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Local author writes biblical story for girls

Afton resident Lois West Duffy said she wrote her first work of fiction, "Zillah's Gift," with young girls in mind.

Zillah is a young orphan girl living in ancient Persia who has a birth mark on her face that causes her to be tormented by those around her. Zillah's future doesn't look bright until the three shining Magi come into the story and Zillah embarks on a long journey and adventure with the three wise men.

A young girl named Zillah may not sound familiar for those who know the biblical story of the Magi because Zillah is a product of Afton resident Lois West Duffy's imagination.

Duffy recently released her debut novel, "Zillah's Gift," the story of a young girl who encounters the Magi on their journey.

History of writing

Duffy has been writing for most of her life -- writing short stories as a young girl, working as a journalist, writing poetry and even was a political writer -- but she said fiction writing has turned out to be her calling.

"Fiction writing is very different from non-fiction since you make up a story from scratch, and so that was the challenge and that was the fun -- fiction is my mountain to climb," she said.

Previously Duffy had tried her hand at writing novels, but nothing ever came of them until Zillah.

"The part I like the best about writing is inventing the characters -- I love that you get to decide where your characters are gonna go and what they're gonna do or be."

Zillah and the Magi

With "Zillah's Gift" Duffy wanted to have a Christmas story with a girl because she felt there aren't enough Christmas tales with female protagonists. And since the history of the Magi, and where they came from, is never explained, Duffy decided to add her own perspective to it.

"Since there is nothing conclusive about the Magi, that means you can make it anyway you want it," Duffy said. "I don't think it's a huge stretch to have her in this story."

Duffy even said she hops that "Zillah's Gift" may one day become a Christmas classic.

In addition to being a chance to place a girl in Biblical stories, Duffy said she hopes "Zillah's Gift" teaches girls, and boys, that they don't have to be held back by perceptions or circumstances -- in Zillah's case her birthmark.

"Zillah is about a girl who learns that she doesn't have to be defined by that which sets her apart -- she can grow beyond the perception of what she is," Duffy said. "Girls and boys don't have to be limited by their circumstances -- anything is possible."

Biblical girls series

Nearly six years ago Duffy had brainstormed a idea to write a series of novels about girls for girls ages 7-12, much like the popular "American Girl" series, but place the girls within biblical stories.

Duffy used to teach Sunday school, and she said she always thought there were never enough stories about girls in the Bible -- so it was hard for young girls to identify with the stories.

"There were never any girls in the stories, but you know there were girls who lived there -- girls have kind of been overlooked in the history of the world so I thought I'd just put my own girls into the story," she said. "I just wanted a story about girls who could have been in the Bible, but there stories were never told."

Duffy said she already has five other story ideas for her Biblical girls series, but she said they may not end up being the stories she writes because she has begun to play around with idea of inserting girls into stories from different religions -- Judaism, Islam or even Hinduism.

"I've heard that book publisher are hungry for multi-cultural stories that will help spread understanding."

"Zillah's Gift" is currently for sale at Northwestern Bookstore,, Barnes & Noble online and Duffy's website,

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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