"I went through a conversion," Rice tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "I went back to the Catholic church after 30 years of being an atheist. And I realized that I wanted to write just about Jesus Christ for the rest of my career, in one way or another."
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"This book is the beginning of the life of Christ and I hope to live long enough to finish that. Maybe three or four volumes total," she says. "After that, maybe something else, but that's a long way down the line. This is enough to think about right now. This is the big challenge."
So far, she says her fans are receiving the change quite well. "A lot of readers want to read it. They've written e-mails and called and said they're going to give it a chance and been very, very good," she says. "A few are very upset. They want me to write about the vampires and the witches, but that's no longer possible for me. My world has changed."
Rice returned to the Catholic Church after leaving it at the age of 18.
"A lot of people leave the Church or their formal religion at age 18," she says. "I was confronting the wild world out there on a college campus."
And she writes the book in first person, noting she is not afraid of criticism for writing in the voice of Christ.
"I started with an obsession about Jesus, and I think it's only natural that he is the center of things and it's written in his voice," she says. "I think it's more natural. I'm a big fan of Charles Dickens and reread 'Great Expectations' and 'David Copperfield.' Those are both first person and written in the voices of young boys.
"I wanted to tell his story in a new way that hasn't been done before and get to people who haven't been reached before. All writers write to be understood and read. How could you not want to tell the story of the Incarnation over and over again?"
She approached her research by doing a lot of reading, she says. "I studied scripture, first of all, reading the New Testament over, and over, again. Then everything I could about archaeology, about history, the sociological studies we have of people in the 1st century, what family life was like in the Mediterranean, what their habits were, what they ate, what the village life was like. All of that I had to study because I was determined to have it as accurate as possible with the up-to-date research."
And though not very much is written in the scriptures about Jesus' childhood, Rice says, "We know a lot about life at that time, and know a lot about what a child would have been doing. That he would have been working with the family from very early on. There was no real division of labor between children and adults.
"We know that family was very big and that Jesus probably had a lot of cousins. We know from the scriptures he had brothers and sisters, as referred to."
James is also an important character in this book. "I loved writing about James, the brother of the Lord," she says. "And of course he's mentioned by Paul and in the scripture, too."
Rice decided to write this book before her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She immersed herself in the research for the book while he was dying. She read and worked at his bedside as his disease progressed.
"I never expected this to happen. I was committed to writing the book before he got sick and then I just continued my research," she says. "I did my research, read books and did the research. It was what kept me going. It was very merciful of God to give me that purpose right before the big storm."
She says it was also part of God's plan for her to move out of New Orleans six months before Katrina hit.
"I felt an overpowering urge to move," she says. "It was a tremendous feeling to move. It was very disruptive to my family, but it was good that they got out when they did."
She sold her New Orleans home in December 2004.
"The people are in my thoughts every second. My heart is there," she says about the victims of the hurricane. "Of course, I am communicating every day with my employees there. I still have property there. I have family and friends who have been devastated by the storm.
"And they are rebuilding under the most dreadful circumstances. The insurance checks are coming, but they're coming very slowly. And people are really digging into their pockets, and they're searching around trying to find workers, and trying to find construction material. It's really rough. It's like an area of the country that's been through a war."