Monday, May 3, 2010
Today I want to welcome Shawna Williams, whose debut novel, NO OTHER, released just a couple of days ago. If you've been following my blog, you know that I was a beta-reader for this book, and also that it was because of our mutual respect for each other's writing that Shawna and I became friends. Make sure you read all the way through--there are details about an awesome giveaway at the end!
First of all--thanks, Shawna, for agreeing to talk about your writing and new novel. How long have you been writing? What's the most rewarding aspect of it?
I've been writing off and on for about eight years, but I didn't start writing for the purpose of seeking publication until a little over two years ago. I had thought about it before then, but always chickened out.
The most rewarding aspect is being able to share the story of these characters – Jakob and Meri. They've been with me so long, and I've kinda come to love them. It thrills me to think this 'thing' that was locked in my head for years is now something anyone can read. I feel really passionate about the characters and their stories (there's a sequel) and I hope that others are touched by them in the way I was. I honestly don't really feel like I made their story up so much as it was given to me.
You have a new release from Desert Breeze Publishing entitled No Other. For those who haven't read the book yet, can you tell us a little about it?
No Other is set in the aftermath of WWII when the nation was trying to heal. That's what Jakob Wilheimer wants too. He wants to get past the pain of his family's internment, get on with his life, and if possible, forgive those who've wronged his family -- including himself.
Having quit school three years earlier to look after the family business and care for his younger siblings, Jakob knows his first step back into normalcy must be to return and get his diploma. And after enduring the stigma and isolation associated with the internment camp, the awkwardness of being a twenty year old amidst a bunch of teenaged high school students shouldn't have been a bother. What Jakob hadn't counted on was his former schoolmate, Meri Parker, being one of his teachers.
Seeing her every day, with her life on track, uninterrupted by the war, only serves as a reminder of Jakob's hardship. However, a school assignment brings these two in closer contact, and soon Jakob begins to see little hints of a not-so-perfect life behind the facade that is Meri Parker.
As a friendship deepens into feelings of something more, these two are faced with the dilemma of their situation. To be together, means they'd have to lie to everyone around them in order to keep their relationship a secret. But Jakob also fears for Meri, and the pressure from her family who wants her to marry someone else. He's aware of their cruelty and how they use Meri's yearning for their affection as a means of control. Jakob is afraid that without him at her side, she'll succumb and be lost to him forever.
And then there's that nagging Bible verse his Grandma made him memorize all those years ago. "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."
Is Jakob what Meri needs, or is he getting in the way?
What was the inspiration behind No Other?
The inspiration for No Other actually came from a dream I had eight years ago. It was bizarre, like watching a movie almost. And for the next six months I kept thinking about it, trying to fill in all the gaps between scenes. It eventually grew to be so complicated that I had to write it down. After playing with it off and on for six years, I finally decided to try and turn it into something publishable, and began studying the craft of writing, joining critique groups, and submitting short stories to rack up a few publishing credits. No Other was inspired from the first part of that dream, when the characters were young. All the details came later as I researched and got to know them better.
What made you choose this time period as the setting for your novel?
I love this time period, but the way the story came to me was really what determined the time period. I just always knew that it was set around this era.
Is there a particular reason you chose a German family? Are you from German ancestry yourself?
Actually, yes. My grandfather was of German descent. I don't know how much of the German culture was prevalent in his family, but he was orphaned at a very young age, so any customs that may have been in keeping with the culture were lost.
After writing No Other I find myself very curious about my roots. I've done some minor research into the Kail lineage, and would love to visit Germany someday. My kids and I have been looking into language lessons too.
Do you draw on people from real life when you come up with characters?
Yes and no. I don't have any characters representative of anyone I know in real life. My characters are their own thing. But sometimes certain personality traits that remind me of someone I know sneak in.
Do you have a favorite character in No Other? What makes him/her so dear to your heart?
I like both Jakob and Meri a great deal. It's hard to say that I have a favorite between them. I think I relate a little more to Jakob. He's introverted and tends to over think, not unlike myself. But Meri questions herself on everything, also not unlike myself. I just like these two together, and I love the their story.
Do you plot things out, or do you write "by the seat of your pants"?
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 characters’ 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.
How do you develop your characters?
To me, characters are what make or break a story. Characters are who we experience a story through and if they aren't interesting and relatable, then no matter how intriguing the plot, a huge facet to the story is lost.
Now, I know some authors do character sketches involving the looks and profession of their characters. While this works for some, I don't do this. To me this is surface stuff and it has little to do with the person I want to convey. These details actually fill in themselves as the character evolves anyway. I like to focus on my characters history. This sometimes, as with Jakob, necessitated me going to great depths to uncover his family's history. Most of this stuff never makes it into the book in the form of information, but it does make it into the book in the way it frames my character's mind set, mannerisms, insecurities.
I'll use Jakob as an example again. One of the things I found interesting about him was his duel culture. He grew up in a family that was thoroughly German, in a town that was thoroughly Texan, and he's thoroughly both. The clash of these two cultures cause a bit of an identity crises in him in the sense that the betrayal he feels over his family's internment because of their German heritage is harder for him to fathom when he's American, and Texan to boot. Yet, when he speaks to his parents its perfect German, and many of his fondest childhood memories involve the culture. In the midst of war he wonders if that's something to be ashamed of. So...you can imagine, this story begins with a character already caught up in a whirlwind of internal struggle.
Now Meri...This girl's got issues, and quite a back story of her own! I'm not giving that away though. Hopefully a few people will be curious enough to read the book.
There's a sequel to No Other. Care to tell us about it?
In All Things is the sequel to No Other -- ten years later. While No Other is a complete story, if you look, you'll see there are some loose ends that are left unclear. One has to do with a promise Jakob makes to his rival, and another has to do with Meri's salvation. You know she's headed that direction, but when the book ends she hasn't committed her life to Christ yet. The theme of In All Things is similar to No Other but it deals with unresolved issues from a different phase in life, and adds to them with the complexities of family and careers, and substitutes for God. No Other mainly focuses on Jakob and Meri -- primarily because much of their interaction is in secret – but In All Things involves Jakob's entire family a lot more.
It's been an emotionally taxing story to write because there's so much to grasp. I find myself praying daily, "Lord, help me tell this story." But I find that there's also so much to love about it, and things I never expected to explore – one of them being how events in the first book affected Jakob's youngest sister, Esther. See, I just gave you something to think about if you read the book.
What do you want people to take from this story?
I wrote No Other because I wanted to tell 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.
By the way, folks, Shawna wants to GIVE AWAY a Kindle download (or other ebook format depending on the winner's preference) of No Other. The winner will also receive a freshwater pearl/inspirational bracelet and a signed postcard. Just send her an email at email@example.com and put “Kat’s Blog” in the subject line.
That’s not all, though…for the month of May Shawna’s running a contest with three prizes – a Good one, a Great one, and a Grand one. (The picture to the right is part of the "BIG" giveaway.) You can enter multiple times, the details are here. (Sending an email as mentioned above gives you another entry in this.)
And finally, to get yet another entry into the big contest, email Shawna with the answer to this question: What does the German phrase, " Eine Verletzung kann nicht heilen, wenn man dauernd daran kratzt," mean ?
The answer can be found in the first chapter of No Other, viewable on Shawna’s blog, here.
Or through Freado, where you can also read the first four chapters.
Or through the free sample available as a Kindle download.
You can find out more about Shawna at: