Welcome to my blog today Author Leslie Sherrod. Welcome Leslie.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a wife, mom, and licensed clinical social worker. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for twenty years and we have three children: a middle schooler, a high school junior, and a college freshman. As a social worker, I’ve had jobs in health care and behavioral health.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I am a firm believer in self-care and when possible I try to relax, catch up on sleep, travel, or just spend time with my family.
Do you have a day job as well?
I just started a new job providing contract work as a behavioral health specialist. I’m grateful to be in a position where I can provide professional counseling and psychotherapy for those who need emotional support.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I began writing at an early age. I remember a writing assignment I completed in second grade about my best friend. In middle school and high school, I frequently wrote poetry. In college I fell in love with writing short stories. I started my first novel while home after my first child was born. It would eventually get published in 2006 and I’ve written six additional novels since then.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’ve been categorized as a Christian fiction author, though truthfully, I did not know that was even a genre when I began writing novels. I simply wrote stories that were shaped by my experience as an African American Christian woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. I see writing as a form of ministry and am honored that my gifts and talents can be used to encourage others and hopefully help draw people closer to God for a sense of purpose and peace.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas have come from unusual places – walking across a parking lot, sitting in a church service, reflecting on a seemingly insignificant memory from life. I’ll have a glimpse of a scene in my head and then when I write it down, I’ll realize an entire story surrounds that scene.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Uh, I am kind of living right now on that block. I am taking steps to change the address, get mail redirected- something, anything to move me off this block! In all seriousness, I’ve faced several challenges over the past few years that have required a lot of time, attention, and mental energy. It’s part of my story and I’m sure will help shape my writing direction soon.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I usually must write the first 100 pages or so of a story before the inklings of an outline form. Then, my outline will usually be a very basic bullet point log of upcoming scenes scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper or the back of a nearby envelope, etc. The endings of my stories usually have a surprise element even for me and that is one of my favorite elements of writing. I’ll have an “aha moment” where details I did not realize were significant all come together to create a satisfying end.
Is there any author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
I read all the time as a child and teen, mostly historical sagas and mysteries. When I was younger, books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Mary Higgins Clark had great use of my library card. I also fell in love with poets and writers that reflected the trials and triumphs faced by African Americans. I could not get enough of the words by Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin, Margaret Walker, Walter Moseley, and more.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The biggest challenge I faced was having information on how to get it done. I remember one afternoon writing a list of questions I had about publishing, then praying and asking God for guidance. Within hours of that prayer, I came across a website that had nearly all my questions listed with an invitation to apply for attendance at an upcoming conference that would be giving the answers! I submitted my half-written story and was offered a seat at the conference. Doors opened from there and my first novel was published not long after.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
The writers that I read in my youth impacted my view of writing, plotting, characters, and the poetry that comprises well-written novels. I’ve also been influenced and inspired by the recent work of fellow Christian fiction authors like Tiffany Warren, Victoria Christopher Murray, MaRita Teague, and Yolonda Tonette Sanders – and many more. These are just a few!
What impact have they had on your writing?
I think recent impacts would focus on the idea of possibilities, i.e. opening my eyes to the wide range of plot ideas and themes to explore, especially within the genre of Christian fiction.
What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Reading and writing have a lot of competition from modern distractions – television, movies, the internet, and social media. Stories are being introduced in formats that go beyond written words on the page and include multimedia elements and other creative and artistic platforms. That said, I believe there will always be readers, those who enjoy the artform and engage with novels. Some readers prefer books in hand while others only read ebooks. Either way, the power of story is a universal feature of our common human experience. I will continue to write and seek to satisfy those who want to keep reading stories.
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
I’d say my stories usually start with intuition and flow from there. At some point, logic comes in to help with the finer points of editing and ensuring loose ends are tied up appropriately. As stated earlier, outlines usually don’t become part of my process until I’m about 100 pages into a story. I have to start somewhere and feel free to see my work as a first draft. It will get cleaned up and perfected as I continue writing and editing.
What is your role in the writing community?
I see myself as a quiet observer who will jump in to present or speak when asked. I’m pretty low-key and an introvert by nature. I enjoy learning from others and from life. I’m a member of various writing communities and hope to engage even more with other writers and readers in the future.
How does your book relates to your spiritual practice or other life path?
I do not want my books to come off as preachy or religious; rather, as quiet encouragement that offers hope and purpose to readers. What is true for my writing is true for my day to day life. There’s plenty of darkness in this world. My hope is that my life reflects the light, love, and glory of Christ who died and rose again for us to have right standing with God, fellowship with each other, and a hope for the future. My characters are not perfect people with perfect lives because that is not real life. Just as Jesus used parables to explain truths and offer direction, my prayer is that my stories can serve a role of help and hope through Him to those who read.
What is your testimony?
I came to believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior at an early age while a student in my mother’s Sunday School class. I respect the many backgrounds and beliefs of others, but have found in Him life, truth, and purpose. My ultimate prayer is that who I am in Him will help bring others to the same hope of His calling.
How has your environment & upbringing colored your writing?
I can only write from the experiences I know and the worldview with which I’ve been acquainted. My family faced many challenges as I was growing up, challenges that left me no choice but to lean on faith. I can honestly say that everything I ever needed God provided, even if His timing was different from my own timing. These experiences have colored my writing with optimism. Even in the darkest plot, there is still hope to be found. I want to address real issues and themes – with the message that as long as there is life there is hope. A single, small candle can still flood a dark room with light.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I’m all about #familygoals. It’s important to me to maintain my relationships with my husband and children as we navigate life together and help set the next generation on a winning course. I’ve done my best to place them first as I chase after Christ and His calling. I’ve had to make choices and sacrifices at times to do what I believed was in their best interests. Jobs, titles, accolades, even writing opportunities, can come and go. Family connections and generational impacts are permanent and eternal.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’ve been trapped in a bit of writer’s block for a while. I currently have nine stories in various stages saved on my laptop. I’m struggling to pick one to complete – or even start a brand-new story. At the moment, I’m focused again on my Sienna St. James series, a mystery series that follows the adventures and challenges of a social worker in Baltimore who keeps landing mysterious cases to work through while also managing personal problems and complex relationships. I have four stories in the series and a fifth storyline has been nagging me… I’ll see where this new plot idea leads.
What do your plans for future projects include?
Alongside a new Sienna St. James novel, I also have a nonfiction book (a first for me) that I’ve started. It focuses on providing inspiration for moms who are considering starting their own businesses. Honestly, I need two more moms to interview and then I’ll be near completion and ready to begin the editing stage (if you are or happen to know a mom who’s started her own business – reach out to me, please!). I hope to have that out within the next year or so. Outside of that, I want to get back into a groove with releasing more novels and possibly a short story collection. We’ll see. I trust God’s timing and I pray I can provide stories that readers enjoy in the months and years ahead!
Facebook & Twitter: @LeslieJSherrod