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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

From the back of the book:

From the back cover of The Summer of Hammers & Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky:

Delia’s summer is getting off to a terrible start. First, an inspector shows up at the house and threatens to condemn it. Then lightning strikes, literally, and Mama ends up in the hospital. To make matters even worse, with no other family to speak of, Delia is forced to move in with her nemesis, Tommy “as-dense-as-a-stump” Parker.

 Not one to sit around doing nothing, Delia huddles with her best friend, Mae, and reluctantly recruits Tommy, to help. The three of them resolve to tackle the long list of repairs, one by one. But Delia quickly discovers that it takes more than energy and willingness to handle some problems. When things go from bad to worse, Delia has to take another tack, one that starts with admitting she just can’t do what needs to be done without a lot more help.

Just do it! With apologies to Nike, that slogan might also describe Shannon Wiersbitzky’s advice to any of you would-be writers out with a story in your heart.  Maybe it’s time you put in on paper too. I recently chatted with the 42-year-old institutional marketing executive/wife and mother about how she hammered out a new career as an author. The Summer of Hammers and Angels, her first book, is pure fiction in the best sense of the term. But, like most successful authors, she draws on aspects of her own life to create her tale — things like growing up in West Virginia and the sense of community she felt volunteering Habitat for Humanity as a young woman. A portion of her book proceeds, BTW, are going toward supporting the organization which describes itself as a “nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that has helped to build over 500,000 decent, affordable houses and served 2.5 million people worldwide.”

Speaking of giving, she’s also offered to give a signed copy of her book to the first reader who writes me at john@jwkmedia.

My interview with Shannon appears below.  But, first, here’s what I recently wrote about her book:

The Summer of Hammers & Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky
This first novel by Shannon Wiersbitzky is a heartfelt story of a small-town girl desperately trying to keep herself together while, at the same time, keeping her house from being condemned after a serious storm sends her mother to the hospital in a coma.  The resulting events speak to the importance of friendships, community and faith.

Sentimental? Yeah — but not falsely so. The characters of the fictional Tucker’s Ferry, West Virginia ring true to me. And the story is told with a deft combination of wit and heart.

JWK: What inspired you to get into the novel-writing business?

SHANNON WIERSBITZKY: I have always loved stories and always loved writing but never thought about doing it as a career. My career path has gone off in its own direction and, honestly, once I had children I started thinking about writing again. Probably some of it was a little bit of time off for maternity leave.

JWK: Do you work outside the home?

SW: I’m the head of institutional marketing for Vanguard, a financial services company.  Totally different!

JWK: From that to writing. You certainly exercise another part of your brain there.

SW: Exactly. A lot of my career – in fact all of my career — I’ve been very analytical.  I think in some ways it was the same. It was telling stories about data and over time I said “Wow, I really need to find a creative outlet just to tell stories that don’t come from data…I’m 42. I started writing again roughly when I was 30 and really got serious about it in my late thirties.  You know, where I said “Hey, I actually think I can be successful publishing a book!”

 JWK: Why this particular story? Is it based on your own West Virginia memories?

SW: I think it definitely ties to some of my memories. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents during the summer. They lived in West Virginia.  My summer vacations were at my grandma’s house. I think the other component that really inspired the story, as often stories are inspired that things that happened to you a long time ago, was work that I had done as a teenager for Habitat for Humanity and this sense of “Wow, what can a group accomplish together when they put their mind to it (to) help somebody else?” And I really wanted  to be able to convey that feeling through a story. So, even though it doesn’t include Habitat exactly, that same sense of community coming together and helping (does come through).

JWK: Well, seeing as the plot of your story concerns renovating a house, I guess your Habitat experience helped on the technical end. At least you knew something about working on a house.

SW: Yeah, except that, you know, when (I) get brought into  those  things I always feel like you have very meager skills to contribute. I was like I can cook.

JWK: How’d the plot come to you?

SW: I think all of these different threads of the story wove themselves together, if that makes sense.  Literally, one day I had left a writing conference and was driving down the highway and the main character just began speaking to me. I could hear her voice and her story was just there. In the background somewhere, I had been tying it all together.

JWK: It’s a very gentle and kind story — more Hallmark Hall of Fame than Fifty Shades of Grey. Are you drawn to these kinds of compassionate stories.

SW: Yeah, exactly. I think I do have a natural inclination to language that is lyrical, to stories that speak to the heart.  I couldn’t write something extremely edgy. That just isn’t my experience with life.

JWK: What do you hope your readers get out of this book?

SW: I hope that folks would see – and kids would say – that “I can make a difference,” you know, the world can be a better place if we all work together. It sounds so idealistic but, you know, it’s true.

JWK: How did you come up with the title?

SW: I have to give my editor credit for that. The original title for my working manuscript was  Hammers, Angels and Fried Chicken and my editor said “That will not work.” He actually came up with the title.

JWK:  Your book is not self published. You somehow got it to the publishing house Namelos. I’m sure new and struggling writers would like to know how you made that happen.

SW: I actually met (my editor) at a Highlights workshop…Stephen Roxburgh, my editor, was the instructor for that particular class and he and I got along really well. As you probably know, because you’re in this kind of industry, having a  connection can be so valuable – when you actually get each others’ sense of humor, you think about things in the same way.  We definitely had that connection.  And so… we kept in touch. He only publishes novels and that workshop had been regarding picture books.  So, he said
“Hey, can you send me a novel of something you’ve  worked on” and so I sent this. I actually had been working on it. I had a draft and that interaction with him inspired me to polish it up  and send it off.

JWK: Do you personally believe in angels and miracles?

SW: I think there are coincidences in life that maybe can’t be explained.  How those things happen, I’m not sure.  I certainly love the idea of some sort of presence or spirit that can exist.

JWK: What’s next? Do you have another book on your mind?

SW: I’ve got a few  in the works, different things. One of them, I wouldn’t says it’s a sequel but it’s a story of the same character but later on in her life.

JWK: Isn’t that a sequel?

SW:  It doesn’t feel like a sequel because you don’t have to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second story.

JWK: How much of you is in the main character of Delia?

SW: I would say that she’s quite me in that she’s stubborn.  But certainly her life experience is not exactly like mine.  I think it’s clearly fictional, although I think some of her spunk and verve people would say is consistent with my personality.

JWK: And you’re donating part of your proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.

SW: It’s definitely something  I’m committed — to essentially tithing my proceeds to the organization that helped inspire me.

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The Summer of Hammers & Angels is available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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