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Sheri Humphreys, author of "A Hero to Hold"

The Open Book

Sheri Humphreys, author of "A Hero to Hold"

Stephen H. Provost

Like me, Sheri Humphreys is based in Cambria, a seaside community nestled in a forest of Monterey pines along California's Central Coast. She's coming off an impressive achievement, with her novel A Hero to Hold having been named one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016. She sat down recently to answer some questions about herself and her book, which Kirkus describes as "an enthralling, nontraditional romance accented with a little mystery."

The Author

Name and occupation: Sheri Humphreys. Retired emergency nurse.

Where and with whom do you live? I live in Cambria, a small town on the Central California coast, with my Jack Russell-mix rescue, Lucy.

If you could co-write a book with any author, living or dead, whom would you choose? Great question, Stephen! A hard, hard decision, too. I’d love collaborating with one of my (living) favorite authors. But I guess I’d have to choose Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women.

My first books. Even then I was writing historical romance!)

My first books. Even then I was writing historical romance!)

Why do you write? Wanting to write grew out of a love of reading and story. I’ve written on and off since I was a child. My fifth-grade teacher told my mother: “I don’t know what I’m going to do with Sheri. She doesn’t pay attention in class because she’s writing a book!” Around 2006 I got somewhat serious, joining a critique group and Romance Writers of America®, but it wasn’t until I retired in 2010 that I really devoted significant time and effort to writing.

Where do you write? I have a gorgeous office, but I never write there. LOL. I sit in an easy chair, feet on ottoman, laptop on lap, dog curled next to my hip. My view is of an incredible 100-year-old oak. I call it my zen tree.

What fairy tale describes your life, and why? Hey, I’m still writing my fairy tale!

Historical period you’d like to visit: My books are set in the Victorian era, so how could I resist a chance to be there? When I got serious about writing, I decided to try writing historical romance. I loved reading historicals, and thought if I wrote about a historical nurse, I could still use my experience, without having the technical details of modern medicine to tangle with. So I started researching Florence Nightingale, famous as the founder of modern nursing.

The author, Sheri Humphreys

The author, Sheri Humphreys

Florence Nightingale captured my imagination. I expanded my research from Florence to the Crimean War, Victorian medicine and Victorian life. I spoke about Florence Nightingale at several nursing seminars. I began crafting a story about a Nightingale nurse who returns to England after the conclusion of the Crimean War. That story became The Unseducible Earl, scheduled for release this Spring by Boroughs Publishing Group.

I love writing about the Victorian era. It was a time of immense societal change, and anytime there is change, there is conflict. It was a time of invention, discovery, and improvement. I focus on a decade when people traveled by rail and steamship. The telegraph provided instant communication. The Crimean War was the first war in which newspapers had the ability to report current news from a battlefront. Yet even with these modern advances, life remained very different from life today. Travel by steam was common, but so was travel by horseback and sail. There was great effort toward progress, yet it was prior to the adoption of the germ theory of disease. I found a real love of history within myself, and a passion for making my novels historically accurate. I spend as many hours researching as I do writing—sometimes for one sentence!

So if you’ve got a time machine, Stephen, set it for 1857 and I’m aboard! 

Favorite board, card or video game: I love lots of board games, usually those that test memory or knowledge or strategy or just make me laugh. I love Scrabble and word games. Sometimes I get together with neighbors and play Rummikube.

A Hero to Hold sucked me in from the start and wouldn’t let me go. ... Overall, very complex characters and amazing love story I couldn’t put down. Would recommend to any historical romance friends!
— Shannon Youngblood, Amazon review

The Book

Title, genre and length? A Hero to Hold, historical romance, 326 pages.

When and where does it take place? 1857 England

How did you come up with the title? Ha ha ha. For me, finding the perfect title can be torturous, but this one came pretty easy. The hero of the novel is a military hero, and is awarded the Victoria Cross during the course of the story. And it’s a romance. <grin>

What inspired you to write it? Really, two things. The underlying theme of the novel is trust. I wrote it at a time in my life when my trust in people and the world was shattered. David and Charlotte, the hero and heroine in A Hero to Hold, experienced traumatic events that affected their ability to trust. They both go on, find each other and fall in love. The bigger question is: can they trust again?

Also, I worked for thirty-seven years as a nurse, twenty-five of those in the Emergency Department. And there’s always something of that part of me in every story.

In my upcoming series, The Nightingales (The Unseducible Earl releases later this spring), all the heroines are former Florence Nightingale nurses who worked in the British military hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War. There are numerous patient stories in each book.

A Hero to Hold isn’t about a nurse, but the patient advocate part of me is alive and well in the story. Because the hero is disabled. I wanted to portray a disabled man as capable, sexy, attractive, wonderful. I wanted the reader to forget he was disabled and find him thoroughly desirable. To regard him exactly the same as they would any able-bodied man. The day I wrote, “David strode to the door,” I knew I’d succeeded. I’d forgotten David couldn’t walk! There’s also a medical crisis in the book—I just can’t keep them out!

Is there a sequel in the works? A Hero to Hold is a stand alone. The Horse Race, a short story featuring the hero and his best friend, is available on my website.

How can we get your books? Ebooks and print books are available from all major online book vendors. Print books can also be ordered from any brick-and-mortar book store.

What would you select as your book’s theme song? Who would you choose to write the musical score? No idea on the theme song. Perhaps This is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde? There’s no question what composer I’d hire: the incomparable John Williams.

To whom did you dedicate it and why? A Hero to Hold is dedicated to author and writing teacher Elnora King (retired). Once a week for eight years, I sat at her table learning the craft of writing. She’s an amazing woman whose teaching made a significant impact on the writing community of Fresno, California. I’m so fortunate to have been one of the many she mentored. I’ll always hear her voice saying, “Go deeper!”

A Hero to Hold is a fantastic book filled with amazing characters, wonderful descriptions and a compelling storyline. A wheelchair bound hero who is complex, sexy and good at heart combined with a scandalized but strong-willed heroine who goes after what she wants with her head held high, makes for a fantastic read. Don’t miss this one!
— AvidReaderGirl, Amazon review

The heroes

Name, age and occupation: Since the novel splits the point of view equally between the hero and heroine, I’ll share a bit about each. Hero: David Scott, 30. He manages a charity that benefits war widows and orphans. Heroine: Lady Charlotte Haliday, 27. She works for David.

Where and with whom does he/she live? London. They’re both single but have households, meaning servants who live in their residences.

Who would play your protagonist in a movie? I cast all my characters. David would be played by Aaron Eckhart. Charlotte by a young Elizabeth Taylor (think Elephant Walk).

What’s his/her biggest fear/phobia? Due to his disability, David fears he won’t be able to support himself and be independent. Charlotte fears living a shallow, meaningless life. Her greatest fear is being vulnerable.

Weapon of choice: Well, there is a pistol in the story…

At the beginning of the book, our hero is … Resigned to being alone.

His worst habit? He tends to be aloof and stubborn.

His best feature? He’s kind.

My beautiful office, left, and where I really write, right. Note pajamas and dog-hair-protected furniture.

My beautiful office, left, and where I really write, right. Note pajamas and dog-hair-protected furniture.

Excerpt

David’s heart lurched as the viscountess collapsed. “Chetney!” he barked. His secretary jumped, dropped the envelope he held, caught Viscountess Haliday and laid her down on the small, upholstered divan. David watched, never more aware of his inability to stand and capture the lady himself. Even after nearly two years, he wasn’t fully accustomed to others acting in his stead.

“Get some water,” David instructed as he wheeled himself to the divan.

She seemed unnaturally pale. He removed her hatpin and hat and brushed wavy dark hair from her forehead. Her cold, clammy skin worried him. He’d seen bleeding men shiver, seen their teeth chatter, and associated such pale, cold skin with serious infirmity. He glanced at her narrow waist, wondered if he should loosen her corset. To do so would necessitate removing her bodice, and he certainly didn’t want to do that.

Her eyelids fluttered and relief eased his tenseness. They lifted, revealing her incredible violet eyes. In the days since the ball, he’d convinced himself he must have imagined their color, since he’d never seen anything like them. But they were just as beautiful as he recalled. They were also a bit hazy and unfocused.

He tugged off one of her gloves and found her skin dry, though it remained cool. He held her hand and rubbed his thumb across her palm. “Lady Haliday?”

As if following the sound of his voice, her head turned toward him.

“Ma’am? Are you all right?”

Her chest rose; her fingers wrapped around his thumb. “I feel so silly,” she murmured. “I didn’t eat today. My stomach was just too jumpy.” She blinked and gradually her expression sharpened. Her gaze rose to his face, fell to his wheelchair, and returned to his features.

She’s too shocked to hide her feelings, he thought, and clamped his teeth together. Her fingers grew lax and released his thumb. She sat up, swinging her feet down in the same motion. 

“You’ve been injured?” she asked.

He hadn’t been in his chair at the ball. Slowly, he shook his head. “It happened two years ago. I’m unable to stand or walk.”

He caught a glimpse of stark pain before her gaze dropped. Her fingers, trembling, pressed against her mouth. Silently, he swore. He’d yet to sicken a female with his useless legs, but Lady Haliday appeared to be the exception. He remembered the hunger of her mouth on his. This woman had populated more than one of his dreams since then.

“Chetney,” he yelled. Where in hell was the man?

Chetney hurried in, a glass in one hand and what looked to be brandy in the other. They exchanged looks.

“I don’t know where you got it, but it’s not a bad idea. See if you can locate a biscuit or two also, would you?” The brandy should get her blood flowing and warm her up. David took the glass from Chetney and offered it to the viscountess.

“Drink a little of this. It should make you feel a bit stronger.”

She took the glass and obligingly swallowed a sip. “I’m sorry to cause such bother.” Her eyes lifted and the compassion he saw in their purple depths almost knocked him over. She took another drink—a larger one this time—and coughed.

Anger gripped him and he rolled his chair back, putting a couple of feet between them. The first woman who’d breached his defenses, and she pitied him. How dare she—how dare she pity him? “What are you doing here?”

“If you’re Mr. Scott, then I’m to work for you.”

An insightful story of the insidious ways we can circumvent our happiness by allowing past hurts to destroy our ability to accept love.
— CoraR, Amazon review