Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Interview With Sarah Sundin

Today it's my please to welcome Sarah Sundin to International Christian Fiction Writers. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah when I was in the USA last year, and her debut book, A Distant Melody, was just released at the beginning of this month.

1) Hi Sarah. How did you start writing?

I grew up surrounded by books and read everything I could, but I rarely considered a writing career. Instead, I studied chemistry at UCLA, then received my doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco. After graduation, I chose to work one day a week as a hospital pharmacist so I could stay home with our three children. On January 6, 2000, when our youngest was a toddler, I had a dream with such intriguing characters that I felt compelled to write their story. That first novel will never be published, nor should it, but it served a purpose. Since I felt God had called me to write, I needed to take it seriously. So I set out to learn the craft of writing from books, a critique group, and writers’ conferences.

2) Where did you get the ideas from for "A Distant Melody"?
It came out of a “what if” question in a contemporary novel I wrote (very badly). What if a man and woman met at an event, truly clicked, and parted before exchanging contact info? Wouldn’t it be romantic if he went through great effort to track her down? Obviously it wouldn’t work in a contemporary setting—he’d “Google” her—but it made a sweet premise for a historical. My husband and I watched a History Channel special on the US Eighth Air Force based in England which flew over Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, and I had my link. My great-uncle was a B-17 bomber pilot with the Eighth, so I had access to family stories plus his personal letters. My research fascinated me so much, the story expanded to become a trilogy, with each book focusing on one of three brothers.

3) Which character in the book is your favourite and why?
I adore Walt and Allie, my hero and heroine, but my favorite has to be Cressie Watts. I didn’t plan for her—she just showed up. Allie, a wealthy, educated, well-mannered young woman, goes out for a walk after a horrendous day and enters a rundown church. She needs to get away from her parents’ superficial congregation, so I thought she might talk to the pastor. Instead, Allie and I both find—to my surprise—this feisty older woman who ropes Allie into helping her air out the pew cushions. She’s Allie’s opposite in every way—exactly the mentor Allie needs at this point. I adore her brusque ways, her deep faith, and her humor. And there’s a funny story regarding her name too.

4) "A Distant Melody" is your debut novel. How did your path to finally landing that elusive publishing contract happen?
I first submitted this novel at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in 2003. I received good feedback from published authors, editors, and agents—and began accumulating a stack of “good” rejection letters. They liked my writing, my story, and my characters—however, historicals weren’t selling. They wanted chick lit. This continued through 2007. I often felt discouraged, but the Lord made it obvious in many ways that He wanted me to finish the trilogy so I kept plugging away. Then at Mount Hermon in March 2008, I heard, “We don’t want chick lit. We need historicals.” And there I was with my trilogy close to complete. I submitted to Vicki Crumpton at Revell, and in September I was offered a three-book contract.

5) Was there ever a point where you felt like giving up on this book? What got you through it?
I never wanted to give up on the book, because I loved the story so much. However, in 2005 all doors to publication seemed closed and padlocked, and I wondered whether I had heard God correctly. Was I truly meant to write? Was I wasting my time when I could be doing something more productive?

That year I went for a morning walk at Mount Hermon under the redwoods and stopped to admire a little white flower. I praised God for the flower and felt touched—had He made that flower just so I would praise Him? Then I looked around me. Hundreds of redwoods covered the hills, and thousands more out of my vision, all surrounded by white blossoms. How many of those flowers would ever cause someone to stop and praise God? Were they created in vain? Did the Lord waste His time creating them? Of course not. God is a creative Being, and He made us in His creative image. In His mercy, the Lord showed me that even if my writing was never seen by another human being and never caused anyone to praise Him, I did the write thing obeying His call to write. I was not wasting my time.

6) As well as being based in a different time, a large part of your book is also based in England. How did you go about researching these parts of the book to give it an authentic "English" flavour?

The best part was visiting England. Thanks to hubby's frequent flyer miles, I've had three opportunities. In addition to seeing London, we went to Bury St. Edmunds, the setting for the second and third books in the series. I took lots of notes and absorbed everything I could. Even being there in person couldn't substitute for good old research though. I read lots of books about England during the war, and found some great websites, especially for Bedford and Bury St. Edmunds. Google Earth is also a fantastic research tool.

7) A Distant Melody is the first book in your Wings of Glory series. Are any of the books in the rest of the series also based in an international setting? What challenges did you find in writing in a foreign setting?
All three books are partly set in England. In addition, there's a single scene in A Memory Between Us (Book 2) set in Tunisia, when the Eighth Air Force flew a "shuttle" mission. They left England, bombed Regensburg, Germany, and landed in Tunisia. Over the course of a week, they made their way back to England. It was such a disaster it was never repeated. There are also scenes in Book 3 set in Germany, which - tragically - led to another research trip.

Thank you so much for joining us today Sarah and all the best with your books. You can find more about Sarah and her writing at

Kara Isaac is currently enjoying reading A Distant Melody and hoping that romantic comedy comes back into publishing vogue soon! This week on her blog she's chatting about the crisis she's having over joining a critique group and why she wishes she'd gone into banking as a career.


  1. Wonderful interview ,Kara. Sounds like a good read


  2. Great interview. I loved this book and look forward to more from Sarah!

  3. Writa - thank you! And I'm so glad you dropped by.
    Linda - I'm thrilled that you loved my book - I loved your review :)
    Kara - thanks again for posting this - and I LOVE your wedding picture. It's gorgeous!

  4. Kara, great interview! Sarah, thanks for stopping by - your book sounds like a fascinating read. I hope you can go on another research trip soon:-)

  5. I'm not a fan of chick lit but I love historicals, so I'm glad this genre is desired by publishers again. The picture on the cover reminds me of my dad, who served as a radar technician during the war. I will definitely read Sarah's book and appreciate the chance to win a copy.

    cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net