Welcome to the three hundred and eighty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with literary fiction author Myra Sherman. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Myra.
Morgen: Oh you’re so welcome, thank you for taking part. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
Myra: In my non-writing life I’m a clinical social worker, with extensive experience in mental health and criminal justice. My writing began as an extension of my clinical work, and focused on giving voice to people who are largely ignored or forgotten. I began attending workshops and conferences to improve my skills, including the Tin House workshop and The Summer Literary Series in Kenya. And joining a local writer’s group was extremely beneficial. I published my first short story in 2006 and my first book in 2011.
I feel fortunate to live in Northern California, where I divide my time between Berkeley and Lake County.
Morgen: Your work sounds as if it might impact your writing, what genre do you write?
Myra: I generally write literary fiction. But I’ve just completed the first draft of a dystopian novel that might be considered science fiction.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Myra: My debut short story collection, JAILED, was published by Desperanto Press in 2011.
Morgen: I love short stories and have just finished writing 31 stories in 31 days – hard work but fun. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Myra: Yes, many rejections. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t have rejections. It’s a part of writing and being published. After the momentary sting, I try to remember it’s not personal, but rather a matter of taste.
Morgen: I’ve ‘met’ a few (interviewed them on my blog) but that’s mainly because they’ve either not submitted or written a small amount and had it all published. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Myra: Yes. I was a finalist for the Moment-Karma Short Fiction Award in 2006, The SLS-Kenya Fiction Contest in 2006, and Glimmer Train’s Best Start Contest in 2009.
Morgen: I’ve not heard of the first two but have Glimmer Train (a lovely name). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Myra: I don’t have an agent at this time. My collection was published by an independent press, and I worked directly with them. As I begin to consider publication for my novels, I hope to have an agent. I think agents are valuable, but not necessary for an author’s success.
Morgen: Most do earn their keep but I’ve had mixed reviews by authors on the ones they’ve had. They’re certainly going to know the industry better than most authors. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Myra: JAILED is available as an e-book from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (Kindle and NOOK.) I wasn’t involved in the process. I still read paper, but e-readers are great for travel.
Morgen: Aren’t they. I love having 400+ books wherever I go. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Myra: Zelna in Jail Work, a short story included in JAILED, is one of my favourite characters. Another is the narrator of my novel MOCKINGBIRD BLUES, Mother Mary. I’d choose Sandra Bullock for Zelna, and Meryl Streep for Mother Mary.
Morgen: Both great choices. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Myra: I chose the title JAILED. Desperanto Press designed the book cover, but I had the final say. I think both are very important, in terms of catching the reader’s eye and giving a first impression of the book.
Morgen: I did chat with someone the other day who says they aren’t interested in a book unless it has a good cover (yours is great). I love titles myself but poor ones haven’t put me off, although I do tend to go for the eye-catching first. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Myra: I’m currently working on two novels. The final revisions of MOCKINGBIRD BLUES, the story of an older homeless woman who is charged with, and jailed for, a murder she doesn’t remember. And I just finished the first draft of a dystopian novel, tentatively titled GREEN SKY, that focuses on character and change in times of crisis.
Morgen: I like the sound of those. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Myra: I try to write most days. But breaks can be helpful, particularly in the time between the initial writing and revision, in terms of a fresh eye. Writer’s block was a problem when I first started, and didn’t know what to ‘say’. It seems to be less of an issue when writing longer works.
Morgen: I have more ideas than I can cope with although I started writing a story a day in May (for Story a Day May). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Myra: I get an idea and run with it. I have a general idea about the ending, but getting there happens without plotting.
Morgen: I love that (where the characters invariably take over). You mentioned your short stories briefly, do you write any non-fiction or poetry?
Myra: I have several essays and over thirty short stories that have been published in print or online literary magazines. Links to my short writing are available on my website and my Facebook page.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Myra: I continually edit. I go back to the previous day’s work, and revise. I edit each chapter as it’s completed. I edit the entire book when it’s done. Usually I’m not making major changes, just finding the right words, and eliminating areas that don’t advance the story.
Morgen: Me too and it’s amazing what your eyes pick up every time you go through something. Do you have to do much research?
Myra: My short stories are largely placed in jail and mental health settings, and loosely drawn from my work experience. I was the mental health director of a San Francisco Bay area county jail, and used that setting for my collection and first novel. My second novel is a dystopian; set in rural Northern California, an area I’m familiar with. But I still had to do a fair amount of research to make it realistic.
Morgen: Because if you don’t someone will pick up on it. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Myra: I’ve used all three. The stories in my collection are written in first and third person. I wrote one short story using second person. I like second person, but found most editors don’t. It was finally published in Inkspill Magazine in July 2010. My first novel was written in first person, the second in third.
Morgen: I love second person but agree that most other people don’t, which is a shame but it’s definitely an acquired taste. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Myra: All of my short pieces have been published. I hoping my novels will, but one can never be sure.
Morgen: You could always eBook them. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Myra: After a good writing day, I have a sense of completion and satisfaction that is very rewarding. Having something accepted for publication is great for validation. But sometimes writing seems very lonely. And I often question whether the hours spent in front of a computer are worth the effort.
Morgen: The computer just eats time, doesn’t it. I quite like being alone although I have a dog so he’s great company. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Myra: Don’t give up. Make writing a priority. Connect with other writers for support.
Morgen: Absolutely. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Myra: I’ve found the Zoetrope Virtual Studio very helpful for connecting, and having work reviewed. Some excellent writers can be found in the wings and private offices.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Myra: In addition to Zoetrope, I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Linked-in. I find these sites invaluable for developing relationships and promoting one’s work.
Morgen: LinkedIn is probably how we met. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Myra: Just to thank you for your wonderful blog. Since subscribing I look forward to receiving your emails / author interviews.
Morgen: Ah, thank you so much. It’s a LOT of work (a full-time job in fact) but enjoy it and I’m so grateful to everyone who takes part because it wouldn’t be what it is without my guests. Thank you, Myra.
I then invited Myra to include an extract of her writing and this is from JAILED – THE JEWEL OF OAKLAND…
Since my release from jail, I feel lost. I spend my days exploring, trying to find myself. My manicured nails match my Aruba blue cashmere scarf. I wear Lancôme Merlot lipstick and silver bangles, but still feel dull.
Lake Merritt is new to me, nestled between Grand and Lakeshore Avenue, an unexpected urban discovery.
“I’m Peter,” the sweet blond man at the tobacco shop on Grand says.
He calls Lake Merritt the jewel of Oakland.
“You have to see it at night, lit up,” he says.
“If I’m still around,” I say.
Standing in front of his shop, I smoke three guilty Salem Lights in rapid succession before giving the pack to a homeless guy panhandling on the corner. Then following Peter’s directions, I walk two blocks to Lakeshore. I cross over to Peet’s, and after ordering a double macchiato, sit at the counter facing the street. Sipping coffee and inhaling the rich caffeinated atmosphere, humid warm and inviting, so unlike the cold sterility of the jail, I can almost forget.
It’s December 23rd and the winter day is ending. Lakeshore is adorned for the holidays with tinselly stars that transform the lamp-posts to angel’s wands. When I left the jail last week, there was an artificial flocked pine tree in the lobby, decorated with golden bells and crimson balls.
I don’t want to think about the jail, but it keeps coming back.
Myra Sherman received a Master’s in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley and is a licensed clinical social worker in California. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals such as Ars Medica, 580 Split, Fifth Wednesday Journal and the Medulla Review. Her short story collection JAILED was released December 6, 2011 and is available from Desperanto Press. More about her writing and contact information can be found at myrasherman.com.
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