Mystery author Sharon Henegar is my guest for this last post of 2016. We’re talking about her new thriller, Sidestep.
Sharon Henegar started out in the Midwest, and although she is not in the Witness Protection Program she has lived in 27 houses in seven states. She now resides in a Midcentury Modern house in Salem, Oregon with her storyteller husband, Steven; Zoë, the Springer spaniel-mix dog, and Millie the cat. Together they conduct retreats for writers and storytellers.
Henegar believes in home cooking, the restorative powers of humor and dogs, in buying secondhand, that a convertible should be driven with the top down, that life needs dessert, and that M&Ms should be bought in bulk. She is currently working on the next book in her Willow Falls mystery series.
Welcome, Sharon. Please tell us about your current release.
Sidestep is about Beth, a woman with secrets, who steps away from her life for just a few days before starting a new job in a new part of the country. But when she tries to step back again she finds that her life has been stolen. All of it. Home, job, name, money, all gone. She has to get her life back. But how far can she go in dealing with monsters without becoming a monster herself?
What inspired you to write this book?
The seed for Sidestep came from my fascination with the fairy tale “Puss in Boots.” At the end of the story, the giant is tricked out of his home and lands and then killed, seemingly just because he is a giant. He never does anything bad in the story to deserve such treatment. I started thinking about the unfairness of that, and identity theft, and what I might do if someone stole everything from me.
In 2015 a writer friend and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo—aka National Novel Writing Month. The combination of a definite goal (50,000 words in one month) and a little friendly competition (how many words have you done today??) was irresistible. When I sat down on November 1 to begin, I had no plot or characters in mind, just a curiosity about what a woman might do if someone took over her life. Soon Beth and her dog Clover erupted from beneath the surface of my brain, and we were off. Twenty-four days later, the result was Sidestep.
Excerpt from Sidestep:
I quietly entered the room, any sound made by my footsteps covered by the noise our prisoner made. The afternoon light shone now on the other side of the house, and this dimly lit room felt sad and empty, the carpet a little damp, the short draperies over the windows hanging a bit crooked. The figure tied to the chair in the closet was the perfect decorative touch.
Fake Beth shook her head, trying to dislodge the sweater, but to no avail. She yelled again in a rusty voice, “Help! Help! Can anyone hear me? Help!”
I crept up behind her and spun the chair one hundred eighty degrees so she was facing me. She uttered a little yelp. After a moment I pulled the sweater off of her head. She blinked, swallowed. Squinted at me.
“What the…Who are you? Let me loose, damn it!”
I stared down at her. The wig that turned me into Mary Claire had never felt tighter.
“I don’t know who the hell you are, but you can't do this. Untie me at once.” She seemed to be aiming for a note of authority, but it came out as petulance. I said nothing.
“Wait a minute. I've seen you somewhere.” She stared at my face. Swallowed. “What the hell is this? Who are you? What is going on? Untie me, do you hear?”
I kept looking at her. A feeling of power grew in me with every heartbeat.
“You’d better untie me, you bitch. You’ll never get away with this.” No trace of her assumed accent.
I remained silent. She stared back. After a minute that felt like a week I saw a tremble in her lower lip, but her voice maintained its sneer.
“Let. Me. Go. Now, I tell you. You’re going to be sorry. I know I've seen you somewhere. I will be able to tell the police who you are.”
I let my silence spin out a little longer. When I spoke in Mary Claire’s Boston voice, I was surprised at how gently the words came out.
“I'm standing right in front of you, and you don’t even know who I am.”
That’s when the first flicker of fear flitted across her eyes. I smiled at her.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I've completed the fourth book in my Willow Falls Mystery Series and am doing the final edit. The series features Louisa McGuire, her dogs Emily Ann and Jack, antique-shop-owner cousin Kay, and a host of denizens in their imaginary Midwestern town. If you like your mysteries cozy with a sprinkling of humor and dogs, please check them out!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In the fourth grade my best friend Nancy Jo Harding (how I wish I could find her again!) wrote and illustrated books about horses. We were nine. At that age we thought we were horses, so perhaps you could say we were writing autobiographies.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I retired five years ago from a 30+ year career as a librarian. One of the fabulous things about retirement is that you do not have to do anything full time! But I wrote my first three novels while still employed, and I did it by getting up at 4 a.m. every day and forcing myself to get at least two sentences down before going to work. It was rare to write only two sentences, but keeping the bar low got me out of bed and in front of the computer.
Now, along with writing novels, I revel in reading and watching movies, seeing friends, cooking, and hanging out with husband and pets. I knit, and create upcycled clothing. I regularly shop on driveways and write my long-running blog Queen of Fifty Cents. I’m having an awfully good time!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love semicolons…which drives one of my editors crazy. A few chapters in she is reduced to writing “grrrr” in the margins!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. Or a horse.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Of course I would love for everyone to fall in love with my books. But what really matters is reading itself. Reading teaches us, transforms us, expands our lives exponentially. Readers are the reason that writers take all of our experiences, our thoughts, our dreams, and create new worlds that never existed before. So I would like to thank all of you for being readers!
Thank you for helping me wrap up 2016. All the best with your writing!