Joint Interview: Author Sherry Howard and Editor Wiley Blevins
I’m happy to interview my writing friend and skilled author, Sherry Howard. Plus, I have the pleasure of welcoming Wiley Blevins, Editorial Director at Reycraft Books. Wiley edited Sherry’s middle grade novel, SPIRITS AMONG US, which will be released into the world on October 22nd.
For a Kidlit Creatives Member, Sherry will giveaway one signed copy of
SPIRITS AMONG US. To WIN a copy of Sherry's new novel, follow the
directions at the end of this post.
Hi Sherry! Congratulations on your novel, SPIRITS AMONG US! What is your novel about?
Hi, Manju! So happy to be here! SPIRITS AMONG US is a middle grade contemporary, for ages 10-12, complete at 43,400 words. It has the small-town feel of Three Times Lucky and, like Greenglass House, has a rambling family property, a haunting, and some mystery. The setting has a strong regional flavor of Appalachia.
Scooter and her best friend, Harlan, are trying to connect with the spirit of her mother. Appalachian folklore has it that if you don’t connect with a spirit within a year, you may never connect. Their search, while trying to connect with her mother, sends them spiraling into a search for the robber who’s using their family property for a personal loot locker. As the mystery unfolds, Scooter’s impatience nearly leads to a disaster.
Hi Wiley! Please explain your acquisition process at Reycraft Books. Why did Sherry’s manuscript appeal to you?
When I received the manuscript from Sherry and discovered it was set in a rural Kentucky community—much like the West Virginia community I grew up in—I knew I had to immediately read it. There were so many places in the book that felt like home. I was drawn by the close family relationships so prominent in Southern communities, especially the inclusion of the grandmother in the story. Plus, who couldn’t resist a well-written book with a mystery and a ghost! I took the book to my acquisitions team and, thankfully, they loved the story as much as I did.
Sherry, please share why this story is so important to you.
There are so many reasons it’s important, not the least of which is hearing my mother’s and grandmother’s stories in my head as I wrote. I grew up with stories about the Appalachian setting I wrote about, especially the mountain people. And, I think grief is such a complicated feeling that teens need conversations about it.
The main character has a spinal cord injury like my own, and I identify as physically disabled. I spent many of my teen years in a hospital for crippled children and drew on that experience. I wanted a well-rounded character with depth who also happened to cope with a disability. I hope to be that mirror and window for children.
As an educator, I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing teen relationships that embrace differences rather than let them be divisive, which is an important element of this manuscript. I love the friendship of Scooter and Harlan.
Wiley, take us through the editorial process for SPIRITS AMONG US.
Sherry sent me a very well-written book, so the editorial process was easy on my end. My two main goals for the editorial process were to heighten both the emotional impact and Southern feel of the story. At first, I wondered if Sherry was holding back the “Southern” aspect of the book, given how difficult it is to publish children’s stories set in the rural south. I prompted her to go deeper in that area, to immerse the reader even more in that special world. Sherry also had these one-line gems in the book—those special ways of describing something that is uniquely hers—and I wanted more. After some revisions, we began the process of creating a cover. It was important to me that the cover hinted at the mystery (the unsolved robberies), the main character’s struggle (her disability/wheelchair), and the setting (the paintball field). I think the cover accomplishes all of that, while also being beautiful and drawing in a young reader.
Sherry, how are you promoting your novel during this pandemic?
Promotion will be more of a challenge in some ways but in other ways it’s wonderful for a person with mobility issues—I will be doing most of it from home. I love going to live events and had a lot planned, but plans change. I’ll be doing the usual social media, appearing on blogs and podcasts, presenting at on-line events, and counting on my writing friends to help me celebrate this book. I believe that promoting a book has to take many shapes even when we don’t have a pandemic going on—it’s hard!
Wiley, what makes a manuscript the right fit for Reycraft Books?
Reycraft Books is an imprint primarily focused on publishing books by authors and illustrators from under-represented communities. This includes regional and socio-economic diversity. There are far too few books that show life in a rural community—the kind of community I grew up in. Sherry’s book does this so beautifully. I had to have Sherry and her book in the Reycraft Books family!
Thank you very much, Sherry and Wiley!
After serving as teacher, consultant, and principal in one of the largest urban/suburban school districts in America, I now enjoy writing full-time in a busy household in Middletown, Kentucky. I’m active as a PAL member of SCBWI and other writer forums, and active on social media. My poems and stories appear in journals and anthologies. My debut picture book released with a starred Kirkus review and represented Kentucky at the Library of Congress 2019 National Book Festival. I also write fiction and non-fiction books for the educational market.
Wiley is the Editorial Director at Reycraft Books. Wiley is also the author of over 15 books for teachers and 90 books for children, including the ICK AND CRUD series and the SCARY TALES RETOLD series. Wiley has lived all over the world (U.S., Ecuador, Israel), but currently lives and works in New York City. You can find out more about him at www.wileyblevins.com.
Sherry will giveaway one signed copy of SPIRITS AMONG US. To win this special prize, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Wednesday, October 21st.
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