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How Sweet the Sound: An interview with Amy K. Sorrells

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 9.40.18 PMAs promised earlier this week, today I have an interview with the lovely and talented Amy K. Sorrells.

As an added bonus, by leaving a comment on this post, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win an autographed copy of Amy’s debut novel, How Sweet the Sound from David C. Cook Publishing AND a yummy combo tin of pecans, including Milk Chocolate/Dark Chocolate/White Chocolate/Honey Toasted/Praline/Roasted & Salted/Creamy White fresh from the B&B Pecan Farm in Fairhope, Alabama. (If you don’t like pecans, I’m willing to have them shipped directly to my house and take them off your hands. (I’m generous like that.)

I came across Amy’s blog four years ago and was immediately drawn to her lyrical and honest writing. We sort of hit it off right away, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are many good writers I’ve stumbled upon through blogging, but if you asked me to choose my absolute favorites, she’d be right up there at the top of the list, even in light of her continuous overuse of emoticons in correspondence, done just to annoy me.

Amy is the winner of the 2011 Women of Faith writing contest, former weekly newspaper columnist, RN, and a member of the RAINN Speaker’s Bureau. She lives with her husband, three boys and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana.

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Now, on with the Q&A:

Katdish: The first thing I ever read from you (besides a blog post) way back in 2010 was a non-fiction manuscript about dealing with brokenness. What lead you to make the leap to fiction? Do you imagine yourself writing non-fiction in the future?

Amy: How Sweet the Sound did begin as a non-fiction work which centered around finding hope and joy in the midst of brokenness. As I delved further into the publishing industry, I began to realize that my chances of a publishing house picking up my non-fiction story were pretty dismal, considering most non-fiction works are either by or about someone who is already famous. In industry terms, I didn’t have a “platform.”

Still, I believed in the message of that manuscript, that it is possible to find not only hope, but joy, in the midst of pain and brokenness. I also knew that fiction has a lot better chance of being picked up by publishing houses, and that if a story is well written, platform doesn’t matter nearly as much. So, I set about studying the craft of fiction. I’d already been studying it for my non-fiction, because even those books need well-told stories, even plots, to make them engaging. I read books on the craft, stalked fiction author blogs (including Billy Coffey’s), read piles of novels in the genre I hoped to write. Soon I had a new goal: turn my nonfiction into a novel.

Now that I’m finishing up my second novel (as yet untitled, and scheduled for spring, 2015 publication), I don’t know that I’ll ever turn back to nonfiction. Anything is possible of course. After all, I never thought I could write a novel. But fiction writing is an adventure all its own, and the imagination, the sculpting, the creation involved in novel writing is one I doubt I’ll turn away from, as long as my brain keeps working well enough for me to keep writing. 🙂

Katdish: Well, as a big fan of novels, I’m glad you made the move to fiction. It’s funny that you mention Billy Coffey, because his first published work was submitted as a memoir, but his publisher asked if he would be willing to make it into a work of fiction. He was extremely hesitant about it at first, but I pleaded with him to take their advice and insisted that the only way it would have been a better idea is if I had thought of it first. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s now a bonafide novelist. (That’s not really a question. I just wanted to put that out there.) Moving on…

I fell in love with the characters in How Sweet the Sound, particularly Anniston. Any plans to revisit her and her family in later novels? (Say yes.)

Amy: I’m sorry to say, at this point (never say never), I have no plans to write a sequel or follow-up novel about any of the characters in How Sweet the Sound. The story is so strong, I don’t think any subsequent book would do any of them justice. I also feel like the story needs to rest where it ends, that part of the longing readers may have for a sequel can be best met with the readers own imaginings of “what happens next.” 🙂

Katdish: That’s disappointing news. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is so strong, the characters so compelling that I’m just not ready to say goodbye to them yet. Which is why I’m planning to start a How Sweet the Sound fan fiction site, where quality of story or characters won’t be an issue. You’re welcome.

And speaking of non-traditional publishing routes, in a publishing world awash with self-published authors, what made you hold out for a contract from a traditional publisher? Any advice to fellow writers about the pros and cons of either route?

Amy: I live to disappoint you, Katdish.

You’re welcome.

Here’s the thing about traditional publishing. Waiting for an agent and getting through all those dozens of rejections is excruciating. Waiting for an editor is a veritable thorn in the side. Landing a contract is thrilling, but the editorial process that follows that is heart-rending. In the midst of all the rejections and waiting and heart-rending, friends and family begin to tire of your laments. They want to know when–IF–your doggone book is ever going to be out. They even wonder if you’re lying about ever having written one. After all, no one has seen it. And inevitably, eventually, they ask:

“Why don’t you just self publish?”

I imagine everyone who works toward traditional publication has a different answer. Mine are twofold for choosing that path: 1) I wanted my book to have the greatest reach, the widest sales opportunities, the biggest chance to bless the most amount of people as possible. This can’t happen–unless you have tons of money to hire publicists on your own–without the force of a team of people at a publishing house behind your work. 2) I wanted my book to be the best. I could not make it the best on my own. I needed editors. I needed proofreaders. I needed input from industry professionals who know–and know well–how to turn a manuscript into something excellent. Going solo is great, but I needed and wanted the critiques from seasoned professionals who would work with me to make sure what I’m offering to readers is not only good, but excellent.

As far as advice, I would say if you can’t handle–nor even welcome–critique gracefully, then you should self publish. If you have thousands of dollars to spend on editors on your own, and then thousands more to spend on marketing and promotional services, then you should self-publish. If you are a professional looking to get a non-fiction book involving your business into the hands of your customers quickly, then self-publishing might also be for you. But if you work well with teams; if you can take constructive critique, heed it, and use it to improve your work; and if you have patience for the years it takes for a manuscript to reach bookstore shelves, traditional publishing is worth it.

Neither method is perfect. Neither is right or wrong. Every writer has unique needs and expectations for their art. But for me, traditional publication has been the most difficult, yet rewarding path of my life.

Katdish: So what you’re saying is that while the traditional publishing route is much more difficult, the quality of the finished product is worth the blood, sweat and tears associated with it? I admire you for sticking with it. Having read an early version of How Sweet the Sound, I will say that it was a solid, well written story before the editing process. But I will also say that editors are the unsung heroes of the publishing process, and whomever it was that convinced you NOT to kill off one of my favorite characters early in the book did you a big favor, because I was pretty mad at you for doing that. Having read the finished novel, you are now officially off my crap list. (You were only on there in pencil, not the usual black Sharpie. All is forgiven.)

Thanks for taking the time for this little Q&A, Amy. I’ll close with the most important question. Where can folks pick up one or 50 copies of How Sweet the Sound?

Amy: How Sweet the Sound is available nationwide at brick-and-mortar and internet stores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and in e-book format, too!


You can catch up with Award-winning author of How Sweet the Sound: A Novel Amy Sorrells at her website, Amy K. Sorrells
Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of How Sweet the Sound and a tin-ful of deliciousness from B&B Pecan Farms. I will end the drawing at midnight next Thursday, March 20, 2014 and notify the winner by email. But if I were you, I’d play it safe and go ahead and pick up a copy or two of the book today.

What should Christians read?

Yes, people. It's a real book.

Yes, people. It’s a real book.

Last Saturday I was scrolling through the latest Facebook fodder and came across this post from Christian writer Tricia Goyer’s timeline:

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And while the majority of the responses (and there were several) were not in favor of limiting themselves to only Christian Fiction, I was surprised that there were some who felt that Christians should not read fiction that was outside the genre of “Christian”, arguing that we should not expose ourselves to the bad language, sex and violence so often found in mainstream works of fiction. Although to be fair, most stated that this was a personal conviction not a condemnation of those who read secular work.

But still…

It bugs me.

Maybe it shouldn’t. It’s certainly none of my business what people choose to read or not read, but if art imitates life–and I believe that good art mirrors real life–then much of what passes the muster of “appropriate” Christian Fiction is a poor imitation of what makes a good story. It’s a white-washed version of realistic prose. There are words that cannot be used, acts of violence and depravity that can only be suggestively danced around so as not to offend a Christian audience.

And that bugs me…

Writing for a Christian audience. So much so that I put in my snarky two cents:

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Do you know what the hottest thing in Christian Fiction is right now?

Amish Fiction.

Written by people who are not Amish.

I’ve struggled to understand why this is so popular, but I think I’m beginning to understand. Just as teenage vampire romance novels are an escape from the banality of everyday life, Amish life (or at least the idealistic version of it) is an escape from an increasingly crude and immoral one. And I suppose both have entertainment value, but neither imitate real life. Pre-teen Twilight audiences are spoon-fed sexuality disguised as taboo vampire romance and Amish fiction audiences are spoon-fed an ideal, profanity-free communities where bad things may happen, but really bad things never happen to good Christian folks.

But that’s not real and that’s not real redemption.

Many of you know that I’m a big fan of Stephen King. There are those who refuse to read his work because he uses, among other things, profanity. I once read a discussion board where several posters maintained that his use of cuss words is simply laziness. That his books could be every bit as compelling if he left out the profanity.

To them I say, bullshit.

Take this passage from The Stand concerning a young deaf mute’s encounter at an orphanage:

He stopped wanting to communicate, and when that happened the thinking process itself began to rust and disintegrate. He began to wander from place to place vacantly, looking at the nameless things that filled the world. He watched groups of children in the play yard move their lips, raise and lower their teeth like white drawbridges, dance their tongues in the ritual mating of speech. He sometimes found himself looking at a single cloud for as long as an hour at a time.

Then Rudy had come. A big man with scars on his face and a bald head. Six feet, five inches tall, might as well have been twenty to runty Nick Andros. They met for the first time in a basement room where there was a table, six or seven chairs, and a TV that only worked when it felt like it. Rudy squatted, putting his eyes on approximately the same level as Nick’s. Then he took his huge, scarred hands and put them over his mouth, his ears.

I am a deaf-mute.

Nick turned his face sullenly away: Who gives a fuck?

Rudy slapped him.

Nick fell down. His mouth opened and silent tears began to leak from his eyes. He didn’t want to be here with this scarred troll this bald boogey. He was no deaf-mute, it was a cruel joke.

Rudy pulled him gently to his feet and led him to the table. A blank sheet of paper was there. Rudy pointed at it, then at Nick. Nick stared sullenly at the paper and then at the bald man. He shook his head. Rudy nodded and pointed at the empty paper again. He produced a pencil and handed it to Nick. Nick put it down as if it were hot. He shook his head. Rudy pointed at the pencil, then at Nick, then at the paper. Nick shook his head. Rudy slapped him again.

More silent tears. The scarred face looking at him with nothing but deadly patience. Rudy pointed at the paper again. At the pencil. At Nick.

Nick grasped the pencil in his fist. He wrote the four words that he knew, calling them forth from the cobwebby, rusting mechanism that was in his thinking brain. He wrote:

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Then he broke the pencil in half and looked sullenly and defiantly at Rudy. But Rudy was smiling. Suddenly he reached across the table and held Nick’s head steady between his hard, callused palms. His hands were warm, gentle. Nick could not remember the last time he had been touched with such love. His mother had touched him like that.

Rudy removed his his hands from Nick’s face. He picked up the half of the pencil with the point on it. He turned the paper over to the blank side. He tapped the empty white space with the tip of the pencil, and then tapped Nick. He did it again. And again. And again. And finally Nick understood.

You are this blank page.

Nick began to cry.

Tell me how that could have been written as powerfully without the use of profanity.

The difference between that passage and one written without profanity is the difference between hitting a sacrifice fly with one out in the bottom of the ninth to win by a run and hitting a grand slam with two outs and a full count in that same inning.

The end results may be the same, but the latter is infinitely more memorable.


I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t read Christian Fiction. I happen to know that some of it is excellent. All I’m suggesting is that we don’t limit ourselves to it thinking the hand of God only moves the pens of those who call him Father. Rather than looking for the devil under every secular rock, maybe we should open our mind’s eye to see that God is at work in the most unexpected places and even through those who don’t know Him.

Beauty unretouched

I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline the other day when I came across this picture:

original photo posted on

My first thought was, “What a cool picture.”

But then I read the caption. Something about a reverse albino condition which explains why the lion was black.

Pfft!!! Um, if black lions exist in nature why am I just now hearing about them on Facebook?

The picture is photo-shopped. If you click on the image it will take you to the website where it was originally posted. The creator of the photo says that it has been manipulated. But I suppose someone figured a real black lion is a much better story than one created by photo editing software–the truth be damned– and so a Facebook legend begins. There were a few comments which suggested that the picture was digitally altered, but the vast majority simply commented about how beautiful the black lion was. Maybe I’ve become a cynic in my old age, but it bothers me that not only do we easily believe the unbelievable, but choose to pass it on as truth without thinking twice about it.

When I went to to confirm my suspicions, I was struck by how beautiful the original, un-retouched white lion was:

photo from

And that bothers me even more; that we overlook authentic beauty in favor of its deceptive counterpart, that it’s not enough to say, “This is what a black lion would look like”, but instead choose to say “This is what a black lion looks like.”

Fiction intentionally disguised as truth is manipulation born of a deceitful heart.

Truth disguised as fiction is an art form born of a courageous one.

I prefer the latter.

Shoe Polish, a Velvet Cape and Mile High Hair (by Glynn Young)

Today’s guest post comes from Glynn Young of Faith, Fiction, Friends:

Glynn is a public affairs writer and the team lead for online strategy for a Fortune 500 company based in St. Louis. He and his wife Janet have two grown sons, one-daughter-in-law, one grandchild-to-be and a great dog. He bikes, reads a lot and has a bad tendency to cry at movies, particularly sappy ones. Glynn was born and raised in New Orleans, and received a B.A. in journalism from LSU and a Masters of Liberal Arts from Washington University in St. Louis.

That’s Glynn’s “official bio”. I would also like to add that he is a source of encouragement to so many of us here in the blogosphere and on twitter, and I appreciate him very much.

Now here’s Glynn on his adventures in Beaumont, Texas:

Before I graduated from college, I’d been to Texas three times: a family vacation to see Six Flags in Dallas/Ft. Worth; a journalism conference at the University of Texas in Austin; and my interview for a copy editor position at the Beaumont Enterprise. I got the job, graduated from LSU, and drove the next day to Beaumont.

I was not prepared for Texas, Beaumont or working for a newspaper, despite my two years of experience with LSU’s Daily Reveille. But I learned things, and quickly, through the people I met and worked with. It took a while for me to figure out that not everyone in Texas was, well, odd.

Receptionists are important; treat them well. The receptionist’s desk was the first you passed coming into the newsroom. And if you thought she wasn’t important, you learned right away how wrong you were. In this case, she was from southwestern Louisiana and had a Cajun accent. She was in her 40s, and dressed like she was in her teens – tight mini-skirt and white go-go boots, every day. And jet-black hair teased up approximately two feet. You always said hello. You never made a comment about how she was dressed or her hair. If you did, you faced a verbal shredding and general career demise (she was also the managing editor’s secretary).

Don’t use black shoe polish to dye your hair, especially when it rains. One of the reporters, of indeterminate age but likely in his 50s or early 60s, used black shoe polish for hair dye, or something that smelled like it. One day, he strolled calmly into the news room, having escaped a downpour outside. He was drenched. And his face, neck and jacket were stained orange. No one could say anything; we were all dumbstruck, until we realized that the polish or dye or whatever it was had run with the rain.

Be extraordinarily polite when you get insulted. The lady who did the religion page was a sweetheart, as nice and polite as she could be, except when anyone attempted to swipe a piece of her religious page turf. Then she was a pit bull. One day, I was walking my dog, and we meandered under Interstate 10 and into a really nice neighborhood. It wasn’t that my own neighborhood wasn’t nice; in fact, I referred to it as the posh Northway-Gaylynn luxury apartments. It was affordable on my $125-a-week salary, which meant I didn’t want my mother to see it. As my dog and I turned a corner, who did I run into but Religion Page Lady. We chatted briefly, and then she lowered her voice. “Be careful,” she said. “Those slums across the interstate – there are bad people who live there. Gangs. Drugs. Everything.” I never looked at my apartment in quite the same way again.

People can be nice and work well, no matter how they dress. My first day on the job, I met all of the people on the copy desk. Everyone seemed nice, but I was taken aback by the obituary writer. He had an Ivanhoe haircut. He always wore a flowing black velvet cape, regardless of the weather. And he had a matching black velvet choker. He was quiet, almost introverted, but he did a good job with obituaries and memorials. And a newspaper was willing to ignore odd clothes if someone could write a good obituary – the most read part of the newspaper in Beaumont. After a while, I got used to it, and totally freaked one day when he wore normal clothes. No one asked why, and he didn’t say. But we were shocked.

Be flexible. One Sunday night, the only staff on the desk was the slot man, me and an intern. We had three editions of the newspaper to put out – East Texas, Louisiana and Home, with deadlines about an hour apart. So you didn’t fool around. Except this Sunday night, the slot man gave us a job to do, one of the most difficult I ever faced at the newspaper: find a bar that was open. Now, this was Texas in the 1970s. An open bar on a Sunday night simply didn’t exist. But for two hours, the intern and I called every bar in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area. I finally found one, in a really rotten area. It didn’t matter. He was out of the door in a flash, saying he’d be back. The first deadline was an hour away. The intern and I looked at each other and got to work. The slot man didn’t come back. We put out all three editions of the paper that night. (Quiz: guess how many reporters wrote stories on Sunday? Answer: None = desperate copy editor and intern.)

Advancement can be rapid, often because you’re the last person standing. For some odd reason, staff turnover was rapid that summer, as in, people left. In droves. By the end of the summer, I was No. 2 on the desk. And because No. 1 was usually off seeking liquid refreshment, especially after the executives left for the day, I was de facto No. 1. I was not quite 22. It was way too much responsibility for such a little salary.

Work is both mundane and sublime, sometimes on the same day. Two headlines I recall writing: “B. Dalton’s opens in Parkdale Mall” (front page); “Agnew Resigns” (front page).

It was the era of Woodward and Bernstein toppling presidents, and Mideast nations imposing oil embargoes. But those things were transient. What lasted were lessons about shoe polish, velvet capes, mile-high hair and bars open on Sunday nights.

It was wonderful.


To read more from Glynn Young, visit him at Faith, Fiction, Friends and follow him on the twitter at @gyoung9751.