Interview: Kelly Sullivan Yonce Author of Bayou Liberty.
BY GABRIELLE GUERRA
KELLY SULLIVAN YONCE
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.
KSY: I am a mommy to four (three girls, one boy) and a Wesleyan Pastor, concentrating on social media and worship, but I also lead a young adult ministry. I have a day-job in Indie publishing, and love writing about faith in ways that help people see the true character of Jesus and what he can do in our lives.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO WRITING?
KSY: I’ve always loved reading and enjoy story-telling in general. There is so much empathy to gain while creating, or while reading about worlds that other people have created. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to walking around in someone else’s brain. I love writing because it’s therapeutic. Sometimes writing can cure triggers and open wounds that years of therapy could not, because you’re working out problems you didn’t know you had.
HOW IS THE PUBLISHING PROCESS FOR YOU AS AN INDEPENDENT AUTHOR?
KSY: I adore Indie publishing because I know I have stories to tell and I don’t need to rely on anyone else to provide the vehicle for me to tell those stories. It’s important to acknowledge that there doesn’t have to be red tape for our goals. Traditional publishing is one avenue, but Indie publishing is a viable and high-quality avenue as well. For an cuts down on the amount of people challenging goals, and drastically increases the amount of those who will be constructive champions for those goals.
PLEASE GIVE A LITTLE SYNOPSIS ABOUT BAYOU LIBERTY.
KSY: Bayou Liberty is a story about two sisters who very much lost their identity when they lost their parents. They were forced to grow up too quickly, and they had to change their dreams when life threw them circumstances that they didn’t expect. One lived alone with a cancer quietly as long as she could in an abusive marriage, until they both realized that they had no choice but to speak their truths and rely on each by the supporting characters who are all connected to their ultimate healing, which only happens after they give grace to themselves and let go of the things that are out of their control.
AS I WAS READING BAYOU LIBERTY, IT REALLY FELT LIKE A FRIEND WAS TELLING ME THEIR STORY OR I WAS READING THEIR JOURNAL. HOW DID YOU FIND THE BALANCE OF SOFTNESS WHILE DEALING WITH HEAVY TOPICS?
KSY: I know real women who have experienced these situations up-close and my goal was to build empathy for them while also showcasing their strength. Sometimes I feel like we over-index artistically on trying to paint a picture that gives shock and awe. I wanted to show real women who are going through things that many women go through quietly. For me the story was mostly about how they navigate pain as opposed to focusing on the severity of their circumstances. It was hard to balance because the internal chaos is the external marks on our bodies or character.
IN BAYOU LIBERTY, THE CHARACTERS DEAL WITH A LOT OF TRAUMA. DEATH. NATURAL DISASTER. ABUSE. CANCER. HOW DID YOU KEEP THEM GUARDED, BUT YET SO VULNERABLE AT THE SAME TIME?
KSY: I channeled how I’ve seen my mom behave in her previous situation of dealing with abuse, and how my sister handled cancer. They let walls down appropriately when in the right audience and carried those walls right back up when triggered by things they didn’t even know they’d be triggered by. It’s the invisible triggers (a fear we don’t even realize we have) that create the walls and sometimes we ask ourselves where they even came from but if we pause and question our emotions or why our instincts are pushing back on something, we can learn so much in those moments.
SAWYER'S EX-HUSBAND IS AN ABUSER, A GASLIGHTER, AND A NARCISSIST. WAS IT DIFFICULT TO MAKE THE POINT OF HOW BAD HE WAS WITHOUT GIVING THE READER TOO MUCH DETAIL SO THEY WOULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE?
KSY: My mom dealt with this type of abuse in her past and I asked her a lot of questions and even had her re-write reactions that I’ve ABOUT THE BOOKS never had to experience. This was the hardest thing to write because I watched abuse happen but have what she experienced. I wanted to show the root of Beau’s character as well – why he was the way he was – so that we’d accidentally gain regretful empathy for him while reading. Giving him the grace at the end was ridiculously hard because I questioned myself and said but why would anyone forgive that?Why? And then I remembered that forgiveness and the ability to set new boundaries and walk away take incredible strength. Sawyer didn’t need to love him again or go back to him, she just needed to let him go and stop living muted or in fear. She also needed to stop living in regret of the hardest choice she’d ever had to make, because guilt was holding her back.
I LOVE THAT BAYOU LIBERTY FLASHED BACK AND FORTH FROM PAST TO PRESENT. I FELT VERY NOSTALGIC READING THE SECTION BASED IN MY HOMETOWN I LOUISIANA. DO YOU FIND IT A BIT THERAPEUTIC WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT YOUR HOMETOWN AND ALSO THE PLACE YOU NOW CALL HOME?
KSY: I picked Slidell, Louisiana mainly because I have so much love for Slidell, but also because that’s where I have childhood trauma. My eventual escape was to South Carolina, and it changed me through and through. I wanted the reader to understand the love of one’s roots while also understanding the need to separate themselves physically and mentally from things that are trauma triggers. Sawyer ran in the direction of healing and if one person reads this book and does the same, I would be so proud and in great awe of their hard decision.
ALL THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN BAYOU LIBERTY ARE IN ONE OR ANOTHER TRYING TO FIND THEMSELVES. THERE IS A LOT OF FORGIVENESS AND GRACE THAT THEY NEED TO ACQUIRE. AS A FAITH BASED AUTHOR, HOW DOES THESE LESSONS/ ATTRIBUTES YOU CAN FIND IN THE BIBLE AFFECT YOUR WRITING?
KSY: Redemption is the word that came to mind while I was writing. We can’t forgive ourselves for some things if we don’t understand the need for forgiveness and redemption for all people, and that’s only really possible through the type of It was actually very hard to write that way for Beau’s character, but I wanted to make sure Jackson’s character show-cased a parallel story of a good man who previously made terrible choices choices that resulted in destruction. Jackson’s journey through his mom’s letters showed us that this hero we loved had a past as well, and he was ultimately responsible for the largest tragedy in the book. It was really important for me to continue reminding myself that all people follow imperfect paths and all people need redemption.
ABOUT THE BOOK
From the author of The Thing about Mustard Seeds, this is her latest "emotionally-charged story that highlights the importance of family, following two sister who conquer their past through humor, grit, faith, and big love."
Growing up, sisters Maggie and Saw yer were close and carefree. Following their parents’ death when they were teens, Maggie was forced into a caretaker role for her younger sister, changing the nature of their relationship forever. Maggie has always been the brave one, but Saw yer is becoming more surprised by her own strength.
Saw yer’s abusive marriage ends, and she and her son move from Louisiana live with Maggie in their parents' old bed and breakfast. But the reunion is bittersweet. Maggie reveals a diagnosis of cancer. As the sisters reconnect and support each other through tragedies, a friend from the past reemerges, and with him, secrets about their parents that could change everything.
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