Greetings from Sarah Sundin in California! Today I have the joy of interviewing novelist Sydney Avey. I had the pleasure of getting to know Sydney through the American Christian Fiction Writers San Francisco Bay Area chapter. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her too!
Sydney, please tell us about your novel The Sheep Walker’s Daughter.
When Dee loses hope of ever knowing her heritage, a series of puzzling discoveries cause her to reconsider. Why did her mother send money every month to the Basque Relief Agency? And what does the Anglican priest who shows up at her door know that he isn’t telling?
What inspired you to write this book?
At the end of her life, my mother confessed that she had concealed her heritage. Her father was a Polish Jew. I wanted to understand what motivates people to hide their heritage and what we lose when we don’t know our family history.
What surprised you the most during the research or writing of your book?
I deliberately avoided telling the story of my own heritage because of the prejudice people still feel against the Jews. I wanted to work with a culture that few people have preconceived ideas about. Like my main character, I knew nothing about the Basques. I was surprised by the rich cultural heritage of the Basques. Like the Jews, they are enterprising people who are dispersed around the world.
It was a fortuitous choice. Originally published by a small Christian publisher that went out of business, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter is now being republished as a Basque Original by the Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, Reno with funds from the Basque government. I am delighted to be able to tell the story of the Basques.
How has God used the message of your book in your own life?
I had hard feeling about my mother’s secretiveness and prevarication. There was so much I didn’t understand about her crippling fear. Writing this book allowed me to see things from her perspective, to acknowledge her right to keep her secrets, and to forgive her. I realized that I had the privilege of growing up in relative safety. She did not.
How do you share Christ in your writing?
My writing is seeded with the mystery of Christ. Small instances of grace that my characters may or may not recognize are moments I hope my readers will savor. In The Sheep Walker’s Daughter Father Mike offers a picture of Christ. The best pastors I know don’t force the answers—they help people frame the questions that will lead them to discover spiritual truth for themselves. Father Mike is a gentle Jesus who challenges Dee’s assumptions and gains her trust.
How has being a writer impacted your relationship with Christ?
Writing is, and always has been, my prayer. It is the way I work out my faith with fear and trembling. The questions I lead my readers to ask are the questions I ask. Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, and the door will be opened. Not all of my characters will choose to walk through the door, but they all search. I love them for that. Writing novels has deepened my faith in God and my compassion for people who struggle with faith.
Why do you write historical fiction?
Honestly, I chose to write historical fiction because I didn’t want to deal with the technology that has become so much a part of contemporary life. I want my characters to converse and touch each other, not friend and tweet each other. And I must confess, historical fiction is a blind for literary fiction. At heart, I’m a classicist. I love nuance, subtlety, metaphor, and poetry. I don’t want to shock Broca (a buzz word for stimulating the area of the brain that keeps people reading) as much as I want to touch hearts and offer hope.
What ministries are you involved in, and why?
Music. I sing on a praise team in a small mountain church in California. I’m a recovering choral singer who loves the poetry and discipline of music. But six months out of the year, God pulls me out of my comfort zone and puts me behind a microphone with a three other singers, guitarists, and a drummer. The challenge is to invite our congregation into a worship experience in which we choir transplants are still finding our way. We are learning together and experiencing a movement of the Holy Spirit that is all too easy to close off.
The other six months of the year, I robe up and sing in a fifty-voice church choir in Phoenix, accompanied by a concert pianist. The beauty of these radically different experiences is that they cross-pollinate each other. So I would say that my ministry is to work with the talent God makes available and lead people into a holy worship experience.
Tell us about your favorite library memory.
I love this question. My first real job was Library Page at the Mountain View, CA Public Library. I wheeled a book cart through the stacks and shelved my quota quickly. Then I read all kinds of books surreptitiously. I learned humility every time the very stern Head Librarian pointed to a spot on the floor and ordered me to wipe it clean. I practiced flirting in the stacks with Navy boys from Moffett Field. You can trust a boy you meet in the library, right? Turns out, you can. But my fondest library memory was when, as a child, I handed the librarian the note my mother wrote that allowed me to check out any book I chose, even if it was in the adult section. I read books beyond my understanding, asked questions, and got honest answers. Books were my connection to my mother.
Sydney, please tell us about your next project.
The Trials of Nellie Belle, debuting February 6, 2018, is a family saga about a progressive-era woman who defies convention to make her own way in the world. With age comes wisdom that Nellie tries to pass on to her granddaughter, but Leone will have none of it.
Sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing with us, Sydney.
Writing for Him,