of Angels). Angelology is a whole industry now. And it is very dangerous. Worshipping or revering angels (fallen or otherwise) is idolatry. I wanted to show the seductiveness of the fallen angels (Guardians, in my story), and the consequences of following a creature who is in rebellion to his Creator.

How did you come up with the character names of the fallen angels and Nephilim?

I wanted to distinguish between the humans and the supernatural beings. The humans got Hebrew names for the most part (except Haven. I wanted to name my own son Haven—it’s a name that goes way back in my family history. But I birthed only daughters. So my lead male got the name!) But the Guardians and Offspring received Aramaic-derived names. Parts of the OT and Enoch are written in Aramaic so I thought it was appropriate. I say ‘Aramaic-derived’ because I am not actually familiar with the language at all. I was using English transliterations to come up with an approximation of Aramaic to use. Most of the names have meanings significant to the character. But my apologies to Aramaic scholars—just pretend I made the names up.

You have given God the name "Shalliyt". This is not a name that you created but is an existing one of Aramaic origin. I investigated this myself and confirmed this and it means:

In the Bible, there are many references to this word where it is used to describe humans as rulers: 

Ezra Ch 4:20, Ch 7: 24, Daniel Ch 2: 10, Ch 15, 5: 29. 

There are a few where it refers to God as ruler: 

Daniel Ch 4: 17, 25, 26, 32, Ch 5: 21, 

so this word is not specifically and only used for God or as an exclusive attribute of His nature.

(Above references and definitions are taken from

Based on the above why did you chose Shalliyt for the name of God?

I didn’t want to use any biblical name for God. My story is a fantasy set in a make-believe world. But I felt like shalliyt embodied the aspects I wanted to convey for my supreme being: ruler, master, the one who holds all authority. It gives a good contrast to the gravity of the Guardians rebellion. Besides, I like the sound of it—Shah-leet!

What attracted me to Gods They Had Never Known is the topic of the Nephilim and fallen angels. I find this fascinating including the controversy that surrounds them in Christian and non-Christian circles. This includes who they really are, did they exist, where is the evidence that they survived the Flood, how will they return in the end days (most likely in our generation or our children's generation) the list goes on and on!).

From how you have described them in your novel, you have obviously borrowed from the Bible and the Book of Enoch (non-Biblical text). This is the same as what I have read elsewhere from Christian fiction and non-fiction. We are on the same page as far as this is concerned. Have you used any other non-Biblical texts?

I have also studied the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Jasher, and the remnants of the Book of the Giants. But I didn’t use anything from those sources. First Enoch: Book of the Watchers was reputable as a source of information during the time of Jesus and is consistent with the biblical account, though it supplies a whole lot more detail than the Bible, and that was enough.

Have you had any negative feedback from Christians on this topic? 

It would not surprise me if you had been called a heretic or threatened to be excommunicated from your denomination! I have read some accounts of this from other readers and authors who have researched like yourself and been treated like this. Just the topic of the Nephilim or fallen angels can be enough to make you tread carefully with other Christians! What has been your experience in relation to this?

I know there is plenty of controversy on this topic. But as I mentioned earlier, the response I got when teaching it to a class of 20-25 women was almost unanimously one of wonder. It made sense to them, things clicked into place. On the other hand, my husband led a similar study for the men in the church. That did not go well. Heretic was one of the names he was called. The leadership supported us though, so no excommunication!

As for my novel, the feedback from Christians has been overwhelmingly positive, so far. The exception would be in the Christian publishing world. I was told by a few that no Christian publisher would touch this due to the controversial nature and themes of sex and violence. Amish romances are all the rage. This is no Amish romance.

John Klein and Adam Spears state in their book, Devils and Demons and the Return of the Nephilim that,

“Devils are fallen angels – teraphim, seraphim, or cherubim. Teraphim, the lowest order of angels, can take human form and interbreed with women. The offspring of a teraphim and a woman is called a nephal (plural: Nephilim). Demons were not created by God; they are the disembodied souls of dead Nephilim. Therefore, devils and demons are not the same thing! And in their present forms, neither one was created by God. They both result from a rebellion among the heavenly host that God never intended…..”

You have depicted this very well in your novel. Did you find these particular definitions of devils and demons widespread in your research? What variations did you find? Have you encountered different interpretation and teaching of what is a demon and devil in Christian circles, church teaching and even sermons? Why do think this is so?

I’m not familiar with using the term devil this broadly. My only knowledge of the devil is Satan. The heavenly host seems to be variously termed in the Bible as angels, sons of God, cherubim, and seraphim. The Book of Enoch calls them watchers (as does Daniel). Fallen angel is not actually a term used in the Bible, though of course, the concept is solid.

An extremely common misconception is that fallen angels are demons. The Bible does not teach this. However, the Bible is vague as to where demons (or evil spirits) came from. This is where the Book of Enoch (and other ancient writings that corroborate the belief) comes in handy. It explicitly explains the nature and source of demons—as the offspring of the union between an angel and a woman, after he dies. So a Nephilim in life and a demon in death.

If you read every passage in the Bible on demons with this definition in mind, you will see there is no contradiction. You will also notice behavior differences between angels and demons—demons tend to possess people, whereas angels appear to them.

This distinction is the whole point of my title and the Bible verse (Deut 32:17) it was referenced from—demons have recently arrived!

Most churches don’t teach this and people seem very threatened by the configuration laid out in Enoch. I don’t know why. It’s not a ‘salvation issue’ so I don’t know why people find it scary to have their view on it challenged. It was a commonly held belief in the early days of the church but is no longer.

Based on the above, you have thus shown the origin of demon possession and how these disembodied Nephilim spirits masquerade as demigods and deceive people into allowing them access to their bodies.

I can see that some Christians would disagree with you on this issue, including how these spirits also represent the destructive human character traits such as envy, jealousy, lust, anger, fear, (and more) and how through this they manipulate human minds and behaviour to sin, rebel against God (Shalliyt) and even deceive other humans.

However, you showed the power of the name of God in defeating a demonic attack when one such spirit, the spirit of fear, tried to evoke this emotion in the mind of Rachel. Here is the beginning of real spiritual warfare (even though Rachel did not know that is what she was doing at the time!). I am glad you portrayed this as this is one principle of Biblical spiritual warfare that Christians need to be practising when they encounter demonic attacks. It is the only way to be spiritually victorious in this regard. I would suggest that this is one of the take-home messages you wanted to instil in the reader. Would you agree?

Yes. Specifically in the case of sleep-paralysis episodes, which is the modern-day term for the phenomenon Rachel experienced and still occurs today, calling on the name of Jesus stops the episodes immediately. People are being tormented this way and the non-Christian world does not have a solution that works permanently, if at all. The medical field condescends to say it is just a dream. But we who are believers have been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6) and can call on him for help because “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10).

To address the first point you made about demonic influence and emotion. I just want to be clear that I don’t believe every time or even most of the time, you experience a negative emotion like fear or anger that there is a demon causing it. My point in the story was that the Afflicted (the demons) fed off of that emotion.

What other take-home messages do you want readers of Gods They Had Never Known to embrace?

I think the biggest message I tried to convey, mostly through Haven and Rachel, is that when God says something, we need to trust him on that, even if we don’t understand it. They both struggled in their own ways, with their own temptations to disbelieve the word of their God. Stepping out on faith, not sight, is really hard to do, especially when everything around you (the world, your friends, etc) says something different than God did.

Writing this novel was that step for me personally. Who did I think I was that I could complete a task like this (remember ‘I can’t write and never will’)? And why on earth would I pick a controversial topic (I’m an introvert and peacemaker—I always go with the flow!) But God has been there every step of the way, continuing to assure me, every time I questioned myself or faltered in my resolve, that this is what he wants me to do. So I wrote this for him, to be used by Him if it is His desire to do so.

When I read the ending, I felt that it could be interpreted as an opening for a sequel as the storyline seems open-ended. Are you considering a sequel?

The story will allow for both a prequel and a sequel, though it is a stand-alone novel. Yes, I would like to possibly do both!

Anything else you would like to say about your novel, this topic or other issues raised in this interview?

I just wanted to mention that in the novel the setting is somewhat allegorical. The valley represents the earth, the surrounding mountains are the heavenly realm, and the outside wilderness is the underworld.

Where can readers find you? 

Any closing comments?

Peter, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit about my novel and my passion for the topic of Genesis 6:1-4. Your support for authors, especially new authors, is a huge blessing.

Julie, thank you! I love interviewing authors about their novels. I feel that the more the reader knows about the backstory of the novel, the more they will enjoy reading it and be influenced by it positively. Knowing how an author thinks and how they craft their novels, also adds to the appreciation of the novel and keeps the reader loyal to the genre and the author.

This has been a very enjoyable and insightful interview about your journey to becoming an author and your impressive debut novel. I look forward to having you as my guest in the future with your next novel(s). 

If any reader would like to read an excerpt or buy Gods They Had Never Known, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon below. 

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader who likes reading in the genres of Christian inspirational, biblical fiction and fantasy, supernatural, spiritual warfare, to consider reading this impressive novel and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

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