It’s time for our author interview. This week we feature Leslie Sherrod, author of Man of My Schemes.
About the Book
Having a fake boyfriend comes with a real price. It started with her co-workers and then spread to her sister-friends at church: the “must-have-a-man-marriage-baby-family-right-now-because-you’re-not-getting-any-younger” fever. Tired of the merciless prying and invasive questions about her lack of a love life, thirty-four-year-old Berry Jenkins comes up with an elaborate plan to convince everyone she has finally landed the man of her dreams – she fakes it. However, her foolproof conspiracy to pretend she’s met the perfect beau turns out to be proof of foolishness as her scheme of a made-up relationship spirals out of control. Only a miracle will save Berry from her fairytale fantasy turned nightmare reality, which only worsens as her web of lies begins to unravel. Facing exposure, Berry fears that the trap she’s created for herself is too messy, too tangled – and maybe even too deadly – for her chance at love to survive.
About Leslie Sherrod
Leslie J. Sherrod, MSW, LCSW-C, LICSW, is the author of seven faith-based novels that speak to the hopes and dreams of diverse women. The recipient of the SORMAG Readers Choice Award for Christian Author of the Year (2012), Leslie has a Masters in Social Work which has allowed her to be a therapist and service provider for preschoolers, pregnant women, teens, seniors, and church folk, among other clientele. Her work has been featured in Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library Writers LIVE! Series, as well as on local CBS and NBC television affiliates. She has been a guest on both national and regional radio shows and podcasts, including The Mother Love Show (LA Talk Radio) and AOL’s Black Voices. Leslie has received a starred review from Booklist and has contributed to several blogs and devotionals.
Leslie lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and three children. As both a writer and a social worker, Leslie tackles matters of current social significance, including mental health and wellness, healthy relationships, and spiritual growth – with the unique backdrop of page-turning, satisfying suspense and heartwarming humor. With a talent for drawing on raw emotions and painting vivid and meaningful imagery with her pen, her books have been welcomed at book club meetings, literary events, and church groups around the country.
Terri: I am very excited that you’re joining us today to talk about Man of My Schemes. How did you get the idea for this book?
This was not a book I planned to write. The main character, Berry, showed up in my imagination as I was plotting a different story. However, Berry’s voice was so loud and distinct, the other story I was working on got washed out. She demanded attention for her plight, and I gave in. I could hear Berry’s sense of humor, her annoyance with everyone’s concern with her love life, and her willingness to go to outrageous lengths to maintain a fake relationship. Once this character took shape in my mind, what she did and how she did it easily came together.
Terri: Characters do that sometimes. We try to resist, but they just take over. I’m glad Berry pushed her way into your mind and into print. Your other books feature strong female leads. How is Berry different?
Berry is young, and – dare I say – a little immature. She’s missing some introspection that I think comes from life experiences, lessons learned, and having good girlfriends to keep you straight! I like Berry, though, because I think there is much to learn from her about how we can let others’ perceptions control us. Once a negative thought gets planted in our heads that shapes how we see ourselves, it is not difficult for that thought to take root and bear fruit of detrimental actions. At heart, Berry has not learned to simply love and accept herself as she is, without needing a relationship to define her identity or purpose. Berry’s personal growth does come, I believe, but not before a zany wallop of a ride.
Terri: Man of My Schemes is a fun read, but in a way, it is like a single woman’s manifesto. Did you intend for the story to give single Christian women a voice through Berry?
I wanted to give voice to any woman who feels like she has to continually explain or defend her relationship status. I wanted to give voice to any woman who feels like she’s been trying her value and self-worth to societal standards of love and romance. I wanted to encourage awareness that esteem and worthiness are not dependent on who you are with or how others see you. You are special and awesome and worthy because of Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Terri: That is a great message for all women to hear. How much did the African-American church culture this culture shape your portrayal of Berry? Do you think this story would have worked in another culture?
I write out of the experience I know, and that experience includes fried chicken, green beans, potato salad, red punch, and coconut cake church dinners. It includes rousing sermons, youth choirs, and building funds; church mothers, peppermint candy, and solemn-faced deacons in Cadillacs. My experience also includes community, fellowship, encouragement, and strength; teaching, empowering, praying, and faith. Berry’s story is told in the context of the community in which she lives, moves, breathes, and has her being. While the general themes of romance and relationships could be set in any culture, the nuances of Berry’s church community help define how she experiences these themes. For example, her natural hair journey, the setting of a perfect date, even what characteristics would be valued in her imaginary boyfriend, have roots in the struggles and realities of the culture she knows.
Terri: Yes, and the story is well rooted in that culture. It adds perspective and context to the book. Berry goes through great lengths to keep up appearances. What lesson would you like to pass on to readers who are a little or a lot like Berry?
Fakeness and lies never lead to happy endings, and once a lie starts, the more complicated it gets to keep it going. We all know this. However, sometimes there’s a disconnect in knowing this and living it out as we get caught up in trying to present our lives as perfect to everyone around us. And keeping up appearances goes well beyond romantic relationship status. Look at social media where perfection abounds. We offer status updates to people who are minimally involved in our lives. If we get consumed with putting up perfection, it’s easy to get sidetracked from focusing on what matters: being genuine, so that others’ can be genuinely blessed by our presence in their lives.
Terri: That is a very timely message. Many women get caught up in keeping up with the next women not realizes their competing with someone who is not who they appear to be. Since Berry was such a fan of social media, what’s your preferred social media site and why?
I am most active on Facebook, but that’s a low key active. I post pictures that make me happy and the occasional status update. I’ve shared some honest challenges I’ve faced, offered encouragement, and, of course, given updates about my books. However, I read through my Facebook feed all the time. I bookmark articles, laugh at videos, and smile at my friends’ successes and celebrations. While I do have a couple of other social media accounts, Facebook has been the most engaging for me.
Terri: I’ve totally become more of a Facebook stalker lately. Berry travels a bit in the book. Tell me about your ideal vacation.
I love to travel, and if I can’t physically go somewhere, I will research details and let my imagination transport me there. I tend to include different cities and states – even countries – in my stories, and Berry’s story is no different. While my year does not feel complete if I do not have at least one trip to somebody’s beach, I’ve found that I most love trips that take me to cultures and experiences that are different from my own. My ideal vacation has a lot of food to sample, a cultural and/or historical feature to visit, a Groupon deal to take advantage of, and some downtime to absorb it all. And a little water to dip in never hurts! I love planning trips with my family and friends and am incredibly grateful for every single opportunity I’ve had to make a trip out of my beloved Baltimore. From kayaking on a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, to meandering through the French Quarter in New Orleans, to enjoying a food tour in South Beach, to exploring the Port Lucaya Marketplace in the Bahamas, to admiring the artwork of Venice Beach vendors in California, I’ve learned that my ideal vacation is one that connects to all my senses and leaves me feeling inspired.
Terri: Yes, water never hurts a vacation unless it’s torrential rain. What’s next for you?
Okay, big confession. After writing and having published seven novels over the past ten years, I’ve spent the last year working on…. nothing. I think I’ve needed this break to re-focus and re-energize my writing goals and dreams. I will gladly be transparent and say that this writing journey has not been the easiest. I’ve come close to quitting completely many times. I would like to be able to tell you that I am working on a new novel, or that I’ve finally started the children’s book I want to do along with my artist husband, or that I’ve finally uploaded some of my short stories onto Amazon. Truth is, I’m fervently seeking clearer direction on what to work on next. My continual prayer is that God gets the most glory from whatever gifts and talents He’s given me. I am excited about pursuing Him and am confident that I’ll have writing clarity soon. Until then, I’ll keep picking up my pen, pecking on my keyboard, practicing my writing skills, playing around with plot ideas, polishing up my dialogues…. Prayerfully waiting for the next work to take firm shape. Check back with me soon and I’ll share whatever comes out of this season. Thanks!
Terri: I understand. Everyone needs reenergizing in our lives. Well, whatever is next, I certain that God will lead you. Thank you so much for being here today.