Brown Named Recipient of 2019 Book Award from Christianity Today
by Kristina Garvelink (M.S. ’15)
Sharon Garlough Brown, adjunct professor of Christian formation at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, received recognition for her fiction writing from Christianity Today. Named among the publication's book award winners for 2019, Brown earned the Best in Fiction award for her book entitled "An Extra Mile: A Story of Embracing God's Call."
In an interview, Brown reflected on her journey as a writer, shared about the influential role fiction has played in her spiritual life and provided a teaser of her forthcoming book from InterVarsity Press.
Interview with Sharon Garlough Brown
Why did you decide to start writing fiction?
Brown: "The first thing I wanted to be as a little girl was an author. As a child, I spent hours writing stories and imagining plays. As a teenager, I began journaling and keeping notebooks filled with dialogue I recorded from significant conversations with friends or family. It was good practice in listening, both to my inner life and to my interactions with others. Then the dreams of writing fiction went dormant as I said yes to God's call to pastoral ministry.
"In September 2008, I began leading a weekly spiritual formation group for 12 women at our church. Together we explored ways of deepening our intimacy with Christ through the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayerfully reading the Word, the Prayer of Examen, spiritual direction, silence and solitude. Our time together became sacred space where we encountered the living God. The women grew to deeply trust one another, confessing their sins and heartaches so that they might receive God's healing love, forgiveness and power.
"As we walked together, we began to witness stunning and breathtakingly beautiful transformation. The Lord was healing old wounds, opening blind eyes and setting captives free. I sensed that God was inviting me to share the story of the group by creating characters who were also learning to walk closely with God. I began writing 'Sensible Shoes' in December 2008, and five months later, my first draft was complete.
"I love writing fiction because it's so invitational. Jesus understood the power of story and imagination and used it to reveal the kingdom of God. Stories can sneak around our defenses and penetrate us when we're least expecting it. As we become invested in a story, characters can serve as mirrors that help us see ourselves more clearly. And story can linger with us and pursue us and shape us long after we've read the final page. It's a joy for me to partner with the Spirit in creating stories that reveal God's love and longings for us."
Who are a few of your current influences as a writer?
Brown: "Honestly, I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction. But when I was a senior in college, I wrote an honors thesis on the theme of redemption in C.S. Lewis' fiction. That process of research and writing had a significant impact on me as I saw how Lewis used story as a vehicle for message. I spend a lot of time reading spiritual formation nonfiction and love the work of Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Michael Card and Rebecca DeYoung. I also read a lot of poetry for the sheer beauty of language. Luci Shaw is a favorite."
How has writing fiction contributed to and shaped your spiritual life?
Brown: "The movement goes both ways: writing fiction shapes my spiritual life, and my spiritual life shapes the fiction I write. It's all about living in a posture of prayerful and attentive listening. The best gift I can offer my readers is the gift of authenticity, so I write about themes that sit at the heart of my own journey with God. It's the old adage, 'Write what you know.'
"But I also write to explore what I don't yet know or understand, and in this way the Spirit enlarges me in the process, surprising me with wisdom or insights. Writing is both a spiritual practice in which I'm shaped and formed and a ministry of pastoral care through which I hope others notice and name God's presence and respond to the Spirit's invitations."
What does this recognition from Christianity Today mean to you?
Brown: "I was stunned by the news. The books in the 'Sensible Shoes' series are essentially a 'hybrid genre,' blending story with spiritual formation content and themes. Because of that, the publishing industry hasn't known quite how to categorize them. To be honored in the fiction category by a magazine I respect felt like a beautiful affirmation of my work, and I'm deeply grateful for that.
"My next novel, 'Shades of Light,' releases with InterVarsity Press on August 20. It's an exploration of spiritual formation and mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety, and focuses on a main character who is learning to keep company with Jesus in the midst of her affliction. A sequel novella, 'Remember Me,' will release in November and focuses on characters who are meditating on Jesus' journey to the cross."
About Brown's New Book
For more information and to preorder Brown's new book, visit ivpress.com/shades-of-light.