LUCY BURDETTE: I find it hard to forget Sharon Short. Why? Because I have a magnetized set of cleaning tips from her Josie Toadfern mystery series stuck to my washing machine! But now she has a new book, just out today--a lovely story about a sister and brother and their dreams and hopes... How she came to write it is a wonderful story, too. She'll tell it much better than I can!
SHARON SHORT: After my cozy mystery series wrapped up, I wasn’t really planning the literary equivalent of a fashion makeover for my writing career.
Of course, that was before a Tim Gunn Bobblehead entered my life.
More on that in a moment…
Back to the days (weeks, months) after my cozy mystery series was, shall we say, all sewn up. Because I enjoy reading mysteries (and enjoyed writing them), the logical next project seemed to be another mystery. But… I couldn’t find an idea that clicked with my imagination.
Then, at a book club gathering, one of the women asked if anyone remembered the deeds to one square inch of Alaska that used to come in cereal boxes in the 1950s. (The question wasn’t related to the book we were discussing.) The 1950s were before I was born, but I was immediately taken with this compelling concept… the desire for a deed to one tiny bit of land in a vast frontier, and what that could symbolize. Almost immediately, the shadowy image of a young woman and her little brother, standing together and holding hands, appeared in my imagination. I couldn’t ‘see’ them yet in sharp detail, but I could ‘feel’ them saying, “tell our story.”
I had no idea what their story would or should be, but by the time I returned home, I’d written in my head one of the final scenes, which narrated itself in what would become the first person voice of my main character, Donna Lane. I went home, wrote down the scene in a journal, and then realized I had a lot of work ahead of me to discover the rest of her story.
I also realized fairly quickly that Donna’s story wasn’t a mystery. Frankly, this was unsettling at first. How could I plot without a mystery backbone?
But then I started thinking about all the novels I’ve loved reading that aren’t mysteries as well as the ones that are, and realized that in both cases, the best stories (and plots) emerge from character. And sure, mysteries focus on a protagonist solving a particular crime, but in a broader sense of the definition, don’t we all have a bit of mystery in our lives that we need to unravel? Pasts and relationships we need to understand, in order to come to an epiphany of some sort so that we can move on to stronger, wiser, healthier futures?
This is certainly the case for my characters Donna and Will, who leaved behind the strictures of their 1950s small Ohio town to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and in the process come to understand the power of embracing and following dreams.
Realizing this helped me make the transition from writing mysteries to writing my debut mainstream novel.
Well, that and my Tim Gunn Bobblehead.
You see, I’m a huge fan of Project Runway and Tim Gunn, and as it turns out my character Donna’s dream is to become a fashion designer. (This is because one of my childhood fantasies was to become a fashion designer.) During the Christmas after I’d started my novel, my family gave me a Tim Gunn Bobblehead, which quickly found a home on my desk. When I need a little writing encouragement, all I have to do is press the button to hear a recording of his voice saying his trademark lines, “Carry on!” “Make it Work!” “I can’t want you to succeed more than you do!” and “Fab-u-lous!”
And as for how I feel now about reading mysteries? “Fab-u-lous!”
Of course, I hope that’s how you feel if you get a chance to read MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA. In any case, I’d love to hear from you!
LUCY: I loved this book and hope it takes off for you Sharon! JRW, Sharon will be stopping in all day to answer questions and comments. You can find out everything else you always wanted to know about Sharon, including how to buy her book, right here.