Monday, January 12, 2009

Joined at the Heart--Interview with Sharon K. Souza

















I met author Sharon K. Souza at an authors' retreat for the literary agency the two of us are privileged to call "home"--Books & Such Literary Agency.

I say met, but from the first moment of our face-to-face connection, we knew we'd always been friends but hadn't had the opportunity to be introduced yet!

I devoured her first novel--Every Good & Perfect Gift--as much enthralled with her writing talent as with the story. If one outshines the other, the reader misses out. But Sharon exquisitely maneuvered the balance beam and performed a glorious dismount with the book's final words.

I'm pleased to share this conversation with you and encourage you to treat yourself to the gift of her writing through Every Good & Perfect Gift or her second novel with NavPress, Lying on Sunday. 

1.   I asked Sharon...

     How long was your journey from the seed of an idea for Every Good and Perfect Gift until its publication? Musing time? Writing time? Sending it out to publishers?

From inception to release, Every Good and Perfect Gift was ten years in the making. It’s the only book I’ve written from real life experience. The story was inspired by a catastrophic illness that struck a very close friend, one I didn’t even know existed until her diagnosis. I jumped right in when the idea for the story struck, so there was very little musing time, but it took two and a half years to write. I did send it to a few publishers on my own, and got it back each time with a nice form letter. It wasn’t until I went to the Mt. Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, met a young editor who was interested in the story, and ultimately signed with my wonderful agent, Wendy Lawton, that things began to happen. Within a few short weeks following the conference, I was offered a contract.

2.       The friendship between your two main characters—DeeDee and Gabby—is so rich, it seems obvious that imagination alone couldn’t flesh it out as fully as could your personal experience with deep, sacrificial friendships. Did you draw heavily from your own relationships in creating the characters?

Not since high school have I had the kind of friendship I wrote about in Every Good and Perfect Gift, not even with the friend whose story inspired the book. I think the relationship between DeeDee and Gabby reflects the kind of friendship I would like to have, but that too many grown women, myself included, don’t have. Marriage, motherhood, career and ministry, all take so much of our time, energy and emotion, that very little is left over for the type of relationship the characters in my stories enjoy. Or maybe it’s just the type of person I am, too private for my own good. All I know is that writing stories about such rich friendships has birthed a desire in me I haven’t known in years. I’m allowing myself the luxury to cultivate my own version of those friendships, now that I know how important they are and how much I missed over the years. If there’s one thing I’d like to do, it’s to encourage young women not to sacrifice that in the busyness of their lives. I’d encourage them to make time for themselves, because everyone in their life will benefit from it.

3.       Can you share your philosophy—with which I personally identify—of how humor and pain seem so often intertwined in life and crises?

The difficult times in our lives can bring us very quickly to the breaking point. Humor, like nothing else, can break that tension at just the right time. My dad passed away very unexpectedly at the age of 54, and it was one of the hardest things I ever experienced. My sister, her husband and I spent almost a week at his house, going through all his things, emptying the house he’d lived in most of our lives. It was a very difficult time. Well, he had this nearly dead spider plant hanging in front of his swamp cooler, and it came right to the height of my brother-in-law’s forehead. You guessed it. Every time Bob turned around he was banging his head on the plant. By the time it happened three or four times, we were all laughing so hard we were crying. But we were no longer crying from our sorrow. I love my brother-in-law all the more dearly for the comic relief he provided – intentional or otherwise – for my sister and me.

4.       What did it cost you, emotionally, to write this story?

It was an emotionally difficult story to write, but then most of my stories are. I think because I was so closely linked to the issue I wanted to present with my friend’s illness, I could never really step away from it, like I might with another story and another issue. It was always there in front of us, getting worse all the time. So in that regard, it was more real than anything I’d written – until now.

5.       Your three children are grown. How has your empty nest affected your writing habits or stories?

I look back and wonder how I accomplished what I did with my writing, as a working mother and pastor’s wife. Back in the day (ha!) I did most of my writing at night, after everyone was in bed and all the chores were taken care of. I’ve never been a morning person, so getting up early was not an option for me. I’d much rather stay up late to work. I have a friend right now who gets up every morning between 4:30 and 5:00 to work on her book before she gets ready for work, and just thinking about that makes me want to take a nap. I can get by on four hours of sleep when I have to, which is more often than I’d like, but it better be because I’ve stayed up half the night, rather than gotten up before the sun.

Now that our children are grown with children of their own, I’m able to do most of my writing in what I call the heart of the day, that time between noon and dinner time. That gives me the morning to do my housework, run my errands, have an early lunch with my daughters, husband, or a friend once in a while, and get home to write. I also have time to write at night after my husband—who IS a morning person—goes to bed. But usually I reserve that time for things like answering interview questions, catching up on email, and reading.

6.       It seems no nest is truly “empty.” And certainly our prayers and concern for our children and grandchildren don’t cease. What’s the greatest gift your kids and grandkids have given you in regard to your writing career?

Their support and encouragement has been phenomenal. Sadly, our son passed away during the final edits of this book, so he never got to hold it in his hands, but he’d read the manuscript and cheered me on as proudly as his dad and his sisters. Now my grandchildren are getting to the age where they’re eager to read my books. That’s very gratifying.

7.       Every Good and Perfect Gift is your debut novel, but writers often have a couple of “practice” novels on file. Was this the first novel you completed? If not, what made this one rise to the surface in your focus and in the eyes of your publisher?

You’re absolutely right about those practice novels. I have three or four that will never be published, but they were wonderful learning experiences. By the time I began to edit Gift, my writing style was much sharper and I’d found my voice, if you will. So I was able to tighten it up before turning it in. It really was the one I hung my hopes on, and I’m glad it was the first one published, but I like to think I improve with each book I write.

8.       If you had it to do over again, is there anything in your fiction career you would have done in a different order?

I would like to have been published much sooner than I was, but I committed my writing to the Lord a long time ago.  I have to believe this has all been in his time and according to his plan.

9.       Describe for us your typical writing day.

As I said earlier, I’m not a morning person, so morning is not the time I use to write. Instead I like to clear as much off my plate as I can, so that when I do sit down to write I don’t have things vying for my attention. Late morning and all afternoon is when I usually write, and sometimes at night. However, when I’m under a looming deadline all bets are off, and I’ll spend as much time at the computer as I have to.

10.   Do you have any specific advice for writers seeking to stay well-balanced in their family life, spiritually, physically…?

This is definitely a case of do as I say … and when I speak to you I’m speaking to myself as well. The pastor we had for a number of years was known by one word – something he talked about all the time. Balance. In whatever we do, it’s the Lord’s intent that we put him first. He created us and knows that’s how we function best. It’s a principle similar to tithing – give the Lord 10% and the remaining 90% goes further. I believe that same principle applies to our time, our energies, our devotion. Putting God first puts everything else in balance. Then comes our family, our vocation, and our ministry. Typically we run into problems when we get those things out of order.

 

We can’t do it all, no matter how much we try. So if something has to go, make sure it’s the right thing – and that’s never your relationship with the Lord, your spouse or your children. If I could spend one more day with my son, believe me I’d give him my undivided attention.

11.   How did your own faith walk differ after you completed the book compared to before? Or did the writing of the manuscript simply solidify how you felt before you picked up your pen or laid your hands on the keyboard?

The writing of Every Good and Perfect Gift certainly solidified the point I wanted to make with the story, and that is the faithfulness of God. Yes, bad things happen. Yes, we sometimes lose our way, but God so loved the world . . . that he sought us, to redeem us. There’s no greater story and no greater truth. It’s a truth I cling to, more now than ever.

12.   I’ve fallen in love with your writing style and know that many others have, too. Lying on Sunday—your second novel—is on my must-read list. What kinds of new projects can we expect from you in the future?

Thank you so much, Cynthia. My stories continue to include extraordinary friendships, and the intricate workings of familial relationships. Unraveled (working title) is the story of a young woman who goes to Moldova in Eastern Europe to teach English to children, and has a crisis of faith when one of the children is abducted for the worst of reasons. The Hub of the Daisy (also a working title) is the story of a boy who carries the guilt of the accidental death of his sister. I can only encourage readers of this interview to check my website from time to time to learn the release dates, because I don’t know what they are yet.

13.   Here’s your opportunity to express something from your heart to your readers and potential readers. What would you say to them if you were sharing a cup of tea with them in a quiet cafĂ©?

It’s my hope that you will come to value those around you a little bit more, and that the infinite and incredible love that God the Father has for you will become ever clearer because of something you’ve read within the pages of my books.

14.   Where can readers find you on the Internet? Would you share a link through which they can purchase your books and learn more about you?

Readers can visit my website at www.sharonksouza.com or visit http://novelmatters.blogspot.com, featuring myself and six other authors where we talk about what makes good fiction good from the perspective of reader and writer alike. You can find my books at all online bookstores, such as www.christianbook.com.

4 comments:

Angie Farnworth said...

Thanks for introducing us to a great writer! And thanks, Sharon, for all of the insights!

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey! I'll be your friend! :)

Thanks for the great interview, Sharon! Your attention to details of the heart shines in your books. And you don't back away from looking the truth in the eye! Refreshing!

Deanne Barth said...

Having read both Every Good and Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday, I can say that Sharon is no "one hit wonder". Lying on Sunday is every bit as good as Every Good and Perfect Gift. Can't wait for the others!!

Wendy Lawton said...

Great interview. The wonderful thing about Sharon's stories is that they live far beyond the reading. I'm still thinking about Lying on Sunday. Love it!