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Monday, November 5, 2012

Interview With Brenda Sorrels

Welcome to the Willow Tree. Today I have the honor of interviewing the talented writer, Brenda Sorrels, author of The Bachelor Farmers. Welcome Brenda.

            1. What are you currently working on and when do you plan to release next book?

I am currently working on a book entitled: The Way Back ‘Round. It is a story of family and friendship, of a boy who makes an innocent, but terrible choice that haunts him for the rest of his life.

The story begins in the summer of 1937, rural Minnesota, when twelve-year old Jake Frye breaks a promise to his parents that results in a tragedy that shatters his close-knit family. Unable to face his guilt he hops a freight train joining the thousands of other depression era men and boys riding the rails. Fate brings him together with another boy named Franz and they form a friendship as close as brothers.

As they journey through “jungle” camps pitched along the routes to picking fruit in California, cotton in Texas, a Roosevelt Conservation Corps Camp for itinerate men and WWII – they face the ultimate challenge. Will they survive the cold hungry life on the road or be killed by the brutal “Bulls” who patrol the tracks? Will Franz ever marry the red-headed girl he dreams about? Will Jake ever see his family again?

As challenges are met, Jake learns what it takes to survive in an uncertain world, what it means to forgive and ultimately what it means to love. Themes of friendship and family, loss and guilt weave through the story and reinforce the truth that our lives are shaped by the choices we make.

2. Favorite genre?
Both of my books right now are historical fiction. The first one, The Bachelor Farmers is an historical fiction love story also set in rural Minnesota, but in the winter of 1919. I didn’t set out to write historical fiction specifically, it just kind of happened. I wanted to write a love story involving two brothers and one woman and set it in the beauty of Northern Minnesota. When I started researching the area, the time, place, etc., I realized I wanted to write it in that era.

The Way Back ‘Round is also historical fiction, and again, it just worked out that that was the best time and era in which to tell this story.

Someday, I’d like to write a book set in the present time and I have a few ideas written down, but my third book will be a sequel to The Bachelor Farmers, so we’ll have to see what happens after that.

3. What was the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given about writing?

There have been several! I would say the first was: don’t send your work out too soon. When you’re think you’re done, you more than likely still have some work to do. Most first-time writers make this mistake. They are so enthusiastic and anxious to get their work out there, especially after all the time they’ve spent, that they send it out too early and it’s rejected. Even if you’re a self-published author, I would hold back which leads me to the second most important advice I’ve ever gotten. That is: find and editor to work with you. I might say that this is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to do. It could be a friend who knows writing, or a paid professional, but you must have someone who can critique your work and help you edit the manuscript. This person should be unbiased and non-threatening – someone who believes in you!

4. Special spots to write!

I believe that every writer needs a Sacred Space! I even did my first blog posting on it. The title was: A Writer Needs a Sacred Space! I have a nook that I have carved out for myself at home and that is where I do my writing. It is a small space, but it is mine and this is where I have the fewest distractions. Thus far, I have never written with a lap top, though I have taken manuscripts on planes and worked on them by hand when I’m traveling.

5. Favorite Book and Author?

This is a difficult question because there are so many! One of m y all-time favorites though, is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I have read this small volume many times and it was an inspiration when I was writing The Bachelor Farmers. Since then I’ve read some of her other stories and I love them too, especially, The Age of Innocence. I also loved The Old Man and the Seaby Hemingway and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. These are phenomenal classic books. Some modern day books have been The Wifeby Meg Wolitzer (I’ve read others by her but this is my favorite), Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is great and recently I read Open House by Elizabeth Berg and loved that too –especially for dialogue. She does that really well. There are many others though too numerous to list!

6. When did I discover my passion for writing?

I’ve always been a big letter writer, reader and movie lover. I’ve kept journals, written stories, even a children’s book long ago. I attended workshops on books and literature long before I wrote a word of my own. I have always worked and been preoccupied with survival. My first husband died suddenly at a young age and I moved to Los Angeles and began to get into real storytelling there. I learned to analyze scripts, and took adult courses at UCLA. It was a writer-rich environment. Years later I remarried and moved to Dallas. I wanted to write full time and my husband was very supportive, so I’ve been doing it ever since!

7. Beverage or snack when writing?

Hmmmmm….. coffee or tea is nice … I don’t really snack much when I’m writing – I might take a break and grab something for lunch, then go back to work.

8. What inspires you?

Fantastic question and I had to think about this one! I’m visual and detail-oriented, so I love anything to do with nature. Beautiful landscapes, settings, the kind that almost tell a story in themselves and make you wonder what could have gone on there. Like trails that lead … where? What’s behind the grove or trees or on the other side of that mountain or around the curve on the beach? Who would be there – what would they be doing and why would they be there … I can make up a lot of stories just being in beautiful and interesting places. The sense of place in The Bachelor Farmers is very strong and is a huge part of the story. The freezing cold, winter landscape of Northern Minnesota is on every page.

I’m also inspired by stories of people and how they overcame certain obstacles, etc. A few weeks ago we were at a football game and an old friend showed up with his year-old grandson who he and his wife are helping to raise. It was a joy to watch them together. I thought it was truly amazing that this man (who used to be a jock football player) with this young child doing everything himself, the sippy cup, the snacks, the diapers – all of it. He was so good at it. It was heartwarming to watch them together.

9. Favorite vacation destination?

A big yes to this question. I have lived in Connecticut for over twenty-five years and when I married and moved to Texas we kept my house up there in a small, rural town. Since then it has become our family vacation spot. I go up there for several months a year – in the summers when it’s too hot in Dallas – and that’s where I do a lot of my writing as well. It’s beautiful and quiet – the New England landscape is truly inspiring and it’s a wonderful place for ideas to spring forth.

10. Advice for other writers? I write an article once called How I Wrote a Book and you can still read it on my blog at

It’s not long, but I cover what I went through in order to launch my first book, The Bachelor Farmers. Again the most valuable advice was what I’ve already mentioned – work with an editor and don’t send work out too soon. It’s important not only to be patient with yourself, believe in what you’re doing but to also protect yourself. You can do that by being careful who you show your work to, especially in the beginning. You want someone you can trust, who will be honest and objective but will never put you down no matter how bad your writing is! Writing can and will improve the more you do it!

11. Final thoughts?

I once heard a famous author interviewed on NPR and they asked him what he thought it took to become a successful writer. He said:

1. Do you like to work alone? Because writers spend LOTS of time alone …

2. Can you take rejection? There will be a LOTS of rejection, that’s the nature of any artistic endeavor, which writing is.

3. Do you have twenty years? This means – do you and are you willing to invest the time because writing is not something that happens quickly. There are always the over-night flukes, but for the majority of writers, it is a long process that becomes their life.

            If you're thinking about becoming a writner, these are worth contemplating!  

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