Wednesday, March 30, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Leslie J. Sherrod
Leslie J. Sherrod is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. Her debut novel, Like Sheep Gone Astray (Grand Central Publishing, 2006), earned a Starred Review from Booklist. She is a contributor to the bestselling A Cup of Comfort series (Adams Media) and co-partner of Paintbrush Poetry Original Art & Gifts (www.PaintbrushPoetry.com). Before embracing writing full-time, she worked as a human services professional in the mental health field and is currently pursuing her masters in social work with an emphasis on maternal and child health. A wife and mother to three, Secret Place (Urban Christian/Kensington Publishing Corp, 2011), a compelling novel addressing mental illness in families, is her second project.
How did you start out your writing career?
I wrote my first story in second grade and immediately fell in love with creative writing. While writing poems in middle and high school and experimenting with short stories in college, I never imagined myself writing a novel. When I started working on my first published novel, Like Sheep Gone Astray (Grand Central Publishing, 2006), I knew nothing about the genre of Christian fiction. But God. He began opening doors I did not even know existed and has continually shown Himself strong. With the release of my second novel Secret Place, I am trusting God to reach even more readers with a message of real hope and encouragement. Through a lot of prayer, a lot of research, and a lot of twists and turns that could rival any suspense thriller, this writing journey – ministry – continues for the glory of Him.
What did you learn while writing this book?
I’ve learned that I have more courage than I realized. I’ve learned that the life lessons I want to share with readers are the same ones I’m learning myself. I’ve learned that endurance and patience are action words. I’ve learned that God really does keep His promises; His timing is perfect; and joy really does come in the morning.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
Mental illness is something people don’t talk about. Especially in church. There are many different beliefs and fears and too much shame and stigma. There is also a lot of hurt, pain, silent tears, and misunderstanding. Secret Place is not meant to be the answer to the questions that come with mental illness. Rather, it was written with the intent to bring awareness; to cast hopeful light on those who are struggling with diagnoses that affect their day to day lives; to shine encouragement on the family members who are often trapped under the same umbrella, exposed to the same fierce elements that are darkening the days of dear loved ones. It is okay to get help. It is necessary. I want readers to intensely feel the heavy emotions of the characters and then absorb the brightness of the hope and healing that is possible.
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
About halfway through the book, I realized that nearly every character in the story was in immense pain. I was beginning to feel traumatized myself. At that point, I went back to the beginning and wrote in a character, Deacon Earnest Caddaway, to bring some lightness and levity to an otherwise heavy story. I had fun with him, not in a bad way, but because he sweetly represented to me a few memories and traditions anyone who grew up in the so-called Black Church will recognize. Sometimes we have to get the mirror out to really see ourselves. Deacon Caddaway served as a mirror for me and made me truly reflect on what I believe about some things. And he gave me a good laugh when I needed it.
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
The only guarantees in this field are that you have to keep writing, keep pursuing, keep working - and you better keep praying! What has surprised me the most are the assumptions people make about the writing life. Um, there is not that much glamour involved. At least it hasn’t been for me. I have not expected it; and truthfully, glamour is not my goal. If sweat and tears could be fully captured in written form, you would have my novel Secret Place. But that would be a little messy, so praise God for computers (or ink pens if that’s what you’re working with) that let you turn the messiness into an organized composition. And praise God for publishers who are willing to assume the risk.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
I love when the story takes a turn I did not see coming. There are times when what I thought were minor details in previous chapters unfold into themes or twists that I had not planned. When a story begins to take over itself, I am in a state of ecstasy. I feel a sense of completion. What do I hate? Getting stuck. I have three or four novels with 70 to 210 pages written each. A couple of them have been stuck on my laptop for years. Close to a decade in one case. One day… You know, I’m learning to trust God’s timing, so when it’s time to be unstuck, they’ll get finished.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
1. Trying to balance a husband, three children, full-time grad school, an upcoming licensing exam, a home-based business, and a new book release all at the same time is kind of a lot to do. I think I knew that coming into this situation, but had not fully appreciated the dangerously delicate state my mind would be in right about now.
2. Courage is not something you pray for. It’s what God commands.
3. That it really truly is okay for me to be me.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
DO: Your research.
DON’T: Give up.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I cannot imagine my life without writing. It is as basic a need for me as loving my family.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
That’s a tough one. At the moment my mind is filled with textbook material on human development and theory and medical sociology and transactional analysis (don’t even ask). I do know that I don’t want to be Freud.
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Sleep. But that rarely happens.
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I have a website (http://www.lesliejsherrod.com/). I’m also on Facebook and for some reason I’m on Twitter (have not quite figured out what I’m supposed to be tweeting). I will also be visiting some bookstores and conferences and the like this spring and summer. Finally, I am available for book club discussions in person, by telephone, or via Skype. I love to hear from readers. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our theme for this month is Resources On The Net. What are your favorite resources on the net.
I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t Google something, so Google is at the top of my list. Between Google and Wikipedia, you can’t go too wrong. I also like http://www.bible.com/ because I can always find whatever verse or chapter I’m looking for when I need it.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
My life and times are in God’s hands.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
I am very excited about a new three-book series I’m beginning. Part mystery, part women’s fiction, all inspiration. More details to come…
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
Mail: PO Box 9795, Towson, MD 21284
I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. And you can join my mailing list via my website to get updates as well!
When desperation leads to homicide, can healing, freedom - and faith - be found?
A Sunday school teacher turns to the wrong man for help with her family’s secrets. Following a public tragedy that exposes private pain, she is left to wonder if healing and freedom will ever be hers. Real issues, raw characters…riveting twists.
Tackling a topic not usually discussed in churches or communities, Secret Place poignantly reveals the devastation mental illness can cause within families, and offers hope for when all has gone to pieces.
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