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Interview with Michelle Sutton

Michelle Sutton is a wife, mother of two grown sons, and the author of more than a dozen novels. Somehow, in the midst of those daunting responsibilities, she makes time to do a little reading. But perhaps I’m understating it a bit. In 2010, she read and reviewed over 124 novels, tracking her journey on the Healing Hearts blog.

Michelle, as I just mentioned, the tag line on your website is “Healing Hearts.” My guess is these two words say a lot about your passion for the stories you write and the reader you write them for. Tell us the story behind “Healing Hearts.”

When I first started trying to sell to the Christian market, the feedback that my agent and I kept getting was that the stories I wrote were a bit edgy, and did I have anything else? So I finally sold to a small press who was looking for Real life, Real faith, Real fiction (their tagline) and thought my stories were a good fit. I was tagged as an edgy author by my readers because they weren't used to such realism in Christian fiction, but they were overwhelmingly positive and encouraging in regards to feedback.

Based on this response I knew that "edgy" described my writing, but it didn't describe the heart of my stories and why I write them. I looked at all of the titles I've had published and those that will be published in the future, and they all centered around broken-hearted men and women who receive healing (both emotional and spiritual) through various trials they face. So as I was rethinking my "brand" it occurred to me that I write for the purpose of healing hearts. The goal is not to shock my readers, or to push the envelope, but to write a book that is realistic enough that a broken person who reads it (saved or unsaved) will be able to relate to the characters.

I have heard too many people saying that they couldn't relate to the perfect people in Christian novels, so they stopped reading Christian fiction. My characters are never perfect—even after they are saved. They are just forgiven and in need of God's healing touch in their lives every single day. They often make bad choices, but they always suffer the natural consequences of the choices they make just like people do in real life. I don't spare them the pain, but they always learn from it. And sometimes they mess up again and again despite all that they have learned from other bad choices. Some people need a lot of kicking in the teeth before they are broken enough to repent and let God work in their hearts. My characters tend to be people like that, but not all of them. There are some who don't screw up in my books, just not many.

How do your personal passion and experience spur you to write?
I've been a social worker for over two decades and honestly, there isn't a thing I haven't experienced or seen from people who have killed their children to people who are addicted or mentally ill and need hospitalization. There is a lot of fodder for novels in my field of expertise, so I rarely need to do much research. I just reflect on people or situations I already know, and then mix that with fiction based on other situations and people I know, etc.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
My kids are in college, so they don't require much from me at this point (well, a bit of money, but I don't have much of that either, so they're on their own there, too.) I don't watch television either. It's a huge time waster. I try not to get too involved in social media. Anything that fritters away my time tends to get ignored. I do have a life and a great family and friends, church, etc. I just manage my time well. I do my best under pressure, but I don't have to be pressed for time to be productive.

Where do you story ideas and characters come from?
See above. Seriously, I pull from life experience. I've worked in foster care, adoptions, the mentally ill, addicted, sexually abused, and pretty much everything else that happens in life that makes for an interesting story plot.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into your storytelling?
I can't see writing a story that merely entertains people just like I can't see living my life while sitting in church and doing nothing to minister to people who need Jesus. The Lord pulled me out of the mire and set my feet on the solid rock of His truth. I've slipped off here and there along this journey called life, but Jesus has always brought me back to where He can use me, and I've never felt like I was lost or rejected by God. I know He is with me and I write stories I hope will minister to people who have given up on God, themselves, the church, or anything else because they think they've fallen too far away to be redeemed, or they can't be salvaged in the first place.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
I don't know if it was the greatest thing, per se, but the most exciting moment was when I held my first published book in my hands. I suppose every time I get an e-mail from a complete stranger through my website that talks about how much one of my books touched the person's heart is a greatest moment for me. That's when I say to myself, "Yes, this is why I write."

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I've noticed in many inspirational novels the characters aren't allowed to really screw up. They may take a peek at temptation, but some how they end up doing the right thing most of the time. I have my characters mess up a lot. Another author who does this well is Lisa Samson. I think the main difference between her style of storytelling and mine is my "voice."

Finish this statement. For me, writing is all about …
Touching the reader's heart. That's why I read. I want a story to touch my heart. When it does, I love it.

What one piece of advice would you offer a new, yet-to-be-published author?
Keep working on your technique and your storytelling. Don't just stick to one book thinking it will sell. Write until something does.

Thanks for sharing with us, Michelle!

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