Sherry Siska is a writer, teacher, wife, and mom. She has been married to Jim for more than 35 years and they have three fabulous adult children. She loves running, hiking, kayaking, reading, and making mixed media collages. She also has a very spoiled cat named Dori.
How did you get started writing fiction, and how did you first get published?
I wrote my first “book” when I was in third grade. ? I wrote a lot of bad fiction over the years, but got serious about 24 years ago when a friend invited me to a writer’s conference. I actually wrote the first two in my series back in the late 90s. I had an agent, but the books didn’t sell. I also submitted to Ruth Cavin’s (St. Martin’s Press) contest for best first mystery and was short listed, but didn’t win. I stuck the books in a cabinet and just went on with life until 2012 when I pulled them out, rewrote them, and decided to go the indie route. I love having control, so indie publishing suits me.
You teach high school English. Do your students like to read your books? Do they enjoy the fact that their teacher is a published mystery writer?
I don’t really talk much about my books with my students. I did donate a copy of each to the school library, and a few students will read them each year. I like to keep my writer identity separate from my teacher identity.
You were one of the earliest writers to utilize the Internet to support your writing efforts. Would you tell us about that?
Oh my, that makes me feel old! Back in the early days, when Prodigy and AOL first came out, I would stretch my very long phone cord over to my computer and connect. I found a group of folks, first on Prodigy (we later migrated to AOL) who, like me, loved reading mystery novels. Many of the folks in the group were also writers. They were so encouraging and helpful. I got my agent because of Rebecca Forster, who is one of the kindest, most generous writers out there. Others who were either in the group or acted as special visitors included Harlen Coben, Polly Whitney, Sparkle Hayter, Mike Connelly (visitor), Peter Straub (visitor), and many more. It was really cool and so very helpful.
You have a most unusual method of preparing to write. What do you do?
Along with always being a writer, I’ve also pretty much always been a runner (although I sometimes break up with running for a bit). Running is my mental health therapy. It also is the thing that allows me to eventually get out of my own way. Something about the cadence, I guess, helps me to access that part of my responsible for creativity. I’d say 90% of what I write on paper comes first during a run.
I always find it interesting how authors select the names for their characters. How do you go about that process?
This is something that fascinates me, too. Sometimes I just immediately know a character’s name. Other times, I will use the obituaries. I know that sounds weird, but a lot of times names are of a specific time period. For example, almost all of the gals named Sherry are around my age. Anyway, the obituaries not only give a person’s name, but generally their age as well. Other times, I will use names of people I know or have come across. Lots of people want to see their name in a book, so I keep that in the back of my mind.
The titles of each of your books — The Madams of Mischief, The Divas of Doom, The Floozies of Fate, and The Bimbos of Bane — refer to Destiny, Chance (referred to as Fate in Madams of Mischief), and Lady Luck. What makes you name your books after this trio?
When I wrote the first one, it had the title Destiny Turns on a Crime. The thing was, I felt like it was just one of many books in my genre with a punny title and I wasn’t really happy with it. One day, when I was on a run, it suddenly popped into my head that Marty was going to pretend like they were real and were out to get her. I went home and rewrote the first chapter immediately. While I was re-writing, I decided I liked The Madams of Mischief as my title. I went through the alphabet and came up with as many alliterative names for the tricky trio as I could think of.
Your books are full of crazy antics. Are such scenes fun to write, or do they get difficult as you feel pressure to match the ones in your earlier books?
They are both fun to write, but are starting to get a bit more difficult to come up with. I feel a bit of pressure, but I have a list of ideas, so that helps. I just keep adding to it. I also keep a list of fun lines I might use eventually.
As a high school English teacher, have you found that your own writing and publishing have changed your approach to how you teach writing? Does your teaching ever influence your own writing?
That’s a great question. Although I mostly teach analytical writing, I think the fact that I’m a “real writer” (in my students’ eyes) gives me a bit more “authority” with them. It definitely impacts how I teach narrative writing. I share with them my own short personal narratives and I write along with them at times. Teaching does influence my writing, mainly because I’m around awesome young people and co-workers who inspire me to be creative and persistent.
What kind of research do you have to do for your books, and how do you do it?
I use the Internet – Google is my best friend. I have a friend who has been in radio for a very, very long time, so I check in with him (and have hung out in the booth with him; although, I did have a major error in book 1 that I fixed recently!) I try to get it right, but I’m not wedded to the idea that it has to be perfect. I know some writers are sticklers about it, but I just try to get it mostly right. In my genre, I’m writing about regular people solving murders on a regular basis, which is not exactly realistic. The reader has to suspend disbelief automatically.
What authors or books do you think have influenced your own writing?
I LOVE mystery novels and have since I was a kid. I started off with The Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters, moved on to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, graduated to Dame Agatha and many others. My mystery genre influences include Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Marcia Muller, Carolyn Hart, Sharyn McCrumb (who is local to my area) and, well, pretty much all of the folks who write cozies. I also love Lee Smith (her Oral History is one of my favorite books) and Adriana Trigiani, amongst others. And, because I teach English, I love those classics – Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gatsby, etc. I fully believe that to be a decent writer you have to be a prolific reader. I also believe that to write in a genre, you have to be a fan of it. That’s why I write mysteries. It’s by far my favorite genre to read.
You can check out Sherry at the following websites:
Her website: www.sherrysiska.com
Her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SherryMSiska