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Writing Crime

Sister to Sister: Sherry Harris
By Hank Phillippi Ryan
Posted: 2020-01-28T03:46:00Z

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We talk about this all the time don’t we? About determination, and perseverance, and devotion and dedication and hard work.  We know that without those qualities, we will never make it, not in any way, in the writing world.


And we also talk about “sisterhood.” What we have as a writing community, what we treasure about supporting and encouraging others. How valuable it is, no matter where you are on the publishing journey, to know there are colleagues who will embrace you the moment you walk through the door, and help you and guide you and cheer you on.


And then, we pay it forward. Because the next new author is going to come through the door. And that’s why Sisters in Crime is such a joy.


But speaking of such a joy—Sherry Harris. I remember, I do, (and it may surprise you, all of you who now only know her as the super-successful and super-wonderful and super-knowledgeable past President of National Sisters in Crime)  the very first moment she entered Sisters. Or at least—the first time I knew her. Total newbie. No manuscript. No agent. No publisher. But unbridled enthusiasm, unending determination, and the most gloriously generous heart you can ever imagine.


And Sisters, look at her now. Eight published books, and more on the way.  And now she’s a SinC goddess! But she remains as generous and wonderful as that first day we met.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Do you remember the very first time you thought: I’m going to write a book, and I can do it.  What was that moment?


SHERRY HARRIS: It started with a short story contest I spotted in a newspaper. I started writing and writing and writing until I realized I was writing a novel instead of a short story. I never doubted that I could write a novel, but boy did I have a lot to learn about writing a novel that was good enough to be published.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Did that first book sell?


SHERRY HARRIS: No, it’s still languishing on my computer with two and a half others in the same series.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: But you never doubted at first! Love that. Um, how many of your books have been published since then? What do you think about that?


SHERRY HARRIS: My eighth book in the Sarah Winston series just came out. I’m writing the ninth one and I just turned in the copy edits for the first book in a new series. What do I think? I’m stunned, amazed, and very, very grateful.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: A new series!  Yay! Congratulations! (You can find out all about it on Sherry’s website. And I love that the heroine’s name is Harriet….) Gotta know, got to ask. Do you outline? Has that method has your method changed over the years?


SHERRY HARRIS:  I’m not an outliner and until recently stuck to being a pantser. I do have to write a very short synopsis for my editor at Kensington and recently we’ve tossed ideas around more than we did in the beginning. Both Jessie Crockett and Julie Hennrikus have encouraged me to do more plotting. Jessie spent three hours on the phone with me plotting the first book for the new series. Julie and I talked out the plot for the ninth Sarah book on a long drive. Both of them were extremely helpful.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Ooh, can you all come over? (I’m a devoted pantser.)  But what’s the hardest part of the book for you?


SHERRY HARRIS:  The middle. Plotters skip down to the next question. The book I’m writing right now doesn’t have a middle. Several years ago, Julie Hennrikus asked me how my book was coming. I said I was writing the end. Julie said that’s great. Then I told her I had to go back and write the middle. I wish I had a picture of the look of horror on her face. But so often when I write the end just comes to me and I have to write it down.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Can’t argue with that—when the inspiration comes, don’t close the door. Is your first draft always terrible? Has it always been?


SHERRY HARRIS: Absolutely. But I have to say they are a better level of terrible than they were when I started writing.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That’s such a great way to look at it. Huh. You know, that’s kind of brilliant, and a wonderful encouraging benchmark. Still. Was there ever a time when you thought you would give up writing?


SHERRY HARRIS: I’ve thought about cutting back, but not quitting.  


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Okay, but let’s put it this way. How often in your process do you have doubts about what you’re doing?


SHERRY HARRIS: Every two minutes? I had a really hard time writing the first book in the new series. Really hard! I was telling myself it wasn’t as good as my other books. That the characters weren’t interesting. The plot too simple.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What do you tell yourself during those moments of writing fear?


SHERRY HARRIS: Go have a drink? No – I don’t do that – I promise. I just battle it back and keep writing right after I procrastinate by walking the dog, throwing in some laundry, wasting time online.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: And you finally get it, right? The answer comes? And I do love that part!  Do you have a writing quirk you have to watch out for?


SHERRY HARRIS:  I think like most writers I have an issue with repetitive words. And it seems to change with each book. One will be a book full of bobbleheads nodding away. The next book everyone is shuddering. In the most recent one everyone was winking—land of the eye twitch.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Everyone was grimacing in my new manuscript. They never winced, or flinched, or did nothing. Only grimaced. Luckily, I finally noticed it.  What’s one writing thing you always do—write every day? Never stop at the end of a chapter? Write first thing in the morning?


SHERRY HARRIS: I don’t have one thing I always do—I suppose that’s a terrible thing to admit. Some days I write, some days I take off (not near a deadline) some days I write in the morning, but most days I write in the afternoon. I hate it when I hear people start sentences with: you have to or this is the only way to. It’s not. Each of us find our own process.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: How do you know when your book is finished?


SHERRY HARRIS:  I confess I’ve never typed “The End” because I’m never sure it’s finished. I send the manuscript off to my editor, but I know it’s coming back. Author John Dufresne once said that when he’s doing a reading he won’t tell people what page he’s reading from because he might read it differently than he wrote it.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So brilliant! And as for The End, I never write that, either.  It seems like a jinx.  Do you think anyone can be taught to be a better writer?


SHERRY HARRIS: Absolutely. The first time I read at a small writers conference I could hear how completely awful it was. All backstory. Everyone thought it was a literary piece about a conflict between two sisters instead of a murder mystery. If I can learn, anyone can. I took lots of classes. I still take them when I can.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I do, too How do you feel about…stuff? Writing swag handouts giveaways that kind of thing. Do you think it matters? Do you have it?


SHERRY HARRIS:  I love stuff, but all I have is bookmarks. Ed Aymar gives out fabulous pens. I have pen envy. But I do a lot of giveaways. My publisher gives me a box of books and I love to share them.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You’ve seen so much change in the publishing industry, what do you think new writers need to know about that?


SHERRY HARRIS: That nothing is certain. You can write the best book and your publisher can fold. Also, it’s not personal, it’s business.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, gosh, we all have stories, right? You’ve been so successful, why do you think that is? What secret of yours can we bottle up and rely on?


SHERRY HARRIS:   Being called a success always surprises me. But one of the reasons I’ve had some modicum of success is because my editor at Kensington believes in me and wants me to be a success. He’s the one who suggested a second series and tossed ideas around with me. I’m lucky. My secret isn’t much of one—join Sisters in Crime. Take advantage of meetings and webinars. Meet people in the industry if you can. I’m not sure I’d be published if it weren’t for SinC and the people I met.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What book are you are reading right now?


SHERRY HARRIS:  Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner – I have a new character who is a former FBI hostage negotiator.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Sounds fascinating! So I know you have to get back to your real work--but give us one piece of writing advice!


SHERRY HARRIS: You have to fill the sandbox with sand (your first draft) and then you build a beautiful sand castle (editing).


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, love that! And I am now envisioning you in the sandbox. Sisters,  Sherry found a terrific book to read for a very specific area of  research—do you have any suggestions for other job-specific resource books?


Sherry Harris is the Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the upcoming Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mystery series She is the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. Sherry loves books, beaches, bars, and Westies — not necessarily in that order. In her spare time Sherry loves reading and is a patent holding inventor. Sherry, her husband, and guard dog Lily are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next.


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's WHDH-TV, winning 36 EMMYs and 14 Edward R. Murrow Awards. A nationally bestselling author of 11 mysteries, Ryan's also won five Agathas, three Anthonys, two Macavitys, and the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her novels are Library Journal's Best of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Hank's 2018 book  is TRUST ME, an Agatha Nominee, and a Best of the Year from The New York Post,  BOOK BUB, Real Simple Magazine, PopSugar, and CrimeReads. Her newest psychological  thriller is THE MURDER LIST, which the Library Journal starred review called "a must read!" THE MURDER LIST  is now a BEST of 2019 from The Strand Magazine, Suspense Magazine, and BookTrib.  Her 2020 book is THE FIRST TO LIE (Forge August 4) Find her at

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