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Friday, February 23, 2007

SEAN YOUNG and his debut novel VIOLENT SANDS

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce Sean Young. Sean lives in South Africa and recently had his first book published by American publisher, Breakneck Books. Already the book is garnishing wonderful reviews. Here’s what Sean has to say about writing and his debut novel Violent Sands.

LISA: What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

SEAN: Actually, I had to keep it bottled up inside me as I was in an office with several other people when the mail came through. It was excruciating! All I wanted to do was scream YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAA!!! from the rooftops but I forced myself to remain calm and professional. I contented myself with bobbing silently in my seat while I read the mail. It was an awesome experience that made all the work and effort worthwhile.

LISA: Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

SEAN: Nothing overly exciting to tell where Violent Sands is concerned. The idea for Barabbas as a fictional character just popped into my mind one day. I got to thinking about how he came to be in prison and how his release, coupled with Jesus’ simultaneous conviction, might have affected him. More importantly, I wanted to know whether that moment in time had any long-term effect on him as a person or whether he simply went on his way and never gave Jesus of Nazareth another thought.

I had never written anything longer than a school essay (unless you count my annual letters to Santa Claus as a child) before I attempted Violent Sands. So I went along to my local library and took out a book on how to write novels. Once I’d finished reading it, I began writing.

As far as subsequent stories go, I find they’re birthed slowly. New ideas pop into my head all the time but I generally put each thought on hold until I’ve finished the main project I’m working on. Once I’ve finished a project, I’ll hop between my lists of ideas - try a little here, a little there. Usually I write a few pages and then stop either because I lose enthusiasm for the idea or because I feel I’m not ready to write that story yet. I find that sometimes stories simply need time to germinate. This process can go on for months until one of the ideas finally takes root. Then I’ll work on nothing else until I’ve brought that concept to completion.

As to background behind the ideas for my stories, they usually come in flashes, like Violent Sands. I suddenly think of a plot or a character and then begin building the story around that idea. This often leads to a dead-end and I’ll drop the idea or put it on hold to let the idea simmer a while.

LISA: I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

SEAN: In my writing, I tend to gravitate towards characters that are not spiritually mature. In fact many of my favorite characters are not even believers. I enjoy writing those characters the most. I don’t know what that says about my spiritual condition 

I suppose the biggest area my characters challenge me in is honesty. I’ve been a Christian for roughly half of my life, having become a believer at the age of seventeen. All too often, a situation will arise in my novels where I’m tempted to make the character react the way I, as a Christian author, believe they should, rather than the way I know they would react. This usually shows up my own dishonesty. When you’ve been a Christian for twenty years or more, you feel you should have it all together and you shouldn’t still be struggling with the basics. In those moments, I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s cry in Romans Ch7 – those things I want to do, I can’t do and those things I don’t want to do; these are the things I keep on doing. That’s the biggest challenge for me in life.

When you’ve been a Christian for a long time, it’s easy to fall into the Pharisee’s trap. We don’t admit it to ourselves but often we begin to think we can do this on our own and we attempt to reflect this image of perfection to the world. God sees right through that – and so do non-Christians. Better that we admit the faults we have and give God glory for His grace. That’s something that non-believers can relate to. It’s the fundamental message of the gospel. And it’s what characters like Violent Sands’ Barabbas remind me of each day.

LISA: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

SEAN: Never quit. If you believe God has called you to write, then write. And when you’re done with one project, begin another. Keep learning and improving, and your dreams will be realized.

And keep submitting to publishers or agents. Many writers start off with enthusiasm and submit their first manuscript years before it’s ready. Then they learn a thing or two. They discover how sticky publishers can be and they begin to get bogged down in the rules. Often, the more they improve and learn, the less inclined they are to submit for fear of rejection. That fear has crippled many talented writers who, in an effort to create the perfect manuscript, never submit it to a publisher and doom themselves to certain failure. The only way we learn is by trying and learning from our mistakes.

LISA: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

SEAN: Novels are what I love best, so my only real dream in the writing arena is to write many more stories. My books tend to be more Crossover than full-blown Christian Fiction so hopefully they will challenge people who might not know God. I like to think that my characters can be a light and testimony to the people who read my novels. I know they’re not real people but good fiction should offer characters that readers can relate to. And hopefully, mine will do just that.

LISA: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially from someone who has just broken in?

SEAN: I wish there was an easy answer to that question. Every time I speak at a writers’ group or chat to an aspiring novelist, the question comes up. The truth is it really isn’t easy. If you’re embarking on a career as a writer, it’s going to take years of effort. While your friends are out socializing at parties, you’re going to be stuck away in a room somewhere, banging out page after page on a keyboard. And when you’ve written that first book, the work is only just starting. On average it will take you far longer to publish your first book than it did to write it. Many writers only publish their third, or even fourth, book. I know that’s not the answer most folk want to hear but it’s pointless candy-coating it.

There really is no secret way to get published - or if there is, I don’t know it - other than to keep on writing and keep on submitting your proposals to publishers. Keep on making the contacts in the business that will ultimately lead to that first publishing contract. Keep on…

The good news is that, if you stick with it, you will eventually succeed. And you’ll succeed because you were prepared to go the last mile when so many others had already given up and turned back. The publishing industry is the domain of the tortoise, not the hare.

I wish I could offer more uplifting advice but that’s been my experience and I’ll bet every other published author will back me up in this.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

SEAN: Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell. I know I just said there are no short-cuts in the publishing business, but this is one possible exception to that rule. Make no mistake, it doesn’t make your work any easier. The book takes time to study and its rules must be applied with serious effort. But if you’re prepared to follow this author’s guidance, you’ll probably cut years off your journey to that first publishing contract.

My second recommendation is the current edition of Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide. These two books are probably the most valuable assets on my bookshelf at present.

LISA: Sean, thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with us. If you want to learn more about Sean and the thriller, Violent Sands, check out his website at SEAN'S WEBSITE


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