A LOOK BEHIND LIGHTNING
Sharon D. Ballentine
Gatekeeper Press (2019)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (03/2020)
Sharon D. Ballentine started reading at an early age and always knew she wanted to write. But it wasn’t until her junior year in college that she took a fiction-writing class and a poetry writing class. She claims her first short story was crap but went on to publish two poems in college. Sharon graduated from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and University of Houston. She retired as a college professor. Sharon currently lives in Houston, Texas with her family. A Look Behind Lightning is her debut novel.
Hi Sharon, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views. To start, tell us what is A Look Behind Lightning about?
A Look Behind Lightning is about a young pretty high school English teacher who is frustrated with her students’ poor behavior and academic performance, so she figures out a way to make nighttime visitations and plant subliminal suggestions into their heads to change their behavior. Only a Watcher, who is looking for a human soul attaches himself to her. His entry into their lives lead to a struggle for life, death, and their souls.
What inspired you to write this story?
One day while in my Fresh Comp. class, I discovered that hardly anyone had done his homework. I said, “What do you want me to do? Do a drive by teaching?” We all laughed, but someone said, “You could come by my house. My mom will even cook your dinner.” Then they all had a discussion of the dinner they’d cook for my visitation. I said to them, “You know this would make a good story,” so the idea for A Look Behind Lightning was born.
Who is your target audience – who would enjoy A Look Behind Lightning?
I think young adults would enjoy this book because they’ll see themselves and others in their age group in the book, but they’ll also enjoy how the teens in the book enmesh in the Watchers’ plans. They have to deal with issues of being a teen; like girlfriends and boyfriends and homecoming and football games and after school practices, and bullying coupled with struggling against destructive nonhuman entities.
Also, adults will enjoy reading about what teens do when they’re not around. I’ve heard parents say, “I know what my kids do,” but the fact is, most parents don’t know what their kids do or go through when they are not around. Finally, some teachers who read the book, asked me if I’d been in their classroom because the scenes are so realistic, and they say things like, “I do the same thing.”
What is it you most hope readers take away from your story?
That teens can use wit and sense to solve problems, but also people will think about beliefs and ideas from antiquity about the other side of the veil. Some of the things that people wrote is really very scary, so scary in fact we are still researching it and writing about it.
Did you have a preconceived idea about how you wanted your story to play out or did the plot line develop over time?
I outlined and made timelines and planned carefully and wrote descriptions of characters, but as I wrote, the characters began to write their own stories. For days, I watched them do what they did, and I just wrote. Also, some characters entered into the story that I hadn’t planned and I had to deal with them. I remember I texted my son one day and told him that all the people are in the streets, and I have to figure out how to get them back where they belonged. My son asked, “What do you mean?” I explained what was going on and that I hadn’t planned any of it, but I had to write them back where they needed to be. So, I spent nights tossing and turning and pacing the floor.
Some things happened as I planned; some things happened that I did not plan; some characters entered the story that I didn’t know, and I spent many days and nights figuring out what I was going to do about it. It was like I was schizophrenic. I know why artists seem weird. Their characters come off the page and won’t leave them alone.
How much of the story came as a surprise to you as you were writing?
I would say that about 25 to 35% of the story was a surprise.
Did any of your characters end up doing something you hadn’t planned on, taking the story in a new direction?
The teens did most of the time. The voodoo queen did too because she evolved larger than I had anticipated. The call girl certainly took a larger than planned rolled.
Mostly the teens went off script, and I liked what they did though it was difficult getting them back in place or getting them “in some place.”
“Write what you know” is deemed as almost sacred advice when writing a novel. How much of what you know did you incorporate into your novel?
Most of my career has been in an educational setting with teachers, principals, and teens. But also, I read extensively about biblical and non-biblical beliefs, so much of the other half of the system in my book comes from research because obviously, I’ve never met a Watcher, or have I?
I also did a lot of research pre and post Edenic earth. I was trying to visualize what Watchers must have seen throughout the history of the world. I don’t think I could have made the research come to life, if I hadn’t enmeshed it with the reality of what I know, the education system, teens, and teachers.
Who is the most interesting character development-wise in A Look Behind Lightning?
I think Amanda and Baby Doll are the most interesting characters. I didn’t think they would be when I started, but they both have such complicated backstories that drove what they did and what the major characters did. Both of them are complicated, but very likeable. They both are unstable and problematic and I don’t know if I could say flawed is the right word, but maybe complex and they distressed everyone around them, but they were distressed themselves.
Which character in your book are you least likely to get along with and why?
I couldn’t get along with Caitlyn or Ben. I’d beat them both up! They both are mentally unstable and hateful and damn mean.
What do your family and friends think about your writing? How do they support your writing career?
They have been very supportive. They have made good sounding boards when I needed to talk out loud about a character or situation, and they were candid when I was thinking something that would not work. One of my problems throughout was “talking like football players” and thinking like a guy. So, I consulted the football players in my family, and they gave me, for example, pre-football game talk. Also, there were arguments, and I’d asked the guys, what would a man do in certain situations. They helped me write from a man’s point of view in places.
I asked my female family and friends what they thought about characters too. It was funny how they didn’t like people I didn’t want them to like.
They were my inspiration because they believed in me. One of my female family members told me that I gave her inspiration. That’s awesome!
How did it feel sharing your work with them for the first time?
Sharing your work to someone is like showing them your baby. You’re scared they’ll think your baby is ugly. It’s difficult.
What can you tell us about your publishing experience?
I’m still learning about publishing. It’s competitive and hard, as is everything worthwhile.
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
The thing is: I read everything. I’ve always liked to read. I started out as a child reading Marvel and DC comics and Mad Magazine.
In my doctorate studies, I focused on the masters in English and American lit: Hemingway, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne, Blake, Milton, Dante, Ovid, Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Byron. I focused on character development, plot, settings, and dialogue.
Modern writers, I like are John Saul, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Anne Perry, Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, and James Baldwin, Clive Barker, Robert Ludlum, CS Lewis, Tolkien. I could go on. You hand it to me, and I’ll read it.
Being an author is a full-time job these days with marketing and publicity added to the mix. What do you enjoy most about the process? What is your biggest challenge?
I love writing. I realize writing has two sides. I’m getting used to the other parts of writing, the business side.
What’s next in terms of your writing career? Do you have another novel planned?
I have finished Book II of A Look Behind Lightning (The Genesis Flame). I’m editing it now. There will be about 3 or 4 more books in this series.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I love this series and the characters. I know them. I love talking about them too. I told my son that Book II is better than Book I. It really got complicated, and the bad guy was harder to catch than I anticipated. He keeps getting away.
Sharon, thank you so much for joining us today at Reader Views. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your work!