RA: Hi, Shawna! It’s so nice to have you today. Could you tell us a little bit about your new release?
Sure, Regina. It’s called In All Things, and it’s the sequel to my debut release, No Other. This story picks up ten years later. Jakob and Meri have both gone on to accomplish all of their dreams only to find that it’s not quite what they’d hoped. There’s a void, and in order to fill it they have to revisit some unresolved issues from their past.
RA: What was the inspiration behind this work?
It was inspired from the same dream that No Other came from.
RA: How does this work relate to other works you’ve written?
In All Things is the sequel to No Other. It continues the story and I feel like there is a satisfying sense of completion at the end. The cover says a lot about the story, but it won’t make sense until you read it.
No Other primarily focused on Jakob and Meri, but this story deals a lot more with his family. There are some unexpected consequences that resulted from Jakob and Meri getting married so quickly in No Other, and we also find out why Jakob’s parents were interned, and how that affected people outside of his family.
This story deals heavily with Meri and her journey to Christ. There’s more detail to her back-story in this, and the book deals heavily in her struggle between becoming who she wants to be versus turning into the very thing she hates.
RA: Concerning the relationship between character development and story line, how do you proceed with these two aspects?
Tough question. So much of my story is character development. For me the character is what defines the story. I may have a sense of what the storyline is, but how it will play out to completion is very much determined by my character’s response to events within the story. I think an author has to allow room for this or else you end up with a puppet and not a believable character. I’ve also found that what helps with this is for the author to know the whole character’s story. Like flesh and blood people, a character is molded by events. That’s why I like to know my character’s story way before the book begins. In this book, In All Things, this was a little easier because much of the back-story was laid out in No Other. However, my characters have quite a back-story beyond that book too.
When I profile my characters, long before the writing begins, it goes far beyond hair and eye color, height, occupation, etc. Those are the least important if you ask me. It’s all surface stuff. To really dig into a character you need memories – experiences that mold and define – and you need both spectrums, as well as stuff in between. These are the things that a person draws on when facing choices. They guide the course.
RA: Do you deliberately coordinate the geographical setting with your primary theme when writing?
Not as far as geographic location goes. However there are some elements that might apply to aspects of the chosen locations. Jakob and Meri’s lives have become very privileged, as well as cluttered, and they live in Beverly Hills. Meri is an actress, active in the Hollywood scene. Conversely, half the story also takes place in Port Delemar (fictional town) which is where both Meri and Jakob grew up. A major theme in the story is that they’ve run away from certain things rather than deal with them, so the revisiting these issues starts with a trip home.
I use a lot of symbolism in my storytelling, and Jakob’s childhood home coordinates heavily with my theme. It becomes Jakob’s personal mission to see it restored. At the same time this is taking place within his family, which is still recovering from the lingering effects of their internment.
Meri’s journey is represented through other objects, like the locket and a brooch in this story, but she is also very much tied with the farmhouse. Very much!
RA: Lots of writers have issues with conflict. What was your process of developing and resolving the primary conflict in this particular work?
Almost all of my conflict is internal. I do have some external, but thus far it’s always been a secondary story to the personal journeys of my characters.
My process for this is to first work out a well developed back-story – one that goes far beyond the details revealed in the book. With Jakob, I worked out his family’s history all the way back to their immigration from Germany. He is of a dual culture, born in America, raised in a German home. He claims both cultures, speaks both languages, so in No Other, when these cultures clash, he has a major identity crisis. It’s very difficult for him to resolve why certain things have happened to his family. So that story started off with heavy emotional conflict right at the start. And it doesn’t get resolved. It gets better for a while, but then it gets glossed over. There’s still an underlying issue and that’s what In All Things comes back to explore for Jakob.
Meri is a whole other story. In No Other her background isn’t laid out in quite as much detail, but it is shown to have been pretty terrible. In All Things digs far deeper into this so the reader can see the pit she’s trying to dig out of.
The process I use for resolving this conflict is first to fully understand it. I do a lot of journal writing for my characters, where I ramble, in character, as to what they feel, what they think they need or want and how they plan to get it.
Then I pray, search for applicable Bible verses, and try to write what I think God would want for them.
Then I work on scenarios that might bring this about. Usually the first drafts are entirely too preachy because I’m trying to clarify the message to myself, but I go back and edit to try and make it so that the message is conveyed to the character, and not to the reader. I don’t want to pull the reader out of the book for a sermon. I want them to experience the spiritual growth of the character.
RA: Did the conflict in this work relate to any other of your works? How?
Very much so. In All Things is the completion of the story began in No Other. Jakob grew a lot in No Other. Meri’s growth was just beginning. The fact of the matter, though, was that they were two young people with tremendous baggage, caught up in a whirlwind romance that led to a speedy marriage and an instant family. One thing I tried to emphasize with Jakob in No Other was his desire to fix things. He felt he damaged Meri, and by golly he was going to take care of that. Same thing with his family, and his boys – born under less than ideal circumstances. His determination was to make sure that no one looked at Meri or his kids and thought the worst. Plus there was that promise he made to Roger and his pride was at stake. So, add ten years to Jakob’s life with those goals in mind and you get a better picture of him.
Meri’s has been traumatized by her parents at the end of No Other. Though, there had been things she’d witnessed throughout her life that were also quite traumatic. She never really knew how to process any of this emotionally. These were her parents. As much as she hates them, she still craves their approval – something every child wants — and she hates herself for wanting it and blames herself for not receiving it (a common psychological side effect from trauma and abuse, and one that’s not easily shed).
She’s made Jakob the focus of trying to heal, for coping with a number of things actually, and after ten years it’s just not quite working like it had in the early days they were together.
What you’ve got are a couple of career obsessed individuals who are learning that no degree of accomplishments can quite satisfy their longings. They have to stop trying to do it on their own.
There’s a Bible verse on one of the letters that Jakob gave to Meri in No Other that speaks to this, and Meri rediscovers that letter in this story. Takes her a while to fully comprehend though.
RA: There’s a saying, “write what you know”. What do you think of this? How does it apply, or not apply, to your work?
Well, I’m extremely introspective, overthinking and analytical. I like to understand thought processes. I’m sure I acquired this interest over trying to decipher my own, so in this regard, I am writing what I know.
Carl Jung and his theories fascinate me, and I’ve found the Myers Briggs personality typing to be of extreme interests. It’s been highly useful in guiding conflict within a story, because if you type your characters, you’ll see areas they’ll have trouble understanding.
For ex: When Jakob encounters a problem, his immediate response is to find a way to fix it. He feels that he’s helping his wife in this way. But for Meri, she feels like her emotional needs gets shoved aside in the “fix it” strategy – which makes her believe that her feelings are a nuisance that her husband wants to go away. What she needs is for him to listen to her and let her sort through her feelings on her own. Her response is to ignore his “fix it” strategy as she seeks to understand what she feels. He, in turn, feels his help is being rejected, leaving him dejected. Thus, the rift between them widens. See how complicated people can be!
RA: You’ve created many characters! Any particular favorites, and why?
This is such a hard question. I love both Jakob and Meri, but I also love David and Sadie, from my book that releases in December.
There is one character, though, who isn’t a main character (yet) that I adore. She was actually my daughter’s favorite, and that’s Ruth.
Ruth is funny. She’s straight forward, loyal and above all, wise. I haven’t ruled out a book devoted to her.
RA: Tell us please about the presence of both faith and evil in your work. How do you reconcile these two seemingly incongruous entities?
I do this several ways. I have internal struggle, and I try to weave scripture into the character’s thoughts as much as possible when they are confronted with evil. In my mind, though, I very much imagine a little devil and angel sitting on each shoulder as the character entertains one form of thought and then the other. I always start each as a new paragraph.
I also have people that are evil and acting to persuade my characters to their cause. This is far more prevalent in In All Things. There is one character who is representative of what Meri will become if she chooses one path, and another who represents the other choice.
I also use objects to symbolize good and evil.
RA: Many writers have discussed writing humorous scenes. What are your thoughts about creating humorous passages?
I don’t go out of my way to write it, but it makes its way in. People are funny. Our interactions with each other are often humorous. I think that characters become more real if there is some silly banter within the story. Having said that, the worst thing a writer can do is force it or go overboard. I hate to say, but I see this a lot, and instead of endearing the character to me it has the opposite effect. So, humor is great, just be careful. While it’s hard to admit, sometimes we aren’t as clever as we think. It’s really good to have someone who you trust to be blatantly honest on this matter to give your funny spots a once over.
RA: What would be the best advice you could give a beginning writer?
Well, I suppose I’ll retire my Captain Jack Sparrow quote in regard to writing rules. (They’re more like guidelines, anyway) Oops! That slipped out. Since it did, I’ll add that they’re guidelines you should follow, 98/99 % of the time – for the most part.
I’m going to quote my answer from my ACFW interview because this is a real concern of mine.
“We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘write what you know.’ I think it’s equally important, if not more-so, that an author writes who they are. Yes, we have to learn the craft, pay attention to trends and whatnot. Those things are important. Just be sure that in doing so you don’t lose yourself. God gave you this calling because of who you are, and the best stories come from the heart.”
And every heart is unique! We start off with this dream to write because of this passion deep inside, and of course we want to get published, but I hope beginning writers will ask themselves which is more important; to write what you love, or to write to get published. There’s a difference. I’m not saying that they are exclusive of each other because obviously they aren’t. It’s just that it’s a tough journey and there are a lot of things to take into account while pursuing it.
RA: Time to get personal! Could you tell us about yourself?
I’m so boring! I pluck at a computer all day, and when I’m not doing that I string beads.
Apart from those things, I’m a Christian woman, who is also a wife and a mother of three. My life outside of my head gets a little more interesting once I’m pulled out of my room, away from the computer and bead stash. We have lots of critters: horses, mini horses, goats, rabbits, cattle, dogs, cats and a guinea pig. I’ve played midwife to our miniature horses and our goats. I like to hike. I also like to explore caves and abandoned structures if I think I won’t get arrested, shot or eaten. And I like to play games. I also enjoy learning about history and geology – a side effect of homeschooling.
RA: Time for a quirky, but interesting question: who’s your favorite artist, musician and First Lady, and why? (…actually, I slid in six questions, didn’t I? ** hee hee*)
Thomas Kincaid – I want to step into his paintings. I don’t listen to music very often, so I’m not sure (that’s terrible), Barbara Bush – straight shooter, wise and full of integrity.
RA: And what’s next for you, writing-wise? Could you tell us what to expect in any other books you’ll be releasing?
I have a Christmas novella releasing on December 1st. It’s called Orphaned Hearts. I’m also working on another book that’s a spin-off from No Other. There is the possibility that it could become a series.
RA: Thank you so much for sharing with us. Good luck with your releases and please come back again soon!
This is the prologue to In All Things. This takes place several months after No Other, but the main story picks up almost ten years after this.
March 17th, 1949
Meri crept into the bedroom after getting her baby boys down for the night. Eight months old and the twins were finally sleeping a full six hours in a row. Jakob lay sprawled out on top of the bed covers, listening to the broadcast of the Shamrock Hotel’s grand opening. He’d marveled over its architectural design during the final months of the building’s construction, saying it was a delicate balance of bulk and elegance, a modernistic French chateau. Whatever that meant?
At $42 per ticket, attending the event was beyond the realm of possibilities. She knew that he ached to see inside, though. Maybe after the hubbub died down, they could dress up and sneak into the lobby. Pretend to be guests as they strolled about.
Meri crawled onto the bed and snuggled close. “Anything interesting?”
“Oh yeah. This thing is huge. Did you know that’s Dorothy Lamour?”
Meri listened closely to the full-bodied, charismatic voice emanating through the airwaves as it introduced a host of celebrities — Errol Flynn, Ginger Rogers, Robert Preston.
“Wow, sounds like some party they’re having.”
“A little while ago she announced there were fifty thousand people outside the hotel. That can’t be right. Do you think?”
Meri shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Jakob rolled onto his back. Meri laid her head on his chest as he ran his hand through her hair. Neither spoke as they listened to the increasingly rowdy festivities. It sounded like champagne was flowing in abundance.
“You should be there,” Jakob said.
Over a year of marriage and the birth of their boys, and Jakob still punished himself as though he deprived her of something important. There was a strong possibility that her parents were at the opening. It was being touted as the biggest social event in Houston’s history, so her mother wouldn’t want to miss it. But Meri didn’t care. All she wanted was Jakob. He fulfilled her.
“No. I should be here with you.”
Miss Lamour broke out in song, and several not so talented voices joined in. Meri snickered.
“I meant that you should be a guest of honor, a celebrity — invited to celebrate.”
“Don’t be silly.”
He stopped playing with her hair and tipped her chin up toward him. “Let’s move to Los Angeles.”
“I want your dreams to come true.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You want to be an actress.”
“Oh, Jakob. That doesn’t matter anymore.” She laid her head back onto his chest. “I’m a wife and a mother. You’ve got your job and school. Besides, we wouldn’t even know where to start.”
He lay still for a minute, and then his fingers ran through her hair again. “What if I figured something out?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Meri giggled. She pushed herself up and kissed him on the lips. “I love you.” Jakob’s deep blue eyes held her gaze. Wheels were definitely turning in there. “What are you thinking?”
“I promise you, Meri. Somehow, I’m gonna make it happen.”
A buzz of drunken laughter crackled through the radio at their bedside, drowning out Dorothy Lamour as she continued in song. Then a single word burst through the noisy clamor.
Meri covered her mouth. “Did he just say…”
The broadcast cut off and static buzzed from the radio’s speaker.
She and Jakob looked at each other with widened eyes.
“I think so.” A smile covered his face. He wrapped his arms around her, and rolled her beneath him as they laughed. “I wonder how they’ll write that up in the papers?”
“As a warning against live broadcast in the excess of champagne.” Meri fought to catch her breath. “I can’t believe that happened.”
Jakob hovered over her with a gentle smile and tender eyes. She reached up and brushed his cheek with her fingers.
“Believe in me, Meri. Will you believe in me?”
It seemed so crazy. What did he plan to do? Knock on Louis B. Mayer’s door. This is my wife. She wants to be an actress. Yet, the conviction in his eyes overwhelmed all reason, and from her lips she heard the words, “I do.” And it was the truth.