Interview with Sherrill Joseph - Author of the Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries
You may remember Sherrill Joseph from her previous visit to my blog where she shared what she wished she could tell her pre-published self (Publishing World Wisdom with Sherrill Joseph). Sherrill and I are both members of the mystery, thriller, suspense group—Blackbird Writers. It’s been a delight to get to know Sherrill and today you get to know her better, too. She recently released the fifth book in her Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series . . . and just like the four previous books, this one is a great mystery for young readers and adults, too.
Jacaranda Street: Gravestone Image is another wonderful installment in the Botanic Hill Detectives series. In fact, it might just be the best one yet! Our favorite detective team is as smart as ever as they each use their strengths to solve a long-ago mystery involving the famed author Edgar Allan Poe. Cryptic clues on a gravestone, a creepy old house, secret passageways, and more are no match for these sleuths, but the mystery keeps us guessing until the satisfying end. It’s a delight how Joseph weaves learning into her all of her mysteries. Her writing style makes these books a fun read for kids AND adults!
Thanks, Sherrill, for joining me for an interview . . . I always want to know more about writers, and here’s my chance!!
Q. Sherrill, did you always want to be a writer, and do you remember the first story you every wrote?
A. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I discovered Nancy Drew mysteries in fourth grade. Those books would make the round trip with me from home to school daily. When my classwork was finished, I was allowed to take the book out of my desk and read. I preferred spending my recess with Nancy and her friends.
Overall, Nancy became my BFF, making shy little me a better reader and kinder person. And she helped me improve my writing: I worried about her as she encountered one peril after another, so I started writing, or rewriting, short mystery scenes for her so I could control the danger! I vowed back then that someday, I would write mysteries for children who might need and/or appreciate a literary friend like Nancy.
Q. Would you be willing to share with readers the different types of jobs you’ve had? And how have these jobs helped you to be a better writer?
Graduating from college with a B.A. in English literature and a teaching credential back in the 1970s, I became a curriculum editor for my school district while awaiting a teaching assignment. I was simultaneously a substitute teacher, which was required then to prove one’s “worth” and gain some classroom experience. It was tough work, but later, I saw its value.
I was a classroom teacher from 1978 to 2013, teaching all grades K-12 at various times, and experienced many different socio-economic groups of students in a variety of neighborhoods. I was fortunate to be allowed to focus on teaching literacy for about fifteen of those years due to accepting team teaching assignments. My favorite students to teach were fourth and fifth graders—coincidentally, the same grades I was in when I became enamored with Nancy Drew mysteries. Hmm . . .
During my daily classroom Readers’ and Writers’ Workshops, I would work alongside my students so they could see that I was a reader and writer, too, as I modeled what good readers and writers do. I believe that’s where I honed my writing skills and cemented my desire to write for kids in middle grade (grades 3 to 6).
As stated above, Nancy Drew and my students inspired me to write for middle graders. More specifically, during my last year of teaching, one day, a student in a book club I was leading said, “Ms. J, you could write a better book than the one we’re reading!” Wow. The bells went off in my head! I was transported back to “Nancy Drew Land” when I first dreamed of being a children’s author. I told the student that I would accept her challenge.
When I retired at the end of that school year, I opened my laptop and started writing the Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries. The four detective characters had been banging around inside my head for years. The concept of Botanic Hill came for the names of streets in my neighborhood in San Diego, e.g,, Nutmeg, Jacaranda, Quince, Palm, etc. And I knew I had to write a series because Nancy Drew mysteries were a series. I also wanted to “immortalize” my kind, respectful students via my savvy, polite detectives and show my readers that being kind and polite can be not only “cool,” but it can get them far in life.
Q. Of all the books you’ve written so far, do you have a favorite?
Each new book is my favorite! So . . . no, not really. I love elements in each of them.
Q. Tell us about your publishing journey . . . Do you independently publish or have you used a traditional or hybrid publisher?
My first three books were published via the hybrid publisher Acorn Publishing. I thank that company for teaching me the basics of publishing, which gave me confidence to form my own independent publishing company, Quince Street Press. I published Books 4 and 5 through my press and will continue to do so with future books in my series.
As a child and an adult, I read mostly mysteries. Occasionally, I still pull from my personal library shelves one of my Nancy Drew mysteries when I need to reconnect with her! In addition, I will forever love The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. From my college days, I became a devotee of Gothic mystery writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins, and the Bronte sisters, to name a few. And I’m a member of Blackbird Writers where we flock together to bring mystery and mayhem to the world, so I enjoy reading books from that group, too.
Q. Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your book(s)?
I write because I love kids and want to stay connected to them—be they my own grandchildren and hoped-for descendants, or kids I have yet to meet. I want all of them to know that no matter what their situations in life, they can become confident, happy, and productive, strive to be the best they can be, and make this world a better place for being in it.
I enjoy bringing “a twist of history” to each of my books by selecting an amazing and/or obscure historical person, place, or event that I enjoy and that I think could have some merit for kids and create an intriguing plot.
One of my detectives, Rani Kumar, and I have a mental ability called lexical-gustatory synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition some people are born with where there are extra connections in the brain between senses that aren’t usually linked. Some synesthetes see words, letters, numbers, or musical notes in color. Rani and I taste words! She and I consider this our superpower.
Super Six List:
Fav Pizza Topping: Pineapple
Book You’re Reading Now: Iniquity by Laurie Buchanan, and The Secret of Red Gate Farm, Nancy Drew Mystery #6, for at least the fifth time—one of my favorites!
Coffee, Tea, or Both: Tea for breakfast; decaf coffee mid-afternoon
Fav Activity as a Child: Reading a Nancy Drew mystery while curled up on my bed after school with an apple and a little bowl of Fritos
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: I’ve only lived in San Diego, California, and love it!
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: Wherever my grandchildren are—plus O’ahu
Thanks so much for hanging out with us today, Sherrill!
Discover more about Sherrill and her books here:
Blackbird Writers: https://blackbirdwriters.com