Author on the Couch: Sheri Humphreys
This week on Author on the Couch, I conduct a session with…
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Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Sheri: The dissolution of my thirty-one year marriage affected so many things: my ability to trust, my view of the future, even the degree I care about what others think of me. Overall, I think I’ve become stronger and more confident. I challenge myself. It’s made me a better and more sympathetic person. But I had to work through a lot of hurt.
Me: When bad stuff happens it never seems like it’s a good thing. But when you get on the other side, so often people realize how much they’ve grown and changed for the better.
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Sheri: Persistence. People who don’t write have no idea of the persistence it requires to be successful. A crazy amount. I was told early on by my writing teacher, and I took it to heart. I always felt, if I just didn’t give up, I’d eventually succeed.
Me: Yes. Yes. Yes. Truer words were never spoken.
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Sheri: It’s hard to pick only one! But I’m not satisfied with things I create unless they’re the best I can make them. I suppose that’s a form of perfectionism, but it doesn’t touch all aspects of my life. Just my creative side. I can cook a mediocre meal or do a mediocre job of cleaning my house and be perfectly content. But I can’t turn loose of a form, a flyer, a diagram, or a story unless it’s the best I can make it. Unless I like it. Part of what I love about writing is that my knowledge and ability as a writer continually grows. Which means my “best” gets better and better all the time.
Me: What was your high point as a writer—a time when you were happiest?
Sheri: Every new achievement is my high point. With each goal reached, I am happier than ever before. And I set my sights on a new goal. My most recent high point was the publication of my debut novel. That changed my status, my self-image, the way other people look at me. It was the culmination of a life-long dream. But now I have new goals. Among them: a RITA final and a book that makes the bestseller lists.
Me: Those are some fabulous goals! I love them! And happen to share those very same goals!
What was your low point as a writer—a time when you questioned your path as a writer, a time when you felt really crappy about your writing?
Sheri: There were times I wondered if I’d ever succeed. But my writing teacher/mentor believed in me, and she had a huge influence, so I never doubted my ability. For me, and for many people, writing is more about timing than anything else.
There’ve been times in my life when other events took priority. Years when I stopped writing altogether, even though my interest and desire never left. I suppose this is tangled up with how much you believe in yourself and in how bad you want it. If I’d believed more, wanted it more, I could have done it much earlier than I did.
Yet I believed enough to be in a critique group for ten years. To eventually stop keeping it a secret and begin telling others that “I write.” To finally owning the identity and proudly saying to everyone, “I write historical romance.”
I owe a lot to my teacher/mentor. A Hero to Hold is dedicated to her. I wish I’d found her earlier than I did. I actually knew of her years before I began working with her. But I’d heard she was tough, and some students cried. Why didn’t I go anyway and decide for myself? Too afraid of rejection, too afraid I wasn’t strong enough or good enough, not confident enough, the list goes on and on. Years later I did go. She didn’t make anyone cry and she taught me to write. Everyone’s path is different, and we walk it in our own time.
Me: If you had to pick one person to be for only one day (purely for writer research purposes), who would you choose? Why?
Sheri: I’d love to be a man for a day. Any man. I know men, talk to men, love men, but the closest to getting inside a man’s head I can achieve is reading a fictional character’s thoughts. Nonfiction writing and conversation is usually sanitized to some degree. Fictional characters’ thoughts are not censored.
And writing a male perspective is daunting. I worry—does my character sound like a guy? Or like Sheri trying to sound like a guy? Ha!
I’d love to have male DNA, male hormones, a male body for a day to see what they’re really like inside. How they really think and feel. Hopefully I wouldn’t run screaming.
Me: That’s the best! I love it!
Which of your characters are you most like? Why?
Sheri: I identify in some way with all my characters. Even my antagonists. I work hard to make my antagonists multidimensional. They may not be likable, but I want the reader to understand them and to feel some sympathy for them. I want them to have some admirable attributes.
The one significant part of myself that is in every book is my nursing self. I worked for thirty-seven years as a nurse, twenty-five of those in the Emergency Department. And there’s always something of that part of me in every story.
In my upcoming Nightingale Series, all the heroines are former Florence Nightingale nurses, who worked in the British military hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War. There are numerous patient stories in each book.
A Hero to Hold isn’t about a nurse, but the patient advocate part of me is alive and well in the story. Because the hero is disabled. I wanted to portray a disabled man as capable, sexy, attractive, wonderful. I wanted the reader to forget he was disabled and find him thoroughly desirable. To regard him exactly the same as they would any able-bodied man. The day I wrote, “David strode to the door,” I knew I’d succeeded. I’d forgotten David couldn’t walk! There’s also a medical crisis in the book—I just can’t keep them out!
Me: What’s your writer’s mantra? Why does that mantra speak to you?
Sheri: So many authors seem to have the ability to churn out thousands of words a day. It’s quite intimidating and left me with the impression that, as a professional writer, I should be able to do the same. Except I write s-l-o-w. It takes me one to two days to write a short scene, so I write at a rate of less than 1,000 words a day. I can spend hours over a paragraph or a few sentences. I’ve tried just slamming something rough down, but every time I end up throwing it out and replacing it. And the rewrite is just as s-l-o-w as usual.
Then I read a blog by RITA winner Laura Drake, who confesses to being a slow writer. I loved Laura’s Sweet On a Cowboy series. The emotional impact, the depth of character she delivers wows me. I asked myself, why does it matter if I write slow? I consider Laura Drake a fabulous writer and she’s comfortable being a slow writer. Why can’t I accept that I’m slow and be content?
So I adopted “butt in chair” as my goal and my mantra. I quit caring about quantity of work turned out in a specific time period. My only goal is to do something every day. I count revision, research, anything that is necessary to get to the final polished end product. I can work for ten minutes or ten hours. It doesn’t matter. Both are fine.
All my feelings of inadequacy as a writer fell away. Every day I was a successful author. And a funny thing happened. I became more productive. Overall I was turning out more words than ever before. No, I didn’t get faster, but I was spending more time writing and possibly more productive time.
Now, when people ask what my writing schedule is, I always reply my only writing goal is “butt in chair,” with a short explanation. That philosophy freed me and took me from feeling like a failure who lacked the necessary writing chops to feeling like a success and a professional.
Me: Sheri–I’m a slow writer too. And have only partially accepted that about myself. My mantra is quality over quantity, but that doesn’t stop me from yearning for a faster pace.
Tell me about your Historical Romance novel A HERO TO HOLD
Viscountess Charlotte Haliday has lost her illusions. Scandal took her position in Society and the husband she thought she loved, and his mysterious murder followed shortly thereafter. But now is the time to return to London, time to find whatever small portion of happiness remains to her.
The first step will be proving she is her own person, unafraid of the lies and deceit that came before. Then she will defy her father and all others who try to take away her independence. Never again will Charlotte have a husband or seek the perfect marriage of her best friend Jane, but perhaps she will dare the wrath of the gossip-mongers and indulge her tiniest desire. To do so will bring her face to face with a stranger in an alcove. It will lead to learning Mr. David Scott is not only a war hero soon to be awarded the Victoria Cross, but also the most formidable man she has ever met. Broken in every way except the ones that count, he just might make her believe in love. And only she can show him that he is not alone.
Me: Share a few of your favorite paragraphs with us.
***This excerpt is in David (the hero’s) point of view.***
Charlotte stood, Miles providing a steadying hand. She took one step then halted, favoring her right leg. “I believe my hip is quite bruised.”
She bit down on her lower lip and stood on one leg, clutching Wakefield. Helplessness assailed David. He grabbed his wheels and began to turn his chair. He’d offer his shoulder for support, perhaps even convince her to sit in his lap and let him wheel her to the street. But before he could position his chair, Wakefield spoke.
“If you’ll allow me?”
Then Wakefield bent and swept Charlotte into his arms again.
“Oh, please. You needn’t carry me a second time. I can walk if we take it slowly.”
Wakefield grinned. “You’re not the least bit of trouble, I assure you.”
David knew that smile. It was the one his friend often used to such good effect on desirable women. And the last thing David saw of the pair was Chetney ushering them out the door, Charlotte comfortably ensconced in Wakefield’s arms, her hands locked behind his neck.
David rolled back into his office and shut the door. A flash of purple caught his eye, a button from Charlotte’s bodice lying upon the floor. He picked it up and rubbed it between his fingers. It was round, silky smooth, and covered with the same fabric as her dress, which had nearly matched her eyes.
He slipped it into his waistcoat pocket and expertly maneuvered his chair behind his desk. Then he picked up his small brass desk clock and hurled it into the wall.
Sheri’s note ↓
I love the way this scene concludes. Charlotte and David are new lovers and David must hide what he’s feeling: love, jealousy, possessiveness, frustration, anger, and helplessness. Then once he’s alone it all boils over. It shows how deeply he cares and how helpless he feels. It makes my heart go out to him.
A HERO TO HOLD is available from these booksellers:
Coming Soon from Sheri:
THE UNSEDUCIBLE EARL, the first book of The Nightingale Series, will release later this year.
You can visit Sheri here:
Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. Her first novel RACE THE DARKNESS is available for pre-order now!
Check out Abbie Road’s second Novel HUNT THE DAWN, which is also available for pre-order!
*FORMATTED BY~MANNY GOODMAN~