Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview and Giveaway with Shawna Williams, author of "No Other"

Shawna K. Williams is an inspirational novelist who loves telling a story through flawed characters – the only kind she can relate to. She also likes a good dose of nostalgia, which is why many of her stories are set in rural America during the first half of the 20th Century. However, being a fan of other genres, including Science Fiction and Suspense, she has a few surprises planned for future works.

When not writing, Shawna spends time with her husband and three children enjoying life on their ranch. She's also an avid reader, book reviewer, blogger and jewelry designer

Published and Soon-to-Be Published Works
Short Stories:
My Father's Oldsmobile (Heart Touchers, Sermon Illustrator)
Anticipation (The Cynic)
What Happened Next (A Long Story Short, Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal)
No Other (Desert Breeze Publishing/May 2010)
In All Things (Desert Breeze Publishing/Nov. 2010)
Orphaned Hearts (Desert Breeze Publishing/Dec. 2010)

Here is my interview with Shawna:

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Shawna: I was struck with the desire to write about eight years ago after a really bizarre dream, unlike any I'd ever had. Prior to that, this wasn't something I'd never considered doing.

The dream was a complete story, in scenes, of a man and woman's life. First as they fell in love, then as young parents, then they faced the challenges of career and family, and last was from the perspective of an old woman, who watched her children from afar because she was a stranger to them. Weird, huh?

I couldn't stop thinking about it. For about six months I pondered on it, trying to fill in gaps about how they met, why did they choose certain career paths, why did she end up estranged from her family? It eventually grew so complex in my mind that I couldn't keep track and had to start writing. When I first began I didn't want to tell anyone, including my husband, because I thought they'd think I was crazy. As the story progressed though I eventually shared it with my husband, who was supportive from the start, then a few close friends.

By the time I was done, the book was around 167,000 words. And it was awful! I just didn't know it at the time. Over the next six years I revised, put away, pulled out and revised again, put away. Finally, a little over two years ago I felt like God was telling me it was time to get serious. That's when I started studying the craft of writing through books and critique groups. I also started submitting short stories, and was blessed to have several accepted for publication right away. That gave me the encouragement to rewrite the first part of my awful novel into a separate book, which comes out in May, and the sequel will release in November.

M.B.: What is your writing and educational background?

Shawna: I have a Bachelors degree from Abilene Christian University. It's kind of embarrassing though because it's in Fashion Merchandising, which at ACU was like a mixture of a business degree and a degree in fine arts, leaning more toward the business side of things. I do design jewelry so I suppose I use it a little bit. And...I guess the business angle has come in handy from a marketing standpoint, since authors do most of their own promotion, but I basically have never used it. (Sorry Dad, Mom, I know you guys paid big bucks for my education. At least I made good grades!)

I also have certification as an interior decorator, but other than my own house, and a few houses we've restored, I haven't really used that either.

And I homeschool our three children, so I figure I will have earned the equivalent of four high school diplomas, including mine, by the time our youngest graduates.

As far as writing goes, I'm basically self taught, using numerous books on the craft and learning through the feedback I received from critique groups. And of course, practice, practice, practice. I think I'm one of those classic cases of youth being wasted on the young, because I'm just now figuring out what I really want to do.

M.B.: What makes you passionate about writing?

Shawna: Characters! Characters that can deliver a spiritual message through their thoughts and struggles. I love this! I know they're made up in my head, and maybe this makes me a little crazy, but I love the complexity of people -- and being able to create characters that reflect this helps me to understand myself and those around me much better.

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Shawna: Well, I told you about my dream, and how I'd write, put it away, pull it out and write some. Once I decided to get serious about getting published I really set my mind to learning. It actually happened very quickly for me, but I think that had a lot to do with timing.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Shawna: Absolutely! I knew I wanted to write Christian Fiction, because it's just who I am. I was coming from a particular point of view because of my experiences. God had done so much in my life, and I was so grateful and wanted to portray that in stories. However, I actually had not read many Christian Fiction books. Since that was the genre I wanted to write I decided I better familiarize myself, but the first few books I picked up weren't for me. I'm not saying they were poorly written or boring. They just weren't stories that encouraged me – though I'm sure they did plenty of others.

The reason for my discouragement had to do with my needs and perspective. And I'll be honest, at first them not being met made me mad. I even remember thinking, "If this is Christian fiction, I don't want to write it." This largely had to do with the stories being very sanitized, and me not relating to any of the characters. Then I began to question if perhaps there was something wrong with me. Maybe I wasn't what a Christian was supposed to be. But then I realized this was no fault of the author, I was listening to the lies of my own insecurities, and not having faith in God's Grace. And this put a fire in me to write stories that portrayed this -- which No Other, and the sequel, In All Things, do – because I knew there had to be others like me.

When I began to read about the things I needed to do, I hit another point of discouragement. First off, every book I came across said that if this was my first novel, and No Other is, then it better not have any of the big no-no issues in it (alcoholism, premarital sex, infidelity, drug abuse...etc) and well, No Other does. It also has a really odd set-up, which stated outright sounds horrible. I'm referring to a romantic relationship between a teacher and her student. However, in No Other, Jakob, the student had dropped out of school to care for his family, and when he returned an old schoolmate had become a teacher and he ended up in her class. In the story she's about a year and a half older. Having said all of this, the relationship is still unethical, and pursuing it forces the characters to lie, and there are consequences for it.

Now, just imagine my pitch as a first time author to an agent! See my point.

The other big discouragement was that everything I read said I needed to start attending conferences, and I couldn't. It simply wasn't in the budget. For these reasons I decided that a small press was my best option. But I actually think that's where God wanted it all all along. There were too many coincidences that led me to finding Desert Breeze Publishing. I've been very happy with them! It's a great fit.

M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?

Shawna: In the day I try to take care of the promotion stuff, edit, and read for reviews. These things can easily be set aside to make time for my kids' needs. I write at night after everyone is asleep. I have to have uninterrupted quiet.

M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?

Shawna: This idea for No Other and In All Things came from that dream I mentioned, and I did worry for awhile if I'd come up with any more stories on my own. But then Orphaned Hearts hit me one day. It was inspired by my granddad, who grew up as an orphan, though the story is totally different. One day I just got to thinking about a grown man, who had been an orphan trying to find a family for a boy who was an orphan, and the satisfaction he might feel in succeeding.

I think there's a plethora of things that can inspire a story; dreams, experiences, that funny little question, "What if?" I currently have four ideas brewing from a mixture of these things

M.B.: What do you hope readers will get from this book?

Shawna: I keep coming back to Grace, don't I? I hope people will come away with a feeling of comfort in knowing that God sees them, and cares for them even in their blunders. And...on occasion even works something miraculous from those goofs. I think this is especially true when He sees a contrite heart, doing the best he/she can.

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline

Shawna: I get an idea and write a summary. Then I go to work on a first draft, which is always a horrible, meandering psycho babble, with a lot of internal monologue in which the character ponders his or her predicament while doing menial tasks. Every now and then a great scene full of action will hit, but mostly it's a lot of garbage. As a matter of fact, I'm working on a rewrite right now, and I'm using my first draft to give me direction, but I couldn't have two files with the same name, so I when I started the rewrite I renamed the first draft, "Crappy First Draft that I Might Use Some Stuff From."

The main objective with the rewrite is that everything should keep the story moving forward to the end goal. So I write down objectives for each chapter, and then let the creative process take hold.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's
block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Shawna: Oh yes. I just push through it. It usually means I've lost my direction and need to go write some more meandering stuff to help me know my character better. Then they'll tell me what they need to happen.

M.B.: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Shawna: Know them! 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 the other.

If I wasn't a writer, maybe I should have been a psychiatrist.

M.B.: What is something about yourself people don’t know?

Shawna: When I was eighteen I danced on a late-night show in Hong Kong. The summer before my high school drill team was at a dance camp, and some of us were invited to go to Hong Kong and perform. I don't remember the name of the show, but I do remember them telling us it was sort of like Johnny Carson. (Yes, this was back before Jay Leno, but not by much) We also performed in a park. However that performance is really fuzzy to me. I think I blocked it out of my mind due to my costume being the most hideous thing EVER! Seriously. It was a red lycra one piece with silver fringe hanging off the SHOULDER PADS!!!

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?

Shawna: 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 a critique group in order to hone your skills, and trying to heed so much advice that you end up losing what makes you unique. Rules are good, but in the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, "They're more like guidelines anyway."

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?


No Other is also available at The Sony Reader Store, Books on Board, and Allromance Ebooks. And very soon it will be available at Barnes&Noble's ebook store, and the iBookstore for iPad. They have all of DBP's books but haven't loaded them yet, s

Here's two reviews I like:

This is a romance novel that won my heart, even though I normally do not read romance. Shawna's mastery of characterization infused the story with such believability, and I fell in love with Jakob and Meri. No sappy scenes, no corny lines--this book is about story. Yes, it's a love story, but it is so much more.

Set in post WWII Texas, Jakob's German family faces discrimination while they try to rebuild their household. His parents have returned from an internment camp, and his brother has returned as a war hero. Jakob must now step down from his patriarchal role and make his own return--to the high school he had left three years earlier in order to care for his younger siblings in his parents' and older brother's absence.

Matters become even more complicated when he steps into his classroom and discovers his old classmate, Meri Parker, sitting behind the teacher's desk. Their worlds couldn't be more different--she'd had all the advantages Jakob had not. Wealth, college, no one to care for but herself. But Jakob saw what no one else could--how trapped Meri was by her so-called advantages. With his own family restored, Jakob's natural instinct to rescue shifts its attention to Meri.

No Other is beautifully written. If you love romance, you will love No Other. And if you don't like matter. You'll still love it.
Kat Heckenbach is the author of three books and nearly forty published short stories, articles and essays.

There is "no other" story like it. Seriously.

This debut novel by author Shawna Williams took my breath away. It sounds cliche, but I don't know how else to describe the emotions that moved through me as I read this book. My heart was engaged and fully invested in the outcome.

I read most of this book in one sitting. It's a perfect historical romance in that the tension kept building and it made me want them to work things out and find a way to be together. I fell in love with the characters and empathized with their situations. I also felt firmly grounded in the time period.

The author's use of dialog was masterful. I could hear the characters speaking and their inner thoughts and dialog were consistent with that era. My favorite scene was toward the end when Jakob tries to do the right thing. The emotion was intense and so realistic I nearly cried myself. That's great writing because I felt something.

I loved how true to life this story seemed and it was edgy enough to make me want to cheer Shawna on. This story felt real to me because the characters were complex and three dimentional. There were a few shifts in plot that were delightful as well. I love it when the author does something you aren't expecting. Nice job! I can't wait for the next book. This is making my "favorites" list for fiction for this year - 2010.
Michelle Sutton is the author of over a dozen novels, including It's Not About Me, Best-Selling Danger at the Door, and Never Without Hope.

Shawna wants to give away a pdf copy of the book. Along with that she will mail the winner a freshwater pearl/inspirational bracelet, and a signed postcard.

1 entry - post a comment on this blog
1 entry - follow this blog
1 entry - follow Shawna's blog

Also, for the month of May Shawna is running a contest with three prizes – a Good one, a Great one, and a Grand one. You can enter multiple times, the details are here.
Anyone leaving a comment today gets one entry (please leave your email. I promise these will all be destroyed after the drawing) And, if you can answer this question you get another entry.

What did Meri want to be that her parents didn't approve of?

The answer can be found through Freado, where you can also read the first four chapters.
Or through the free sample available as a Kindle download.

Here are links where to find me.!/pages/Shawna-K-Williams/236629884245?ref=ts

And here is a link to the trailer


Elizabeth Morgan said...

Sounds like lots of fun.

Shawna Williams said...

Thanks for hosting me, Michele!

Miss Mae said...

Hi Shawna,

Wishing you much success with "No Other"!

Gail Pallotta said...

What an interesting interview. I enjoyed learning more about you. It's a definite asset that you have a degree in business, and what fun for you to dance in Hong Kong. No Other sounds wonderful, It's on my TBR list.

Taffy said...

Sounds like another great book to read!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Shawna,
Thank you for such an informative and interesting interview. No Other sounds like a great read. Best of luck with it.



Shawna Williams said...

Thanks everyone!

Laurean Brooks said...

jDancing in Hong Kong? I learned something new about you, Shawa. So Miss Mae is a former Clogger and you were a professional dancer.

How interesting! No Other sounds like my kind of read. It' fascinated me since I first read about it.

Stay with God's guidance and you can't go wrong. "He will direct your path."

Congratulations! I'm glad you decided to write instead of decorate. LOL.

Braden said...

Great interview, Michele!

Diane Craver said...

Great interview!

I read No Other and it's wonderful with fantastic characters and a great story line.

karenk said...

would enjoy reading this novel...thanks for the chance :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Lisa And Randy said...

I enjoyed reading your interview, and look forward to reading your book. Keep writing.

karenk said...

a great interview/posting...

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I follow your blog.

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I follow Shawna's blog.