of Symphony of Secrets
by C.J. Darlington
Sharon Hinck Interview
requires impractical, lavish amounts of love and time and effort. There
is always the doubt that whispers, "It's a waste of time." But
art is precious. Obedience is precious. When God Calls you to do something
it is worth doing..."
-- Sharon Hinck
Sharon writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary people experiencing God’s grace in unexpected ways. Known for their authenticity, emotional range, and spiritual depth, her novels include the humorous contemporary fiction, The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2006), Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House, 2007), and Symphony of Secrets (Bethany House, 2008), along with the ground-breaking Sword of Lyric fantasy series (NavPress, 2007-2008) which include The Restorer, The Restorer’s Son, and The Restorer’s Journey.
She was named 2007 “Writer of the Year” at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. Her undergrad degree is in education, and she earned an M.A. in Communication from Regent University in 1986. When she isn’t wrestling with words, Sharon enjoys speaking to conferences, retreats, and church groups. She and her family make their home in Minnesota.
C.J.: Before you ever set pen to paper you were heavily involved in performing arts. What first drew you into this creative medium?
Sharon: I remember putting on shows in the neighborhood when I was a little munchkin – (writing, producing, singing, dancing, and bossing around any other kids I could recruit). But along with my love for music and drama, I always had a stack of books at hand. My mom read to me, or recited poetry to me, all the time. And she taught me to read very young. Because of that, I wanted to be part of the conversation that books created. I relished stories, and wanted to respond by telling some of my own. I wrote short stories about horses in fourth grade, World War II stories in fifth grade, a truly terrible script for Man from U.N.C.L.E. in about sixth grade, moody songs and poetry in high school, etc. But I didn’t start writing for publication until grad school.
Tell us a little bit about your 20 years teaching ballet. Had you performed in many ballets yourself before you started teaching? What was most rewarding about that time of your life?
Although I studied classical ballet for many years (it’s such a valuable foundation for all forms of dance) most of my dance performing during college and the years after, was either in musicals, in Christian multi-art groups, or creating works for worship settings. I taught at a variety of dance schools, studios, for theatre groups, etc., but the ten years I taught company class for a Christian dance company was the most joyous. I was privileged to work with skilled dancers with years of training who wanted to utilize the art to glorify God and communicate about Him to others. Another highlight was serving as a guest teacher and choreographer on three different trips to a dance company in Hong Kong.
What, if anything, were you able to take away from your years in the performing arts and use in your writing?
There are issues common to all the arts: the yearning to achieve something of power and beauty, yet always feeling there is still so far to go; struggling to have a healthy personal life while working in the volatile and ever-changing relationships and experiences that come with this work; finding a balance between meeting audience expectation yet also being true to the stories God has given me to tell; fending off the distraction of all the peripheral aspects of the work that can drain creative energy; finding ways to pay bills. Honestly, I still don’t have most of that figured out. But maybe the most important lesson from my years in theatre and dance is this: God asks me to show up and give my all, and trust Him with the rest. Anytime I stop to measure by human standards, I get hit with despair. Art requires impractical, lavish amounts of love and time and effort. There is always the doubt that whispers, “It’s a waste of time.” But art is precious. Obedience is precious. When God calls you to do something, it is worth doing.
Lets talk about your Sword of Lyric series. Book #1, The Restorer, was actually the first novel you wrote, but it wasn’t the first to be published, correct? Could you share with us how this wonderful series found its home at NavPress?
God’s fingerprints were all over this open door. Even though I was busy with other novels, I had never stopped praying for a home for The Restorer books, because they were so special to me. I met the acquisitions editor from NavPress at a writer’s conference, but had no plans to pitch anything. However, he had heard I had a fantasy series and asked me about it. Then he asked me to send it, waited while we got my other publisher’s blessing, and championed it in committee.
How did you motivate yourself to press on and write all three books without the promise of a contract in your future?
When an industry professional who had worked with Perretti, Lawhead, Dekker, and other authors I admired gave me enthusiastic feedback on my fledgling manuscript, I was dumbfounded. I’d expected to be told, “You don’t have the chops. Go home and learn how to write.” His praise fueled my energy to write the next two books in the series – out of sheer love for the characters and the joy of spending time with them.
Who’s your favorite character, and why?
Depends on which day you ask me. But I’ll confess, the character that fascinates me and grabs my heart the most is Kieran. It might be because I identify so much with aspects of his spiritual journey.
Did you consciously set out to reach readers who might not otherwise pick up a “fantasy” novel, or did this blending of genres happen naturally over time?
Great question. I was toying with ideas for the “otherworld” story, and shared thoughts with a few friends. They wrinkled their noses and said, “Oh, I don’t read those kinds of books.” So I asked them, “Why not?” I seriously asked hoards of people what made fantasy hard for them to relate to and took notes. I thought it would be a fun challenge to see if I could use a contemporary fiction style, relatable characters, and still take readers on a fantastical journey with many of the classic elements of the hero’s journey that I love so much about the fantasy genre.
Can we expect to read any more novels featuring the land of Lyric and its terrific cast of characters?
You never know. The characters all continue to be busy in my brain.
Switching gears a bit … you’ve also written several popular mom-lit novels. Share with us about the latest, Symphony of Secrets. What inspired you to write this novel?
I love the notion that God woos us, and speaks to us in languages we understand. I also thought I could draw from my own experiences to create the character of an obsessed musician (it’s not that different from being a neurotic writer!) I hoped to widen the appeal beyond “mom-lit” readers, with a fun general fiction story – still involving a mom, but a very different kind of mom than Becky Miller. A little sprinkling of mystery and romance added some flavor, but at it’s core, it is like all my books – a story of a mom doing the best she can with the challenges she faces, wrestling spiritual questions, and growing.
Did you have to do a lot of research for this book, or do you also have some training in music?
I play piano, guitar, pipe organ, and very awful clarinet. But I got most of my research help from my husband’s side of the family. Many of them are skilled instrumentalists, music teachers, and performers, and they took delight in helping me devise ways to torture a concertmaster, sabotage a violin, or feature some insider humor about musicians. My daughters both play flute (and I’ve tried but am hopeless). Both my sons are also gifted musicians. One is a composer, the other has studied voice, trumpet, and piano. They all provided some input.
In your writing, which usually comes first, the characters or the plot?
Characters. They begin to tag along in my thoughts and they raise questions in my mind. Why would she act this way? What does she want most in life? What is she afraid of? How would she react if this happened to her? I get to know them just enough to be sure I want to spend time with them (months and months of writing, more months of rewriting) and then they slowly reveal their secrets as I watch them in action in the plot.
Do you often have a message in mind as your write, or does that come about as you discover your story?
I don’t set out with a message, but I often draw from themes that are meaningful to me at the time. I usually poke around in my soul to see what new things God has been impressing on me recently. When I began writing The Secret Life of Becky Miller, I wanted to explore the crazy pressures Christian women put on themselves. When I wrote The Restorer, I was working through themes of how the Christian life is sometimes harder than expected. The book I just finished, Stepping Into Sunlight (coming out September 2008) developed from recent mulling about how God brings healing in unexpected ways, so that theme under-girded the story as it unfolded.
You’ve said in a previous interview that you’re a “true tortured artist”. What is the best remedy you’ve found to conquer the self-doubt so often plaguing writers?
I’ve stopped arguing with the voice that says, “You can’t do this.” Instead, I agree and answer, “That’s so true. But I serve an amazing God who can feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and HE can create something through me that just might bring Him glory.” Other times I weep and wail and gnash my teeth and call a writer friend so we can commiserate about the impossibility of the work we’re trying to do. Chocolate helps, too.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I’ve developed a wonderful novel inspired by my grandma who survived the Russian revolution as a school girl, the communist and Nazi occupations of Latvia in WWII, as well as a complex and difficult personal life full of romance and tragedy. I just haven’t figured out whether to frame the story within something contemporary, or how to approach it so that it isn’t too big a detour from the contemporary fiction I write and that readers expect. It’s definitely a story about a mom who becomes an unlikely heroine, and deals with all kinds of contemporary challenges like divorce, being a single mom, etc. So in that way, it’s not too different from my contemporary and fantasy novels.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard? What do you do when the words just don’t seem to come?
The lure of what delightful thing might happen is what gets me in the chair. A musician who sees a piano gravitates toward it. A painter smells the turpentine and grabs the brush, just in case this time the strokes of paint will come closer to the artistic vision in his mind. I get pulled toward the computer hoping that something surprising and beautiful might happen when I play with words. The hard part is that those exquisite moments can’t be forced or predicted or scheduled – and they are rare. So in between it’s a lot of slogging. When I’m writing a new manuscript I set a word count each day, and work until I get it done. I’m goal oriented, so that keeps me going.
Do you have a designated space and/or time that’s off limit to family like Susan does in The Restorer?
When I wrote The Restorer, it was in the family room at the family computer with four kids buzzing around. Apparently, some of my hidden yearning for escape slipped into the novel – but my hubby didn’t create an attic room for me. :) When my oldest son married, we were able to reshuffle bedrooms and convert a room into an office, so now I’m blissfully spoiled.
I hear you have an interesting story about rappelling down a five-story building. Care to share? :)
Just one of those stray facts I include on lists of “unusual things I’ve done.” But the backstory isn’t too exciting. Army recruiters were visiting the college and giving free rappelling lessons off a campus building. I enjoyed it, but haven’t had a chance to do it since. The story of the police breaking up a rehearsal of West Side Story when I was choreographing is way more interesting. We were mounting the outdoor production in the parking lot of an inner city building, and a neighbor glimpsed gangs with knives, bricks, and chains, and called the police who barreled into the middle of rehearsal with several cars, K-9 units, etc. I think I told the cast, “Quick, start singing ‘When You’re a Jet.’” That story made the A.P. wire service, and I still have the newspaper clipping. For more quirky confessions from “The Secret Life of Sharon Hinck” stop by my website.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
Huge bunches of things are completely out of the writer’s control.
Of all your books, which was the hardest to write and why?
The book I’m working on is always the hardest, because I’m trying to grow and improve.
What’s next for you novel-wise?
Stepping Into Sunlight – another contemporary fiction with Bethany House – releases in September, 2008. I’ve been pouring a lot of my heart into this one, and am very excited about it. A young mom witnesses a violent crime right after moving to the Tidewater area of Virginia where she doesn’t know anyone, and only days later her husband leaves on his first deployment as a Navy chaplain. She suffers from post-traumatic stress and isolation, and begins to take small steps toward healing – including a project to try to do a small kindness for a different person each day. There is both humor and courage in her journey, and I love the variety of supporting characters and strange events that contribute to her adventure.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I was once an extra on a soap opera (being produced by a Christian network). I also played a blind girl in a student film while in grad school.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I used to love canning and quilting. Haven’t done as much lately. But I still do a lot of rubberstamping (cards and scrapbooks), gardening, and love hiking (the more remote the better).
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Peanut-butter toast and tea.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Hardboiled eggs, cheese, cranberry juice.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Irish Breakfast tea.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
To be a grandma!
When was the last time you cried?
A few mornings ago while slowly praying through a Psalm out loud.
Three words that best describe you:
Caring, sensitive, passionate
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Everything! I love my iPod! Celtic worship, classical music (lots of flute in honor of Symphony of Secrets), audio books by Richard Foster and Philip Yancy, writer’s conference classes, my Bible, Broadway cast recordings of great musicals, various contemporary Christian artists, traditional hymns, and a couple versions of the songs from The Restorer books (a reader wrote orchestrations and sent them to me – you can hear them on the Just For Fun – Multimedia page of my website.)
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
I send out a free quarterly email newsletter with devotional thoughts, info, opportunities to win free books, and other fun extras. You can sign up in the right-hand column of my website – www.sharonhinck.com
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.