April's Author of the Month: Sherry Ostroff
Back in March, Innovative Editing began its “Author of the Month” program to highlight particularly engaging writers who deserve to stand out for their skills and/or messages. These authors can be self- or traditionally published in fiction or non-fiction. The only qualifiers for consideration are that I’ve read their work and they’re available for an interview.
If you'd like to be considered for an upcoming Author of the Month spot – or if you have a story idea burning a hole in your brain – then shoot an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org with details about you and your book. Either way, I’d love to hear from you!
In the meantime, I’m delighted to feature Sherry Ostroff, who published The Lucky One, the story of her mother’s absolutely inspiring and informative life journey out of early 20th-century Russia and Romania. This is one beautiful read...
April’s Author of the Month: Sherry Ostroff Featured Title: The Lucky One Genre: Memoir Age Appropriate: 14+
Bio: Sherry V. Ostroff is originally from Philadelphia. She earned a Bachelor’s in education from Temple University and a Master’s in history from Millersville University. She is retired from teaching in the School District of Lancaster, where she taught elementary and middle school.
These days, Ostroff devotes her time to her writing, her family and traveling around the world. She lives with her high school sweetheart in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Lucky One is her first book.
Jeannette: Sherry, I cannot say how happy I am to have you on here. The second I saw your book, I was 99% convinced I wanted to feature it. And it took me maybe three pages of reading your intro alone to be 100% convinced.
The Lucky One is so straightforward and yet so multi-layered at the same time. I mean, any story about Jews in early 20th century Europe is going to have immediate historical and religious aspects to it. Yet it’s also the endearing, adorable, sometimes tragic tale of a little girl just trying to figure out a very confusing world.
I know how I would describe it, but here’s my first question for you: How would you define The Lucky One?
Sherry: I’ve had some interesting discussions with other writers about the genre of The Lucky One. Some have thought it a biography, an autobiography or a memoir. It’s very much an autobiography, which we often call a memoir today. But with the historical and cultural background I included, which adds context to my mother’s story, I’ve decided to call The Lucky One an “annotated memoir.”
Jeannette: I can see that, considering how she wrote her own story down, and then you worked around and with it to bring extra depth to an already profound narrative. One of the things about your mom that really blew me away was the matter-of-fact way she described what she and her family went through. She never once seemed bitter or angry.
Am I wrong to wonder if she might have actually been superhuman?
Sherry: I think my mother was able to talk about her story because she was too young to remember the worst of it. And the rest she saw through the eyes of a child. For example, the first three chapters weren’t her experiences; they were told to her by her mother or older siblings. It’s not until you get to Chapter 4 that you read about one of her full memories.
For that reason, I think she was fortunate. There’s more to this story about being lucky than merely making it safely to the U.S.
Jeannette: Oh, definitely.
Sherry: Rather than bitter or angry, I would describe her overall reaction as frightened and unhappy. I don’t believe she ever got over the fear that, as a Jew, she was always at risk. And she missed having a father and aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a particularly poignant part in her story when she walked the streets of Balti, Romania, calling out “Father” to any man that looked like he could be hers, then waiting desperately for someone to turn around and recognize her as his daughter.
Of course, that never happened. But as long as my mother was alive, the importance of family was something she stressed to me.
Jeannette: That’s beautifully obvious throughout the narrative. I actually think those family connections are the strongest aspect of The Lucky One despite – or maybe because of – all the forces that were constantly trying to undermine those relationships.
Even what you say in the beginning about your decision to leave your mom’s slightly broken-English manuscript as-is: That serves as a tribute to family too. And just for the record, that’s a decision I completely agree with. Any grammatical mistakes she made didn’t detract from her story. If anything, they added to it.
You tell readers right away that you started editing what she’d written, then realized you were destroying her voice. How far did you get in “fixing” her words before you had that epiphany? Was it something she said that made you decide to leave it alone?
Sherry: When my mother handed me her story, she gave me no direction on what to do with it. It was a gift. So I started to correct it because I was a teacher, and that’s what teachers do.
Jeannette: Naturally. I can respect that.
Sherry: I got to about page 14 and stopped. When I looked at the edits I was making on her pages – slashed words, arrows, circles – I couldn’t believe what I had done.
Stopping was the easy part. How to start writing was much more difficult. It took me almost 28 years until I finally sat down and started to work on her story. Why so long? Well, the first 15 were because I didn’t have the time. And the next 13, I spent thinking (not all the time, obviously) about how to write it. In other words, should I fictionalize it or add the historical and cultural background?
Jeannette: I’d imagine those were quite the question to consider. But you clearly came to a conclusion, and I really do think it was a good one overall. You got to share your mom’s story and express your own thoughts through her and because of her along the way. I don’t even have to agree with all your conclusions to recognize that The Lucky One is a worthwhile read. So I, for one, am extremely happy you published it.
And you self-published too. So far, both of Innovative Editing’s Authors of the Month writers have gone that route. But since everyone’s marketing experience is different, I’m going to ask you the same basic question I posed back for the March installment.
How have you gone about marketing yourself and your book?
Sherry: Marketing comes naturally to me. Have you ever tried to convince a classroom full of 14-year-olds that they’re going to write a research report – with bibliography – and they’re going to enjoy it? Teaching is all about marketing.
Jeannette: Coming from a family of teachers and being a tutor myself, that’s really true. I never thought of it that way before, but it’s a very accurate way of looking at it.
Sherry: So how was I going to get people to not only invest a couple of hours to read my book but to actually spend the money to do so? I started by creating an hour-long presentation of my mother’s story. My first stop was to the public library. I called the head librarian at the Manheim Township Library, told her about my book and she took me on in an instant. From there, I went to other libraries in Central PA.
You have to know who your audience is. The Lucky One speaks to an older generation. That doesn’t mean teenagers can’t read it, but older folks appreciate stories about their parents and grandparents. So I approached 55+ communities and senior citizen facilities, and was quickly picked up.
Once I got started, attendees started asking me to speak at their clubs, churches, synagogues or colleges. Others wanted me to meet with their book groups. That gave me the idea of reaching out to other book groups. It’s wonderful to meet with people who love reading and are happy to have the author sitting in their living room.
Now many of my engagements are through word of mouth. I’m finding that some attendees are coming out for a second time. No better compliment than that!
Jeannette: Talk about success!
Sherry: Have I been turned down though? You bet. Maybe those organizations didn’t understand I was offering a free hour-long PowerPoint presentation.
I also can’t say enough about the importance of social media. I don’t know how an unestablished independent author like me can get the word out without using it as much as possible. Early on, I created a website – www.sherryvostroff.com – and I have author pages on Facebook and Goodreads too. I’ve also joined sites that are closely aligned with my book, including Jewish Food and Eastern European Ancestry groups. But just by being on Facebook alone, I’ve sold books all over the world.
For the holidays, and really any time, I’ve offered to mail out signed books for gifts. At my presentations, I give out another one of my mother’s recipes printed on a card with a picture of the book on the back. Basically, any way I can get my title in front of someone, I’ll do it.
I’ve had a couple of local newspapers do articles on my book: Lancaster Newspapers and Lititz Record. The LNP coverage was instigated by a friend in my writing group. The other was a result of my contacting a local paper and offering my story. That one hit the front page.
The Lucky One is also listed on the Midwest Book Review and the Reader’s Circle, which is an online publication for book groups.
When readers let me know they’ve read my book, I always ask them to put a review on Amazon. Then I ask if I can put that review on Facebook and my website. I’ve never been turned down. Most people want to be helpful.
There’s probably a lot more that I’m forgetting considering how marketing is such a full-time job.
Jeannette: Yeah, that’s the biggest downside to self-publishing is that you don’t have a professional marketer on your side. Though, again, it sounds like you’re doing very well for yourself in this department.
And in the middle of all that, I know you’re working on a new book too, this time a novel. Care to tell us anything about it?
Sherry: Thanks for asking! I love talking about my work in progress, or WIP.
Have you ever heard of the Darien Scheme? I’d be surprised if you said yes. In the 17th century, many European nations had colonies around the world, especially England, Spain, France and the Dutch. Since that was how a nation became wealthy, Scotland wanted a colony too. So the Scots came up with an idea to create a colony where Panama is located today. Essentially, they wanted to control the overland route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That’s the focus of my WIP: the Darien Scheme, which is named for the Bay of Darien.
The story starts out in 2005 with my main character, Hanna, opening up a safe deposit box she inherited from her father, who died on 9-11. Inside, she finds the usual stuff: bonds, pictures, a birth certificate, etc. She also finds an old skeleton key.
Through a series of events, she finds out that the key will open another safe deposit box – this one at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh. With the help of a very good-looking Scottish history professor, Hanna uncovers clues that lead her to an ancient ancestor: one of the colonists in the settlement.
The story is historical fiction with lots of mystery, adventure, romance – and did I say history? I’m a little more than halfway done, and I hope to be finished by this time next year.
Jeannette: Edinburgh. History. Very good-looking Scottish professor. You pretty-much just dialed my number. I was only ever in Scotland once, but it was enough to inspire a whole entire series of my own. So anyone who wants to write about it more is okay by me.
Speaking of such, where can readers stalk your progress – I mean find you, your book and your WIP?
Sherry: They can find me on Facebook at Sherry V. Ostroff or on my website at www.sherryvostroff.com, or they can reach me at email@example.com.
Jeannette: Alright then. Sherry, thanks again for sharing all of that information. I loved reading The Lucky One, and now I can’t wait to read your next work!