Common Questions from Readers
and Sheryl's Answers

Q - Where do you get your ideas from?

A - Ideas, ideas, ideas! I have more ideas for stories than I could possibly ever write. They come from everywhere. Songs, bits of stories I remember from sitting on my grandfather's knee, snippets of overheard conversations, memories, places or events that inspire, newspaper articles, radio clips, anecdotes passed along from a friend, the things I have done with my children, etc. etc. I keep an idea file, and whenever something interesting comes along, I jot it down and throw it into my bulging filing cabinet for later.

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Q - How many books have you written?

A - So far, I've published thirteen books. They include my new novel, The Smell of Paint, Waiting for the Whales, Jessie's Island, Moonsnail Song, Eagle Dreams, Tides of Change, Going to the Fair, A Pod of Orcas and This is the Dog. My newest picture books are What's That Sound? By the Sea and What's That Sound? At The Circus. I'm working on a couple of different projects at the moment: a picture book, a chapter book, and another YA novel.

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Q - How long does it take to write a book?

A - The answer to that question will probably be different for every writer. It usually takes me between six months and a year to write a picture book. Some people think that's an awfully long time for a picture book. But, most of the stories I write require accuracy and background knowledge. For example, I had to know a lot about Orcas, as well as west coast flora and fauna to write Waiting for the Whales. Eagle Dreams, the story of a boy who helps an injured bald eagle fly again, required that I do a lot of research on bald eagles. Sometimes I can get the information that I need by reading books. Sometimes I have to visit places like a raptor recovery centre, or interview specialists, and that takes time. Perfecting the story's language is the other thing that I spend a lot of time on. I spend months reading what I have written out loud, listening for where it doesn't sound right, rewriting, then reading it out loud again. Waiting for the Whales took me 10 drafts and almost a year to write. It's important to me to spend time on making a story the best that I can make it.

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Q - What advice can you offer young people interested in becoming a writer?

A - The best advice that I can give someone interested in becoming a writer is to READ READ READ!! And, of course, WRITE. You don't learn how to write by talking about it or thinking about it, but by doing it. Keeping a journal is a good way to start. It also gives you the opportunity to become an observer, which is what writers often are. I suppose the last piece of advice I'd give is to give equal time to your imagination. One of the things I've found I had most in common with other writers is the time we spent as children imagining. I remember being constantly told to stop daydreaming. Well, if I had, I probably wouldn't be a writer today.

dog with leash

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Q - Is writing hard?

A - Sometimes yes and sometimes no. When a story is going well, and you're happy with it, there is nothing more wonderful; no job on earth I'd rather do. But, there are hard moments too. When you've rewritten a story many times, and it still isn't any good, it can be very frustrating. If I get stuck, I usually try to work on a different story. I'm sure that being a doctor or a hockey player or doing any kind of job isn't always easy either. But then, I don't write because it's easy just as I'm sure doctors and hockey players don't choose their professions because they're easy. Usually we do something because we love it, because it's rewarding, because it brings personal satisfaction. That is why I write.

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Q - Do you do a lot of research?

A - Yes! Research is a big part of how I prepare for a book, although sometimes reading and research will inspire a book. For example, I was reading a lot about coastal history just because I was interested in it. I was sure others would be as interested as I was, so I wrote Tides of Change. But, when I started working on Waiting for the Whales, I knew very little about Orcas. That meant I had to do a lot of research. Sometimes I know quite a bit about a subject, but need to check details with an expert. Other times I need to become more familiar with a setting, such as a country fair to get the details right. I visited about twenty country fairs before I wrote Going to the Fair.

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Q - Who inspired you?

A - When I was growing up, we didn't have any books in my house except the bible. I didn't even start reading outside of school until I was a teenager. The first writers who inspired me were people like J.R Tolkein, author of The Hobbit, and J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye; not children's authors. I had a wonderful English teacher who encouraged me to write. Thanks to her, I became a voracious reader, and began a life-long habit of writing in a journal. If I had to choose one event which set me on the road to writing, it would be going to my first author reading by Robert Kroetsch, a Canadian poet and novelist. I found it surprising that he was just a regular person. I had expected writers to be somehow special. When he read from his work he was just as nervous as I would have been in his place. He made being a writer seem within my reach. I was thirty years old, a mother, a teacher, and I was about to have my second child. But, I thought that maybe, if I worked at it, I too could become a writer.

I hope that I have made being a writer seem within your reach too.

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Updated: October 19, 2007