It's Not About Me feels like a novel I watched "come to life". I have been following Michelle Sutton's blog for a while now, and I "voted" on cover art and listened to her joy as she held the first copy of the book in her hand. Michelle has also come to serve as editor for the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, and so I've learned even more about her through that process.
So, it is with great satisfaction that I can now share an interview with you about this exciting author and her debut novel, It's Not About Me. Please, welcome Michelle Sutton to my Window!
You describe your writing as edgy. Your first novel does contain scenes that tend to make a reader squirm just a bit. How do you think this sets your writing apart?
I think it brings more realism into the story. People say, "I felt like I was right there!" I think that is partly why it makes people squirm. The other part is I don't gloss over the not-so-pretty stuff in life. And if the wrong behavior the characters are involved in feels good, I don't invoke false guilt but I show you how they really see it. I also don't make it too easy on them or have them always avoid bad decisions just to be "PC" - in other words, I never say, "don't do it" but I show you why you don't want to do it. Plus, you see the full consequences they have to deal with and it ain't alluring, that's for sure.
Is it unique to you or are readers seeing more “edginess” in the CBA market?
Not unique to me. I may have more details and intensity than most, but there are certainly edgy authors out there like Julie Lessman, Allison Pittman, and Deeanne Gist. I just happen to write contemporary romance so that makes it closer to reality for youth today, whereas historicals are in the "past" and thus more removed from everyday life.
Your portrayal of the volatile teen emotions is very realistic. Was this inspired by your own journey through the teenage years or did you have particular inspiration for your characters?
Um, I was more "bad" than any of my characters in the book and I knew more "Susie's" than I could count. So I guess that helps with the realism. I knew a lot of guys like Tony, only they were worse and most didn't have older brothers who cared enough to help them.
Why do you think girls in particular struggle between accepting a boys affection without giving in to sexual pressure vs. feeling as if they are expected to give in to the sexual pressure in order to gain affirmation of the affection they desire?
The media portrays it that way. I saw a movie once and it appalled me because the message was pretty much, "have sex with him during a one night stand and he'll never stop thinking about you until he finds you again. Then he will marry you and you will live happily ever after." That's a lie from the pit. SO not true. But girls believe they can keep their boyfriends by giving them sex. I have never met a young teen who had sex because they wanted to. They always did it because they were afraid they'd lose their boyfriend. But sadly they would give the guy what they wanted and lose them anyway, but then they had the emotional junk and scars to deal with, too. I am hoping to spare some young people that pain by conveying that message in my story.
The scene of the attack was pretty brutal. I personally think it was necessary to drive home the terror and horror of the event on everyone involved. Have you received any negative feedback on the attack scene?
I think out of 100+ readers one said, "ewww" (and it may have been you, LOL!) But no one has said it was "too much" because honestly, I don't want to write gross stuff just to shock people or live up to my "edgy" moniker. It has to relate100% to the story and be necessary or it's cut. In fact, I don't put anything unnecessarily warranted in my original draft to begin with. It has to ring true and not be there for shock value. Does that make sense?
Can you tell your readers why you felt it had to happen as it did?
Because for Tony to have such overwhelming guilt and such an intense response, he had to realize what happened to her was horrific and could've been avoided had he not tried so hard to manipulate her.
You do a great job developing the characters. It was particularly nice to see the way struggle preceded the ultimate truth that is recognized in their lives. What makes the difference in a person’s ability to see God’s hand working in all of our struggles vs. someone growing bitter and feeling as if God has abandoned them? (which could have easily been the case in all of your characters’ lives in this story!)
LOL! Well, first of all the "I hate God because something bad happened to me" theme in CBA fiction is almost a cliche! I really don't like stories that run that route because it's like an easy out and feels kind of cardboard and flat to me. Every once in awhile an author uses that scenario well, but most of the time it doesn't ring true to me. Plus, I guess that the beauty of maturing in faith and enduring trials to the point that the dross is burned away and the gold is left to shine is where we all want to be. If I hadn't had trials I wouldn't be as strong in my faith as I am today. So I torture my characters (as happens in real life) and give them a spiritual journey that the reader can join them on and hopefully learn from. In the end, this one thing must ring true... God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. If we don't see that by story's end (and as an author my readers don't get that message) then I haven't done the story justice. Amen?
What comes next in your Second Glances series? Will we meet new characters?
Yes, some new characters. A few you'll like and a few you'll want to slap around. But mainly you'll get to know Susie and Jeff better as they (secondary characters in book 1) are the main characters in book 2. And once you really see the world through Susie's eyes, you'll want to love her and pray for her instead of wanting to kick her butt like in the first book. :)
What exciting things is God doing in your life through your writing? Any words of encouragement you’d like to share with your readers?
God has shown me how much I need him through the stories he gives me to share. I have a ton of deep, edgy stories already written and they are all very different but have similar themes. They all have whopping first kisses (that you're remember forever) and they all conclude with the realization that even though what they suffered hurt like crazy, it was because of God's love that he allowed it so they would know him more through their suffering. So....if you want to read more of my stories, help me sell this one so I can keep getting my books in print for readers to enjoy. Don't lend out your book, but encourage friends to buy a copy or ask their library to order one, etc. That will keep my publisher in business and will keep the edgy books coming to you. Thanks, Kim, for the interview.