A few years ago I joined a local chapter of RWA and met its published authors. Among those authors was a lady memorable because of her long red hair, clear Celtic complexion and her awesome offbeat black outfits. But most memorable was her sense of genuine care and consideration for me as a new member, my writing, my career as a writer-- her kindness.
It's probably a good thing that I didn't know WHO SHE WAS at the time. I might have been intimidated. Granted, she hadn't quite become an international phenomenon (I love saying that) but she was well on her way.
Now she is one. She and her Dark Hunters have a worldwide following that obliterates boundaries that normally separate readers--boundaries like age, gender and genre preference. Yet, she's still that same encouraging, generous person I met at my first local meeting. And in spite of her long list of accomplishments, that's what still impresses me most about this woman.
Since that first meeting, Sherrilyn Kenyon has gone on to become a #1 NYT Bestseller, with more than 15 million books in print, and is poised to blow those numbers out of the water with her next release.
She’s in the middle of her next project for St. Martin’s Press, but she was kind enough to visit us in the lair, and answer some questions posed by the Banditas and their friends.
If you've been to her website, or heard her keynote speeches, you know that Sherri has had her share, and a lot more, of overcoming the odds to make her life and her career work.
She's walked through the fire of financial devastation, markets turned cold to her writing, illness and hospitalization with her pregnancies, death of beloved family members, and nearly losing her newborn child.
When you hear her story, you aren't left with a lot of excuses for not following your dream. She’ll tell you she’s not one for looking back. She’s about moving forward. Still, I’ve wondered what sustained her through all of that. I asked her how she's managed to hold on to her "self"—that woman I met at my first RWA meeting. I think I'd be a jaded, hard and unfeeling person by now. But Sherri isn't.
“The thing that kept me going was my family,” she said, “and my characters’ unwillingness to let go until their story was told.”
Sherri has written stuff other than romance, but she’s made her mark writing about relationships—in particular relationships that lead to redemption—for those who “shouldn’t” have it according to traditional standards. How did such a multi-faceted writer come to focus on love and happily-ever-after? Honestly, how did a Goth chick from Georgia end up writing some of the most powerful love stories of our generation? Other than the obvious roof over her head, what do these love stories do for Sherri Kenyon?
“ I've had to overcome a lot of heartache and loss in my life,” Sherri said. “Especially in my childhood. My friend Kim let me borrow one of her romance novels and I was forever changed. The characters had bad things happen to them in their lives and you know what? They got to live HAPPILY EVER AFTER! That showed me that in life, you can have many trials. Sometimes, even things you wouldn't believe you'd live through, but in the end, you can have a HAPPILY EVER AFTER like the characters.”
Sherri is adamant about this.
“I believe in romance as a reality, not a fairy tale, and it's the believing that characters and people are worthy of having someone to love and someone to love them in return that is the basis for my stories, and sharing that with the fans is a joy.”
It's clear that Sherri honestly appreciates each one of those fans. I once got to hear her talk about the business of writing during a university class, where she said, "I know how hard it is to earn seven dollars, or fifteen dollars, and this person has chosen to take that hard-earned money and spend it on my book. I will never take that for granted." Sherri has always said the most gratifying moments for her are those when a fan says her books have touched them in some way.
Author Dianna Love spent a good part of 2007 with Sherri on a whirlwind book tour, and got to see the writer-fan interactions up close and personal.
"I was impressed by her sincere interest in every person who walked up to her at a signing," Dianna said. "In the lobby of a hotel, at the airports (when we are normally run hard after being in a different city every day for several weeks), in a restaurant - wherever. She has the nicest fans. They will arrive hours in advance of a signing - numbering over 150 at each of last year's stops so I expect even more this year. They visit with each other, laughing as they share stories or are excited to meet someone in person they only knew by an online name. 40% of Sherri's readers are men. Many couples come together,bringing their children. Sherri brings lots of things to give away and everyone is given a free raffle ticket so we can give away special items. Our goal is that signings are always an event. And she is just as real and caring as what everyone sees at the signings."
This is a big year for Sherrilyn Kenyon. The Dream Hunter release, Upon The Midnight Clear hit #1 on the NYT in November 2007.
Dream-Chaser hit #1 on the NYT in Feb 2008.
On top of that, she's just released Phantom In The Night, a collaboration with Dianna Love. Sherri talked a little about what it was like to work with another writer.
“The B.A.D. Agency collaboration was tremendous fun. Dianna and I worked well together and she's an amazing writer.”
I’ve heard Dianna and Sherri joke about their time together living moment to moment trying to make the next book signing as they toured around the country, and about their crazy back and forth dialogues as they worked on Phantom through it all. But what came out was a really interesting blend of the two voices. I’ve read Sherri’s books, and of course, Dianna’s, but this didn’t sound like either—and yet it sounded like both. Almost a whole new “writer” formed from two.
" We became close friends long before we ever considered working together," Dianna said. " Sherri...would never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings and neither would I, which is why we had to have a very honest conversation about writing together. We both believe a successful collaboration depends on honesty and agreed on “no sacred cows” – that anyone’s words were up for editing – because the most important thing to both of us was the final story. We laughed a lot. I think a similarity between us is to not take ourselves too seriously, which made discussing ideas and changes easy. "
“It's like fitting a puzzle together.” Sherri said. “Dianna has certain strengths and I have certain strengths and together they just sort of fit. "
"We spent some time discussing the difference in our styles--" Dianna said, "with her trademark humor and I write dark/edgy – to assure we could create a strong story while not damaging our friendship. It takes a great deal of trust to work together. Neither of us had any idea what it would be like to collaborate, no plan, no guidelines. We just went for it. We both wrote through every page to give the story a seamless feel. We were both invested in only one thing – to write the best story we could. "
"Of course, we'd laugh at each other and disagree just like any team," Sherri said, "but in the end I believe we've forged a great partnership.”
And a successful one. Phantom In The Night hit the NYT list on June 19th, and it's remained there for the past two weeks.
There's a bit of a crackle in the air right now—it's the anticipation—so thick you can taste it. This is it.
The Year of Acheron.
There's a counter on Sherri’s website, counting down the days, minutes, and even milli-seconds until the release of Acheron. Fans have waited a long time for Ash to get his story. We've hurt with him, ached for him as we saw him through the stories of the Dark Hunters. This is a pivotal book in the series. Knowing how Sherri feels about her characters—that they’re real—alive—I had to wonder if this was a particularly emotional story for her to tell. Was it difficult for her to approach?
“Definitely,” Sherri said. “Acheron's story is an emotional one. It was hard to write because I've had him to myself for so long, nurturing him and now he's going out into the big, bad world. I hope the readers experience the emotions I went through while telling the story of his life.”
Sherri has said that characters have often gotten in her way and demanded their own stories, not in the order she’d intended. Was Ash cooperative with his story when the time came to write it?
“Yes, he was. I've had the bulk of it written for many years before I sat down to put the pieces together. There were a few moments when I felt like I was being put through the ringer right there with him, but in the end it felt liberating to get it all out.”
I asked Sherri what’s different about Acheron’s book from the others in the series. I’d read that it’s a longer book, but I sensed, from Sherri’s demeanor, that this is an unveiling of sorts—a revealing of something powerful and close to her heart. There’s an intensity about Sherri when she speaks of Acheron.
“Acheron's book is an epic tale. It's HIS story,” she said. “Of course you have the romance as well, but Acheron's story holds true to his title. The fans will know everything there is to know about Ash when they've finished reading.”
I've seen a little of Sherri’s schedule and gotten a sense of the crazy, hectic life-on-tour she’s leading as a hit writer on a roll. It’s clear she appreciates the opportunities she’s earned, but I have to wonder how she does it. It’s the Fourth of July week as I’m writing this. A time for most people to relax and enjoy family. But for Sherrilyn Kenyon, the Year Of Acheron is about to kick into high gear. She was in the middle of a manuscript when she paused to give this interview.
I asked Sherri if there was such a thing as a break for her nowadays. She laughed out loud.
“It's going to be wild for the next couple of months with the tour, K-Con, Comic-Con, just to name a few. I pretty much work around the clock. Luckily, I get to work a lot from home so I can see my family.” She smiled when she spoke of her kids. “Sometimes when I’m traveling I can take my children with me so I don't have to miss them. But yes, I do stay busy.”
Sherri is on the road a LOT. A writing career—any career—with kids is a tough thing to juggle, and a lot of writers know those struggles well. But she’s managed to nudge a growing writing career into an exploding one, all while juggling a young family, including a son with autism. I wondered if the special needs of her child’s autism had changed her. Has it made her a different person—a different WRITER even—than she would have otherwise been?
“ I understand and have always understood what its like to overcome adversity,” she said. “I've had to do it and my son has to live with it on a daily basis. So that could be why I put my characters through so much.” She laughed as she said that, then she grew thoughtful. “I think that any parent with a special needs child learns patience and how truly important it is to love your child for who they are and not who society expects them to be. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.”
On top of all that, Sherrilyn Kenyon, one of the most prolific, fastest writers I know, has dyslexia. When I asked her if she ever got frustrated she laughed again.
“Well,” she said, “I love spellcheck.”
Sherri has to be able to write anywhere, under almost any conditions because she has to keep up the pace for herself, her publishers, and her readers. I asked her how she connects with her “voices” and preserves her creative flow when things were going nuts around her.
“It's hard,” she said, and nodded. “But once I sink into my world and get into the zone, I'm there. The world could possibly fall down around me and I'm still there living with my characters and telling their story.”
Bandita Suz had a couple of questions for Sherri. Suz wondered about the difficulties inherent in writing a long-standing series while still staying true to your vision as an author. Does Sherri ever find the two at cross-purposes? Has she ever felt the temptation to cave to please readers, or go in a direction she hadn’t planned with characters or plot? (And Cassondra adds, knowing Sherri’s characters, would they ever LET her do this?)
“No. I've always done exactly what the characters have told me to do. I think its important as a writer to stay true to them.”
Sherri is one of the most brilliant promoters I’ve ever encountered. Everything from her merchandise for signings to her websites and the emblems she uses for branding. Suz also had a question about those websites. She’s used them to great advantage, and Suz wondered if Sherri credits those websites with helping to build her fan base to what it is today, and does she believe good use of a website can help a writer sell?
“Yes, the websites helped to get the word out,” Sherri said. “I don't know if there's an exact way to help a writer sell. It's just so different for every writer. When I pitched my series and told them I had a website already, some of the editors thought I was nuts. So, it’s just different for everyone.”
Sherri’s bottom line was this.
“Never give up. If you give up, your dreams will never become a reality.”
For my last question to Sherri, I saved the one sent by my husband, Steve, who also happens to be one of Sherrilyn’s fans. Since Sherri writes about things that go bump in the night, Steve asks, “What scares Sherrilyn Kenyon?”
Sherri said, “The color pink.”
So, Bandita friends, What scares YOU?
Are you afraid of the dark?
Do you believe in angels, demons, and their ilk?
Have you ever slept with the light on? (I have.)
Do you have a favorite Sherrilyn Kenyon story? Does one of her Dark Hunters haunt your dreams?
Do you keep the lights on after reading her books? Or do you sleep better believing the Dark Hunters are stalking the night in your defense?