Monday, February 10, 2014

An Interview with William Sirls

Hello everyone! It's the beginning of another exciting week! I have a couple book reviews to catch up on, so I will be bombarding you with posts today! I wanted to start off with reminding you of the giveaway I'm currently hosting. What better way to do that than to interview the author?! Don't forget to enter to win a copy of William's latest book, The Sinner's Garden, here.

Let's give a warm welcome to William Sirls!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
I am a former senior vice president at one of the biggest investment firms in the country turned money launderer turned federal prisoner turned Christian fiction author. I guess you could say that I’m an unfortunate example of what can happen when you use the gifts God has given you for your own good, instead of for his glory, and at the same time, I am also a living and breathing example of his incredible grace and forgiveness. So with that said, I guess I have to say that God must be in prison because that’s where so many people seem to meet him. The first time I heard that phrase was well over ten years ago, and as funny as it seemed at the time, it’s amazing how much the meaning of that line has changed for me over the last few years, because my journey to Christ pretty much began sitting in a federal courtroom back in 2007.

At the time, I was one of those guys that was one person on Sunday and somebody entirely different Monday through Saturday. I only talked to God when I needed something, and believe me, when you are looking at 46-57 months and are about to be sentenced by a federal judge for charges of wire fraud and money laundering, it’s a good time to start talking to God. I can clearly remember closing my eyes and saying, “God, I’ll do whatever it takes … please keep me out of prison … put it in this judge’s heart just this one time to give me probation … triple my fine … triple my restitution … please just keep me out of prison and give me the chance to fix the mess I created.”  So I opened my eyes … and the beautiful thing about it was … in his incredible wisdom and grace, it took God only around ten seconds to answer my prayer.

His answer was no.  

So on December 4, 2007, I was off to The U.S. Penitentiary-Hazelton in the beautiful and snowy mountains of West Virginia to begin my 52-month sentence. To this day, it was the single best thing that ever happened to me because just like a little kid being put in timeout … God wanted me there because something was missing and he knew I had some things to learn.
It’s unfortunate, that by many people’s standards, I was the guy that had everything. I had an incredible family, the big job, the big house, and the big car. But what most people didn’t understand was that I was missing the single most valuable thing any of us could ever have, and even though an incredible price was paid for it, it also happens to be absolutely free, and that’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I love to read and normally go through around 2-3 books per week. I love to play basketball with friends and am also a big fan of walks and hiking where I usually am listening to music from my iPod. Who knows?  Maybe I’ll end up hearing God in my ear buds like Andy does in The Sinners’ Garden.

What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
When I returned from prison and rewrote what would ultimately become The Reason, I was fortunate to have missed the need to hunt for an agent or ever submit my manuscript to a traditional publisher, yet still ended up working with the largest Christian publisher in the world. 

We had originally planned on self-publishing the book, and a few months before the self-published version was going to be released, we were pretty comfortable with the story and decided to print 100 advance copies to create a little pre-release buzz. I then contacted some of the biggest churches in the country and asked if they had any avid readers who would be interested in reading an advance copy of the book and then maybe provide me with feedback.  Once I had permission, I included a letter with each copy sent. In the letter, I introduced myself and provided my phone number and email address, and also mentioned I would greatly appreciate it if the reader would let me know what they thought.  

I didn’t hear anything for a month or so, and I was expecting, at tops, maybe a half a dozen responses. Beyond getting any general feedback, I also wanted to identify recurring themes or concerns readers had so that I could make revisions before the final version of the book was released.
Then I received my first email from a woman out west that said she enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait for it to come out.  It was an awesome feeling. And then I received a phone call from a woman that ran a church bookstore, wanting to know how they could buy it.  Before I knew it, we had around 250 responses from men, women, teenagers, and ministers, sharing how the book affected them in ways that I couldn’t believe, and these responses were so heartwarming that they literally changed the reason I want to continue to write. 

Fortunately, one of those advance copies we made ended up on the desk of a receptionist at Thomas Nelson, and it was her response to the book that resulted in it being passed on to their fiction team. Just before we were to release the self-published version of The Reason, Thomas Nelson picked up the title along with a request for me to write two additional titles. Once again, God has been quite good to me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

What project are you working on now?
I’m currently out in California working on book 3, which will be another fictional story. I’m having a lot of fun writing it and am anxious to get it into the hands of readers.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I still have a hard time considering myself to be a writer and like to think of myself as more of a storyteller. But to answer the question, I really wanted to stay a writer after receiving so much amazing feedback from readers on how The Reason had such an impact on their lives. It was truly an amazing feeling.

If you could pick any other (assuming author was missing word here) to interview, who would it be and why?
Even though he is on the opposite end of the genre planet than I am, I would love to chat with Stephen King. His ability to create believable characters while putting them in stories that range from Carrie to The Green Mile to The Shawshank Redemption truly fascinates me.

Which character in The Sinner's Garden do you connect with the most?
God must be in prison because that’s where so many people seem to meet him. We are both felons that have spent time behind bars, so at the end of the day, I’m a little more close to Gerald Ripley than I normally care to admit.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Have a very specific message that you want to share with readers and make sure each character has a say in it. Also, write your ending first, that way if you get writer’s block, your characters already know where they are going and they will help you write the story.

A little bit of fun!:
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
Tea or coffee? Definitely coffee. I drink too much of it as it is my daily kickstart.
Favorite color? I’m color blind so I’m partial to black
Dogs or Cats? Have had them both and like them both
Favorite Food? Next day spaghetti

Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans?
I would encourage everyone to make “God time” a part of your daily routine. Put him at the center of everything you do and before you know it, your life will change beyond anything you ever imagined.
Thank you so much for stopping by! I have enjoyed getting to know you through Goodreads and working to help you promote your fantastic books!

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of William's latest book, The Sinner's Garden, here.  

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