Thursday, February 15, 2007



Although this is a religious novel, you might better catagorize it as religious thriller, because it's full of action and suspense, drama and intrigue. One of the first things you'll notice in Violent Sands is the author's ability to transport you back in time to ancient Israel under Roman rule. I mean, the novel has been so well researched that you'd think by the descriptions that Mr. Young actually lived there! But all of the description is intertwined into an action packed storyline and you never get the feeling of long winded detail that some writers get into.
Another nice surprise is the action and the character of Barabbas in particular. If you've ever seen Brad Pitt in TROY then you'll get my drift when I say that Barabbas kicks major hiney!! In fact, Young does a magnificient job of portraying the whole group of zealots as hard-as-nails, crafty warriors that even the legions of Rome are hard pressed to deal with.
There's alot to love about this book and those who are already familiar with the brief account of Barabbas in scripture will find this a very interesting tale indeed. It makes you wish there was more on him in the bible, but then again, we might find that his personal story wasn't nearly as interesting as we find it here.
Enough of my yacking...On to the Interview with Author: Sean Young!!

1.) Sean, your novel, Violent Sands, has to be one of the best researched novels I've ever read. Can you give us some insight on your research process, what your most valuable resource for research has been, etc?

Well researched seems to be a common phrase from people who read Violent Sands, which is funny because I didn’t feel like I’d done an inordinate amount of research for the novel at the time. Looking back, I realize that roughly half the time I spent “writing” the book was spent in research rather than actual writing. The exercise taught me how valuable research is and how much it enriches a story. It’s all in the detail. I didn’t only research the period and the historic facts. I honed in on specifics, like what people ate back in the first century and how they told the time.

I spent hours down at my local research library studying ancient Israel ’s geography, climate, architecture, and even wildlife. In one scene, I remember, I had a bunch of bandits lying in wait for one of my main characters and I figured they would use bird-calls to communicate (much like Robin Hood and his merry men J). To that end, I spent hours sourcing a book that listed wildlife species in ancient Palestine . There are actually books devoted entirely to this subject! Who knew? I studied the book and went through its list of birds until I found a likely candidate – a shrike of some sort, if I remember correctly. Once I knew what the bird looked like and what it sounded like, I felt able to write the scene. Knowing your subject well gives you confidence that is reflected on the page. Even if you only use a fraction of all your research, the rest of your effort is far from wasted. It is somehow transferred onto the page through more than mere words. I like to think that’s what happened with Violent Sands.

As to my most valuable resource for Violent Sands, I found my local library had pretty much everything I needed. Its research section had a wealth of information on every aspect of the land, period and culture in question. Almost all of my research for this novel came from that single source. I’ve since learned the joys of internet research. However, the internet can be a double-edged sword. While there are many fantastic resources out there, not all of them are written by experts. You have to choose your resources carefully and cross-reference or double-check every fact. However, that said, it’s an awesome research tool. Just this week, I needed to do some research on Nashville , Tennessee and I found a site that was so well-written, it reflected Music City ’s very soul. By the time I was done, I felt like I’d actually been there.

2.) Would you say that you are a disciplined writer, or just a "when the moments hits" kind of author?

Definitely more of a “when the moment hits” writer. I tend to go through phases. Months might pass when I don’t write a word. For instance, I have a manuscript sixty pages in. It took me two weeks to write those sixty pages, but that was over a year ago. It hasn’t progressed one iota since Feb 2006. I find that’s always the way when I’m starting a new project. I have tons of ideas but, until one of them bites, I do a little research here, a little writing there. And months may pass where I don’t even look at a single manuscript. Then an idea begins to take shape and the hankering to write begins to rise within. When that happens, if I don’t spend hours every day in front of the computer, I become impossible to live with. My wife, Carolyn, is very understanding. When I feel the mood coming on, I warn her that it’s happening. She sends me off to my study & her only interruptions are welcome coffee-refill offers.

3.) How long did it take you to write Violent Sands?

I think it was three years from start to finish. That seems slow but roughly half of that time was spent in research and I was writing only in my spare time.

4.) Do you have a favorite novel?

I have lots of favorites but, if I had to pick one, I think it would be The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. His lead character, Jason Bourne, has to be my favorite character of all time – all the power and sheer ruthlessness of Fleming’s James Bond or Cussler’s Dirk Pitt but with a deep-rooted fear of his own psyche. Matt Damon captured the character perfectly in the movie when he took down two policemen in the park (a scene that isn’t in the book, by the way). It took him a split-second to disarm them and smash them to the ground. And then he stared at them, incapable of explaining how he’d accomplished that feat, and terrified of his own capabilities.

5.) What thing or person do you credit with inspiring the direction of your writing?

Probably my Christian heritage. You know the old rule “write what you know”. I’ve been involved in various churches since as far back as I can remember, so that definitely influences what I write. As to how I write, I’m most influenced by the authors I read. My main influences are Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, John Grisham and Wilbur Smith. I enjoy their stories and style of writing. Suspense / Thriller is my thing. It’s what I like reading and, by extension, what I enjoy writing.

6.) What process did you go through to get the book published and how long did it take you?

How much space do you have on your blog?

It was a long road, filled with potholes of rejection. It took me far longer to get Violent Sands published than it did to write it. As the book has a religious theme, I started with Christian publishers in South Africa . Several rejections later, I turned my attention to US markets. It took me a while to locate relevant publishers and I began to approach them. It was then that I learned that, while I’d written a book with a religious theme, it was not necessarily right for a religious market. Many Christian publishers replied and said that they had enjoyed the story, but that it was too violent for the market in question. It was also too long. I learned the hard way that publishing is all about the numbers. Novels have a ceiling-price and in order to make a book financially viable, you have to keep your page count down to a reasonable amount. I approached bundles of publishers and even more literary agents.

Did you find the process of submission / rejection frustrating?

I suppose it’s always frustrating when you hang your hopes and dreams on a publisher or agent’s reply and then, after three to nine months of waiting, have them come back and say “Thank you for your submission, but…”

However rejection is an occupational hazard for writers. You have to take the positives where you can find them. I consoled myself in the fact that I very seldom got form-letter rejections. Most of the time, the publishers were impressed enough with the novel to come back with a personal note, or even a recommendation of other markets to pursue. In an industry where acquisitions editors have hundreds of submissions on their desk at any given moment, that kind of response is rare and should be appreciated even if the submission is rejected.

7.) What made you decide on Barabbas as the hero in Violent Sands?

I never chose Barabbas – he chose me. I got to thinking about how Barabbas was the first person in history to feel the direct effect of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death. While Jesus’ own followers were running around, still trying to work out what His death meant, Barabbas had already experienced the freedom it was intended to bring in a very tangible way. In that sense, Barabbas is a picture of all of us. The story was birthed out of the character so there was never any question as to who the main character would be. The question went more to “what is Barabbas’ story?”

8.) What is your favorite scene in Violent Sands?

Hmmmm. You want me to go with the crucifixion scene, don’t you? J

But I won’t.

While I like that scene, I don’t believe it’s overly-unique. It simply re-tells a story we’ve heard a thousand times from the perspective of a single person – namely Barabbas.

My favorite scene is also the one that was probably the hardest to write. And it’s my favorite because it was completely honest in its portrayal of character. It’s a fairly unimportant scene in the great scheme of things, where Barabbas and Levi corner Pontius Pilate’s aide on the docks in Caesarea . The man is a worm. We don’t like him much, but he’s a harmless, if irritating, sort. In the scene, Barabbas coerces this individual into offering up some vital information but this leaves Barabbas in a quandary – what to do with the man now? The answer is simple – silence him. As the writer, I found this solution repulsive. It’s certainly not the solution I would seek. Nor do I believe it’s the solution my potential readers would seek and, by extension, potential publishers. There were a lot of sound reasons to write this scene differently. And there was one compelling reason to write it the way I did; it’s what Barabbas would have done. As I wrote that scene, I realized that Barabbas had taken on a life of his own on the page. As the writer, I no longer had any control over his actions (this sounds weird, and it’s probably something only fellow-writers would understand). Like I say, it was tough to write a scene that might alienate many readers (and certainly turned my own stomach to boot) but it was thrilling to realize that my character had life and that he would make his own decisions outside of author agenda.

9.) What is your favorite fan comment or experience?

Someone said Violent Sands reads like Francine Rivers on steroids. I loved that analogy.

Experience? Probably a mail I received from a reader who told me that, while they’re not at all religious, they still rate Violent Sands as one of their favorite books ever. I’ve always felt that Violent Sands appeals more to a “religious” audience. My publisher believed I was wrong but I wasn’t convinced until this reader proved me wrong. It was really nice to learn that the book has managed to breach the chasm between religious and mainstream fiction.

10.) What can we look forward to in the future from Sean Young?

There are a few projects in the pipeline. I currently have one manuscript almost ready to submit. It’s a contemporary thriller with plenty of shoot-outs & a little internet hacking thrown into the mix. The cast comprises a computer billionaire framed for a murder he didn’t commit, a dog-collared priest who can’t get enough Bruce Willis movies and a secret organization hell-bent on destroying global religion as we know it. I have several other ideas in various stages of incompletion, one of which is a sequel to Violent Sands and involves Barabbas’ sons. Takes time though. Coming up with ideas is easy. Getting them down on several hundred pages is the hard part.


No comments: