Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Getting to know Sharon K. Souza

Conflict is central to fiction, but how do you create a work of fiction that is tense, difficult, and sometimes even frightening, yet make it a place readers want to go to, spend time in, and get to know well?

It's funny that in real life we do all we can to avoid conflict, yet in fiction, as in movies, we're all about conflict. To paraphrase James Scott Bell, from Plot & Structure, we are to get our protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at her. That one sentence helped me grasp the importance of conflict in fiction, and gave me license to be as heartless as I needed to be for the sake of the story. (Gotta love that!)

If there's nothing at stake, there's nothing for our readers to invest in, nothing to hold them to the story. We need to bring them to the place where they're saying to our characters, " Don't believe that!" "What are you thinking?!" That's what I aim for.

Where is the strangest place that you had a brainstorm and had to stop and write down an idea or snippet of dialogue?

When I go to bed at night, while I'm in that relaxed state before sleep, that's when inspiration most often strikes. I used to be like popcorn, jumping up to rush to my office to write down the ideas -- because I will forget -- maybe a dozen times a night. Popping up, popping up . . . Then a friend, bless her, gave me a pen that lights up. I keep it and a notepad by my bed and write my thoughts without having to get up. My husband can always tell what kind of night it was by how much is scrawled on the tablet.

I've jotted down ideas during a sermon, written ideas on napkins in restaurants, and on anything handy while riding in a car. But as for the strangest place, I sold my first article from an idea that came to me at a funeral. It seems I never get very far away from my stories.

Which one of your characters most resembles you and how did you draw from your life to create them?

My family tends to recognize me in my characters before I do, so judging by their input I'd say I'm not the character the reader would most like to be. But I do think I'm the character who eventually learns from her experiences. In defense of my family, they see me in a better light than I see myself, and they'd like that reflected in my writing. Sorry, guys, that's not likely to happen.

Tell us about the relationship between your writing and your spiritual life.

It's difficult to separate the two, because my writing is do deeply connected to my spiritual life. When I'm dealing with people who haven't yet connected with Christ on a personal level I tend not to be preachy. I usually ease my faith into the conversation, then always wonder if I've failed the Lord by not being bolder. I'm much the same way with my writing -- try not to be preachy or holier than thou. I just want to present an honest picture of Christ as I know Him, to share the love of the One who loved us enough to go to the cross. It's up the Holy Spirit to convict.

When you sit down to write, who is your audience?

I picture my audience primarily as women who have faced the hard issues of life and lived to tell it. I write about illness, infidelity, doubt, death, because most of us will walk through one valley or another before it's all over. I want women to know it's okay to get mad, cry, even laugh -- especially laugh -- in the midst of our trials, but at the end of the day to look up, because we're never alone. God is right there to take our hand if we'll let him. He is the most faithful friend we'll ever have.

How do you know that you have achieved what you're aiming for in a particular passage you're writing? (That is, before showing it to someone else - what rings your internal chime?

I'm really never sure until someone else has read it and, hopefully, responded the way I intended. But if I can go back after a while and experience the emotion I was shooting for, then I'm satisfied that I've done the best I can do.

Think of a novel you have not written - yet - but would like to one day. The best thing you will ever write before you die. Don't tell us what it will be about, but instead, tell us how it will make the reader feel.

It will cause her to smile though her tears, and linger, unable to close that last page, because it's like saying goodbye to a friend you may never see again.

Okay, we promised GIVEAWAY CONTESTS, and here is our first:
Leave a comment on anyone's post between now and Jan 30 for a chance to win Every Good & Perfect Gift or Lying on Sunday by Sharon K. Souza. Because Sharon writes stories about extraordinary friendship, tell us about your best friend.

Thank you for sharing your time with those of us at Novel Matters. Please come back, and let us know what you're thinking. We love to hear from you.


Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Sharon, for sharing from your heart about your writing. I agree that my family sees me first in my characters, and sometimes I feel a bit exposed. But my real concern is when my kids think I've written about them. It's never about them, but I sometimes use experiences that have touched us all, and I always try to make the distinction clear. It's a fine line.

Anonymous said...

I so love this website! It is always so encouraging to hear the stories of writers who have gone before us. I haven't even stepped foot into the writing field yet, but every time I read one of these interviews my faith is strengthened. Thank you for that.

My best friend these days is my husband. We've been married 16 1/2 years, and I can't say it's always been like that. I am blessed to be married to a man that I can laugh with, who knows everything about me and still loves me.

Latayne C Scott said...

Sharon, you have an ability I can't seem to master -- the way you gently but persistently bathe your reader's mind with concepts like forgiveness and patience. These are all fine to talk about in the abstract in real life, but you involve your readers in the struggle to maintain these qualities when it would be so satisfying to seek revenge or personal vindication. Thank you for your dedication to your writing.

Nichole Osborn said...

Thank you for this blog/website. I love it! I am an unpublished writer and homeschool mom. Right now I am working on a novel about Anna in Luke 2.
I would have to say my best friend would be my husband. He is understanding and listens to me when I need to talk. He brings me back to reality when I'm in the clouds, and is not afraid to tell me the truth about my writing. We will have been married for 14 years in March. I'm glad to have him as my spouse and as a friend.

Cathy Bryant said...

What a great post. I really connected with how you approach spiritual matters in your writing. I'm a greenhorn on this writing journey, but my heart's desire is to present God accurately in my stories without hitting the reader over the head with my Bible. Thanks for sharing.

Cathy Bryant

Kathleen Popa said...

Okay, I know I'm disqualified from getting the prize, but this seems a good place to riff on some of the relationships that preceded this blog - and the relationships that are developing.

Sharon and I have read each other's chapters as we wrote them since 2004, when we met through a fiction clinic at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Both of us were writing what turned out to be our first published novels (Every Good and Perfect Gift, and To Dance in the Desert).

Then in 2005, Sharon, Debbie and I drove to the same conference with two published authors(Judi Braddy and Jan Coleman). Debbie brought her novel, Tuesday Night at The Blue Moon, to show to editors, and Sharon and I brought ours. Debbie turned out to be another kindred spirit, and we three have been blessed to share the journey together.

Now our big-shot agents, Janet Kobobel Grant and Wendy Lawton, have introduced us to Bonnie, Latayne, Patti and Jennifer. I have to say, Janet and Wendy really know how to put people together, because I just adore all of these ladies. I think much of the fun of this blog is going to come of our friendship as we learn from, disagree with, and inspire each other.

Let me here invite you, dear reader, to join the circle. We've got some great discussions planned, and you are welcome to jump in and tell us what you think (and maybe win a prize or two along the way). Novel Matters is going to be a jumping place.

Cynthia A. Lovely said...

I'm enjoying this new blog and the input from wonderful Christian authors. As far as my best friend, though my girlfriends are an important part of my life....only my husband qualifies as my very best friend. I always looked for Mr. Right but it was Mr. Lovely that won my heart! He insists I wear the name better than he does.
-Cynthia Lovely

Anonymous said...

I love all your comments, and love hearing how connected you are to your husbands!

Debbie: My daughters are in most of my books, and I think they love it, though I laugh when they say, "I don't do that!".

Shara: We so want to encourage and shine a light on this world of excellence in writing and reading. We hope you'll come back again and again.

Latayne: When I grow up I want to write like YOU!

Nichole: I'm amazed at what women are able to juggle. I remember those days of balancing my real life with my writing life. We're cheering you on!

Cathy: Your heart is most certainly in the right place -- so you can't go wrong.

Katy: I hope you know how I value your friendship.

Cynthia: LOVELY!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mom.

Oh, and I really DON'T do that. But my sister does, for sure!


Anonymous said...

Deanne, you crack me up! Love, Mom

Bonnie Grove said...

Woo Hoo! Loved this interview. Meaty stuff in there, and it gets me thinking about the stuff we're going to be doing on the blog in the days and weeks to come.

Friends? Oh my - hubby for sure, I can barely function unless he is in on all the details of my day. But I have another friend who met me right before my life blew up. She didn't run for cover, she hung around and helped me pick up the pieces. And she's seen me in my underware, so I have to keep her as a friend forever.

Bonnie Grove said...'s spelled underWEAR, Bonnie.

BeWARE of underWEAR.....

sheesh...Okay, okay, I'm a writer, not a speller!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Bonnie, I was wondering if that was a Candadian spelling...

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

'Canadian' sheesh!

Anonymous said...

You girls are hilarious!

Patti Hill said...

Just arrived in Denver to do research for my next novel. As I drove across the Rockies, cerulean skies and blistering white snow made my heart go pitter-pat. Or was it the semi that swerved into my lane? Tough call.

Loved your interview, Sharon. You have so much to offer. I'm aimming higher in my writing, thanks to you.

Even though I'm also disqualified, I have to echo with you girls that my husband is my best friend. Who else would...? Never mind!

After him comes a gaggle of writing buddies, including the lovely ladies of Novel Matters. We love each other and our Master enough to say what needs to be said about the writing we produce. As far as a calling as a writer--only the humble need apply. And only the honest.

Thanks to Shara, Nichole, Cynthia, Cathy, and Deanne (I do the same things to my sons) for stopping by.

Jennifer Valent said...

Enjoyed getting to know more about you, Sharon! And thanks to Bonnie and Debbie for putting a smile on my face with your "Candadian underware" discussion.

Anonymous said...

I love this blog and I love Sharon! :)

I have many very close fiends who are kind, loving, passionate, sincere, honest, trustworthy, compassionate & fun. I am blessed!

Best friend is hands down - the love of my life - my husband

Anonymous said...

Beth: Thank you for coming by to visit, and thank you for your comment. With a husband like Dan, I can certainly understand your sweet comment.

Carole said...

Interesting thought about conflict, Sharon. We run from it in real life, yet we want lots of it in the books we read. Resolved conflict, that is.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading Sharon's book yet, but hope to soon. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Kathleen Popa said...

Carole, you will love Sharon's books. They're full of wonderful characters in heartbreaking situations, but their stories are told with humor, wisdom and triumph.

squiresj said...

I wanted to stop by your blog while you were on it to sign "Hi". Also to let you know you have my support and I wish you the best.
jrs362 (at) hotmail (dot) co

Jen~ Lipstick and Laundry said...

Great interview... I Love your stories... I am glad you gals put this blog together...

Anonymous said...

Oh, am I ever loving this blog! (And not just because you called me a big shot.)

I just love it when we talk writing and what makes a good book. There's so much emphasis on getting published in the blogosphere. I love it that you are all talking writing. Forget fancy query letters and hot proposals, excellent writing is the real secret to getting published.

Bonnie Grove said...

Squiresj: Thank you so much for your support and best wishes. I know all of feel blessed to part of this discussion. I look forward to getting to know you better.

Jen: And we're glad you found us. The joint will be jumping - and I'm so glad you're here with us.

Wendy:Yes, yes, yes - it must always be the writing first. And this amazing community of writers and readers who write for and visit/comment on NM will help us all keep our heads on straight about that.

I can't express how enriched I am being a part of this community of writers and readers. And it's just the beginning - the next few months are going to be amazing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that tip about conflict. As a new, unpublished writer, I am just now realizing the importance of conflict and having a hard time fighting my Pollyanna tendencies to create good plots. I will keep this in mind.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I have read all of your books. You write with such ease &
understanding of your subject matter. You show us the emotions & true thoughts we all keep hidden from the world. It's very liberating to read your stories.

I have known you for most of your life and still marvel at your insight into peoples feelings.

Looking forward to your new inspiration.

Ella Hess, Prescott, AZ

Anonymous said...

I think this website will be good for me. Writing is so personal and yet I know it is so needed because it verifies deep down we are all really explorers looking for the real meaning of our lives and wanting to be accepted and loved. We are all in this thing called life together! And isn't it wonderful to discover Who it is behind it all? Thanks Sharon for your stories that have really touched my heart (as well as my "funny bone"!) Oh, yeah, the hours right after midnight are the "Creative Idea Reality Show" for me, too!!

Anonymous said...

I have read all three of Sharon's first books. They are all so very different.
Heavenly Christmas in Hometown very light but so pleasureable for such a busy season. For me it was quite relaxing and yet there was definitely a message and even more.

Lying on Sunday had a brutal start at least for some of us. However Sharon is so gifted with the craft of writing I was not to let her go without seeing just how she would bring me out. Knowing this is Christian fiction really helped me to continue.
I think Every Good and Perfect gift was a mystery to me because it appeared so simple, however it is not that at all. I thought I knew the plot and to my surprise it had quite turn, yet one I wish I could not relate to, but even that kept my attention.
Simply an excellent writer. She may be my impetus to get busy.
Barbara Carr

Anonymous said...

Ella: Thank you for your comment. When I need inspiration for a comical scene, I need only to think of you. There's no one I enjoy laughing with more! "This is my husband --- What's your name?"

Barbara: I really appreciate your comments. All of us here would like nothing more than to inspire other writers and potential writers. We want to inspire good dialogue and debate. I look forward to hearing more from you.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the kind words you left for me over on Jennifer's list. What a site, a place where people can inspire one another and encourage each other in the Lord. Quick question. How do you vary your characters throughout your different books so they don't all sound the same? Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Anonymous said...

Rachel: Good question. In fact, that might be a topic we address in the near future. A brief answer for now: For me, each story has its own setting, ambience, supporting characters, and that all adds to the tone of the character who is telling the story. I've learned that it helps to find photos of your characters and hang them up where you can keep an eye on them -- because they will misbehave it you aren't always on top of them! If you can link them to someone you know, that also helps to give them a voice that is distinct from other voices you've written.

These are some of the things I do.

Bonnie Way aka the Koala Mom said...

I like your point that in real life, we hate conflict, but in books, we want more. Interesting!

My best friend is an awesome person whom I've always looked up to and admired. We grew up together, both homeschoolers, lived down the road from each other. We've been through times when we weren't as close to each other, and then, through other circumstances, became close again. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding and I'll be in her wedding party this summer. :)

Anonymous said...

Koala Bear: Thank you for your "best friend" story. I recently connected with one of my best friends from high school. We hadn't seen each other in more than 30 years. It was wonderful. Can't wait to see her again.

Rachel said...

Susan, I have to agree with the others on this site that label their husbands as their best friend. Beside my wonderful Savior, my husband is the hero of my life. At ninetenn I backslid tremendously and he was the only one who took the controversial stand with me and told me I had to choose. I was torn and confused. The beautiful thing about it was that I had a dream where my husband, Scott, was recuing from a building that was caving in. It was one of those dreams that left such an impression on me. I believe God was trying to get through my stubborn head. After that, it didn't take long to choose the way of life and then I went on to marry the one who loved me enough to show me the truth.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's my sister that's easier to recognize in Mom's writing. She's the bossy one. The one you'd love to slap. Daily. But the one who's a great friend, too. (See, I am the nicer one!)

Great post, Mom. I may be biased, but I love, love, love your writing and am so glad you persevered all those years. Anyone who hasn't read about Ian Beckwith and his love of "s-t-o-r-y" is missing out. And those of us who have, isn't he something?? Aren't we glad she created him? :)

Fun website, gals. I plan on being a regular.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Mindy, what sweet words. I can't keep you girls out of my stories -- don't want to. And Ian Beckwith, yes, he's quite a guy. We look forward to hearing more from you. Love, Mom

Carla Gade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carla Gade said...

When I went through my divorce my best friend was there at 5:00 a.m. when I was up all night crying, she ceremoniously helped me remove my wedding ring when she came to give me a manicure, she gave me practical help when I was a single Mom to two hurting teenage sons, she walked with me along the rough path and was honest with me along the way, when I remarried she gave me a beautiful shower and helped make the weddding so wonderful. She is an amazing prayer partner - in fact we began our friendship with a prayer! I've been there for her a time or two, including letting her borrow my little stuffed lamb beanie baby when I couldn't be there in person when she donated her kidney to her brother-in-law. But it hardly seemed enough for all she has been to me and so many others. She is an army Mom of four children and four grandbabies. And the best friend and sister in Christ!

Kathleen Popa said...

Carla, what a beautiful story. She sounds like an amazing woman - and I suspect if we were to talk to her, she'd have plenty to say about the ways you have been a friend to her. Have you read Sharon's novels? She writes the best friendship stories, and I can say from experience, it's because she knows so well how to be a friend.