K.B.: Hello and welcome to Creekside Café, Sherri Hollister’s virtual café where writers connect! I’m K.B. Davenport, author of Magic in Autumn Springs and your guest interviewer this week. I’ll be chatting with Sherri about writing, life and what she has in store for us next. Hello, Sherri! Thanks for letting me interview you this week!
Sherri: Oh wow, KB, it’s strange to be on the other side. Thank you so much for doing this. You know I love to talk about books and writing.
K.B.: Yes, I do! I love talking with you and getting to know you better. By the way, I hear it’s your birthday soon. Happy birthday! Do you have any big plans to celebrate? What’s your idea of a good time? The older I get, the more I enjoy a nice dinner and relaxing with my partner. A little party now and again never hurts, though!
Sherri: Well July is a big month for me. David and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage, two of my grandchildren have birthdays this month as well as my niece and myself, but I’m not planning anything other than babysitting my grand-dog. We’ll have a celebration for the fourth, my husband and oldest grandson go to summer camp and then my oldest son and his family have a trip planned, thus, I’m dog-sitting. I’m taking a couple of days off from work. I have a book to finish that I’ve gotten behind on. I am planning to visit my youngest son and his family for the day and will probably do something later with my gal pals.
K.B.: Wow, sounds like an eventful month! I love dog-sitting. Our friends have a sweet older dog we take care of sometimes when they’re out of town. With all that going on, finding time to write could be tricky! When did you first begin writing fiction? I’m reading Chrome Pink now, the first book in The Leeward Files series. I love its intensity and slick vibe. Have you always been inclined to write suspense, thrillers and romance? Are there any other genres you’d like to try your hand at? My book is about paranormal romance and fantasy, but I enjoy writing suspense, comedy, sci-fi and horror as well.
Sherri: My first love is historical romance. I’m an arm-chair history buff. I wanted to be a female Indiana Jones, but I hate spiders. I started writing contemporary romance and it turned into suspense. I think it had to do with a lot of things that was happening in my personal life especially losing our home to fire. It kind of changed my attitude for a while. Right now, I want to write historical suspense with a touch of humor and romance. I’m working on finishing my new series, The Harrell Family Chronicles, there are 7 siblings, 2 cousins and assorted old folks, neighbors and I have an idea for a spin-off of White Gold tentatively called Cupid Zone Romances after Dana’s match-making service.
K.B.: That’s great, so much for readers to look forward to. I imagine dealing with the fire was traumatic. I find that writing serious subject matter often helps me process things when I’m going through something rough. What drew you to suspense and thrillers? I love that edge-of-your-seat feeling I get from your writing. Are you a thrill-seeker in real life, maybe a bit of a daredevil?
Sherri: Me a thrill seeker? Ha! I’m a pansy. The most interesting thing I do is ride a motorcycle, but I don’t want to ride long distance because I have a fear of bridges. I tend to be afraid of everything, but I force myself to do it anyway. My mentor in high school, who is still a good friend, Ms. Glenoria Jennett told me I can let fear keep me from living my life, or I can use it to fuel my life. Sometimes, I think you have to push yourself to do what scares you.
K.B.: Very good advice. I’ve had my battles with fear as well. Anxiety can be killer. It’s true, though, you have to get out of your comfort zone to really find what you’re capable of. I find that’s true for writing, too. I love trying new genres and formats that I’m not used to, just to see what happens. What does your writing process look like? Do you have a space where you write at home, or do you need to be somewhere else to get work done? I’m really lucky, my desk is by a window with a view of a pond, as cliché as it sounds! The geese do get a little noisy, though.
Sherri: I raised six sons and there was seldom ever a quiet moment. I learned to write anywhere amid most anything, but I have to admit that now that everyone is out of the house I’m getting used to the quiet. My husband has always made sure I had a designated office for my writing though I use my laptop nearly as much. I work in the backroom at work during slow times and lunch breaks. The main time I need complete focus is when I’m revising or editing.
K.B.: Same. I need total quiet when it comes time to edit. I can usually listen to music or tune out things when I’m writing, but editing requires a different sort of focus. Is there anyone or anything specifically that got you into writing? Do you have real-life influences or favorite authors who made you want to write? We’ve talked a bit about our partners and how they help with reading and feedback. Was there anyone early on who was your cheerleader?
Sherri: My Granddaddy Bill Joe Lupton and my father were both avid storytellers. Now, I cannot tell a story the way they did but it gave me the love. My mother was and still is an avid reader, in fact, she is one of my BETA readers. Being an only child and living in a rural community, having to entertain myself, I developed my imagination into stories. I wrote my first romance at ten years old, in red ink. I think it was like ten pages long, handwritten.
I credit Jayne Ann Krentz and my librarian best friend, Robina Norman for introducing me to her for my turn to contemporary romantic suspense. JAK writes under the name Amanda Quick as well as Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle, as Amanda Quick she writes historical Jayne Castle, sci-fi/fantasy romance. My love of her stories made me want to crossover and try contemporary.
K.B.: Those are some great influences. It’s nice to have people in your life who are storytellers and supporters. My grandmother wrote books and books of poetry, and my grandpa always had a tall tale to tell. I know you’re a fellow southerner, having lived in North Carolina and New Orleans. As an Arkansas boy, I love the beauty of the natural state, but I’ve always enjoyed visiting other places and have thought about living elsewhere. Have you ever lived outside of the south? Do you think being a southerner influences your writing?
Sherri: I’ve lived in New Mexico but other than visit, I’ve always lived in the south. My oldest son and I had a conversation about southerners whether from the US or Europe, mothers from Southern places want to feed you and take care of you. We’ve not noted the same in northern areas, but I’ll go out on a limb and say, any country folk, feel the need to be hospitable. We learned to depend upon each other. While we might distrust strangers, we will probably still feed you. I think that innocence shows up in my writing. While I’m older, and have lived other places, I’m still a bit naïve and trusting. There is a safety about living in a small town, of course I shatter that illusion in my Leeward Files series.
K.B.: That makes a lot of sense. I used to dream about living in a big city when I was younger, but I’ve become so accustomed to a slower pace of living in a smaller place. Although I imagine city living would provide lots of fodder for writing. We’ve talked a little about writer’s block before. How do you cope with it? Do you have any strategies for getting around it, or do you have to let it run its course?
Sherri: For me, writer’s block usually stems from one of three things: either it’s emotional or it’s fatigue or I’ve written myself into a corner. I don’t handle my emotions well. As I mentioned, I’m an only child and I didn’t develop the tools for fighting or negotiating with others like most children with siblings do. I tend to internalize everything, blame myself for everything and pull into my shell. When I finally get brave enough to talk about whatever is upsetting me, it’s a release valve and it allows me to get back to work.
The other is stretching myself too far. I put so much of my writing career on hold while raising my family and I feel like I’m in a race against time to get it all done. I want to do everything yesterday. I forget I’m human and there are only 24-hours in the day. I have to sleep, and I have a full-time job. So, learning to juggle, say no, prioritize and make myself do the grunt work, is often what gets in my way of writing more than actual writer’s block.
If it is true writer’s block, it’s because I didn’t plan well enough. I’m a pantser or a reformed pantser, I do plan a bit now. I don’t outline but I do brainstorm plot ideas, conflicts, reactions, etc. and sometimes I’m writing along, and an idea comes to me, but I didn’t plan it in advance and I’m not sure where to go with it. I need to decide if it’s worth the effort to rework the story for this new idea, plan and strategize how to make it work or ditch it and go back to the original plan. Sometimes I think I have writer’s ADHD… I’m writing along according to my plan and ooh, shiny new idea, let’s go wandering over here…
My advice is simple, get your rest, eat right, exercise, fresh air is your friend, take time to recharge your batteries with friends and family, and plan your stories even if you don’t outline, jot down a few ideas of where you want to go next and what the goal is for that scene.
K.B.: I get that. I’m always biting off more than I can chew, writing down a million different ideas so they don’t escape me. I have to make myself focus on a few projects at a time, though, or I’d never get anything done. I have something for each emotional state I find myself in, so it’s harder to come up with an excuse not to write! Do you have any triggers that bring on writer’s block? For me, it’s hard to write when I’m not feeling well. I have some physical ailments that make it difficult to focus sometimes. Also, depression and anxiety can be a struggle when I’m trying to get things done. Do you have any experience with obstacles like these? How do you manage them?
Sherri: I struggle with depression, low self-esteem and I don’t sleep well. I have to give myself pep talks. I try to turn the channels in my brain. Rest, exercise and doing something to recharge your mind and body helps. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to take a break.
K.B.: I totally agree. Know your limits and work with them. There’s a big difference between pushing your comfort zone and knowing your triggers. Do you have any advice for those who struggle with depression or anxiety? I’m a big proponent of communication and making therapy more available and affordable. I also find it’s helpful to know others are fighting the same battles. Having a space where you can be part of a conversation or at least finding representation of what you’re going through is so important, too, I think.
Sherri: A friend and I have been talking about starting a Facebook page that’s exclusive but inclusive, where people can talk about anything. We’ve had several overdoses and suicides in our community over the past couple of years and feel we need to do something to let people know we’re here. My only fear is neither of us is a professional therapist and before we start, I’d really like to have someone who is on call for anyone who needs more than just someone to talk to.
I am blessed that I can talk to my mom, my husband and friends about my problems. I know part of what I’m going through is hormonal. I’m a woman of a certain age and I’m not sure if men go through this but women seesaw emotionally at various ages and then we level off again. I’m hoping to level off soon.
For those who don’t have close friends to talk to and a therapist isn’t available I write letters, poems, rants, whatever you want to call it, that I never send. It’s a way to unburden myself of what is hurting me. I just ramble on through the pain getting it out and then I’m able to breathe again.
I have also found that dealing with my pain through fiction helps. In each of my stories there is a little piece of my own emotion hidden there. While I may not have experienced the exact same pain my character are going through, the similarities allow me to get those emotions out and possibly kill off the person who hurt me. Maybe not the healthiest therapy but then again, I’m not committing real murder so there is that.
K.B.: Writing is some of the best therapy I’ve had, honestly. It’s cathartic to write out your frustrations and see a different outcome. Do you have advice for up-and-coming writers, especially those who are self-publishing for the first time? As a recently self-published author, I know how rocky it can be trying to navigate these waters. I found the writing community on Twitter to be a huge boon. Do you think it’s important for a self-published author to be good at marketing and promotion as well?
Sherri: I’m a shoe-string budget author. I published and promoted my first book with only $500 to start with. I believe learning everything about the craft and business of writing makes us better. While we can’t be good at everything, as small business owners and as indie authors, that’s what we are, we need to learn as much as we can. No one, even if they are traditionally published is going to do the marketing for you. Even the big publishing houses expect their authors to do much of their own marketing, of course the better you sell books the more money and resources they’ll give you.
For those of us who are doing it on our own, I have found talking to other authors, joining author and writing groups, being involved on social media, all of these things help get the word out about your books.
If you are part of a group and you’re good at graphics or interviewing, or writing blurbs, and someone else is great at cover design or something else you are not, offer your services for theirs. Doing these interviews with other authors allows me to reach other audiences because you are going to share with your friends and maybe they’ll start following me and decide to check out my books. The same with my friends and you.
We can’t expect to know everything coming into this business. I took so many classes on marketing and promoting but it wasn’t until I was in the middle of things that I started seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Mostly, it’s trial and error, a lot of error. My first advice is to document what ads you do and how many sales you had afterwards. Make a file for what to do again and what not to do.
K.B.: Great advice! Making connections is so important. Networking has always been hard for me, but it’s so nice to find groups and fellow writers who are supportive. What can we look forward to seeing from you next? Are there more plans for The Leeward Files? Are there any upcoming events you’d like to promote?
Sherri: I’m finishing up Willow’s Secrets and hope to have it out soon. I’ll be following it up with Trent and Cole’s stories from the Harrell Family Chronicles and I hope to redo a World War 2 Christmas novella and expand it to a full-length novel in time for the holidays. I am also doing research for a historical series I’ve been planning for years that I can’t wait to get started writing.
K.B.: Can’t wait! Thanks again, Sherri, for letting me interview you this week on Creekside Café! If you enjoyed this conversation, check out our chat about partners, cooking, travel and more in our first interview which we’ll link below. Also, check out Sherri’s interview with Damian and Marble, characters from my book! It was a pleasure getting to know you even better and getting a glimpse into your life and your writing, Sherri. I look forward to chatting again soon!