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Sheri Joseph and the Fiction Writing Process

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For Sheri Joseph and other fiction writers, the process of writing a good novel and getting it published requires hard work and perseverance. Most writers who set out on this journey fall by the wayside; even the most gifted and talented can lose heart. Only those brave souls who are willing to work hard and stay on course inevitably get their novels published.

Someone who knows about this journey all too well is Sheri Joseph, who is an author in the new sorority of critically acclaimed southern women writers who are making their mark on the literary world. Like so many other authors, she began writing at a young age: "I was probably 6 or 7, maybe younger. I wrote fat notebooks full of stories, mostly about horses. By fourth grade my 'novels' were 40-50 pages long. In high school I completed two terrible novels of about 200 pages long."

Since her days of scribbling stories in notebooks as a young girl growing up in Memphis, she has attended the University of the South in Suwanee, Tennessee; and earned her Ph. D. in English from the University of Georgia in Athens. She now teaches Creative Writing at Georgia State University and was recently featured in a spread in Vanity Fair magazine as one of the modern "Belles" of southern literature, along with other renowned southern female authors like Kathryn Stockett and Susan Rebecca White. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, and several other prestigious literary journals. She is the critically acclaimed author of Bear Me Safely Over (Grove/Atlantic 2002) and Stray (MacAdam/Cage 2007). According to Joseph, her greatly anticipated third novel, The Cloud Forest, is finished but still in the preliminary stages of production. She hopes to be able to share good news about the novel very soon.

Joseph is praised for her gutsy and fearless storytelling, which, blended with the sensuality of a poet's lyrical writing style, creates multidimensional characters and plots that seem almost too realistic to be fictional. According to Joseph, her well-crafted pages don't come as effortlessly as they may seem to her readers: "I'm lucky in that I am unbothered by throwing away thousands of pages, all those false tries that led to the true one." She also admits that she's met more naturally gifted writers than herself, but it was her hard work and perseverance that finally led her to success: "I'll say that I've taught a lot of wildly talented students who can write circles around me, but they don't have the temperament for it. They lack persistence; they lose out to slightly less talented ones who can sit in the chair and do the work. Those are the ones whose books you will eventually read."

In order to sit in the chair and do the work, as Joseph puts it, one must have a love of the craft. The author must care about the worlds and characters she creates. She says that being in the middle of a novel that works, in a fully articulated world that she has created, is one of her favorite things about writing: "It's a place I love and am always eager to get back to. You proceed with the work because you can't wait to find out what's going on today, what the characters will do next."

As an experienced traveler who has journeyed down the road of the written story for most of her life, Josephoffers several parting words of wisdom and encouragement for the travelers who have just begun their own journeys: "Read good books and use them as your teachers. Write a lot; find reliable readers to give you feedback. Tell the story you have to tell. Becoming a writer is a long learning process. Most people aren't ready to write a good novel until they have one failed novel. Keep going."

Hear Sheri Joseph talk more about the craft of writing on November 12th at the Red Clay Writers Conferenceheld by the Georgia Writers Association at Kennesaw State University. Joseph and fellow authors Wendy Wax (Ten Beach Road) and Amanda Gable (The Confederate General Rides North) will be featured in the panel "Below the Surface: The Craft of Writing Fiction" under moderator Jeffrey Stepakoff, award-winning author of The Orchard.

Anthony Arant, an MAPW student at Kennesaw State University wrote this article about Sheri Joseph.

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