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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Sydney Walters about her writing style, her career, and what inspired her new book, State Of Grace.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Sydney Walters

My name is Sydney Walters, and I am an author, copywriter and marketing professional from Washington, D.C. Lover of books, but my true love is writing.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother always said I’d write a book someday. It’s been on my mind for over a decade.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was ten years old, but I started writing my novel in 2019 at age 23.

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How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It was about a six month process from when the idea popped up into my head, but the writing portion took about three months total.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

My second novel took ten days to write, but I think that it’s already better than the first. I barely ate or slept in those ten days, but it is still very readable, and coming soon.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write State Of Grace?

I came across a newspaper clipping of a young boy that had fallen into a sinkhole in a town called Centralia, Pennsylvania. 

When I learned about why the sinkholes were there, it terrified me. I couldn’t believe that such a place could exist, and I thought about the horrifying fate that awaited the boy had he not been pulled out in time.

I wanted to write and tell people about the town as a very real place, but in a fictional light.

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What were your biggest challenges with writing State Of Grace?

The timeline. My story is set between 1958-1980, which is a time that I never experienced. Accuracy was my biggest challenge.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

My protagonist, Grace, is a reflection of myself. She is very much like me and we share the same personality, as well as a lot of the same hardships and struggles. To overcome some of my own, I had to write it fictionally through her.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

Pain was my inspiration. My antagonist is not a person, but a place. The town of Centralia, Pennsylvania is where Grace was forced to grow up in, so I wanted to turn the state that I was personally in, into a place that reflected my state of mind at that time.

What is the inciting incident of State Of Grace?

It’s based on the coal mine eruption of 1962, which is a true event. It took place in Centralia, PA, and nearly destroyed the entire town.

What is the main conflict of State Of Grace?

The conflict of the book is for the young protagonist, Grace, to make it out of her crumbled town and into the real word despite her many setbacks and struggles. It’s a journey for her to embark on to lead a normal life free of tragedy, pain, and suffocation.

Did you plot State Of Grace in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I outlined it to near perfection on paper, word documents, sticky notes, and head space. Some parts came freely after writing the initial manuscript, but most of it was planned. It was sort of like those corkboard maps that you seen in crime movies, but a little more organized.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did State Of Grace need?

I edited my work three times before submitting to my publisher, and afterwards there were barely any edits needed. I’m quite proud of that.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

My advice is to visualize your story. Play it like a movie in your head, and you will write it like one.

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Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Book two of my series will be coming next year, and let’s just say… there will be justice.

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I believe that this work is my legacy. It was worth it not just for me, but for the young readers who I hope will be able to relate to my story and be inspired by it. It’s worth it if I can reach out to young girls who were like me growing up.

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