Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Katherine A. Sherbrooke Interview - Leaving Coy's Hill

Photo Content from Katherine Sherbrooke

Katherine Sherbrooke is the author of Leaving Coy's Hill (May, 2021) Fill the Sky and a family memoir, Finding Home (2011). An alumna of Dartmouth College and Stanford Business School, she wanted to be an author from the time she opened her first book, and lived on books like food and water for a long time. Somewhere along the line, though, she caught the start-up bug and co-founded a Boston based company called Circles. After that wonderful 15 year+ entrepreneurial adventure, she "remembered" her original dream and finally sat down to write. She lives outside Boston with her family.

Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Essex County, NJ and I call Cohasset, MA home

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Sitting in living rooms with readers discussing my first novel, Fill the Sky, was hugely rewarding. There were many magical moments, but one in particular stands out. One night, a woman pulled me aside to tell me that for a very long time she hadn’t been able to understand or forgive her best friend for an extramarital affair she’d been having. She opened her copy of Fill the Sky and pointed to a highlighted sentence. “After reading this,” she said, “I now understand what my friend has been going through. I know how to support her now.” That did it for me!

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was a kid, but I ended up in business instead and essentially “forgot” about that dream. In between start-ups (or so I thought) in 2011, I decided to write a family memoir about my parent’s turbulent love affair, purely as a personal project. My only goal at the time was to capture the details of their magical story before the memories were lost to us. That process sparked the old flame, and I knew I had to finally try my hand at a novel.

Tell us your latest news.
I recently made plane reservations (first time in over a year), and feel like a kid who has never been on a trip before. Assuming I haven’t just jinxed us writing this, we are planning a week in warmer weather (anywhere is warmer than New England right now) where we can turn our faces to the sun, play outdoor games and stop shivering for a few days.

Can you tell us when you started LEAVING COY'S HILL, how that came about?
I began research for LEAVING COY’S HILL in 2017. I was working on a different novel at the time, and as a stalling tactic (because the real work that was giving me trouble), I began to research names for secondary characters who I wanted to be named after impressive but lesser-known women in history. I have no idea what I googled, but up popped the name Lucy Stone. I had never heard of her, and the more I learned about her the more amazed I became. And when I discovered why she was essentially erased from the popular narrative of women’s rights in the US, I knew hers was the story I needed to write.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Two things. I hope they mull over what has and hasn’t changed for women since Lucy’s time, how much freer we are technically, and yet how many of us are still constrained by the same limitations, self-doubt, and societal expectations as Lucy. Secondly, I hope readers find themselves rooting for Lucy. She wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but she was a force for good, and with any luck, readers will be inspired to follow in her footsteps and fight for the world they want to live in.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Lucy and Henry?
In creating Lucy, I learned that there’s a difference between courage and self-confidence. Lucy had incredible courage. She was never afraid in the classic sense, even when she was in great danger. But she harbored self-doubt that was sometimes crippling, that deep-seeded worry that her best wasn’t good enough to make a difference. In creating Henry, I learned a man can be ambitious and rudderless at the same time. He had big ideas and grand plans, but managed to be continually distracted or thwarted. I’m not sure I know anyone quite like him.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Nette Brown plays a very important role in my novel. She’s Lucy’s oldest and dearest friend, the one who keeps it real without judging, the one that only wants what’s best for Lucy. I’d love Nette to meet Shay, Edward’s best friend in Dear Edward, by Anna Napolitano (which is a stunningly gorgeous book). Shay is that person for Edward and seeing the inside of their friendship is a rare treat in literature. In my view, there aren’t enough friendship stories in fiction, or characters that are truly selfless, who stand by and support their friend at all costs, not because of what’s in it for them, but simply out of love. We’re taught as fiction writers to create tension and drama in every relationship. But learning to rely on someone else carries its own kind of risk, and having that person deliver is a beautiful thing. I think Nette and Shay would like each other.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Stay up for 36-48 hours straight, not because of work or some other obligation, but because you can’t get enough of the people you’re with, the sunrise you don’t want to miss, the song you need to hear one more time, the laughter that keeps you going.

Best date you've ever had?
It happened somewhere in those 36-48 hours.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I went to high school in the 1980s. It felt like a very uncomplicated time. MTV was the new rage, there were no cell-phones or internet, we were too young for the aids crisis to be knocking at our doors, all wildly na├»ve and thought the world didn’t extend all that far beyond our own backyards. Clearly we weren’t learning how to be socially aware or politically active, but neither did we have shooter drills at school, worry constantly about whether or not the planet would survive or have all our dumb mistakes recorded on video for all to see. My 16 year-old son was listening to an 80s playlist in my car not too long ago and remarked that the era seemed like a much funner time to be a teenager than now. Sadly for him, I’d have to agree.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Just about nothing makes me sadder than seeing someone picked on or unfairly criticized. I’d like the think I listen for that in conversations and probe with meaningful questions: What makes you say that about that person? Maybe you’re being too hard on them? Have you considered how what you’re saying would make that person feel? It’s not the stuff of pushing of a bully on the playground, but hopefully it has a similar impact.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like but there have been times when I’ve sat down to re-read something I’ve written, maybe as recently as the day before, and not remembered writing it at all. That’s a sign that that the work was coming entirely out of my subconcious. When that happens, I usually really like what I’ve written. It’s an incredible feeling.

First Heartbreak?
First love, first heartbreak. Not long after graduating from high school I was dumped. Hard. It took me some time to get over that one.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
One of the most extraordinary experiences had to be visiting a township in Cape Town, South Africa. We were with a local guide, and two adorable little girls came running over and stuck to me like glue, holding my hand and wanting me to bend down so they could touch my hair and face. The guide explained that they probably had never seen anyone with blond hair before. What struck me most was how easily they giggled and smiled. They weren’t at all afraid, even though I must have looked quite alien to them. I wish there was more of that energy in the world.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or to have never loved before?
True love with heart break for sure. As E.M. Forrester said, “the sadness now is part of the joy then.”

  • Fun
  • Real
  • Interested
  • Understanding
  • Reliable
  • Honest
  • Kind
  • Curious
  • Positive
  • Self-aware
Deleted Scene from LEAVING COY'S HILL
There was a scene I loved that showed Lucy as a young woman (17 or so) following her father into a church meeting where the male members of the congregation are voting on whether or not to expel the Deacon of the church based on five counts of abolitionist activities. Lucy eagerly raises her hand to vote against expelling the Deacon and is quickly reminded by the presiding Minister that women are not allowed to vote on church matters. She continues to raise her hand for each subsequent vote, to the consternation of the rest of the attendees, including her father. The scene is a great example of Lucy’s determination to stand up for what’s right, not to mention, of course, the absurd lack of an ability to vote simply because of gender, a cause that would occupy much of her life.

I took the scene out because, as good as it was, I had three or four scenes from her early years to choose from (all of which happened in real life, by the way) to establish her determination and bias toward action in the face of unfair rules and customs. More than one of those scenes would have been redundant. Each scene in a book has to do the work of pushing forward the plot, a key character or a central theme. If that work has already been done, the scene has to go, as painful as that is.

An unforgettable story about the triumphs and travails of a woman unwilling to play by the rules, based on the the remarkable life of pioneering feminist and abolitionist Lucy Stone.

Born on a farm in 1818, Lucy Stone dreamt of extraordinary things for a girl of her time, like continuing her education beyond the eighth grade and working for the abolitionist cause, and of ordinary things, such as raising a family of her own. But when she learns that the Constitution affords no rights to married women, she declares that she will never marry and dedicates her life to fighting for change.

At a time when it is considered promiscuous for women to speak in public, Lucy risks everything for the anti-slavery movement, her powerful oratory mesmerizing even her most ardent detractors as she rapidly becomes a household name. And when she begins to lecture on the “woman question,” she inspires a young Susan B. Anthony to join the movement. But life as a crusader is a lonely one.

When Henry Blackwell, a dashing and forward-thinking man, proposes a marriage of equals, Lucy must reconcile her desire for love and children with her public persona and the legal perils of marriage she has long railed against. And when a wrenching controversy pits Stone and Anthony against each other, Lucy makes a decision that will impact her legacy forever.

Based on true events, Leaving Coy’s Hill is a timeless story of women’s quest for personal and professional fulfillment within society’s stubborn constraints. And as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist fighting for the future of a deeply divided country, Lucy Stone’s quest to live a life on her own terms is as relevant as ever. In this “propulsive,” “astonishing,” and “powerful” story, Katherine Sherbrooke brings to life a true American heroine for a new generation.

You can purchase Leaving Coy's Hill at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KATHERINE A. SHERBROOKE for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Leaving Coy's Hill by Katherine A. Sherbrooke.