15 going on 100! (Sometimes I feel so wise! Othertimes, I feel like I will never grow up!)
Where are you from
I was born in Coudersport, PA. If the little town of Austin, PA had a hospital, I would have been born there, but it went down in the flood along with many peoples’ homes & lives. I grew up in Upstate New York, not to be confused with the Big Apple. My family is part gypsy on my mom’s side and we moved around a lot. Well, I’m glad we didn’t stay in Austin, that’s for sure! It’s mostly hunters and fishermen who own cabins there. Very few people live there year around.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
My mom has gypsy in her blood, but was brought up by her grandmother. My dad lived several years with his grandmother too, so you would think they’d be very old fashioned, but my parents were always curious to meet new people and we took a lot of road trips. I think my parents were the first of their generation to borrow money for Xmas! Because of that, I prefer a low key Winter Holiday. No debt for me at Christmas!
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I have been invited to read & sell my novel at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference. I will be part of the National University’s wing of the conference. I feel very fortunate to have been chosen as there are only five of us chosen from National University. It will have over 12,000 attendees and another 2,000 presenters! I’m glad I’ve been getting experience at smaller venues since my book came out!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s hard to say. I wrote a story that was very near and dear to me as a teen. The teacher gave it back with a big, red F on it. Also, I was collecting poems in a notebook and one day, that notebook disappeared. So, I set the idea aside for many years, but when I got to the University of New Orleans, I had some really great professors who told me I was a good writer. I started working for the student newspaper as a photographer, but soon found myself writing stories others weren’t interested in writing. The editor and assistant editor started adding their names to some of my stories. In particular, I remember they did that when I wrote about Jesse Jackson coming to New Orleans. I was discovering my passions, which helped me write some interesting articles.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
For more than 30 years, I wanted to tell the story of the Salvadoran civil war. I wrote a screenplay that was from the point of view of a Salvadoran teenage girl when I was working on my BA in Drama & Communications. I set the idea aside for many years because I was teaching so I had very little time. Then I decided to get an MFA in Creative Writing. By that time, I knew the protagonist had to be American since I am American. It wasn’t until I started writing and found myself telling each characters’ story that I realized, I had many voices that needed to be heard.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Fellow writers have talked about my journalistic/memoir style of writing. It makes sense because I write and comment a lot on political issues. The struggles of the working men & women interests me a great deal. One person said I write like Isabel Allende! That was a great compliment to me as she is my favorite writer. Before I read Allende’s work, I read everything Gabriel Garcia Marquez had written.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It was actually part of the second working title I came up with to remind ME what my story was about! When I mentioned the title to a few people, they all thought it sounded interesting and like something they would like to read. I am very happy with it.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are a lot of themes and messages. The main one being the power of love, that “Love” really does “conquer all.” There is also a message about the idea that we can choose family, that family can be whoever loves us most. In many ways it is a love story between the Salvadoran people and my protagonist. I wanted people to see how brave and loving these people, who had been dragged into a civil war not of their making, were. How they show this American woman that love and bravery are one and the same.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic ?
There is a lot of history in here. In fact, one professor told me I should move the story back one year and it could be called historical fiction. I call it historically based fiction because I would not want anyone to have repercussions because of what I wrote. All the characters alive at the end of the novel are completely fictional.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The events in this book actually happened, but the people are fictional. They are based on real people, like the main character started out as me and she eventually became her own person. I changed her background to make the story more meaningful. But all the other characters are composites, not necessarily from El Salvador either, as I knew many Central Americans and even a few South Americans.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Carolyn Forche came to New Orleans in the 80s to read from “The Country Between Us.” I even wanted to make her poem “The Colonel” a chapter in the book. I would have had to get permission from the publisher though so I decided not to use it. Meeting Rigoberta Menchu and reading her memoir had a big impact. Gioconda Belli’s memoir about aiding the Sandinistas influenced the guerrilla leader, Ana, in my novel.
The person who has influenced me most is probably my Salvadoran ex-mother-in-law. She healed me when I was sick and she sewed clothes for me and told her son to stop acting like my father. She is my second mother and I try to see her whenever I can. The character, Maria Elizabeth (Abuela) is loosely based on her.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” You can find the review on Amazon, Goodreads and on my blog.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I find myself more and more interested in the memoir. There have been so many beautifully written ones. I also enjoyed Lisa Wingate’s “The Story Keeper,” but I haven’t had a chance to buy any more of her books.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am currently working on the prequel to SLIES, called “Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans.” My protagonist goes to New Orleans to prepare for her time in El Salvador and has quite an adventure there. I may write the story of the later part of Shelly’s childhood too, so a prequel to the prequel.
Fiona: Name one cause that you supported you outside of family members.
I support a lot of causes through my social sites and signing petitions. I am very concerned with social justice and education, os course. I used to dream of being part of a literacy brigade in El Salvador, much like they had in Nicaragua. When my book takes off, I plan to donate to la Cooperativa las Marias. These are communal farms where women earn their little casitas. They are very small, cement homes, but the women and children can not be kicked out when the men get tired of them because the property belongs to the woman, not the man. I visited one of these in Usulutan and it had a very big impact on me.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, that is my hope. But mainly, I would like to have life writing workshops for young women (teens) and for seniors. A friend of mine records the stories of older men and women and it is amazing how little the families of these people know about their parents and grandparents. Many of the women, especially, once they became wives and mothers, left behind a fascinating chapter of their life.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, that is why I waited so long to get it out. I wanted to get it right because this story is so near and dear to my heart.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t HAVE to travel, but since I love to travel, I have gone back to Upstate New York several times to have events. I have had one book event at my hometown library and two at the Lift Bridge Bookshop in Brockport, NY. I can’t wait to get this book translated into Spanish and go to El Salvador to thank those amazing people!
Fiona: Who designed the cover?
Rosanne Dingli, from Australia, designed the cover (which I love!), then also did the formatting and uploading.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I think the further into the story I am, the easier it gets. I might wake up at 4:00 in the morning because I dreamt of an ending for one of the subplots. The hardest part is when all you have is a blank page. I hired two different coaches to get me through that part on the first novel.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I was learning the entire time. I kept studying the story arc and the character arc. In the end, I think it was subconsciously in my brain so I didn’t have to worry about the 3 Act Play structure or any of that.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you have a story, get it all out before you start making changes. Some people say puke it all up on the page first. You can’t do revisions until you know how your story ends. Once you know that, you can go back to the beginning and see what needs to go and what needs to be added.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I am trying to laugh more! I was a very serious child and when I got involved in trying to stop the wars in Central America, I cried a lot for people who died. I cried for other people so they didn’t have to. It was kinda crazy! Now, I watch Frazier with my husband to get a good laugh and my hubby makes me laugh sometimes when I get upset. I feel like I am just now being a child in many ways. I don’t know why I was so darn serious! No one else in my family is like that!
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
Roque Dalton, the revolutionary poet from El Salvador. Part of the reason my protagonist goes to El Salvador is to find out if she is related to him. Once I started devouring his poetry and the biography he wrote, I just had to put him in the story!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
She lived, she loved, she laughed! (I think I explained this above.)
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Gardening, traveling, going out to hear live music. (Did I mention my husband is a musician? – He made the video for my novel (below) & wrote the song.)
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
For years, I watched “MASH” over and over. I don’t think it’s on any more, but if they ever put the shows back on, I will watch them again. They made me laugh and cry and feel I’m alive. They probably influenced my novel too.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I love Salvadoran food! We have a wonderful restaurant here in San Diego & I take anyone who will go with me to it. My favorite color is blue which is good as that is the color of the throat chakra = speaking my truth. But a few years ago, I added a lot of red for the root chakra = being grounded. That did wonders for helping me find my husband and settle into our beautiful home. Now I love splashes of red in the house. My music likes are varied from Reggae to Rock ‘n Roll to Jazz to Alternative. I like music that changes the world. My favorite song? “Imagine” by John Lennon.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I was a teacher for many years. I would like to help people write but do not want to grade them on it. I want them to “Write to Heal” like I did.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
An article about Sherrie Miranda and her debut novel:
An article about the writer’s group Sherrie Miranda started: