Tuesday, January 12, 2021

What If? a guest post by Sherry Harris


LUCY BURDETTE: We love having old friends visit and we love watching their careers blossom. Today Sherry Harris asks a question that is dear to my heart--how in the world can a writer keep a long-running series fresh? I can't wait to hear her ideas...Welcome Sherry!



SHERRY HARRIS: Thanks, Reds for having me back to celebrate the release of Absence of Alice the ninth Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery. I still have to pinch myself and ask if this writing/publishing adventure is real. I met Lucy, Hallie, and Hank through the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime back when being published was just a glimmer in my eye and a hope in my heart. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the other Reds along the way and all of you are such amazing supporters of other writers. Thank you for all you do for the writing community. 


As any series author will tell you one priority is keeping things fresh. The series starts out with Sarah reeling and wounded from a recent devastating divorce. Her relationship ebbs and flows with her ex. Also for the first few books (I know some of you hate love triangles) she’s also involved on various levels with the county district attorney. She’s also living in a small town without a lot of friends, but builds relationships through the books. 


That brought me to book nine. How could I change things up in this book? In the first book in the series Sarah is at odds with the police. They don’t trust her and she doesn’t trust them. But since that book she has developed a good relationship with the police. It grew slowly over the series until the police eventually ask for her help in the murder of a young Air Force spouse in the eighth book, Sell Low, Sweet Harriet. They know Sarah can go places and hear things that they can’t. 


Sarah has developed deep friendships with not only a couple of police officers, but with the people of the town of Ellington. She has a deepening relationship with the county district attorney, Seth. She’s also turned to Mike the “Big Cheese” Titone, a mobster who also has a good side, for help. So at this point in Sarah’s life, she’s in a good place. 


That’s when I asked myself “what if?” It’s how many writers start a story. We see or hear something that makes us ask ourself what if. What if that woman jogging through the woods is really running for her life? What if that woman sitting in her car crying just killed her husband? What if that man yelling at the store clerk just lost his job and is desperate? 


My big what if for Absence of Alice was “what if Sarah couldn’t rely on all the people she’s come to rely on over the series?” As soon as that thought hit me, I was itching to write the story. When Sarah’s landlady and friend is kidnapped, the kidnapper calls her and gives her three rules to follow if she ever wants to see her landlady again. The first one is that she can’t contact the police, Seth, or Mike the “Big Cheese” Titone. He will know if she does.


Sarah tests the rule soon after to devastating consequences. The next questions I asked myself were “what will happen to Sarah when and if the police, Mike, and her boyfriend find out she’s been lying to them. Will they ever trust her again? Can she repair the damage that’s been done? Sarah ponders these things even as she races to find her landlady. 


Do you ask yourself “what if” when you go about your day? 



Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mystery series set in the panhandle of Florida. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America. Sherry loves books, beaches, bars, garage sales, and Westies — not necessarily in that order. Sherry is also a patent holding inventor. Sherry, her husband, and guard dog Lily are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next. 


Blog: Wickedcozyauthors.com

Twitter: @SHarrisAuthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SherryHarrisauthor

Instagram: SherryHarrisAuthor 


55 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Sherry. “Absence of Alice” sounds exciting and I’m looking forward to finding out how it all turns out . . . .

    Oh, goodness, if I had a penny for every time I’ve wondered “What if” . . . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Sherry. One of the best things about the mystery/crime writing community is how generous they are to new authors. I've witnessed this so many times, and I agree with you that the Jungle Red Writers are among the most generous. But, now you're a seasoned author and being congratulated on yet another new book. You did it! Your titles and covers are just wonderful, and this new cover is one of your best.

    I try not to "what if" too often, as I find it 1) doesn't change anything and 2) makes getting on with it more complicated than it has to be. Now, my dreams are a different matter. That's where my "what ifs" seem to rear their ugly heads.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kensington does a wonderful job with my covers! My editor and I have had a lot of conversations about titles with him coming up with some and me others. So we can't get away from "what ifs" even if we want to -- darn subconscious!

      Delete
  3. This book is wonderful. The What ifs are played out perfectly, and I had a very hard time putting the book down.

    This has become one of my favorite series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Mark! I'm glad I pulled it off. I had doubts as I was writing.

      Delete
  4. SHERRY: Welcome back to visiting the Reds and congratulations on your latest Garage Sale mystery!
    Yes, it must be a challenge to keep a series fresh but it sounds like you have done it with "Absence of Alice".

    Personally, I don't ask myself "What if" during my daily routine very often. But I can see how asking "what if" would be an inspiration for you and other authors to start a story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Grace! I'm glad to know that not all people are plagued with "what ifs!"

      Delete
  5. Yay, Sherry! I finished the book a couple of days ago, and as I wrote here in a comment, it's darker than the previous books (although still a cozy) and deliciously twisty. Brava!

    I keep my what ifs for my writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a bit darker. When I first wrote it, I opened with the call from the kidnapper but realized that probably wouldn't work for a cozy.

      Delete
  6. Sherry, welcome to JRW. The cover is gorgeous and my first "what if" of the day is, would I pass up the old sewing machine pictured at that garage sale? Both of your series are high on my TBR list for this year. The back story you've given and the high praise from my blog friends really helps me know that I'll love your books. Congratulations on your latest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somehow this comment ended up below but was meant for you, Judy! 'd love to go to a garage sale with the things on this cover! I wouldn't be passing them up either! I hope you enjoy the books! Thanks!

      Delete
  7. "What if" is one of the best questions for a writer?

    I will occasionally think "what if" when making a decision, or The Hubby and I will use it if we are trying to figure out exactly what we want to do. But I try to stay away from it once the decision is made. No sense torturing yourself looking back too much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we have to follow up our what ifs with why. I'm glad you don't torture yourself with the question. I need to wise up!

      Delete
  8. I'd love to go to a garage sale with the things on this cover! I wouldn't be passing them up either! I hope you enjoy the books! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sherry: I'll be checking out your series, as, somehow, it's escaped me to date. Sarah sounds like a character I'll enjoying meeting. Congrats on book NINE!

    As for what if: The biggest in my life is "What if my father had *not* gotten up unscathed from a hard fall onto pavement while visiting me...." But he did. So, even while I revisit that horrid moment too often in my head, it ended well in real life. Phew. So lucky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Amanda! I'm so glad your father is okay! It is interesting how we revisit things --- hmmm, I wonder how that would work in a mystery?

      Delete
    2. What a frightful moment it must have been, Amanda. As our parents become older, the "what if..." take more place in our mind.

      Delete
    3. Oh yes, Danielle, it was a frightful moment. A strong young man who saw Dad fall came rushing over to help set him back on his feet, and I was so grateful for that.

      Delete
  10. Welcome, darling Sherry! and yes indeed, oh my goodness, every single moment! :-) and as a reporter, it is essential too. And your latest idea is so terrific – – it shows you how fragile the world we live in is, and how much everything is based on trust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for always welcoming me back! Oh, I hadn't thought about how much a reporter would have to ask that question to get to the truth! I loved working through all of my what if with Sarah.

      Delete
    2. SO thrilled for you! We go back such a long way..xoox

      Delete
  11. Judy, we can arm wrestle for the sewing machine!

    Hi, Sherry! I'm so pleased for you and your success with this series. I love the original idea of using the garage sales, but Sarah has also grown and changed a lot in nine books. So many series don't seem to have any kind of progression, but I admire what you've done to put your MC through lots of transitions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Karen! I miss seeing you at Malice!

      Delete
  12. Like Amanda, I have somehow missed your series until now. I am looking forward to exploring them all.

    I rarely indulge in "what if," but I recently did a deep dive into it. My older sister, who lives alone, found that over $600 had been charged to her checking account for Amazon purchases. My sister is almost completely technologically illiterate and wouldn't have a clue how to shop on Amazon. I went with her to the bank to deal with the problem, and they quickly discerned that the purchases were made in the name of a young friend of hers. This young woman is currently fighting lung cancer. It turned out it was her 19-year-old daughter who had been charging things to my sister, and the family made my sister whole. But as we were working through it, I found myself wondering, "What if she isn't even really fighting cancer? What if this is one of those horrible scams you hear about? She knows that as a cancer survivor, my sister would be less likely to press charges against someone in cancer treatment. In this time of covid, when no one can go with you to the doctor or hospital, how do we know she REALLY got this horrible diagnosis? Is she just sitting in the comfort of her bedroom texting these fraught messages about what the doctor is telling her, laughing at my sister's gullibility?" It was a pretty disturbing trip to a dark place, and I'm glad I don't go there very often!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a troubling situation, Susan !

      Delete
    2. Wow, that's a weird plot twist, Susan.

      I hope your sister got a new credit card.

      Delete
    3. Karen, part of what made it all so weird is that she doesn't use a credit or debit card at all. This was done by someone charging directly to her account, using her bank routing number and account number. That's one of the reasons it was so easy for the bank to track. Thank goodness for stupid crooks. But yes, that account has been closed and a new one opened.

      Delete
    4. Wow, Susan! That is so frightening. I can see why you went through all those what ifs! I'm glad things turned out okay and that your sister got her money back. I had no idea you could even do that.

      Delete
    5. that's a terrible story! Glad it had a happy ending. Goes to show you we all need to be paying close attention to our stuff!

      Delete
  13. Congratulations on your new book, which I loved, loved, loved. I always have a "what if" because I like to think of something positive to get me through situations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you loved Absence of Alice! That is a great idea to what if positivity. But I shouldn't be surprised that you of all people would figure that out!

      Delete
  14. Congratulations on An Absence of Alice, I cannot wait to read it. I love the way Sarah has grown and matured through the years.

    What ifs, sometimes they seem the engine of my life. I prefer them looking forward than back though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kait! I like that -- looking forward than back!

      Delete
  15. Congratulations on your new book Sherry ! I'm looking forward to discover how Sarah went through this situation.
    I can't say that I ask myself " what if... " very often. I'm glad that authors do it to write me lots of good books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Danielle! I hope you enjoy the book. I think not always asking what if is a good thing!

      Delete
  16. Sherry, congrats on number 9 and I applaud your effort to keep your series fresh. The most interesting series are the ones where characters grow and change over the course of the books. I'll be searching out Absence of Alice just as soon as I get caught up on this series!

    ReplyDelete
  17. So interesting, talking about the "what if's" that spark a novel. I often return to exactly that question you are exploring in the new book: Who can you trust... and how can you tell? So meaty especlly when the doubts point to betrayers in the character's most inner circle. So CONGRATULATIONS on #9!! I can truly say, "I knew her WHEN..."!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have been such an inspiration for me, Hallie. Whether it's taking one of your classes or reading your books. I will always be grateful to be a member of NESinC!

      Delete
  18. Like Susan (and Amanda) I seem to have missed your series, will be adding another name to my list of authors to check out. I've sold that old sewing machine and typewriter in my past. I think I've had too many "what ifs" in my life but as after thoughts to events that have already happened.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Deana! It is intriguing to wonder what would happen if I did this instead of that. I've always loved a country song with the lyric -- the broken road that led me straight to you. It's true of so many things!

      Delete
  19. Hi Sherry, welcome back. I have enjoyed your garage sale series, celebrating your growth as an author. I prefer author's who take risks with their characters, allowing them to change as a result of previous books. Stagnant characters make me wonder snark: I am reading the same book again with a different villain.

    As I have aged, my 'what if's' have become 'why not's" giving me a chance for character growth. I just reserved Absence of Alice, leading to my current 'what if": What if I invited Sherry Harris to a brunch then next time she is in Florida?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love changing what ifs to why not's! That's perfect. I'd love to have brunch with you!

      Delete
  20. Hi Sherry! It's always such a treat to have you here. I love the cover of Absence of Alice, and what a great set up! Now I'm dying to know what happens. I'm always asking "what if" about my characters and my plots, too. It's amazing how much that can kick start your imagination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me back. It's always great to be here with such an amazing group of authors.

      Delete
    2. Seeing Deborah's comment reminds me, Sherry, that I wanted to say that it has been my observation that my favorite series never seem to have a problem with going stale, and I think in all those cases it is because the author allows the lead character to grow and change, and the supporting cast to do so as well. After all, real-life friends don't just do the same things again and again -- why should fictional ones? Debs is a master at this, as are pretty much all of the Reds who write series.

      Delete
  21. Congratulations, Sherry, on this book and your wonderful series! This premise has hooked me already. Keep those books coming! As far as What If - I do it all the time. Drives my husband nuts because he's the complete opposite. Good balance, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Shari! I can't wait to read your new series. I think I've converted Bob to being a what iffer -- it might not be a good thing!

      Delete
  22. Sherry, that sounds like an excellent premise to kick things up and keep them fresh. It can be a real challenge, because you want to meet reader expectations (no killing off a beloved character, for instance) but you also need to challenge reader expectations.

    One of the issues I'm dealing with in my tenth book, the w-i-p, is bringing back characters who appeared in previous novels. On the one hand, they're already fleshed out before this book begins, which gives me more scope and hopefully rewards the long-time reader. On the other hand, how annoying is it going to be to someone new if nearly everyone you encounter has a back story you haven't read?

    I suppose this counts as first world author problems. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your series is a brilliant example of keeping it fresh! It's always hard to balance the old and new characters. I think anyone who reads one of your later books first will want to go back and read all of them to find out how Clare ended up where she is.

      Delete
  23. Congratulations Sherry! Nine books! It has got to be hard to keep a series from going stale. Introducing characters, retiring characters, temporary (or permanent) changes of scenery. Any of these can backfire or reenergize the story. I'm with Coralee. Why not's become more relevant than what if's as you get older.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much -- like I said I still have to pinch myself. I love Coralee's idea too!

      Delete
  24. Sorry I am so late to the party again. I am still recovering from surgery and I slept in very late!

    Congratulations, Sherry! I have had so many "what ifs?" which is great for a novelist, though I am not sure that is a good idea for an attorney or someone taking the LSAT?

    I was a early reader of this book for Net Galley and I was impressed! Lots of twists and surprises! I do not want to give away any spoilers.

    Yes, I reviewed on NetGalley and Goodreads.

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Diana! Reviews are so important! Goo luck with the LSAT!

      Delete