Well-published Five Star/Cengage mystery writer Sheri Cobb South is the author of more than twenty novels, including the John Pickett mystery series and the critically acclaimed Regency romance, The Weaver Takes a Wife. A native of
, she now
lives in Alabama . Loveland, Colorado
Question: What is the title and genre of your novel? Why did you select them?
Answer: The title is Too Hot to Handel, and it’s a historical mystery set in Regency England. It’s the fifth in the mystery series featuring Bow Street Runner John Pickett. I’ve loved the Regency period—strictly speaking, 1811-1820, but for genre purposes more like 1795-1830—ever since discovering the works of Georgette Heyer when I was a teenager. It’s the time Jane Austen lived and wrote, and the combination of elegance and wit makes it great fun to write about. As for the title, it’s a triple entendre: “hot” refers to stolen property, the consummation of the romance, and the
fire of Drury Lane Theatre 24 February 1809, which is the novel’s major set piece. As for
Handel, it’s not a misspelling, but a pun, since the fire breaks out during a
performance of a Handel oratorio.
Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Answer: This is the one I’ve looked forward to writing ever since the series began! The romance between John Pickett and the widowed Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, has been developing slowly over the course of the series. He was smitten from the first, but I knew it would take something drastic to make her confront her own growing feelings for a man so far beneath her socially. In fact, it isn’t until his life is threatened and she’s faced with the prospect of losing him that she’s willing to “throw her cap over the windmill,” so to speak. This is also the only book I’ve ever written that is based on an actual historical event—that being the
fire. Since the cause of the blaze was never
discovered, it gave me the freedom to create my own “what if?” scenario. Drury Lane Theatre
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?
Answer: John Pickett was a juvenile pickpocket who’s rescued from a life of crime by the real-life
magistrate Patrick Colquhoun. (His backstory is
told in the prequel novella Pickpocket’s
Apprentice.) The series opens ten years later with In Milady’s Chamber, when John is a 24-year-old recently-promoted Bow
Street Runner. The Bow Street Runners, I should add, were the first organized
detective force in London —the forerunners to Scotland Yard. Pickett meets
Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, quite literally over her husband’s dead body, when he’s
summoned to investigate Lord Fieldhurst’s murder. Although Julia is two years
older, she’s very much under the thumb of both societal expectations and her
late husband’s family. Over the course of the series, the lady and the Bow
Street Runner are thrown together, usually with a dead body somewhere in the
vicinity. Julia is able to go places and talk to people in ways Pickett can’t,
and she begins to blossom as she realizes she has a talent beyond the purely
Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
Answer: Besides the John Pickett mystery series, I’ve also written a number of Regency romances, the best-known being The Weaver Takes a Wife. Before that, I wrote five young adult novels for Bantam’s Sweet Dreams series, which is where I got my start. They’re out of print now except for foreign language editions, which kind of freaks my kids out; to them, I’m just Mom.
Question: What are you working on now?
Answer: I’m continuing to write the John Pickett series, but I’m trying to alternate them with other things. Right now I’m working on an “old school” romantic suspense novel based on the Mediterranean cruise I recently took with my husband. I credit a steady diet of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney during my teenage years with giving me a craving to travel, and this book is my tribute to those ladies and their work.
Question: What made you start writing?
Answer: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write! I got my first library card when I learned to write my name—my mother swears I wasn’t yet three years old. As for writing for publication, I decided to get serious about it when I was twenty-eight and saw that big 3-0 looming on the horizon. That seems awfully young now, but it made me ask myself, “Are you going to spend the rest of your life saying ‘someday,’ or are you going to write that book?’ ” The result was Wrong-Way Romance, which was published by Bantam in 1991—and which sells today on Ebay for $50 and up!
Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?
Answer: This is probably not going to be a very popular answer, but here goes: Resist the urge to rush your book to print before it’s ready. Today’s self-publishing climate can be a godsend to writers whose work doesn’t fit the mainstream mold, but it also offers a great temptation to release inferior work into the world. The old system, frustrating as it often was, served as a gatekeeper that forced writers to hone their skills before their work could be published. Now it’s all too easy to publish work that just isn’t up to the level of quality that readers have a right to expect. And while it’s true that files can be updated and books re-released as new editions, a reputation as a mediocre writer is not so easily shaken. Find a critique group and/or beta reader(s) who will be brutally honest with you. Hire a freelance editor if the mechanics of grammar or spelling are not your strong suit. Do whatever it takes to be absolutely sure of the quality of your work. Remember, it’s got your name on it, and the reputation you establish with that first book will follow you for a long time.
Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?
Answer: It’s available now in both hardcover and Kindle editions. The Kindle version, of course, is available through Amazon. For those who prefer a print edition, all online booksellers offer it. And while you probably won’t find it on the shelves of your local bookstore, they can order it for you, if you ask them to. If a hardcover is outside your price range, ask your library to purchase it. Most libraries have a form patrons can fill out to request a purchase.
Sheri, thank you for an informative interview!
Note: Sheri is available for comments and questions.