Meet suspense author, Sherry Knowlton

 

Today, I welcome author Sherry Knowlton for a visit. This Pennsylvania native has been writing in one form or another since elementary school. Along the way, her creative and technical work has run the gamut from poetry, essays, and short stories to environmental newsletters, policy papers, regulations, and grant proposals. Her debut novel published in 2014 and her third book in the Alexa Williams series launched in April of this year.

Let’s get to know Sherry.

  • Tell us, what literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’ve only gone on one deliberate literary pilgrimage. In college, I did a semester-long Independent Studies project on D.H. Lawrence’s novels.  Many years ago, I attended a work conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Since it was my first visit to the area, I arrived a few days early and drove to nearby Taos to visit the Lawrence Memorial at his Kiowa Ranch. The author’s ashes are interred there, so I wanted to pay him homage.

It was a pretty weird experience.  The Memorial was back a remote, dirt lane, high on a windswept hill.  The place was completely deserted.  Just me, the cold wind, and Lawrence’s ashes somewhere in the small shrine.  Although Lawrence had lived at Kiowa Ranch for several years, most of the books I’d studied – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love – were set in the British Isles.  So, his final resting place seemed out of step with much of his work – except for The Plumed Serpent, which is based in Mexico and incorporates Aztec themes.  But, Lawrence’s writing was ahead of his time, much of it vilified in the early 1900’s (and later) as pornography.  He only gained a reputation as an important author after his death. So, maybe it’s fitting that his ashes rest in peace and quiet above the noise and rancor that he experienced during his life.

A myriad of other authors have inspired my love of travel although I wouldn’t call the trips pilgrimages.  Mary Stewart’s novels, like The Moonspinners, sent me sailing in the Cyclades Islands of Greece.  Reading Robert Ruark and Ernest Hemingway whetted my appetite for Africa.  Robert Ludlum’s books made me want to careen through the capitals of Europe. I could go on, but you get the idea.

  • What is the first book that made you cry?

This isn’t a very fair question for someone who cries regularly when reading.  I cry if a beloved character dies.  I cry if the dog dies.  I cry at the perfect romantic moment.  And, don’t get me started on movies.  I’ve seen the old Streisand/Redford movie The Way We Were umpteen times.  Every time it gets to the part where Redford and his friend are sailing and reminiscing about their best year and the Redford character says, “1944, no, 1945” then whispers “1946” – I start sobbing.  Every time.  Heck, I even cry at those heartwarming commercials with the Budweiser Clydesdales and dogs.

With so many fiction-induced tears in my life, I can’t really remember the first book that made me cry.  I know that The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird were two early books that affected me deeply.  In my junior high or high school years, I remember my devastation at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls.  (Spoiler alert.) Robert Jordan’s self-sacrifice made me sob aloud.

In all seriousness, these days I generally avoid novels that scream tearjerker.  There are a glut of novels, often characterized as women’s fiction or literary fiction, which seem engineered to be emotionally manipulative.  I’m not saying that all women’s or literary fiction falls into this bucket.  But, there’s a certain strain of fiction that seems written purely to tug at the heartstrings.  I’d rather read a book that tells a compelling story and develops absorbing characters, so the emotion invoked is more honest.

  • Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I have three books to date in my Alexa Williams suspense series, Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer and the latest April release Dead of Spring.  Each book is written as a stand-alone, so a reader can pick it up and enjoy the story even though they might not have read the other books in the series.  However, many of the characters continue in one or more books:  my protagonist, Alexa’s, friends, family, colleagues, and her English mastiff, Scout.  Of course, these are suspense novels with an element of murder mystery, so in each book, a handful of characters don’t make it out alive.

One of the other key connections between my books is that social and environmental issues that are fundamental to the plots.  The latest, Dead of Spring, involves Alexa in the controversial areas of fracking and political corruption.  The themes of my earlier novels include reproductive rights for women and religious fundamentalism (Dead of Autumn) and sex trafficking (Dead of Summer). I believe that plots dealing with real-life current topics speak to readers and engage them in the suspense.

  • How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Publication of my first book changed my process in two key aspects.  First, it gave me more confidence about my writing.   Second, it gave me a greater understanding of the editing and publishing process. I knew better what to expect when the manuscript left my hands and went to my publisher, Sunbury Press.   So, that meant that I produced my next two manuscripts in a shorter timeframe, primarily because I didn’t do as many draft versions.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I still don’t edit and revise and re-edit.  Plus, I have a group of beta-readers who review and comment on a late draft – and I incorporate much of their feedback.  But, on my first novel, I got caught up in multiple revisions and probably wasted months before I submitted the manuscript to a publisher.  I’ve learned that you have to do your best to revise and refine your work, but at some point, you also have to let it go.  I’m lucky in that I have a wonderful editor who works with me on several rounds of edits prior to publication and always helps me make the final book better.

  • I can relate. It’s so hard to let go of that first one.      What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

As a reporter and, then, editor of my high school newspaper, I began to understand the power that things like word choice, what to include or exclude in a story, etc. could have in shaping student knowledge and opinion.  Back then, journalism was very much Who/What/When/Where/Why and How, but even without any overt opinion or spin, the writer could have enormous impact.  

That lesson was really reinforced for me when a nationally-syndicated war correspondent spoke at our journalism awards banquet.  This was in the mid-point of the Vietnam War.  As this real-life reporter who wrote stories about life and death matters spoke, I realized the influence that his written words could have on the public perception of the war.  What he chose to write about or not write about could end up shaping opinions in a contentious national conversation. I’ve never forgotten that lesson about the power of words – a power that extends into many areas of our lives, well beyond politics and public policy.

  • I love research.   What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I do a good bit of research before I begin each book, but I usually find that I need to augment the initial research as I write.  To illustrate my process, let me talk about the process for my latest book. Like my other novels, Dead of Spring is primarily a contemporary suspense story, but there’s a parallel historical plot.  The contemporary story deals with fracking and government corruption.  The historical story takes place during the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in 1979.  I found a lot of written material on the internet, reviewed State regulations, viewed news clips, and more. I talked to experts in law enforcement and in hydraulic fracturing. One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking in Pennsylvania and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. I also visited sites where I could view the various steps of the fracking process.   

The preliminary research often takes a month or longer.  If I find I’m missing key information as I write, I’ll often just mark the spot and return to it later after I’ve done the research.  However, if it’s a critical plot point, I need to step away from the writing and research the item immediately.

  • How do you select the names of your characters?

Character names are one of the hardest parts about writing.  Who knew a novel had so many characters?  Often, you even have to name random characters who may only “walk on” for a scene.  I use some favorite names and variations on family names for some of my main characters.  The rest I pull from news articles, people I know or meet, and baby name books for the year of the character’s birth.  Sometimes, I hear a name that strikes me as perfect and I’ll jot it down to use in a future book. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

You don’t want to repeat names or use names that sound too similar.  I made this mistake in my first book by naming Alexa’s best friend Melissa and her executive assistant Melinda.  Since these are continuing characters, I’m stuck with the confusion forever – unless I fire Melinda and she’s such a nice woman, I’d hesitate to do that.  Heck, even I find myself confusing the two names when I write.

Don’t give a bad guy the same name as one of your friends or colleagues.  In Dead of Autumn, I gave one of the bad guys the same name as a work colleague.  I was just looking for a biblical name, and used it without thinking of my colleague. But he’ll never let me hear the end of it.

Think about readings.  In Dead of Summer, I asked a Thai friend to help me name a Thai victim of sex trafficking.  Together we picked a name that has real meaning to the arc of the character. But, now, I can never choose a passage containing her name for a public reading, because I can never remember how to pronounce the multisyllabic Thai name without stumbling over it.

  • I think readers are sometimes surprised to learn how immersed authors are with their writing.   What was your hardest scene to write?

In my first novel, Dead of Autumn, the historical subplot is a fictionalized treatment of a historical incident, the Babes in the Woods murders.  Three young sisters were found dead in a Pennsylvania forest during the Depression after traveling from California with their father and an older female cousin.  The last chapter of this Babes in the Woods saga was very difficult for me to write. I was surprised at the amount of emotion I felt as I wrote that final scene with ten-year-old Dewilla Noakes and her father. By the time I got there, I had become so connected to my vision of this young girl, that writing that last scene was a gut-wrenching experience.

  • What is your favorite childhood book? 

The Nancy Drew series.  Sometimes I think I’m writing a grown up version of Nancy Drew although Alexa is stronger and steelier.  And, she doesn’t worry about matching sweater sets.  Plus, she’s not ready to settle for Ned.

 

  • What’s the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Starting the next book.  I’m don’t adhere to the advice that you must write something every day, even if it’s just a few pages.  After a book is finished, I usually need a break. Then, I pull together the thoughts I’ve had about my next book and organize them.  I do research and prepare an outline, although parts of the outline usually evolve as I begin to write.  Then, I’m ready to begin the next book.

But, sometimes the rest of my life intervenes in the writing process.  My husband and I do a lot of extended traveling.  We just came back from six weeks on safari in Africa and India.  Also, I do consulting projects from time to time that are usually time-limited with a hard deadline.  

All of these factors can contribute to delays in getting my next book underway.  I’m struggling with that now.  One good thing.  Once I begin, I usually get caught up in the writing and just plow ahead until I’ve finished the first draft.

  • Do you Google yourself?

You caught me.  Yes, I do.  And, it can be an enlightening process.  Sometimes, I’m checking to see if a promised article or blog post has been published.  Sometimes, I’ve found that I’ve been mentioned in an article or on a blog – and I wasn’t aware of it. Twice, I’ve found that someone pirated my book and was peddling it online; so, I let my publisher know.  

One of the interesting results of searching my name online are the trails to my past life that pop up from time to time.  In the 1990’s I worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a job where, in my official capacity, I issued a lot of communications about the Medicaid program in the state.  A lot of those bulletins and related work from those days are hanging around out there on the internet.  Some of them, I don’t even remember signing.

But, my primary purpose in Googling these days, is to keep current for author-related marketing purposes.

I must confess, I have not read Sherry’s books yet because she’s a new author to me. But, they are definitely on my TBR list now!  

Read about her latest novel: Dead of Spring 

When a beloved state senator plunges to his death at Alexa Williams’ feet in the Capitol Rotunda, the authorities suspect suicide. Although the powerful chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee was at the center of a controversial new bill to expand hydraulic fracturing, he was also rumored to be ill. Shaken, Alexa tries to move past the disturbing incident by concentrating on work. She’s leading a senate commission on sex trafficking. Plus, she’s helping an old college roommate sue a natural gas company for their role in causing her daughter’s rare cancer.

In researching the lawsuit, Alexa becomes embroiled in the high-stakes politics of fracking. As the relationship with her state trooper boyfriend drifts onto the rocks, Alexa is drawn to a charismatic state legislator who’s leading an anti-fracking crusade. Then, the police shock Alexa with the news that she could be in danger; she’s a witness to the senator’s murder, not his suicide.

When Alexa narrowly escapes a sniper’s bullet, she must discover why she’s a target―and who she can trust—before the next shot hits its mark.

With Sherry Knowlton’s trademark mix of feminism, history, romance, and fast-paced thrills, Dead of Springskyrockets from the fracking fields of the Marcellus Shale to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster of 1979 to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the halls of Pennsylvania state government. In this suspenseful tale of corruption and runaway greed, Alexa Williams proves, once again, that she’s a formidable heroine. The twists and turns keep will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Here’s where you can get the scoop on the Alexa Williams series: 

Amazon     Sunbury     Barnes & Noble     Indie Bound

Still Life has a fan.

To me the most exciting part of releasing a book is discovering the reaction of readers. After all that work I can’t help but wonder…did they like the end result? Well, reviews are coming in and the results are great, people like Still Life and I could not be happier.

But, recently a frustrated reviewer contacted me. It seems she was unable to post her review on purchase sites and since she is not a participant in social media she couldn’t post there either. So, I decided to post her review here. I love that, much like a book author, this reader was so adamant about wanting to get her own words out into the world.

What follows is Barb W.’s review of STILL LIFE.  Thanks, Barb!

D.B. Kennison’s first novel, Still Life, was a roller coaster of emotions. Filled with suspense, adventure, romance and a “who done it” plot. From the very beginning when Randi Lassiter, a jilted wife, who is a real estate agent by day and a PI at night working for a divorce attorney, nabbing adulterers with her colorful, purple hair cohort CJ are in a dark alley late at night to photograph a two timing husband through a window in a seedy hotel, the Bells. To the nail biting last page you feel you are traveling right beside them, even seeing and smelling the crime scenes. You are right with them through all the twist and turns they experience while helping, usually unsolicited help, in catching an unlikely serial killer.

Enter Homicide Detective Jon Bricksen a detective from the big city of Milwaukee, where he was fed up with all the crime and murders and a broken romance. He thought the quiet, quaint, laid back town of Mt. Ouisco would be a refuge for him and his dog, Dammit, only to be drawn in to a series of murders that also lead him to meet Randi. Their first meeting, at the Hometown Cafe, where Randi and CJ were being held for questioning after the discovery of the body outside the motel, sets the tone for a fiery and explosive relationship which started by Randi thinking Jon was eye candy but a ball-scratching egomaniac and Jon thinking she was a interfering scatter brained local…the sparks flew and it was head to head battering from there.

I am looking forward to reading more of Randi’s adventures.

Caution: This book will keep you on the edge of your seat and the suspense will keep you up all night…don’t read before going to bed.

~Barb W.

Guest Blog: Self-published author, Sue Curran

The Proof is in the Details

“I kill people for a living; I just make ’em up first.”  That’s my author tag line. I write murder mysteries. When I walk into a restaurant I see a plethora of plot possibilities. One of my quests as an author is to make you, the reader see what I want you to see. Here is the first few lines of my self-published novel, Battle of Wills.

“Flames from pecan logs stacked in a five-foot Italian fireplace warmed the front parlor at Twelve Oaks and reflected amber light on its occupants. Jon Royal Pennington scribbled numbers with a quill in a leather-bound book. His wife, Elizabeth Fielding Pennington sat across the room near the fire working on a cross-stitch likeness of the Greek revival mansion in which she sat. The room smelled of wood smoke and freshly-cut fir from the Christmas tree, which stood next to Jon’s desk.”

So did I succeed?

One of the other rules pounded into would-be author’s heads is to write what you know. It makes the details easier. Therefore, because I am a displaced Southern Belle, I write about Southern people from Southern places. Characters are a mesh of my quirky family members, and they know it. My work history–everything from frozen yogurt shop squint to greenhouse supervisor to optician–has given me plenty of experiences from which to chose. Travels with family and friend gives me places tucked away in memory for possible use in a later book. I like to think my characters are colorful while being wracked with faults, uncertainties and dreams.

My son once told me my stories held a great sense of place.  Later in “Battle…”, I describe a church revival at Pennington State Park. My grandfather was a minister and I attended many a revival as a child. Oaks dripped with Spanish moss appear as giant monsters to a seven-year-old. In many rural parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi the Methodist churches still hold annual revivals under worn circus tents lit by strings of bare bulbs. Attendees squeeze together on wooden benches, worn family Bibles in one hand, a paper fan in the other. Sermons are interrupted only by the sound of a bare hand on the back of a neck, slapping at ubiquitous mosquitoes. Women and girls in white dresses await baptism in the shallow end of the pond.

I pulled upon another event in my life when later the protagonist’s best friend disappears into the night. My brother walked away from our cabin on a family vacation. One difference–he wasn’t kidnapped. He hadn’t wanted to join us on vacation so he snuck out.

Now I’m going to contradict myself. When writing “Red Dreams and White Lies,” a novel about a horse farm I had to research keeping horses so I contacted a local stable. I explained the circumstances and asked if I could spend a day with her. She told me I couldn’t possibly learn what was needed to do justice to the book. She suggested a week of chores. It was the perfect solution. She gained a week of free labor and I gained invaluable knowledge of the daily workings of a stable. I mucked stalls, bathed and brushed, even learned the secret of a currycomb. For the medical issues I called on our local large animal vet and my nephew, also a large animal vet in Michigan. I’ve discovered that most people are willing to help and thrilled to be asked.

It also helps if I can create characters in which my readers see themselves, their families and their friends. My newest novel, Two Under at Willow Creek revolves around members of an exclusive country club in a suburb of Birmingham. I golf. My father insisted I started lessons at the age of eight. I’m a member of my local club and the characters are a blend of those folks and the members of the club my parents belonged to in Alabama. We have the bigoted old-boys, those couple hiding marital issues and those with money–lots of Old South money.

Sue Curran

Available on Amazon:

BLOOD DREAMS and WHITE LIES

BATTLE of WILLS 

Working on:

TWO UNDER at WILLOW CREEK

FALLEN LIES

Author Spotlight – Barbara Meyers

I want to give a big Midwest welcome to my first blog guest, best selling author, Barbara Meyers. I ran across a piece she’d written on the topic of sex in romance novels and the notion readers have when it comes to being on the pages of their books. Barbara originally wrote this for Samhain Publishing. I agree with her thinking on this topic and she has saved me the effort of writing something similar by consenting to share it here with us today–thank you Barbara!

Catch up with Barbara Meyers contemporary romance and comedic fantasy penned as AJ Tillock at barbarameyers.com

 

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: IT ISN’T SEX THAT SELLS

Posted by: BARBARA MEYERS

 

Non-romance readers think romance novels are all about the sex. Even if they include descriptive love scenes they are not. They are about romantic love and commitment. For the purpose of this discussion let’s separate out erotica from the romance genre and stick to romance novels.

If they’re not about sex then why include sex scenes? I’ll speak for my own writing and no one else’s. I include them because it seems natural to the story. I like subtle, passionate well-written love scenes that reflect what’s going on both physically and emotionally with the characters.

Often the characters aren’t married to each other the first time they have sex. That’s simply a reflection of the times we live in. I write contemporary romance. My novels don’t necessarily reflect my own moral views. I’d wager most fiction doesn’t reflect the moral views of its readers. Most readers of murder mysteries, for example, aren’t killers in real life. A police procedural, however, shows how a murderer is caught. (Usually with some fictional license taken.) In the same way, a romance novel shows how a romantic relationship develops in a believable but not necessarily realistic situation.

In my novels, sex is the binding element. The characters may have already forged an emotional or psychological bond with each other. Certainly they are attracted to each other both physically and emotionally. There’s usually some reason they resist acting on the physical component of that attraction, a reason they fight it, delay it, refuse to give into it. Is this sounding at all like a real life situation you might have experienced?

There comes a point where they do give in, however. That bond they already had with each other becomes more intimate and meaningful because that’s what sex does. There’s always an emotional component whether any of us want to believe it or not. There’s no such thing as “just sex.” Not in a good romance novel and not in real life.

If we could have “just sex” with someone and walk away and forget about it, there wouldn’t be stalkers or jealous rages; murders by exes or sad songs about love gone wrong; we wouldn’t be popping anti-depressants in record numbers either or wonder why we feel so used up before the age of thirty. Sex, even a one-night stand, leaves an imprint on our hearts and our psyches.

Sex outside of or before marriage always complicates things because emotions are complicated. But if a writer has done the work of building the potential for a lasting relationship between the characters, a sexual relationship will be the glue that holds them together and helps them overcome obstacles together. That’s how they find their happy ending.

 

Check out Barbara’s latest release with Samhain Publishing

She’s home to make aNobodysFool72webmends. He’s out to get a little revenge. But the heart he breaks could be his own.

 

Jolie Kramer walked away from Court Harrison and never looked back even though Court had been her biggest fan since childhood.  Now she’s returned for her ten-year high school reunion, older, wiser and ready to make amends for breaking Court’s heart.

Frustrated because after ten years he’s still hung up on her, Court has vowed to himself that he can leave the past and his feelings for Jolie behind.  He’ll give her a taste of her own medicine, make her fall for him and he’ll be the one who walks away.

Court’s plan works a little too well, however, because when Jolie confesses her love for him, he doesn’t believe her. At first.  Only after she discovers he set her up, does he realize her feelings are real and he’s lost the one woman he always wanted.

When Court comes up with Plan B, Jolie can’t resist the career challenge he issues as well as the opportunity for payback.  Court’s gamble pays off when Jolie realizes there’s no joy in her success without the one person who always believed in her.

Order your copy today!