Hi Sawyer and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Hard Truth About Sunshine!
Hi HJ Readers! Thrilled to be back here with you!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
The Hard Truth About Sunshine is a story of four souls, who seemingly have nothing in common, traveling across the country while learning about life and death, love and loss, themselves and each other.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
Sometimes I marvel at the stupid shit I do. When I was seven, I tried to see how many dandelions I could put up my sister’s nose. She was three at the time, and as it turns out, four was the magic number.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- This book took root two years ago following an encounter I had with a marine in the Orlando airport. This story sat and festered. I’d occasionally come back to it, and then one day, it was time.
- There were originally five characters, but ultimately, the story fit better with just four.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
There are four main characters in The Hard Truth About Sunshine:
Christopher Barlow – a marine veteran and amputee, who also lost part of his right hand. He suffers from PTSD and depression. The story is told entirely from his POV because this is ultimately about this journey. However, the other characters are just as important as they help him to learn things along the way.
Jillian Martel – an eternal optimist, suffering from a degenerative disease while will eventually result in blindness.
Connor McCann – the teenager looking to see the Pacific Ocean before he dies from terminal cancer.
Barb Stiles – depressed and suicidal, she struggles with living and dying, and knowing which she’d rather do.
All four characters were a bit of a surprise. When you start writing a book, you have an initial vision for a character and what their background is, but it isn’t until a story begins to take shape that you really understand “who” those characters will be. They never end how they begin, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I’d use this scene because it shows the group dynamic early on in their journey. They are not only battling their demons but each other.
We are all alone and that’s the truth. I know this because I can’t begin to remember all the times I called out to God to ease my suffering, but the pain only got worse. Or I beseeched him to just let me die, and yet my body just wouldn’t quit working. Months and months of agony. Torturous pain while they tried to heal my shattered leg. Brutal, vicious, unrelenting misery while infection raged through my leg and puss seeped out of the open wounds, and they would cut chunks of skin and flesh away, hoping to stay ahead of the rot, but they never could. Pain so terrible it made me crazy. I would rant and sometimes piss myself until, finally, I was begging the doctors to cut my leg off.
Yeah… that request was honored.
God may not have listened to me, but the doctors did.
“Many people turn to prayer when they are at their lowest. Some people find great solace in it,” Jillian tells Connor, validating his parents’ futile efforts. Goth Chick ignores us and stares at the sky. Dead Kid Connor bobs his head in understanding.
I, however, snort with derision. It’s loud and obnoxious and there’s no doubt by anyone in our pathetic group that I find the concept ludicrous.
“Tell your parents there is no God,” I tell Connor as I look him directly in the eye. “He can’t save you.”
I keep my eyes pinned on him, refusing to give him an ounce of empathy because I don’t have any.
I’m all dried up.
“Shut up,” the soft voice of Jillian says, floating sweetly across the crackling fire. I don’t want to look at her because I think I might go fucking ballistic if she shoots that poor, misunderstood Christopher Barlow truth shit at me.
But I’m almost knocked backward when she shows me a side to Jillian Martel I’ve never seen before. Rather than try to sling happy, optimistic shit my way, she lets me have it good.
“Who in the hell are you to judge Connor or his family?” she yells at me with narrowed eyes. I wonder how much of a chore on her paralyzed muscles it is for her to glower at me like that. “What gives you the right?”
I vaguely notice Goth Chick sit straight up from her supine position on the picnic table and look at Jillian with surprise.
I open my mouth to tell her all about freedom of speech, but she rolls right over me. “You might have had some serious injuries, and I’m sorry for it, but it doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole to others. I bet if you spent as much time seeking positivity as you do reveling in negativity, you’d feel a hell of a lot better about yourself. But since you seem to like being a jackass, and it sort of suits this whole “bitter-wounded-warrior-who-feels-betrayed-by-everyone vibe” you’ve got going on, I’m guessing you don’t have the backbone or the fortitude to be anything more than what you are right now. It’s pathetic really.”
“Damn,” Goth Chick says under her breath with a taunting voice. “You just got your ass handed to you.”
I can actually feel my ears turn hot as I flush with anger and embarrassment. The last person who talked to me like that ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw, and I ended up in a support group to avoid an assault conviction. Now, I clearly can’t kiss knock the righteous condemnation off Jillian’s face because I’d never hit a woman, but my tongue is way sharper than hers can ever hope to be in this lifetime. I intend to draw tears from those pretty, lazy eyes.
I open my mouth to give back as good as I just got—and then some—when Connor says, “I get where Christopher’s coming from.”
He shoots an apologetic look over to Jillian because he undermined her and says, “No offense, Jillian. But I mean… I get it. Christopher lost a leg, probably came close to dying from it. You’re losing your eyesight, and nothing can be done to stop it. I’m dying and can’t be saved. If there is a God, why do these things happen to people? So I get his pessimism, and I respect it.”
“Hey kid,” I snarl at him, even though I feel myself deflating because he fucking hit the nail on the head. “I don’t need you to defend me.”
“I’m not defending you,” he says earnestly with a sober look my way. “Jillian’s right… you’re an asshole. I’m just saying I get why you said what you did.”
“But you shouldn’t be an asshole to us,” Jillian says softly, and while I know I’m an asshole and it’s never bothered me before to be such a creature, her gentle admonishment punches me deep in the gut. She’s no longer glaring at me and her voice is dove-like. Almost as if she’s imploring me to consider her words. “You should be nicer. We’re here to help each other, and we have several days we must spend together. You should be nicer because you’re stuck here with us, so make the best of it.”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
Hope. There are a lot of emotions in this book, both good and bad, but overall, I want readers to know that in the darkness, there is light. And in life, there is hope.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2017?
2017 is looking to be another busy year! In addition to the continuation of The Cold Fury series, I have a couple standalones coming this year, plus The Wicked Horse Vegas opens for business this summer, bringing a fan favorite series back in a new location. I am also launching a new pen name, Juliette Poe, in April.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Signed paperback of The Hard Truth About Sunshine
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: What is your biggest bucket list item?
Excerpt from The Hard Truth About Sunshine:
I peruse the candy selection offered in this convenience store while my SUV is gassing up. I’m looking for my favorites, because junk food is always essential on a road trip. I’ll admit… it dredges up some bitter memories because the only road trips I ever really took were with Maria, but I’m not going to let my love of sour gummy worms, corn nuts and white cheddar popcorn be marred by the memory of what we were to each other but are no longer.
“Corn nuts?” I hear Jillian say from behind me as I grab a bag.
“Essential road trip food,” I tell her without looking her way. The cheery disposition she wears on her face sometimes hurts my soul eyes, like I’m looking directly at the sun.
I grab the sour gummy worms and turn my back on Jillian, heading over to the chips aisle in search of popcorn. Her footsteps pad behind me and my shoulders stiffen with unease that she might continue the conversation.
It’s painful to me… to make small talk. I’m the world’s worst conversationalist and while I know Mags proclaimed this trip was truly for Dead Kid’s sake, she was also hoping it would get some of us to open up.
Namely Goth Chick and me.
I’ve known this group of people for a total of six weeks, since our first weekly group session. I doubt Goth Chick and I have said more than a handful of words to each other or to the group on any given day, and that’s fine by me. I got nothing really to say.
My eyes rise up and over the aisle of chips to see Goth Chick herself swiping a pack of gum from an endcap and shoving it into her bra. She doesn’t even bother to look around to make sure the cashier isn’t watching her, and that’s because she truly doesn’t give a shit if she gets caught.
She does lift her face to look at me, and we share loathsome stares with each other. Even from ten feet away, I can see her green-brown irises are glazed. If I were to stand next to her, I’d smell a hint of pot, because as soon as we pulled into the gas station, she headed around the back to smoke. I totally would have killed for a hit or two, but I’ll be damned if I was going to ask her. Besides, I’d promised Mags I’d be sober if I was driving. I might be a shit most of the time, but I am a man of my word.
Goth Chick’s real name is Barb, but her appearance earned her my nickname. Black hair cut in a short, cropped style a bit longer on the top and buzzed on the sides and back. Two rings pierced through her eyebrow, three rings through the middle of her bottom lip, and heavy, hollow ear gauges that a nickel would probably fit through. Tattoos cover both of her arms and clunky, metal rings adorn each finger painted with black polish. Her dark persona is always capped off by dark eyeliner and black lipstick, which makes her pale skin look even whiter. Today, she has on ripped fishnet stockings, combat boots, a black mini skirt, and a tight black t-shirt with the words “Fuck Democracy” across her small chest. No clue what that means, but I suspect she doesn’t either. Probably just wearing it for the shock value of dropping a public “F” bomb.
“That was ballsy,” Jillian says under her breath, almost reverently, and I realize she’s come to stand beside me in the chip aisle. And I can’t fucking help myself… I turn to look down at her—since I top her by a good foot—and watch her observing Goth Chick with an amused smile.
“That’s second-hand nature to her,” I tell her dryly. Goth Chick’s a common criminal like me.
“Maybe,” Jillian whispers, never turning to look at me but keeping her gaze on the little thief. “But she took that for Connor. He’s addicted to gum.”
My eyebrows rise… shocked over her proclamation. How the fuck would Goth Chick even know that? As far as I know, they’ve never even really conversed as Goth Chick doesn’t talk much in group unless it’s to make caustic comments about someone else’s pain. Maybe Dead Kid mentioned it, and while I’ve been ignoring much of what goes on in group, perhaps Goth Chick listens.
Still, I have to ask. “How does she know that Dead Kid’s addicted gum?”
Jillian turns her head to me slowly. I know enough about her condition from observing her the past few weeks that it is about as fast as she can swivel her head because of muscle weakness. But from the fire in her eyes, I know she would have snapped her attention my way if she could.
“Don’t call him that,” she snarls at me, and she sounds like an aggrieved tiger.
Well, actually a kitten. Jillian Martel doesn’t have it in her to be anything more than that. She’s too fucking nice even in her anger.
I should be abashed that what I said was offensive. I know I should feel some measure of guilt.
I feel neither, so I merely shrug, “Why not? He’s going to die.”
“We’re all going to die,” she practically hisses at me.
“Yeah,” I taunt, leaning my head down toward her so she can hear me clearly. “But he’s the most imminent. Would it help if I clarify it and refer to him as Imminent Dead Kid?”
My crudity causes Jillian to gasp.
Her gasp causes me to smirk.
I don’t regret saying that, because I stopped caring what people thought about me a long time ago. I sure as hell don’t care what Jillian thinks.
I brace and wait for the backlash, and I brace hard. While Jillian Martel may not have a vicious tongue from what I’ve come to learn about her, the way in which she castigates is pretty brutal. It’s much more sinister than any amount of angry ranting I could ever do. The girl with the mushy heart and Pollyanna attitude will hit me hard in a much different way.
Jillian’s eyes, which already have that perpetually softened look due to her disease, round just a tad further and her lips curl slightly in an empathetic sort of smile. She steps into me, laying her hand on my forearm without any regard to the shredded and scarred skin that lays thinly over bone. “I get it.”
“Get what?” I grit out, glancing down briefly at where her tanned hand lays against the disfigured remnants of my arm.
“Why you feel the need to be so mean.”
“You think I’m mean?” I ask, flashing my teeth at her in a mocking sneer. I’m so much more than mean.
“I think you’re full of self-pity and anger, and that makes you feel justified to act like a jerk. I think the only small measure of relief you get from your pain is by making others feel bad or uncomfortable. I think you’ve all but given up on the potential for good to happen in your life so you’re content to be mired in your anger. But please, Christopher, you can level that meanness at me if you want—or Barb, she’s tough and can take it. But lay off Connor, okay? His days are numbered, and he doesn’t need you throwing that in his face.”
She says all of that softly… kindly, without an ounce of derision in her voice.
Rage courses through me over her words—that she would even think to preach to me about how I should conduct my life. And to do it with empathy pity directed at me. It’s almost too much to bear, accepting that kind smile she has leveled at me right now.
But even as I open my mouth to lay into her—to let this bitch know she hasn’t even begun to see the type of malice I hold within me—I find myself noticing a distinctly uneasy feeling starting to take root in the center of my chest. A dull ache. Perhaps a twinge of regret. Worst yet… an odd fascination over the fact she said there’s the potential for good in my life.
That better not be fucking hope I’m feeling. I quashed that son-of-a-bitch emotion months ago, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to succumb to that shit again. The fear that I might fall prey to the bright side of life distracts me from my need to put her solidly in her place.
The moment of fury passes as quickly as it slammed into me, and I’m left without a good comeback to throw in her face.
Instead, I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and decide to give her this one. “Is that all?”
“That would make me happy. If you don’t call Connor Dead Kid, I mean,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “For now.”
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett has written her most gripping and poignant tale yet. Provocatively heart-breaking, audaciously irreverent and romantically fulfilling, The Hard Truth About Sunshine exposes just how very thin the line is between a full life and an empty existence.
Despite having narrowly escaped death’s clutches, Christopher Barlow is grateful for nothing. His capacity to love has been crushed. He hates everyone and everything, completely unable to see past the gray stain of misery that coats his perception of the world. It’s only after he involuntarily joins a band of depressed misfits who are struggling to overcome their own problems, does Christopher start to re-evaluate his lot in life.
What could they possibly learn from one another? How could they possibly help each other to heal? And the question that Christopher asks himself over and over again… can he learn to love again?
He’s about to find out as he embarks upon a cross country trip with a beautiful woman who is going blind, a boy with terminal cancer, and an abuse victim who can’t decide whether she wants to live or die.
Four people with nothing in common but their destination. They will encounter adventure, thrills, loss and love. And within their travels they will learn the greatest lesson of all.
The hard truth about sunshine…
Meet the Author:
Since the release of her debut contemporary romance novel, Off Sides, in January 2013, Sawyer Bennett has released more than 30 books and has been featured on both the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists on multiple occasions.
A reformed trial lawyer from North Carolina, Sawyer uses real life experience to create relatable, sexy stories that appeal to a wide array of readers. From new adult to erotic contemporary romance, Sawyer writes something for just about everyone.
Sawyer likes her Bloody Marys strong, her martinis dirty, and her heroes a combination of the two. When not bringing fictional romance to life, Sawyer is a chauffeur, stylist, chef, maid, and personal assistant to a very active toddler, as well as full-time servant to two adorably naughty dogs. She believes in the good of others, and that a bad day can be cured with a great work-out, cake, or a combination of the two.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | GoodReads |