Sharon Souza is with us today to talk about her new release, Unraveled. She describes her writing as “heart-of-the-matter fiction with a good dose of humor.” The humor in this case comes from the quirky voice of Aria Winters, granddaughter of former-hippies-turned-Jesus-people krystal and blue karma. Ree, as she is called, grew up on the nut farm (walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, that is), and runs off to Moldova (check your map of Eastern Europe) to be a missionary. I say “runs” because in fact, she is running from a guilty secret in her past. In Moldova she comes face to face with an imperfect world when a little girl in her English class is taken by child traffickers.
I identified strongly with Ree. Like me, Ree grew up in a Christian home surrounded by people who loved her. Like me, she is broken by what she sees. Once she stops apologizing for the feelings about God that good Christian girls just aren’t supposed to feel, she hurls the same angry arguments at him that I have. Maybe you have too. That’s where the heart-of-the-matter part comes in, and Sharon Souza hit me straight between the eyes.
Sharon, thank you for being with us today.
The spiritual struggle in Unraveled could have taken place anywhere, so why Moldova?
Sharon Souza: Prior to starting the writing of Unraveled I spent a number of weeks trying to decide where to set the overseas part of the story. I initially thought about setting it in Thailand, because I have a sister-in-law from Thailand who could have helped me with setting, customs, language, etc., but I ultimately decided against Thailand because I didn't want the location to be cliché. The very week I was going to begin writing, my husband—who has traveled all over the world helping to build the kingdom of God both physically and strategically—received a newsletter from a missionary friend in Moldova, which I'd never heard of till that day. The subject of that newsletter dealt exactly with what I was getting ready to write about. And the location added elements to the story that I couldn't have planned as well if I'd tried. That was a remarkable answer to prayer that helped me know I was on the right path.
LH: ‘The location added elements to the story that I couldn’t have planned.” Like what (if it won’t give away too much of the story)?
SS: The sunflower was a symbol that unexpectedly rose out of the setting, and became an important element to the story.
LH: That symbol worked beautifully. I loved the place where Aria is driving through acres of sunflowers and thinks, "I ... have no intention of turning my face to the Light, only to get burnt." (p. 196) They make a great cover, too.
my Ree’s spiritual struggle so intimately, that I find
myself wondering what provoked your own struggle. Are you free to share or is
that too private?
SS: Anyone who has walked with the Lord for any length of time knows there are things that happen that cause us to question, maybe not God's faithfulness overall, but God's faithfulness to me, to my specific situation. I know I've been there and I can say unequivocally that God has made Himself more real to me in those times than in any other. Did those situations always turn out the way I hoped they would? Seldom. But I've found the outcome isn't always as important as knowing the nearness of God, and knowing that as I walk through the dark places He really is with me. That has to be enough. I can't seem to avoid asking hard questions in my fiction, honestly never sure how the questions will be answered, or if they will at all. But God always points me in the right direction. I hope it gives my readers something to think about and something to hold onto.
LH: The plot involves child sex trafficking. How did you personally come to be concerned about this issue?
SS: The statistics are overwhelming, the fallout is horrific. Because it's such a global issue I felt it was something that needed to be addressed in Christian fiction, which it is more and more and has been since I first started Unraveled. But I didn't want to make that the main issue of the book, nor did I want to look at the big picture of human trafficking. Instead, I wanted to look at how it affected one young girl and those who cared for her, getting personal without being graphic.
LH: I loved the way you dealt with this hard question, making it so person and giving no easy answers.
You have other commercially published books, yet according to your blog, this manuscript was turned down because “CBA doesn’t do missionary stories.” The setting is a mission trip in Eastern Europe. Can you share with our readers why you don’t consider this a “missionary book”?
SS: If the plot had centered primarily around Aria's work with the Moldovan children or as a helper in Hope House with those rescued out of human trafficking, I would consider it a missionary book. But it deals instead with a young woman who's lived a privileged life, who's taken everything for granted, including her faith, who then faces a crisis that shakes the foundation of her world. That's what's at the heart of Unraveled. The mission aspect of the story was just a vehicle to get her that place.
LH: You have self-published despite other commercially published books. How has that worked for you? How has it been different from a traditional publisher?
SS: Self-publication is not an easy way to go, but it became apparent that it was the only way Unraveled would be published. Judging from the feedback I've gotten from readers, I'm glad I went ahead with it. It's not easy getting the ripple effect to build, but I work at it constantly. With my traditionally-published novels (which I've just re-released independently) I was still responsible for a large share of the marketing, but it was nice to know that I had a publishing company behind me helping to promote my books even just a little.
LH: Thank you, Sharon. This book meant a lot to me personally, and I pray that many others will be touched by it.
Sharon has graciously agreed to do a book give-way. Comment below by Friday March 8 to have your name entered in a drawing. Don’t forget to leave your e-mail addresses disguised to foil phishers. US residents may request either print or electronic. Outside the US, electronic only. As usual, the chances of winning depend on the number of entries. Void where prohibited.___