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Interview: September 29, 2016

A former journalist, Sherryl Woods is now the bestselling author of over 100 mystery and romance books. In 2007, she published MENDING FENCES --- the story of how a rape accusation threatens to shatter the bond between two families --- and is now re-releasing it because the issues are so timely. In this interview with The Book Report Network's Megan Elliott, Woods discusses what led her to write about such a difficult subject, the unfortunate reason she was able to empathize with victims of abuse, and why she remains so interested in and moved by female friendship.

The Book Report Network: MENDING FENCES was first published almost a decade ago, but it deals with an issue that feels very timely --- namely, sexual assault on campus. What drew you to this topic, and why did you feel it was an important story to tell?

Sherryl Woods: Over the years and the more than 140 books I've written, I've tried to write at least the occasional story that deals with an issue that is critical to women. I want to show women who've dealt with something incredibly difficult and personal, and not just survived but thrived. Date rape has been in the news a lot in recent years, but at the time I wrote MENDING FENCES, too many women were not speaking up. I wanted to give them a voice, especially young women who are just learning that they have a right to say no, even when they know the man involved.

TBRN: Your novel tackles a difficult subject, but it also has a lot of humor and romance. Was it a challenge to balance the more serious aspects of the story with the more lighthearted elements?

SW: That is always very, very tricky for me. I like to live in a positive world and to deal with even the most difficult situations with some humor. If we can't laugh at ourselves or find the lighter side of life, no matter what, it's way too easy to sink into a very dark place. I try very hard to put that balance into a story like this without suggesting that there's anything the least bit amusing about what the characters are going through.

TBRN: I was struck by your sensitive portrayal of one of Evan’s victims and her struggle with whether or not to come forward and share the story of her assault. Did you do any research into the psychology of rape victims before writing this novel in order to get that part of the story right? How do you think things have changed in the last decade?

SW: I always do a fair amount of reading when dealing with a topic like this. I once worked at a major medical center that had an excellent rape treatment center, so I was able to get some background there. And, unfortunately, I'd been in some situations in my own life that probably came very close to qualifying as date rape. I was young and naïve, and it was a topic no one discussed. I blamed myself for choosing unwisely or getting into situations I should have avoided. I knew, to some degree, exactly how these victims felt.

TBRN: The complicated and sometimes fraught relationship parents have with their children is also a major theme in your book. Was that a subject you initially set out to explore, or did you stumble into it as you were writing?

SW: Books always evolve for me from the topic I want to explore initially to developing subtexts I'd never imagined. I do deal with generational issues in lots of my books, so it seemed to flow naturally in this story. MENDING FENCES is a book I've often recommended that moms read and share and discuss with their daughters for just that reason --- to open a difficult dialogue.

TBRN: Female friendship, both the one between Emily and Marcie and that of their daughters, Dani and Caitlyn, is another theme in MENDING FENCES, as it has been in many of your other novels. What is it about relationships between women that you find so fascinating?

SW: I've been blessed through the years with very strong and lasting friendships with women I've known as far back as childhood and college. Though we live in different cities and don't get together often, there's no better support system as we move through life's crises, nor a better cheerleading squad for our successes. Let's face it, women and men --- and I do have a lot of male friends in my life, as well --- think very differently. I think it's critical to have those female friends who can identify with what we're going through or who are willing to discuss our feelings in ways that make a lot of men want to scream and run for the hills.

TBRN: On your website, you mention that MENDING FENCES was one of the “most complex books” you’ve ever written. Can you elaborate on that?

SW: I was referring to the topic and the complex dynamics between these two families who are torn apart by the discovery of the date rape. Add in the relationship issues between the couples, and there was a lot going on in the story.

TBRN: I loved all the descriptions of Marcie’s cooking in this book. I kept hoping a generous neighbor would show up with a plate of fresh-baked brownies as I was reading, which sadly didn’t happen. Do you like to cook or bake, and if so, do you have a favorite recipe to prepare?

SW: I cook a lot of ethnic food for company, from arroz con pollo to a cross between enchiladas and burritos or my own improvised pasta. I bake from time to time, but only when someone is coming over, so I can send whatever I bake right back out the door.

TBRN: Your Chesapeake Shores series has been turned into a TV series for Hallmark Channel, and MENDING FENCES seems like it would make a great movie. Is there any chance of that happening, and if it did, who would you like to see play the two female leads?

SW: We're exploring that possibility now, but these things rarely come together overnight. And though I think they got the casting for "Chesapeake Shores" exactly right, I don't have a preconceived notion for Marcie or Emily.

TBRN: With more than 100 titles to your name, you’re an incredibly prolific author. How do you keep generating fresh ideas for your books?

SW: As a former journalist, I see stories everywhere. Any conversation has the potential to give me some nuggets of information that can trigger my imagination.

TBRN: Marcie likes cozy mysteries, and Emily is a high school English teacher who enjoys reading classics, though she also has a stack of romance novels hidden on her nightstand. Does your characters’ taste in literature mirror your own? What’s on your bedside table right now?

SW: I haven't read the classics since I was forced to in school years ago, but I do love both mysteries and romance. I'm reading the latest Louise Penny mystery right now and just finished books by Kristan Higgins, Karen White, Robyn Carr, Wendy Wax and LuAnn McLane.

TBRN: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

SW: I've actually been working on an oral history project for my small beach town in Virginia. It's become a bit of a passion project for me. That may turn into a book. And there are some other things I've been thinking about. I'd taken some time off to focus on the "Chesapeake Shores" TV project, so I'm just starting to think ahead now. Stay tuned...