Monday, January 28, 2008

Every Good and Perfect Gift

Welcome to Joy in the Journey and my interview with Sharon K. Souza, author of Every Good and Perfect Gift. Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered to will a free copy of the book.

Welcome, Sharon, to Joy in the Journey. It's a pleasure to have you here.
1 . Your debut novel Every Good and Perfect Gift is releasing this month from Nav Press. Can you tell us a little about the book?

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?

2. Okay, you've sparked my interest. What inspired you to write Every Good and 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.

3. You've incorporated two major issues in Every Good & Perfect Gift: infertility and Early Onset Alzheimer's. Why focus on both?

The theme of Gift is extraordinary friendship. The foundation for the friendship is established between the characters in their childhood, tested through the issue of infertility, and exemplified through catastrophic illness. Infertility was the catalyst to get to that level of friendship expressed because of the illness. One character's growth was accomplished because of infertility, while the other character's growth came as a result of the Alzheimer's.

4. Why did you use humor to tell a story with such serious issues?

It's exactly because the issues are so serious that I chose humor to tell the story. Our life experiences are heavy enough without adding to them as we read for pleasure. That's not to say there aren't serious moments in the book, but hopefully the reader is buoyed by the lighter sections, rather than overloaded with the weightier ones.

5. What are your feelings about egg donation and other modern solutions that help women overcome infertility?

There are some things I might not personally opt for, but infertility was never an issue with me. If it had been I might have been willing to try anything. As it stands, I'm not opposed to in vitro fertilization or sperm donation, things of that nature. I don't find anything in Scripture that would cause me to be against it.

6. What are your feelings about a couple's decision to intentionally not have children?

Again, that wasn't my experience. I had three babies in quick succession and would not have done anything differently. But not every adult is cut out to be a parent. If an individual or couple realizes that they aren't equipped for parenthood, or if they feel their lives are full as they are, I don't' believe it's a sin not to have children. In fact, I think it's wise. That's not to say a person's feelings may not change in time, like it did for DeeDee. Then it's up to the couple to make the choice that's right for them.

7. What do you want your readers to take away from this book?

I spent several years in my early adulthood without a close friend. When the first one came into my life, I realized what I had missed and truly saw her as a gift from the Lord. But beyond that, I've experienced the truth of Proverbs 18:24: ". . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." In her darkest moments, Gabby learned that the Lord reaches out to us in compassion, spanning the gap between our need and His provision. That's been the case in my life over and over.

8. Do you base any of your characters 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.

9. I do the same thing with my characters. What about setting? Is that someplace known to you?

I actually wrote the entire story in a fictional setting, without ever naming it. I just placed the town in the San Joaquin valley. My editor suggested I nail down the location, even a fictitious one. As we talked back and forth, I decided to use my real "home town" of Lodi. I grew up in the Sacramento area, but have lived in or around Lodi since my husband and I got married. There's some debate about whether or not "our" Lodi is the subject of the 1969 Credence Clearwater Revival song, "Stuck in Lodi." Right or wrong, I choose to think it is. But not for a minute do I feel stuck. I love Lodi.

10. What is your purpose in writing inspirational fiction?

I've had well-meaning friends ask why I write fiction at all. If I want to share the Gospel, why not write "the truth." Two answers come to mind. First, that "burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jer. 20:9) finds its release in fiction. Second, when Jesus wanted to get a heavenly truth across, He didn't deliver a three-point sermon. He told stories. My desire in writing inspirational fiction is that women who read my books will find them easy to share with other women who haven't yet come into relationship with Jesus, and that those women will be directed to the One who loves them with an everlasting love.

About Sharon:
Sharon and her husband Rick have been married 36 years. They live in northern California, and have three children and 6 grandchildren. Rick travels the world building churches, Bible schools and orphanages. Sharon travels with him on occasion, but while Rick lives the adventure, Sharon is more than happy to create her own through fiction.

Thanks, Sharon, for spending the morning with us. To my readers, remember to leave a comment to be entered to win a free copy of EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Getting Started

A friend of mine told me the other day she had always been interested in writing. Like most of us, life has gotten in the way and she kept putting it off. But you know how persistent those voices in a writer's head can be. She finally feels like she's ready to begin. She's read a few books, researched a few topics, and familiarized herself with the writing process.

Now what? How does a person actually go about getting started?

If you've ever opened a blank document or sat down with a pen and brand new notebook and prepared to make the first stroke of the pen, you know how intimidating beginning a writing project can be. Where do I begin? What if I can't finish? What if I find out I don't have a book inside me? What if I can't sell what I write. And the most intimidating---What do I write about?

Once you solve the what do I write about dilemma, you'll never know the answers to the other questions if you don't just start.

Easier said than done.

If you're straddling the fence and tossing around ideas and waiting for inspiration before taking the plunge, my advice is just start. Just do it, like the old Nike ad said. Write what you are passionate about, not what you think will sell. Trends are constantly changing. If you wrote the newest trend today that pleased the world, by the time it was published, the trends would have changed again. Not only that, you won't enjoy the process and you probably won't finish.

Almost anything with a romantic element or mystery element is enduringly popular. Readers love them and snatch them up faster the writers can keep up. If you don't believe me check out the new releases section at your local independent bookstore or library. the shelves are chock full of them. You may say, "But why should I write something if the market is already glutted?"

Good question. Just write an awesome, fantastic story the way only you can, and let your publisher worry about selling it.

I strive to incorporate romance, mystery, and humor into all my books. You may impress a few people with your degrees, but people remember funny. If you are not naturally funny in your writing, don't force it. Find your unique voice and follow it.

When I was first starting out, I heard all this advice about voice and style. I thought how do you develop something if professionals can't even explain what it is. The simple answer is you'll know it when you hear it. Be yourself. Don't try to be the J.K. Rowlings or James Patterson unless that's truly who you are. Only you can tell your story your way. You are unique. Be proud of that and let it shine through in everything you write, even nonfiction.

Most of all, have fun. If you aren't enjoying the process, you aren't doing it right. You are either trying to force yourself into a mold that doesn't fit or you're writing for the wrong reasons. Examine your motives. If you are sure you're doing everything right and it still isn't working, take a step back. Maybe the timing isn't right.

There's a time and a place for everything. Happy writing and let me know how it goes.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gilmore Girls: I can't believe she said that

I don't know if any of you out there have ever seen the Gilmore Girls. It's kind of cute and a fun and nearly guiltless way to spend an hour. No one takes off their clothes--at least not while I've been watching--and cursing is at a minimum. I watch it occasionally when I have an hour to kill when I should probably be working on my masterpiece.

Be that as it may, Rory made a comment on yesterday's broadcast that jumped right out at me. I believe it did because I'm a writer and I love to pick apart other writers snaffus. Staring at a blinking cursor all day tends to make you cynical and petty. Regardless, I won't bore you with details of who the characters are in case you don't watch the show.

Here's the gist of the conversation. A friend asks Rory is anyone noticed something embarrassing she did.

Rory: “Everyone knows, including a man with a cane and a cup and a dog selling pencils.”

Did you catch that? Dogs don't sell pencils. Most viewers would never notice, but I was delighted. Writers for that show go to great lengths to make the dialog fast paced, witty, clever, and smart. How did this line slip past?

I shouldn't be making light of the mistake since they are all out of work.

I said all that to say this, dear writers. Pay attention to those little slips that can jerk a reader out of your story. They may not even realize what took their attention off the story. As a writer you don't want to break the spell for your reader for even a nano-second.

Not only that, there could be a cynical writer out there with nothing better to do than broadcast your blunder to the world on her blog. Be careful.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Character Motivation--Part II

I watched part of an old movie this afternoon. It was called EVELYN PRENTICE from 1934 starring Myrna Loy. Storylines were given a lot of lattitude back then. I don't know if it was due to lack of viewer sophistication or just that there was nothing else on.

Please don't write me and tell me I don't understand the nuances of Miss Loy's performance or whatever. Don't care. I am basing my judgment on the few minutes of the movie when I was alert and not flipping channels. The title character, Evelyn Prentice is married to a lawyer who must defend the woman accused of a crime committed by Mrs. Prentice. I was conscious at the moment when Mrs. Prentice's friend enters the room with her husband.

The husband wasn't paying attention to what the women are talking about--at least that part was accurate. Mrs. Prentice's friend tells her about an article she read in the paper about a murder.

"They found the killer," Friend says. "Her name or something."

Mrs Prentice takes the paper and says; "No, that isn't right. It was me. I killed him."

Friend gives her a raised eyebrow.

Lawyer husband walks in and asks about the case. Friend tells hubby that she was with Mrs. Prentice all day.

That's it. She's not stunned, incredulous, fearful, anything. She just gives her a friend an alibi for killing a man and that's the end of it.

I realize it's a movie and we can't tell what the friend is thinking, but would she jump so willingly and casually to the defense of her friend without a moment to digest the news?

I also realize movie characters are much more believable these days. Women no longer put their open hand over their mouths, palms facing outward, to cover a scream--think Bette Davis. It isn't as easy to wrench a gun out of a woman's hand. Tears look real, so real sometimes I think they actually are.

As moviegoers we expect more so producers and directors have given us more. What about you? Do you consider the needs of your readers when you write? Do you realize they are going to want to know why the friend wasn't that surprised when your heroine drops a bombshell on her? They will want to know why the friend is so willing to offer an alibi. Does heroine have something on the friend? Were they both involved and afraid the other will go to the police first?

Readers want to know and if you write an unbelievable story with characters behaving out of character, they will notice.

Stay in character. Write logically. If Heroine finds out her husband is having an affair, she probably won't ask him what he wants for dinner in the next breath. If she does, he will probably have the good sense to order out.

Happy Writing

Thursday, January 10, 2008

She did what?---Character motivation

I read something this morning about TV storylines that I found very helpful. The writer was discussing a primetime drama that I've never watched. She found herself hooked on this show in a short amount of time so naturally, as a writer, she tried to figure out why. The drama is full of characters--some endearing, some frustrated, some downright evil. Each character had something in common.

These characters--whether good or bad--have everything to lose. The show's writers have put each character into a situation where everything is at stake for them. Regardless of what we write we can learn a lot from that.

Is there enough at stake for my characters to compel the reader to keep going? I can always tell if I am into a good story because I begin to have physical reactions to what the character is going through. I will get tense as she tries to make a decision that will affect the rest of her life. My palms get sweaty and my heart rate increases as she speeds up to outrace the car behind her. I hold my breath as she slowly pushes open the door to find out the source of the noise she heard in the night.

Too often I read books where nothing happens. Not enough is at stake for the character. Not her marriage. Not her child's health. Not her personal safety. Not even her own happiness or well being. Yet the writer expects me to care enough to read all the way to the end.

Examine what you're writing today. Not every book involves car chases or boogeymen hiding in closets. That would be ridiculous to most plots. But something must be at stake at all times. Even something subtle, but it must be enough to keep the reader going.

I'll discuss more about character motivation in later posts. Stay tuned. If you'd like to see something discussed, give me a shout. Let me know if you've read something lately or seen something on TV that drew you in and you weren't even sure why. That's good writing, my friend.

Have a great writing--and reading--day.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Writing as a Calling

I have hated every job I ever had for at least the first month. I hated it because I was still learning the ropes and wasn't very good at it. I felt like I would never be as good as those who had been doing it for a long time. After about a month I got comfortable in the position and began to love it, or at least tolerate it.

Writing isn't like most jobs that get easier the longer you do it. If anything it gets harder every time I start a new project. I was wondering this morning if it's getting harder because I am not where I'm supposed to be or because I'm lazy or maybe just because I'm not that good at it.

It occurred to me that writing gets harder for many of us because we strive to keep getting better. To excel and grow in anything you do, takes hard work.

I have read books by many prolific writers whose writing has seemed to stagnate. As a reader of these books, it's as though the writer has acheived the fame and notoriety he sought and has stopped trying to better his craft. His books sell regardless of what he puts in them so he doesn't need to keep growing and evolving. I'm not saying these writers make a conscious decision to lower their standard, it's just how it looks.

I have found I do the same thing. I've been thinking a lot about going back to school. I don't know if I ever will have the opportunity or it the desire will ever get that strong. We are paying off our son's student loans and it seems silly for me to go back and add to the bills. People have told me I don't need to go to school; they probably can't teach me anything about writing that the process of the actual craft hasn't already done.

Even so, I don't want to get lazy about my writing. It is a calling and I owe it to the Giver of all good gifts to hone my skills and use them to His glory. I do believe my writing is a ministry and I want to treat it as such.

Just like there are pastors who no longer study but simply download sermons from the Internet on any given subject, I don't want to take my position for granted. I was reading Esther last night and Mordecai reminded the young queen that God had put her in the position of the King's favor "for such a time as this."

I don't want to miss God. Ministry is to be given out of a genuine heart without agendas or expectations of return.

"Heavenly Father, help me to minister your love to others through every story I write. Let me get out of the way, along with any expectations I have for my career, and let you work through me. Thank you for the calling you put on my heart and for putting me in this position for such a time as this. "

What about you? Do you consider yourself called to be in the position you are in right now? How can you use that position to share God's love today?

Friday, January 04, 2008

There is JOY in the Journey

I titled my blog Joy in the Journey because I wanted to show aspiring writers, along with anyone else who wants to follow God with his or her whole heart, that we can find joy in our journey. Oftentimes I get off track on what I meant to accomplish when I started this blog. I tend to ramble and rant and that's not what I intended in the beginning. Since this is the time of the year we all think of New Year's Resolutions, I would like to take this opportunity to rededicate this blog to its original purpose.

God wants us to have peace and joy in all that we do. May we find that in 2008.

Let me begin with this writing I found on a friend's profile page on Shoutlife. I really liked it so I thought I'd share it with you. May it encourage you today in your walk.

Wisdom. Obedience. Respect. Truth. Hope = WORTH

A woman of Worth embraces wisdom and worships God with her whole heart, mind and soul. She is a light, a woman of witness, a woman who walks in the Spirit.

A woman of Worth realizes she is an original design. She is open to God's leading and obedient in serving Him. She has an open hand and an open heart.

A woman of wOrth refreshes her outlook everyday and renews her spirit from within. She is a woman who respects God and rejoices in Him.

A woman of woRth trusts in the Lord and treasure her time with Him. She strives to be the embodiment of truth and gives thanks with a grateful heart.

A woman of wortH overflows with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. She has a humble heart and is helpful in all her ways. She strives for greater harmony in her life and with her Saviour.

Check the caps they spell: WORTH.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Back to work

All my excuses for not getting more accomplished on my WIP or on maintaining my writing business have been exhausted. Christmas is over. My shopping is done. I returned everything that didn't fit or didn't suit me. The goose has been cooked...and eaten. Dishes washed and put away. Leftovers frozen, the tree is down and stowed away for another year. Even most of the Bowl games are over. There's nothing left to keep me from getting to work. Starting today.

A brand new year is like a brand new notebook. Clean, full of promise, just begging me to fill it with memories and observances. Make something happen. Let this be the year I dedicate myself fully to the calling God has placed on my heart. May this be the year that everything I do, every action, every word, every stroke of the pen, be for his glory. Wholly devoted to the King.

What an exciting moment! Let me not squander it.
Someone challenged me to write my mission statement for 2008 in 10 words or less. For me to do anything in 10 words or less is a big task, but I'm going to go for it.
To lift up Jesus in my writing and my life.
Sounds a little too simplistic, too obvious. But that's what this writing thing for me is all about. Not only writing but why I am here at this point in time.
May each of you have a blessed and bountiful 2008. I pray your needs are met and you find contentment in whatever place God has put you. Let me know your goals and aspirations for '08. Share your writing victories and disappointments. I pray we can all be an encouragement to each other. That's what we're here for.