Sharon Hinck broke into print in 2006 with the "mom-lit" title, The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, and no relation to the OTHER Becky Miller, aka Rebecca Luella Miller of Christian spec fiction circles), which has met with much enthusiasm in Christian circles. The story of her heart, however, is The Restorer series, and this year sees the release of the first title, The Restorer, and its sequel, Restorer's Son (October 2007, NavPress). She took part in the list in May 2007. Shannon McNear, Jill Nelson, Greg Slade, Mirta Schultz, and Bill and Cheryl Bader asked questions and made comments, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence. You can learn more about Sharon at her website: www.sharonhinck.com.
Greetings, all! It's fun to be here! Where and when I grew up? That's assuming I HAVE grown up. I'm not sure I'd make that claim. LOL!
I'm from Minnesota, and have lived in the Twin Cities most of my life except a couple years in prairie country in southwestern Minnesota when I was a church youth worker, and a couple years in Virginia when I was in grad school. My dad (now in heaven) came over as a WWII refugee in 1950 and I treasure Granny's stories about the Russian Revolution (she was in Novgorod as a school child at the time) and her experiences in Latvia during WWII).
Undergrad majored in education (preparing for church work Director of Christian Education) because I wanted to serve God as a vocation. Oddly, God kept steering me toward music, theatre, and dance and I found I was doing more "ministry" in those places than in the churches I worked at.
Grad school I got my MA in communication with a major in theatre and a minor in journalism (that's when I started writing for magazines, etc.). I had marvelous professors and studied poetry, novel writing, all forms of writing. LOVED IT.
My family situation is warm and cozy, and chaotic and lively. My wonderful hubby and I are going on 28 years of marriage. Four children, ages 24, 21, 16, and 14. They are all "artsy" so my poor husband is surrounded by musicians, composers, singers, writers, artists, actors.
My mom recited poems to me when she pushed me on the swings (I have a vivid memory at about three-years of age) and read to me all the time. I became a voracious bookworm, and decided to "join the fun" and write my own stories, too. In second grade I composed a horribly derivative tale about some pigs and their houses. In fourth grade I moved on to writing stories about horses. Sixth grade I matured into spy novels and episodes of Man from U.N.C.L.E. Um... Probably more than you wanted to know.
Years ago I had devotional, parenting, how-to, and inspiration articles published in a variety of magazines (Upper Room, Christian Parenting, Partnership, Baby Talk, etc.) and more recently contributed stories or articles in about a dozen book compilations (if you're interested, those are listed on the non-fiction section of my website, www.sharonhinck.com).
My first contracted novel was The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2006)- a humorous women's fiction with an imaginative twist (my sneaky way of getting sword fights and car chases into my book).
My novel, Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2/2007) recently released and focuses on the adventure of remodeling a fixer-upper (while trying to fix the lives of everyone around you).
Releasing this month is The Restorer (NavPress, 5/2007) the first book in my fantasy series. I ADORE fantasy, and have been deeply blessed by a range of authors over the years. However, many of my friends don't read fantasy. I decided to introduce them to the genre, and draw them in by creating a character they could relate to so much, that they'd be willing to risk going on an imaginative adventure with her.
My favorite novel is The Restorer's Son (NavPress, 9/2007) which is in galley-proofing right now. One of the point-of-view characters is a bit like Gideon. When the angel approached Gideon and told him he was favored by God, he growled, "If the Lord is with us, why has all this bad stuff happened to us." (my paraphrase). I enjoyed delving into the "God doesn't make sense" questions that I wrestle with, through a character who was bold and cranky enough to express them.
It's a delight to "meet" you all! Oh I just posted a "book trailer" (kind of like a movie trailer) for The Restorer on my blog, so feel free to pop over and see it (scroll down to yesterday's entry). http://www.sharonswriting.blogspot.com/
Waving from sunny Minnesota, where bunnies are chewing my tulips.
Great questions! So many of my favorite fantasies set a young man in the hero-quest role. I was very inspired by reading Diana Gabaldon's time-travel books with a married woman as a protag. I was curious to see if I could make it work. And because the story is loosely inspired by the story of Deborah in the book of Judges who is called "a mother in Israel" it made sense to make her a mom.
I haven't actually stepped through any portals into other worlds. However, the idea of being pulled into an unexpected challenge is very real to most of the people I know. I wrote this book for my friends who receive a diagnosis of cancer, or the news that their child has a learning disability, or their parent is battling Alzheimer's, or their spouse has lost their job. They suddenly find themselves in a foreign world, facing new rules, and being asked to fill a role they donšt feel ready for. Many of my women friends ARE living an heroic battle, and I felt like this story could represent that sort of struggle the dangers, the allies, the tools, the mysteries, the losses and victories of the adventure of our daily life.
This story grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I wrote day and night, during piano recitals, in the family room while the kid's studied, snippets jotted in the margins of the church bulletin during the offering. Our family debated scenes around the dinner table. It poured out. The wrestling came in revising and honing later, AND in finding the right home a publisher willing to look at a story that was so unique and didn't fit the "easy-to-sell" parameters.
A prof in grad school who coaxed me into submitting some of my articles that I'd written as class assignments. "Published Authors" always seemed like an ethereal tribe I could never aspire towards. When I got my first check for an article published in a national magazine, I ran to Prof. Lawing's office to show him. It was a breakthrough for me.
And the Word Servants writing group. When I joined, they were all working on novels, and having so much fun, I worked up the nerve to try it for myself. That's where I began writing The Restorer.
As far as writing genre, voice, and style, all of my reading as been an influence, and I'll share some of that in the question below.
Edith Nesbit and C.S. Lewis I discovered one because of the other, but don't remember the order, since it was many many years ago. Tolkien soon after.
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. I keep giving this answer, but I haven't read it in many years, and maybe it wouldn't have the same impact on me if I went back and read it now. But I remember when I read it, it was as if God peeled back a curtain and I understand a bit more of the mystery of temptation and redemption than I had before.
Life is a grand adventure, and even the small choices we make each day can be heroic.
When the minutia of modern life wears me down, I write to remind myself of the bigger picture: We have an amazing God who made us, loves us, and invites us to be part of His story. And He is an expert at taking ordinary people and empowering them to make a difference by sharing His grace with others.
I'm combining these two, because sometimes God speaks to me deeply in a story that may not be written by a Christian or published by a Christian house. I went through a zillion phases as a bookworm at various ages. Some stand out as books that burrowed into my heart and left me changed. Childhood scholastic books like The House of Secrets and The Velvet Room The Forgotten Door and Castors Away. The poetry of Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga stories. Then Edith Nesbit's fantasy books. Every Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden (my girl detective phase). Classics from Mark Twain to Jack London, to Robert Louis Stevenson, Louisa Mae Alcott. Then I had my World War II phase reading all my dad's books both fiction and nonfiction, like Escape from Colditz. Then my secret agent phase, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Oh, and I still remember the POWER of being lost in Michener's Hawaii. In high school I discovered books by Christian authors that mentored me in deep ways. Run Baby Run, The Cross and the Switchblade, books by Corrie ten Boom and Brother Andrew and Richard Wurmbrand, Joni Tada, and many others. I'd already devoured Narnia, but found C.S. Lewis' sci-fi trilogy, then everything else of his. In college, Lawhead, Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, Anne McCaffrey. Honestly, my bookshelf today has multiple personality disorder. Star Trek novels are side by side with Richard Foster and John Eldredge. Sue Grafton and Dorothy Gillman books sit near Ted Dekker and Frank Perretti. And let's not forget my dear collection of Grace Livingston Hill books. And Essie Summers. And lately, a WIDE range of wonderful CBA books (Ingermanson, Hancock, Tyers, Olson, Mary DeMuth, Jill Nelson, Kristen Heitzman, Davis Bunn ... and many many more). Dietrich Bonhoeffer is propped beside The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. It's a delightful mélange, and I'm guessing the variety affects me because I can't seem to write within the confines of one genre. LOL!
I'm so delighted! DON'T peek at the galley until after you read the first one. VERY important. There are lots of surprises that you don't want ruined for you. It's even been tricky for reviewers of The Restorer Ō because there are so many things that can't be mentioned, or it would ruin the story for readers. I've been SO grateful that all the reviewers have avoided spoilers.
Okay here's "The Story Behind the Restorer"
There's some danger in probing too analytically into where stories come from. The best of art is often intangible subconscious strands of imagination woven together in ways that defy explanation.
But as The Restorer releases, I've taken time to look back at the many amazing "God-incidences" that went into inspiring the tale, and also bringing it to publication.
The germ of the idea began twenty years ago. At the time I was a full-time choreographer, and the artistic director of a small Christian dance company made up of professionally trained ballet dancers with a heart to create theatrical dance works to express themes of faith. In one of our early concert performances, I choreographed a modern dance/spoken word interpretation of the Song of Deborah from Judges 5.
The Song of Deborah was one small work in a large repertory. It wasn't one of my best or favorite works. But the story hung around in my heart and fascinated me: Deborah a "mother in Israel" who rode into battle.
About ten years later I left my work with the dance company, but before I left, I'd begun to play with a script about a woman who goes into her attic for time alone for her devotions. As she reads her Bible, characters from her reading step from the shadows and interact with her (again, as a dance work). The idea was tucked away into a forgotten corner of my mind.
So...after several years of serious illness, as well as major burn-out, when I began to seek God for "What do I do next with my life?" I heard a quiet call: "Write."
Words didn't burst from me at that point. I just scratched my head and asked, "Write what? For whom? Magazines? (I'd done that in the past) Scripts? Non-fiction Christian living books?" I had NO CLUE and waited and prayed and dabbled in things that went nowhere for YEARS. One of my prayers was for a Christian writer's group...because I knew support and accountability would be important as I sought to obey this call (which was all still so fuzzy to me).
The answer came in a weird way. My husband's company closed, and he was job hunting. To do some networking, he attended a Christian media event, and bumped into a woman who said she was part of a writing group. My dear hubby said, "Hey, my wife has been looking for something like that for a couple years." They exchanged cards, and soon after I had lunch with the founder of the group, and was invited to join.
I still didn't know what I wanted to write. Each meeting, I'd bring in old magazine articles to read, because I had nothing new. Many other members were working on novels and it was so FUN to hear each new chapter. I was jealous. I was a fiction fanatic. But I had such reverence for novelists, I don't think it had really occurred to me that I could attempt it. Their example coaxed me into a little courage.
So with the germ of an idea about how the biblical Deborah would look as a modern soccer-mom, and an attic that produced anything BUT a "quiet time" I began to write.
I finished that first draft in six months, emailed an old grad-school friend who was an editor and said, "I wrote this novel. Don't know if it's any good. What should I do next?"
He said, "Take it to a writer's conference and let some editors and agents have a look so you find out if you're in the ballpark or not."
I went online and searched for writer's conferences. Write to Publish was nearby but was the same week as my son's upcoming wedding (not a good plan). Then I found Mount Hermon and Calvin Miller (one of my favorite authors) was keynoting and T. Davis Bunn (another of my TOP favorite authors) was teaching the fiction clinic. It was only a few weeks away, WAY too expensive and far away. A crazy idea.
God said, "go." My hubby said, "go."
I went. Scared, befuddled, clutching my brand new proposal in sweaty palms. I learned, met wonderful people, but heard over and over, "we'll look at any genre EXCEPT fantasy." In spite of that, an agent who had worked with some of my most revered authors loved the story (read the whole thing over Easter weekend and raved). I learned that maybe I DID have the chops. That fueled me with enough hope to keep writing the next two Restorer books, while the first one was making the rounds.
Karen Hancock shared some wisdom with me (which she first learned from our agent) that if the market wants C and you want to write A.... Try to find "B" that bridge where you write something marketable, but that is close to what you dream of writing. So after those books I wrote the Becky Miller books which found a home.
But I didn't give up on The Restorer books. They just wouldn't leave me alone. I kept explaining to anyone who would listen that even though The Restorer was a dreaded "fantasy" it had a relatable protagonist that would appeal to the core CBA demographic.
Then a year or so ago, again at Mount Hermon, an editor acquiring for NavPress was interested. His passionate support of the books got them through committee and all three books suddenly had a home.
I'm leaving out so many of God's miracles along the way so many of the dear people who encouraged me at a crucial moment or in a specific way. I've already gone on far too long.
But it's been four and half years of praying for the impossible and wondering if I were nuts or delusional...and years of watching God unfold a plan. I'm VERY curious to see what He does next. What I long for is that people relate to the spiritual questions Susan grapples with in the novel and that folks who don't know God may want to, and that folks who know Him will long to go deeper with Him.
My kids are older now (one married, one graduating from college this week, two in high school). When they were younger, they were in Christian schools that were amazing and wonderful. Even so, I felt like I was missing out on important time with them. So one year I took the two oldest out for the year and we homeschooled and had special time together. One of the huge gifts of home schooling is that you get the PRIME hours with your children (instead of a teacher getting that time). Several years later, when my two younger children were that same middle-school age, I took them out for a year of home schooling, too. We read classics together, did field trips, tailored our curriculum around their love for the arts, music, literature. It was so cool. But I didn't do ANYTHING else those years. It took every ounce of my time and energy. :-)
Good question! No, I didn't have a vast choice of publishers. :-) Some houses had one fantasy author under contract at their house (and that's all they wanted no desire for another). Some had tried a fantasy which didn't do well and they didn't want to look at another. When I first circulated the proposal, I was a new author with no other novels under my belt. NOT an attractive prospect, even in an easier genre.
I was excited when NavPress offered, because even though their fiction line was new, it had GREAT quality. I was familiar with the novels of Mary DeMuth, Claudia Mair Burney, Siri Mitchell, Austin Boyd, and other of their fiction authors and was impressed with the artistry and variety being supported by NavPress. The acquisitions editor had a passion for spec-fic, and "got it." That was important, too, because I knew the book would have an in-house advocate to keep folks excited about it. The marketing folk also caught the vision of a blended-genre book. That all helped me know that, as you put it so well, they'd "treat my baby right."
When I saw the first cover, I knew I was in the right place. They NAILED it.
Ooooh. I love this question. Because of my years as a choreographer (including everything from classical ballet to fight scenes in theatre productions) I enjoy visualizing and designing sword fights. But describing them concisely is a challenge. I always want to keep the pace going, yet give enough detail so the reader can visualize some specific moves.
I lean toward a theatrical approach rather than realism. I've been told that actual sword fights (particularly with broadswords) were often VERY short. One un-blocked swing and limbs or life were quickly lost. For entertainment value, I let the sword fights go on a bit.
I block the movements in my mind in slow motion, and weave in dialogue or little bits of characterization. I rarely act them out, because sometimes I'm writing a scene at a coffee shop, or a child's soccer game, or in the margin of my church bulletin during the offering...places where waving a sword around would be frowned upon. :-)
Thank you! I know it's a new twist on an old fish-out-of-water fantasy premise, and I've been curious to see how it's received. To me, writing is a conversation, and until people actually engage with the book I feel like I'm just talking to myself. So it's SO fun to have it beginning to trickle into stores, and into people's hands.
Yes. Because I took a lot of undergrad theology courses, I know how easily concepts can be miscommunicated when we're struggling to talk about things beyond our comprehension like God. :-) Even though The Restorer conveys a pre-Messianic world I had to be careful and prayerful about choices I made about how their world worked, how they encountered God, how He was an work in their culture and society, how they worshipped, etc. I kept praying I wouldn't do God a disservice in answering the "what if's." What if there were another universe where God created and sustained humanity, and that humanity also fell, and what if He was in the early stages of unfolding promised salvation? What would that look like?
All the normal stuff laundry, fixing dinner, cleaning, attending events of all my multi-talented kids (okay, so I'm a little biased) plays, concerts, etc. Answering emails. Favorite things include family dinner and devotions (on the nights when we're all home at the same time), walks and talks with my hubby, hiking (especially in the North woods by waterfalls, cliffs, etc.). Gardening (sometimes canning strawberry jam, pickles, and tomatoes from my garden when I have time, which I haven't for a few years). A small group Bible study. I'm really a people person, so the necessary solitude of writing has been hard for me. So I enjoy my opportunities to get out (and then I tend to babble like a maniac). Recently I had an English Tea with a Bible study group who bid on me in an auction, spoke to the staff at a local Christian chain about new genres in Christian fiction, I've taught at writer's groups, visited book groups, spoken at various kinds of events, was "show and tell" for a friend's daughter at her school. It provides a fun balance from all the hours alone at the computer.
Nature. Watching a heron glide in for a landing with its pterodactyl-type wings. Seeing an iris slowly unfurl. The intricate design of fern leaves. The whimsy of bunnies (even when they are ransacking my garden).
Movement. I was a ballet teacher and professional choreographer for twenty years. Usually dance is a response an expression, rather than the thing to stir creativity for me, so I don't know if that counts.
Worship. The community of believers, the richness of texts of some hymns, the power of the Word, the time of pulling my focus off all my silly preoccupations. The music the more variety of instruments and styles the better.
Drama. My major in grad school was theatre so I still get excited by watching crackling dialogue and a well-executed scene.
Time alone. As much as I get lonesome, I find I need long stretches of time to be with God, to cast off all the clamor of other voices, in order to start finding the stories my heart wants to tell.
Once my eldest son married, we were able to convert a bedroom into an office. I have my dad's old desk (he passed away 25 years ago) and I face a window that looks out over my garden and a pond near our house. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop, just to feel a sense of companionship. However, I don't drink coffee. And paying two bucks for hot water for tea just bugs me too much.
When I'm on my "sorta normal" schedule, I set a goal of 1000 words a day, 5 days a week. In general I try to spend my mornings writing, and my afternoons doing all the other "stuff" of writing interviews, emails, communicating with editors, publicists, etc.
But right now that's all discombobulated, because I'm doing rewrites on one book and line edits on another, and can't do any NEW writing til I get all this done.
I like the process of discovery. If I do too much outlining, the work begins to feel flat and stale to me. However, I deeply admire those who can do detailed advance outlines.
I REALLY appreciate the things you are mentioning. You hit on a couple issues that were major goals for me as I worked on The Restorer. THANKS!
I've had a great time chatting here at Christian Fandom all month!
The most valuable advice I can share is to seek Him first. If stories burn in your bones and you wrestle the words onto paper and that's part of how you know Him and make Him known then it will be time well-spent.
Recognize that Christ's redemptive sacrifice, the Father's creativity and compassion, and the Holy Spirit's empowering are all far beyond the ability of our writing to express so we will always face the frustration of seeking to "utter the unutterable."
We're all like Isaiah, saying, "Woe is me. I'm a man of unclean lips." Our words are so limited and flawed in the face of God's glory. Yet when God calls us and touches that coal to us, like Isaiah, we can cry out, "Send me!"
And He will. He'll give you unique stories to tell about the human condition, and about His grace. Calvin Miller said, "You are the steward of your glorious individuality." No one else can write the stories God has given you to write. Treasure that calling. Make yourself available. And trust that He uses the broken, the wounded, and the flawed in bewildering and unexpected ways.
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