Tag: The Barrenness

Female First Remembers First Novel

Hardly seems three years ago that I wrote my first novel, The Barrenness. Recently, I was explaining to a friend how long it actually takes, at least me, to write a novel or a book. While it might look like I have churned out three books in three years–on the contrary.

As I have said in many interviews, it took me six years to write The Barrenness, considering the entire publication process and perhaps that long again to finish The Blindsided Prophet. As for The Seasons, each short story has been written and rewritten more times than I care to share. After all, the only draft that matters is the final one.

Anyhow, recently in celebration of launching The Seasons, I had the opportunity to talk with Lucy Walton-Lange of  Female First about my writing process, and reflect particularly on The Barrenness. Read the interview here.

In the meantime, find out more about The Barrenness, if you haven’t had a chance to read it and read an excerpt here. Like The Blindsided Prophet and The SeasonsThe Barrenness is available in both paperback and e-book from most online retailers. Enjoy!


Leaflet featured on BBC Radio now available

Now available to all sonjalewis.com visitors, the leaflet Beyond Barren: Putting Childlessness into Perspective served as the backdrop to my interview with BBC London Radio host Jo Good on 19 March.

“It’s a fantastic piece,” the talk show hostess said.

No wonder I have decided to make the piece public, which has been available only to registered users and journalists in the past. Now, visitors can download it here, directly from My Books.

Thanks to the women who shared their stories for the piece, it has been a valuable resource in getting out the overall message of The Barrenness: finding happiness in your own space, whether a mother or not.

Since I released the novel in 2011, the topic of being childless or child-free has become a hot topic. Are they one in the same? Some think so, some do not. One researcher explains that childlessness is not by choice, being child-free is.

In any case, it is a topic that is off the shelves so to speak and on the table. And with a bit of luck, this unto itself, is slowly lifting the stigmas often associated with people who do not have children. Long may the discussions continue, at least until all is well that ends well.

An Essay on Writing from the Deep

You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even a millimetre, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.’ James Baldwin

When I wrote The Barrenness, I hoped to start a worldwide conversation on the topic of being childfree and childless. I chose fiction not only because I love the genre, but also because I wanted the story to be any and every person’s story, not just mine. I have been delighted with all the attention around the subject, from the media and like-minded writers. Today, I get far more Google Alerts on the topic than I did six years ago. I have even participated in some research on the issue.

Writers write for a number of reasons: to entertain; to seek resolution; to change the world; to start conversations. Malcolm Gladwell, in his mid-October Goodreads chat, cited the last as a motivating factor for writing his best-selling books.

In writing my second novel, The Blindsided Prophet, I’d venture to say that my purpose was closer to Baldwin’s. I didn’t imagine that I could change the entire world, but my goal was to change the way readers think about their beliefs and values — their religion, if you will — at a deeper level. After all, believing something religiously is a cornerstone for any society, and has a profound effect on everyday living.

A few years ago, after supper at a writers’ conference, I had the ear of Jacob Ross, a brilliant and celebrated Afro-Caribbean writer, who is also my mentor. I must have been rambling about a novel I had written with church people at the centre, when Jacob popped the question: Are you deeply religious?

Having grown up as a Southern Baptist, I have always been a person of strong faith, and therefore, could have easily answered affirmatively. But taunted by internal and external misconceptions, I will never forget the rush of thoughts that passed through my head. On the one hand, some thoughts were loaded with a wariness of any and everything holier-than-thou, suggesting that admitting to deep religion would colour me as a writer. These were associated with being referred to as a ‘Holy Roller’ by the well-meaning grandmother of a dear friend.

And on the other hand, other thoughts were laden with feelings of inferiority. I thought of Baldwin’s play The Amen Corner, in which church people behave rather like most people, often hypocritically, though purposefully. Thus, I said ‘no’, quite firmly, and washed my hands of it … or so I thought.

Years later, I still cannot get my answer out of my head, and have long since realised that I wasn’t true to myself in answering Jacob.

Thus, the novel became The Blindsided Prophet, in which, as a writer, I have attempted to explore this basic question on some level, although not necessarily as a Christian, as I think its answer is important for anyone in the big scheme of life, regardless of religious association. And I firmly believe that faith underpins writing rather than dictates or restricts it. Writing is a gift to be used naturally.

Having said this, The Blindsided Prophet has been called ‘dark, psychological fiction’, which contains explicit language, abuse and sex scenes. Nonetheless, it is story about redemption. No matter how broken you are, you can be restored. This is God’s message to the people through the prophet, Isaiah Brown.

In the characters’ language and behaviour, we see their states of mind, as is often the case in fiction, but is equally as important in real life. Great men and women of the Bible had dark pasts. After committing murder, Moses lived in exile, until God liberated him and gave him the opportunity to liberate others: the people of Israel, who had been enslaved in Egypt for generations.

I am by no means comparing my novel to the Bible, but the point is this: the stories of the Bible are demonstrative of issues and struggles that seem larger than life.

Baylor University student and teacher, Alan Noble, in his Citizenship for Confusion blog said as much about the Bible, while writing about misunderstandings in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye: ‘… as Christians, we have a beautiful work of art filled with hard truths, ugly scenes, offensive claims, and moments of darkness at the very centre of our faith!’

In discussing this topic further with some writer friends — one is a Christian, the other is not — I was reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s views on being a Catholic author. She was clear in an article in American, in 1957, that a Christian writer’s work, like that of others, should be judged by its truthfulness and wholeness, not the writer’s faith.

O’Connor’s writing is some of the most haunting I have read, particularly the short story ‘A Good Man is hard to find’, in which an entire family is executed.

I do think she would agree that every book isn’t suitable for every audience. As for my books, they are written as adult fiction, and even so, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make them purposeless. Admittedly, The Blindsided Prophet may make some people uncomfortable. And some will reject it altogether.

When I first saw the film, Crash, I was shocked out of my comfort zone. I debated with anyone who wanted to, or who didn’t want to, about how dark and disturbing the film was. But soon, I realised that it was in discomfort that I found understanding of the situation.

I couldn’t relate to the movie personally, but having grown up as a black woman in the US, I found the husband-and-wife scene with Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard, in which he watches on helplessly while she is sexually exploited by a police officer, too close for comfort.

My discomfort was such a distraction that, initially, it coloured my ability to see the candour of the movie: the key messages it had to offer on social injustices and hidden racism.

In The Blindsided Prophet, this is a lesson for the character Mae Cook, who builds a fortress around the surface of her beliefs and values, steeped in convention and ceremony. She is challenged to look beyond the surface of those values, and to find out what it means to seek the truth in every situation, not just when it validates her beliefs.

Will this mean changing fundamentally? Not necessarily, but it will mean changing perspective on the fundamentals in order to accept true understanding. Isaiah talks about a New Covenant, meaning a different way of experiencing God, through one’s own freewill and mind.

In encountering this new way of thinking and of being, it is my hope that readers ofThe Blindsided Prophet, regardless of their religious beliefs, will explore the novel as a literary creation, rather than judging it against the writer’s faith, as they would any such theme underpinning a work of fiction.

So getting back to the question of why writers write: for all of the above reasons and many more. But ultimately, to tell a good story, often regardless of their own faith, but sometimes in their faith, or rather their beliefs.

In any case, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the importance of story above all else. My mentor couldn’t agree with him more. As for me, I absolutely love a good story, and when all is said and done, that is what I want to offer readers: a good story, as simple as that.

This is the real reason this writer writes.


Two more days to snag first edition novel

You might recall that mine was a big decision to independently publish The Barrenness. A writer friend reminded me a few weeks ago that the idea of self-publishing intimidated the daylights out of me.

But true to my determined nature, even if it did take me years to get around to it, I found the courage to take the plunge and set-up Prymus Publications. And once I dived in, I gained high hopes, despite all the doom and gloom around the publishing industry–publishers collapsing, book stores closing left and right, and e-books bridging any gaps that came open.

The latter, of course, created opportunities for self-publishers. But I still had to think about the stigmas associated with it, hence some of my turmoil. Now a few months just short of a year since the novel was released, I can’t say I am totally at peace but I am happy to have immersed myself into this project.

Maybe I still haven’t learned how to swim properly, but I am floating, keeping my head above water. Basically, I had three major goals in publishing: to get the novel published (including writing, editing, design, etc…), to promote it, and to sell it.

The first one I achieved on target, thanks to a fantastic team including my editor and designer and of course, printer/distributor. The latter two–promoting and selling–are ongoing, and I must say that while I’m still expecting sales to surprise me any day now, I am delighted with the results of press coverage. In this area, I am a pretty good swimmer.

Since last April 2011, The Barrenness has been featured in some forty media outlets, most of them listed on my website. Still there are others in the making, including FOX News and ARUN, a national radio network in the US. In addition, there are many copies of the novel out there that still might be reviewed. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

CNN with Pam Oliver, as well as The Tom Joyner Morning Show, ABC Let’s Talk Live, CBS This Morning, Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys, The Toronto Star, and The Voice.

Many thanks to the media in the US, in particular, for supporting the changing face of publishing and covering vibrant, new voices, even when they don’t come from one of the big houses.

And in general, thanks to all outlets who gave The Barrenness some quality time, including my hometown television station and newspaper in Albany, Georgia. The biggest thanks, of course, goes to Janet Shapiro of Smith Publicity. She’s the one who totally immersed herself. What a star?

Now, back to this countdown–just two more days left to secure the first edition this debut novel! In the meantime, I absolutely must learn how to swim, properly.

Magic or hard-work – I’ll take it

Many writers don’t read fiction while writing it, including yours truly. It’s risky business, akin to rolling a two-sided dice—one will make you rich, the other poor, very poor. No wonder I am voraciously reading my fourth novel in as many months or less as well as a couple of short stories.

I do have to get writing again, working on my second novel that is. Admittedly, however,  I am a bit up in arms about what’s next.  If you’d asked me a month ago, I would have told you The Blindsided Prophet; I started it. I really did but the process got  interrupted, and when this happens, you’re back to the drawing board.

So I am  and interestingly enough, readers are encouraging me to take a page fromThe Barrenness—explore some of the minor themes,  the characters. Naturally, I am carefully considering the feedback. But I am getting edgy.

Going without writing fiction for too long stresses me out and knots up my muscles.  I’m not sure that my right ‘rotator cuff’ muscles would have any flexibility were it not for my monthly short stories and of course, the ayurvedic massage I had on Friday.

What a difference unblocking energy makes, though such massages are not meant for those with low-pain thresholds, but what can I say I did it. When I’m back in London I’ll tell you all about this experience, particularly the aftermath. I was so relaxed  yesterday I had to take a cat nap before I could pack.

A good segue for me to tell you why I’m not sitting at my desk or on my floor in front of the fireplace, writing. I’m in the US yet  again to promote The Barrenness, thanks to my extraordinary publicist JS. Magic or is it?

Absolutely not! It takes hard-work from both publicist and writer,  hers spilling over into the late nights and weekends and mine going into fifth gear about now as I write this blog with unsteady hands and droopy eyelids. Only landed a few hours ago, and at 8.00 EST tomorrow morning, I call in to a television station in up-state New York.

What do you mean I should be in the studio. No  can do, I am in Georgia for another television taping to be aired in a couple weeks and a radio interview Tuesday  morning. Then I travel up the Eastern Seaboard  for quite a few opportunities in Virginia,  DC, and Pennsylvania (Philly)—some live, some taped. Who knows where all of this might end up—New York, NY, I should hope.  Last stop before I return to London.

Debriefings will be posted here, hopefully day to day—first one tomorrow evening.  But for updates and invitations to watch or listen, check out my Facebook page: Sonja Lewis.

If you miss the tour completely, visit my press for playbacks or copies of the interviews.  If you’ve read the novel, join the discussion on what to write next. If you haven’t read it, now is the time. I’m giving away two copies on Goodreads.com.  Or buy the paperback or digital version from most online retailers.

Now where was I? What page was I on? That’s right, the Kindle doesn’t do page numbers. Never mind, I’m enjoying this fantastic novel all the same and hope to finish it before the writing (well the researching, thinking, planning) begins. If not, I’ll just have to roll the two-sided dice.  Wish me magic? Okay, more opportunities for hard work. I’ll take it!