Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Mary Helen Sheriff about her career, what inspires her, the writing of her new book; Boop And Eve’s Road Trip.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Professionally, I’m an author, a book influencer, a marketer, a community builder, a literacy advocate, a teacher, and an entrepreneur.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Even as a kid I played with creative writing. Serious aspirations came along 22 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-two years…it’s been a long road.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
What made you want to write Boop And Eve’s Road Trip?
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.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Boop And Eve’s Road Trip?
Fun answer: Two-thirds of the way through my first draft, I spilled a glass of wine on my keyboard. The computer was fine except for the “e” key which no longer worked. My computer wasn’t quite old enough that I felt justified buying a new computer. By making a hotkey and using cut and paste, I wrote the final third of my novel without an e key.
Serious answer: Since this book was inspired by my grandmother, I worried about how my family would react to her portrayal. Boop is not my grandmother. She is a fictional character who shares some commonalities with my grandma (i.e., that she put her child with Down syndrome in an institution).
I worried that my family would feel like I’d revealed too much, or conversely taken too many fictional liberties, or painted her too negatively, or painted her too positively. In the end, I had to keep reminding myself that Boop is her own character. While my family undoubtedly will bring my grandma to their reading, I hoped they will feel like I’ve done justice to her spirit without sweating the details. My mom’s supportive reading helped allay some of these fears. I guess the verdict is still out on the rest of the family’s reaction.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Eve’s mom Justine is the primary antagonist.
When I started writing Boop and Eve’s Road Trip, my children were four and six. At that time, two parenting philosophies were butting heads–helicopter parenting and free-range parenting. Helicopter parents saw their role as constructing a physically and emotionally sound world for their children. Free-range parents prioritized independence and the resilience and problem-solving skills that resulted. Like most issues, the debate forced a false dichotomy, but still, I wanted to parent my children “correctly” and spent a great deal of time thinking about this issue.
Justine and Boop’s parenting styles manifested as extreme versions of both of these parenting philosophies gone wrong. Boop could be considered the ultimate free-range parent as she didn’t do much parenting at all. In her case, it wasn’t so much a philosophical parenting decision, but a mental health one.
Justine grows up to resent her mother’s lack of support and to feel that she didn’t meet her potential as a result of the neglect. In a direct attempt to counter Boop’s failure, Justine becomes the ultimate helicopter parent. Unfortunately, when Eve goes to college she lacks the experience and confidence to face even the smallest setbacks.
What is the inciting incident of Boop And Eve’s Road Trip?
Eve’s cousin Ally sends her a cryptic message which says she’s hiding out and asks Eve to cover for her with the family. Eve thinks Ally is hiding at the family beach house and wants to find her so she can help with whatever has Ally running scared.
However, Eve doesn’t have a car, so she asks to borrow Boop’s car. Boop agrees on the condition that she gets to come along for the road trip and that they stop by and visit her sister in Savannah along the way.
What is the main conflict of Boop And Eve’s Road Trip?
At its core, the novel is about self-actualization, both Eve and Boop’s and so it is their inner conflict that drives the novel. Eve needs to learn to live the life she wants instead of the life her mother envisions for her. Boop needs to reconcile with failures and losses from her past. She needs to own who she was in order to understand who she is.
Did you plot Boop And Eve’s Road Trip in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m a plotter.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Boop And Eve’s Road Trip need?
I had a critique group and beta readers (several of whom are professional writers). I didn’t get a developmental edit from a professional editor, but I did get a line edit and copy edit from professionals.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Connect with the writing community. By their very nature, writers tend to be smart and generous. No matter the stage of your journey, the support of other writers will be invaluable. It can be especially helpful to connect with writers in the same genre.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on a young adult dystopian novel set in a plague-ridden future about a young woman who lives in a metaverse and falls in love with a religious zealot.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I wrote the best book I could, followed the best advice I found, invested in expertise where I needed to, learned an incredible amount, connected with a community of amazing writers and readers, worked my tail off, and built a strong foundation for an emerging career. No regrets.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Link to buy
Facebook Group @bookish.road.trip
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!