Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview with Author, Michelle Sutton

Remember that feature I did a few weeks ago on "Buy a book by a black author and give it to someone who isn't black?" Well today on Urban Christian Today, a forum for African American Christian Fiction, we're going to highlight an author who isn't black, and I hope you will buy the book by the white author and read it just because it's good and because the Kingdom of God is not built on division, but unity.

Today I welcome debut author, Michelle Sutton. I met Michelle at the American Christian Fiction Writers Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas in the fall of 2006. We had common ideas about wanting to see realistic stories in Christian Fiction. That led to a fast friendship that has endured via emails over the years. I'm so excited that since the conference, she and I are both realizing our dreams of being published. (My book is in the pipeline, but hers is in the stores.)

In addition to being a new author, Michelle wears many hats. She'a a highly sought after reviewer and this year as Senior Editor, she helped launch the Christian Fiction Online Magazine. CFOM has had 26,872 visitors and 53,876 pageloads to the magazine since it's launch in July. That's alot to be proud of and it keeps Michelle very busy. I'm glad I could steal a few minutes of her time for this week's feature.

Welcome, Michelle, since I've already introduced you, how about you introduce your readers to my readers. Let’s see, my readers are between the ages of 9 and 81 and they are about two thirds female and one third male. I’ve gotten endorsements from and acquired readers from all racial backgrounds, too. Oh, and about half of my readers are not Christians. (Insert victory punch here!) They so need to read about a real Savior and real faith and not the candy coated stuff they think Christianity offers.

Tell us about It’s Not About Me and the rest of the series. In regards to content, It’s Not About Me is edgy when it comes to CBA standards, but not by typical secular fiction comparisons. The difference is that in my book I talk plainly about faith and I offer the reader hope. My book also shows the importance of faith and that is evident in the characters’ journeys and growth. I also talk about sin and temptation and that tends to scare some people who want to think their children will never sin. (Yes, I’m jaded, but come on, people, pull your heads out of the sand.) But for the rest of the world who is willing to take their blinders off, they say it’s just about real life. I agree, of course.

It’s Not About Me is the story of a nineteen-year-old girl who is for the most part a nice teen, obedient, and cares about doing what her parents want her to. The problem is she doesn’t know what she wants because she is too busy trying to make everyone else happy. When tragedy strikes her life, she has to look inside her heart and she doesn’t like what she sees. But because of the encouragement from a friend—her boyfriend’s brother Dan, she is encouraged to do something about it. In the process of being encouraged by Dan, she begins to develop feelings for him. That complicates things because she was supposed to have loved his brother. So the love triangle begins. However, she does discover the difference between real love and infatuation from this experience. She has to make some difficult decisions, because for once in her life, she won’t be able to please everybody. Someone will get hurt.

The next book in the series is called It’s Not About Him. It’s the story of Susie and Jeff from the first book. Both were not very nice people or even decent friends. They had issues, to say the least. But in this book you see the world the way they see it and you understand why they did what they did in the first book. I love doing that with characters – showing you their bad side, then redeeming them in the next book. I like this story even better than the first, but that’s because it’s edgier. Silly, I know, but I love pushing that envelope!

I personally know you’ve penned some riveting women’s fiction that is currently being shopped with by your agent, so tell me about the decision to write YA Fiction. Actually I wrote this YA series three years ago and I had it down as women’s fiction because it was part of a women’s fiction series. One publisher said she felt that was more YA so we changed it since YA seems to be increasing in popularity recently and let’s be honest, teens don’t have much good fiction to read, especially not in CBA land. At any rate, if you read the reviews a lot have stated how you don’t have to be young adult to enjoy the story, which was why I had originally listed it under women’s fiction. But the switch to YA was helpful because I now have a male readership as a result.

Any personal experience with the angst of the characters? I’ve known people like all of the characters, yes, but they are all a mixture of people and no character is exactly like anyone I know.

What do you want readers to take away from this story? I want them to explore their own faith. I want them to think about why they do what they do and who they are trying to please. I also want them to think about the difference between love and infatuation (puppy love) and to choose the right kind of love.

I do know you have made a personal connection with your cover models. How neat. Tell me how that came to be. What happened was I was talking to my friend Angie one day and said, “I really need two brothers for the cover because in my head I see them posing but I don’t know two guys who look enough like brothers to model for it.” She said, “I have two sons!” They are the ages I needed and the rest is history. The redhead on the front looks amazingly like how I pictured Annie and she is married to one of the brothers.

Michelle, your brand is Edgy Christian Fiction. Your blog “Edgy Inspirational Author” is extremely popular. Tell us what “edgy” means to you, and how challenging is it to write and market your brand in a genre that can be so conservative. To me edgy means telling it like it is. Telling the truth. Even the ugly side. Christians do bad things. We are not perfect. Non-Christians need to see that in our books or how will they ever feel like Christianity is something for them, too. A lot of CBA fiction shies away from what people really feel. They want to teach, “Just say no.” I write to tell the reader why they would want to say no, but I never tell them what to think. They just figure it out by reading the story. I’ve had several readers who are 19 and 20 thank me for writing a story that shows the struggle young people face in a realistic way and they said this has firmed up their commitment to wait for marriage. Bravo! That is what I want. No one told me anything like that when I was a teen and if anything the message was, “If it feels good, do it.” Bad advice, I’m telling you. How I wish I had been able to read edgy fiction with a moral message in those days but it simply didn’t exist. I’ve been referred to as a modern day Judy Blume with an inspirational twist. Not a bad comparison, I’d say.

You have a very unique voice and you write like you have twenty bestsellers under your belt. Tell me how you learned to write. What resources have been the biggest helps to you in honing the craft. Well, I learned to write mainly from reading a lot of well-written (not crap) fiction and by writing a lot and working the same thing over and over. But I also wrote entire books and got feedback from crit groups. As I got to know more authors I started getting their feedback, too. I have read a few writing-related books that helped me gain insight, too. There is a book by Scott Orson Card about character emotion and the gist of it is that if as the author you tell your readers how your character feels then they don’t experience that emotion for themselves. REALLY? Huh, well I tried changing how I do that and IT WORKS! I also read Stein on Writing. He talks about creating an envelope and letting your reader fill it. Really? Yep, and that works, too. In fact, that book totally changed how I viewed writing from that point on (about four years ago.) I have about three junk books that were learning experiences and about nine that are publishable, two of which have sold to Sheaf House. My Anatomy of Temptation book is the last book I actually wrote and sadly, I don’t think it will sell to a large publisher. The ABA publishers say it is too Christian and the CBA publishers can’t believe we would even consider publishing something so… honest. Well, dang.

Give aspiring writers some advice. Don’t worry about selling your book right off the bat. Work on making it the best book it can be. Then don’t stick with that one book or you’ll be a one book wonder. Move on to your next book and keep writing until you get an agent or something sells. Get feedback from honest people who know what they are talking about (like published authors) whenever possible.

Any parting words…
Have I told you lately, Rhonda, how cool I think you are? Peace!

Visit the following sites to learn more about Michelle, her books and to hook up with some more edgy folks. (my blog – I give away books!) (hasn’t been update in awhile) (my website – designed it myself) (my online magazine – check it out) (my edgy fiction lovers group – all people welcome!)


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Great interview, Rhond! I met Michelle at the Denver ACFW Conf. She had an appointment with Tamela Hancock Murray (agent)an hogged my time before my appointment with Tamela. LOL! So my meeting with Tamela was extremely short since they were way behind. Long story short, I connected with the agent again last year, and now we are both represented by Tamela!! Michelle is a great writer, very energetic and will be extremely sucessful, I believe. Not to mention, she's very smart! Thank you for interviewing her. I'm another white gal writer in Atlanta.

Wyn said...

Wonderful interview, thanks for sending me a note about it.

Donald James Parker said...

I read the first two chapters of this story before it was accepted for publication. I've just gotten my copy in the mail and am looking forward to digging into the rest of the story.
Michelle is a great ambassador for Christian fiction and for reaching those who don't know the Lord.
Thanks for the wonderful interview with her.
Donald James Parker
Author of Angels of Interstate 29

Michelle Sutton said...

LOL! Brenda! That was you I hogged the time on? Well, I ended up with Tamela as my agent so the meeting went well. I didn't realize I did that to you, though. OY! Anyway, thanks for the comment. And Rhonda. Love that Shelfair shelf to the right. I've read 8 of the 12 books displayed. And two of the four I own but haven't read yet. I just need to get to them. :) Cool, eh?

Rhonda McKnight said...


Somehow I can just imagine Michelle taking up more than her allotted time. Although I must say she was very well behaved at the editor lunches. She kept her pitch down to 60 seconds.

Donald and Wyn thanks for stopping by.

Michelle - I've got to update the Shelf, because for one, you aren't on it.

Bonnie Leon said...

Great interview, Rhonda. Interesting to hear more about Michelle's writing journey. She's a great gal. We know each other only because of books, but I hope to meet her face-to-face at the next ACFW Conference in Denver.



Michelle Stimpson said...

Congrats, Michelle - and thank, Rhonda, for posting this interview. I'm so excited to see the love of God cross the color line!

Tarasview said...

great interview! I loved "It's Not about Me" and I read Michelle's blog all the time.

Georgiana said...

Great interview =)

Jo-Anne Vandermeulen said...

Great interview Michelle. I'm glad you posted your happenings on twitter and I was able to catch it.
God bless.

Pamela J said...

I have read Michelle's book and LOVED it. Also, I'm looking forward to the next books in this series. This is the first time I've been to this blog spot. I'm glad to know about it and am sure I'll come visiting again sometime.
Great interview, Rhonda!
Pam Williams

Angela Breidenbach said...

Well, shoot, I can't believe you mentioned me. Thank you. All I had to do was birth and raise a couple kids and I'm famous on Rhonda's blog ;-D

This is really a great interview, Rhonda. You have a knack for this type of writing and finding interesting questions.

I have to say the scene that devastates Annie, devastated me. It's really well done emotionally.

I'm so glad I caught this post!
Psst: So can anyone figure out who is really married to "Annie?" In real life, they run the 20-Something ministry at their church and have a really cute auburn haired new-born.

Anonymous said...

Whew, this is alot of comments. I like lurking, but I had to step up on this one.

The books sounds really good and I would never have heard of it if I wasn't on this blog.

Kim Hutchinson

Lisa Buffaloe said...

Great book and great interview!

Super Kudos to Michelle and Rhonda.

Rhonda McKnight said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by and supporting Michelle.



Indi G said...

I very much appreciate realistic Christian fiction. Though we are not of the world, we are in the world and are exposed to temptations. Thanks, Michelle for telling it like it is.