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The Long Journey Behind Boop and Eve’s Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff on The Table Read

Written by Mary Helen Sheriff

In 2013, I met eighty-year-old Boop and her college freshman granddaughter Eve in the pages of my journal.

Finding My Characters In My Life

The character of Boop was inspired by my late grandmother Hootie. Like Boop, Hootie grew up in a small Virginia town, collected birdhouses, loved to garden, called her car The Gray Ghost, and clipped recipes from Southern Living that she never cooked. More importantly, without giving away too much, Boop and my grandmother made a decision that was culturally encouraged at the time but resulted in a lifetime of regret. 

For Eve’s character, I tapped into my experience with depression and explored the interplay between creativity and mental health. The act of creating makes an artist more vulnerable to depression, depression can block creativity, and blocked creativity can cause depression, but at the same time creating can be a tool for expression and finding balance. I knew I wanted Eve to be an artist. It was my four-year-old daughter who convinced me to make her a fashion designer.

Mother Daughter Relationships

At the time, my daughter was passionate about fashion design and wanted me to sew her designs. Given that I didn’t even know how to work a sewing machine, this was a big ask. Making Eve an aspiring fashion designer seemed like the perfect way to merge my desire to support my daughter’s dreams and write my novel. I ended up taking a few sewing classes and watching Project Runway with her, though I never did gain enough skills to bring my daughter’s designs to life.

The third character to appear in my journal was Eve’s mother (Boop’s daughter) Justine. At that time, two parenting philosophies were butting heads–helicopter 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 grew up resenting her mother’s lack of support and blaming Boop’s neglect for her lack of success. In a direct attempt to counter Boop’s failure, Justine becomes the ultimate helicopter parent. Unfortunately, this means that when Eve goes to college she lacks the experience and confidence to face even the smallest setbacks.

The #1 Writing Tool

Researching Road Trips

Once I had the main characters sketched, I moved on to research which included road trips to Savannah and St. Augustine to better flesh out those locales. The Savannah scenes revolve around shopping on Broughton St., and the St. Augustine scene is set at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. Writing a book makes an awesome excuse to travel.

The Long Journey Behind Boop and Eve’s Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff on The Table Read

The most fascinating research I did was into the institution that housed my uncle in the 1950s. I was able to find parent newsletters from his time there in the Library of Virginia which described family carnivals and field trips. Then I drove to the institution and visited its museum where I learned about the institution’s immensely fascinating history.

Writing Boop and Eve’s Road Trip

Once the research was done (at least preliminarily), I worked through the first draft, which took about two years, with a critique group. Then after a slew of agent rejections, I attended the Algonkian Writer’s Retreat where I learned from a handful of industry professionals that I had broken not one, but three unwritten rules. This was a crushing blow and left me faced with giving up on this novel or a massive rewrite.

The pull of Boop and Eve’s story was too strong. I couldn’t let it go, so I put on my big girl pants and spent the next 18 months revising it from a character-driven to a more plot-driven novel, changing the point of view from first person to third, and switching the setting from the 1990’s to present day. 

At last I was ready to send it out again. I sent it to a handful of agents, who passed. At this point I decided that after decades of rejection (this my fourth manuscript), I was tired of waiting for permission from the traditional industry to publish my book. I believed in Boop and Eve, so when She Writes Press greenlit my novel, I was ready to jump on their hybrid model and invest in my dreams. In the fall of 2020 seven years after the idea sparked, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip finally debuted.

A long journey to a dream come true.

Find more from Mary Helen Sheriff:

Link to buy


Facebook @maryhelensheriff

Instagram @maryhelensheriff


Book Bub 

Facebook Group @bookish.road.trip

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