Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sherry Harris on Real Life in Fiction #bookgiveaway

LUCY BURDETTE: Today Jungle Reds welcomes back a talented writer and an old friend. She's fun and funny and thoughtful and has a new book to share. Welcome Sherry Harris--and her sidekick!

SHERRY HARRIS: Thank you, Jungle Reds for having me back to celebrate the release of my fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day To Buy! Every time a book releases I think about what led to this moment. Authors are often asked if they use anything from their real lives in their books. My answer is no, not a thing, it’s all made up.

Conscience: Sherry tell the nice people reading this the truth.

Me: Uh, that is the truth?

Conscience: Sherry!

Okay, gather round. I might have borrowed from a couple of aspects of my life. For example, the whole garage sale thing. I went to my first garage sale when I was in second grade. My best friend’s family was having one and I had no clue what happened at a garage sale. I was first delighted to see my friend wasn’t selling her actual garage and then amazed to see people were buying my friend’s old stuff. I ran home, grabbed some comic books and marbles, ran back and sold them. Cash for stuff sitting in the basement? A lifelong love was born.

Conscience: Sherry?

Okay, I confess! I always regretted selling the marbles. It taught me a valuable lesson: don’t sell things that you will really, really miss. But I love buying other people’s castoffs and it’s an excellent form of recycling. There’s nothing like holding an old postcard or staring into an old mirror while wondering who else did exactly the same thing. Were they happy or sad? Did they like their reflection? Ah, the mystery of it all! 

Since my husband was in the Air Force I’ve been able to explore garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores all over the country. More than once I’ve brought something home and my husband said we didn’t have room for it. (We’ve lived in a lot of small places on various bases.) He learned a determined woman can make room for almost anything. And for the most part he’s come to appreciate my purchases.

My protagonist Sarah is an Air Force wife and we both loved being Air Force spouses.
Fortunately, things ended up better for me than they did her. In Tagged for Death Sarah’s husband is kicked off base for conduct unbecoming an officer (yes, that really is a thing). We don’t have too much else in common although Sarah’s ex does drive the same model of car as my husband. I’m getting that in here before my conscience comes back. And they share one other trait, but if I mentioned it here it might give away something that happens in Tagged.

When I was thinking about where to set the series, it didn’t take long to realize I had to set it in Massachusetts. PSA -- I did not want to move to Massachusetts, but you go where the Air Force sends you. I’d always heard stories about the cold people, the colder winters, and the crazy drivers – who would want to move there? But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the charming towns with their town commons (or greens depending on which state you are in), their big white churches, the quirky accents, and funny way people pronounced things.

Conscience: Excuse me.

Okay, okay. The drivers are crazy. A friend told me not to make eye contact with other drivers which made me wonder if they were people or wild animals. I found out that making eye contact was a sign of weakness. And yes the winters are cold but the people are lovely (once you can understand what the heck they are saying – carriages, bubblahs, jimmies – no clue). We lived in Bedford, Massachusetts for five years and by the end I could pronounce Peabody, Quincy, and Reading properly (Pee-biddy – say it fast, Quinzee, Red-ing). I even knew how to use “wicked” like a native (although I still feel a bit self-conscious when I do).

And finally I do use people from my real life in my books. I hear a story and I can’t resist using it. Well, I wouldn’t use it if you told me in confidence and prefaced said story with, don’t ever tell anyone. I am really good at keeping secrets. (Note: my conscience is silent.) The opening of Tagged For Death and part of the plot comes from a conversation I overheard in an airport.

One of my favorite characters in the series is Angelo DiNapoli. He’s based on Lou, a former neighbor in Bedford. I wrote the whole book with Lou in mind. When I finished the novel I called him and made sure it was okay (thank heavens he said yes or it would have been a massive rewrite—don’t try this at home). I gave him a different profession – restaurant owner – and amped him up a bit or so I thought. My former neighbors thought I might have toned him down.

So there you have it. Now I can go forth with a clear conscience.

Conscience: Sherry?

Oh, stuff it. A writer has to have a few secrets.

Readers: Do you notice when authors use their experiences in books? Writers: Do bits of your real life end up in your books? Leave a comment with your email included to be entered in a drawing for Sherry's new book!

Sherry Harris, a former director of marketing for a financial planning company, decided writing fiction couldn’t be that different than writing ads. She couldn’t have been more wrong. But eventually because of a series of fortunate events and a great many people helping her along the way, Kensington published Tagged For Death the first in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. Sherry blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors










45 comments:

  1. What delightful adventures, Sherry. I chuckled over the your not wanting to go to Massachusetts because my when my oldest daughter was in the Air Force I heard a similar sentiment when she was sent to Alaska.

    I must confess that I don’t always notice when authors use their real-life experiences in their books . . . for me it simply comes across as well-written and interesting. I’m looking forward to reading “A Good Day to Buy” . . . .

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    1. We seemed to end up in a lot of places I never wanted to live but I enjoyed them all!

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  2. Congratulations, Sherry, on the release of a Good Day to Buy! You can research some stuff but I think it's great when writers can use their real world experiences in their books. Basing characters on real people can be a bit tricky but it's good that Lou approved! And I had naively thought that garage sales were pretty safe and tame but I guess I haven't seen the nasty side yet. grace dot koshida at gmail dot com

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    1. I saw a huge argument break out at a yard sale recently. It was ugly. I haven't used it in a book (yet)!

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  3. Welcome Sherry and best of luck with the newest book.

    I am hellishly critical of writers who have no experience of their locale, topic, whatever. That doesn't mean I think you should all go out and commit murder, but you must have read up on how it is done at least!

    It is so easy to see the life experience behind the story, or the lack thereof. I have a son who has been writing since he could hold a pencil. His first book was about a bear hunt in Alaska. It wasn't at all good, mostly because he had A: never been to Alaska, and B: had never hunted anything, much less a bear. I happened to point this out to him. He was not pleased.

    He progressed to fantasy, and I was less critical.

    My pet peeve is someone who writes about a nurse/doctor/hospital/fill in the blank, and has obviously not checked out the facts. I don't mean you need to be any of the above, but you must at least talk to one of them. I hate having to edit as I read along.

    Whoa, that sounded bitchy. Sorry, darling Reds. I've been up most of the night with a sick Julie, and this morning I could write a whole book about bronchitis!

    Ann in the Rochester Pest House

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    1. Oh sorry about the sickness--get well Julie! But you are very funny Ann: "I hate having to edit as I read along." I will be chuckling the rest of the day!

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    2. Feel better soon Julie! And I hope you get some rest Finta! Love the story about your son and his move to fantasy. Fact checking is important. I once heard a writer/professor say you could move the Statue of Liberty if you did it well but I'm not sure I agree.

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  4. What a fun post, Sherry! Some of you know Sherry is one of my dearest friends, and also edits my contemporaries mysteries before I turn them in, saving my ass more times than I can count by making my protagonists better and my stories less stupid. I just finished reading A GOOD DAY TO BUY this week, and think it's the best Sarah Winston mystery yet.

    Of course bits of my real life enter into my books in all kinds of ways, particularly satisfying when I can use the unpleasant traits of a mean, insulting person (an ex, perhaps?) or a former nasty colleague. When I do that I try to change the gender or otherwise disguise the person so if the real-life model ever reads the book, they won't sue me.

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    1. Changing the gender is an excellent idea, Edith! And thank you for the shout out!

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  5. Fun post, Sherry! Looking forward to reading A GOOD DAY TO BUY.

    I love yard sales, and the season is just starting here in New England. BEST picks come in May/June.

    And oh, gosh, almost everything in my novels in one way or another is based on something that really happened to me or someone I know. Of course I transform it, but real experience is the best source for fiction. Some people may be really good at making stuff up -- I'm not. It's why we get out of our offices to do research, meeting people, go places, have adventures.

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    1. Yet you do it all so seamlessly that no one realizes it's from real life. And now next time I see you I have a few questions for you about some of your books.

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  6. Congrats on the release, Sherry! Of COURSE I use my experiences - edited to protect the innocent (and yes, the guilty), naturally. =)

    Mary/Liz

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  7. Everything is fodder...That's all I'm admitting to :) Great post, Sherry! (I think I'd give my conscience a workout, too)

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  8. I love getting lost in a story too! And we've probably done it wrong if you can tell!

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  9. Love this "interview" here! Congrats again on the new book!

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  10. Sherry, I'm tickled at imagining seven-year old you wondering how in the world your neighbors were going to sell their garage!

    My daughter graduated from Olin, in Needham. She was in the second graduating class. When we went to the area for college visits (Olin, Harvard, Babson, Boston College, Wellesley, Worcester Polytechnic), I had to figure out why WPI was in "Woostah", and why I couldn't find Wooster on the map.

    Have you ever encountered shoplifters along the way? We once had a garage sale and someone scooped up all the little gold chains and things I had sitting out and pocketed them when I wasn't looking. That has to be the most petty of all, almost as bad as stealing from a thrift store.

    Sorry we weren't able to connect again at Malice, after seeing you at the B&N panel. Not having the lobby bar area for meeting other attendees was a serious issue this year!

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    1. I've had lots of encounters with shoplifters -- everything from stuffed animals to more expensive items. It is nuts. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to you too.

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  11. Congratulations on your new book. I can't wait to read it.
    I absolutely think the stories are better when the author puts their own experiences into the book. It feels more authentic.
    I've done a couple of yard sales and I know I have to put one on this summer to get rid of so much stuff I've accumulated but I dread doing it. I never know what prices to charge to 1) get rid of stuff and 2) to not just give everything away.
    I'm glad you came to love New England. I live in NH and I agree that the MA drivers are pretty crazy but it's a great way to hone your defensive driving techniques.

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    1. My daughter learned to drive while we lived here and she's something else on the road! Pricing is hard! You have to debate the value vs the need to be done with it! If you think anything is particularly valuable check prices on eBay and sites like it. That will give you a ballpark.

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  12. Congratulations, Sherry! I am so delighted when your new books come out… I remember when you were still working on them, and it is such a treat to see you're a great success.

    And oh yes, I am a vacuum cleaner for overheard conversations and little slices of life. They all go in the books, absolutely. Do you write them down? Or do you just remember?

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    1. I should write them down. I was at lunch with a book club and someone said something about Massachusetts that was brilliant and I've forgotten it already. At a signing a woman told me the most heart wrenching story of losing her husband and I can't remember all of the details. The conversation I overheard in the airport was so bizarre and warped that I'd never forget it. I still can't believe book four is out! And you, Hallie, and Roberta have taught me so much and been such great help along the way!

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    2. Exactly--that happened to me yesterday--and I can remember the beginning of the line, but not the end > SO frustrating!

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  13. Hi Sherry, It's lovely to meet you and get the scoop on your latest book. I have a garage sale question: when you go, are you looking to purchase a particular item? Do you just see what strikes your fancy?

    I'm always amused when people I know assume they are the likeable characters in my books; nobody ever recognizes themselves in the nasty ones!

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    1. Hi, Ingrid! I loved Loyalty so much and can't wait to read the rest of your books. I had to force myself not to binge read them. And I really hope that family is nothing like yours -- lol. I usually just buy things that strike my fancy. When my daughter was younger I'd always search out play equipment and found great deals. Now though I look for something unusual. I found an old wooden dumbbell recently that now its on my mantel. I loved the shape and the wood.

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  14. I just started reading your first book, and so far, I really like it. I think most writers use real life experience, either knowingly or not. For me, I just try to change up the characters and events enough to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, as the case may be).

    I love yard sales. (I'm not sure why, but I've never called them garage sales or tag sales. Maybe that's a Cape Cod thing?) I also love estate sales, and we have some great ones here on the Cape. Why buy something new and pay a lot more money, when you can get excellent quality merchandise in great shape? I love the recycling aspect of it and the thrill of the hunt!

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    1. I hope you like Tagged for Death! I'd never heard of tag sales until I moved to Massachusetts. I grew in Iowa and we did call them garage sales! I haven't had as good as luck at estate sales for some reason. But Sarah goes to one in A Good Day To Buy.

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  15. Congratulations on the new book, Sherry, and on this amusing post. Do real experiences show up in my books? Sure. I live in Brooklyn and have grown daughters. My heroine lives in Brooklyn, writes about Brooklyn history and has a teen age daughter.Ya think? But her daughter is not either of mine, her house is not mine, her life is not mine. But some of her experiences are. (Not the crime part!) And though I never set out to write about my parents, as they became really old and ill and lost to us while still living, old people just started showing up in my writing.

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    1. Thank you! It is interesting how our lives and our writing intertwine!

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  16. Book sounds great. Love to read.

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  17. Congrats on the new book! When I was young we called them yard sales--there weren't a lot of garages in our neighborhood. I find myself trying to remember the details of scenes that I've witnessed/overheard too... I need to come up with a better way of capturing them that doesn't make it too obvious that I'm eavesdropping. Sometimes they sound so intriguing, and then I go to write them down and poof some key elements are gone.

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    1. I know what you mean! I turned a lot of heads in a restaurant the day I told Barbara Ross I needed someone to kill the district attorney.

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  18. Congrats on the new book. You can tell when a writer writes from experience if you've ever been in a similar situation. I enjoy your books and this interview.

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    1. I'm so glad you like the books and interview!

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  19. I'm so glad you like the books and the interview!

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  20. As a reader I think true experiences come through clearer from most writers and I can sometimes tell. Others just have such amazing imaginations that those seem just a real as the others. And I can't imagine a writer that doesn't have a little of themselves and their experiences influence their writing in some way or another. I love it! It's what makes us who we are.
    awilcox1182@gmail.com

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  21. Sherry, I'm so happy to see you here today. I have your garage sale series on my list of series to catch-up with. Garage sales can yield such interesting items. One person's trash is another one's treasure is so true. I'm getting ready to help my daughter with a garage sale this weekend. It's an annual thing. She is the queen of getting rid of excess stuff from her house.

    I think it can be much easier to spot an author's real life spilling over into her fiction if you know the author a bit. And, sometimes, an author is upfront about it. I just read Kristi Belcamino's debut YA book, City of Angels, and the setting, L.A. in 1992, is a page from her life. (I should have included this book in yesterday's great recent reads yesterday, if I didn't.) She did a piece for my blog this week that is from her life then, but it mirrors the protagonist's life in the book. There are also elements of her life in her Gabriella Giovanni series, as the protagonist there is a crime journalist and Italian, but that's probably as far as that goes. Again, wonderful reading. And, I think setting often reflects an author's life, such as Peter May's books that take place in Scotland. Of course, there are great examples here from the Reds, too, with Lucy's Key West series, and Hank's Jane Ryland and Charlotte McNally series. And, hello to Triss Stein in the comments above, who delights us with her Brooklyn in her Erica Donato series.

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    1. I need to read Kristi's new YA -- I lived in LA in 1992 so would find it fascinating. It was a rough time to live there!

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  22. Sherry - Gonna be honest here. I'm on Jungle Reds tomorrow and need to practice leaving a comment! But, I love the question for writers: "Do bits of your real life end up in your books?"

    Bits? I'm splashed all over my mysteries! For instance, my amateur sleuth is a female marine biologist who lives on the Maine coast and uses her sea kayak to track down the bad guys. Guess my former life and where I live now. But, I only sea kayak for fun.

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    1. Charlene! It's so great to see you here! When I read the beginning of your book last year I was amazed at home realistic it was! I felt like I was right there in the kayak too! I can't wait to read the rest!

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  23. I actually hinge the plot of my second ms on something from my real life. Shh!

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