I first met Sherri through social media. We belong to several online writing associations, most notably Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), we both have the same publisher, Red Adept Publishing, and we are also part of the 2020Debuts, a Facebook group comprised of authors debuting this year.


We met in person a year or so ago at a Maryland winery (where else?) where she had organized a casual meet-up of local writers. Social media Sherri and in-person Sherri are one and the same. What you see with Sherri is what you get: she is always smiling, willing to help, and filled with joy. I’ve been itching to interview her now that her lovely debut, What's Left Untold, is out in the world.


BC: Describe your writing space.

SL: Pre-coronavirus, I used to meet with a group of local writers at the library on Wednesdays—which was often my most productive writing day of the week!—and sometimes I like to shake things up and enjoy a change of scenery by writing at a café, but I usually write at home, which, I’ve found, usually allows me to make the most efficient use of my time.


When I have the house to myself, I like to write in the kitchen, which is my favorite room in the house. My kitchen is bright and spacious—with sweeping views of the trees in our yard and the lake beyond—and it’s close to the coffee pot. If my family is home, I retreat to my office to write. My office is more ergonomic and also has a big window with a nice view, but it is more cramped and disorganized. I need to pencil in some time to do an office overhaul!

BC: What is the most challenging part about writing for you?

SL: Sticking to a routine! For me, no two days are alike and I really have no set schedule. The only thing that seems constant in my life is change. But—other than the challenge this creates for me to write consistently—I don’t mind. I’m not a creature of habit and I like variety. I’m very organized, but schedules tend to make me feel bogged down and uninspired. But committing to the Wednesday writing group at the library was my first small step toward establishing a writing routine, which is still a work in progress.

BC: On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

SL: I love Stephen King as an author, and I value his craft book On Writing. But King favors utilitarian workspaces and recommends writing every day. While there is obvious wisdom to both of these, I find them both difficult to adhere to. I prefer to write in an inspiring space and I tend to avoid writing if I don’t have, at minimum, two solid hours of dedicated, uninterrupted time to write.


When I’m deep into writing mode, I aim to write anywhere from 2-7 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. But that, of course, is the ideal. Real-life tends to get in the way and the reality is often much different.

BC: What was the inspiration for What’s Left Untold?

SL: Though What’s Left Untold is 100 percent fiction—a wild ride through my imagination and not about anyone I know or anything I’ve experienced personally—the inspiration for the book is based in reality.


I was at my parents’ house when I discovered a trunk filled with childhood memorabilia, including photo albums, yearbooks and box of letters. One of the letters had an interesting and ominous postscript that read something like: “I need to see you; I have something important to tell you.” I have no idea what the “important” thing was and I figured it probably didn’t matter. But, later, I began to wonder: what if it did matter? Which then led to the question: “What is something you could learn decades after the fact that could still have a major impact on your life?”


What’s Left Untold is built around this idea that Anna, the MC, reunites with her estranged best friend and uncovers a devastating secret that threatens to destroy the life she’s built with her husband and daughters. The book’s tag line is, “Every secret has its price,” and, in the case of What’s Left Untold, there is indeed a steep price to be paid for the secrets that have been kept.

BC: What more can you tell us about What’s Left Untold?

SL: Building on my answer to the last question, the best way to answer this is by sharing the book’s description:

Every secret has its price.


Anna Clark and Lia Clay were unlikely best friends in high school, but their yin-and-yang personalities drew them together in a sister-like bond. Then during college, Lia inexplicably walked out on their friendship and disappeared, leaving Anna hurt, confused, and disillusioned.


Twenty years later, Anna discovers a letter Lia wrote the summer after high school—a letter that contains a cryptic postscript concealing a devastating truth. With her twenty-year high school reunion approaching, Anna moves closer to uncovering the secret in Lia’s letter and the heartbreaking consequences it set in motion.


As the layers of deceit and betrayal begin to unravel, Anna is forced to question everything she believes and come to terms with what it means to forgive the one person who hurt her in the worst way imaginable.

BC: How long did it take to write What’s left Untold?

SL: My journey from inspiration to publication was 11 years in the making!

The inspiration for What’s Left Untold hit in 2009 when my youngest daughter was just four years old. I’d had three kids in four years and I kept telling myself I would write the book when my youngest daughter started kindergarten. But my husband and I were also competitive triathletes and from 2010 to 2013 we were training for two Ironman-distance races, so for the first five years I was only able to work on the book in fits in starts.


In 2014 I committed in earnest to finishing the book and in 2015 my manuscript was selected as a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s Rising Star Contest. As a finalist, I had the opportunity to have my manuscript critiqued by several agents, which led to another year of revisions and edits. In 2016 I began sending the manuscript out on submission and in 2018 I signed a contract with Red Adept Publishing. Finally, on May 19, 2020, my debut novel was released!

BC: Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover, which is beautiful, by the way.

SL: The cover design process was very rewarding and satisfying. With Red Adept Publishing, I was able to offer input on the cover by requesting certain elements I wanted to have included as well as specific elements I did not want to be included. I also had the opportunity to offer my opinion on the two covers that were initially created. The first draft of this cover featured only one woman; I suggested that adding a second silhouette would not only improve the overall look but would also be more true to the heart of the story, and Red Adept agreed.


The final draft was then presented to a focus group to ensure that the cover portrayed the correct mood and genre of the book. I am very pleased with the final cover for What’s Left Untold. As an author, seeing my book’s cover for the first time was a very exciting moment.

BC: If a movie was made of your book, who are the celebrities that would star in it?

SL: This is a very fun and interesting question! Initially, I did not consider this at all because I haven’t dared allow myself to dream that this book would ever be made into a movie. Also, I think it’s important for readers to form their own mental image of what the characters look like. But, having said that, I’ve since had a lot of fun selecting celebrities to star as my characters—and I’ve chosen them based not on their celebrity status or acting chops but on the way I physically pictured the characters in my head as I was writing them:

Anna – Emmanuelle Chriqui or Julia Jones

Lia – Emma Stone

Jack – Henry Cavill

Faith – Tina Fey

Rose – Susan Sarandon or Margo Martindale

Kathryn – Alexandra Daddario

Jay – Chris Pine

BC: Who is your favorite author and why?

SL: This is a really difficult question! There are so many fabulous books and so many authors I adore. In junior high, Stephen King’s books—specifically Christine, Cujo and Carrie—were the first adult fiction books I ever read and they cemented my status as a reader and a lover of books.


In high school and college I didn’t have much time to read for pleasure, but one of my college English classes read Silence of the Lambs, which reminded me how much I enjoyed reading and how much I missed it.


Some of my all-time favorite books are The Kite Runner; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; The Pillars of the Earth; Outlander; In a Sunburned Country; The Wife Between Us; and The Alice Network.


And I’m so amazed by and proud of the books being written by my fellow 2020 Debut Authors! So far I’ve had the pleasure of reading Wildland by Rebecca Hodge, The Missing Sister by Elle Marr, and You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer, but my e-reader is full of books by 2020 Debut Authors and I can’t wait to read as many of them as I can!


But, as a women’s fiction writer, the books and stories that have inspired and informed me the most and are my most beloved are those by Kristin Hannah, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Lisa Wingate, Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes.

BC: What are you reading now?

SL: Currently, I’m reading Little Lovely Things by Maureen Joyce Connolly. Next up is an ARC of Lainey Cameron’s debut novel, The Exit Strategy, which will be released in July.

BC: What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

SL: While I’d be thrilled to be mentored by any of the authors mentioned above as my favorites—especially the women’s fiction authors—I’ve been fortunate to have the best unofficial mentor ever in Jennifer Klepper, USA Today Bestselling Author of Unbroken Threads.


Jennifer is a fellow Women’s Fiction Writer’s Associate member and Red Adept Publishing author, and she has paid it forward and led the way for me since the day I signed my contract with Red Adept. Her knowledge is beyond impressive and her guidance throughout this process has been invaluable! I could not have had a better mentor.


BC: As you well know, Jennifer is also my unofficial mentor. She took on a heavy load when she met us!


BC: What would you like your readers to know about you?

SL: I’m pretty much an open book. Unlike the characters in What’s Left Untold, I was raised to believe that honesty is the best policy, so if you ask me a question I will always give an honest answer. I also believe that people should agree to disagree and respect the views and opinions of others, even if—probably especially if—they differ from one’s own.

Otherwise, I’m kind of an exercise junkie. I’ve taught group fitness classes since 1992 and yoga exclusively since 2005. I spent ten years as a competitive triathlete and I love the outdoors! When not reading or writing you can typically find me trail running, hiking, kayaking or paddleboarding.

I treasure new adventures and experiencing diverse cultures, and I love to travel.


Some of most incredible places I’ve been are Spain, Costa Rica, Peru, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Next up on my travel wish list is Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Scotland.

BC: While I already know the answer to this, I’m going to ask anyway. Miss Molly always wants to know which you prefer: Dog or cat?

SL: Miss Molly will be happy to know that I am 100% Team Dog! I’ve had dogs my whole life. To me, a dog makes a house a home (albeit a slobbery, fur-covered home, lol!) Currently, I have two Labrador Retrievers: Luna, 11.5-years old, and Bodhi, a rescue, who is approximately 6 or 7 years old. In What’s Left Untold, my MC, Anna, is also a dog lover! J

Let’s Connect!

While I am so thrilled to finally be a published author, I am and always will be, first and foremost, a reader! And I love to connect with others who share my passion for books. Here’s where you can find me on social media:

Social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sherrileimkuhlerauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sherri.leimkuhler/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SherriLeimkuhl1

Website: http://www.sherrileimkuhler.com/

Goodreads:

Book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53407093-what-s-left-untold?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=aA0gH7BK6R&rank=1

Author: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20290080.Sherri_Leimkuhler

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sherri-leimkuhler

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sherri-Leimkuhler/e/B0882Y5KY9

Publisher’s website:

https://redadeptpublishing.com/product/whats-left-untold/

https://redadeptpublishing.com/

Buy links:

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Left-Untold-Sherri-Leimkuhler-ebook/dp/B0881X2H41

Barnes & Noble:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/whats-left-untold-sherri-leimkuhler/1136973895?ean=2940162661825

Kobo:

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/what-s-left-untold



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I haven’t met Barbara in person, but we are both members of the #2020Debuts (books to be published in 2020) and I thought it would be fun to get to know her, and her new book, QUEEN OF THE OWLS, better.

BARBARA LINN PROBST is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on an historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel QUEEN OF THE OWLS (April 2020) is the powerful story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic painter Georgia O’Keeffe.


QUEEN OF THE OWLS has been selected as one of the 20 most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother and will be the May 2020 selection for the Pulpwood Queens, a network of more than 800 book clubs across the U.S. Her second novel, THE SOUND BETWEEN THE NOTES, will be published in April 2021.

BC: Tell us about Queen of the Owls.

BLP: Queen of the Owls is the story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague.


Elizabeth, the story’s protagonist, has always defined herself by her intellect. She’s chosen the safe, responsible path, avoiding the sensuality she believed was beyond her reach. During the story, she comes to know and embrace a fuller self, body and beauty as well as brain. There’s a price to pay, but Elizabeth knows she can’t go back.


Queen of the Owls is a story of transformation—timeless, yet diving deep into contemporary issues of privacy, consent, feminism, and the power of social media to upend our lives.

BC: Tell us about the role of Georgia O’Keeffe in the book. Why O’Keeffe?


BLP: The idea of framing the story around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe really just “appeared” to me. I’ve always loved her paintings; they called to me in a way that felt very connected to the question of what it means to be a woman. And in researching the book, I learned so much more about her life and work—which, in turn, enhanced the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated.


O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century, not only for her artistic genius but also because of how she lived. She was the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch, the severe desert recluse who created some of the most sensuous art of all time.


Although the story is framed around the art and life of Georgia O’Keeffe, O’Keeffe isn’t a character in the book—yet she’s present as Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate. In seeking to understand O’Keeffe, Elizabeth comes to understand herself.


Art worked well as a vehicle for Queen of the Owls because the story is about Elizabeth’s yearning to be truly seen. And through being seen, to be known.


BC: The title is fascinating. How did you come up with it?


BLP: Titles can be the hardest part of a book, can’t they? I agonized and agonized over mine. There were actually three prior titles, but none of them felt right.

I already had the motif of Elizabeth being owl to her sister’s fox—a brain, cut off from her own body and her own sensuality. But the leap to Queen of the Owls came from an unexpected source. In a previous career, I’d been (among other things) a researcher studying people’s experience living with mental illness. I suddenly remembered a woman I’d spoken with, who had a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. She’d told me that she wasn’t like the other birds, she was an owl, and happy to be one; in fact, she thought of herself as the “queen of the owls.” And there it was—my title!

BC: Tell us about your research for this book.

BLP: I did a lot of research to learn about O’Keeffe—reading widely, talking to experts, studying her paintings, visiting the places where she lived and worked. I spent time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center in Santa Fe and traveled to see several special exhibits of O’Keeffe’s work that were held—by a lucky coincidence—during the months I was working on the book.


One of the extraordinary coincidences—it felt almost mystical—was when I discovered that O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings, a focus of the book, were going to be on exhibit together for the first time in eighty years at a venue only thirty minutes from where I lived. It felt like a sign that this was a book I was meant to write.


I even traveled to Hawaii. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I had to experience the place for myself. I was struck by the particular quality of the tropical heat and how different it must have felt to O’Keeffe, who was accustomed to the dryness and sharpness of the southwest. There was no way I could have understood that without being there in person. You could say that, like Elizabeth, I sought my own “embodied knowledge” to complement what I learned from articles and books.


So it wasn’t a matter of research first, writing second. They happened recursively, each informing the other.


BC: How many drafts did you write?

BLP: A difficult question to answer! The shape of the story was there from the start, although I did make a major alteration in Elizabeth’s relationship with both her husband and her sister. In both cases, I realized that I needed to humanize them as characters, make them people we could relate to and care about, not just foils to push the plot along. On the other hand, I’m such a perfectionist! I tweaked and refined and polished the manuscript countless times, including 24 pages of post-ARC edits. The designer probably wanted to throttle me!

BC: Which came first, the characters or the plot?

BLP: What came “first” for me was an idea. I was pondering the issue of sexual coercion, a topic high in the public consciousness, and it struck me that sexual coercion can take a lot of forms, depending on context. I thought of academia, where I’d spent many years, and a what if began to form in my brain. What if someone in power at a university suggested to an eager graduate student that the way to distinguish herself was by doing something—posing nude—something she would never have done if it hadn’t been couched in pseudo-academic language? And what if that “something” was the perfect trigger for her own secret yearning?

That dovetailed perfectly with a discarded motif in an earlier attempt at a novel. I realized that I had to shift this theme to a younger protagonist, rather than to the adult daughter of my prior protagonist—and then I was off and running! So you could say that plot and character were intertwined right from the beginning.

BC: What has influenced you the most as a writer?

BLP: So many influences—mentors, experiences, my training as a therapist (which means, an observer of people)! So I’ll name just one here.

It’s three lines by the poet Mary Oliver, which she calls Instructions on Living a Life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it

BC: Oh, I love that! If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be?

BLP: The way I take your question is: what have I learned, through and about writing?

Here are a few principles I’ve come to understand.

· Love your characters, every single one of them. Find the part of each character that is worthy of love and respect.

· Relax. Listen. Let the story find you. Don’t worry about all those rules and grids and arcs and plot points.

· Every word has to earn its place on the page.

· If you have a story to tell, tell it—with your whole mind and heart and courage. Some people will love it and some will hate it and some will be indifferent. It’s always been like that and always will be.

· Keep your eyes on your own paper. Comparing yourself to other writers (better, worse) only breeds unhappiness and distracts you from the work you’re meant to do.


BC: So true! Now, just tell us a little about you, Barbara Linn Probst. Where was your favorite place to live?

BLP: I’ve lived in a cabin in the California redwoods, a converted jailhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village, and a dozen other oddball places! Each has brought different experiences, so I guess my “favorite” is wherever I am in the present moment!


Thank you so much, Barbara! It's been a pleasure.

Want to learn even more about Barbara? Check out the following links.


Website: https://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Owls-Barbara-Linn-Probst/dp/1631528904

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50177114-queen-of-the-owls

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011410511548

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/barbara_linn_probst/

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I first met Alison about four years ago at a writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sponsored by the Women's Fiction Writers Association (WFWA). Alison had the biggest smile. Always. And enthusiasm for learning all there was to know about writing a book.


Alison’s debut novel, You and Me and Us, will be released by William Morrow on April 7th. The writing is beautiful; the story is heartbreaking, and do not even think about reading this book without a box of tissues close by.


Following are a few questions I posed to Alison so that we could all get to know her better. Look at that smile!


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up; I

just didn’t imagine it was something that could actually happen! When I went to college, I started as an English major but switched to Advertising when I realized that was a career where I could use my creative writing skills and have a salary! Turns out, I loved advertising, too!


Which authors do you most admire?

There are so many writers I admire! A few of my favorites are Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, Camille Pagán, Marisa de los Santos, Katherine Center, and Taylor Jenkins Reid.


What’s your favorite book?

Oh, that’s a tough question! I don’t know if I can pick just one favorite. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. It’s so good. And it’s a book my grandma gave to me because she loved it and thought I would too. She was right!


What is the first book that made you cry?

I was a weird kid—I loved things that made me cry. And honestly, I still do! I remember I loved a series of really sad books by Lurlene McDaniel. One title that I remember, and think I still have somewhere was called Too Young to Die. I just loved that book!


What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned about the publishing industry?

It seems like I learn something new every step of the way. I think what surprised me the most was just how long it all took! I finished writing my debut novel, You and Me and Us back in 2016. I got the book deal in 2018, and it will finally be published in 2020. Four years from start to the shelves—I had no idea!


What does your family think of your writing?

My family has always been so supportive of my writing. They have been my biggest fans and supporters since day one. And they’re really good sports when pieces of our lives end up in my writing!


You are very involved with social media and writers groups. Tell us something about the online group you created, ‘Every Damn Day Writers’?

Being a part of the writing community is my favorite thing about being a writer. I may have over-committed when it comes to the Facebook groups, but Every Damn Day Writers is one of my favorites! It started as a group of members from WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) who were all participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a program that challenges people around the world to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

We started a Facebook group for support during that month, checking in every day on our progress or lack thereof! When the month ended, we didn’t want to stop, so we formed a small private group. That group is still going strong, but we decided to make a public version for women writers so more people could experience the support and accountability. It’s grown to over 300 women writers!


And how about the 2020Debuts that you chair? Why is it important for a debut author to join such a group?

I’ve been fortunate to have a group of writers who were at the same stage of the journey I was every step of the way. When I was querying, I was in a querying support group. When I was on submission, I started a submission support group. And when I got my book deal, I was told about the Debut Groups that have been passed down from year to year. Since I had such a long lead time before publication, I joined the 2019 group to learn the ropes before starting our 2020 one. Writing is such a personal and sometimes stressful process that it really helps to have the support of people who are going through the same thing!


Your debut will be published April 7th. I love the title YOU and ME and US. How did you come up with this story?

Thank you! While You and Me and Us is my debut novel, it’s not the first book I wrote! There was another book that came before it that also featured my main characters, Tommy and Alexis. At the end of that book, I knew a secret that Alexis didn’t even know–she was pregnant. That’s what sparked the idea for You and Me and Us!

I thought it would be interesting to show Alexis with a teenage daughter, the same age she been during flashback scenes in the first book. But other than that, I didn’t know what it would be about. When I had the idea that Tommy would be sick, the story pretty much unfolded before me.


Why is this story important to you?

I have so much love for this story and these characters. I’ve been writing about Tommy and Alexis for more than twenty years. They’re like real people to me. And I can’t wait for readers to get to know them.


Are any of your characters based on you or someone you know?

None of my characters are exact replicas of people in my life, but there are definitely pieces of myself, my family, and my friends in the story. I tell people that I am not Alexis, but if they don’t like her, they probably won’t like me, either!


How long did it take you to write You and Me and Us?

I finished writing the first draft of You and Me and Us in two months—which was a miracle since it took me 15 years to finish writing my first book. I credit that speed to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’m deadline-driven and competitive, so I thrived on the challenge and the competition. And once I got in the habit of writing every day, I couldn’t stop!


Do you have any writing quirks? Do you have to write in the same room or at the same time of day?

I’m sure I have a lot of writing quirks! I used to be precious about where and when I wrote, but I no longer have that luxury. I do my best writing at coffee shops—I’m a regular at a few different Starbucks. The balance of noise there just works for me—if it’s too loud, I can’t concentrate, but if it’s too quiet, I look for distractions.

When I’m writing at home or at work, I have a playlist that I listen to. I only listen to it when I’m writing, and it has to play in order. If it’s in shuffle mode, it throws me off. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit!


How will you celebrate on your publication day?

My publication day plans have changed quite a bit thanks to this global pandemic. Originally, I was going to get my hair done and have lunch with my mom and other family members who were coming to town. And I was going to throw a big bash at Volumes BookCafe, one of my favorite local bookstores in Chicago. I was going to be in conversation with a novelist friend of mine, Erin Bartels, and we were going to have cake and champagne! That party will hopefully happen someday soon, but in the meantime, I’m planning a pretty awesome online launch party!


And lastly, Miss Molly always wants to know: Dog or cat? And if you don’t have a pet, which would you choose if you could?

I don’t have any pets (or plants!) but if I did, I would choose a cat.


Hmm…Maybe I won’t tell Miss Molly you prefer cats.

Thank you Alison for sharing your lovely smile with us today!


Follow Alison on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/alisonhammer

Follow Alison on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/ThisHammer/

Follow Alison on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18840675.Alison_Hammer

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