From There to Here

Sherry here celebrating turning in my tenth book!

Yesterday I turned in my ninth Sarah Winston book, Absence of Alice, and as always I tend to reflect on what led me to this point. Hank Phillipi Ryan interviewed me recently for the Sister to Sister blog from the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime—read the full interview here.

Here is the first question Hank asked me and my response:

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Do you remember the very first time you thought: I’m going to write a book, and I can do it.  What was that moment?

SHERRY HARRIS: It started with a short story contest I spotted in a newspaper. I started writing and writing and writing until I realized I was writing a novel instead of a short story. I never doubted that I could write a novel, but boy did I have a lot to learn about writing a novel that was good enough to be published.

The first writer’s conference I attended was in Monterey, California – a small conference with about fifty writers. Everyone who wanted to could read for five minutes. I did. As I stood there reading I was thinking “this is terrible, it’s all backstory and description.” Fortunately, the people at the conference were kind and pointed out the good things. The keynote speaker told me I was a good writer and loved that I was writing a book about the conflict between two sisters. Two sisters? I was writing a murder mystery, but no one could figure that out.

Back to the drawing board. I went again the next year. I’d made some progress, but one woman thought I was writing a horror story. Oops. Everything was over dramatized. Then I realized I needed to take some classes and read some writing books.

I took an online class at a community college, attended a now defunct but fabulous conference in Seaside, Florida taught by the MFA professors at Florida International University (how I wish I could hear them all again with what I know now), and read writing books by Hallie Ephron and John Dufresne among others.

And then, of course, as I’ve said many times before I met Julie Hennrikus at Malice Domestic who told me to join Sisters in Crime and attend the New England Crime Bake. Since then I’ve been surrounded by wonderful writing friends.

I’ve also gotten edits back that were discouraging (one long ago that was so terrible that if it had been my first one I would have given up), stacks of rejections, I have two and a half novels sitting on my computer that won’t see the light of day.

My point is that with writing you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You have to want to learn, to always be better, to reach out to people in the writing community. And you have to do it your way. Don’t listen if someone says you’re not a writer if you don’t write every day or if you don’t plot or if you don’t write in the mornings. Find your way.

Writing isn’t easy, most of us don’t make much money, but there is nothing better than holding your book in your hand, seeing it on the shelf at the bookstore or library, or having someone take the time to write you to tell you they love your books.

Thanks to all of you that have been here with me.

Readers: Do you remember a time you thought of doing something and carried through?

29 Thoughts

  1. Excellent interview! Thank you for being brave enough to rip the bandages off the real writing process. Constant learning, constant revisions, and along the way meeting some of the best friends on the planet. It’s difficult, but it is very satisfying. And a lot of fun.

  2. Thanks for persevering and writing so we can all enjoy Sarah’s stories. I always look forward to them and the memories of that part of NE as well as a great story.

  3. Congratulations, Sherry! You got it right. One foot in front of the other. Some days that’s all that keeps me going when I think, “This is so awful, why did I start this?”

  4. Congratulations on the new book! Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Absence of Alice”.

    Think our moving would qualify as following through. We had always dreamed of moving the Ozark Mountains visiting there on vacations whenever we could. However, I’m more of a creature of habit and don’t take change all that well. Then one day on the way home from one of our visits it was me that said “you know I think we could do this”. It lead to a lot of talking and planning but within 3 years we had sold out, downsized, bought property, built a home and moved in. It’s a plan that took about 20 years to materialize all in all, but definitely worth it with the end result being even better than we could have hoped for.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. Yes for many years I wanted a small tattoo of a sunflower because I love sunflowers! So on my 50th birthday I finally got my one and only tattoo! My family didn’t know and was shocked but they love it and so do I! 🌻

  6. Great piece, Sherry! You really summed up the writing experience. Not easy but worth it!

  7. I always enjoy reading about how it all began for you. How wonderful that the people at that first conference pointed out the good things, even if off-center from your own plot line. And you kept going, kept learning, kept developing as a writer. The Sarah Winston series is so much fun, so I’m happy for me as a reader that you persevered. 🙂

  8. Your perseverence is remarkable. I guess that must be true for most successful writers. I’m glad you stuck with it and had such great support all along the way. I love your books.

    When I was 27 I decided I would like to go to college. I wasn’t even sure I was smart enough to do so! The college and my husband were wonderful in their support. It took nine and half years because I was working full time, had a family, did volunteer work, etc. However, I not only finished but I graduated magna cum laude. That was all a very long time ago, but I’m still amazed and proud that I did it.

  9. Congratulations, Sherry. It is amazing to me that you finished your year as president of Sisters in Crime national on November 1 and turned in this book 3 months later. You are a wonder!

  10. Congrats on book 10!

    When I signed up for my first mud run, it was scary. Especially since it was a 10k and the thought of running that far was scary. I barely ran a mile and a half, so six miles?

    And now here I am looking at year 11 doing mud runs. And I run 3 miles without even thinking about it.

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