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Interview With Sharon Dunn

1) Tell us a little about yourself -- age, married/single, children, how many books authored, etc.

I was born and raised in Montana. My husband and I are basically hillbillies who are "faking it." We live in town, but have to resist the urge to leave old couches and broken appliances on the porch. I lived in a trailer court for the first eight years of my life and after that in a hard to reach house in the country that only had a trickle of running water for the first few years we lived there. I am the daughter of a phosphate miner (I don’t think there has been a country song written for that yet). My husband grew up on a very remote ranch in Eastern Montana. He learned how to drive when he was six years old so he could drive forty some miles to the school bus and then ride the bus for about an hour. My father was a high school drop out and my mother never finished nursing school, so the fact that my sisters and I all have college degrees and some of us advanced degrees is something I am very proud of. Michael and I have been married almost 18 years and we have three children. Cow Crimes and the Mustang Menace is my third book in the Ruby Taylor series. The first book in the series is Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves and book two is titled Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante. Prior to publishing the Ruby Taylor series, I wrote and published plays, skits, non-fiction articles and short stories.

2) How did you become interested in writing?

When I was eight years old, we left the trailer court and moved out into the country. Our road was hard to drive on, so we didn’t have many visitors. My choices were to play with my sisters or spend time reading, daydreaming and imagining. I think all that alone time really nurtured my writing skills. Also, my sisters and I played games that involved using our imagination and creating storylines. We used to find scraps of wood and build cities that our little plastic animals lived in. We created soap opera-like story lines for our Barbie dolls. Since I could write, I have been interested in writing. The impulse to work through things on paper was always there. I didn’t think about it as a career though until my oldest son was born thirteen years ago. I needed a creative outlet and writing worked with having small children.

3) What was your biggest obstacle in regard to writing and/or getting published? How did you overcome it?

Me, me, pick me. My biggest obstacle is ME, my insecurity, my pride. If I never publish another book, the spiritual growth that I experienced on the road to publication will be reward enough. It took two years to sell my first Ruby Taylor after it was completed. I was at a writer’s conference toward the end of those two years. At that conference, I spent a lot of time praying and asking God "why can’t I sell this book?" Now, I am not one of those people who hears from God all the time. Really, I could count the number of times I confidently knew I was hearing from God and not just putting words in God’s mouth, so to speak, on one hand. But during that prayer time, God told me "the writer is in the way of the word." I can’t quite explain the transition that took place, but as I sat in the workshops at the conference, I realized I had so much to learn about writing a novel.

I came to a place of contentment where I was willing to put my book in the drawer and to spend a lifetime being a student of the novel. I went home, bought a bunch of books on writing novels and prepared to "go back to school." Shortly after that, Kregel sent me an email saying they were interested in the book that I was ready to put in the drawer. That book that ultimately became Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves. The lesson here is NOT that once I came to a place of humility and contentment that I got published. This is not a formula for getting published. I don’t want people to think that. What I am getting at is that if you find yourself agitated because you are not published and envy over other writers’ successes raises its little green head, then God is asking you to work through something. It may or may not be preparation for publication. Our reason for being on planet earth is not to succeed, it’s to grow closer our to Savior. If failure is what it takes for that growth, then so be it. Okay, I’m done preachin’.

4) What has been the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

There is nothing like holding your first published book in your hand. The emails I get from people saying they like the books really encourage me. Winning the ACFW Book of the Year Award with Sassy Cinderella was a nice surprise.

5) Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story ideas come from?

I am inspired by great stories. I think that Les Miserables is one of the most perfect stories ever written. Timeless themes, wide audience appeal, complex storylines in which the full panorama of humanity is represented. If I could write one book that was that good, I’d be a happy camper. In the meantime, each book is a striving toward that level of excellence. Good writing inspires me.

Figuring out where I get my ideas from is sort of a chicken or the egg question. As a writer, I am working twenty four hours a day, even when I am asleep and dreaming. My mind goes everywhere I do, so ideas can pop in there at any time. I know with one of the characters in Cow Crimes, it was a woman in a restaurant that gave me the idea for Starlight Dawn. The woman in the restaurant looked like a walking ad for plastic surgery, big lips, large breasts, a tan that didn’t come from the sun, high cheekbones and bleached blond hair. I took that basic character concept and played "what if?" What if a character was a walking ad for plastic surgery (kind of unnatural and fake on the outside) but what if that character had come to Christ and was a real and genuine person. So the fake outside didn’t match the "beautiful" person inside. That made for an interesting character.

6) Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, or do you plot extensively before your fingers hit the keyboard?

As far as writing goes, I am not a planner. I only write a synopsis because the publisher won’t consider buying my book without one. Usually, I know the next two or three things that have to happen in the story, and I have a vague idea how it will end. I do still go back to my books on structure and the different models offered for plotting a book when something in my story is not working. I don’t do elaborate character profiles. I just have a basic idea of who the character is. That way, instead of trying to make my story fit the elaborate profile, I have put together, the biographical info emerges because the needs of the story call for it. It’s funny because personality-wise and in other parts of my life, I am a planner. But with my writing, I like surprises. They keep me excited about the writing process.

7) What's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your writing?

I like that people say that the Ruby Taylor books made them both laugh and cry. I grin when people say they appreciated that Ruby has a Christian journey that is honest and real.

8) How did you discover your character, Ruby Taylor? What is the inspiration behind her development?

A lot of great ideas come from asking the question "what if?" I read a lot of Christian fiction that had main characters who either really didn’t have any great sin in their lives or the sin was easily overcome. Most of these characters had really great parents who gave wonderful Godly advice. I started saying "what if?" What if you didn’t have great Christian parents? Then I took that what if to the extreme and said what if your parents had done time in prison. I wanted Ruby to come to Christ as a thirty year old with lots of baggage and woundedness because I wanted to show how God can redeem any life from anywhere. I wanted to show how the journey toward healing is not easy or instant, but oh so worth it.

9) What other themes or inspirations can be found threaded throughout your 3-book series?

The whole series is the story of how God repairs broken people. And then each book has a specific theme related to that. The first book has a message that God can redeem even someone who is drowning in sexual sin. In Sassy Cinderella, book two, I wanted to show that even if our "witness" is less than perfect, God will honor our faithfulness in trying and that the victory is not in people’s response, but in that we were obedient. In book three, Cow Crimes and the Mustang Menace, I wanted to show that there is not a cookie cutter for becoming the Proverbs 31 woman.

10) How do you deal with publisher rejections?

Rejections are still hard no matter how long you have been writing. I allow myself to grief, to be sad and even angry and then move on. Assess why the rejection happened and decide if my idea is worth saving or needs to be tossed. I make it sound so easy. But honestly, rejection is always hard. Chocolate and a long soak in a hot bath are helpful.

Also, sharing your disappointment with someone who will pray with you can help. I think that is one of the best things about ACFW, the prayer support. Some of my rejections have been huge, my novel made it past the editorial committee and then got shot down by the financial committee. The prayer support and advice from those who had been-there- done-that on ACFW was invaluable.

11) If you could give a beginner one piece of advice what would it be?

Get into writing for the right reasons. If you are doing it to see a monetary return for your time or because you are seeking the accolades, you won’t get much mileage or motivation out of those things. You should get into writing because you have a story you want to tell and because you love the process of sitting alone in a room and making words dance on paper.

Understand that writing is an emotional roller coaster. One day, you are on top of the world and the next day you are in that slimy pit of Psalm 40. Don’t let you identity come from those ups and downs, you’ll get whiplash of the heart. One of the most wonderful and valuable things I have found as a writer is the community. Nobody understands a writer like another writer. ACFW has been a wonderful refuge for me, a great place to find prayer support and expertise. I look forward to the conferences and writer retreats I am able to go to and I attend a critique group that meets twice a month. I feel like I found my "people group" when I hang out with other writers. Writing is a solitary activity, but you still need to seek out community.

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