It's that time again! Time to spotlight an author from your local area, state, or places that you have lived previously. This is a monthly meme hosted by TIF TALKS BOOKS.
Sherry is a native of Charlotte, NC and now lives and writes in Flat Rock, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am hoping that Sherry and I will get to meet in person one of these days! Until then, we use Facebook to keep in touch!
Q. Tell us about your writing.
WHERE THE WOODBINE TWINES and MARIAH OF THE SPIRITS are my ghostly/gothic books. I also review books in the supernatural fiction genre for “Dead Reckonings,” which is a literary journal about dark fantasy. I recently reviewed Ellen Datlow’s anthology POE, and have reviewed books by and written a foreword for "weird fiction" writer Jonathan Thomas. I’ve written an entry for the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE VAMPIRE on the psychological vampire theme in the short story “Luella Miller” by nineteenth century fiction writer Mary Wilkins Freeman.
WHERE THE WOODBINE TWINES is the strangest of my three books, I guess. Though some people love it—like you, Missy, thanks!—and find it a fun read, others find it very unsettling. As you, Missy know, there’s nothing gruesome in it, but it leaves some people with a gritty feel. Southern gothic worthy of the name has this effect, but I think many people react to WOODBINE that way because they simply don’t get the ending. This surprised me. I find that more and more, readers want their endings all sewed up neatly, and WOODBINE very purposely does not do that for you. I cut my teeth on literature, both popular (such as Daphne DuMaurier and the short stories of Ray Bradbury) and “serious” (insert the name of any literary giant here), wherein hitting the reader over the head with “exactly what happens” at the end was considered tacky and insulting to the reader's intelligence.
Q. Was Catherine Wiley inspired by a real person?
Absolutely. She is a composite of two very real young women I once knew, and the book is dedicated to them. Both of them struggled with being different, though in very different ways from each other. They suffered all their lives because of their oddness. This disturbed me deeply, and at the risk of sounding too arty, I’ll say I had to work away my anguish over their anguish vicariously through Catherine’s in the story. I wanted readers to finish the story feeling a little unsettled by how we treat people not like us.
Q. And the character Nan, who is also the narrator?
I saw my first bottle tree in that same flat, sparse, sandy region. Often, people who talk to me about my books mention bottle trees because they remember my use of one in the title story of MARIAH OF THE SPIRITS. I later learned that the slaves believed the multi-colored glass bottles would attract and trap ancestral spirits. They might paint their doors and windowsills blue and then strip a small tree of leaves and thread colored bottles on the limbs, as an extra measure of protection. I began to see bottle trees as the stained glass of everyday people. I’d always loved the idea of light streaming through cut or colored glass as a representation of the infinite and unknowable Something that we sense but never see: God or the Great Mystery. I love the idea that people who might never have seen a cathedral found a way to make their own stained glass with the ready material they had--glass bottles, a tree, and sunshine to make the glass magically glow and refract and glitter. Nothing interests me more than how people use what is at hand—in object and in idea—to express their sense of the transcendent and to try to see meaning in death. That’s where my interest in ghosts comes from. That’s why everything I’ve written so far has these elements woven throughout. In WOODBINE, the old tomb with the stained glass window in it is far more important in the story than it seems at first. In the stained glass window, which is called “Where the Woodbine Twines,” we find the most positive suggestion of what the place where the woodbine twines might mean.
~If you haven't read a novel by Sherry Austin, you are really missing out! Not only is she an outstanding NC author, she is a very sweet friend. Do yourself a favor and check out her books.
Thank you so much, Sherry for the interview!