Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Novel Matters Interviews Sharon K. Souza

We practice what we preach here at Novel Matters. Two days of Interview 101, and now we are happy to host one of our own, Sharon K. Souza, as she has just released her third novel, Unraveled.
Today, Sharon talks about her fears about going indie, the publishing industry, and what it's like to write from the gut.

Novel Matters: Sharon, you read mountains every year, you’ve been writing for 25 years. Tell me, what scares you? When was the last time you were scared?

Sharon K. Souza: What scares me? In this context, what scares me is that 25 years of investing myself in a writer’s life will have been in vain; that I’ve let down my family—who are my greatest encouragers—by not being productive as a writer, and not abandoning my goals a long time ago to do something professionally to add to our household income. My husband, Rick, has done everything in his power to let me pursue my dreams, and just thinking of his incredible support moves me to tears.

NM: Now I’m scared, too. There’s no guarantee anything we write will be published, or that we will be able to continue being published. Why not throw in the towel?

SKS: Writing is not something I choose to do; a writer is what I am. Big difference. It’s in my DNA. Story comes out my pores along with my sweat. Crude, yes, but that’s the truth.

NM: You were always a writer?

SKS: For the early years of my life, my artistic expression was in drawing and then painting. Then when I began to write, I stopped drawing and painting. It wasn’t an intentional decision. I just spent all my creativity on writing, both fiction and non-fiction in the early years. I’m at a place in my life now where I want to get back to drawing. And THAT scares me. Because what if I can’t after all this time? I bought a sketchpad and pencils a while back, and knowing they’re in that drawer in my office niggles at me all the time.

NM: But you’re not drawing, are you? You’re writing—and going in your own direction. You’re going indie. Riding the wave on your gut. Tell me about the freedom of going indie.

SKS: The decision to go indie, at least for now, has made it possible for me to write what I choose to write. I’m not pressed or made to conform to a writing style, genre or subject that doesn’t appeal to me. Some might call it a gamble, even foolish, but I was at a place where I felt I had nothing to lose by trying.

NM: Nothing to lose? What do you mean?

SKS: My publisher cancelled the optional third book in my contract and stopped publishing fiction altogether. I hoped my agent would be able to find a new publishing home where my career could blossom and grow. I believe she tried, but it wasn’t to be. What I’ve learned in the interim is that there’s a huge no-man’s land between CBA and ABA, and that’s where my writing falls. I’ve said it before that I believe CBA has purposely narrowed its scope in the past few years to a few specialized niches, because they’ve found great success in a few genres. I also believe it’s left a lot of readers disenfranchised who desire a Christian element to the novels they read. Those are the readers I hope to reach. I don’t fit in CBA any more, nor do I fit in ABA. I thought long and hard about writing the type of novel that does well in CBA for the sake of being published, but for me that would be like marrying for convenience instead of love. I just couldn’t do it.

Does it terrify me to be that transparent for everyone to see? You bet it does. But anyone who knows me knows that what you see is what you get.

NM: How long have you been without a publisher? Why go indie now?

SKS: With all the changes taking place in the publishing world, I’ve been without a publisher for almost 4 years, and I lost my agent last fall. So I made the decision—with the help and support of my family and my Novel Matters co-bloggers—to go solo; and it feels exactly like I’m walking the high wire without a safety net. Which I suppose I am, and it scares me tremendously. I’ve just self-published Unraveled, and I want to do the best I can by it. But I learned from my publishing experience with Every Good and Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday, that the marketing was ultimately my responsibility.

NM: You mean the publisher didn’t market your traditionally published novels?

SKS: I don’t think any dollars were spent on marketing my books other than my publisher adding them to their catalogue.

NM: That must have been a monumental undertaking to first write a great novel, then be expected to market her own novel.

SKS: My reader base was in its infancy, Novel Matters was yet to be born, so I started with a very small reader base and little knowledge of how to expand it. I had several author colleagues “out there,” many whom I didn’t personally know, who featured my first two novels on their blogs.

NM: What are the plans for this new novel? Anything you can share with us?

SKS: I hope to again set up a blog tour with Unraveled. I had post cards printed and mailed over 800 of them this weekend. I “launched” my novel through my website and Facebook page over the weekend as well, and will soon begin an extensive marketing campaign to libraries throughout the country. I learned the value of marketing to libraries through Judy Gann, who has done a lot of teaching on the subject.

So what scares me in a nutshell—pun intended—is the thought that I’ve birthed something that won’t reach its potential. I plan to do everything I can to keep that from happening.

NM: That’s a truly terrifying glimpse into the reality of being a novelist these days. Did you use that experience in your writing? How do your own life, feelings, experiences, ideas and hopes work their way into your writing?

SKS: I do use my fears in my writing, along with my joys, frustrations and failures. I’ve struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy all my life. I never, ever think I measure up. When my protagonist, Aria Winters, is stripped of her false securities, she comes face to face with her own failures, and that part of the story was all too easy for me to write.

NM: Tapping into that depth of honesty has to be difficult. Is this something you do in all your work?

SKS: The novel I most recently completed is a story of extreme loss, and I drew upon my unfathomable sense of loss at the death of my son. I’ve never before drawn on such deep, deep emotions in my writing—though I thought I had.

NM: This puts me in mind of that Arthur Miller quote “The writer must be in it; he can’t be to one side of it, ever. He as to be endangered by it.”  

SKS: There’s no question that empathy trumps sympathy, and unless or until we experience the really hard things of life, we can’t empathize with those who have. I write characters I can relate to on a deep level, because I want to reach readers who relate to them as well. And I want them to know, “truly I feel your pain.” There are people who have suffered great loss and I hope to connect with them through it, because there is a connection between people with a shared experience, even if they’re strangers.

A reader contacted me not long ago as she was in the midst of reading Lying on Sunday, which is a story about betrayal. She shared that her story was very similar to Abbie’s, and she opened up to me with the details. It moves me deeply that a complete stranger would trust me with her pain, but it also says I wrote from a level of understanding that made her feel she could trust me. To me, connecting to a reader on that level is the most important aspect of my writing.

And because I write stories that deal with tough issues, I temper them with humor. I can’t think of anything that can’t benefit from a little comic relief.

NM: Tell us about the new novel.

SKS: Unraveled is the story of Aria Winters, an idealistic young woman who seeks a new adventure in her very privileged life. She travels to a country she knows nothing about, meets people who change her life in uncomfortable ways, and has a crisis that nearly undoes her. 

NM: Writing is a partnership between creativity and serendipity. Did anything unusual or surprising happen in the writing of this novel?

SKS: The surprising thing that happened while writing Unraveled is the thing that happens with each book I’ve written, and still I’m surprised when it happens. And that’s a symbolic element that arises unbidden in the story. In this case it’s the sunflower, which represents a yielded life, so reliant on the sun that it never turns its face away from the light. I think if I forced a symbolic element in any given story it would feel exactly that—forced. But when it arises organically with the telling of the story, it accomplishes its purpose.
NM: Let’s go back to the novel. It’s the story of a young woman, a sort of second coming of age story. What themes are woven into the novel?

SKS: The main theme of Unraveled is the importance of staying connected to your life source. That can be family, faith, all things familiar. But we weren’t created to live an unconnected life and we suffer in many ways when we try to (cue chorus for Simon & Garfunkle’s I am a Rock). A sub-theme is that second chances aren’t always wasted; that one failure doesn’t have to lead to another.

NM: Who did you write this story for?

SKS: I wrote Unraveled for an audience who likes faith-based fiction that is raw and honest, that isn’t trite in its message or predictable in plot.

NM: Tell me about the novels you love most—your “keeper” shelf.

SKS: My keeper shelf has quite an eclectic array of books, from all the Dickens novels to Ted Dekker to John Grisham to Jack London. Lisa Samson is a favorite author of mine, as is Jamie Langston Turner. Elizabeth Berg is high on my list. You notice my favorites are comprised of authors rather than titles. That’s because when I find a novel I really enjoy I want to read everything that author has written. I don’t necessarily love every one of their books, but I do enjoy the type of stories they tell, and the way they tell them. With that in mind, there are elements I include in all my fiction: vital friendships, and heavy topics tempered with humor.

NM: Sharon, why does the novel matter?

SKS: The novel matters to me because a novel is a window into the soul of a society, an age, an era. When you read a novel, particularly literary fiction, which is the filet mignon of fiction to my way of thinking, you learn about the values and concerns of the author and his/her audience. You learn the things that make one age different from another, and that in more ways than not, we aren’t that different.

The novel also matters for the sheer pleasure it provides. I often read two or three books at one time, a non-fiction of one type or another, a book on the craft of writing, and a novel. The novel is always what I conclude my evening with. I’ll read an hour or two before bed, and that hour or two is the dessert I look forward to all day. When I hear someone say they aren’t a reader, it always jars me, and then I think of all the pleasures that person is missing. I can’t imagine a world without books. 
Thanks, Sharon, for your honesty, insight, wisdom, and for blazing a trail for like minded authors.
Dear Readers, we hope you've enjoyed this interview and that you'll drop Sharon a comment to let her know. Please stop by her web site, and we know she'd be honoured if you ordered her latest novel, Unraveled.


V. Gingerich said...

Sharon, your honesty is so inspiring.

I really like the bit about how your symbolic elements appear. I wouldn't have been able to put that occurrence into words, but as soon as I read that paragraph I knew what you meant. I've had it happen in a tiny way in short stories or essays, and it's one of the nicest surprises a writer can happen upon, I think.

I wish you success and good times with your new book and I hope to read it soon.

Megan Sayer said...

Sharon what a brave and wondrous interview. SO much in it. So much wisdom, so much truth.
And I am LOVE LOVE LOVING Unraveled. I'm only about a third of the way through, but I don't want to stop reading!
Made me wonder, why Moldova? Have you been there? You write so refreshingly, and with such clarity that it feels like I am living there with Aria. Oh...I have to stop talking...I have a book to read!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Based on "who" you wrote this for I can tell I'm absolutely going to love this work, Sharon.

~ Wendy

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Sharon, I'm cheering you on over here! And I'm sitting in gratitude for what you're doing. Homesteading the space between CBA and ABA that so many of us wander in. You are an inspiration.

Going over to Amazon now to order your book. Can't wait to read it!

S. F. Foxfire said...

Dearest Sharon,

You said, "I wrote Unraveled for an audience who likes faith-based fiction that is raw and honest, that isn’t trite in its message or predictable in plot."


I read a series recently so rife with preachiness and fluff, I wanted to lean my head out the proverbial window and projectile vomit, and when I tried to contact the author she snubbed me completely. And here all I wanted to do was talk with her (no, honestly, that's it).


Based on this one line, I want it!!! I have been looking SO HARD and SO HIGH AND LOW for boldness, for that edge, for that punch in the face when I read, that it kills me Christians can't be B-O-L-D-E-R!!!! In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." POWER, people! Come on....Bah.

Ever get that feeling that you're standing high alone on a precipice, and the only ones who understand you are God and your closest friends? Yeah, I'm there right now.

PatriciaW said...

Sharon, thanks for sharing so openly. I love this interview. The "no-man's land" between CBA and ABA is where a lot of writers find themselves. I think I'm there too and that's perhaps why I've struggled with what exactly it is that I write, always trying to move to one end of the spectrum or the other but never feeling comfortable there.

Indie publishing was made for writers like you. I hope you have tremendous success.

Lynn Dean said...

Just popped over to Amazon and bought your ebook with one click. :) Now to Facebook to tell a few friends how much I loved Lying on Sundays and how excited I am about your latest.

Any chance that you can get ebook rights to your other two titles?

I wish you GREAT success with your new venture. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm blown away by these comments. Thank you doesn't begin to cover what I want to say to all of you, but THANK YOU! Thank you for hearing my heart and for reminding me that there IS an audience for the type of novels we write. An audience that's hungry for truer stories told in truer fashion. Why doesn't CBA get this?

Lynn, I'm working as we speak on getting Lying on Sunday and Every Good & Perfect Gift ready to release on Kindle. It will take a bit of time, but I'm working hard at it.

You're all amazing.

Anonymous said...

Megan, I meant to comment on your Moldova question. I think I'll make the answer to that the subject of my next post. It's interesting, at least to me, how that came about.

Camille Eide said...

I just ordered Unraveled (got one of those 800 postcards :-) ) and I'm looking forward to reading it.

I so appreciate your honesty in this interview, Sharon. I did have to bite my tongue to keep from swearing at one point, I must confess. I am working on a story about a woman named Aria who faces her false securities and must choose whether or not to face & embrace her true self, or keep up the facade. Soooo...yeah. I guess I'll be changing that. :-) (Maybe THIS is why I've been mulling on the story for 8 months and haven't been able to start writing it.)

I feel for you and understand feeling stuck between ABA & CBA. I would so be part of that audience. It sounds like you write what I like to read, and what I want to write. I also feel that "hemmed" in, forced to marry for convenience sort of thing. I read blog posts from industry experts one day telling me to forget about fitting into something and just write from the heart, that's what will produce something of true substance you can "own", then the next day, I read from the same experts, to nail your target audience by keeping twelve dozen things in mind while you craft your story. Which is it?

Is there a silent majority of readers out there who want a painfully honest yet God-honoring story? Maybe those of us wanting to read & write this way can band together and tap into it. We could bring it.

I'm in.

Bonnie Grove said...

There is something freeing about an author newly untethered, able and bold enough to speak her true mind.

Lead on, Sharon, many brave folks are following in your footsteps.

Bonnie Grove said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melinda said...

Thank you for sharing your soul in this interview and in your writing. You've faced tough choices. Perhaps that is why your characters become "real" to the reader. Most books are read and soon forgotten. Lying on Sunday doesn't fall into that category. I'm anxious to read your new release.
Going Indie was the right choice for me. I pray that God will bless you in this endeavor as well. Welcome to a brave new world.

Cherry Odelberg said...

..."there’s a huge no-man’s land between CBA and ABA, and that’s where my writing falls. I’ve said it before that I believe CBA has purposely narrowed its scope in the past few years to a few specialized niches, because they’ve found great success in a few genres. I also believe it’s left a lot of readers disenfranchised who desire a Christian element to the novels they read. Those are the readers I hope to reach. I don’t fit in CBA any more, nor do I fit in ABA."
Thank you for being so transparent!

And yes, it is scary to birth something and worry that it will not reach full potential!

Cherry Odelberg said...

Camille, I'm in!

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much these comments mean to me. I Knew you were out there, readers and writers alike. Camille, yes, we do need to band together, to become a groundswell. Not sure how that's done, but my hope is that the ripple effect becomes a tidal wave in our type of publishing. I'm so appreciate of all who are helping me get my ripple started. I can't believe you have a character named Aria who's facing her false insecurities ... etc. Wow. What a strange coincidence!! I wish you all the best with your novel.

Melinda, I love your comment: a brave new world. I'm grabbing on to that!

Cherry, thank you for validating my trasnparency. It's not an easy thing as I'm sure you know.

Bonnie, you put together a great interview, and a great article on interviews! Thank you, friend. Mwah.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oooh, great interview, Sharon. Just bought "Unraveled" for my Kindle - can't wait to jump in!!