Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome William Sirls, author of The Sinners’ Garden (Thomas Nelson), to Dreams Coming True! Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Sinners’ Garden! Tell us a little about yourself, William:
I’m a former senior vice president at a large investment firm-turned money launderer-turned federal prisoner-turned author of Christian Fiction. You could definitely 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. Fortunately, I’m also living and breathing proof of His grace and forgiveness.
When did this creative dream begin?
Though it didn’t come out until 2012, I was inspired to write the original version of my first novel, The Reason, back in early 2004, which on the surface was a pretty difficult time in my life. I had just gone through a divorce and was in the middle of some activities that were hurting a lot of good people—activities that would ultimately lead me to federal prison. I remember walking down a hallway at a hospital up in Detroit to visit my oldest daughter who had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and I was pretty much drowning in my own pity party when I came across a young couple, probably in their late twenties, pulling their son in a little red wagon. I’m guessing the little boy was around three years old, he had lost his hair, was very thin and frail, and he had that gray and ashen look that suggested the end was near. For me, it was one of those rare moments in life where you realize that your problems aren’t as bad as you think, and while I was trying to fathom the amount of stress that family was going through, the little boy looked up and smiled at his parents and they smiled back. To me it was one of the most beautiful exchanges I had ever seen, and something inside of me wanted to find a way to make those smiles last, because in so many cases, particularly in cases like that, they don’t. After a bit of soul searching, the only way I could think of to keep those smiles going was to write about it.
How did this project/idea get started?
Over the next couple of years as I continued to head down the wrong road in life and continued to hurt everyone around me, I had somehow, in the middle of all that destruction, managed to scribble around a thousand pages about a “magical” character that shows up at a hospital in a small Michigan town to fix things . . . and to make smiles last.
What makes your writing stand out from the crowd?
Prison is one of those experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but at the same time, there are few things I would trade the experience for, because from a spiritual standpoint, it gave me the opportunity to slow down and realize what is important. As my faith grew, I became increasingly anxious to share some of the things I learned involving faith, grace, forgiveness, and most importantly, realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around William Sirls. At the same time, I didn’t want to come across as some religious jailhouse lunatic, so I figured my best way to share these lessons would be by sprinkling them amongst characters in that story I had written and make it a lot less “magical” and a lot more “spiritual.”
What are the goals and intentions of your writing?
Obviously, all authors want to entertain readers, but in my case, particularly as an author with a checkered past, it’s extremely important to me that when readers are done with my books, they feel closer to God. Beyond that, I also thought it would be pretty cool if one of my books served as some sort of icebreaker for those awkward “religious” conversations that so many of us are afraid to have with people around us. I think it’s too bad that less than ten percent of Christians offer their testimony to friends and it’s equally unfortunate that when we just mention “Jesus” or “the Bible,” people sometimes cringe or want to leave the room. Though there is no substitute for the Bible, it would be an honor if a reader passed one of my books on to a friend that was a non-believer or even someone that was “on the fence” with their faith. Hopefully, when that friend was finished, a conversation could be had about the book and maybe that little chat could be an ice breaker into a conversation about the Bible and how Christ can make a difference in someone’s life.
How do your books create community?
During our lives, all of us have been wronged in some way and at the same time, we also have wronged someone else. In too many cases, we allow the baggage and hurt of these past incidents to destroy the present, and that is not how God wants us to live. In both The Reason and The Sinners’ Garden, I did my best to portray believable and down to earth characters that deal with past hurts while finding their separate ways to do what I believe is the single greatest thing any of us can do for both ourselves and for others, and that is to forgive.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly…but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Stay focused and keep the end in mind. Projects as a whole are sometimes overwhelming, but if knocked down into daily bite-size pieces, they are much more manageable.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your writing process. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributor have a specific role?
It’s fun watching stories come together, and my books are team efforts with so many people involved that play lots of different roles. I’m fortunate to work with a great publisher, talented editors, and an amazing group of friends that offer feedback on whatever it is I’m working on. I’m fortunate to have all these people in my life and I couldn’t be more thankful.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
Everybody has an idea, but we all have to get off the couch and take action. It’s only then that our ideas become something. With that said, I guess the toughest part for me in writing a book is getting that ever elusive first word on that first page. Once I get that can of words open and get the first word out, it’s easier for the rest to follow.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
Readers are always surprising me with their amazing responses to the books. Also, having The Reason hit #1 on Nook, #1 in England, and recently being named “Best Debut Author” at Eden were pleasant surprises as well. God has been too good to me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project?
I think new writers rarely understand the work that goes into a book. I also think many of them have a hard time keeping realistic expectations about the commercial success of their work. Everybody wants to be a New York Times Bestseller, but our first goals should be sharing the right message with readers while trying to please God. If we do those two things, rarely will we be disappointed.
Once again, I’m blessed to have a great publisher, an amazing base of readers, and a large group of bloggers that help promote my work. Beyond that I use pretty much all of the social media out there to connect with existing and potential readers.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I waited too long to start developing my social media and never put a whole lot of work into until after The Reason first came out. I’m fortunate to have developed a lot of followers on Facebook and Twitter, followers who also share my work which creates even more followers.
What social network has worked best for you?
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Read a lot, write a lot, build a social media platform right now, keep your goals realistic, and try to share something with your readers that will make a difference in their lives.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your creative dream, but nobody has?
“If you can do it, could anybody?”
Yes . . . just put God at the center of everything right now and watch what happens!
How can we find your creative dream come true?
More About William:
Over the course of his life, William Sirls has experienced both great highs and tremendous lows—some born of chance, some born of choice. Once a senior vice president at a major investment firm, he was incarcerated in 2007 for wire fraud and money laundering, where he learned a great deal more than he ever bargained for. Life lessons involving faith, grace, and forgiveness are evident in his writing. His first novel, The Reason, was published in 2012. The Sinners’ Garden is his second novel. He is the father of two and makes his home in southern Michigan.