Q&A with author Sharon Farrow!
Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing author Sharon Farrow. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sharon has been a freelance writer since her twenties, with her first novel released in 1998. Published in mystery, fantasy, and romance, Sharon currently writes the Berry Basket cozy mystery series. The first book in the series, Dying for Strawberries, was published in 2016. Blackberry Burial was released Oct. 31, 2017. She is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland, who co-author the Agatha nominated Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins historical mysteries.
NOR: Tell us a little about your background
SF: I was the kid who read under the covers with a flashlight. The pediatrician told my parents I spent too much time reading indoors and needed to get out in the fresh air more. So I brought my books outside. I began submitting to magazines as a teenager, scoring my first sale a decade later. Because writing rarely pays all the bills, I’ve always had a day job; my favorites were those spent working in museums and universities. Initially, I wrote short stories and articles, although I also had a one-act play produced off-Broadway. Not until the 1990s did I begin writing novels, and was thrilled when my first novel was released in 1998.
I probably put off writing novels for so long because of my first attempt. In 9th grade, I decided to write a thriller called The Bloody Kitchen, which contained a lurid scene where the heroine enters the kitchen and finds it literally dripping with blood. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to end the story and bailed on it midway through. I still regret not keeping the spiral notebook I wrote the unfinished manuscript in. I have no idea why a blood soaked kitchen was so integral to my story, but I’d love to re-read the tale of mayhem and murder my 14-year-old self was intent on telling.
NOR: Tell us a bit about your Berry Basket mysteries. Where did that idea come from?
SF: In 2008 I moved to a scenic village along the shores of Lake Michigan. The beauty of the locale, along with its unique shops and galleries, made it the perfect setting for a cozy. A shop devoted to all things berry was a natural choice since this region not only boasts beautiful beaches and sand dunes, it’s a fruit belt filled with orchards. I also took inspiration from The Blueberry Store in neighboring South Haven. Btw, when I moved to the village, I worked part time in several shops and galleries. Perfect experience for writing about a store owner in a resort beach town.
NOR: Tell us about your “Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins” mystery series.
SF: The series is based on the characters from George Bernard Shaw’s famous play Pygmalion and the musical it inspired, My Fair Lady. Several years ago, friend and fellow author Meg Mims drove across the state to visit me while listening to the soundtrack of My Fair Lady. As soon as she arrived, she proposed we team up to write a series featuring Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins as amateur sleuths. The idea was too delightful to resist, but we did have to learn how to collaborate, something neither of us had done before. The series is currently up for its second Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery, so I think we made the right decision.
NOR: How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
SF: My characters reveal themselves to me in their own time, usually through dialogue. They tell me things only my writing subconscious knows. And I must “see” what a character looks like before I begin to write about them. A character isn’t ready to be put on the page if I can’t imagine them standing in front of me. I also need to choose the right name. I once found myself unable to get past the first chapter until I realized the heroine had the wrong name. After the perfect name for her popped into my head, the book flowed beautifully. In fact, it ended up being the easiest novel I’ve ever written.
NOR: How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
SF: I was a pantser for many years. Now I write lengthy outlines. In the D.E. Ireland series I co-write, a long, detailed outline is mandatory in order to prevent us from going off in different directions. As for the series I write on my own, my editor at Kensington prefers a detailed outline for each book. My outlines average about 30 pages, which is probably longer than he anticipated. However, those outlines help keep me on schedule, especially since I write two series concurrently.
NO: Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
SF: Character. One of my favorite quotes is “Character is destiny”. If you create a fascinating character, an intriguing plot is sure to follow.
NOR: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
SF: I find it difficult to write if things are extremely stressful in my personal life. When my father became ill, I stopped writing novels for several years because his health issues were so overwhelming. Some authors escape into their writing when they go through painful personal issues. I’m not one of them. I require a measure of peace and stability to do really good work. As for what keeps me motivated, being a writer has been my dream since I was nine years old and announced my decision to my mother. The pleasure and satisfaction of telling stories outweighs all the speed bumps that are part a writing career.
NOR: What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
SF: Never give up. I’ve known a lot of talented people who walked away from writing due to the frustrations and obstacles all authors deal with. You never know if the next manuscript is the one which will snag your first publishing contract or jumpstart your career. Hold on.
You can find out more about Sharon at:
Sharon’s latest in the Berry Basket series, BLACKBERRY BURIAL, debuted last October! Here’s a brief synopsis:
Between a booming art scene and elaborate Independence Day festivities, July in lakeshore Oriole Point, Michigan, is always a blast. Especially when an explosive murder case crashes the fun . . .
As owner of The Berry Basket, Marlee Jacob has learned a thing or two about surviving the summer tourist season in Oriole Point. So she gladly agrees to help run the annual road rally in honor of the local Blackberry Art School’s centenary celebration. While alumni arrive from around the country, Marlee hopes the expansive Sanderling farm will make an appropriate starting point for the race—despite rumors that the land is cursed . . .
But when Marlee surveys the property, she stumbles upon a long-dead body hidden in the bramble. It’s a horrifying mystery to everyone except her baker, who’s convinced the skeletal remains belong to a former student who had gone missing twenty years earlier. As the Fourth of July activities heat up, Marlee must rush to catch an elusive murderer—before the next ‘blackberry victim’ is ripe for the picking!
Includes Berry Recipes!
Columnist: Toni LoTempio
While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – and in Spring 2017, the new CAT RESCUE mysteries from Crooked Lane! She, Rocco and company make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York. Catch up with them at www.tclotempio.com and www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com
Find more articles by Toni here.