Sherry has come a long way since immigrating to the U.S. from China at 13, with less than 300 words of English in her vocabulary. She learned English by reading the 600-page historical romances of the day. The result, as evidenced in her debut novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, is a stunning understanding of the nuances of language and an exquisite mastery of words.
What drew you to writing a Victorian-era romance novel?
I think I was drawn to romances because I was completely curious about what happens between a man and a woman beyond looking at each other across a classroom (which was all the experience I had of such things in China) and drawn to historical romances because they offered the greater escape.
Having just received a master’s degree in accounting, how will you incorporate that into a writing career? Since accounting revolves around numbers and generally only one right answer per problem, but writing is bound only by the limits of your imagination, how do you change mindsets when dealing with these two very different areas of work?
Auditing is actually full of choices and grey areas—which is why I don’t care for auditing. I prefer tax accounting, which to me is more precise, but with which one can get awfully creative, too. (To the IRS: not that I ever do!)
And writing actually has more rules and limitations than one would think. Once you have committed to a time period, then to a set of characters, then to a story, you are bound by what is historically accurate, what is in character, and what makes sense for the story.
I find that it does me good to work with both numbers and words. I like circularity. I like things to come to a neat, beautiful end. As strange as it might sound, I get that from both knocking out 1065 partnership tax returns and crafting that perfect “happily ever after.”
Why write historical romance? If you didn’t write historical romance, what genre would you explore next?
That is a question I keep asking myself. My first manuscript was a historical because I decided that it would be easier to sell a historical—and also because I’d read tons of historicals and thought I understood its unwritten conventions.
What I planned was that I’d sell a historical, get my foot in the door, and then write science fiction romances set in a Star Wars-type universe, with all kinds of exciting chases and fights—and epic passion, of course.
And then I kept getting historical ideas and kept finishing those darned manuscripts too, while my SF romances languished in my C drive. So I guess that’s what makes me a historical romance writer—not by my intentions, but by what I do.
Tell us a little about your second book, DELICIOUS, which will be out this summer. How did the writing process for your sophomore title compare to that of your debut book, PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS?
It took me eight years to write PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. Well, okay, not quite eight years. PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was the first manuscript I ever wrote. Then it sat in a corner for five years. I stumbled across it in 2005, threw everything out but the names and the basic back story, rebuilt it from the ground up, and sold it.
I am convinced now that I cannot write a decent book unless I first kill myself producing a meticulously polished and ultimately unpolished first draft. With PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS it happened in an organic manner. With DELICIOUS I was on a constant deadline for sixteen months and produced three completely different drafts.
I was going to school at the same time. So it was absolutely exhausting. But by the third draft DELICIOUS had improved so much that nowadays I’m completely in love with it and can’t wait to share it with readers.
You’ve already received critical acclaim for PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, including starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. RT BOOKReviews will also run a feature on you. How does this early success affect your work in progress?
The starred reviews in LJ and PW and RT’s interview request didn’t come until I’d turned in the final major draft for DELICIOUS. But during the earlier months of writing DELICIOUS, when I was struggling with every aspect of the story, I used to dread that I might be a one-book wonder. And my one great wish then was that DELICIOUS would be as good as PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS.
Then I finally found my stride with DELICIOUS. I’m happy to report that in my humble opinion, at least, DELICIOUS is my best work. Now the pressure I put on myself will be for the next book to be better than DELICIOUS.
What made you decide to start writing novels?
An entirely silly idea that it would be a good way to make a few bucks while staying at home with my children. By the time PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS finally comes out on March 25, 2008, nearly ten years will have passed from when I first started writing. That is no way to make money. I have probably been working for 10 cents per hour all those years!
You’ve stated that you love to read blogs, and you’ve a knack for writing them as well. To what types of blogs are you drawn? What role has blogging played in your writing career?
I am drawn to blogs with strong voices, colorful language, and intelligent discussions. Looking back, I find that reading blogs has made a huge impact on my writing on a subconscious level. I learned a lot from those voices that come out and grab you by the throat. And interestingly enough, the blogs I’d read earlier on were mostly written by men, so the strength, courage, humor, and moral fiber that shone through their voices have also helped shape my heroes.
The historical romance novel has been around for decades, yet we’ve heard it said that your books could very well redefine the historical romance subgenre. What distinguishes PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS from other historical romances?
Mom, is that you doing the questioning?
I’m actually not the best person to answer this question, because I haven’t read every historical romance published in recent years, and the authors I read a lot—Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory, Shana Abe, Loretta Chase—can all be said to have left strong stamps on the subgenre, if not redefined it outright.
I think, for me, what might potentially distinguish PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS from other historical romances is its take on love and honor. I very much believe that love without honor is no love at all. And that one must be willing not only to sacrifice for love, but to sacrifice love for honor—very THE AGE OF INNOCENCE of me, except all sorts of good things happen to my characters when they make these hard sacrifices.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as your first novel has become published? What’s your advice to aspiring authors who dream of breaking into publishing?
I think perseverance and serendipity go hand-in-hand. I didn’t have an easy or quick road to publication, but when it finally happened, it was very, very satisfying. My advice to aspiring authors, beyond not giving up, is to be proud of yourself. It’s not easy to write. It’s even less easy when you are writing on nothing but hopes and a sometimes wavering faith in yourself. Remember you are striving, and there is nothing more admirable than striving.
What’s one thing you want readers to know about you and your books?
About me, nothing really—the author is secondary to the work. About my books, I want readers to know that they are fast-paced and very sexy reads. Philosophical underpinning and attention to language are all very well and good, but my first priority is and always has been to write stories that will engross readers the very first page and not let go until “The End.”