Q&A: Amy Sorrells (How Sweet the Sound)
THIS NOVEL IS INSPIRED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT STORY OF TAMAR. MANY PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY NOT FAMILIAR WITH IT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT HOW THE STORY INSPIRED YOUR VERSION AND WHAT THEMES ARE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE TWO?
I remember the moment precisely when the story of How Sweet the Sound was born. The day was sunny and warm, and I was sitting on my back patio searching the scriptures for what God had to say about survivors of sexual abuse and assault. I knew what He had to say about brokenness and His desire for healing and freedom overall, but I yearned for something specific about this silent and pervasive epidemic. I read through II Samuel 13, where King David’s daughter, Tamar, is raped by her half brother, Amnon, and afterwards, her other brother, Absalom, kills Amnon out of revenge. Verse 20, however, stopped me in my tracks:
“Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.” (II Sam. 13:20)
“Be quiet for now, my sister?”
“Don’t take this thing to heart?”
“Tamar lived … a desolate woman?” Are you kidding me, God? How could this be?Where is the justice? Where is the healing? Where is the freedom You promise in places like Isaiah chapter 61 for someone like Tamar?
More than that, I was struck with the realization that this is how many rape, incest and molestation victims are treated today. Research and testimony after testimony from survivors reveal a society and family systems that urge victims to hush, keep quiet, “get over it, it was no big deal.” And yet, sexual assault is one of—if not the most—devastating trauma a person can suffer, leaving lifelong, even generational dysfunction, physical and psychiatric problems.
I knew then that the Abba I know and who rescued me, does not want the story of Tamar to end there. And so, I set out to tell the story again, only in my own words, in a more recent time, in a universal and relatable way, so that if someone who’s suffered like Tamar can know her life is not meant for silence and desolation. Her life is meant for joy and hope and freedom.
How Sweet the Sound is not an exact allegory, but readers will notice the parallels between the enabling parent and King David, as well as the character Comfort who represents Tamar. Moreover, the story is told primarily through the eyes of the 13-year-old niece, Anniston. I did this purposefully, to pull the story back a bit to make it readable, and not so triggering, to survivors.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SET THE STORY IN ALABAMA?
For over twenty years now, my family has vacationed along the gulf coast of Alabama and Florida. Few, if any, regions offer such a deep history of brokenness and redemption, sultry days and mysterious nights, placid bayous and ferocious, unpredictable weather. When combined with the inspiration for my work that writers like Sue Monk Kidd, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner have provided, I can’t think of any other other place How Sweet the Sound could’ve been set, can you?
ALL OF THE EVENTS IN YOUR NOVEL SURROUND THIS ONE FAMILY. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE HARLANS?
Though I didn’t set out for them to be, by the end of the book I realized the Harlan family is everyone’s family. They’re respectable, even admirable on the outside. But behind closed doors, great wounds and secrets fester, running deep and unchanging through generations unwilling to acknowledge the need to change and heal. But like the pecan trees in the Harlan family orchards, eventually the seasons call us to change and grow, and we all can, with Abba’s grace, if we’re willing.
THIS BOOK HAS RECEIVED A LOT OF PRAISE ALREADY. HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY ITS RECEPTION?
Few, if any, writers and artists release their work into the world without a bit of terror and the feeling that they could’ve and indeed should’ve done some pieces of it better. So yes, I’m surprised. I’ve always said if I can bring hope to just one reader, I’ll have succeeded. Any sort of positive reception beyond that is more than I could’ve asked for or imagined.
THIS IS A DEBUT NOVEL, BUT FEW WRITERS ARE OVERNIGHT SUCCESS STORIES. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR PATH TO PUBLICATION?
My official pursuit of traditional publication began after my youngest son went off to elementary school, and I had a bit more time to research what I needed to do to make that happen. That was eight years, nearly thirty queries and rejections, three different agents, one major writing contest award, half-a-dozen publishing house rejections, and three years of macro edits, copy edits, and line edits ago. I’m exhausted, giddy, and a little more off-my rocker than I was before, but it’s all worth it. To all you writers out there, I say don’t ever give up. There were many times I wanted to, but I kept going, and you can too.