Interview with Sherri Leimkuhler
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
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:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sherri-Leimkuhler/e/B0882Y5KY9
Barnes & Noble: