by Sherry Harris
Recently a Facebook friend asked me if I would talk via Skype to three classes of sixth graders in New Port Richey, Florida. They are taking a creative writing class. I said yes, then immediately regretted it because I was afraid I didn’t have anything interesting to say.
I gave myself a talking to (okay, many talking to’s). I told myself it would be fine, that I could handle a bunch of sixth graders. The morning of the event as it got closer to the time of the first class, I remembered the advice of author Linda Barnes at Crime Bake. She said pacing and twirling your arms around would disburse some of the adrenaline flowing through your body. I did that. Then I remembered something Julie said about voice exercises so I shook my jaw back and forth saying something like blub, blub, blub. It wasn’t pretty.
Minutes later, there I was, a big giant head via Skype and a classroom full of kids staring at me hopefully. I didn’t want to let them down. I introduced myself and the kids had a bunch of questions for me. So here are some of the things we talked about.
Who does the covers for your books?
I told them that Kensington has an art department and that my editor asked me for input. I was the one who suggested having a tag on the cover. The art department did it beautifully.
How much money do you make?
Enough to live comfortably in a cardboard box under an overpass. I explained that most authors either have a day job or a partner who supports them.
How did you get published?
I explained that the usual process was to write a book, find an agent, and the agent would sell your book to the publishing company. However, in my case my editor at Kensington had the idea for the series. He went to an agent looking for someone to write the series. The agent went to Barbara Ross and asked her if she knew anyone who could write the series. Barb knew I loved garage sales. She knew I’d been writing and studying the craft for a long time. Barb asked me if I wanted to give it a whirl. I told her I’d think it over but when I woke up the next morning my first thought was: Are you nuts? Of course, you have to try. Four days later I turned in a proposal for the series.
How long do you have to write your books?
I had nine months for the first three and six months for the next four.
Who was my favorite writer and my favorite book?
Oh, that one put me on the spot. But I went with Julia Spencer Fleming and her book In the Bleak Midwinter. I told them her sleuth was a former helicopter pilot who was now an Episcopalian priest. We talked about how those two things created conflict. And then I paraphrased her first line to avoid swearing: It was a terrible night to throw out a baby. (The actual line is: It was one hell of a night to throw out a baby.) The kids gasped when they heard the line. The teacher planned to use the line as a writing prompt and promised to send me some of their stories.
We also talked about their favorite books and authors.
What advice do you have for us?
Don’t give up. I have stacks of rejection letters and it took me a long time to get published. Read the kind of books you want to write. Study writing. I still take classes and read books on writing. When you are older join organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
Do you get writers block?
I don’t believe there is such a thing, It’s fear, fear you aren’t good enough, fear this book won’t be as good as the last book, fear you have nothing to say – you do. When I get stuck I do what author John Dufresne recommended – look around – what does your character see, hear, smell? Write it all down to get them moving again – most of this will be thrown out.
We did a writing exercise which became one of my favorite parts of our time together. Who is your main character? What are three things they love and three things they hate? What is their favorite smell? Where would they go on vacation? Where do they never want to go? When the kids finished they took turns coming up to share their answers. Then we talked about how they could take all those things to create conflict. One girl’s sleuth wanted to vacation in the Grand Canyon, but was afraid of small spaces. We talked about how her sleuth could go to the Grand Canyon and get lost in a cave. We went on with other students and what they could do with their answers.
As usual with these things, I worried for nothing. And I’m pretty sure I learned more than they did! Let me add, god bless the teachers. I was exhausted after three classes — I don’t know how they do it!
Sherry Harris started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. Tagged for Death, first in the series, came out in December 2014. The Longest Yard Sale, All Murders Final, and A Good Day to Buy followed. Look for I Know What You Bid Last Summer, available for preorder now, ships on February 27th.