By: Sherry V. Ostroff Anna Isaac is a fifteen year old Jewess living in 17th century Scotland. Her father is determined to see her settled before his poor health becomes worse so he tasks her angry and vindictive brother with choosing her groom. Faced with an impossible choice, Anna seeks the help of a visiting […]
An Interview with Sherry V. Ostroff
Sherry V. Ostroff is the author of two books, The Lucky One, is a memoir originally published in 2016, and Caledonia, a work of historical fiction was published last year. She is a winner of the Indie Diamond Book Award.
Q: Can you sum up Caledonia in 20 words or less?
Caledonia is the tale of two strong women separated by three centuries but bound by mysterious circumstances.
Q: What inspired you to write Caledonia? Do you have any special connection to Scotland?
I love history, and after reading the Outlander series (twice) I was intrigued by the history of Scotland. Then, I read two books: The History of Scotland by Neil Oliver and How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. In each, I found a little-known historical event called The Darien Scheme – Scotland’s attempt to create a colony in present-day Panama in 1698. Its failure would change world history. Having never heard of this before, I asked history teachers, history buffs, and Scots, and it was a mystery to most. For an author of historical fiction, this was a perfect storm; an exciting true event that no one knew about.
I have no genetic or family connection to Scotland, but I have visited the country five times in the last five years. I have immersed myself in the culture, the food, the traditions, the history, and the landscape – all things Scotland. I will not be returning this year which is sad. Scotland feels like home.
Q: Tell me a little about the research that went into Caledonia.
My goal in writing historical fiction is maintaining the integrity of the past. I have a master’s degree in history which included training in research. Luckily, I love digging for information because there are always treasures to find. Almost every page of Caledonia has involved some form of research and it pleases me when a reader recognizes the effort.
Here are several examples.
- When the story shifts to Anna, one of two main characters, I must be careful how she speaks. I can’t include modern vocabulary in her 17th century dialogue. Therefore, I am constantly checking the etymology of her words. Often, that comes with a surprise. Many times, words that I guessed were modern, turned out to centuries old.
- Travel to the locations mentioned in Caledonia is part of my research. I have visited almost every place mentioned in the book, and some places were chosen to help better my understanding of 17th century life. For example, I traveled to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England to learn about 17th century ships. One place I didn’t visit was Darien National Park in Panama, the site of the 17th century Scottish colony. I have good reason for skipping the Park. It is a vast mountainous jungle and is one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is not safe for tourists.
- A fun part of research is eating the food mentioned in the story. Except for the sausage-making scene, as describe by Anna, I have tried it all, Passion fruit has become a favorite.
Q: Which character was your favorite to write?
Of course, I love Hanna and Anna, but I feel slightly closer to Hanna only because I have known her longer. The first chapter I ever wrote, (Chapter 4) is Hanna’s introduction. Except for the loss of her father, I poured into Hanna all the experiences I wished I had had: a degree in archaeology, attending an ivy league school, and living in Scotland. But, if I were to pick another character, Cook Innes is a favorite. Many times, I chuckled through his dialogue and his ability to wiggle his way out of trouble. He’s the kind of character you would want on your side.
What readers may not realize is that characters talk to authors, and if a book is going to be successful, the author must listen to what they have to say. I love hearing from Anna and Hanna and I’m grateful for their successful steerage throughout my writing.
Q: Which character was the most difficult to develop?
I know this sounds unbelievable, but I had no trouble with any characters. I am a pantser when it comes to developing the story and characters. Pantser, as in ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ means nothing is planned. I let my characters guide me and if I need help, I go for a walk so they can talk to me privately. My characters have always come through. This ‘collaboration’ has continued through the sequel to Caledonia.
Q: Did you find it challenging to write a story that is so personal to your family when writing The Lucky One?
Yes, I did. After my mother handed me the story, it took another 28 years until I finally sat down and wrote. That was partly due to my still working full-time and having a young child at home. Then, I wasn’t sure how to organize the story. Or what genre.
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Q: The Lucky One is written in your mother’s voice with only a few notes or corrections. Why did you choose to present her story in that way?
Historians always prize a primary source. My mother was that source, and I did not want to change her words. Therefore, writing The Lucky One as a novel did not appeal to me. But I wondered about my contribution. And then I realized that the reader may want to know the historical and cultural background to what my mother was experiencing. My contribution gave context to her story.
Q: Was there anything you learned or took away from the experience of working on The Lucky One?
The Lucky One was my first book. I learned early-on the following. First, you should not write alone. An author needs others (not friends or family) to read their work and offer suggestions. Second, an author needs a tough skin. When your writing is critiqued properly, there will be criticism and some rejection. View this as a learning curve. Third, I learned how to listen to my characters. In The Lucky One, it was my mother. Although she had died well before I started writing, I found she was advising me, nonetheless.
Q: What is on your current reading list?
I just finished The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Currently on my to-read list is The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen and When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna. I’m always interested in reading anything about Scotland, the Inquisition, or Colonial America. In other words, I write historical fiction because I love reading it.
Q: What is your next writing project?
I am writing the sequel to Caledonia, entitled, On the Edge of a Precipice. It is the continuation of the Anna’s and Hanna’s story. It will come out in 2021. Writing a sequel is a new learning experience. I want On the Edge to stand alone, so I must be sure that the reader has all the necessary information from Caledonia. It has been a joy to write my characters’ story, and it will be sad when I am finished. Readers have asked me if there will be a third book to the Caledonia saga, but the second will finish the tale. I want to end while the story is still fresh and vibrant. I don’t want to force more just for the sake of putting words on a page.
I am currently considering a new topic for a new historical novel once I finish On the Edge of a Precipice.
Q: Can you provide your web address for the audience?
Q: Any closing remarks?
One of the joys of reading is meeting potential readers. Since 2016, I have given many book talks and I’ve met with book groups. I have two different programs, one for each book, and I am developing a third for the sequel. Two of these talks are about the art of writing. Readers seem most interested in learning how an author does their craft. If anyone is interested in my program, they can contact me at email@example.com. Caledonia and The Lucky One are available in paperback, ebook and free for Kindle Unlimited members.
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Read My Reviews of Sherry’s Books
By: Sherry V. Ostroff In order to do this story justice, I’m going to use the summary from the back cover to avoid any errors in the details: Ita was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place was the former Pale of Settlement which was a large swath of land in […]
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