Welcome to Author Wednesday. It is with great pleasure that I introduce today’s author, Sheryl White. The subject of her work of historical fiction, Underground Angel, is close to my heart. Dr. White writes about the very real Laura Haviland who worked tirelessly in the 1800s for abolition, suffrage for women, and education for all people regardless of race and sex. I’ve written about Mrs. Haviland, or “Aunt Laura” as I grew up calling her, on my blog Living Lightly. Everyone who knew her called her that because of her loving care of all human beings.
Dr. White published her book a month after I published my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. She contacted me through the Facebook page for Civil War Journal, and I’m so glad that she did.
She’s created a portrait of a woman in her work of fiction that deserves its title: Underground Angel.
Welcome Sheryl. I’m so happy to have you drop by today. You’ve written quite a piece of historical fiction in Underground Angel. Do you remember when you first discovered your voice as a writer?
I wrote my first book at age eleven. It was a group of pages stapled together entitled, “My first book!” As a child, I read a lot and envisioned myself as a writer one day. Writing my book Underground Angel has given me a voice, and it’s very satisfying.
That’s a great title for your first book. I always love to hear about the moment when a writer is finally able to call herself a writer. It took me many years. When were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”
There is a powerful image in the term “author.” The week my book was published, my friends started calling me an “author.” That was very meaningful to me.
That’s wonderful that your friends recognized it for you. What are your writing rituals?
I approach writing as a student. In my course of study, many papers were required. I actually have always enjoyed the writing (not always the research) so I just set a goal and keep flowing.
I’ve always enjoyed researching, but putting it all together is certainly more fun. Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Did this happen for you?
Certainly Underground Angel found me. The thought of writing such a book came after I saw there was a need to inform others about her great sacrifice and achievement.
Yes, Mrs. Haviland’s story is certainly one that needs to be heard. What messages or themes did you try to convey to your readers in Underground Angel?
I approach life from a faith perspective, which I project in my writing, and in particular, the message of living out our convictions in serving and caring for others as Mrs. Haviland so courageously did. I want Christian young people of our current generation to understand the sufferings of race due to bigotry and greed. I also want them to recognize the difficult sacrifices made by people of faith living out their convictions and principles. (Jn 15:13).
I love the title. How did you choose it and has it always been the title even through the first drafts?
It was just an obvious, easy title. It fit. Yes, Underground Angel was the first name I chose.
How long do you estimate it took you to take this book from an idea to its final published version?
The idea was planted in 2003, some ten years before it was completed. I had read Mrs. Haviland’s autobiography (A Woman’s Life Work: Labors and Experiences), several times, and 2009, I read it again to refresh my memory. I started writing in February 2010, and it was published November 2013.
When I was putting together my great grandfather’s memoir, I tried reading her autobiography, but the language was very difficult to follow. I was so happy when you told me about your book. It’s much more understandable and dialogue helps tremendously. Is the book traditionally or self-published?
I self-published with Xulon. I felt I had an important message to get out that was time sensitive. Authors I visited with assured me that this was a good way to go to get my work out.
I’m glad you made that decision. You mention the message of the book. What is the message you tried to convey?
True meaningfulness comes in serving others rather than a self-serving mentality that is prevalent today.
That’s a very important message, and I hope your book is read by many young folks. What is one the best things that’s been said about Underground Angel?
“Sheryl White’s narrative is an immersive, emotionally charged experience, one from which no reader will emerge unchanged.” This is what Eddie Cruz, my Xulon editor, shared, and it certainly is the best I could ever hope for out of my work. Several friends told me that when they watched the Oscar award-winning movie 12 Years a Slave, they punched the person next to them and said, “This is just like Sheryl’s book.” But, this statement really impacted me as well, as it carries significant meaning:
“Dr. White brings such a richness to Aunt Laura Haviland and her faith and untiring work to help those less fortunate. Thank you for publishing this important book, and thank you, Dr. White, for writing it.” – Patricia Zick
Yes, I did leave that comment on an article about your book. I’m glad you liked it. That’s also very high praise to be compared to that powerful movie. Taking a real person and turning their life into a fictional piece is quite tricky. How did you conceive of doing it this way?
My historical fiction book was based on Mrs. Haviland’s life story, but the fiction sections were those I created projecting what her life must have been like given the nineteenth century socio-political realities. I tried to make her home and family life “real” and believable with all of the emotions that would be involved in today’s everyday life.
It worked. It takes her off the pedestal and makes her real, yet after reading it, it’s clear she deserves to be up on that pedestal. What type of research was required to write Underground Angel?
I read Laura Haviland’s autobiography several times, along with Mildred Danforth’s biography on her life-A Pioneer Woman. I traveled to Adrian, Michigan, her hometown, for a tour of her stomping grounds. I visited some underground sites, her home place where the Raisin Institute historic marker stands, the Raisin Valley Friends Church where there is a designated historical marker, and the Lenawee County Historical museum. The museum has a Laura Haviland designated room, and the statue of her stands in front of the museum.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Sheryl. I hope one day we can meet in Adrian and explore Aunt Laura’s and my great grandfather’s “stomping ground.”
About Dr. White: Dr. Sheryl White has served as the Director of Lay Ministries at the First United Methodist Church in Pratt, Kansas for eight years. Sheryl received her Doctorate of Ministry Degree in 2004 from Houston Graduate School of Theology.The dream to create Underground Angel arose from her doctoral dissertation, The Haviland Heritage Foundation: Extending the Life of Laura S. Haviland in 21st Century Haviland and Beyond. Sheryl lived and served the community of Haviland, Kansas for twelve and a half years serving as an instructor at Barclay College and Minister of Christian Education at the Haviland Friends Church. She is a graduate from Anderson University School of Theology, Anderson, Indiana earning two degrees, a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology and Ethics.
To purchase Underground Angel:
Please visit Dr. White’s website: Underground Angel