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Posts Tagged ‘how is your faith reflected in your writing’

JAN: Today I am interviewing author Sharon Hamilton, who writes as Sharon Plumb. Thanks for joining us today, Sharon. How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

SHARON: My earliest memory of writing is at a child-sized table in our kitchen when I was in kindergarten. I have always written stories, although I stopped for a while when I was studying computer science at university. When my children were young, I decided to try again. I enrolled in a course in writing for children, and I have been writing ever since.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

SHARON: My grade 7 English teacher liked my stories and told me I should be a writer. Other teachers gave me good marks on my writing, and my parents enjoyed reading it and kept copies. More recently, the members of my writing groups and encouraging comments from a few editors and publishers have kept me going.

I try to encourage others as well. Writing is a tough, lonely business to be in, and we can all use some kind words!

JAN: That’s the truth! What’s your preferred genre?

SHARON: I have written picture books, a middle grade mystery adventure, young adult fantasy, poetry, songs, children’s plays, and a full-length Easter musical, so I don’t actually stick to one genre. My religious writing has mostly been dramas and songs, often together. I also write children’s Sunday School curriculum, and enjoy illuminating theological concepts through story.

In my secular stories it seems that whatever I set out to write turns into fantasy—not swords and wizards, usually, but the broad category of things that couldn’t actually happen in the real world. My YA novels have dragons on another planet. Another has a farm of giant vegetables. A work in progress has creatures that live underground in the Earth’s upper mantle. My picture book is about a bear that shovels snow off his roof. But I also like to know how things work, so I often end up with a kind of science fiction-fantasy blend.

JAN: Very diverse. Why do you write?

SHARON: That’s a really good question. The quick answer is compulsion. If I don’t write, I become sad. Although I love putting words down, I often get tongue-tied when I speak. Writing helps me figure myself out. [I agree! sez Jan.] The process can feel difficult, frustrating, and endless, but I’m never happier than when I’m doing it.

The answer to the deeper question, what do I hope to achieve by writing, is one that I have been asking myself for a while now. Obviously, I want people to read what I write, and I hope they will take away something of value. Through my religious writing, I hope people will understand something about God in a new way, and desire Him more. But what are the secular stories for? Entertainment, yes. The main goal must be to write a compelling story that someone will actually want to read. I also hope they will learn from my research and find new delight in the natural world: the tagline on my website is “Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.” But is there more?

Writing is how I process thoughts about the world and faith and how they interact. My stories, though not overtly Christian, do contain Christian themes. I hope my Christian readers will find them. The non-Christian readers may or may not notice them, but I hope the ideas will resonate. As Jill Briscoe said, “When you are a writer, what you are is written all over a plain white sheet.” I hope that what I am and what spills out through my stories will be magical to someone.

JAN: Excellent thought. I just read that our “job” as Christians is to abide in the Vine, and Christ’s part is to bring fruit from our faithful abiding. So, as we write, honestly and transparently, our light is visible and powerful.

How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SHARON: I write at my desk, at my treadmill, and some mornings at a table with a friend or two who are also writing. I am a plotter. Before writing anything, I figure out the world, the characters, and the basic plot by filling notebooks with ideas, questions and possible answers. As scenes spring into my mind, I jot them down too, and eventually the story takes on a nebulous shape. When I’m ready to write, I outline each scene as I get to it with the following questions: What does each character want to achieve in this scene? Where is the conflict? What will be the outcome?

Of course, things turn out quite differently once I start to write. I discover details I didn’t know, or characters do things I didn’t expect, and I have learned that this is when the story comes alive. I still outline as I go because I find it hard to write pleasing sentences and generate ideas at the same time. But I expect my outline to change. As the story gets more involved, I make charts to keep track of how my characters are thinking, planning, feeling, and interacting about the various things that are going on.

I recently purchased Scrivener, and am experimenting with outlining on its corkboard. I like being able to see the story at a glance, but because I go down a lot of rabbit trails at first, I suspect I will still use notebooks for pre-writing and go to Scrivener when I have a pretty good idea of what the story is.

JAN: This sounds like an efficient plan, but a lot of work, as is any approach to writing. By the way, I use Scrivener and love it.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

SHARON: I never know where an idea will come from, so I try to be open. I read different kinds of books and magazines and pay attention to things happening in the world at large and around me. I have several projects in progress, and sometimes I will notice something that could be used in one of them.

Often I get ideas from reading the Bible or related books. For example, one of the main ideas in Draco’s Child  came from Jesus’s words, “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” I wondered what it would be like to physically become a small child again. So some of my characters do this.

The world is full of ideas, and I am realizing that it is important to write about things I care deeply about—even if the shape they take is fantastic and seemingly far from the original inspiration. It takes a long time to write a novel, and there has to be something that calls to me from a deep place or I will lose interest. Sometimes the deeper ideas don’t become apparent until late in the process. It is a kind of dance to follow ideas and see what shape they will take. I have to trust that there is more there than I can see at the start.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

SHARON: I do internet searches and follow a lot of links. I look for several different sources to see if they agree, and also try to choose sites that look reputable, by people who look like experts.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

SHARON: Most: Creating a world and characters to live in it and following their story. Finding the right words. Revising the story once all the elements are there—like icing a cake to make it beautiful.

Least: Querying publishers. The process can be so discouraging and take so long that any excitement about the story dries up. I am considering self-publishing in the future so I can be in control and don’t have to do this anymore.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

SHARON: I have a website and I’m on Facebook, but I’m not actively promoting any books right now. I write blog posts occasionally and plan to do it more regularly once I make room in my life to do it. I will have to look at this more seriously once I have something to promote again.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

SHARON: It is very easy to put aside my writing in favour of the multitude of urgent things that always need to be done, especially when they have tangible outcomes that help people, and my writing usually doesn’t. I struggle a lot with valuing my writing enough to give it priority.

My husband told me that whatever he does first thing in the morning is what gets done that day, so I try to start the day with writing and not even look at email or my job list until afterwards. Writing with friends is helpful because it is time set aside for that purpose. Having a critique group is also helpful because it provides deadlines and encouragement.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

SHARON: I just finished reading A Recipe for Bees, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. The author gave a writing workshop here a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things she recommended was to interview people to get insights into their situations and their ways of looking at the world. The character in this book is wonderfully alive, so I think she is on to something. I also recently read Kristine Scarrow’s new novel, 11thHour. It’s a chilling look at mental illness in teenagers. I also read Kirsten Britain’s Green Rider, the first book in her fantasy series. The book I am most waiting for is the third one in Patrick Rothfuss’s series that began with The Name of the Wind.

Usually I prefer print books, but at times it can be lighter and handier to read digital. You can’t easily share digital books. But they’re cheaper. Libraries are wonderful for both kinds.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

SHARON: I like gardens with fresh strawberries and rhubarb, but not mosquitoes. I like singing and making music. I like books that make me forget where I am. I love riding my bike. I like seeing fields of grass wave in the wind, and I like mountains up close.

JAN: You sound like a poetic soul, certainly a creative one. What keeps you going in your writing career?

SHARON: When I’m writing a Christmas play for our church or when I have a critique group (or blog interview!) deadline, I produce because I have to. Most times, the motivation has to come from within. If I’m in the middle of a story and the words are flowing, or if they aren’t but the stumbling point feels like a puzzle to solve, the project itself drives me. I have a goal and a direction and know what needs to be done. Or I can’t bear to leave my characters in their predicament and have to slog forward until they are out.

Other times, especially if I’m between projects, or I’m facing a string of rejections or being ignored by publishers, it is hard to muster the enthusiasm to write anything. I wonder if I’m wasting my time and should find something more obviously useful to do. At these times, I have to remind myself why I write at all. I love the process and it makes me happy. I have some combination of talent and learning that makes me able to do this. Jesus said we should use our talents and not bury them. Here, I have to trust. Trust that if God gave me the talent and this overwhelming desire to tell stories, and I offer the gift to Him, he will make my work bear fruit. That somewhere, sometime, someone will read it and be inspired, or encouraged, or helped.

Sometimes, someone does tell me they like my stories—maybe a teacher or a student when I’m doing a reading, or a friend who emails, or an editor. Recently, someone I don’t even know put a nice comment about Draco’s Child  on Goodreads. That kept me going for a long time.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

SHARON: In my Sunday School plays and songs, pretty directly because they teach Bible stories and illustrate concepts about God. In my fantasy stories, much more subtly. In the Draco’s Childworld, the characters are colonists on a new planet, but the planet is hostile and it becomes apparent that they will not survive unless something changes. It turns out that what has to change is them—only when they become small children again can they grow into a form that will allow them to thrive. This comes directly from “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” The whole story can be read without recognizing this analogy, but it is there. The novel I just finished is about a young dragon who needs to save his people from destruction by an incoming comet. But it is also about walking by faith when you don’t know what to do.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

SHARON: I have learned humility. It is REALLY HARD to write a good novel with well-formed and evocative prose, relatable characters with believable motivations, a plot that makes sense, an ending that satisfies and fulfils the promise made by the opening, and an inspiring message. There is always a better way to write. I have also learned to listen to my characters. They need to behave according to who they are and not according to what I think the plot needs them to do.

JAN: Well said, Sharon. What is your ultimate writing goal?

SHARON: To write good stories that will resonate with readers. I would also like my stories to draw people closer to God, whether that means understanding something in a new way, feeling his joy, or just appreciating in a fresh way the marvelous intricacies of this world he gave us to live in.

JAN: Any advice for a beginning writer?

SHARON: Read a lot of good books. Write a lot, and expect to do a lot of revising. Keep learning about the craft because there will always be ways to improve. Find a critique group. Write about things that you care deeply about. Enjoy the process and try not to fret about the outcome. I’m still working on this one. And the others.

JAN: Thanks so much, Sharon, for telling us about yourself and your writing. There is deep insight in many of your responses that makes me want to further consider the questions for myself. I wish you many blessings as you continue on your literary journey, and in your personal life as well.

BIO: Sharon Plumb grew up writing stories in a small town that no longer exists, in the mountains of northern British Columbia. Then she moved to the flat prairies, where she  writes stories about people and places that don’t exist. She has written picture books, novels, poems, songs, and plays, most of which she has also directed. Her picture book Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof was published by Scholastic Education.  Draco’s Child, a young adult fantasy novel, was published by Thistledown Press. She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Check out Sharon’s Facebook page and her website.

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