Member of the Week: Suzanne Sherman, Author of Girlhood in America

Suzanne ShermanName: Suzanne Sherman

Book Title: Girlhood in America: Personal Stories 1910 – 2010

Your book’s Amazon purchase link:  http://amzn.to/2kp7Xjz  

What is your book about? Girlhood in America is an extraordinary, intimate look inside a century of American culture. In first-person narratives, fifty-six women and girls show American culture—and American women’s culture—develop across a fast-changing century.

It’s history in motion—entertaining, eye-opening, educational. Highlights from pop culture, photographs, and the ten top girls’ names in each decade open the chapters, followed by the short personal narratives from around the country of the life and times, from the 1910s to the 2000s.

From life-altering inventions—like the Model T Florence’s father buys from a door-to-door car salesman in 1912—to the shifting social codes girls describe in the 1960s and 1970s, the book reveals what’s universal and what defines a decade. Racism repeats itself in old and new ways, social change rolls out as families take new shape, and young girls help create American culture in the new millennium. Kirkus Reviews calls Girlhood in America “a useful sourcebook and an entertaining read.”

Girlhood in AmericaWhat inspired you to write your book?

I was a writer and editor at thirty-six years old when I found a job of my dreams—teaching memoir for a local college: guiding people in writing about their wonderful, complicated lives. In the twenty years I taught, I could see the wheel of time turning, with my earliest students born in 1907 to 1920 and writing about the excitements of the 1920s and hardships of the ‘30s. Later, students were writing about living on communes in the ‘60s and working overseas for the Peace Corps. I wanted to capture some of these important tales and collect more, calling the book series “100 Years in the Life” and focusing each book in that series on a different age group or topic.

Can you describe your writing process?

I am a morning person (though I like the quiet of nighttime as well). Focus is most important for my creativity and online research. That means more than turning off the phone for the first five hours of the day. It also means avoiding checking email until after 1 p.m.

Intuition plays an important role in writing my first drafts. If a word I don’t often use comes “in” when I’m writing, I quickly check its definition to confirm it’s exactly what’s needed (and I’m pleased that 99.9% of the time it is). I may revise a few sentences or move a section of material to another location when I know it’s a better fit there, but for the most part I go with trust in the first draft, knowing the value of what comes in the first draft and developing and refining on further drafts once the first draft is done and has “rested” for three days, unread. This is the method I teach, as well, in my memoir classes and what I coach clients to do. 

How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

I became a magazine editor at twenty-three and was a book editor two years later. After ten years wearing that hat I knew that what I liked best about the work was the creative aspect, the development of books. I knew, too, that nonfiction and memoir were my passion—the power of the personal to teach and impact inspired me. I continued as a freelance editor for two Bay Area publishers and opened my own business as a writing coach, publishing consultant, and editor and branched into memoir, becoming a teacher for colleges and independently.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

My office is located in a beautiful coastal area twenty minutes from Sebastopol, ninety minutes north of San Francisco, and ten minutes from the Sonoma Coast. It is an inspiring and tranquil location. I work with several clients at a time in various stages of writing their books, discussing their projects with them first by phone and continuing with them through outline development (structure of the book) and content development. I work with clients for weeks or several years at a time editing and consulting on content they have written or working with them chapter by chapter as they write new material. Midday, I check email and take care of other business as needed, including sharing information on LinkedIn and Twitter. Then I turn my attention to my own books, either focusing on promotion of the book most recently published or working on my next book.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Language thrills me. It has such power to move us, educate us, help us live fuller, better lives. I am happy communication through language is my business, and with my new book series, 100 Years in the Life, I get to be the bridge between voices of experience and readers who want to know what happens for others in this wild and wonderful life.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

My favorite authors always remain favorites, but new ones come in and feed the fire, reminding me of why I do what I do and helping me stay committed to my own creative work. Lately, some of those authors are Martha Beck (Expecting Adam), Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), and Toni Morrison (a long list). 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

My telephone ringtone is the electric guitar lead-in to Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.”

What’s next for you?

I’m accepting submissions for the next book in the 100 Years in the Life series (www.100yearsinthelife.com). The deadline is August 30, 2017—any changes will be posted on the website. I am writing a memoir about navigating life in the 1960s-1970s in a family splintered by mental illness and suicide; it will be ready for a publisher in 2018. And I am preparing an online memoir course that will focus on craft, offer support and guidance, and feature bonus sessions for enrolled members, such as How to Manage the Emotional Landscape of Memoir. For course details, updates, and more about what I offer to writers, sign up for my free newsletter at www.suzannesherman.com.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

A professional editor for over thirty years, I specialize in nonfiction and memoir. I offer a free 15-minute consultation to new and experienced writers to determine the next steps for their projects and how my services as a writing coach, publishing consultant, or editor can be the best help for them.

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