Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Author’s Quest to Reconcile Faith and Science, Math and Fiction

A Fascinating Interview with Author Sheila Deeth


Dora Machado

Where we talk about unusual genres, the relationship between math and fiction, and the benefits of chocolate and red wine to cope with the ups and downs of the publishing world.

Hi Sheila! Welcome to MB4 and congratulations on your latest release Tails of Mystery.  You write spiritual speculative novellas. What does the genre entail and what are some of the themes that run through your speculative fiction?

I like to call those novellas spiritual speculative, but really I'm not even sure it's is a genuine genre, or what defines genuine. What I mean by spiritual speculative fiction is fiction that veers over the edges of the real world, inviting readers to see there's more to life than human experience and science can explain. In a sense, I guess there's some element of spiritual speculative in everything I write, not just those novellas. 

My novels are set in the contemporary world, but characters struggle to rise above the ordinary and see light beyond the darkness invading their lives. There's almost bound to be some spiritual element to their enlightenment. And my children's Bible stories are clearly spiritual, but they include speculation about the historical, scientific, and sociological world of the Bible. You've got me wondering though - are my mystery-solving dogs in Tails of Mystery spiritual, or speculative. Probably not - they're the exception that proves the rule, or the author, or the genre, or something...

Your diverse body of work includes speculative fiction, but also bible story books, children’s novels and romance novels. How does it all come together and what is the goal or thread that connects your creativity?

Actually, my romance novella is kind of languishing, having lost its publisher before it was released, but I do have a second contemporary novel coming soon from Second Wind Publishing - a follow-up to Divide by Zero. I guess my background invites me to identify with people on the outside looking in; I'm the daughter of a Catholic and a Protestant, studied math in a world where women were seriously outnumbered by men in lectures, and now I'm an English American. It's hard to take things for granted when you're not sure you belong. So I've always liked to question everything, including faith, forgiveness, and what makes something a fact. I love to see patterns emerge as ideas come together. I suspect the pattern-matching instinct is what fuels my writing and connects the things I write. Mathematics is a world of patterns, symbols and signs. So is writing. And so is faith.

You describe yourself as a “mongrel Christian mathematician, inspired by faith and science.” How do you reconcile faith and science, mathematics and fiction in your books?

I really don't see any dichotomy between faith and science - both invite questions (or should, anyway) and both build on looking beyond what's seen, seeking patterns in what might be. In (mathematical) science we use patterns to derive formulae and create predictions, so we can test our hypotheses. In faith, I rather suspect God uses patterns to invite our curiosity, leading us to see beyond our senses. And in fiction, patterns are what give you that sense of awe and inevitability when something begins to work and the answer's in sight. Actually, mathematics gives you that same sense of awe, so maybe looking for "awe" is how I reconcile it all.

Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum. What are these novels about and what inspired you to write them?

Infinite Sum is the second novel of the series, but it's actually the one I tried (and failed) to write first. It's inspired by my own journey through depression, caused, in part, by things that happened in secret when I was a child. When I started trying to write novels, an imaginary character who was far too much like me kept invading the page. Eventually I decided to write my own story, maybe to get it out of my system. Then, of course (since nothing's ever simple), the imaginary character morphed into someone other than me. She was even able to teach me quite a bit, but the resulting novel was seriously dark and heavy, and I'm quite glad it never got published. 

Then I wrote Divide by Zero, creating a tapestry of characters who might be affected by the revelation of crime in their neighborhood. It gave me a chance to see abuse from many different points of view, and it offered that much needed separation from real events. When I'd finished, the character of a girl from Divide by Zero demanded a story of her own. She's not me, and her story's not mine. But the ideas and the feelings I poured into that first novel all took readable shape at last. I'm very proud of how the story turned out.

How did you become a published author? What is your favorite part of the publishing process? What is your least favorite part?

My first published work was one of those (now unpublished) spiritual speculative novellas. I'd complained that entering contests was even more demoralizing than trying to find a publisher (which is as bad as looking for a job). But someone whose book I'd just reviewed suggested I enter this contest, and I won. So much for complaining! I guess my favorite part of the publishing process is still that moment when somebody out there says yes. It's dance-around-the-room, beg-someone-else-to-read-the-email, squeal-and-shriek-with-glee time, and it's great! My least favorite part is rejection, of course, but now I've learned to celebrate with chocolate. If the rejection includes a personal message, I celebrate with chocolate and red wine.

Chocolate and red wine. LOL. Now we know your secret. What are the main challenges you’ve faced in your writer’s life? What are some of the rewards?

My biggest challenge was when the publisher of my novel closed his doors. Ouch! The big reward was when a second publisher accepted not just Divide by Zero, but also Infinite Sum, Subtraction, and Imaginary Numbers.

What’s next for Sheila Deeth?

I'm writing the next in my Five-Minute Bible Stories Series at the moment, hence my frequent absences from the internet. (Well, visiting family in England caused a pretty long absence too). It's going well, but it's a lot of work. I'm more than halfway through writing Subtraction too, and Imaginary Numbers is undergoing a major rewrite. Infinite Sum should be released really soon. And I'm writing a sequel to Tails of Mystery. Then there are those novellas, soon to be reissued with another publisher. So lots is happening, and I'm still reading and reviewing tons of books in my not-quite-spare time.

Thank you so much for visiting with us, Sheila.  I really enjoyed chatting with you.

Thank you so much for inviting me, Dora. And thank you for a fun interview.


Sheila Deeth is the author of contemporary novels, spiritual speculative fiction, children's fiction, and the Five-Minute Bible Stories series. She's an English American with a Masters in Mathematics from Cambridge University, England. But she has always told stories, from the day she learned to speak. When her sons were small, Sheila taught chess to school-children, using stories of chess players and their games. Now the boys are all grown into men, she spends her time reading, writing, caring for the home, and walking around the neighborhood, where she loves to meet her neighbors' dogs and cats. Her latest book, Tails of Mystery, is based on the wild adventures of dogs and cats everywhere.

Contact Sheila Deeth at:



Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for readers and writers and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Sheila, you know I'm a big fan of your writing. Do you know when Infinite Sum will be coming out? I am really looking forward to that one! Thank you, Dora, for a wonderful interview!

Sheila Deeth said...

Thank you so much Dora. I really enjoyed our interview.

And thank you Aaron. I have a feeling "soon" is a movable feast, but I'm still told Infinite Sum will be released soon. I'm really looking forward to it - if an author have favorites from their own books, Infinite Sum is probably mine.

Unknown said...

I recommend a book by Jim West called Libellus de Numeros (The Book of Math) that my 11-year-old daughter just finished reading. The story is about Alex, a young precocious girl, who mysteriously gets transported to a strange world where Latin and Math combine in formulas and equations with magical effects. With a cruel council leading the only safe city of its kind in this world, she will have to prove her worth to stay as well as help this city as it is the target for two evil wizards who seek to destroy the city and its ruling council. To help the city and also get back home, she will need the help of the greatest mathematician of all time, Archimedes. In a world where math is magic, Alex wishes she paid more attention in math class.

A Goodread 5-star review said:

"The storyline inspires a hunger for knowledge and a 'can do' attitude - a strong message of empowerment for young readers. I’m sure that this book will be interesting to read for both, boys and girls, as well as adult readers. Libellus de Numeros means 'Book of Numbers' and it's a magical textbook in the story. Math and science are wonderfully incorporated into a captivating plot: Latin and math are presented as exciting tools to make 'magic' and while Latin is often used as a language of magic the addition of math is definitely a fresh approach.

"The main heroine Alex is a very relatable character for young people, especially girls. I love that she has her flaws and goes through struggles all too familiar to a lot of young people. Alex is an authentic female role model - a very courageous girl, who is not afraid to stand up for herself and others and who is able to learn fast how to use knowledge to her best advantage.

"She can definitely do everything that boys can and I find this to be a very powerful message that is needed in our modern society. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to read through the pages of a well-formatted eBook. Highly recommended!"