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Sharon Virts: “You have to write it, Shar. You simply must!”

I want readers to first realize that the political world of today isn’t so different than it was 200 years ago. But the most compelling lesson of Masque of Honor is realizing the power of forgiveness. Armistead was unable to forgive, and it cost him everything. To survive, Jack had to learn how to forgive […]

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I want readers to first realize that the political world of today isn’t so different than it was 200 years ago. But the most compelling lesson of Masque of Honor is realizing the power of forgiveness. Armistead was unable to forgive, and it cost him everything. To survive, Jack had to learn how to forgive himself. And Lucinda learned that letting go of the past is the only way to find love. We must all learn to forgive ourselves, forgive others, and let go of what keeps us living in fear and anger. Only when we learn to do that, can we find true happiness.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Virts.

Sharon Virts is a successful entrepreneur and visionary who, after more than 25 years in business, followed her passion for storytelling into the world of historical fiction. She has received numerous awards for her work in historic preservation and has Sharon and her husband Scott live at Selma, a prominent historic residence in Virginia that they saved from destruction and restored to its original stature. It is out of the love and preservation of Selma that the story of the life, times, and controversies of its original owner, Armistead Mason, has given root to her first novel, Masque of Honor.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Like so many authors, I have always wanted to write and publish a book. As I built my business from a small consultancy to a large, 5,000-employee corporation, I had this notion that one day I would write nonfiction about my business success. After I sold my company, I put the idea of writing a memoir on the back burner. At the time, I was intent on pursuing my artistic talents (another life-long passion) and was finding myself more-often-than-not painting in the studio. But it was a culmination of three distinct events that would send me on the path to my career as an author. It started when my husband and I bought a dilapidated historic home and restored it to its former glory. As I researched the house, I found myself drawn to the stories of it past residents. The more I learned about them, the more I felt them calling to me and drawing me into their lives. The second inciting event occurred on a plane returning from South Africa. I was journaling my observations and thoughts (I have kept a journal since I was six), when the young man seated next to me asked if I was an author. In that moment, I was at a complete loss for words. Finally I said, “I’m entertaining it.” And his reply? “You should.” I have never forgotten the feeling from that exchange. It was like my soul was screaming “I will!” The final push came from my screenwriter friend, Anthony McCarten (Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, Two Popes, Bohemian Rhapsody). He and I were having drinks one evening and I shared with him some of the stories I had uncovered while researching my home’s history. He looked at me and said, “You have to write it, Shar. You simply must!” I started writing my first manuscript the very next day.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I had just finished Masque of Honor, and was researching the real life of the protagonist in my next book when I learned that his daughter was a former resident of my house. I had no idea that

this story, too, had connections to the historic home that my husband I had lovingly restored. Coincidence or destiny? Destiny! I truly believe the universe guides us to our destiny and this was just one of many examples of the universe’s power that I have experienced.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

From being rejected by agents to finding a publisher who believed in my novel and my talent, I have had many challenges along the way. The toughest part of the journey has been learning to listen to my editor while at the same time listening to my gut. Editors are wonderful and mine have helped me hone my craft. My development editor was vital in guiding me through cutting my 225,000-word manuscript into a 106,000-word novel that would sell. There are times, however, when a writer needs to listen to their instincts and take risks. Sometimes those risks could kill the commerciality of your book. Other times it can make the difference between delighting your readers or boring them. And unfortunately, many aspiring authors have difficulty with this balance. I believe that is the hardest part of writing — knowing when to kill the sacred cows of your story and knowing when to save them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had no sense of Point-of-View and “head-hopped” according to my literary coach. I was all over the place in terms of whose voice was telling the story. I learned that even if you are writing in third-person omniscient, you must always be mindful of whose perspective you are in. And now, when I am pleasure reading and the author jumps from numerous characters’ perspectives within a chapter or within a paragraph, I find myself marking it with a red pen!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am in the midst of first-round revisions on my manuscript of another historical fiction. It is based on the true story of a mother charged with murdering her four young children, her husband and her aunt. Set in 1872 in a Virginia town that borders Maryland, post-war attitudes and the scars of conflict still mark the town’s residents and the attorney who defends her. The project has me exploring legal procedure and women’s rights in the Reconstructed South. It has also tested my research skills as I unwind forensic science, pharmacology and mental illness in the 19th century. Researching and writing this manuscript has been a most fascinating journey.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Hands down, my favorite part of Masque of Honor is the love story between Jack and Lucinda. Although I never intended the novel to be a romance, the love between them is the force that propels Jack on his journey.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

I want readers to first realize that the political world of today isn’t so different than it was 200 years ago. But the most compelling lesson of Masque of Honor is realizing the power of forgiveness. Armistead was unable to forgive, and it cost him everything. To survive, Jack had to learn how to forgive himself. And Lucinda learned that letting go of the past is the only way to find love. We must all learn to forgive ourselves, forgive others, and let go of what keeps us living in fear and anger. Only when we learn to do that, can we find true happiness.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example.

-Write every day

-Structure, structure, structure

-Character arcs are everything

-Dialogue matters

-Listen to your editor

I was at a film festival party and was invited to join a number of award-winning screenwriters at their table. Each of them admitted that they, too, write every day. And when it came to writing great scripts for Oscar winning movies, they shared the importance of story structure and pacing, developing deep characters, and writing dialogue that wins actors academy awards. And while I had never formally studied writing, I had been instinctively applying these principles to my work. And I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a good development editor.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Patience. It takes time for a story to unfold and for your characters to reveal themselves. Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

My inspiration comes from history. I read more nonfiction than fiction. I find that real-life stories are often more compelling than anything I could imagine. And from those, I create the structure, drama and suspense that keeps my audience reading.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m a sucker for history and old homes. And while my passion for preservation won’t solve world hunger or bring world peace, I do believe that if I could convince folks to buy old properties and modernize them instead of purchasing new homes, the world would be a better place. We lose so much of our history when these properties are abandoned or demolished. While I recognize there is a place for building new structures in society, I wish more people would make the choice to preserve these old places by living in them. The renovation of my historic property has been such an inspiration for me and I hope that I can encourage others to do the same.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SharonVirtsBooks/

Instagram @sharonvirtsbooks

www.sharonvirts.com

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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