Sheryl Lister Talks About her Writing Journey to Harlequin Kimani!

sheryl Lister - photoJust To Be With You, Sheryl Lister‘s debut Kimani, isn’t out until August, but we’re already thrilled with the enthusiasm, energy and sheer excitement she brings to the line! It’s been a long journey to publication, but we’re delighted to have her 

A Daughter’s Journey…

Many people ask if I just woke up one morning and decide to write? The answer is no. I’ve always loved reading and writing. As a child, rather than watching TV, I’d be curled up somewhere with a book or a notebook and pencil. The first real story I wrote was for an English assignment in seventh grade (a romance, of course). I was SO proud. I turned in my paper and waited with glee for my teacher to grade it. When she returned it two days later, there it was…a big, fat F staring me in the face, along with the threat of expulsion for plagiarism. She couldn’t believe a twelve-year-old could create such a story, but my mom was more than happy to straighten her out. Once the teacher realized she was wrong, she apologized, and actually praised the writing, which gave me confidence that I could create a good story.

As an adult, I continued to write stories, sharing them only with my mother, who kept encouraging me to write. When Arabesque books were released in the 1990’s (which was later sold to Harlequin), I thought, “Gold mine!!” I was excited to see romances featuring people of color, although I can’t say the same for my wallet. The desire to write grew stronger, but so did my life responsibilities—marriage, job, children. So I pushed writing to the background again.

I never stopped reading, but I didn’t begin writing again until 2009, when my mother passed away. Her death made me realize that life is too short for regrets. On a much-needed vacation a month after her passing, I grabbed a spiral bound notebook and pen and started writing the story that had been in my head for years. But once the vacation ended, I shoved the notebook in my backpack and went back to real life. It wasn’t until a year later, when I had to go in for back surgery, that I found the notebook again. I had forgotten about the story. While recovering, that notebook taunted me every time I got out of bed. Once the pain decreased, my sleep was interrupted for three nights straight with scenes from the story. Needless to say, I started writing again and finished the first draft in three weeks! It still needs more editing, but writing ‘the end’ unlocked all the stories that I’d pushed aside. From that moment, I became serious about writing and started learning everything I could about the craft. I joined RWA, bought books, read blogs and articles, and took a couple of online workshops. I also entered writing contests, and the feedback I received help strengthen my writing.

I found out about the opportunity to pitch during Camp Gonnabe last year two days before the deadline to sign up. I toyed with entering for another day and my husband said, “Quit stalling and sign up!” I pitched to Harlequin Kimani editor Rachel Burkot, and she requested the full manuscript. I thought nothing could top that until, one month later, I heard a message on my answering machine from Rachel asking me to call back. I took a deep breath and returned the call. She wanted to make an offer. I stopped breathing for a minute then babbled something incoherently that sounded like “thankyouI’msoexcitedIcan’tbelieveitbreathebreathethankyou.” She was very patient and asked if I had questions. I told her yes, but I couldn’t think of one at that moment. She sent me a detailed email the next day and answered my many questions. The last few months have been nothing short of amazing, especially working with Rachel. Whenever I email her, the response is quick, and she always makes time to talk to me on the phone to walk me through this new, and sometimes scary, process.

Sheryl Lister - Just to Be With You

The best thing for me is I feel like I’ve come full circle. Harlequin Romances were the first romance novels I snuck—oops, I mean borrowed—from my mother. She loved these books. Now I’m a Harlequin author. How cool is that? I only wish my mom were still here. She listened to my stories, always encouraged me and kept saying, “You need to write that book.” I can now say, “Mom, I wrote that book!”

So, my advice for aspiring writers:

  1. If you wait for the perfect time to start writing, you’ll never do it. Don’t wait!
  2. Read extensively in the line you want to write for.
  3. Learn everything about the craft of writing…and KEEP learning.
  4. Don’t think about writing, don’t dream about writing and don’t talk about writing… write.
  5. When you’re ready to submit, carefully read the guidelines and make sure your manuscript is the right fit for whichever line you’re targeting.

I think this quote from Larry Lovan sums it up best: “If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a good writer, learn the craft and the art of writing. If you want to be a published writer, don’t give up.”

Thanks again, Rachel and the Harlequin Kimani Team!


Thank you, Sheryl, for sharing that emotional journey. Although you’ll have to wait until August 2014 for JUST TO BE WITH YOU, in the meantime you can find more from Sheryl at her website, on Twitter @1Slynne, or on Facebook. And check out Harlequin Kimani’s guidelines or follow @Rachel_Burkot and #HarlequinKimani