Sherry Rossman - Writing Dystopian YA Christian Fiction For Young and Old
After publishing her bestseller, Faith Seekers, Sherry Rossman discovered that Young Adult fiction is something everybody enjoys. She is back with the brand new dystopian book, Wake , that will keep readers engaged and mystified right from the start. It will be the first of the City of Light series, so readers will be seeing a lot more from this author. In this interview, Rossman talks about her secret cookie-baking master skills, how she finds the story through her characters and what it takes to write while Sesame Street is contending for your attention.
What is Wake all about?
One hundred years from now, in the city of Titus, religion and expressive art have been prohibited—history has been nearly erased. But when Monet and her friend, Luke, find an old history book that reveals glimpses of the past, they start to question the discipline of logic in which they’ve been raised. Luke illegally sculpts a metal angel only to find that it predicts a momentous event in the future. Soon after, supernatural events begin to occur, leading Monet and Luke down a dangerous and extraordinary path.
Do you have a favorite line from Wake, and can you explain what it means to you?
After secretly placing two illegal sculptures on the hills above Titus, Monet walks to school with Luke the next day, battling with the potential consequences of their actions. Here she says, “I stare into Luke’s eyes that are haunted by all those things reason can’t satisfy and meet them with my own question: Who are we now?”
I love this question she poses because it’s the same one many of us ask when faced with a life-altering decision. Who are we? What is at the root of our bravest moments when we take a step into the great unknown?
If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
I’d hand out all the chapter books my daughter is devouring so the club members could help me keep up with that part of her world, heh. But really, I’d probably be reading the latest Billy Coffey book—he’s one of those authors who’s not afraid to use the words magic and God in the same sentence. He writes with a unique blend of southern gothic and speculative fiction I’ve never read before.
What secret skills do you have, other than writing?
Well…I am a cookie-baking master, particularly chocolate chip. I also love creating art, although it’s no secret—I dutifully carved flowers, airplanes, and my initials in every pliable surface of my childhood home. Who knew a wood stove could make such a beautiful canvas?
Faith Seekers was the first book you published for an older audience. What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that everyone reads YA books. I work part time at a retirement resort—they have Harry Potter books on their community bookshelves, I kid you not. I think young adult books are so appealing because they take us to a time when we readily embraced the extraordinary. As we get older, life can weigh down our ideals, but if we immerse ourselves in a YA book, we remember why passion is so vital. Somewhere inside, we know we can reach into that place again and grab hold of what makes us tick.
Why do you write? And do you find that writing gives you some clarity about issues that you have been struggling with?
I was wired to understand the world through the language of art, and writing is much easier than dragging my easel from the garage and setting up the paints and cups and… Well, the process is exhaustive, but turning to the keyboard and getting lost in story is where I belong. And yes, writing does give me clarity—when I’m struggling to understand something I’m walking through, the expression of words on a page often leads me to revelation. Story is so powerful, much more than most people realize. Jesus taught through story; the Defense Department is studying the power of story. Right now, all who read this are living their story. It’s an inheritance children receive from their parents and grandparents that can’t be lost or stolen.
You create characters who are not perfect, who face struggles of their own. How do you make them so believable? Were Monet and Luke inspired by actual people?
Most of the characters in my books are based on the personalities of people I know, have known, or are based on characters in a film. This is the key to being able to capture realistic mannerisms, dialogue, etc. Monet is the culmination of several real-life people, including myself. I’ve had my own struggles with anxiety, especially as a teen, which made it easy to tap into her imperfect side. I built Luke from scratch; I needed to interpret the definition of resilience into a skilled artist, so that’s how Luke was born.
What was the toughest thing you had to go through while writing Wake?
Beginning the story was agony. I’m a pantster by nature, which, for those unfamiliar with the term, means that I grab onto an idea, pull up a chair, and start writing without an outline. With Wake, it took a while to find the story. After a lot of research, a few trashed chapters, I finally “found” Luke and Monet. Once I knew who they were, their story poured onto the page.
Many see religion as a set of rules that needs to be obeyed - in Wake it is quite the opposite and the religious are the rebels, the rule breakers. Why did you pick this approach?
This was Jesus’ experience. In His days on earth, He and the disciples were rebels. The Pharisees, aka the religious elite, did everything they could to stop them. When they told Jesus to silence His disciples, he told them, “‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Luke 19:40). Wake is based on that idea—what would the world look like if, in reaction to oppression, the stones cried out?
When you write, do you write with a specific audience (such as your own kids) in mind?
With my children’s books, I wrote with my kids in mind, but with my YA books, I write to that particular age group (although, like I said earlier, YA is widely read by all ages). Of course, since I follow the pantster style of writing, one or two of the sub-genres don’t necessarily reveal themselves until they appear on the screen.
What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
I hope readers are not only entertained, but think of traditional ideas from a whole new perspective—not false or distorted ideas, but ideas painted in untraditional colors.
How do you juggle writing and being a mother of two? Do you have a special do-not-disturb place where you write?
If you want to learn how to write with distraction, have children. No desk, no space, no moment is immune to Elmo and his furry friends. I wrote some pretty dark scenes with Sesame Street in the background, and it wasn’t easy, but the frustration from sharing a novel’s ominous atmosphere with Big Bird orating about his lost bird seed was only fuel for the fire.
What big theme can we expect to see in City of Light Book 2?
Book 1 leaves Monet and Luke on the precipice of freedom, but there are still unanswered questions about the world in general. In book 2, they will not only begin a search for others “out there,” but they will have to find out who they are all over again. Those are the only hints I can offer before I give the good stuff away =).
Where can readers interact with you and find out more about your work?
I love hearing from readers! They can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@SherryRossman) and my website at https://sherryrossman.com/.