This is from the bio on her first novel, Lady and the Sea. ‘Since turning forty, Sharon Leaf has traveled to over fifteen countries, including living in Sweden while attending Bible college, traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and volunteered on a World War II ship, whose sole purpose was to transport Russian Jews from the Black Sea to Israel. She received a degree in theology at sixty, proving that it’s never too late to fulfill another dream.’ So I’d like you to meet Sharon and read a bit about her book, based on a true story.
The story of Lady and the Sea includes two failed marriages for main character Rosie Atkisson, a hurricane, a heart attack, and pirates! But also survival.
KBH: How closely is Lady and the Sea based on your life experiences?
SL: After reading my bio, you can clearly see that Lady and the Sea is a novel based on my true story. When I finally decided to write about the WWII vessel, MS Restoration, and everything she stood for, I knew I had to give her a voice; the restoration of over a thousand Russian Jews to Israel; the restoration of faith in the crew and volunteers who poured their hearts into the ship’s mission; and for the ship’s personal restoration. If only for those reasons, her story had to be told. But there is much more, as the reader will discover.
KBH: What is the main theme running through your book?
SL: Faith and forgiveness. Without any preachy-ness, the story challenges the reader to let go of their fears and move forward; let go of their rejections and forgive, and ultimately to find faith for forgotten dreams.
KBH: Do you have a favorite character?
SL: I can relate to Rosie because she represents the fears we all face, and learns how to deal with those fears, step by step. However, Ellen, the antagonist, is my favorite. Anyone who has been hurt or rejected from a marriage, a friend, a parent, can relate to Ellen. She says what most of us are thinking but are afraid to say.
KBH: What do you hope readers take away from Lady and the Sea?
SL: I use this quote, “You cannot discover new oceans until you are willing to lose sight of the shore.” I want the reader to shake off their fears, lose sight of the safe shore (Rosie’s included her comfortable lifestyle and her family), and to dive into a new ocean, whatever that may be: perhaps a story they need to write, to reach out to an old friend. We each have our own ocean to swim in; not everyone is called to volunteer on a ship. But look around-what about that lonely neighbor? Or what about . . . fill in your own blank. When the reader closes the book I want them to say, “It’s not all about me.”
KBH: How did living in different countries and among different cultures affect or influence your story?
SL: Living in Sweden for a year while attending an international bible school introduced me to the big, wonderful world outside the bubble of Southern California where I grew up. Traveling through Siberia reminded me to be thankful for the little things in life (example: toilets AND toilet paper!) Volunteering on a WWII ship for fourteen months showed me the many cultural differences and taught me how to deal with the challenges that faced me daily. The Scandinavians, Greeks, and other nationalities represented on the ship learned to accept our American ways, especially our slang-based language. I write about these challenges in Lady and the Sea to help the reader understand that tolerance is just the beginning of acceptance, which ultimately, and hopefully, will lead to love. Touching people of different cultures gives us the flavor that is lacking in our lives -like adding seasonings to our bland meals.
KBH: What was the scariest part of your journey on the Restoration? What was the most challenging part of writing the story?
SL: The scariest: When Hurricane Hector unexpectedly bore down on the MS Restoration off the Gulf of Mexico, I realized I could die at sea. In between barfing over the toilet, I spent my time lying in my bunk, lifting my voice to heaven and crying, HELP! The most challenging part of writing Lady and the Sea – making the decision to rewrite the manuscript to change the format from a memoir to a novel based on a true story. Once the decision was made, the story unfolded and the characters came alive – plus, I didn’t have to worry about being sued or offending anyone in the book.
KBH: What further research did you have to do about the Restoration for your novel?
SL: I researched the Internet to learn why they built the small lock- knot ships in Georgia. The government needed small troop carriers to sail safely around the Pacific Rim Islands. I write about her history in the beginning of each chapter. There were newspaper articles about how the lock-knot ship survived a large gale storm in the China Sea. Yes, she was quite a lady before the government stored her in mothballs after the war.
KBH: How is the Restoration being used today?
SL: Before the Restoration was donated to Word of Life Church in 1993, they had established project Operation Jabotinsky in order to transport Russian Jews, free of charge, to Israel. However, maintaining the Restoration became quite expensive for the church, so they sold her. Over a thousand Russian Jews sailed to Israel on the Restoration. Today, Operation Jabotinsky continues to fly Russian Jews to Israel on a regular basis.
KBH: What country would you like to return to? What country would you like to visit that you haven’t been to? Why?
SL: I have returned to Israel, but would like to return again because God has a special assignment for Israel in these last days, and I hope to be a small part in the unfolding of His plan. I would like to visit Paris, France with my husband. Why? Because I’m a romantic at heart. And oh yes, Paris has museums, beautiful architecture, delicious food and great wine.
KBH: Do you have a favorite genre you enjoy reading?
SL: Biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction . . . any book that takes me on a personal journey. The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran is one of those books. One of my favorite authors in historical fiction is Bode Thoene.
KBH: What is your writing process like?
SL:I’m a multi-tasker, so I have many daily-life activities taking place most of the time, including my writing. I usually don’t have a writing schedule, but when I do, I get the job done. I love writing, but it is not my main focus (I hope that’s not too disappointing to my fellow writers who toil away hours daily). God, my family and my friends will always be my priorities. Perhaps that’s why I remain an almost-famous author, and that’s ok with me. My prayer is that Lady and the Sea will fall into the hands of those who need encouragement and faith to fulfill those forgotten dreams.
KBH: What are you working on now?
SL: I recently submitted a short story that will be in a book by author Linda Kozar, to be published in 2013, and just submitted an essay that is on author Susan Pohlman’s blog Expat Chat. I continue to work on my next novel, Lady on the Run, which should be published in 2013, maybe 2014, depending on how focused I can stay on my writing!
Thank you, and best wishes Sharon! Visit Sharon where you may also meet her spunky Aunt Eunice! You can find Lady and the Sea on Amazon or at Books-A-Million