How did you transition from being a textbook acquisitions editor to a fiction writer?
I had always wanted to be a fiction writer, and loved to write both fiction and nonfiction. I actually went to college on a writing scholarship but once I was there I got scared. What are the odds of supporting myself with writing? I thought. So I changed my major to real estate and got a BSBA degree in real estate. I eventually went to work for a house, which published real estate textbooks, as an editor. From there it wasn't a very big leap to just saying, you know, I'd rather write full time. I learned to rely on God and not the odds!
Your characters and stories are well conceived and plotted. Sorry for the typical question, but how do you find your characters, and do they drive your plots?
Yes, the characters do drive the plots because although things are happening, the stories are mostly about people and the changes within and between them. My first books, the YA stories, were, like many first books, loosely based on some of my own experiences and those of people I knew. I was also working in ministries with girls in that age group, and eventually had kids myself, so I had a lot of material.
Those young ladies grew up and began to email me with their "quarter life crisis" worries. For them, and with them, I wrote the French Twist series. But really - I hope it speaks to all of us women at all ages. God placed dreams in your heart not to thwart them, but to fulfill them. Don't be afraid to both step forward and fall back to take hold of your secret hopes and dreams.
Your very first adult novel, Let Them Eat Cake, was a success. Main character, Lexi, reads Bible passages and applies them to episodes in her life, helping her through difficulty. Was using a Christian theme an asset to getting the book published?
I don't know if it was an asset or not - to me, it reflects how many real Christian women go about life. Yes, of course we trust and seek guidance, but it's a stop-start process and winds around in loops. It tangles. But then it eventually pulls free. When you publish with a Christian house, there is an expectation that there will be a Christian thread in there. Even if I weren't publishing with a Christian house, though, I likely would include some faith in the books. I believe that all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, are three dimensional. A read is most satisfying for me when it includes all of those dimensions.
The foreign cultures of England and France flavor your books. You live in the state of Washington. The French Twist series was set in Seattle and outside of Paris (and you obviously know the language). Two of your other series are set in England. Have you lived abroad?
I have been a long stay visitor in a few. I spent some time during one summer living in Germany, and one in France. I've been back to France and had a lovely visit to London. But I haven't lived abroad. I am definitely both a Francophile and an Anglophile, though I love being an American.
I did begin French in 7th grade and took it through my first year of college. I wish we still started our kids in languages earlier than we do.
The subthemes of your books are complex. Many of your characters have little control over events in their lives, and yet they must decide upon a course of action. While they do take action, they also consider the consequences of their actions on their friends and family and on themselves. Do you think that consideration is a female or Christian trait? Does the concept of “letting go and allowing God to take control” subvert women’s decision making?
I think women are more relational than men so we do consider how our actions will impact others, and that's not a bad thing, to consider others in addition to ourselves. At some point, though, we can become too encumbered with how our actions may affect others and act, or refuse to act, to our personal detriment. It's fine if you're called to self sacrifice on occasion. It's noble. And yet we are also to love ourselves. Self care and self control are not equal to selfishness. We've been taught to be "nice." There seems to be a cult of niceness that is foisted upon (and often accepted by) Christian women. Nice is not a fruit of the spirit. Kindness is, but that is something entirely different. I remember praying one time and asking God why He didn't force some people that I had been nice to be nice to me in return. I got the clear sense that He was more interested in my growing a backbone!
Nearly all Christians believe that we have free will in this life. We can't be held accountable for our actions, reaping what we sow, if we do not. And it's clear that we will be. That requires us to make our best judgments and act. Perhaps more of us having trouble second guessing than acting.
Do you explore women’s lack of control in your historical series?
Yes. I admire how little control they had over their own lives - they were legally chattel - and yet how much they were able to accomplish and enjoy. I explore in the second Ladies in Waiting book, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr (due out next June) how women of that time were able to use their spiritual and intellectual gifts. I admire them. They did so much with very little.
The overall theme of God working for good in each character’s life pervades each of the books I’ve read. Does it matter what course of action we chose if it is all preordained?
I think some things are preordained, and other things are not. I'm willing to bet that most Christians believe that, although they may differ on which "take" weighs the heaviest. God is both sovereign - His will is done, but He also tells us we will account for our actions and our words. So both must be true, and therefore, my actions/choices do count!
In the (virtual) bookshelves, are your novels classified as “Christian” and do you agree with how they are classified?
I think those kinds of classifications are going to go away soon. If you look at my most current release, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, on Amazon, and scroll through the 100 books also bought with my book, 98 of them are historical in the secular market. Of the other two, one is another of my titles! I don't mind at all being classified as a Christian author, or having spiritual content in my material. But I like to read in many genres and I think most other readers do, too. I'm more likely to buy a book that was enjoyed by a friend or fellow reader than one which is classified as Christian.
Your books brought tears to my eyes. Is that emotional connection to the reader important?
Thank you so much for telling me. My readers mean everything to me. I write for them, to pay back, in some small way, the many authors who have written books that I have loved over the course of my life. I keep my readers in my mind when the going gets tough. I read to be touched, so I hope I can bring that to my readership, too.
Your topics are varied. In one series, you’re conversant on baking, in another the intricacies of cancer treatment. Are you very good at research or have these topics touched your life?
Both! I do only write about things I really like or care about, because I spend so much time with the topics during research. I tease that, in some ways, it's like earning a Scout badge. I do everything possible to gain as much information as I can on a topic before I write about it. And then, when that book is done, I'm pretty much glutted of the topic and ready to move onto the next badge!
What is your next project, books in your current series or a new series?
I am in the midst of my Ladies in Waiting series, set in Tudor London. The first book, which has just released, is To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. I've mentioned that the second book takes place during the years of Kateryn Parr. Both of these women were critical to the Reformation. The third book, which I am currently writing, is set during the reign of one of my personal favorites, Elizabeth I. Do stop by my website and check it out. There are castles and palaces to wander through, Shakespearean recipes, and other treats.
Your choice--Brioche or Croissants?
LOL. Brioche for every day, croissants with dark chocolate enfolded within on Sunday!
Find out more about Sandra and her novels at: http://www.sandrabyrd.com/index.php and ask her any question that I forgot to ask. Thanks for the interview, Sandra!