Thursday, May 13, 2021

Katherine A. Sherbrooke

Katherine A. Sherbrooke is the author of Fill the Sky, which was a finalist for the Mary Sarton Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Foreward Indies Book of the Year, and won a 2017 Independent Press Award. She is Chair of the GrubStreet Creative Writing Center in Boston and lives south of the city with her husband, two sons, and black lab.

Sherbrooke's new novel is Leaving Coy's Hill.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

An early title I considered was Call Me Lucy Stone, but I realized that had two problems: it might sound like a straight biography, and more importantly, considering that most people don’t know who Lucy Stone was, using her name didn’t help (unlike, for example, the recent The Mystery of Mrs. Christie—right away, anyone remotely familiar with Agatha Christie will know what the book is about). Coy’s Hill is where Lucy grew up, and the reader is taken to that childhood home very early on in the book. What I hope the title will do is create a set of questions for the reader that remain relevant straight through to the last page: what does Coy’s Hill represent for her, what does she take away when she leaves, and what remains with her forever?

What's in a name?

Given that this is historical fiction based on the lives of real people, my main characters were all named for me! But I did invent some characters who were composites or represented key turning points for Lucy. One such character is an escaped slave named Juda May who makes an indelible impression on Lucy. I had read that many slaves were named for the month in which they were born. That fact speaks volumes. I wanted to create for this character a name that adhered to that custom but was as graceful and beautiful as this character is in my mind’s eye.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Such an interesting question! I think my teenage self would be pretty surprised. I wasn’t the slightest bit political as a young person and was too clueless to see feminism as something important in my world. I hope that younger self might have been drawn into this story enough to understand (earlier in her life) how far behind the starting line women were placed by our Constitution and the impact one determined woman can make, but that is something I’ll never know!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings, without a doubt, are much harder for me and get revised more than anything else. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the opening (for me) can’t be truly finished until the rest of the book is locked in place—and I don’t mean after the first moment I write “the end,” I mean after countless revisions, all the way up until the book is about to go through its last pre-pub copy edit. By contrast, the last paragraph of the book rarely changes from the first draft. By that point in the process, it’s very clear to me how it needs to end.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are pieces of me in all my key characters—even those characters with traits I detest exist in some way because of my reaction to them. The old cliché “write what you know” is often debated by writers. I believe we should all be free to imagine any place, time, or situation in our work, whether we have experienced it or not. But the inner life of say, of a character standing on an asteroid in a fictional universe, is likely made real because we are able to tap into an emotion we have felt course through our own body, something we know on a visceral level.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Performed drama, whether in the movies, TV or on stage. Dialogue is one of the best ways to bring a reader into a story and watching forms that rely almost solely on dialogue is really helpful to me. I often say that I worship at the altar of Aaron Sorkin! The other is music. Great lyrics are essentially poetry. The ability to encapsulate a situation in only a few words stops me in my tracks and reminds me of the importance of every word, how the combination of certain words can light our brains on fire. As a writer of novels, I have a long way to go to improve my economy of words! I often turn to music as a reminder of just how quickly stories can be told.
Visit Katherine A. Sherbrooke's website.

The Page 69 Test: Leaving Coy's Hill.

--Marshal Zeringue