Sunday, February 12, 2012

Q&A with Sherri Wood Emmons!

I'm so excited to feature Sherri Wood Emmons, author of Prayer and Lies and The Sometimes Daughter, here on Books Are My Heroine! Sherri has graciously answered some questions for us about her life, her writing and of course, her favourite heroines! To learn more about Sherri Wood Emmons, visit her website at

Q: Who is your favourite literary heroine and why?

A: It’s really hard to pick just one! But I guess my all-time favorite is Jo March from Little Women. I first read the book when I was 12, and I so wanted to be like Jo. She is independent and opinionated. She defies the conventions of her time. She loses her temper sometimes and makes rash decisions. But ultimately, she follows her heart and her own convictions. And she is a writer! I reread the book with my daughter several years ago and was amazed at how much I still love Jo and her sisters.Other favorites are Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen), Lillian Leyb (Away by Amy Bloom), Tamila Soroush (Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald), and Ellen Gulden (One True Thing by Anna Quindlen).

Q: Who is your favourite female author?

Again, it’s so hard to choose just one. I love Jane Austen. I discovered her during my freshman year in high school and read all of her novels, one right after the other, during that year. I reread them every couple years, and I still love them.Austen has such keen insight into human relationships, with all their complexities, and it is so easy to relate to her heroines. I think it’s amazing that she could write the way she did, given her time and her situation. She never traveled, never married, and spent most of her life in the same little town. But her rendering of that life, with its narrow boundaries and strict conventions, defied the very boundaries she faced. Plus, she’s just drop-dead funny.

If I can add a second favorite, I’d say Maeve Binchy. I will read anything she writes! I love the sense of place in her books, and I love how characters from one novel will show up briefly in another. For just sheer fun, I love Maeve Binchy. I also love Anna Quindlen, Amy Tan, Anita Shreve, Amy Bloom, and Sarah Gruen.

Q: In both Prayers and Lies and The Sometimes Daughter, the plot follows young girls through their childhood experiences. What was your childhood like and has it inspired anything from the childhoods of your protagonists?

I had kind of an idyllic childhood, really. I grew up in the 1960s in a neighborhood of Indianapolis called Irvington (where both my books are set), that really was—and still is—like a small town surrounded by the city. People didn’t lock their doors, neighbors knew one another, we had block parties and ice cream socials. Community meant a lot. I spent my summers in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, where my parents are
from, so I took the setting for Prayers and Lies from that time and place. My dad is an ordained minister and my mom was a reading tutor. I am the youngest of five girls, so there was always a lot of estrogen in the house. I had great friends in my childhood, and many of them are still close today.

I did “borrow” some stories from my childhood, but reworked them to fit the novels. People who knew me when I was a kid sometimes recognize things from my childhood.

Q: Female relationships, from familial to friendship, are very important in your stories. How has your own life been shaped by the woman around you?

Well, I have four sisters, so my early life was very much shaped by those relationships. My mother was a great mom—not a great cook, but a really great mom! And I had a godmother who was amazing. She was Greek, had been raised in Romania and educated in France. She spoke five languages and she took me to my first opera and to the symphony and the ballet. Really, she was wonderful.

Today, I have a great circle of friends, some of whom I’ve known since I was in grade school. I rely on them for advice, friendship, encouragement, and so much more. I can’t imagine my life without them.

Q: What is a day in the life of a working author like?

That really depends on how close to deadline I am. Honestly, I am the least disciplined person in the world. So when deadline is several months out, it seems like I can find 500 things to do rather than write. I also am a freelance editor and indexer, so I do freelance jobs on a regular basis.

Once the deadline starts looming, I kick into gear. Then I am often at the computer from nine in the morning until nine at night. I wrote the last 250 pages of Prayers and Lies in one week. I spent a year revising it, but when the story is flowing you just have to go with it.

My third book (still untitled) is due to the publisher on April 1, so right now I am in deadline mode again. Some days my husband gets home from work and I am at the computer, still in my pajamas, with a cold cup of coffee, glued to the screen. Those are good days.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Write! I spent the first 45 years of my life thinking about writing, reading about writing, talking about writing, but not actually writing. I was scared of rejection, scared to find out I couldn't do it. I wish now I had started so much earlier!

One thing that helped me a lot, especially with the first book, was joining a writer’s group. As I said, discipline is not my strong suit, so having deadlines really helps me. We met once a month, and I had to produce something every month. That was invaluable. And the feedback helps, too. Writing is such a solitary venture, and without feedback you can write yourself into some pretty odd places!

The other thing I think is invaluable is reading. Read, read, read! Read a book for pleasure, then reread and take note of the parts you really like. What was the author doing? How did she achieve an effect? What tricks did she use? Reading is the best way to learn to write.

Q: What is something about you that your fans would be surprised to learn?

I don’t outline or do a lot of plotting before I write. In fact, I don’t usually know what will happen in a story until it happens. I know that goes against all the advice you get in writing workshops, but it’s what works for me. I start with a character, a time, and a place … and then the story just happens.

If outlining works for you, that’s great! Outline away. But if it doesn’t, try just writing for fun to see what happens. Because when the characters take over the story, that’s when the fun begins!

Thank you so much to Sherri Wood Emmons, and I don't forget to grab your copies of Prayers and Lies and The Sometimes Daughter at your local bookseller today! 

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