Interview With Author Katherine A. Sherbrooke

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Greetings! I am the author of 3 books, Finding Home, a family memoir, Fill the Sky, which is contemporary fiction, and most recently, Leaving Coy’s Hill, historical fiction inspired by the real life of Lucy Stone, an abolitionist in the 1800s and the first woman to publicly fight for women’s rights in the US.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

So far, all my books have some grounding in real life, personal or historical. While the characters and plot of Fill the Sky, for example, are fictional—it’s about three friends who travel to Ecuador to see if the shamans there can save one of them from terminal cancer— the shamanic rituals they experience (sometimes reluctantly!) are ones I took part in while traveling in South America, albeit for different reasons. I found the setting, the people, and intricacies of traditional medicine fascinating and decided it would make a wonderful backdrop for a novel. Leaving Coy’s Hill, on the other hand, tracks very closely to the real life of Lucy Stone, a truly extraordinary woman whose life comes with several great storylines. I turned it into fiction to give myself the freedom to imagine what it was like to be her, to embellish key scenes and bring details and emotion to life for the reader.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’m inspired by every medium of art—other books to be sure, but also music, theater, dance, poetry, film, visual arts. Art to me is about finding a way to convey individual truths in a way that can help each of us understand ourselves and each other better. Story telling is central to the human experience, and when I learn something, feel something thanks to the work of an artist, it inspires me to try to do the same. If I can open even one tiny pathway of understanding for someone through one of my stories, that to me feels like a great privilege.

# How do you deal with creative block?

For me it’s about getting out of the analytical or “thinking” brain and getting the ink flowing, and the only way to do that is to make myself sit in the chair and write something—anything, even if it’s the words “I really don’t know why I am sitting here because I’m not sure I have anything to write today.” I believe “writer’s block” is the writer getting in her own way, not a drought of creative juices. We get blocked by our logical brain trying to tell us that we aren’t good enough, that there is no point in writing today, that this project is too hard. But I find that whenever I give my creative brain license to come out of the shadows—and all it takes is putting the pen on the page, or letting the fingers begin to type—it always shows me something I had no idea was there. It may not always seem relevant to the current project, it may not feel like work that is immediately “useful,” but that’s like saying that extra squats aren’t useful to a downhill ski racer. The more we exercise our creative muscles, the more responsive they become.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

When I decided to write my first novel, I wanted to take a very disciplined approach and treated it like a job. I wrote five days a week with the weekend set aside for family, friends and other priorities. Even though I was devoting a huge part of each week to the novel, my progress was very slow. I dreaded weekends in a way that I hadn’t when I worked full-time in the business world, and then dreaded Monday mornings even more because it felt like I had lost all momentum from the previous week. I finally got set straight when I heard the highly prolific and talented Walter Mosely talk about his writing process. He shared his belief that art comes from the subconscious, and that the deeper we go, the stronger the art. The subconscious zone is the source of the story, and staying submerged, if you will, requires being in it every single day. It doesn’t have to be eight hours every day, or even four or even two. But it is critical not to “turn off” our access to that subconscious brain by regularly stepping away from the work. That advice changed my writing life. I’m now a seven-day-a-week writer when I’m in a project and it has made all the difference!

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

First, I have to be deeply connected to a story for it to hold my interest long enough to turn it into a novel. Drafting, revising, selling and promoting a book takes a long time, so the book has to involve a topic, characters, a storyline and/or place where I want to be for years. And there is no doubt that the process of writing is very satisfying to me. There is something magical about conjuring a world on the page, making something real that didn’t exist before. But nothing quite compares to a reader telling me she or he was moved by a passage or a scene, or the entire arc of a character. I recently had someone read back to me during a book group discussion two or three different sections of my book that had moved her, and my heart just about burst on the spot. There are so many words in every novel, and I spend hours trying to get as many of them right as I can, but you never really know which sentences will be glossed over and which ones will resonate. To have a few passages held up like polished stones that gleamed in the eye of a reader is beyond satisfying! Interestingly, though, I don’t have much luck when that is my goal. I’m often surprised by which ones really stand out for the reader. Most often, they are the ones that simply flowed onto the page on one of those days when I was so submerged in the subconscious world that my conscious brain wasn’t allowed to criticize or edit. The art was simply allowed to thrive.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

It’s everything, which is part of what makes the creation of art so terrifying. But readers will only connect, I believe, if the artist is exposing an emotional truth. The more difficult the truth is, the gentler I believe readers tend to be in handling it. It is when we allow ourselves to be most vulnerable that the doors of understanding open wide. It’s risky, and scary, but so very worth it in the end.