LAURIE: Hi Sara Beth, I’m so glad you could join us today to talk about your debut book and your writing journey. First, can you tell us about your book and what inspired you to write this story?
SARA BETH: The initial spark for this story began to form after I attended the memorial service of a fellow high school student who died in an auto accident. Many students attended and I sat up in the balcony because I didn’t really know the boy or the other people attending. He had been a senior, and he wasn’t in my circle of friends, but he was well known by most of the school.
And it stayed with me and afterwards I read a contemporary YA version of Romeo and Juliet and it got me thinking… I had no idea what I was doing, and I wrote a bunch of scenes out at random. Actually, in 2007, I lost all of that work I’d done when I burned out my flash drive. Then, in 2014, I began to reconfigure that initial idea and turn it into what it is today.
Choosing a genre was a difficult aspect of my journey, but I chose to write this story as a contemporary Christian romance because I was tired of reading current secular contemporary romances. I feel like the world has it all wrong. Physical intimacy does not lead to love. It should be the complete opposite but so many readers, publishers and media in general are set on the motto ‘sex sells’. Yes, physical attraction plays a huge role in romantic relationships, but the act of physical intimacy itself does not lead to love. There’s a strong focus on that in many of my stories.
LAURIE: And is this the first book you have coming out with Anaiah Press?
SARA BETH: Yes, this is my debut novel.
LAURIE: What led you to publish with Anaiah Press?
SARA BETH: I entered a contest on Twitter called #FaithPitch, where authors pitch their completed manuscripts in thirty to forty words. Agents and editors then search the applicable threads labelled by age group and genre. I was lucky to be chosen to submit my full MS to Anaiah. I’d queried several others before and garnered some interest here and there. It was really exciting to finally find an editor who was as invested in my story as Kara Leigh Miller was.
LAURIE: Your heroine Lacey and your hero Jay are so well drawn and layered I thoroughly enjoyed reading their love story. What was your inspiration for each of them?
SARA BETH: I don’t quite remember how I came up with the character of Jay. He just came to me spontaneously, the younger version of him. I contemplated writing this story as YA for a while, focusing on his experience in prison. However, that didn’t really cater to the romance genre and once I chose to write in the romance genre, I chose to begin the story from after his release.
Lacey’s character is essentially me, in written form, except I don’t have a sister. Her physical features are not mine either, however, her interest, her passion for theater, her personality traits, are very similar to my own. Even my husband said, while reading the early drafts, “So, Lacey is basically you, right?”
LAURIE: Who was easier to write – Lacy or Jay? And what do you think is their most memorable trait?
SARA BETH: Jay was most certainly easier to write. He came to me so easily, and I built up his entire backstory long before I had a backstory for Lacey and her brother. I don’t know why, but it’s apparently a common “thing” for me. In EVERY single WIP manuscript I have (which is about six at the moment) the heroes have been much easier to create. Their stories seem to evolve and develop so much easier than the female main characters. In a couple of stories, I don’t even have a true heroine yet, just a general idea in my head.
Jay’s most memorable trait is his fortitude. He faced so many challenges growing up, and made mistakes, and lived in difficult situations, and he persevered through it all. Some people might say, “how accurate is a character that doesn’t seem affected by his past?” Some people are more tenacious than others, and they can roll through life pushing the difficulties behind them.
I think Lacey’s most memorable trait is her passionate personality. She puts passion into everything she does. Theater, for example. She also feels emotions deeply, so deeply she buries her grief and anger so she doesn’t have to acknowledge it, or work through it properly because it’s too painful.
LAURIE: Part of your story world takes place in university and their theater program. Is that something you took in university yourself?
SARA BETH: I did theater all through high school. I was one of the leads in the play Oklahoma! in my senior year. I didn’t end up doing theater in college because the Junior College I attended decided to renovate their theater the year I arrived, which resulted in half the classes being hosted off site across town, which was too far for me to get to.
And when I transferred to Fresno Pacific University, a four year college, they didn’t have a theater major. They did have a theater minor which I tried out, but it appeared to be a combo of all the boring classes. So I did a theater emphasis instead, alongside my elementary education degree. If I could go back to college without paying thousands of dollars, I’d probably major in English and Theater.
In my freshman year of college I auditioned for one of the fall plays. This college still puts on three plays a year. Fresno Pacific only does one major production a year, and sometimes they do it in the Spring and sometimes they do it in the Fall. Honestly, I chose to keep the theater audition scene in the book vague because every college does things differently.
When I first wrote the story, I actually was using real dialogue from a real play, but once I figured out that getting the copyright permissions would be a PAIN, I mad to make up a scene for the audition scene in the beginning of the story.
My junior year, I worked as a backstage hand when our college performed Fiddler on the Roof, which was super exciting. We attended all of the rehearsals, so it was really neat to get an inside look at that. I loved all the songs, and didn’t mind listening to them over and over. It was a small college, and it was fun getting to know all the people in the theater and music departments.
LAURIE: What is the ONE thing you want readers to take away from this book?
SARA BETH: There’s so much to take away from this story. The biggest aspect I want people to take away is that forgiveness IS possible. Both spiritually ( because Jesus forgives us when we ask) and between people. It’s very possible, but it’s not easy. Matthew West has an amazing song that is sort of an anthem for this book:
Once I’d finished the story and was sending it out to publishers, I did an internet search for real-life stories of forgiveness. It’s something that fascinates me. Forgiveness seems so easy sometimes, but so daunting other times. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a choice, a decision you make; you also have to have an attitude to accept it from others as well.
LAURIE: Are there any authors who’ve influenced you in your writing? Do you have any favourite authors?
SARA BETH: When I began to read Christian Fiction again, in 2012 or 2013, I ran across Hallee Bridgeman’s Christian Romance series, called the “Jewel” Series, and became hooked on them. And I thought to myself, I could write like this! I can do this! Reading her series truly inspired me to write toward the goal of publication.
Since then, I read Christian fiction voraciously, and have discovered a number of great authors. Kara Isaac, Amanda Tru, Becky Wade, Nicole Deese, Connilynn Cossette, Nadine Brandes, are all wonderful authors.
Each of these authors have fantastic storytelling talent, beautiful and descriptive prose and imagery. Nicole Deese is superb at creating realistic characters. Connilynn is fantastic at bringing biblical history to life. I adore her imagery. Some authors, like Nadine, I love because she’s just such an amazing person. Open about her life, about her writing journey, about how she markets; she’s goofy, silly, and not afraid to be herself and share herself with everyone. I love that about her.
LAURIE: How long has it taken you to get published?
SARA BETH: The spark for this story came to me in 2004. I didn’t really know what genre I wanted to write in so I sketched out a bunch of random scenes out of order for years. Then I worked on another YA story for some years in between. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that I took an interest in pursuing publication. I began to research what it takes to become published, and it had changed significantly since the end of the 20th century. I began to research writing in general, and then I busted this current story out within about 4 months. Then it morphed into 3 more stories, which I wrote simultaneously at the end of 2014 and throughout 2015.
In August of 2014, I was preparing to submit to a small press, but God clearly impressed upon me to wait one year. Sitting in church one Sunday, after service, I remember it very clearly. Wait one year. So, I waited. Then I became pregnant, and was like, “God... I’m having a baby in a year what’s up with that?” lol. So, I waited longer in fact, and the longer I waited, the more I was able to develop the entire series, not just the first book. The more sermons I listened to, the more experiences I had, all of it has influenced the end product, which is When Hearts Collide, in a positive way.
Sometime in 2105 I began to query / submit the early drafts of When Hearts Collide. It took several rounds of edits, rejections and rewrites to get to where I am today. I was excited, and nervous, to sign a contract in September 2017 with Anaiah Press and I’m still processing the fact that this is really happening right now!
LAURIE: What advice would you give to other writers trying to break in to the Christian market?
SARA BETH: Shameless plug. I wrote a blog post about this: https://authorswilliams.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/what-you-need-to-know-before-you-pursue-publishing/
SARA BETH: I love singing and playing guitar. I love reading, and I enjoy watching theatre and movies with my husband and family. I love working with children and currently work in kinder. Here’s a secret: I used to entertain at birthday parties making balloon animals. If I could do it again I totally would, but I have driving limitations, and financial limitations at the moment that prevent me from continuing to entertain in that manner.
LAURIE: Where can your readers find you on social media?
SARA BETH: I blog at www.authorswilliams.wordpress.com. I post book reviews, writing advice, and other random writerly fun. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, which has been a great place to interact with bookworms and writers!
LAURIE: And finally, how long do we have to wait for your next book?
SARA BETH: I have no idea. I’ve got my second book in the series ready for my editor, but it could be quite a while. Already my family and close friends are freaking out that they have to wait so long for the second book, when they’ve not even read the first. Except in beta form. Can’t say it doesn’t encourage me significantly to hear that.
Laurie’s Note: Sara Beth’s book is now LIVE on Amazon and you can buy it here:
A reckless mistake landed Jacob “Jay” Mathews behind bars, but it was his inescapable guilt that led him to God. Upon his release, with the help of a spiritual mentor and friend, he strives to move forward with his life. Determined to graduate college, get a job, and follow God’s word, the last thing Jay needs or wants is a girlfriend. Until he meets Lacey Bennett.
When fervent prayers for reconciliation between her divorced parents go unanswered, and her older sister tragically dies, Lacey questions how God could allow such tragedies to befall her family. Turning her back on her past and God, she focuses on her future. College and theater are her ultimate goals; falling for the one type of guy she swore to avoid—a Christian—is not. No matter how much she wants to resist, Jay is irresistible.
As their relationship deepens, Jay struggles with Lacey’s unresolved anger and her unwillingness to even discuss faith. All he wants to do is reveal how God changed his life, but doing so would mean revealing his status as an ex convict. Finally, as she begins to rekindle her faith, past secrets collide, threatening to destroy everything they’ve built. Now, Jay must rely on his faith more than he ever has before. Can they learn to forgive—or is their relationship fractured beyond repair?
Sara Beth Williams was born and raised in Northern California, and resides with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not held hostage by the keyboard, she enjoys
teaching children, playing guitar, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
I'm a military wife who's raised two wonderful special needs children to adulthood. We've lived all over Canada and are still on that journey. When I'm not writing, I can be found spinning, knitting, and hanging out with my dogs.