I'm excited to do something a little different this weekend. I had the distinct pleasure of previewing Shawna K. William's debut novel, No Other. This was my review:
No Other is indeed a story like no other. Shawna K. Williams has succeeded in telling a heart-warming, and often heart-wrenching, story of love, compassion, acceptance and redemption. This well-written story dates back to 1947 when World War II was still fresh in everyone’s mind the lines between social classes and ethnic groups were clearly drawn. A modern day Romeo and Juliet in many ways, No Other beautifully illustrates the promise we have that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
--Jen Stephens, author of The Heart’s Journey Home
Guess what. I invited her to be a quest on my blog today! Without further ado, I'd like to introduce to you, Shawna K. Williams. (Applause! Applause!)
Welcome, Shawna! Tell me, when did you first discover that you were a writer?
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 ever 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.
What an awesome story! We'll hear about No Other in a minute, but first, tell us about other books/short stories/articles/poems have you written, whether published or not?
I've had three short stories published. The first was called, My Father's Oldsmobile (which is also the name of my blog), the second was, What Happened Next (which was actually published twice), and the title of my third published short was, Anticipation. I've written a several articles and short stories for blogs and newsletters too.
As far as books, No Other is my debut novel. In All Things is its sequel. It's nearing completion and will be released in November. I also have another book I'm working on which is an expansion of a novella length story. It was accepted based on that, with the publisher knowing I wished to make it longer. It's a Christmas themed story called, Orphaned Hearts, and it will come out in December.
I'm also currently working on a novella length story with the working title, The Summer of '51. This will be available as a free download. It involves the characters from No Other and In All Things, and covers a transitional time between the two novels. This period is referred to in In All Things, and while it isn't necessary to read the novella to understand the book, I thought readers might enjoy an in depth account.
Do you have an all time favorite book? Which genre do you prefer to read and why?
My favorite all time books, are the three from the Mark of the Lion series; Voice on the Wind, Echo in the Darkness, and Sure as the Dawn. The series works so well together that I can't break them apart. I love Redeeming Love too! Bet you know who my favorite author is now, huh?
As far as reading, I actually don't have a favorite genre I think. I've been able to get into suspense as easily as romance. I love scifi, and plan to try my hand at writing it one day. I enjoy a good fantasy tale too. The only genres I don't read are horror and erotica.
As far as writing, I think almost everything I write will have a degree of romance in it because finding the love of your life is kind of a big deal. Having said that, I want my stories to be about life. Romance is a part of life, but so are a lot of other things.
I'm a bit of a history buff, and super nostalgic, so I do gravitate toward historicals set in the first half of the 20th century. Being a fan of science fiction, I do want to write one. I have a story brewing, but it's still very foggy.
How do you keep your sanity in this ridiculously crazy world?
Who said I was sane? Lol! Love to say I'm joking, but...
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. My house is never as clean as I'd like. I worry about the kids' schooling (we homeschool). I'm so entrenched in writing two books at the moment (deadlines looming) that I forget to check on my friends who are going through rough times. I feel like my dog doesn't get enough attention. 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."
Thank you for being so candid. I feel the same way much of the time, and I think many other women do, too!
So, what is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Raising my kids. Hands down! God gave me such wonderful kids, and they've been such a joy. They're really great, and I'm so very proud of them. All three! I know I've made a lot of mistakes, and am far from being the perfect mother, but God seems to have worked it out okay.
As for me, personally, I can't really say. I'm very excited about this book -- and my future ones -- but I feel more blessed than proud.
What was your greatest roadblock in writing this book and others, and how did you overcome it?
One word. Clarity!
I have the story before I have the spiritual theme. And while I know there is a theme, I'm not exactly sure what it is. It's like life in that way. What will God teach me through my experiences? Same thing with my characters.
My first drafts are always just the story about what happens to my characters – with maybe just a vague idea of the spiritual message -- and they're never complete. I only write two thirds – three fourths of the book. The reason is the last third or fourth is where all the intricacies are woven together, and until I know the spiritual theme in full clarity I can't do that. I liken it to building a house. A builder never closes up the walls until an inspector signs off on the plumbing and wiring and such. Once I know the story's plumbing and wiring are just right, I can start closing up the walls, float, tape and texture, and trimming with a nice coat of paint.
Now, finding that message is like untangling and stringing miles and wire, and assembling a network of pipes. And to get there sometimes I have to ramble. I have so many files full of gobbly gook where I've hashed out my character's motivations. Why they feel what they feel, and how it led them to certain actions. I just blather on and on, like a therapy session, until I start to see what my character needs spiritually, because if he/she is like me, there is always something. The part where they learn, and God provides seems to work in naturally after that.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Hmm...first off, be true to yourself. Write what's in your heart. Second; study, study, study, Third; don't be too scared to go for it. Fourth; be prepared to get your feeling hurt, and know that it does get easier. Fifth; find others who share your goal. They'll pick you up on those down days. And the most important is to pray about it – the downs, the ups, when you struggle with a story, for balance, all of it -- pray, pray, pray! You can do it!
Yes, six very good tips - all of them so important to success, but I especially relate to being true to yourself. Many writers starting out tend to want to write what's in, what's selling, but it may very well NOT be the story the Lord wanted them to tell. Thank you for sharing that!
Now, here's No Other. Isn't it pretty??? Shawna, tell us about the featured book - back cover blurb plus what this story means to you.
In the aftermath of WWII all Jakob Wilheimer wants is to get over his pain, get on with life, and if at all possible, forgive those who've wronged his family -- including himself. But it's hard to do when there are constant reminders. One of them being his former schoolmate, now teacher, Meri Parker -- Miss Port Delamar Pearl, Mayor's daughter, Belle of the town -- Meri Parker. After enduring the stigma and isolation associated with the internment camp, the awkwardness of going back to school should've been a cake walk. But Jakob didn't expect to find himself inexplicably drawn to Meri. Or to discover that the pain and loneliness of her life surpassed his own. She needed to be rescued from the domineering people seeking to control her life. And more than anything, he needed to be the one to save her.
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.
Can you give us the first page of the book?
Crouched next to his small oak desk, Jakob clenched its side to steady himself, and took in a deep breath. Then he reached into the narrow space between the desk and the wall, and pulled the envelope from its hiding place and fell back onto his bed. The paper was folded into a square the size of a matchbook. Jakob studied it as he turned it in his fingers, but didn't open it. Instead, he held out his still-trembling hand, holding the paper in his palm.
What was wrong with him? Now, after everything, he had the jitters? Good heavens, he was supposed to be the strong one, the provider. Thank goodness his brother, Joe, had come back and assumed those duties. Jakob could drop the façade before he managed to ruin what was left of his family.
Letting out a sigh, Jakob unfolded the envelope -- little by little -- revealing the bold words stamped onto its surface. The knot in his stomach tightened with the unbending of paper, forcing the last remnants of breath from his lungs.
He knew every bleed of the scarlet ink, every wrinkle made from angry, crushing hands, but the letters still served their purpose.
Within him hatred stirred. It paced and tested, like a caged animal sensing opportunity. Soon it would try to maul its way loose -- unless he stopped agitating it with this thing he held in his hands.
CENSORED ENEMY ALIEN MAIL.
A snarl pulled at the corner of his mouth. Why not stamp traitor? Or to be more specific: Nazi. With a last name like Wilheimer, the internment camp address, and the giant label 'enemy alien' -- what other assumption could be made?
It's what everyone thought. And if there were a few who weren't convinced, plenty of town folk would attest.
The FBI don't snatch people from their home without good cause. No siree, I tell ya. A person gotta be downright dangerous to drag'm away like that, leaving all those little Hitler lovin' Krauts behind. Serves'm right, being booted from their house. Otta chase'm all out town while we're at it.
Jakob's lungs burned with the need of air, and heat flamed in his cheeks. His nostrils flared, expanding his chest, only for his lungs to seize again. The envelope was doing its job.
But wasn't that why he kept it?
As a reminder? One he could use -- when needed -- to justify, fuel his rage. Hadn't the emotion been his faithful companion for the past five years? Motivating him. Pushing him to work harder, endure more. Didn't he need it for the sake of his family who depended on him? He owed them.
It was your fault.
Ah, the little voice. Why couldn't it just leave him with his anger? That's all he wanted.
Because it's the truth.
Wow! Awesome! How can readers find you on the Internet?
Readers can find me at my website,http://shawnakwilliams.com/;
my blog, http://shawnawilliams-oldsmobile.blogspot.com/ (There's a funny story about why the word 'oldsmobile' is in the title.)
Here's my Facebook fan page. I post a lot on it.
And I'm on twitter, http://twitter.com/shawnakwilliams
Time for a bonus question: Tell us one fact about you that your readers would find interesting, and maybe even surprising.
Oh boy...I'm so dull. One interesting fact, huh?
We're often asked why we moved to Mena, AR. It's a beautiful little town, nestled at the base of the Quachita Mountains – looks like it belongs on a postcard. But, it's one of those places that I think you have to move to from another area to fully appreciate. The economy isn't great. There's not a ton to do in terms of "exciting" stuff. I'm not a huge shopper and I like quiet moments along a hiking trail, so it's perfect to me. When people ask us why we moved here -- with that bewildered look on their face -- the truth I tell them, is that we pretty much did it on a whim. It was something my husband and I had talked about in the sense of, "Wouldn't it be great if..." but financially it didn't make a lot of sense, so it was always just one of those 'what if' sort of things. However, after losing two friends – my age – to cancer in a relatively short amount of time, we decided that there are some things you just have to close your eyes and jump into. We didn't want to be those people who looked back and said, "Wish I had done that when..." So, here we are, living on a ranch with cattle, horses, goats, and rabbits. We had pigs and chickens for awhile too. It totally suits us. My kids are happy with lots of friends. I'm still a girly girl, but I've picked up a few ranching skills along the way. For example, in an emergency, I can deliver a foal. My friends in Texas still can't imagine that.
I understand you're holding a contest. Tell us about that.
Here are details of a contest I'm running throughout the month of May:
On the last day of the month I'm doing a drawing for three prizes. The first includes:
Book, Poster, Notebook, Sterling silver-gold overlay Locket, Goat's milk Soap & lotion, Postcards, $10 Amazon Gift certificate, Pearl bracelet and earrings.
Book, Poster, Notebook, Postcards, Pearl bracelet and earrings, Honey Soap. $5 Amazon Gift certificate
Book, Notebook, Postcards, Pearl bracelet and earrings, $5 Amazon Gift Certificate
This contest runs the whole month, and you can enter multiple times. For everyone who leaves a comment today on Jen's blog, there's one entry (please include your email with the comment. I promise these will all be destroyed after the contest). If you follow me on twitter, my blog or my Facebook fanpage, that's an entry for each. Throughout the month, check my blog for a question (http://shawnawilliams-oldsmobile.blogspot.com/) or the latest blog I'm touring on (like Jen's today) and email me the answer (Shawnawilliams(at)allegiance.tv) and you either get one to three entries, depending on how hard it is to find the answer to the question. Leave a comment on any blog on the day I'm touring, (like Jen's today) and that's an entry. If you want to know where, check my blog. If, at some point in the month, you decide to purchase my book email me (honor system) and I'll enter your name five times. And last, if you post this contest on your blog, let me know and I'll enter your name three more times.
The question for one extra entry today is, "What is Jakob burning in the first chapter of the book?" You can read the first chapter on my blog, click the coverart and it will take you there. A sample can be downloaded for free on Kindle and you can also read the first 4 chapters on Freado. http://www.freado.com/book/6928/no-other-by-shawna-k-williams
Wow! That sounds great! So get searching for those answers, and make sure you leave a way to notify you should you be the winner of one of Shawna's cool prizes!!!
Shawna, I always close my blog entries with prayer concerns and/or updates. Is there anything you might need us to pray for?
Yeah, I'd love prayers that God will pull me through these next two books, and pour HImself through me. And, the balance thing, while trying to write these other two books. It's wonderful stuff He's blessed me with, but I just stink at finding a balance.
You got it!
PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for Shawna today as her debut novel releases. It's such an exciting time for her. Pray that she can soak it in and enjoy every moment of the accomplishment her hard work has produced. Pray in the weeks to come that she will experience clarity and balance in all of the areas of her life, and when she starts to feel herself get off kilter, pray that she will run to the sturdy arms of our Lord. Pray that she will have clarity to know exactly what the Lord wants her to write, the themes He wants her to stress, the story He wants her to tell.
Please pray for my friend Sandy Bradley, who recently lost her brother, Bill. Bill had a rare genetic disease and was not expected to live to his teens. He turned 50 in February. He was much like a toddler, and he loved to play and laugh. He had been wheelchair-ridden for probably 20 years. He only spoke a few words. Over the last few years, he had several bouts of pneumonia and contined to have declining health. Eventually, he became resistant to antibiotics, and the doctors said there was nothing else they could do for him, so he was put in hospice care, and recently went Home. Pray that Sandy and her family will be comforted by the fact that they had so many more years than expected to spend with Bill. Pray that the Lord will hold them close to Him during this time of grief.
Please pray for the family of Carter Cummings, a three-year-old little boy who past away earlier this week of a type of cancer. Please visit his Caringbridge site http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/cartercummings to find out more about this sweet little angel and in the meantime pray for strength for this family in their time of great weakness. Pray for a peace that passes all understanding. Pray for heavenly comfort to surround them like a warm, soft blanket. Pray that they will draw closer to each other and to the Lord as they walk through this valley.
Sadly and strangely enough, please pray for the family of Dylan Pospisil, another little boy with a type of brain cancer. This was his latest Caringbridge update: "I'm updating for Ryan (Daddy) and Felicia (Mama) while they spend time with their sweet son. Dylan has stopped responding to light and touch. The tumors the MRI showed are inoperable and are causing considerable pressure on the rest of Dylan's brain. They sent him down for another CT this morning to check on the changes they've seen in the last 24 hours. The results show his condition is worsening. They're now sending Dylan for an EEG to check for brain activity. They suspect he may already be brain dead. Praise God, the doctors have said Dylan is not in pain right now. Please pray for their family as Kailyn (Sibling) (so sorry if I spelled that wrong) struggles to understand what's going on, and the Pospisils have many difficult decisions ahead of them. They are spending every minute with Dylan that they have. Please begin to pray for peace for them if you haven't already." Unfortunately, I found out from my friend this afternoon that little Dylan went Home sometime today. I'm including his site because I like to have a mental picture of those I pray for. http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/dylanpospisil
Just pray, friends, however you feel led for both Carter's and Dylan's family. I just can't even imagine the heavy grief they must be feeling. Thank goodness we have the hope of Jesus Christ, and the promise of eternal life. I just can't imagine.
I will give updates of those already on the list next week as well as make a pretty exciting announcement! I want to thank Shawna for the privilege of spending this time getting to know her. Now, go find the answer to her question and enter to win!
Until next time . . .