The University of Montana - English + Creative Writing
Sherry Jones is a full-time published author. Her first novel, “The Jewel of Medina,” was released in 2008, and her most recent novel, “The Sword of Medina,” came out last year. But Sherry doesn’t have a typical story of how her book, about the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, A’isha, came to print. After agreeing to publish the book, Random House reneged the deal after a University of Texas professor of Islamic history claimed the book could incite violence by radical Muslims. But, Sherry believed in telling the story she had written, and she didn’t let this stop her. U.S.-based Beaufort Books agreed to publish first “The Jewel of Medina,” and later, “The Sword of Medina.” Now Sherry is busy working on her new book, tentatively titled “Four Sisters, All Queens,” which tells the story of four sisters from Provence who, in the 13th century, become queens of France, England, Germany and Sicily. The book is scheduled for release during spring/summer 2012. It will be published by Galley, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. When she’s not writing or researching, Sherry can be found with her family and friends, as well as making and listening to music. And she loves Paris!
Always, I dreamed of writing novels someday. Now my dream has finally come true.
How did you discover your current job?
I have always wanted to write novels. I discovered the protagonist of “The Jewel of Medina,” and its sequel, “The Sword of Medina,” in my readings about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
I have been writing since I learned to write, and reading since I learned to read. I wrote poetry and short stories in school, and kept journals. At age 18, I got a job as reporter for the newspaper in my hometown of Kinston, N.C. I continued to work as a journalist until “The Jewel of Medina” was published, when I made the change to full-time fiction writing.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
My literary agent, Natasha Kern, wrote me a detailed rejection letter the first time I submitted my manuscript to her, which inspired me to pay for freelance editing help. Then she allowed me, after revising, to submit it to her again, which is something agents rarely do. She has continued to encourage and support me in my career, which makes all the difference for me every day.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
I wake up in the morning excited to write! I usually start around 7 or 8 in the morning. I write for as long as my body will let me sit and for as long as my mind can think — or, most often, until other, non-writing matters interfere. I try not to schedule appointments before 3:30 p.m. so that I can work straight through the day. In the afternoons, I walk 20 to 25 minutes into downtown Spokane, Wash., and run errands. I practice piano throughout the day, and on my walks I practice my parts in whatever choral music I’m rehearsing with the Gonzaga University Chorale. (I’m the crazy lady with the iPod singing to myself and stepping out in front of buses because my eye is on the music, ha ha!) I also try to study French whenever I can, and to read.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Hearing from readers that my books have touched their lives is by far the most rewarding. And, because of the controversy that occurred with “The Jewel of Medina,” which is about the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, I am privileged to be asked to write and speak about free speech and censorship, women in Islam and Islamophobia all over the world. I’ve debated and spoken on these topics in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Serbia and the U.S. I am thrilled to be able to make a positive difference in the world.
What is the most challenging part?
I tend to choose characters for my novels who aren’t widely known. This means it can be very difficult to find historical information about them. I spend a lot of time searching for sources.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
There is so little that I can control in publishing. My books aren’t out in paperback, for example, which is hugely frustrating for me. It means that a lot of people will not read them, because hardback books are expensive. I have had to learn and re-learn the adage about changing what I can, letting go of the rest, and having the wisdom to know the difference. I’m pretty good at it most of the time.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
Men are privileged in the literary world. Literature that has an especially “male” appeal, such as crime fiction, is embraced in the literary world while romance, women’s historical fiction and other kinds of writing with a primarily female appeal are marginalized. Male authors get much more attention than female authors. As an example, look at the reception Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” has received, with features in The New York Times, a scheduled interview with Oprah, etc. Meanwhile, what have we heard about “Great House” by Nicole Krauss, the new novel from one of the best authors of our time?
Who are your role models?
-A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the protagonist of my first two novels, has inspired me many times in the years since I’ve been reading and writing about her. She was a passionate, intelligent, outspoken agent of change in a time and place -- 7th-century Arabia -- where women had few rights. She was a child when she married the Prophet Muhammad, yet she grew up to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam.
-My agent, Natasha Kern, is a huge role model for me. She’s a hard worker and a loving, spiritual person with a huge amount of courage and a strong commitment to making a positive difference in the world.
-Asra Nomani and Irshad Manji, two Muslim-American journalists and feminists who continue to push the envelope for women’s rights at great personal risk.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
Love is a verb.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
As the late John Gardner wrote, if you write a book that’s good, someone will publish it. Never stop believing in yourself; you can do it!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I grew up in a poor family with abusive parents. I got my first job when I was 14 because my parents had no money to give to me. I worked full-time for nearly 30 years while finishing my college degree little by little. Always, I dreamed of writing novels someday. Now my dream has finally come true, for which I am grateful. But I succeeded in part because I kept my eye on the prize. I had no advantages, yet I achieved my goals. If I can do it, you can do it!