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Interview With Sharon Ewell Foster
author of Passing by Samaria and Ain't No River

GGBC:  Your new title, Riding Through Shadows, features another wise older woman reaching out to a hurting young girl. Is there an older woman in your life that has mentored you? Are any of your characters modeled after her?

Foster: Actually, I love older people. I don't know why; perhaps there is something about the wisdom that comes from just having survived.

My mother is very wise and everyday I recall some wisdom that she deposited in me. One of the most profound things she taught me she actually borrowed from William Shakespeare. "To thine ownself be true," she would say over and over again. I take that very seriously, trying to be honest with myself, and I'm sure that impacts my writing. God has blessed me to be "adopted" by lots of wise older women and men. I believe that the wisdom of all these women, and the wisdom of God's Spirit, is present in the characters that come to sit with me. My job, as a writer, is to share the blessing.

GGBC: Your first novel Passing by Samaria was a historical novel while Ain't No River, a contemporary novel. How difficult was it to make the transition?

Foster: Actually, I have to laugh. I must drive the critics crazy. I don't envision myself being bound by time periods or genres. Who made up those crazy rules? I write what God whispers to me, I write what I'm feeling and what I need, and I try to write out of the readers' needs. When I write I am, in part, a servant to the story that I must tell-I exist in the story and in the time period. I just have to deliver the story, and whatever comes with that-research, interviews, tears, etc.-is just what I have to do to get the "baby" born. So, I don't really think about it. The hardest part is being honest; switching time periods is easy.

GGBC: Riding Through Shadows is based on a young girl who lost her father in the Vietnam War. What made you choose this period? How involved was the research process?

Foster: While I was writing, I knew that I was writing to help people during difficult and chaotic times. My mission was to give people hope, to provide them with survival and coping strategies for survival-for finding peace and joy-during times of fear and crisis. That's what was in my heart. What came to my mind was times of terror that I lived through.times when there was chaos internationally, nationally, culturally.difficult times that just added pressure to things that people were already going through in their homes and in their families. I wanted to offer encouragement to people who are living with terror that may be inside their homes, as well as outside. The Vietnam/Civil Rights era was one of those periods for me. I survived; lots of people survived and shined. I wanted to use that time of chaos to illustrate to people that they could and would survive the storms in their lives. I want people to know that God is with us in difficult times.even when your in the shadows and you can't see Him clearly.

I have memories of many of the events, names, and of family conversations. A great deal of what I describe comes from my own life and memories-people will not trust me when I tell them they will make it if I am not willing to show my own scars as testimony. I lived in a newly integrated neighborhood and we walked to school with those fears, I was assigned to teach a small group of white children to read-white children who could not read, so a lot of this is real to me. I researched to verify my memories and to clarify things I didn't understand or know as a child.

GGBC:  Could you tell us about when and where Riding Through Shadows is set? Whose perspective is the novel written from?

Foster: The first part of Riding through Shadows is set in East St. Louis, Illinois, which is where I was raised. (Hello, to all my East St. Louis/St. Louis folks!) The second part is set in Tyler, Texas (I was born in Texas). The book is written through the eyes of an eight year-old African-American girl, Shirley. She's really is caught up in all the storms going on around her. She has no control and feels helpless.kind of like we sometimes feel as adults when events in our lives seem to be bigger than we are.

All of us face storms. That's pretty universal. What's unusual as looking at those storms through the eyes of a child, particularly through the eyes of a black child. It's tough for some folks to grapple with, sometimes it's difficult to look into the eyes of someone that you have wounded. I want readers to look into those eyes and either see themselves and know they can be delivered, or see someone they've wounded and know that they can be delivered.

In the first part, Shirley and her friend (who may or may not be a product of Shirley's imagination) witness the struggles of folks who are just be tossed to and fro by the storms in their lives. In the second part, Shirley sees what happens when folks don't give in.she sees what happens when folks learn to let the storms in their lives lift them higher.

Shirley's story is our story. We have all felt helpless, confused, and abandoned in times of storm and in dark places. I don't promise immediate sunshine, but I can testify to peace in the time of storm.

 

GGBC:  Your first book, Passing By Samaria, focused on themes of reconciliation, and Ain't No River dealt with virtue and purpose. What are the major themes in your new book?

Foster: I hope to illustrate that God does not abandon us when we are going through dark times or storms, and that we should not be afraid of or try to avoid storms. God's storms, God's chaos, always leads to peace and greater blessings.

I hope illustrate how to face and go through the storm-whether the storm is something you've created or something that has been imposed on you. There are storms that natural and there are storms that come to us as a result of evil. We are not powerless. We have weapons and shields; we just have to know what they are and how to use them. We can participate in our own deliverance.

There are some themes that continue to occur in my writing. For example, God loves all of us, even when we are weak or when other people don't think we're worthy of love. Another example is how important it is that we face the issues that keep us separate, because we cannot be strong and please God until we do. There are spiritual implications to everything that we do-we either create good seeds or bad and much of that is determined by what kind of lovers we are. We are nothing without love.

GGBC:  I understand this is the first of two books; how will the sequel be related?

Foster: Riding through Shadows is foundational. Many of Shirley's choices and life experiences that you will share with her in Shadows. She's just like us. She survives the storm, but you have to know another one is coming. Being realistic is part of what helps us survive. But, I promise you, she is going to come shining through in the end.the darkest hour is always before the dawn!

GGBC: What is unique about Riding Through Shadows?

Foster: I think one thing that's unique is that it's fiction, but I weave actual coping and deliverance strategies into the book.shucks, I'm actually praying in the book for folks to be delivered! The narrative voice is unusual, we don't usually get to see and hear history told from the African American perspective. Also, I don't back away from showing folks the reality of spiritual warfare. That's something that women don't usually do in fiction.it's not NICE, you know. But God didn't call me to write just to be nice. People need help and hope, sometimes we need medicine as well as sweets. Also, I'm a pretty straight-shooter; I think evil needs to be called out wherever it is. Love means that you tell people the truth and I'm pretty big on frank conversation and being true to myself and my readers.may be unusual. Writing is worship and ministry for me.I am trying to serve my readers. I write about relationships, but I also write across boundaries about social and spiritual issues.all of which may make me unusual.

GGBC:  With Walk Worthy Press at Random House and the proposed New Spirit line at BET/Arabesque, there seems to be a growing interest in African-American inspirational fiction, how do you think these new markets will affect the increasingly popular Christian genre?

Foster:  We are spiritual people. I think it is a natural. Hopefully, I think we also bring a different perspective and voice that is important for our people.we need writing that we can identify with, but I also think it's important for others to hear our voices. If we only see God from one perspective, we miss the blessing of His fullness, of His completeness.

GGBC:  Both you and Angela Benson were finalists for RITA awards this year, the first African Americans ever to place in the prestigious Romance Writer's of America contest. How has this award affected your life?

Foster: I really don't know. I used to always laugh and tell people that I was romance-challenged. I guess I can't say that anymore. Maybe God's trying to tell me something. J

It has probably made Angela and I more visible to romance readers and publishing industry people.and maybe broadened their ideas of what inspirational fiction can be.

I keep thinking that God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise. Being at the RITA Awards made me more aware of and grateful for the miracle God has performed. Most of the finalists had been writing for 10, 20, 30 years and have published truckloads of books. It was really a surreal experience to be sitting there with a first book and to see Angela's face and mine pop up on the screens. Pretty amazing!

GGBC: Could you briefly recount to us how you began writing? I hear it's an inspiring story, maybe a story worthy of a book of its own.

Foster: This is the brief version.

I ran from writing for years. Finally, God got my attention and wouldn't let go. I promised to write, but I didn't have a computer. There was no word processor, no editor, no agent, no office, and no business cards. I got up every morning at 5:00 a.m. before I went to work and wrote for 25-45 minutes before I went to work. I wrote longhand on steno pads. I prayed and cried because I didn't think I was good enough-I don't have any formal training or credentials for writing books.

In a few days, my life changed. It just seems as though things started to get better in my life in some way I cannot explain. My kids were very supportive and in a few weeks my best friend let me borrow a broken word processor-I could type and print what I'd written, but I couldn't save it to disk. In a few months, my whole life changed. I went to a writer's conference to get feedback.actually, I thought they would tell me to never write again.and within four hours I had met my editor and pretty much knew I would get a contract to finish the book I was writing longhand.that book turned out to be Passing by Samaria. In that same four hours, I met my agent and won an award for being the most promising writer.

It gave me a new perspective on the prodigal son. God gives us all gifts and most of us use them however we see fit without ever asking God. I wasn't getting drunk or carousing-I was working at the Pentagon when I first started writing-but, I wasn't dedicating myself to the purpose that God might have had in mind when He gave me the gifts. When I finally acknowledged that He had purpose for me and returned to Him, He flung open the doors and threw a party!

GGBC:  Will you always tackle difficult or controversial topics in your books?

Foster: Yep. I feel that I was called to speak about the things God lays on my heart. You can't have a relationship with God or anyone else just talking about shallow, fake stuff.

GGBC:  You are one of the few African-American authors writing in the Christian fiction genre. How has your work been received?

Foster: Much better than others predicted. I think that's one of the things that the awards I got this summer spoke to me. I get lots of email from Black folks and, man, it feels great for your family to say you they love you. I get lots of love at book signings, through email, and the Golden Pen Award from the Black Writers Alliance was the icing on the cake. At the same time, being named a finalist by Romance Writers said that folks from outside of my family, folks who also have lots of reading, writing, and living experience far different than mine could relate.

The Christy Award from the Christian fiction writing community said that we share more than a love for Christ and that they acknowledged my work and the presence of God's spirit in the work.

GGBC:  Passing by Samaria is currently a candidate for six different writing awards. How do you manage to produce quality writing that also appeals to a broad audience?

Foster: I always remember that they are not my books or stories. My writing belongs to God. I try to listen to Him and to study His Word, to discover His truth, and to tell that. God is universal and He is excellent. I surrender the gift He has given me back to Him. If I follow His lead, I cannot go wrong.

GGBC:  Your books contain inspirational or spiritual themes. Are you interested in converting people? Are these books just for Christians?

Foster: God loves all people. I write for all people. God has blessed me and changed my life. I love Him. If beer changed my life, beer themes would probably run through my books. Beer didn't do it. I write because I love God, I love people, I want to bless people, and God told me to write. I don't try to whitewash anything. I try to present people with honesty. Each man or woman is responsible and free to make his or her own choices. That's how it should be.

GGBC:  What advice or suggestions would you give to aspiring Christian writers who are interested in becoming "career novelists"?

Foster: Put God first. Study God; study the word. Pray always and listen to what God speaks to you. Be obedient. If God tells you to write, write what He tells you to write. Honor God by being the best writer you can. Learn the basics so that people cannot discount your message. Be a good reader-if you don't read it will show in your writing. Don't follow the market, don't listen to critics, don't try to get published. Do what God tells you to do.He will get your work to where He needs it to be-that may be five people.that may be five million people. Be happy for and pray for other people's successes. Be kind and loving and patient with all people. The measure is not whether you are published or how many books sell; the measure is did you do what God told you to do in the way He told you to do it. Enjoy the pleasure and process of writing. Write and be satisfied with what God chooses to do with your work. Trust God and be grateful and thankful in all things. Praise Him no matter what.

About the writer: Marina Woods is the founder and editor-in-chief of goodgirlbookclubonline.com an online community for Christian booklovers.

ON A LITERARY NOTE

Review: Emma Dash

Emma Dash
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