1. Your stories have placed as well as finaled in some well-known writing contests. Congratulations on that. What led you to write YA?
Thank you for having me today, Sonya. Writing contests are a great way to not only hone the craft of writing , but it forces you to really learn how to polish a manuscript, get picky about formatting, and work on a deadline.
It also taught me to take critique with a grain of salt. Some of the feedback I got was excellent and some was not helpful at all, so I learned to discern good critique from bad, which in turn made me better able to critique others.
I started writing YA quite by accident. After several full length manuscripts that ranged from paranormal romance to romantic suspense, I wrote one that no one could clearly define in terms of genre.
I entered it as Mainstream Fiction in the Valley Forge Romance Writers and Florida Romance Writers Golden Palm Contests and it placed in both, but I was told by an editor that it was more of a YA than Mainstream. That was SAVAGE CINDERELLA, my upcoming release.
After many rejections from agents and editors because it “didn’t quite fit the market” and I needed to change my protagonist’s age from eighteen to either younger or older, I put it on a shelf and started to write something else.
I was also told that I wasn’t in deep enough POV, and at the suggestion of a writer friend, tried writing in first person.
Penny’s story poured out of me and ON THIN ICE was born. I submitted it to agents and got several rejections based on the fact that there were too many subplots and that I needed to cut it down to one central plot issue, two at most.
I agonized over ways to fix that story and I just couldn’t do it without Penny’s journey changing and the whole story unraveling, so I put that one on the shelf as well and started HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES.
I blasted that one out in about three months and loved it so much, I couldn’t bear to have agents or editors tell me it had no place in the publishing world. That’s when I decided to self-publish.
So far, so good, and no regrets. Readers are giving me wonderful feedback, so I guess those agents and editors don’t know everything.
2. You’ve had an extraordinary life and have quite a few accomplishments including having a Black Belt in Karate. What is it that you’re most proud of in your life? As a writer?
Extraordinary is a good word for it. I’m definitely not one to let grass grow under my feet, LOL. Being the youngest of seven in a fairly dysfunctional family taught me a lot about surviving in the world and fighting for what I want.
I think it was only by the grace of God that I found a way to thrive and use those early experiences in life to become a better person rather than letting those trials make me bitter and defeat me. I can honestly say that what I am most proud of in my life are my two sons, who have grown into amazing young men.
As a writer, I guess I am most proud of the fact that I haven’t let road blocks deter me. I set out to become a published author and despite all of the rejections, I found a way to make that happen.
I’m not afraid of hard work and I don’t mind a challenge—two characteristics that are definitely required in this industry.
I’m truly grateful to others who have gone before me and paved the way to make it possible for writers to become published independently. It’s an exciting time in publishing and the opportunities are endless, but I will say, I’ve never worked so hard in all my life—and that’s saying something, LOL.
3. What do you feel is the best way a writer-especially a new one-can learn how to write? What are some pitfalls in writing that a new writer should avoid?
Read everything you can on the craft of writing. There are tons of great books on the subject. When you aren’t writing, you should be reading—anything and everything.
Read different styles and learn to read with a critical eye. Figure out what you love about a book and what you don’t, and then analyze your own writing the same way.
Join a writers group, get involved in RWA, find some critique partners, and practice, practice, practice. If you can afford it, or have a skill to trade with someone, find a good grammar coach and learn proper technique. None of us remembers everything we learned in High School English class.
Pitfalls, huh? Don’t be discouraged by criticism. Take what makes sense to you, learn from it what you will, and move on. Everyone will have an opinion about your work, but ultimately you have to trust your gut, and believe in yourself and your writing.
The doubt monster is only your friend once you start revisions. He will help you decide what things need changing, but don’t listen to him on a first draft. Just write your heart out and clean up the mess later.
4. You have such gripping stories! Tell us about Heaven is for Heroes and how that story came to be.
Wow! Thanks so much, Sonya. Heaven Is For Heroes came out of my wanting to share a message of hope with teens during a time of war. I have had a deep sense of patriotism instilled in me through my family.
My dad was a WWII vet, my sister served in the Navy, and both my brothers were in the military.
This war in Iraq had me thinking often of the siblings of soldiers and that we have an entire generation of young people who have had to live with the fall out of war. I wanted to give voice to those teenagers and honor those who have served and sacrificed for their country.
I was also thinking of my brother Lee who committed suicide when he was thirty-two. He had joined the Marines when he was just seventeen and he always had a self-destructive nature.
He suffered from depression and alcoholism and was never able to overcome those demons that plagued him. Yet everyone who knew him loved him.
He had such a sweet spirit beneath that tortured soul. Being Catholic, there was always this underlying question as to whether he went to heaven when he died. Since I was only twenty-two at the time of his death, I pondered this question for many years.
Through my own spiritual journey, I came to believe that God was much bigger than any religion or dogma, and it gave me great comfort to believe that my brother did, indeed, find a place of peace in the afterlife. I wanted to share that message of encouragement with others.
5. All of your stories feature well developed, complex heroines-how did you learn how to create such heroines?
I’m so glad you think they are well-developed. That is certainly my hope when I’m creating them, but I think it mostly happens organically. I’ve taken many online workshops and gone to conferences for the past six years, so it’s good to know it has paid off.
I’m more of a seat of the pants writer, but I do like to do a character grid before I delve too deeply into my stories. Once I understand what their main conflict is, and what their goal and motivation are, I can get to the emotion underneath it all.
I used to hate revision and was a professed first draft addict. But now, I feel like real character development happens in the revision phase. That’s when I layer in the deeper emotional responses and come up with those aha moments that really bring them to life.
6. Your latest story is Savage Cinderella and I’m looking forward to reading it. In the story, you feature an older teen with a gripping life story. What was the hardest part about writing this story?
One of the hardest parts was the research for the book. I’ve never been to Atlanta or the Blue Ridge Mountains for that matter. I had to choose a location that would make it plausible for a child to survive in the wilderness, so North Georgia was it.
Suspending disbelief is a huge issue for this book, so I had to work at making the scenario as real as possible. That also meant getting into the head of both a survivor of horrible abuse and a serial killer. I had a few sleepless nights after that research, I don’t mind saying.
This story is different than my other books in several ways. It’s written in third person and I had to work really hard during the revision process to get into deep POV.
That was by far my biggest writing challenge so far. I wrote this story almost three years ago before I knew what deep POV looked like, so there were a ton of –ing words, weak verbs, and the dreaded telling vs. showing.
I almost gave up and turned it into a first person narrative, but I felt I wanted to keep it in third person because I wanted the hero’s as well as the villain’s POV to be told.
Instead of a contemporary YA romance, this is more of a YA romantic suspense—if there is such an animal. If not, perhaps I’m blazing a new trail.
7. What is the worst/best advice you ever received as a writer?
Best advice? Follow your gut, trust your instincts, and write what you want. And don’t ever give up.
Worst advice? You’ll never get anything published unless you follow the “rules” of writing.
More good advice: Learn the rules before you break them.
8. What project is next for you?
I’ve been working on a Dystopian Trilogy (THE CHRONICLES OF LILLY CARMICHAEL) that I’m very excited about. I don’t have a release date for the first book yet, but it should be out this summer. I’ll keep you posted. I also have a short story due out in October that will be part of a WG2E Anthology.
More about PJ Sharon:
PJ Sharon is author of several independently published, contemporary young adult novels, including HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES. Her stories have garnered several contest finals, including two awards for ON THIN ICE, and a place in the prestigious Valley Forge Romance Writers and the Florida Romance Writers Golden Palm contest for SAVAGE CINDERELLA.
Writing romantic fiction for the past six years, and following her destiny to write Extraordinary stories of an average teenage life, PJ is a member of RWA, CTRWA, and YARWA. She is mother to two grown sons and lives with her husband and her dog in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA.
You can learn more about PJ Sharon and how to purchase her books on her website at www.pjsharon.com