by C.J. Darlington
Sigmund Brouwer Interview
"There is only one goal for any piece of writing: push an emotional button." -- Sigmund Brouwer
Sigmund Brouwer is the author of eighteen best-selling novels for children and adults. His novel The Last Disciple was featured in Time magazine and on ABC’s Good Morning America and his newest book is Broken Angel. A champion of literacy, he teaches writing workshops for students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner city Los Angeles. Sigmund is married to Christian recording artist Cindy Morgan, and they and their two daughters divide their time between homes in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and Nashville, Tennessee.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Was there ever an “Aha!” moment, or have you always had the desire to write?
Sigmund: I remember attempting to write my first book when I was ten years old, so it must have always been there. I sent my first story out for publication when I was 20, but it took seven years and dozens of attempts for my first published story, and another three years to get my first book in print, a mystery written for children, in a series that would become the Accidental Detectives. I sent this book out to 20 publishers, and was very grateful when it was accepted!
As someone who barely passed your high school English classes, how did you go about training yourself to become a better writer?
I went to journalism school, thinking that this would train me. All I really learned from going “inside”, however, was not to trust what I read in the media. I’ve discovered the only training is practice. And more practice. And more practice.
Your journey to publication was a long one by some standards—ten years. Share with us a little bit about how you dealt with the rejections and discouragement of that time. What kept you going?
Fortunately, I was like a little kid learning to ice skate. I had no idea how bad I was, or how far I needed to go, so I cheerfully kept writing, believing that each new story was the one that would get published.
I’m eager to learn more about your latest novel Broken Angel. Where did the idea for this book come from?
The characters were there before the concept. Once I knew who Caitlyn and Jordan were, and what had happened to Caitlyn before her birth and how Jordan had been responsible, I began to wonder when and where they would be fugitives. That lead to Appalachia, a state run by literalist, controlling fundamentalists. The government of Appalachia is an offshoot of the conservative religious movement and the story examines what happens if you take the shaping of a nation through religion and politics in one extreme direction. In short, the novel is a suspense thriller in a setting that prompts questions about the politicization of the Christian faith.
You mix several genres in this story: suspense, fantasy, adventure – was that intentional?
Looking back, I can see that I did. But I was inside the story, just trying to tell it as well as I could.
Tell us about the song “Beautiful Bird” that your wife, singer-songwriter Cindy Morgan wrote. It compliments your novel wonderfully, but I hear you were surprised at how much it connected with your book when you first heard it.
All during the writing of this story it felt like I was reaching to express a spirit so elusive that I’m reluctant to try to describe it here. Novels are just as much a journey for me as for the characters, and just after the wind had lifted Caitlyn out of Appalachia on that moonless night, I heard a song that expressed everything I’d felt and that I had wanted readers to feel during Caitlyn’s story. As if the songwriter had been behind my shoulder throughout the entire writing of the novel, keenly aware of Caitlyn’s instinctive yearnings for the freedom of flight.
In a way, the songwriter
truly had been there, for she’s my best
friend, the woman I love, my wife. She’d been putting together her
album Beautiful Bird while I was immersed in Caitlyn’s story; because
we both prefer to wait until something is complete to share with the other,
neither of us had been aware of what the other was trying to accomplish
at the same time. This unspoken synchronicity made the song of the same
name even more special for me. Her song and the subsequent video has the
emotional impact that I hope readers would take away from Broken Angel.
(You can see the video at www.brokenangelsong.com.)
Watch Cindy Morgan talk about the song below:
What message do you hope readers take away from Broken Angel?
No one has the right to force us to believe; nor do we have the right to force others to believe.
Reading is prohibited in your fictional world, ala Fahrenheit 451. I know literacy is a huge issue for you, especially with kids. Why do you think kids aren’t reading as much these days?
Partly because there is so much competition for their time. Video and television are obvious culprits, but I see many parents pushing their kids into so many things it seems like kids can’t be kids. And partly because there needs to be more books that appeal to kids. That’s why when something like Harry Potter appears it does far better than anyone expects. It’s something kids want to read, not something kids should read.
How can parents, teachers, and others concerned about this decline help kids enjoy reading again?
Focus on what’s fun.
Your fiction has always been somewhat edgy in its approach to violence. How do you keep that “edge” in your stories without going too far? Is that something you think about at all as you’re writing?
When I hear that, I try to take it as a compliment, because the violence is rarely graphic, but mostly implied. There’s a chapter early on in Broken Angel where the main bad guy merely threatens to torture someone, but my wife and her friends tell me it creeps them out because the emotional resonance is so intense. As for thinking about it during my writing, no. All stories are about problems, and because my plots tend to be action driven, invariably some of those problems will involve physical danger.
C.S. Lewis made a big impact on you as a writer. What is it you admire most about him as an author, and how has his approach specifically influenced your own writing?
I admire most that he was a good thinker. In my writing workshops I try to make the point that good writing demands good thinking. C.S. Lewis was a profound thinker, then went one step farther and used good writing to show those thoughts.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had so far in your travels to schools, book signings or research trips?
Hah! You really think I’m going to answer that? At least truthfully?
I’ve heard you write 5 pages a day no matter what. Is that still your schedule and how do you keep it?
I wish I could say that is still my schedule. This was pre-children days. I think I could still find the energy to write my 5 pages, but I don’t want to. I love hanging out with my family. So I’m down to either writing on a given day, or a speaking engagement. But not both.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A comedy novel.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
There is only one goal for any piece of writing: push an emotional button.
What’s your next book project?
A sequel to Broken Angel. It ends, I hope, in a satisfying way for readers. But I’d really like to find out what Caitlyn does with the knowledge that she escapes with.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Hanging with my family. Reading. Or golfing.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Ketchup. Mustard. Ice cream.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Vente Americano, room for cream.
When was the last time you cried?
Watching my little girls dance to a song at the end of a movie.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Ray Lamontagne. And, always, Cindy Morgan
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.