Sonny Miller is tired of not knowing who she is. Soon she’ll begin graduate school to earn her masters in Psychology. But how can she counsel future clients about their identities when she isn’t even sure about her own? To that end she has cooked up a little meeting at a certain beach house in San Diego.
Sonny’s mother, classical soprano Teresa Miller, isn’t aware she’s about to be reunited at the beach house with her sister, Melanie Hines, after 25 years of estrangement. And Sonny isn’t aware her mother has invited a surprise guest of her own. Russian adoptee, Irina Petrova, finds herself dragged along on a trip so tumultuous she summons her handsome concert violinist brother for moral support.
The four women converge on the funky little beach house in San Diego, each with her own disappointments and hopes about family, identity, and love. For Sonny, the trip reveals all she expected and more than she ever dreamed.
Award-winning novelist Trish Perry has written Sunset Beach (2009), Beach Dreams (2008), Too Good to Be True (2007), and The Guy I’m Not Dating (2006), all for Harvest House Publishers. She writes a monthly column, “Real Life is Stranger,” for Christian Fiction Online Magazine. She was editor of Ink and the Spirit, the newsletter of Washington D.C.’s Capital Christian Writers organization (CCW), for seven years. Before her novels, Perry published numerous short stories, essays, devotionals, and poetry in Christian and general market media.
Perry holds a B.A. in Psychology, was a 1980s stockbroker, and held positions at the Securities and Exchange Commission and in several Washington law firms. She serves on the Board of Directors of CCW and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers group and Romance Writers of America. Perry lives in Northern Virginia with her teenaged son.
Learn more about Trish at http://www.trishperry.com.
Tell me a little bit about your background and your family.
I’m the middle child; middle girl. I was raised as one of five kids by my British mum and my WWII Air Force vet dad. I lived in Newfoundland (Canada), California, Colorado, and finally Virginia, which I’ve called home for the greater part of my life. I love it here. Most of my family still resides in Virginia, which is a bonus.
My late sister lived a rough lifetime of medical problems, which had a distinct bearing on our family lifestyle and our sensibilities toward the hardships of others. Her eventual death may have been a blessed relief for her, but it was a huge loss for us. The loss is what brought me to the Lord.
Both of my children are believers, which brings me such peace. I have a 29-year-old daughter, who is one of the coolest, smartest, most intuitive women I know. She’s blessed me with a remarkable grandson, now five. And my 16-year-old son is brilliant and funny, and he tells me daily that I’m weird (but I can hear the “I love you” in there when he says it).
What do you like to do in your spare time? Hobbies?
Novels and films are constants in my life; if I’m home and not working, I’m usually absorbed by one of those. I love good stories. I enjoy varied styles of music. I love to sing and served on my church’s worship team until my writing schedule got so busy. I still serenade the neighbors on occasion, whether they want me to or not. I’m a self-admitted former disco queen, and I still love to dance. And I make sure to get together with girlfriends at least once a week. Socializing, dining, and laughing—it’s like having your batteries charged!
If you could vacation any where in the world, where would you be and why?
I’d love to take a tour of Europe, both the touristy spots and the secret, unblemished spots. I’ve never given great thought to why Europe draws me more than other parts of the world. But I suppose the fact that my heritage is rooted in Europe makes it more appealing to me. And I’m spoiled, to an extent, by the creature comforts of the U.S. I love learning about life in the other continents, but I’m not a roughin’ it kinda gal. I’m not proud of that, but I’m absolutely aware of it!
What has God been teaching you lately?
I’ve been blown away by how clearly He forgives my weaknesses. Things have occurred in my life over the past 18 months for which (right or wrong) I carried a burden of guilt. You know, that feeling of “how did I contribute to this mess?” Yet He has blessed me so abundantly in the midst of my feelings of conviction, that He amazes me daily with His obvious love. The blessings keep me humbly aware of how much I need Him. And they instill in me such a strong desire to serve Him and to follow His guidance and will.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I probably wanted to be an actor when I was a child. I memorized dialogue, imagined scenes, and studied actresses I admired. But I never went out for Drama in school. I was horribly shy and couldn’t imagine auditioning for anything. Still, I was well served by my obsession with dialogue and the visual exercises of creating scenes in my mind. Sometimes I still come up with my scenes and dialogue by simply visualizing them on screen or acting them out with imaginary characters. I try to keep these antics private, of course. I’d be in big trouble on one of those Big Brother type of reality shows.
How did you get involved in writing?
I dabbled with writing on and off when I was a kid, but I didn’t feel the great calling I hear other novelists describe. I didn’t get the itch until I went back to school as an adult. I planned to become a psychological counselor, but my English professors kept giving me wonderful feedback on the writing exercises I did for them, and I realized I liked opening up that right hemisphere and pouring out the ideas. By the time I got my B.A., I decided to skip the doctorate program and focus on writing and getting published.
What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Being disciplined enough, especially at the beginning of a project, to just sit here at the computer and do it. I’m always amazed, once I’ve put something up there, how easy it is to make it better. If you have something to work with, you’re halfway there. So I’m trying to be better about the beginning of a project—not to over think it before I start.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?
I love writing dialogue. What a control freak’s dream, to have control over what everyone says, including the antagonist. If only life were that easy, LOL! But truly, sometimes a scene simply shapes itself right before my eyes when the characters are engaged in dialogue. I don’t know quite what will be expressed sometimes, and I love it when it flows even faster than I seem to be able to think it.
How do you find time to write?
At the moment I’m blessed to not have to work an outside job, but I expect that to change in the next year or so. Still, I have to deliberately keep my schedule focused first on writing. Sometimes it feels as if I have the time to get back into the worship team at church or to beef up my social commitments. But I’ve learned to avoid putting too much on my plate, and it has resulted in my finding enough time to get my writing done. My son is now 16 and just got his driver’s license, so that has freed up some time for me as well. I’d actually like to write more than I do, so I guard against throwing my time away.
When you write do you generally know where you’re headed or are you sometimes as surprised as your characters about the way things end?
There is always surprise, no matter how well I plan out a book’s progress. I was just talking with my editor about that the other day, the fact that the initial summary I write might change a bit as events unfold around my protagonist. I think that’s happened with every book I’ve written. I typically write a summary, which tells me generally where the story will go, and then I write a sentence or two per chapter idea, and then I start hammering away on Chapter One. As I write actual chapters, the events between “Once upon a time” and “The End” evolve in more significant ways than I expected in the first place. It’s an exciting process!
Tell me about your road to publication.
I didn’t know what kind of writing I wanted to pursue when I first started to write seriously. So I read Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines and joined the Writer’s Digest Book Club. I bought a ridiculous number of books about writing and poured over them. I took Creative Writing courses while I worked on my Psych degree—the workshopping alone was excellent training for skin thickening. I joined a local writing organization and hung out with other writers. I started submitting poetry and personal essays to small publications. I experienced plenty of rejection and kept trying. I wrote several short stories and eventually realized I wanted to write a novel. So I read several books about novel writing. And I read a lot of novels! While I worked on my first novel, I continued to submit smaller pieces, and I started publishing. I joined a small critique group.
The above actions took me years, and I still hadn’t submitted a novel for publication (or rejection). This is a long road, but it’s best to just put one foot in front of the other and not worry about the length of the journey.
I entered writing contests, and one of them led to my finding representation by my fantastic agent, Tamela Hancock Murray. Mind you, this was representation for my second novel. Once Tamela started representing me, it was a matter of months before she got me a two-book contract. The contract did not include my first manuscript—that baby still sits at home and may never see publication. But it was all part of the journey.
What would you say to someone who wants to become a published author?
Give the endeavor to God first. And daily. When doubts arise (and they will), you must be able to fall back on the knowledge that your efforts are for Him. And know that He will never show you the way by crushing your efforts with rejection and desolation. If He wants you to do something other than writing, He’ll lovingly draw you to that other endeavor.
That said, take all the practical steps to learn the craft and the business. Read (both how-to’s and novels), write, network, and submit. Over and over again.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
The setting (the funky little house on Mission Beach) and time frame (one or two weeks’ time) were already established for me by my publisher. All of the books in The Beach House series fall within those parameters. But the characters and their stories formulated over time. First I dreamed up Sonny—a young woman who had lived her entire life devoid of details about her family background, thanks to her secretive mother. Sonny had reached a point where she wanted to take control of her own life. Her mother was the barrier to that, so Sonny needed to both go around her mother and barrel headlong towards her. The hidden details about Sonny’s past arose as I created each new character. Even though my own family is close and forthcoming about our family history, there have always been fuzzy areas about which I’ve wanted to know more. I imagined how difficult it would be if your entire family history were fuzzy. I know I’d be compelled to act as Sonny did.
What are the major themes of the book?
My books always end up having a broad overall theme of the importance of seeking God’s guidance in everything. That’s never been deliberate—that’s just the way my stories work out. But for Sunset Beach, the most important theme entails our personal identities and how we determine them. Upon whom, or what, do we base our beliefs about who we are, what we’re worth, what our purpose in life is? A subtheme in the book has to do with the struggle to approach romance and passion appropriately. I think that’s a tough one for every single person I know, and it brings us right back to that whole seeking-God’s-guidance-in-everything theme.
What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
For the setting, I had already done quite a bit of research on Mission Beach and Pacific Beach for my previous book, Beach Dreams. And I read both of Sally John’s books in the series, which were the best research material I could ask for. But for Sunset Beach, I wanted to branch out some, so I sought help from friends from the surrounding areas and businesses that operated in San Diego and elsewhere in California. Also I was blessed by coming across a fellow writer who was able to answer my questions about Russian orphanages, which I coupled with online research. Finally, with regard to the psychological aspects of the story, I leaned on my own education, my textbooks, and on research available through various psychological studies and educational sites online. I’m not a fan of research, but those particular searches were fun.
With which character do you, personally, identify most and why?
Although we’re nothing like each other, I’d have to say I empathized the most with Sonny. As I mentioned above, I shudder at the idea of being in the dark about all of your family members, including your own father. I don’t identify with the questions Sonny had, but I can certainly imagine them. And the fact that Sonny got her degree in Psychology, of course, is the closest tie I have with her. Knowing how little I know with a B.A. (versus graduate education and years of actual practice), I had fun making Sonny charge forth as if she thought she could cure her family’s woes. She certainly had her heart in the right place, but her methods were slightly half baked.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
First, I hope they’ll find the book entertaining. I want them to enjoy Sonny’s journey and the way her discoveries uncover secrets and feelings for the people around her. I hope they’ll be amused, but only when I mean them to be! On a grander scale, I hope readers will be touched by the whole issue of personal identity and how God factors into that. I never want to write a preachy book—but I certainly enjoy hearing when my books are inspiring. My prayer before every book I write is that God will give me the story someone somewhere needs to read in order to feel more of what He wants them to feel. Then I leave it up to Him.
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