by Justine Johnston Hemmestad
Award-winning author Sharon Hinck writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary people on extraordinary faith journeys. Known for their authenticity, emotional range, and spiritual depth, her novels include humorous contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, the ground-breaking Sword of Lyric fantasy series, and her new Dancing Realms series. She has been honored with a Christy finalist medal, three Carol awards, and a 2020 Christy Award in the Visionary category for her fantasy novel Hidden Current.
Apart from writing, Sharon enjoys serving as an adjunct professor for the Creative Writing MFA program at Concordia University, and also shares with conferences, retreats, and church groups. She and her family make their home in Minnesota.
In a heart-to-heart interview with Justine Johnston Hemmestad, Sharon Hinck discusses her illustrious career, faith, and beyond.
How and when did you know what your calling was?
That’s such an interesting question. I see my calling as living a life of worship to my Creator and enjoying His presence. Secondarily, I am called to share my Savior’s grace with others, and I’ve found various means to do that—as a church worker, choreographer, organist, wife and mom, etc. So that awareness of calling has been with me since childhood, but the specific avenues have gone through various iterations. In reference to writing, my passion for books and telling my own stories was present from childhood. But the clear nudge from God to begin the chapter of life that included writing novels? That happened around fifteen years ago.
You write stories for ‘the hero in all of us.’ Please explain that.
Of course, Christ is the true hero in our lives. But He invites us to participate in His ongoing work in the world, and that can take nobility and courage. When I began writing The Restorer (the first book I wrote, although not the first that was contracted by a publisher), I was a witness to heroism in the lives of so many friends. When a parent developed Alzheimer’s, or a child was diagnosed with autism, or a friend battled cancer, or a spouse grappled with job loss, my friends found themselves in a world they never expected to visit. They had to lean into their faith and make heroic choices. That became an inspiration for all my books. When our journey is harder than we ever expected, how do we deepen our faith? How do we see God’s mercy in spite of our pain? How do we point others to a true Deliverer? We all are given opportunities in life to find the hero in all of us.
How has God led you through the rejection that comes with the beginning stages of writing?
Oh, my! I remember LONG arguments with God where I explained to Him the odds against having a book accepted by a publisher. I moaned about how I was wasting so much time in crafting a novel that no one would ever read. As that first story took shape and was a unique blend of genres and not easily marketable, I poured out those frustrations to Him often, reminding Him that it was ridiculous to try to break into publishing with this story. In response, I continued to sense that quiet, simple call, “Write.” I had to come to grips with accepting there was blessing in the process and trusting Him for the outcome.
Do you do intensive research for your books, in various indirect and direct ways?
In my contemporary general fiction, I talked to a violinist about how to sabotage a violin for one book, and to a Navy chaplain about his experiences for another—just a few examples of research that went into the stories. For my fantasy novels, I’ve never visited an alternate universe to do research. However, I do explore various topics for my world building. I’ve watched behind-the-scenes DVDs by sword masters, read about cultures with no written language, studied cults and the ways they control members, and drawn from my own experiences with music, dance, liturgy, scripture, marriage, childbirth, etc. So yes, research is valuable, and so is personal experience, and so is imagination.
You also serve as an adjunct professor for the Creative Writing MFA program at Concordia University. Does this role encourage your own writing in a way that may not otherwise be possible?
I’m constantly inspired by my students, and as I offer feedback on their work, it helps me turn a more critical eye to my own work when I dive back into that.
Do you enjoy speaking publicly, as much as writing?
I’m an odd duck for a writer — with a strong extrovert component to my nature. So I love opportunities to speak. Writing can be very isolating work sometimes, and I love taking the conversation into live time with real people.
How do you stay inspired to write? Do you inspire your characters, or do you find it to be the other way around?
I recently went through a time of heavy grief as well as exhausting health challenges and decided to take a few months away from writing. Instead, the characters of my current work-in-progress kept knocking at the door of my imagination and coaxed me to continue their story. So I guess my characters inspire me. I also learn from my characters. Sometimes one of them will come out with a line of dialogue as I’m writing and I lean back and say, “Whoa!” and carry their wisdom with me forever after. I love the way the Holy Spirit can inspire the direction of a story, the insights of a character, and the themes that point me to deeper faith. Truly, I believe God is the source of all inspiration and creativity.
How does your family support you in your writing journey?
My husband has supported me HUGELY in all my various crazy artsy adventures. I keep his life interesting. I’ve often chatted with my children (who are now grown) about plot threads. Even my granddaughter helped me brainstorm aspects of a recent book. I could not have written these stories without their various forms of support over the years.
You have said that you’re a ‘tortured artist.’ How do you combat negativity, both internally and from others?
Oh, my. I must have been taking myself way too seriously when I said that. Hee hee! But it’s true. I think artists are often sensitive—part of what makes them effective writers. They are observers of the world and may feel things deeply. That can make the challenges of the writing life (isolation, self-doubt, rejection, striving for an ideal that can never fully be reached, etc.) especially painful at times. But it also helps them create a connection with readers who want to feel like someone has seen them or understands. I still struggle, but I try to keep refocusing on showing up each day and seeing what God might have for me that day.
How did you feel when you were honored with the 2020 Christy Award?
When Hidden Current was awarded the 2020 Christy Award, I was incredibly grateful for a particular reason. The Dancing Realms Series was my first new series after some years away from writing. I was terrified that I didn’t know how to write, or that people who loved my first fantasy series would be disappointed in this new world. The award gave me hope and reassurance that perhaps I wasn’t done sharing stories. Then when Forsaken Island was awarded the 2021 Christy Award, I was surprised and overwhelmed for another reason. My mom, who had instilled the love of books in me and was always my first reader and biggest fan, had died only months earlier. Being able to dedicate the award to her was a treasured moment for me.
Tell us about the experience of being accepted with a seasoned publisher like Bethany House.
My agent called and gave me the news that The Secret Life of Becky Miller had been accepted in a two-book contract. My first acceptance. I think I nearly fainted. So many of the novels on my bookshelves were published by Bethany House. To feel like I was dipping my toes into a pool where so many favorite authors swam was thrilling. I remember after hanging up the phone, that I stared at it, totally not sure whether I’d imagined the whole thing.
You have mentioned your admiration for CS Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle in the past. What has their writing taught you about your own writing? Have they been conduits of learning?
I have been deeply moved by their stories, and those of many other authors. I don’t try to emulate their style or craft. Instead, I remember the experience of reading their fiction and how much I immersed in the story world. That’s a gift I want to offer my readers.
What would you like to say to aspiring writers in the genre?
The fantasy genre has so much potential to examine life questions and issues from a fresh perspective. Set your characters loose in a new world and let them (and your readers) make discoveries along the way. We get to portray courage, nobility, and purpose in ways that can inspire readers to make courageous, noble, and purposeful choices after they finish the last page.
Do you have future projects knocking on the door?
I’m delighted that both my fantasy series (The Sword of Lyric Series and The Dancing Realms Series) will be releasing soon as audio books. And I have a new stand-alone epic fantasy novel releasing with Enclave in November 2022. Onward!