Fulfilling Promises: Sherri Winston discussed her writing process at AADL


Sherri Winston

“You’re like family now because the weather has conspired against us.” --Sherri Winston

If you want to attend an intimate author event, attend one during a snow (slush?) storm that follows an unseasonably warm day. On Thursday, March 1, middle-grade author Sherri Winston talked about her latest projects and her process at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Winston has wanted to be a writer since she was three years old. In fact, she once nearly got her father in trouble telling a made-up story to her mother about the many brothers and sisters she had. Her mother’s reaction taught Winston something about the power of words -- and her father “almost found out about the power of pots and pans.”

Her 2017 book, The Sweetest Sound, is about a young girl who has difficulty coming out of her shell. While Winston said books are generally like one’s children in that you don’t have a favorite, she admitted she’s proudest of this novel. Cadence, the main character in The Sweetest Sound, made a promise to God that she is struggling to fulfill and she has to work to live up to her abilities, sharing her singing talent with the world.

Winston's new book, President of the Whole Sixth Grade: Girl Code, is a part of a series about an ambitious young girl. She describes the protagonist, Brianna, as "the girl who, if you get in her face, she’ll get in yours.” Winston also said Brianna is the kind of girl she wishes she would have had as a friend back in that part of her life. As a girl, Winston was very shy, a trait she has since overcome. 

“I could start my own mobile library on art books.” --Sherri Winston

Winston, who grew up reading Archie comics, says she always wanted to be an author-illustrator. She says Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series changed the publishing industry’s perspective and opened the door for author-illustrators who, like herself, don’t have Marvel-level skills to incorporate their own visuals into their stories. 

President of the Whole Sixth Grade: Girl Code and the novel Winston’s working on, Jada Sly: Artist and Spy, feature her own illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. Winston minored in art during her undergraduate years, but initially, when she tried her hand at illustration, she found that her drawings fell short, that she didn’t have the skills. Since then, she has spent 10 years working on her drawing style. The pressure is on for Winston, both in the good make-you-stretch-and-grow-way and the why-did-I-say-I-would-do-this way.

The drawing itself isn’t the only challenge here. Winston said she's been having a hard time telling people she is illustrating her first book, owning it. She has to remind herself that she has earned this opportunity, that she has put many hours of work in to get to this point. Yet it doesn’t stop her inner voice from wondering whether she’s going to get a call that says that her art isn’t good enough and that she won’t be able to illustrate her book.

“I liked the fast life of Barbie. I like that she kicked Ken to the curb and started hanging out on the base with G.I. Joe.” --Sherri Winston

In addition to writing, Winston enjoys talking to young people about writing and storytelling. As she has explored in her own work, Winston has found an unusual tool that helps her with her writing: Legos. She had seen a set of Legos that looked exactly like a cupcake shop that she imagined in one of her novels and decided to purchase it. Not long after, she started making short stop-motion videos, using the plastic bricks. Winston found that this process helps her view stories in a different way, helps her to get out of her head and to clear her mind. She has also found that the videos help her talk to kids about storytelling. She especially likes using the videos with kids who don’t see themselves as readers and or writers, demonstrating that there are many ways to tell a story.

Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.