Huge thanks to Shannon Schuren for putting together this post for us today! Her novel, The Virtue of Sin (June 25th, 2019), is a fascinating story about two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in a cult and how they deal with their newfound clarity about their situation as they are thrown into adulthood in the community. It is a novel that portrays the importance of not always taking what people in power say at face value, fighting for equality, and learning to accept others—and oneself—for who they are.
I read The Virtue of Sin a few months ago and it is one of my favorite books of 2019! Shannon has graciously agreed to join me for a Q&A about the novel and her career as a writer. Please make sure to check Shannon out on her website, Twitter, and Goodreads. If you are interested in reading my full, spoiler-free review of The Virtue of Sin, you can find it here!
What inspired you to write The Virtue of Sin?
I’ve always been fascinated by cults and fringe groups, by this idea that someone might give up their freedom and autonomy in their search for meaning and belonging. But the initial spark for this story, specifically, came from a visit to Koreshan State Park in Estero, FL, which was the site of a ‘utopian community’ back in the late 1800’s. So, basically a cult. It was so interesting to wander around their old buildings and read about their belief system. It didn’t seem wise or safe to try and infiltrate a cult for research purposes, so this was the next best thing. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area!
You portrayed the psychological aspects of the cult mindset incredibly well and your characters were very realistic and well-crafted. How did you approach the task of creating their personalities and bringing them to life within the setting and narrative?
Thank you! Honestly, this was mostly trial and error. The very first version of the story began with a four-person narrative, but I realized very quickly that wasn’t going to work. For one thing, Aaron knows things about New Jerusalem that I didn’t necessarily want the reading learning right out of the gate. After I pared the POV down to just Miriam and Caleb, it took some work to develop their distinct voices and personalities. They both have very different experiences in the novel, much of that based on gender and their roles within the community. As for the secondary characters, a lot of their personalities developed organically as I was drafting. Especially in early drafts, I like to put different characters together and write random scenes to see what they say and how they interact.
What did you find to be the most challenging part of the writing process?
The ending! I rewrote it so many times, I’ve lost count. Without giving away any spoilers, I had a really difficult time figuring out whether or not Miriam and Caleb’s paths were going to meet up or diverge. And I really had to push myself to find the right ending for both of them—one that felt realistic, yet earned. Hopefully, I managed it.
How does it feel to know your book is published and out in the world for people to read, and what has been your favorite part of the experience so far?
It is definitely a surreal experience to know that it’s out in the world! I am so grateful for everyone who has picked it up, and everyone who has reached out to tell me about it. I absolutely love hearing from readers. That is my favorite part, by far.
What books and/or authors have inspired you the most?
This is a tough question, because I have been touched by so many books and inspired by so many authors. I really love stories about strong, fierce young women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and others. Or maybe they are afraid, but they do it anyway. Some of my favorites include “The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Sadie” by Courtney Summers, and “Blood Water Paint” by Joy McCullough.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
- Read—anything and everything. Genres you love and genres outside your comfort zone. For fun and for research and with avid curiosity.
- Write the book you want to read.
- Don’t give up. I was very close to throwing in the towel on THE VIRTUE OF SIN. I cringe whenever I think about how close I came. You’re going to hear a lot of ‘no’s’ but it only takes one yes, and it could be on that next manuscript you write, or the next query you send out. So keep going!
The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren
Date Published: June 25th, 2019
Publisher: Philomel Books
Pages: 432 pages
A compelling novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free – perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Tara Westover’s Educated.
Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together.
But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.
Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.
A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.
Shannon Schuren (shannon.schuren.org) works as a children’s librarian at a public library and writes from a cozy she-shed in her backyard. Her short stories have appeared in various journals such as Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Big Pulp, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Shannon lives in Sheboygan Falls, WI, with her husband and three children. Follow her on Twitter @shannonschuren.