Joining us today is author Sunshine Somerville. Sunshine is the author of the Dark Christian Sci-Fi series The Kota. The first novel presents an interesting journey into a very dark future where ancient prophecy, a devastating virus and faith all come together.
Both the sub-genre and the inspiration for Kota make for an interesting tale. To explain both, let’s get right to the discussion by answering the question we are all most interested in:
WIDW: Okay let’s just dispense with it – your name is Sunshine so I’m guessing your parents were hippies?
Sunshine: Ha! My dad always says that they weren’t hippies, they just thought they were cool. But, as you can imagine, I get asked that a lot.
WIDW: Well my daughter’s name is Golden and I am a Generation Xer so I agree your parents are probably just cool. Now I read somewhere on Good Reads that your writing is “Dark Christian Fiction” can you help a pagan out and explain what that means and how it differs from say your run-of-the-mill Christian fiction?
Sunshine: It’s such a weird little genre I’ve niched myself into – dark Christian Sci-Fi. It’s only recently that I’ve become comfortable labeling my series in the “Christian” genre at all because it’s such a subtle aspect of my series, but it IS there and is the underlying philosophy to the whole story, so I felt I had to openly acknowledge it. I think more typical Christian fiction makes the Christian aspects more obvious – characters being Christians by name, talking about Jesus, using the salvation of a character as a main plot point. Because my series is in a Sci-Fi realm, I wanted to play with a more subtle integration of religion/faith and explore how that would actually work in a futuristic world. There are hints to what specific religion the Kota follow, but I never use the word Christianity – I wanted readers who aren’t a part of that background to be able to relate to these people without immediately bringing a whole lot of baggage into it.
Another way I think my series differs is that it’s really dark, really violent, I swear a lot, and I like gray areas with my characters – my good guys are sometimes quite awful. As a reader, I don’t like characters who never doubt, never make mistakes, or just have a blind “trust in Jesus” approach. I’m not saying ALL Christian fiction does those things, but there’s a lot of it out there. Personally, I find seriously flawed characters more relatable. Also, I think a lot of Christian fiction waters down darkness, evil, danger, and the grit of reality. That’s just not relatable to me either or a believable portrayal of the world. If you want to show a world that’s bad and in need of any kind of “salvation,” then you have to make that world really bad, really dark, I think.
WIDW: I think that makes sense and it reminds me of the movie Passion of the Christ – The reality of those final moments compared to the Sunday school versions I learned. So the inspiration for the story comes from a childhood game. We used to play army and secret agents how did you ever come up with this idea?
Sunshine: We were weirdo little kids. I think that everything we were watching and reading at the time affected our playtime, so it became a mash-up of X-Men, Wrinkle in Time, Narnia, Willow, Star Wars, etc. etc. I think all kids grow their imaginations in that way, but we took it to this extreme where we would stop what we were playing if we didn’t like the direction the plot was going, and we’d feed each other lines. Our OCD tendencies helped me later on when I was writing this story because I had folders and folders full of characters that we’d drawn with stats and back-stories scribbled all over the pages.
WIDW: As of this writing I am just into the first part of the book – but which character did you “play” and did that experience influence the character?
Sunshine: Ha. Oh, poor Bullseye. All four of the Warriors are in many ways similar to their real life alter egos (myself, my brother, and our two friends who played The Kota), but I definitely took the most out of myself and put it into Bullseye. It’s really cathartic to be able to do that psychologically, but I also put in more fun quirks like loving rooftops, constantly being barefoot, smirking, etc. There are several little gems in Bullseye’s character that are equally amusing and horrifying for people who know me. As for how we played, I was always very much The Leader (translation, bossy), and that underlying sense of responsibility is a big part of the character.
WIDW: No doubt that the Left Behind Series did much for main-streaming Christian Fiction, do you think such works help or hurt the spreading of faith?
Sunshine: I think the Left Behind Series in particular got a little out of control. There are, what, 16 books?! I never particularly like anything that uses scare tactics to bring people to faith.
WIDW: Yes something like 16 books, I’m concerned the authors won’t finish before we actually reach the end of times. But there are benefits to such a popular series right?
Sunshine: Yes, I believe any Christian work that goes that big at least draws attention and raises questions. At the very least, such works are good for opening up dialogue about faith. I know anything about “The End Times” in particular can make us sound like crazy people, and extreme, judgmental views of course can hurt the spreading of faith. There are a lot of Christian voices that make us sound like crazy people, and I think any “bad” Christian example should be an opportunity for the rest of us to speak up and point out what we’re actually supposed to be all about.
WIDW: I find it interesting that if the person on the street is shouting about the end of days they are “crazy” but so many of us will pony up ten bucks for any movie on the topic. Which brings up my next question – A writer has to appease certain expectations when working in a genre and in some ways those expectations can be limitations. Are there certain expectations in Dark Christian Fiction that limit your creativity?
Sunshine: A big part of why I self-published was because I knew my series wouldn’t be seen as fitting for a general Christian market. I didn’t want to compromise how I told my story. I’m not saying I’m better than the typical Christian Fiction out there, but my series is just darker and different in a way that I would probably have to change if I wanted to completely fit in. In the original version of book 1, I left out a lot of violence and a lot of swearing, for example, so that my Christian audience would be okay with it. But it just wasn’t telling the whole story that way. So, for the expanded version, I slapped all that back in.
WIDW: Is there anything that you would consider completely off limits as either an author or a Christian?
Sunshine: For me, I think making absolute belief statements is off limits. I am a Christian, and I do have very definite beliefs about God and faith, but I certainly don’t know everything. Or even close to everything. As an author, I would hate to put anything in print that overstepped my bounds. I think there’s a particular challenge for Christians to be humble and not act like we have it all together. So, I would say that absolute judgment on any specific people group would be off limits, because I don’t know individuals who I might be offending, and I might be wrong.
WIDW: Any quirky writing habits you’d like to share? – you can be honest we can keep a secret around here.
Sunshine: Hmmm… I keep a “throwing book” nearby for frustration emergencies. If something is just not coming together and it’s driving me nuts, I like to take it out on “Poetic Meter & Poetic Form,” which was my least favorite textbook from college.
WIDW: Although I’m certain women understand men better than men understand women, were there any challenges in choosing a male protagonist?
Sunshine: I assume you mean Trok. I’ve actually always related to men better than women, as I grew up on my family’s hunt club and so was surrounded by men constantly. However, it is always a trick to get into anyone’s head, and trying to figure out how a character of the opposite gender would react is a fun challenge. I think the hardest thing is understanding how a man deals with any kind of power. Women have very different reactions to power, I think. Even Trok’s power-struggle with his brother was something that I had to kind of step outside of myself to approach “like a man.”
WIDW: You majored in English, so I’m certain you were exposed to many types of writing styles, whose style most influenced your own writing?
Sunshine: I think C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle did the most for shaping how I approach storytelling in general – specifically in the Christian Fiction realm. As for style, I think everyone starts out by kind of copying their favorites until they find their own voice, and I definitely was influenced by Orson Scott Card (…not that I agree with the man in real life, but his storytelling is amazing). I’ve always liked how unhurried his stories feel and how he lets himself wander a bit to explore his characters more deeply – this can result in long paragraphs of description or discussion, but I like the weight of it. And his dialogue is great, which I think is always important, and there’s a general playfulness to it that interests me.
WIDW: Some books make writers think, “Darn I wish I had written that.” If you could turn back the clock and write one author’s novel, which would it be?
Sunshine: I’m a big fan of The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. It’s one of few books that I’ve finished and thought, “Man, I hate this guy,” because it’s just so unique and smart and good. And I’m not entirely sure what’s going on at the end, which is rare for me and made me like it all the more.
WIDW: What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Sunshine: Knowing when to be done. You can go on tinkering with a book forever because nothing is ever going to be perfect – you’ll always think of SOMETHING new or that you’d like to change. It’s really hard to walk away and move on to a new thing. And since I’ve been tinkering with this story since I was nine, it was especially hard to cut myself off and let it be.
WIDW: Female readers are driving book sales and female authors are getting much attention. While that is a great thing, it makes for a lot of competition. What is your strategy for making Sunshine Somerville a household name?
Sunshine: I’m quite thrilled about how female authors have been succeeding lately. I don’t know if that makes competition any harder than it would be if I was just competing with the boys. I think it helps me that a lot of other female authors are writing books that are just as dark and serious as anything by Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, etc. etc. We’re taken more seriously as a whole, I think, and it gives me something to compare myself to. Books like The Hunger Games give me some hope that I have an audience at all, for example, because if THAT isn’t too dark, then I shouldn’t be either. As for how I’m different, I think being in the weird niche genre of Christian Sci-Fi helps me because there’s not another story that weaves religion/faith into a story of superheroes, time-travel, and zombies like mine does. And I can’t think of anything else that turns the Light vs. Dark “allegory” into a scientific “what-if” either. I really feel like I get to play with the best mix of everything that interests me, and hopefully other people find that interesting and maybe walk away with a deeper understanding of how I think the world works.
WIDW: Most Indie novelist have a back-up plan for their careers although we will probably never stop writing- Does Sunshine have a backup plan?
Sunshine: Oh, I always joke that I got a degree for my hobby, so I’ve always tried to have a realistic view of how far this childhood story would take me. Fortunately my day job as a medical transcriptionist gives me a lot of free time to write, since I work from home. It’s kind of a win-win that keeps me affording food and also gives me time to write.
WIDW: Where can the readers find you?
Website – www.sunshinesomerville.com
Twitter – @kynacoba
Blog – www.sunshinesomerville.com
Facebook – The Kota Series
WIDW: Again thank you for stopping by and spending some time with us. Kota is available through Amazon. As Independent Authors, one of the most important things we can do for our business is to support other independent authors. Sunshine Somerville’s success will just add further proof to my belief that within the Indie market are writers the world wants to read.
About The Kota – Book 1
The future is an ugly place, but we are not left without hope. Still, what is society supposed to make of ancient prophecies, Warrior children, swirling Signals, time-traveling Bearers, and an inescapable Virus? For Trok, these Kota prophecies mean little until the day comes when he is called to be the Marked children’s guardian. With Trok’s guidance, these four children must answer destiny’s call to fight the Dominion, an evil tyranny controlling the virus. Watching through time, Trok sees the bigger purpose behind all that happens, but how everything comes together surprises even him
Categories: IAI - Indie Author Interviews