Sherrie Fernandez-Williams holds an MFA in writing from Hamline University and is a recipient of an Artist Initiative Award through the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Beyond the Pure Fellowship & SASE/Jerome Award through Intermedia Arts and the Jones’ Commission Award through the Playwrights’ Center. Fernandez-Williams discovered her need for words in Brooklyn, NY where she was born and raised, but “grew up” as a writer in the Twin Cities.
Her work has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including The Poverty and Education Reader, Segue, Subtle Tea, R-CVR-Y and Thirteenth Moon. Sherrie graciously agreed to do an online interview with me, keeping it as intelligent and authentic as she would have done in person.
DB: I read your memoir, Soft, and immediately fell in love. Aside from the emotional work of writing, what was the hardest part of writing the book?
SFW: Without a doubt, finding the structure was the hardest part of writing Soft. The story is circular and non-chronological which seems to be the preferred style for publishers of memoir. At the same time, I still needed to construct a narrative arc. I received two pieces of advice which made all the difference in helping me see my structure. I will always be grateful to Carolyn Holbrook and Barrie Borich for helping me create a structure for my memoir. In one revision, Barrie said I needed “forward moving voice of now” throughout my non-chronological narration. In the next revision, Carolyn said I needed a home-base to serve as my jumping off point and a place to return as I meander through flashbacks and reflections. The goal was to guide the reader through the wilderness of time and implementing both of these pieces of advice really helped.
DB: Having people to steer you in the right direction when writing is always an asset. I definitely agree with your opinion of Carolyn. She’s monumental.
SFW: It truly is. And yes, she has been just that – both personally and as a writing mentor.
DB: I’m curious as to how long it took you to write your memoir, especially dealing with all the heavy subject matter it contains.
SFW: I hear of people completing a novel in month—at least, a full first draft of a book. My first book took over a decade. I wrote the book while working fulltime, attending school, raising children, going through divorce and many other life transformations. A challenging aspect of writing memoir is that our lives tend to be in flux much of the time, so where does the story end? I tried to capture and incorporate the latest insight or the most recent lessons learned, but at some point, I made the decision that time stopped in 2008, although I was still working on the book in 2013.
DB: What would you say is your “interesting” writing quirk?
SFW: I try not to make any declarations like “today, I will write.” Those words are too heavy and carry too much pressure. Instead, I am intentional about creating space for writing. I open my laptop to the file I’m working in and walk away, do something else until I receive the words. My defenses need to be down in order to write from my life experiences. I need to be as relaxed as possible. Sometimes it even helps if I am a little sleepy. When my defenses are down I am more likely to be honest and not censor myself. People have called me brave for writing Soft. I don’t feel brave. It reminds me of the first time I cut my hair to be a quarter of an inch long. Some said I was brave when I cut my hair. I suppose people think it is brave when we come out of hiding and step out of our self-protective shells. However, there is a great relief that follows.
DB: I can see why writing it would be perceived as brave, but I think it’s a necessary process for becoming your ‘true’ and authentic self. As for the hair, I’m not sure if the decision to be fabulous makes you brave.
Stay tuned for Part Two on Wednesday, April 22.
Meet the blogger:
Deziree Brown is a 2015 BFA graduate of Hamline University. She often claims to have been born with a poem written across her chest. She has been published twice in The Fulcrum, and is quickly making herself known in the literary world and planning to stay a while.