Have you ever wanted to take a drive with a beloved family member but life prevented it? My guest today has used her imagination to create the road trip that never was. Please help me welcome Mary Helen Sheriff to the interview hot seat! Let’s take a look at her background and then find out more about the inspiration for her writing.
Mary Helen Sheriff is the author of southern women’s fiction, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip, and a co-founder of Bookish Road Trip. After 14 years in classrooms teaching elementary school, middle school, college, and professionals, Mary has taken a break from the classroom to focus on writing. She has an MFA from Hollins University, an MA from ODU, and a BA from UVA. She lives in Henrico County with her two children, two cats, and one husband.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Mary Helen: 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.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Mary Helen: I honed my writing skills for about five years before any of my work found a home. The first pieces I published were short stories and poems. It was twenty-two years before I published my debut novel. In between I earned an MFA from Hollins University and completed three other unpublished novels.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Mary Helen: Han Nolan pushed me not to shy away from conflict. Hillary Homzie nourished the storyteller in me. Alexandria LaFaye taught me the value of double duty details. Michael Neff forced me to leave my artistic bubble and consider the marketplace.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Mary Helen: My early efforts were in writing middle grade and young adult books. In fact, I went to Hollins University and earned an MFA in Children’s Literature. Boop and Eve’s Road Trip actually started as a young adult novel, but over time Boop (the eighty-year-old grandma) evolved from a sidekick to a dual protagonist, and young adult novels don’t have half the narrative from the point of view of a grandmother. The coming-of-age elements common to young adult books are still present in the final version of Boop and Eve’s Road Trip, but once I left the young adult category I was able to incorporate more adult themes.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Mary Helen: 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.
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 together the broken threads of her life in order to search for her.
When Eve’s grandmother, Boop, a retiree dripping with Southern charm, finds out about the trip, she―desperate to see her sister, and also hoping to alleviate Eve’s growing depression―hijacks her granddaughter’s road trip. Boop knows from experience that healing Eve will require more than flirting lessons and a Garlic Festival makeover. Nevertheless, Boop is frustrated when her feeble efforts yield the same failure that her sulfur-laced sip from the Fountain of Youth wrought on her age. She knows that sharing the secret that’s haunted her for sixty years might be the one thing that will lessen Eve’s growing depression―but she also fears that if she reveals it, she’ll lose her family and her own hard-won happiness.
Boop and Eve’s journey through the heart of Dixie is an unforgettable love story between a grandmother and her granddaughter.
Justine, looking as though she’d just stepped out of a Vineyard Vines catalog, held up a neon orange flamingo birdhouse. It’d been a housewarming gift from her neighbor, Shirley, who, bless her heart, had a hole in her bag of marbles. Like Shirley herself, the birdhouse plucked Boop’s nerves. The house, nestled in the bird’s body, was perched atop one of the flamingo’s legs and toppled over every time the door opened. She’d had to glue it back on half a dozen times. Boop held onto the klutzy mis-colored flamingo though—a reminder that she’d once toppled over every time the door opened too. Wouldn’t do to forget where she came from.
“These birdhouses make you seem like a crazy old lady. Your condo’s more like a gardening store than a home.” Justine’s coiffed perfection underscored the flamingo’s ridiculousness.
“Honey, I am a crazy old lady. Don’t make no difference to me what people think.” Boop’s eyes swept her collection—all forty-three birdhouses.
Thankfully, Justine let it go at that. Maybe she chalked up Boop’s strange fetish to the three pet birds she’d lost in as many months. Only it wasn’t the birds. None of them had lasted more than ten days; hardly enough time to get attached. No, it was the emptiness that Boop sought to fill, but Justine wouldn’t know about that. No one did.
I love to drive and have taken family on road trips before, not all of them fun and entertaining like this one sounds like! Thanks for sharing your inspiration and giving us a peek at your story, Mary!
Thanks for reading!
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