Publishing World Wisdom from Sherrill Joseph
Welcome to the 2022 Author Series. Here we will continue to share the knowledge (often hard-won) from published authors as they tell us what they wish they’d known before they published or what they wish they could tell their prepublished selves. Our February author is Sherrill Joseph, creator of the delightful Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries for middle-grade readers!
As a mother, grandmother, retired teacher, and now children's author, Sherrill Joseph has made kids her life. She wishes they ran the world. She believes it is incumbent upon every children’s fiction author to promote antiracism. The author created The Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series for tweenagers, for posterity, to stay connected to kids, and to offer to them characters like and unlike themselves. She presents four diverse, responsible, role-model detectives, fashioned after some of her former students. The sleuths provide a serious mystery to solve while simultaneously showing that being respectful and helpful can be cool. Joseph is inspired by her historic neighborhood of North Park in San Diego where she lives with her adorable poodle-bichon rescue, Jimmy Lambchop. She promises many more adventures with her teen detectives to come.
If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, what advice would I give?
I've been writing since I discovered the Nancy Drew mysteries at the age of nine. Whenever a particular chapter or book in the series inspired me, I would jot down something in my homemade journal. For instance, I remember sketching and coloring a scene where Nancy was descending a spooky stone staircase into what looked like a dark dungeon. I captioned it with, "No Nancy! There's danger down below. Don't do it!" Sometimes, I would write related mini adventures for her and her friends and even make shoebox dioramas of selected scenes. As a child, I had plenty of time to wallow in the pleasures of writing. Those were idyllic days!
But I had to grow up and make a living. Teaching had always appealed to me. During college I became an English major, which allowed me to return to the joys of reading and writing. That led me to teaching literacy in grades K-12. During my demanding but rewarding thirty-five-year career, I often wished I could steal some time for myself to continue writing creatively. But that's difficult to do as a teacher, given all the papers to be graded, lesson plans to be made, and students to be nurtured. In my "spare time," I'd say. Ha!
So, the papers, plans, and students won out--until near the end of my last year of teaching in 2013. One day, during a small-group guided reading lesson, one of my fifth graders challenged me to write a better story than the one we were reading. There it was, the inspiration I needed. When I retired at the end of that school year, I started working on that story. And that's how the Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries were born. Books 1, 2, and 3 are out in the world now. Book 4 will follow soon.
What advice would I give my pre-published self? Honestly, nothing--not even to have tried to squeeze in creative writing time while teaching. Why? Because teaching, my students, and my experiences gained shaped me into the writer I am today, I doubt that I'd be the writer I am without all that. I can't help but apply the famous quote from the poet Tennyson to myself: "I am a part of all that I have met." My books are filled with the lessons, themes, and topics for kids that were fueled from my delving intensely into my career. Children were and remain my life. And how blessed I am to have that special "kid knowledge" since I write for them!
What do I wish I had known before publishing my first book?
I wish I had earned a degree in marketing. As a hybrid-published author, I am solely responsible for marketing and publicizing my work, short of paying dearly for help. For me, marketing is stressful, expensive at times, rarely fun, and a task that has taken me countless hours to learn from scratch. Despite those efforts, I'm not anywhere close to knowing all I need to in order to promote my books as efficiently as I'd like. Frankly, I'd rather spend all my time escaping with my characters, but marketing is a necessary evil. Writers, am I hearing a chorus of agreement out there?
Book 1, Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets
World-famous Egyptologist Dr. Winston Thornsley died suddenly two months ago in disgrace. His widow, Ida Thornsley, knows her husband was falsely accused of stealing an ancient burial urn he discovered in Egypt last summer, but local and federal law enforcement officers are stumped.
Mrs. Thornsley hires thirteen-year-old neighbors, the Botanic Hill Detectives—Lanny, Lexi, Moki, and Rani. A roomful of venomous snakes, the poisoned Egyptian pond, and Dragon Pit Man await the four tech-savvy teens. As the detectives begin to unravel the sinister plot, the mystery takes more dangerous turns!
Book 2, Eucalyptus Street: Green Curse
In 1945, Isabela de Cordoba’s great-grandfather, silent movie actor Lorenzo de Cordoba, mysteriously hid a legendary, multimillion-dollar emerald somewhere on the family’s sprawling California estate. Seventy years later, the gem remains concealed. Nicknamed “The Green Curse,” the emerald is blamed for the family's numerous, untimely deaths.
On her twenty-first birthday, Isabela receives a secret letter with a cryptic poem. These documents from the long-deceased Lorenzo invite her to hunt for the gemstone. But first, she must decipher the poem’s six stanzas for clues. Enter, the Botanic Hill Detectives—Lanny, Lexi, Moki, and Rani. Using the seventy-year-old cryptic poem for the hunt, they face eerie footsteps, secret passages, unexplained occurrences in the adjacent cemetery, and . . . competition. The perilous race for the de Cordoba treasure is on!
Book 3, Walnut Street: Phantom Rider
The four intrepid Botanic Hill Detectives--Lanny and Lexi Wyatt, Moki Kalani, and Rani Kumar--travel to the Mayfield family’s rural California horse ranch east of town to tackle their third mystery.
The mission? To investigate the theft of valuable objects from the barn and corrals.
Soon, their case entangles them in the hunt for a long-lost gold mine, the exploration of a snake-infested ghost town, and the identification of a threatening black-clad figure on horseback known as the Phantom Rider. Kids, saddle up and get ready to join the search!
In late 2022, Book 4 in the Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, Saffron Street: Island Danger, will release. And I hope that when the pandemic eases, I can return to in-person school visits. I learn so much more from the kids! Virtual visit invitations welcome.
Follow Sherrill’s author adventures here:
On her website at: https://sherrilljoseph.com/