Shawna's new book, NO OTHER, is the
AMERICAN CHRISTIAN FICTION WRITERS BOOK CLUB SELECTION
Shawna will give away a PDF file of No Other and a fresh water pearl bracelet to one person who leaves a comment, so be sure to leave your email as name [at] address [dot] com or [dot] net to keep away spammers, and Shawna will draw a name next week and contact the winner.
Hi Shawna, First, tell us a little about yourself.
I'm pretty ordinary. I'm a mom of three wonderful kids, and I've been married to their dad for 18 and a half yrs. We live on a ranch in Mena, AR, where we raise cattle, horses, goats and rabbits. My interests vary a bit. Apart from writing I also design jewelry, review books, try to keep up with a blog, homeschool, and look after my family. I'm nerdy in that I think it's fun to study geology and ancient cultures. I'm sentimental in that I can never pass up an abandoned ruin of a house without snapping a picture, and at least trying to convince my family that I'll only be a minute in exploring if they want to wait in the car. My sense of adventure is motivated by curiosity as opposed to the adrenaline rush. I'm also a dog lover. LOVE DOGS!
Tell us about your latest book.
No Other is a 20th Century Historical, Inspirational Romance. It’s set in a coastal Texas town during 1947, a couple of years after WWII. I really enjoyed writing a story set in this time period because, instead of focusing on how the nation recovered in broad terms, I was able to focus on how individuals set about recovering emotionally from such an event.
Jakob is trying to resume life and deal with his anger over the events of the past five years. His parents are German immigrants who were interned at a camp known as Crystal City during the war. As an American born child he feels betrayed and angry, not just at his community, but at himself because of an incident that he was involved in which he feels may have contributed to their arrest.
Jakob was forced to quit school in order to care for his younger sibling during the war. With the war ended and life beginning to settle, he decides to go back to school and get his diploma so he can move on to bigger and better dreams. It’s immediately awkward though because one of his teachers is a girl he previously went to high school with.
Meri comes from an affluent and socially elite family. She’s a dutiful daughter but also conflicted. On the one hand she desperately wants her parents approval — that’s the only time they offer her their love — on the other hand, she wants to be free of the control they exert over her life.
As friendship blooms and feelings develop Meri begins to understand what real love is supposed to be, and Jakob, seeing the pain her family has caused her, wants to shelter her from more. Of course, the first big obstacle is that because of the nature of their situation (her being his teacher) any type of romantic relationship is unethical, and then there’s also the social issues to consider. Meri and Jakob decide to pursue a secret romance, in which lies lead them to trouble in more ways than one. And I’ll leave the rest as a mystery.
But I do want to add, No Other is an inspirational story about getting up after you fall. About how Christians don't just struggle, sometimes we blow it, but God doesn't abandon us. Even when our efforts to right things fail, He's still in control. Him, and No Other.
Here's a link to the blurb and excerpt on my publisher's site.
What inspired you to write this particular book?
I almost don't feel like I really chose to write this book. It was more like I was compelled to. I honestly feel the story was given to me more than it was a result of my imagination. I had never considered even being a writer, but then I had this dream. It was bizarre, like watching the stages of someone's life. The setting, the characters – including their names, the circumstance with Meri being a teacher and Jakob going back to school, and Jakob's family having endured hardship all originated with that dream -- though I didn't know about the internment camp. I discovered that through research later on. Very interesting! I thought about this dream obsessively for about six months trying to fill in details, and finally it became so complicated I had to start writing. No Other, and its sequel, In All Things, are based on that dream.
In three words describe your style of writing.
Down to earth. (That's not to imply that others write like snobs. Not at all! I'm a character writer, and spend a lot of time on their development. The result is characters that people have an easy time relating to. If you read my work this description makes sense)
How do you get to know your characters?
Figure out their history, and I don't just mean the 'born in', 'grew up here' kind of stuff. What happened to them as a child, and not just them, their family? What's their personality like? I actually went so far as to study Carl Jung's personality theory and even formulated my characters around a MBTI type. This helps to keep them consistent by giving me an idea of how they process information and emotions, react in a crowd and so forth. This also is great for creating conflict by knowing how character's personalities are likely to interpret each other's actions.
Do you have to juggle writing with a job, family responsibilities or other obligations? How do you balance it?
Honestly, this is a real struggle and I haven't figured out that balance. My family is most important, and we have teens and an active 12 year old that are always on the go. Sometimes I can't do everything they want and I feel guilty for that. Just now my youngest ran in and squealed, "The Lum and Abner Festival is going on at the park," but of course, I'm working with super tight deadlines and really need to get some work done tonight.
My house is never as clean as I'd like, and that bugs me. I worry if the kids are learning everything they need to know before heading out into the world (we homeschool). I'm so entrenched in writing two books at the moment that I forget to check on my friends who are going through rough times. I feel like my dog doesn't get petted enough, and I really need to shave her heavy coat for summer. I forget to appreciate the beauty of where we live, and I wonder when I'm going to get around to all of those other projects that have nothing to do with writing. I'm definitely not the person to ask advice from on this question. I just do the best I can, and usually end the day thinking, "Tomorrow I'll try to do better."
Are you a plotter or a pantzer?
A little of both. I have to have an idea of the story, including its conclusion. I write out a summary just to get an idea of the story's framework. Then I write my first draft, which is horrible. I'm a character writer, so my stories focus a great deal on the hero and heroine's internal journey. My first drafts tend to ramble and meander with all sorts of emotional pondering, not unlike a therapy session. This helps me to nail down what my character's struggles are. It gives me an idea of what they need, and how to get them there.
Once I've done this I go back and start the rewrite. I take this on a chapter by chapter basis, writing out the goals I need to achieve to keep the story progressing. Then I go back and edit. During this process I try to weave everything together as tight as possible, and also look for any missed opportunities to strengthen the overall theme.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on In All Things, and working on Orphaned Hearts. Both of these books are under contract with Desert Breeze. I also have a new idea that I've laid out some basic framework for. I don't know how, or if, the story will pan out quite yet, so I'll wait to say anything more. And of course, if it does turn into something worthwhile, I'll still need to find a publisher for it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be true to yourself. You need to learn the craft, but don't lose your voice in the process. There's a balance between what you can take away from critique groups and books in order to hone your skills, and trying to heed so much advice that you end up losing what makes you unique. Writing rules are good, but in the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, "They're more like guidelines anyway."
What is the coolest, wackiest, most risk-taking thing you’ve ever done?
I'd have to say leaving the security of a job in the city to move to a ranch in a little town in Arkansas, without knowing anything about ranching. My husband and I aren't generally ones to jump into something without investigating first, and we did research before moving, but not from the standpoint of whether or not it made sense to do it. On that, our minds were already made up. We just had to find the place best suited for our goals and dreams.
Long story short, we'd lost several close – and young – friends to cancer in a relatively short period of time, and it made us realize just how uncertain a person's future is. We'd talked often about how neat it would be to raise the kids on a ranch with plenty of elbow room, in the relaxed environment of a small town. Neither of us ever wanted to catch ourselves saying, "Wish we'd done that," so we decided to just go for it.
It's been five years, and there have been bumps in the road from time to time, but the rewards far outweigh any inconveniences. And we're quick studies. Hubby's still a financial planner by day, but he's a bonafide cattleman come evening, and we run a small business raising all natural grass-fed beef. As for me, I even learned how to deliver baby horses and goats.
Now that I think about it, the first time I had to do this might classify as a wacky moment. We had the veterinarian on the phone, and I believe my words were something like, "I have to stick my arm where?"
What is the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?
Oh man... Hmm. This might be a good question to ask my kids. According to them I should be embarrassed far more often than I actually am.
Well, I don't know that this is embarrassing but it is a good "bad date" story. When I was in college, this guy invited me out to his family's ranch for the day. They had four wheelers and all kinds of outdoor stuff to do. He quickly deduced that I'm not too coordinated speeding through trails and dodging cactus on a four wheeler, when I near collided with a mesquite tree. (I prefer the leisure approach to four wheeling. Nice and slow with plenty of time to react.) So, after that he suggested we do a little skeet shooting. I was up for that. It was something new and I thought it sounded fun.
His dad was outside with us, and my date showed me how to hold the rifle. I called out that I was ready and his dad, who was standing a little ways in front of me, threw the skeet into the air. I wanted to impress my date by not missing, so I took my time and carefully aimed by following the skeet as it fell...and fell...and kept falling... Just as I was about to pull the trigger my date yelled and grabbed the gun out of my hand. Then I looked in front of me and his dad was crouched down to the ground, with this kind of wild-eyed crazy look. Seems I followed that skeet until it was right about eye level with his my date's dad.
I guess that is somewhat embarrassing. I'm much better with guns now though, I think.
To keep up with me, here's links to my website and blog.