We’ve made it to the weekend again, but that means today is our final question and answer with Author, Sheryl Hames Torres. But she leaves us with some good advice.
Sheryl, what was the best advice you ever received about your writing? Something you keep in mind still today OR What was the best writing tip you ever read, learned, etc.
Sher: Way back in the dark ages, when I finally decided I’d like to get back to writing–was married, had my kids, moved home and was ready–I took an online writing workshop. I realize now, this was not the group for me, but I can’t find it within myself to be sorry because I met an incredible writer by the name of John Marco — years before the publication of Jackal of Nar, or any of the rest of his wonderful novels. This particular week, the critiques were especially harsh, and one person told me my writing was so bad, my characters so “hokey” and the whole thing was so southern, I should consider taking up plumbing because I had “a lot to flush.” Aside from this being “memoir week” and well, I am southern and most of the people I know are fairly proud of the little bit of hokiness in them, this stung badly enough I was ready to quit. John said, “I promise you, if you quit writing, you’ll be sorry for the rest of your life. You’re never going to please everyone, and you don’t want to. You’re never going to write exactly the way anyone else does, and you don’t want that either. It doesn’t matter if one person tells you your writing is sub-par. As long as you keep writing what’s true to your heart, someday, someone else is going to love it. That’ll be the person who’s important.” One of the most wonderful things to me this twenty years later, is walking into my son’s room and seeing John’s first book on my son’s bookshelf and knowing I had the privilege of critiquing that book long before it was published, and knowing way back then I was reading greatness.
DBP: Authors are also readers, by nature, so we asked Author, Sheryl Hames Torres what other books or authors does she believe have influenced her writing? How did they influence it?
Sher: Oh, there are so many. I think one of the first books that really lit a fire in my soul was Christy, by Catherine Marshall. For the first time, here was a book with everything I loved most as a storyteller. More characters than I’d ever seen in a book and each one of them, from Christy, herself, to the smallest of children came to life on those pages. I could not only see but smell the conditions these people lived in, and despite the sometimes, squalid conditions, there was beauty in the small things that were precious to them, a quilt, a flower, a plate of food, the quaint turn of phrase. I felt I knew these people. To this day, Fairlight is my favorite character–and Little Burl. You could see into the soul of every character and into the soul of the setting. Perhaps that’s where the germ of the idea of my Moonlight Cove was born. Characters are amazingly important to me, everything from the way they look, to their foibles, to their speech patterns and dialect. Christy made it so.
Happy Sunday, all! Today we begin new Q&A with author Sheryl Hames Torres. Let’s get started!
Author, Sheryl Hames Torres, the right setting is critical for a story to work. Have any of your books started out in one setting and ended up in another? What changes did you make and what made them necessary?
Sheryl: When I first wrote Illusions, I set it in Fernandina Beach, Florida. This is one of my favorite places–from the Shrimp Boat Festivals, to Amelia Island, the people, Fort Clinch, just everything. There is a feeling there, I’ve never found anywhere else, so naturally, when I sat down to create this story, that was the first place that came to mind. However, there are few roads where you don’t get a glimpse of the ocean. That’s hardly handy for a frightened and abused woman who has to keep her brood close to home, and whose children have never even been to the ocean. So, I moved the story inland to MacClenny, a nice land-locked town and I think that serves the story well.
And the last, best, and most visual question for Author, Sheryl Hames Torres:Referring to either your most recent book release, or your current WIP, if you were to cast your characters, what actors would portray them? Tell us about the character, and why the actor/actress fits.
ROFL…my poor writers’ group members will tell you that I drive them nuts, not only casting my own characters, but almost forcing them to cast their stories as well. When I’m writing a story, I may cast someone by looks alone, or perhaps I’ll see him/her in a role that screamed my own. Often though, by the time you finish your story, that casted actor may be too old, may be starring in something else where you say, “What was I thinking??” I tend to cast because of movements or attitude. It always helps to SEE your character in motion, catch tics, mannerisms, even the speech patterns. That does not, however, mean if they have a southern accent, you can’t force them to use an Irish one. Also, sometimes I cast people from photos that fit, even though I may not have any idea who they are. I give you the cast of my latest release, Kate’s House.
Anson Mount as Ian Stuart(WITH the beard, his dimples drive me nuts. LOL)
TIME!!!! Before my children, I worked a sixty hour job as the manager of a needlework shop, as well as often taught classes on Saturday. After my daughter was born, I worked that same job and those same hours, and took her along with me. Six months later, my husband gave me the Stay-at-Home-Mom status. I did custom work and antique needlework restoration for various historical societies, even through my daughter’s illness and recovery, until she started college. She’s about to graduate with her third degree, despite not being confident enough to drive–just call me James. LOL So, through all that, I’ve managed to sneak in a little writing at a time. Most times I’m working on several stories at a time. It works.
Fifth question for Author, Sheryl Hames Torres:Pick five words to describe your writing style/voice… then tell us why you chose each word.
Irreverent–I’ve never been one to back down or believe or not believe something simply because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I draw characters who are the same way–be they children or old ghosts. Every character I create has at their core some belief system and they always follow it–good or ill. Which brings me to…
Emotional– All my stories are built around the character’s emotions. Their belief systems often drag them along from chapter to chapter and decide how they’ll react to whatever situation or other character they encounter. They will defend the things they think are important to the exclusion of many other “supposed to be important” things, and the resulting feelings–happy, sad, terrifying, and exhilarating–build the stories. This very often will include the emotions in the settings as well. I met an old lady once who smoked a cigar and drank moonshine. She was the most irreverent and the most fascinating woman I ever met. And that brings me to…
Lighthearted–In the immortal words from Legend, “there can be no good without evil….No love without hate….No heaven without hell….No light without darkness.” I take it a little further–“there can be no sorrow without happiness…not pain without humor” or you dissolve. Which brings me to…
Honest–While I adore fantasy, fairy tales and make believe, I can’t stand things or people who don’t ring true. I try very hard to make my characters breathe. I want them to walk off my pages, take my readers’ hands and pull them into the stories.
Southern–I am southern. I’ve lived in Delaware and Michigan, and still I came out southern. I lived in Florida and even though it’s south of Georgia, only certain parts of the state are really southern. Ninety percent of my characters are southern. Most bleed Georgia red clay, buttermilk and cornbread. There will be “sayings”. There will be accents–if not of the tongue, surely of the heart.
Second question for Author, Sheryl Hames Torres:Are you a full-out plotter? Are you a “let’s see what happens” pantser? Or do you think you fall somewhere in between? Describe your process in coming up with and executing a story idea.
Oh mercy, I’m a steadfast plotter! Before I start a new story, I spend months making a story file, complete with setting photos, casting photos, histories for each main character and some of the secondary characters. I have descriptions of every character right down to the quirks and mannerisms, and I know where all the moles are hidden. I have dates and family trees. If I create a town, I have several pages of history, historical figures and landmarks. Then I go into math mode–I will figure out how long I want the book to be, how many words, chapters, pages in each chapter, and what scenes are most important–and even write a few in advance to be fitted in when I get to their homes. Once I have all that done, I will take whatever I have jotted the original idea on–a napkin, back of a grocery list or receipt, even in tiny letters on the back of a fortune from a fortune cookie– and flesh out the story.