Sherrill Joseph Interview Published on: 11, Apr 2022

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

I was born and raised in San Diego, California, USA., and still live here. I have a fraternal twin sister and an older sister. We had an array of pets growing up: goldfish, turtles, a cat, a dog, and lots of parakeets. Both my parents worked, which was unusual since not many mothers worked then. My paternal grandparents lived with us. I loved that they were there, especially when I came home from school. From that, I grew to appreciate and be comfortable around older people. Of the three of us girls (I am the youngest), I loved school the most with second grade being my favorite due to my energetic, fascinating teacher. School was my happy place. I took myself to the local library once a week when I was old enough to have my own library card and always checked out the limit of books before heading home with the wobbling stack.

What were your favourite and least favourite subjects in school?

My favorite subjects were reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and art. My least favorite were P.E., math, recess, and science. Often, I would stay after school to help clean up the classroom and help the teacher prepare the room for the next day. (Shades of what was to come!)

Name a talent you always wished you possessed as a teenager. Do you still wish it today?

I took piano lessons beginning in fifth grade and pictured myself as an elegant concert pianist in a beautiful, flowing evening gown, playing with my city’s symphony orchestra. I still wish I could do that, but I do not play the piano well enough at all. If I did, it would be my superpower!

How has been your experience of being a teacher?

I loved teaching and decided in second grade because of my amazing teacher that I would become a teacher, too. In college, I decided I wanted to be a college English professor and was headed to school at the University of Oxford, but life and my career took a sudden turn due to a family illness. Instead, I taught every grade K-12 in the public schools during my thirty-five-year career. It gave me an enormous respect and appreciation for children, who I wish ruled the world. When I retired from teaching in 2013, I naturally turned to writing books for kids.

How much time does it usually take you to do the research for a book? Where do you get your research material?

So far, I have discovered that each book has required a different amount of research type and time. I start by Googling pertinent subjects. Sometimes, that gives me leads to people whom I can contact. For example, for Book 1, Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, I had an email conversation going with a venomologist professor/researcher/author in Queensland, Australia. I also must research topics that crop up while I’m writing, such as in Book 2, Eucalyptus Street: Green Curse, how to say a phrase in Romanian. And I am constantly Googling Hawaiian words to keep up with my character Moki Kalani! My goal is to provide my readers with factual information when that is necessary amidst the fiction. Facts create authenticity and credibility.

Who makes your book covers for you? Where do you get the ideas and pictures for your book covers?

The covers for my first three books were designed by Dane Lowe at eBook Launch. I try to describe to Dane an image from an exciting part of the story. He takes it from there.

How many books do you plan to write in The Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series?

Since there are twenty-six streets, A-Z, on Botanic Hill, I plan to write twenty-six mysteries, one per street. Obviously, they are not and will not be in alphabetical order. And I will need to live to be at least 104 years old as Phyllis A. Whitney did if I am to have time to finish!

What are some trends you see in the historical mystery genre? Are there any trends you wish would emerge or disappear?

I am happily seeing historical world events, “other voices,” and historical persons of color being represented. I included Black characters in my Book 3, Walnut Street: Phantom Rider, one character based on the real-life person Bass Reeves, who lived in the nineteenth century in America’s South. Also, my fifth graders were fascinated with World War II, so my Book 4, Saffron Street: Island Danger, which will release later in 2022, deals with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the shameful internment of Japanese Americans and persons of Japanese ancestry in the aftermath. I strive for a blend of education and entertainment in my books. I am not a big fan of horror, supernatural, or fantasy genres.

Who inspired the character of thirteen-year-old Ben Mayfield?

I wrote Book 3, in which Ben appears, in 2018, somewhat before “other voices” emerged in earnest. I wanted to create an African-American character and his family for a multicultural reading experience for kids. Also, the Mayfields are descendants of the famous Papa Mayfield, who is based on Bass Reeves. Ben and his sister Gracie Mayfield join the other four detectives in solving that mystery, so there is a wide range of ethnicities on board. I believe kids need to see themselves as well as others unlike themselves in books to get comfortable with differences. Books can help kids experience and process new situations and feelings in a safe manner before they encounter those in the real world.

What is your ideal way to overcome a writer’s block?

First, I do not panic. I have found that some plot points just need time to emerge, jell, or disappear. I take walks to free my mind. Often then an idea will pop up.

What are the other activities apart from writing you like to participate in, in your free time?

I read, work out to stay strong and healthy, walk daily, volunteer as a lector at my church, and watch movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age (the ‘30s and ‘40s). I love reruns of the television show Perry Mason from the 1950s-‘60s, which offer some fun and intricate mysteries to solve!

What do you think is one of the biggest mistakes people make when publishing and marketing their books?

Perhaps not exploring multiple avenues to publishing. Also, when hybrid or indie publishing, watch your marketing budget! Listen to what you want. Protect your ambitions and writing time.

Who are some of your favourite authors and biggest inspirations?

I started reading Nancy Drew Mysteries in the fourth grade and knew I had found my favorite genre for life. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Phyllis A. Whitney’s mysteries were among my favorites and still are. In college, I discovered Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and The Woman in White, the Bronte sisters’ novels, Sherlock Holmes stories, Edgar Allan Poe poems and stories, and the works of Agatha Christie. Then there is the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

Which is the next book you are working on?

I have just finished the first draft of Saffron Street. Book 5 will be set on Jacaranda Street and will have elements of Edgar Allan Poe woven into a present-day mystery.

How do you usually promote your books? What has your AllAuthor experience been like so far and would you recommend it to your other author friends?

I blog every Thursday on my website’s News section, then compile those blogs along with other features into a monthly newsletter, which is blasted out to my mailing list on the last day of each month. I do book and book swag giveaways via the newsletter and sometimes on social media. I have attended one book signing, one book fair, one in-person school visit, and three virtual school visits, but the pandemic has made most of those opportunities scarce. I am in a writing support group for mystery, thriller, and suspense authors called Blackbird Writers, and we promote each other’s works. That is as it should be, in my opinion. As often as possible, I participate in #MGBookChat on Twitter on Monday nights to connect with other authors, teachers, librarians, and parents. I create ads and post them on social media at least once a week. I have appreciated the ads and postings from AllAuthor. And I have made friends with other authors and readers there. I highly recommend AllAuthor to all authors!

Share Sherrill Joseph's interview