Lydia Sherrer is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. One of Sherrer’s earliest published stories is Hope: A Short Story, and since then she’s built a unique fictional universe in the Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus series. (A recent addition to this series is Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Cat Magic.) Wanting to learn more about her career and her recent novels, Sherrer allowed me to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What were some of your favorite books growing up? Are there any that you still enjoy revisiting?
Lydia Sherrer: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Narnia series, obviously, which my mom got me started on quite young. Oddly enough, all my favorite writers are British (go figure), though I didn’t start reading JK Rowling’s work until I was in my teens, and Terry Pratchett was a delightful discovery in my late teens. One other author really stands out to me in my early teens: Tamora Pierce. All her Tortall books (but especially the Protector of the Small series) are very close to my heart, though for some reason I really didn’t like her Circle of Magic series. I still read through all the Tortall books every few years. Some other earlier childhood favorites that I still re-read today were: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw, and The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley (who is an absolutely amazing writer and one of my favorites as an adult too).
Yanes: You got a B.A. in Chinese and Arabic. How has this knowledge helped you as writer? On this note, are there any words or terms that exist in Chinese and Arabic that you wish English had?
Sherrer: In the process of studying both languages (and Spanish and French), I got to meet a very wide variety of people as well as live in foreign countries (China and Syria) for a time. Simply for the value of my expanded horizons and knowledge gained of other cultures, I would say my language studies were invaluable, even though I don’t have a career in language today. Studying so many languages gave me a good understand of how languages are put together, which is always useful when making up words in fantasy novels, haha! I also really enjoyed writing a Chinese pseudo culture in my epic fantasy novel “When the Gods Laughed.”
I don’t know that there are any specific words I wish English had, but I very much enjoy the structure of Arabic (and other Semitic languages) with their three consonant base root which can be expanded into so many different words all related to that base root. It is a little similar to Latin and Greek roots in that sense, but more systematic, and delightful to study.
Yanes: One of the many things I respect about your work is how professional your web presence is. How did you go about crafting your online persona? Additionally, do you have any suggestions for how other writers can build their online presence that is professional and authentic?
Sherrer: I grew up with an IT tech for a dad, who taught me how to find answers and how to learn to do things for myself. I would say my professional web presence is a mix of studying what other professionals were doing, then using creative solutions to do that myself as best I could. I studied a lot of free tutorials, and sent through many hours of internet frustration with website stuff and such. I think the two most important aspects for a professional web presence is A) getting a REALLY GOOD professional headshot done and using the same picture everywhere (that’s branding). B) getting a website preferably with the domain being an iteration of your name. The website doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, but it needs to be clean-cut and have the essentials. I do NOT recommend a free website (though starting out with something like a wix site is fine if you can’t afford anything else), because it is more professional to own your own domain and use your own domain for your author email instead of something like Gmail.
Look at other famous authors in your genre that you look up for a guide. Other than that, just be yourself. Be honest. Be excited about the things you love and passionate about the things that mean something to you. Don’t beg people for attention, but do offer value to your readers (a free book/free advice/useful article/etc).
Yanes: You currently call Louisville, KY your home. What is the writing community like there? Do you have any specific writer-friendly hangout spots?
Sherrer: The writing community in Louisville is awesome. We are the home to some great small presses (Hydra Publications, Seventh Star Press, Bastet Press, and more!). We also have some phenomenal local comic conventions, from small fan run ones like Conglomeration to huge star events like Supercon. We also have our very own locally sponsored writer’s convention called Imaginarium. It is a great place to network, meet other authors, publishers, and improve your craft. We have some great local indie bookstores, like Carmichael’s and Nanny Goat Books. Louisville is a great place for the arts, and there is a lot of support here for local talent and business.
Yanes: You have two book series set in the fictional universe of Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus. What was the inspiration for this?
Sherrer: Two so far, with at least one if not two more planned. The Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus universe is a very flexible one, with many normal elements that enables me to talk about people and situations that resonate with the average reader, while being unique enough that I can throw in all sorts of fun paranormal and fantasy elements. I specifically wanted a world with a very scientific and logical magic system and magic culture.
I’d seen a lot of systems based on European myth/lore, magic words based on Latin or Greek, plenty of Egyptian-culture things, but I’d rarely seen Mesopotamia used in paranormal backstory (plus I’d always loved that cradle of life), so it was fun learning more about the most ancient culture in our world to craft an explanation for magic’s origin and workings. One of the biggest things for me is that I think vampires and werewolves/shifters are way overdone, so I decided not to include them in my world at all. Call it my rebellion against following the “popular” crowd (I was always the odd one out in my childhood, so why break the trend now?).
Yanes: As you’ve continued to develop the world of Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus, are there any subplots or characters who have taken on a life of their own?
Sherrer: At the beginning, I never intended Sebastian’s backstory or family history to play as big of a role as it is coming to play. He was supposed to be the humor relief sidekick/eventual love interest. But he has become as much of a main character as Lily. That’s why I started the Dark Roads Trilogy, to tell Sebastian’s backstory all from his POV. His character arc is just as vital to the story as Lily’s, and in the end readers might be surprised to find out that it isn’t really Lily who is the hero (not that she wants to be anyway, she’d rather hide in her library and drink tea).
Yanes: Since you love cosplaying, which of your characters would you love to see cosplayed more often?
Sherrer: I’d love to see someone cosplay Madam Barrington, in character and everything. I definitely had Professor McGonagall in mind when I created her, and I enjoy seeing older women jumping into the cosplaying universe and enjoying the heck out of stories they love. It isn’t just a hobby for young people! We need some maturity and class to help balance things out.
Yanes: Another thing that impresses me about your work is that magic in your stories always feels grounded and that it makes sense. What steps do you take make sure the magic in your stories work without being a ‘get out of jail free’ plot device?
Sherrer: It is definitely hard, and the more I write, the more I realize I can’t ONLY use stuff that could be explained and rationalized in great detail. I definitely have some aspects that are more fudged and unexplained than others. The key is that everything fits within the logic of its own system. I also learned, through writing, that people don’t read fantasy for everything to be logical and scientific like they do in hard science fiction, for instance. Sometimes we want to be surprised by the wild and wacky (i.e. Harry Potter). However, it still needs to be internally logical. Part of making sure you don’t have deus ex machina plot devices is setting up some basic rules at the start that you never break, as well as making sure every power is balanced out. In the real world, great power always has great cost. The greater the power, the greater the cost. The same must be true in fiction.
Yanes: When people finish reading Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Sherrer: If people finish reading my books and I’ve made them smile, then my job is done. Of course I hope my books do more than just make people smile, but my goal has always been to bring joy and laughter to my readers. Now, joy doesn’t always mean happiness (the two can actually be very different. You can be sad and still be joyful). Rather, I hope that my stories instill a deep wonder in people, a yearning for a good story well told, stories that reflect the beauty of life with all of its hardships, joys, and truths combined.
Ultimately, telling stories is about good triumphing over evil in some way or another. Storytelling is about instilling hope, even if the characters in the story come to a bad end. Whether we get that hope from learning important lessons, coming to know ourselves better, understanding the world better, or whatever, the process of reading stories should be a positive one that leaves the reader better off than when they started. Ultimately, that is my goal with everything I write.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Sherrer: I’m halfway through Book 5 in my Lily Singer Adventure series, which fans have been clamoring for since Books 3 and 4 came out last spring! I’m due to have my first kid in Sept, so the plan is to get books 5 and 6 written before then and released hopefully in early 2019. If you want to know more about following my writing process, getting exclusive behind-the-scenes sneak peeks and VIP perks, check out my Patreon page and see what I’ve got going on! https://www.patreon.com/lydiasherrer
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