HumorOutcasts has launched under its umbrella Shorehouse Books for non-humor works. The first book to wear the Shorehouse Books name is The Evil That Men Do, a romance/mystery novel with a paranormal twist that that will knock your socks off! I had the privilege to interview the authors Deborah Fezelle and Sherry Yanow about their collaboration and this gripping novel.
HO: How did you two meet and what made you want to collaborate on a novel?
Sherry: I’m an avid soap fan. I even wrote a master’s thesis on soaps and why we watch! I was hosting a message board for a star on All My Children and a new member signed up–Deborah. An actress for many years, she was curious to see how a certain talented actor was doing on the show. We became fast Internet friends, on the board and in private e-mails. And then one day Deborah said she had a book she’d been writing and would I look at it? She knew I’d written a Harlequin romance and wanted my feedback, which turned into my collaboration to make her book our book, representing both our voices. To be honest, I am no longer sure what she wrote and what I wrote. It’s what we both wrote. I knew as soon as I started reading that EVIL had great promise.
Deborah: That’s exactly how we met. We used to joke about this very question, that our partnership began on an actor’s message board. Of course, that was many years ago, long before this became part of the norm of our society. We have since met in person multiple times in many locations. The collaboration with the book, however, has been via computer. It’s a new era, all electronically controlled.
HO: What are your backgrounds with writing?
Sherry: I was always a great reader from a very young age, taking out ten books at a time from the library I could barely carry. I’d continue the stories in my head, expanding and developing them, not knowing I was “writing.” I wrote a picture book about a standard poodle named Pierre when I was about seven. I have many interests in life and I followed through on my love of history in college, still always reading and loving movies and following my favorite TV programs. But I didn’t formally start writing until after I went back to college at the University of Illinois for my masters’ degrees in communication and English. My terrific professors brought out my confidence as a writer, and I began writing film reviews, first for a college paper, then film and theater reviews for a weekly local paper and the local PBS station. During this time, I also made an abrupt switch to fiction. I startled my English thesis advisor one day by announcing I no longer wanted to write about what other writers were writing. I wanted to write a novel myself! It was too late to change my thesis–a comparison of the film PLANET OF THE APES to the book–but rather than laugh at me, my professor encouraged me to take a post-graduate course on novel writing. I had an award-nominated Harlequin Temptation romance published a few years later called COOPER’S LAST STAND, and it sold 100,000 copies. That whetted my appetite for more, and then I met Deborah. And so it began.
Deborah: My passion was always the theater. I knew I wanted to be an actress when I was five years old. At that same age I began creating stories late at night in the dark and acting them out when everyone else was asleep. I started keeping journals at the age of eight, and I wrote my first play at age ten. I considered this only a hobby, a side line, if you will, until a college professor read some stories I’d written and said I showed great promise. She knew my dream was to become an actress, that I’d just been accepted into the Drama Division of the Juilliard School in NYC, but she encouraged me to keep writing, to write every day. And I did. Since then I’ve written articles for magazines and speeches for political candidates, but this is my first novel to be published, and I’m thrilled.
HO: You both are writers on your own. Was it a tough adjustment writing in a partnership?
Sherry: Not really. I love the editing process, the refining of a rough work of art into a finished piece of sculpture, so to speak. I always think of it that way, as if I’m taking a figure of clay and reshaping it and molding it until it becomes what I want it to be. It’s very satisfying. I basically did that with each chapter Deborah would send me and we went back and forth until we were both satisfied. It was fun, the finished product bigger than each of us could have done on our own.
Deborah: No, not at all. As Sherry explained, we found a system that worked for both of us and enhanced the novel. We would brainstorm characters and plot, and then I’d map out the chapters, followed by Sherry’s refining and adding her own touch. We’ve written six plays together, two web series and a screenplay.
HO: How did you come up with the idea for The Evil That Men Do?
Sherry: The characters and plot were originally conceived by Deborah, so that’s for her to answer. I found it very soapy from the get-go and dived right into it!
Deborah: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO was inspired by my younger sister’s sudden death at the age of thirty-six. I couldn’t grasp how such a vibrant young woman could be here one day … and gone the next. Chris was very much like Andrew in EVIL – outgoing, funny, someone who lived life to the fullest and wore her heart on her sleeve. We were extremely close, and I was devastated by her loss. A friend advised me to write about it, and a story began to take shape. I drew upon an unusual event that happened to me weeks after Chris died. I’d had a vivid dream in which Chris came to me. I still remember the conversation I had with her, the earthy scent that surrounded her and the feel of her hair on my face when she hugged me and told me she loved me … I woke up in the exact spot where she and I had had this conversation, far different from where I fell asleep. As for the other characters in the novel, many are products of the colorful people who have marched through my eclectic life! Sherry also brought many of the vibrant personalities to the novel, some whom are now favorites of mine. Finally, it was important for me to write about my two passions: the world of the theater and my continuing love affair with New York City. Sherry’s background encompassed both, so again, we were a perfect fit.
HO: Tell us about your hero in the book? Why would your readers love him? Why would some hate him?
Sherry: Nick is greatly flawed, a tortured man who can hurt people, especially women. He carries a huge chip on his shoulder because of his past, and, worse, there is a huge hole in his heart having to do with his son Jeffrey and what happened to him. Women have hurt Nick, and Nick hurts women. So Nick is primed for a journey, a man who begins in darkness and emerges into the light. What could be better than to take that journey with him and see him open up and exorcise his demons and find a second chance he’d never dreamed of? I should also mention Nick is as sexy as hell, brilliant, a celebrated author, and determined to find out who killed his brother Andrew. He has a razor-sharp sense of humor and isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. I love Nick!
Deborah: Sherry described Nick perfectly! I think he is the most complex character we’ve ever created.
HO: This book crosses so many genres. How would you want to describe it to your readers?
Sherry: EVIL is equal parts mystery and romance, with a touch of a ghost story for yet another layer. Boy meets girl and boy eventually gets girl. A man is killed, Nick is on the case, and it’s a roller-coaster of a story with the ride going on and on. Just when you think it’s over and you know the ending … you don’t. EVIL is also a story about New York, about the world of the theater and celebrity. That permeates everything.
Deborah: We’ve created a hybrid, In my opinion. It’s hard to put EVIL into a specific category. It’s equal parts mystery and romance, with a bit of supernatural influence. It’s both serious and funny. You will laugh … and then you’ll cry. There are many surprises as you work your way to the final chapter. And it’s a realistic peek into the world of Broadway and actors.
HO: What makes this book so different from other mystery/romance/suspense novels out there? Are there unusual twists?
Sherry: The fact that the romance and the mystery are in equal balance is what’s unusual about EVIL in my opinion. I often find I’m reading a good mystery with some romance and I always want to see more of it–I want to know more about Inspector Lynley’s love life for example, the fabulous series by Elizabeth George. Or there’s a great romance, but that’s it–and often the book falls apart in the middle because there’s nothing else going on. EVIL is truly a blend of both genres. I think the unusual twist to EVIL is the authentic world of NYC theater and celebrity that gives it a flair unique unto itself. Deborah lived in that world and I wrote about that world as a theater critic. The blend of our two voices was serendipity. I can’t give away more as far as plot, other than to say our mutual love of soaps drove this story. It’s not high-brow, but it’s fun!
Deborah: I remember reading a mystery about the theater/actors when I was twelve. I devoured that book. And then I went looking for another like it. There weren’t any! To borrow a theatrical quote – Enter Stage Right: EVIL. As for the twists, yes, there are many. It has become a trademark of Sherry’s and my writing. Audiences have come to expect it with our plays and often think they’ve figured it out. And just as often they’re wrong.
HO: Tell us about the web series that is in production?
Sherry: The Internet is the future for video entertainment. EVIL lends itself perfectly to a TV series format with its roller-coaster action that keeps on going, chapter to chapter, or episode to episode. The characters face continual trials and tribulations. We adapted the book into a screenplay, knowing it would work so well for this reason. We also turned EVIL into a stage play, but in such a contained form it cannot reach its full potential. EVIL needs the room to fully utilize every character in its pantheon. Deborah of the many-hats is also a director and when we decided it was time to let EVIL loose on the screen, she took up the mantle to make that happen.
Deborah: The web series is exciting, to say the least. I have an amazing cast, and rehearsals have begun. I hope to begin shooting in May. It is a complex task, with a cast of over 60 actors. I am now in the process of having what is called “table readings,” something to give the actors direction in each scene. Unlike the stage, film is fast. On the day of a shoot the actors/crew may only get to run through the scene one or two times, strictly for the purpose of the technical crew setting their camera/lights/sound. It’s a complicated business, which is why table readings are vital. That being said, this is an extraordinary time for us. The book is published, and the web series is being filmed!
HO: Do you have other plans for collaboration down the road?
Sherry: We are considering completing a sequel we began called A WALKING SHADOW. It’s three-quarters finished. Nick and Jessie, well, let’s just say their journey is not yet done even though they don’t know that.
HO: How was your publishing experience?
Sherry: We found EVIL very well received by our readers, but with one problem–it was too long. It began at a massive WAR AND PEACE 170,000 words, which is twice as long as it “should” be, given the expense of printing a book. We cut it down further, but not far enough to submit anywhere. Then we created a much shorter version, slicing out characters and plot. Several top agents were quite interested, but ultimately didn’t take the book and we knew why–it wasn’t the real EVIL. The heart had been ripped out of it. It took Shorehouse Books, the new dramatic arm of HumorOutcasts Press, to believe in EVIL and want the longer version, the true EVIL. That’s when THE EVIL THAT MEN DO came into its own! Donna and Ed worked with us and encouraged us to make it the best book we could. I managed to winnow the material down yet further and Shorehouse found a lovely, readable font to bring EVIL into being. We are thrilled with our publishing experience with Shorehouse Books.
Deborah: I completely agree with Sherry’s summation. Donna and Ed have been wonderful to work with, so supportive and insightful. They gave EVIL a home and such love and nurturing. We are ecstatic about the entire process!