September 5, 1999

Romance in writing
Author draws from life experiences

photo - Sherryl Woods
Davis Turner | The Free Lance-Star

Sherryl Woods, a Colonial Beach resident and owner of the Potomac Sunrise Bookshop, weaves events and people from her everyday life into her stories.

The Free Lance-Star

SHERRYL WOODS has never been married, but that doesn’t mean she knows nothing about romance.

“I’ve had some experience,” Woods, the author of 57 romance novels, said with a reminiscent smile.

Woods is also the author of 13 mystery novels, but those she writes without the benefit of personal experience.

Romance novel No. 58, “After Tex,” will be released Sept. 15 by Mira Books, and Woods will have a book signing at her own bookshop, Potomac Sunrise in Colonial Beach, on Sept. 25. She’ll also have a signing Oct. 8 at Borders in Fredericksburg’s Central Park.

Woods, who lives in Colonial Beach nine months a year, started her work-ing life as a journalist in Ohio and Florida.

“Journalism is good for a writer because it teaches you to write dialogue. You listen for quotes,” she said.

Her last newspaper job was covering television for the Miami News. She left the newspaper business in 1980 because she wanted to write books. She chose romance because that was what she read, and she loved it.

While her newspaper background helped her, she found she had to think differently as a novelist.

“Fiction writing is hard for a journalist. You sit down, you have no notes. There are no interviews, no quotes. Genre romance is a manageable way to learn to write fiction.”

She added mysteries to her writing schedule in 1989, again because she loves reading them.

Woods writes the kind of books she likes to read, fast-paced with lots of fun.

“I want to be entertained. I like the fun of it,” Woods said.

Romances and mysteries have been stigmatized as lacking depth, but Woods said they don’t have to be fluff.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t explore serious problems like abuse, child abuse, all sorts of interesting topics related to women, without preaching,” she said.

Many of her books are set in Florida, where Woods was living when she started her book-writing career.

“Amazing Gracie,” published last year, was set in Colonial Beach.

Woods has been coming to the Potomac River town since her family bought a vacation home there when she was 4. Her parents retired to the beach in the late 1960s, and she began spending several months of the year there seven years ago.

In “Amazing Gracie,” she said, “The characters live in a fictional town, so I could create my own universe. But they come to Colonial Beach, and everything here is real.”

A number of her novels are set in the West, where Woods has never lived.

“That’s why they call it fiction,” Woods said with a chuckle. “I have been through the Dallas airport.”

Woods does do research for her books, but since they are character-driven, she said, she doesn’t need much background.

“The down-and-dirty details of running a cattle ranch, they’re not there,” she said.

She also doesn’t spend much time on the physical description of her characters.

“I want every reader to be able to think that this is them,” she said. “So, less is more.”

Woods writes four or five books a year. She has no trouble running her bookshop and finding time for writing, she said.

She works at the bookshop from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The other days she has someone else run the place.

“I try to write five days a week, Monday through Friday. I’m usually on the computer no later than 7 [a.m.]. I can get something done before I come to the shop on Fridays.”

Most days she finishes writing by 11 a.m. or noon. She sets herself a number of pages to do each day so she won’t get behind.

She can complete a Silhouette-type romance in six weeks or so. That time includes developing the proposal, writing, rewriting and then revising the proofs. A bigger book, like “Amazing Gracie,” will take her three months.

Writing for Woods is a creative, imaginative process that doesn’t involve a lot of analysis or plot outlines, she said.

Her romance editors always want a synopsis of the complete book from start to finish, which she finds hard to do.

The mystery editors want only the first chapter, which allows her a lot more creative latitude.

“Sometimes amazing things happen,” she said.

She laughingly told of writing “Stolen Moments.”

“I thought I knew who did it, but when I got to writing the last scene, it wasn’t him.”

Not knowing how her books are going to turn out doesn’t bother her.

“I always figure that if I’m sitting at the computer having an adventure, then my readers will have an adventure. If I’m bored, then they’ll be bored.”

The only downside to this style of writing, she said, is that she has to be careful about going back and checking for consistency. In her surprise-ending mystery, she reviewed meticulously to make sure she’d laid enough groundwork to make the ending plausible.

In one of her latest books the actress heroine’s career is limited by her inability to sing. However, Woods said, later in the story the hero and heroine were singing together.

“I had to figure out which was more like the character,” Woods said.

Woods opened her bookshop in the spring of 1996. She had been spending more time in Colonial Beach as her father got older, and she had always wanted to have a little bookshop somewhere.

She considered opening a shop in Florida, but the costs were prohibitive, especially with the national chains moving in.

She now lives in Colonial Beach from the end of March to just after Christmas, then winters in Key Biscayne, Fla.

She said she really discounts her bookstore’s prices in December so her customers can stock up.

“Then I don’t feel so guilty about closing the store,” she said.

When she opened the shop, she said, she had anticipated that business would die down in October after the tourists leave, but the pre-Christmas buying season makes it worthwhile to stay open through December.

The small shop is cozy, tucked into the former kitchen and dining area of a neat white frame house on Washington Avenue, facing the Potomac River. The front room is an antiques shop run by Mary Warring, who helps out in the bookshop on days when Woods is writing.

In one book-lined nook there are white wicker chairs with brightly flowered cushions customers can curl up in. Artwork from Florida hangs on the walls with discreet price tags in the corners. Beanie Babies, also for sale, spill over the edges of other shelves next to the books.

The shop carries a little bit of everything in the book line, fiction and nonfiction, used and new, best-sellers, romance, mysteries, cookbooks, kids’ books, and books on antiques and gardening.

Woods said the shop provides a necessary balance to the isolation of writing.

“When you have a shop like this it puts you in touch, not only with people, but with readers,” the author said.

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