Bold & Strong: Coffee Chat with Author Mary Helen Sheriff

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Have you packed your bags?

This month we are chatting with Mary Helen Sheriff about her debut novel, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip. Available at your favorite retailer on October 6, the novel has already been gaining momentum with reviewers. Boop and Eve’s Road Trip was recently named to Buzzfeed’s 12 Most Anticipated Books of Fall list and it received a 2020 American Fiction Award in the Coming of Age category! So exciting!

Pour some coffee in your to-go cup, and let’s chat with Mary about her inspiration for the novel, writing advice, and the importance of seeking treatment for mental illness. Maybe Boop will put in her two cents on occasion, also!

Me: Can you tell us what your novel is about?

Mary: Eve Prince is done with college, with her mom, with guys, and with her dream of fashion design.  But when her best friend goes MIA, Eve must gather the broken threads of her life to search for her.

Desperate to visit her sister, Boop, a retiree dripping with Southern charm, hijacks her granddaughter Eve’s road trip.

Along the way, Boop hopes to alleviate Eve’s growing depression—which, she knows from experience, will require more than flirting lessons and a Garlic Festival makeover. Nevertheless, she is frustrated when her feeble efforts yield the same failures that the sulfur-laced sip from the Fountain of Youth wrought on her age.

The one thing that might help is a secret that’s haunted Boop for sixty year. But in revealing it, Boop would risk losing her family and her own hard-won happiness.

Their journey through the heart of Dixie is an unforgettable love story between a grandmother and her granddaughter.

 

Me: Is there a coffee stop on Boop & Eve’s Road Trip? What might they order?

Mary: They have coffee twice in the book. 

Boop: I drink my coffee the way nature intended, black. Eve, though, bless her heart, drinks hers with milk and enough sugar to fill a Pixy Stick.

 

Me: Describe your coffee habit.

Mary: I have one or two cups a day with a splash of milk. When I go to coffee shops, I like to splurge on fancy flavored concoctions.

 

Me: Can you give us additional hints about the novel’s setting? Any fun pit stops?

Boop:  We hit the road from Eve’s college on the Gulf coast of Florida. Then we swing through St. Augustine, FL, Savannah, GA, Sunset Beach, NC, and end up in Richmond, VA. We take a few pitstops along the way.

 

Me: What was your inspiration for the novel?

Mary: My grandma Hootie passed away when I was pregnant with my first child. She lived a difficult life and made some significant mistakes, but the lady I knew was this amazing, loving grandma. I couldn’t help wishing she were still around when I was sitting in a dark place, and then I thought maybe she can be there for Eve.  Enter the character of Boop.

After having babies, I struggled with postpartum depression. Part of my healing process was writing this book and attempting to capture what it feels like to sit in a dark place and to feel like you hadn’t earned the right to sit there. I think as a society we are empathetic when depression meets grief but bewildered by depression that we can’t explain.  Eve was born from my journey from depression to recovery.

Like Eve and Boop in the novel, Hootie and I shared a daydream about renting an RV when I turned sixteen years old and taking a road trip together across the country. For many reasons this road trip never happened in real life—in large part because neither of us was capable of safely driving an RV across the country. Writing Boop and Eve’s Road Trip was a way for me to imagine the road trip that never was.

 

Me: What do you and Eve have in common?

Mary: We’re both creative types that don’t deal well when we lose our creative outlet. Also, Eve’s tendency to beat herself up, is a reflection of my own dark side. That irrational and negative voice is real in so many people’s minds, but it certainly isn’t something most of us want to admit to. It’s hard to silence a voice that we pretend doesn’t exist.

 

Me: What are three objects that are significant to your novel? 

Boop: birdhouses

Eve: Heathcliff

Mary: a mailbox

 

Me: What is it that Boop wants more than anything? What about Eve?

Boop: To come to terms with my past.

Eve:  To find the courage to follow my own path.

 

Me: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Mary: Even as a kid I played with creative writing. Serious aspirations came along 21 years ago when I was in graduate school for teaching. In my Teaching Middle School Social Studies class, the professor suggested a geography project for our students and asked us to complete the project so we’d have a sample to show our students when we assigned it.  Somehow my sample became a novella.  The professor loved it and suggested I get it published and a dream was born.  Twenty one years…it’s been a long road.

 

Me: Do you have a regular writing routine? 

Mary: It depends.  When my life has regularity, I do create patterns that maximize it. They adapt to my family’s rhythms. The pandemic threw regularity out the window since now the entire family is working and schooling from home. Now I do what I can when I can.  

 

Me: What is the most useful piece of writing advice you have ever received?

Mary: We use different parts of our brain when we type and when we write by hand.  I usually begin writing a scene by hand and then move to the computer once I’ve gotten going. Then I move back to paper if I get stuck. Going back and forth between the two helps grease my creativity wheels.

Me: What would you like readers to know about depression? About mental health in general?

Mary: One in six people will experience depression at some point in their lives, but as a society we don’t act like it’s that pervasive. Depression isn’t a character weakness, it’s a chemical imbalance. In most cases, doctors have effective treatments that can greatly improve quality of life for those suffering from depression.  Hiding it is an ineffective treatment that hurts the people who love you and can have long term consequences. Please see a doctor if you think you might be suffering depression.  

BoopThis world we live in ain’t real sympathetic ’bout mental illnesses….Seems to me we’d all be a little less nuts if we spent our energy dealing with our crazy instead of hiding it.

 

Buy a copy of Boop & Eve here, and sign up for Mary’s newsletter at her website. Connect with Mary at the links below!

 

https://maryhelensheriff.com

Facebook @maryhelensheriff

Instagram @maryhelensheriff

Twitter @maryhsheriff

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/maryhelensheriff/

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/maryhelensheriff/

 

 

***Purchase your copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.

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