Friday, January 20, 2012
Author Sherri Wood Emmons
Sherri’s own childhood involved the coal mining area of the Coal River Valley, West Virginia, and the strong family relationships forged through both love and necessity. It would seem almost prophetic that when Sherri penned her debut novel “Prayers and Lies” the story would involve the complexities of love and betrayal within a family, and an ending of hope built upon human frailty and the strength to overcome, accept, and even forgive. “Prayers and Lies” contains characters a reader will cheer for, and ones we can’t help but loath, and then worry about as they come to terms with their demons and seek to rectify the damage they have done.
Now Sherri’s second novel of family “The Sometimes Daughter” is set for release. Judy is a child of the sixties, raised around flowers, protests, and non-commitment. She grows as her mother seemingly refuses to, including avoiding her nurturing role in Judy’s life. Once again, Sherri provides readers with a finely crafted story of broken relationships, promises never kept, and a child becoming a young woman who must in the end define life and family in her own terms and prepare for the day the mother she never knew decides to come home to her sometimes daughter.
Kensington Books provided me the opportunity to preview “The Sometimes Daughter.” It’s a story well worth reading, and then discussing with family, friends, and book club members. http://www.sherriwoodemmons.com/
A) A few years ago, my husband and I watched a documentary on Woodstock. At some point during the festival, they announced over the loud speaker that a woman was having a baby in the hospital tent. And I thought, what would that be like, to be born at Woodstock? The story flowed from that original thought. Also, I was a child in the sixties, so it’s familiar territory for me.
Q) Has your faith conflicted with your stories of family relationships that travel some very irregular paths?
A) I think there is a faith element to both of my books. In “Prayers and Lies,” what saves the family from complete chaos is Helen’s strong faith. And throughout the story we see Bethany struggling to make sense of the bad things that happen in her world, and she does that through a lens of faith. In “The Sometimes Daughter,” Cassie is on a search for meaning. She goes about it in all the wrong ways, but at the core, she is looking for a meaning greater than herself.
I find people’s faith journeys fascinating. Whether Christian or Buddhist or Bahá’í or whatever, I think all of us are searching for meaning in life. We just go about it in different ways.
Q) “Prayers and Lies” includes the sometimes uncomfortable topic of child abuse, and then presents a not so customary conclusion. Why did you decide to make abuse part of that story?
A) The abuse was an intrinsic part of the story, and so I chose to hit it head on. I tried not to be too explicit, but Reana Mae’s relationships with her mother and her uncle make her who she is. They shape how she views the world and how she responds to the world.
The scenes between Reana and her uncle were very difficult to write. My own daughter was about the same age as Reana when I was writing that part of the story, and sometimes after I wrote I had to take a walk to just calm down and distance myself from the story. I know they are hard to read, but ultimately, I think they are necessary to the story.
Q) As your stories focus on families caught in the darker side and struggling to find happiness, what do you do with your own family to ensure your children don’t fall into the tribulations your characters do?
A) My husband and I have three great kids. We are a blended family, so there are some additional challenges there, but we made the decision early on that we wanted our home to be welcoming to our kids and their friends. That sometimes meant a lot of noise and chaos, and sometimes lots of kids around the dinner table, but it also meant we always knew our children’s friends. I think that’s important.
We always sat down for dinner together, we read together and played together, and I spent a lot of time at school events, dance recitals, and band concerts.
In the end, though, I think we were also just really lucky. Our kids are now healthy, happy young adults, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
A) I didn’t set out to write a novel, actually. My family spent summers in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia when I was a child, and I wanted my own kids to have a feel for where their family came from. So I started just writing about that time and place, and it turned into a novel.
I worked on the story for seven or eight years before I submitted it, but not steadily. I was working full time and raising kids, so sometimes the manuscript sat for months before I picked it up again. Finally, I decided I had to finish it, so I took a writing retreat and wrote the last 200 pages in a single week. And then, of course, I spent another year or so revising. It was a long process.
Q) Any parting thoughts for readers not yet familiar with your work?
A) Well, I hope they’ll give the books a try. And then let me know what they think. I love it when readers give me feedback on my website (http://www.sherriwoodemmons.com/). It’s amazing and humbling and just wonderful to hear from readers.