Friday, April 4, 2008

Sharon K. Souza's Long Writing Journey

Sharon K. Souza's new book from Navpress, Every Good and Perfect Gift, deals with two issues that have struck my family pretty hard: infertility and Alzheimer's disease. So I'm looking forward to reading her book and I'm excited to be giving away a copy of it. (Just leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing.)

I was also happy that Sharon discussed her writing journey with me so frankly. It's always helpful to me to know that other writers have faced discouragement and doubts and have overcome them. If you need some encouragement today, read on:

Thanks for visiting my blog today, Sharon. Can you tell us how long you've been writing?

I've been writing seriously for 20 years, though I've had a love of reading and writing as far back as I can remember. I think the first time I toyed with the idea of writing a novel and actually sat down with pencil and paper I was in my early 20s. And yes, when I first started writing I wrote by hand. After I got my first computer it was quite some time before I could sit down at a blank screen and compose. I started by typing into the computer what I wrote by hand. Then I would edit that. Eventually I could actually write at the computer, and now I wouldn't think of doing it any other way.

Can you tell us a little about your road to publication?

When I began my first serious attempt at a novel Christian fiction as we know it was a fairly new genre. That first novel was set during WW2, and it took about 2 years to write. At the time I had a 13 year old, a 12 year old and a 10 year old at home, I was an associate pastor's wife, and employed during the school year, so like many of us, my writing time came at a premium. While most everything on the Christian fiction shelves at that time was historical fiction, most of my rejection letters said editors were looking for contemporary fiction. So I rewrote my novel, using Desert Storm as the time period. That took another year. And while neither version will ever see the light of day, it was an excellent learning experience.

During that same time I wrote and sold a number of articles for our denomination's weekly magazine, I spent 3 years as publisher and contributing editor for a monthly newspaper our church produced, I worked on three non-fiction books with another author, and continued to write more novels.

In 2000 I finally received a contract for a suspense novel I'd written, and boy was I thrilled. Under the terms of the contract, the company (which shall remain nameless) had 3 years to publish the book. I went through all the normal processes from cover design to final edits, and just before the contract was due to expire -- still without a finished product -- the company went bankrupt. That was bad enough, but I had agreed to purchase a certain number of those books myself, had paid the money in advance, and lost every dime. Any legitimate traditional publisher (those not specifically marketed as subsidy publishers) will never ask an author for money for the production of their book. I hope this information prevents another writer from falling into the trap I fell into.

In 2004 I published my Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown, with WinePress. I chose the self-publication route for that book because it's difficult to find publishers for seasonal books. I was very pleased with the product, but continued to seek traditional publishers for my other novels. In 2006, I received a contract for Every Good & Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday (to be released 9-1-08) from NavPress, after connecting with an editor at Mt. Hermon Christian Writer's Conference. Attending that conference opened doors that nothing else had ever accomplished.

Has there been a time you felt particularly discouraged about your writing dream, or felt like giving up? How did you get through that?

Many, many times. It was a long journey from that first manuscript to my first contract, with some major disappointments in between. I can't tell you how many times I questioned my ability, my call, the possibility that I would ever be published. I knew in my heart that writing inspirational novels was my passion, but I got to the point that I seriously doubted it was what the Lord meant for me to do. And yet the thought of not writing them would bring me to tears.

My family has been a great source of encouragement. Without their support and cheerleading I never would have kept going. And I held on to a favorite verse from the Bible: "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13). I came to fully believe that the passion I had for writing Christian fiction was indeed from the Lord--who also loved to tell stories. Once I settled that in my heart, then I just had to be the best writer I could be, and I had to leave the results to him.

Do you have any advice for writers who might be discouraged today?

Do all you can to hone your craft. Practice may not make you perfect, but it sure makes you better. Find a critique partner or group that will honestly evaluate your work. Find a writer's conference to attend. Take advantage of those conferences that allow you to submit your work to a critiquer for a professional evaluation, or to an editor if the piece is ready for publication. Above all, don't quit. You'll never achieve your goal if you do.

Okay, time for a plug for your new book. What's Every Good and Perfect Gift about?

DeeDee and Gabby have been friends since the sixth grade, when headstrong and courageous DeeDee began mapping out their lives. But after twenty years with her husband DeeDee changes her plan. Nearing forty years old, she wants a baby - now! Two years of infertility, prayers, and outrageous behavior finally results in the birth of DeeDee's demand.

Gabby is present for all of it, noting the increasingly strange behavior of her lifelong friend after the baby's birth. Then comes a diagnosis that threatens to shatter their world. Gabby must find the strength and faith to carry DeeDee and herself through the dark unknown, but is she up for it?

Were these characters based on real people?

The concept of the story was based on a real situation in regards to the Early Onset Alzheimer's. But the characters are not based on real people. I do typically use people I know/have known and then take their personality traits/quirks to extremes--almost like a caricature--in order to make the character as interesting as possible. Almost always my daughters will recognize something of themselves in my make-believe world. It makes for fun conversation.

What inspired you to write Every Good & Perfect Gift?

I wanted to write a book about a "Jonathan and David" type friendship between two women, knowing that I was ultimately going to tell the story of a young woman who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. I have a close friend who, at the age of 42, began to exhibit many of the symptoms portrayed in the book. Since completing the book I've learned that another close friend has been diagnosed with EOA. What are the odds?
In determining what course the friendship between Gabby and DeeDee would take, I asked myself: What is the greatest way one woman can express friendship to another? The answer: By helping her have a child if she's unable to, which one character is willing to do if it comes to that.

Thanks so much, Sharon. I'm looking forward to reading the book, and I wish you all the best with it.