(January 29, 2013)

Centenary alumna publishes first novel

SHREVEPORT, LA — Centenary alumna Shelle Sumners '86 has recently published her first novel, Grace Grows. The inspiration for the work, published by St. Martin's Press, came from a dream.

Shelle Sumners
Shelle Sumners '86

"Music and water seemed to converge in my subconscious into a dream about a man and a woman together at a waterfall," Sumners said. "I woke up very early one morning with these people and their story in my head and started making notes."

Sumners, a native Southerner currently residing in Pennsylvania, has worked a number of jobs over the years while writing on the side. Grace Grows was a collaborative effort between Sumners and her husband Lee Morgan '85, son of Centenary Professor Emeritus of English Dr. I. Lee Morgan. Morgan acted as a grammarian during the book's development.

"I recommend that all people who write find a partner with this built-in feature," Sumners said. "It's way more convenient than having a grammar app."

In addition, Morgan composed the soundtrack that is central to the novel.

Morgan and Sumners met over thirty years ago on her eighteenth birthday at Marjorie Lyons Playhouse. At the time, Sumners was majoring in theater. Her Centenary experience influenced her storytelling and writing skills. She developed a knack for learning how to reveal characters through dialogue after having read and analyzed so many plays during her college career. Sumners found Professor Bob Buseick's productions to be meticulously rendered:

"I was immersed in that storytelling laboratory for four years. I watched and participated in a lot of very patient, very creative world-building."

Sumners also was interested in American history. She took classes with Dr. Sam Shepherd, who left a lasting impression on the author. Shepherd gave tough all-essay exams that Sumners looked forward to for their challenge. Shepherd's generous feedback encouraged her to continue writing and to enjoy it even if she missed a few details in the process.

"He was so enthusiastic and thoughtful in his lectures that I found myself really listening to and absorbing these profound human stories," she said. "Believe it or not, I still have those blue books in a box somewhere."

Grace Grows follows Grace Barnum, a girl who plays by the rules, who meets Tyler Wilkie, a man who does not mind breaking them. According to Sumners, the story starts with characters on polar ends of the maturity and responsibility spectrum. As the novel progresses, they move closer to the middle, sometimes even crossing the line to the other side. While Sumners was writing Grace Grows, she began tinkering with ideas for Tyler's sister, Beck, and has a novel-in-progress about her.

Her advice for Centenary's aspiring writers is simple: "Create from your heart."

Sumner's debut novel has received good reviews and positive feedback. Find out more about Sumners and where to buy Grace Grows at shellesumners.com.