Are there some authors that you always hear your friends talking about? I know when I scroll through my Bookstagram feed that Brit Bennett, Elin Hilderbrand, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Casey McQuiston, and Samantha Irby will be praised again and again. Among my close friends, however, I've heard a new, lesser- known voice that I'm thrilled to bring into the spotlight.
Sharon Ann Ziegler was interviewed by my good friend, Dr. Shahnaz Ahmed, on her Living a Life Through Books podcast at the end of April. I trust Shahnaz's book recommendations, and when she said I needed to check out an award-winning murder mystery by a debut independent author, my interest was piqued. While I'm not usually a fan of mysteries or thrillers, Shahnaz assured me that The Association would appeal to me. Fast forward a month, and I was seeing The Association everywhere, and wow, just wow was it a beautiful book. Plus, Sharon shared many pictures of cats posing with her book, and nothing will make me stop scrolling faster than an adorable pet. A couple of weeks after this, I was recording a podcast with Shahnaz and she mentioned that Sharon would happily give a review copy to any reviewer who was interested. Really? There has to be a catch. No, Shahnaz insisted. Sharon is kind, she's passionate, and she's so excited to spread the word about her novel. We all know how hard marketing is when bookstores are closed, when radio and TV appearances are limited, when community events are all moved to Facebook and Zoom or cancelled entirely. We also know how powerful an honest review or a stunning picture can be.
Sharon reached out to me in June and asked if I'd like to review her book. Produced by a specialty bookmaker in Tennessee, the novel is a sewn, cloth bound hardback with a black sprayed cover. Oh, and a mere 510 of these beautiful, Instagram-worthy, totally unique copies of the edition exist. I was thrilled to accept the book and have had a wonderful time working with Sharon this summer. Shahnaz and I partnered together to give away a copy of The Association, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon over the phone about her writing process, inspiration, and advice for young lawyers. Her answers have been summarized below.
If you had to describe yourself as an ice cream flavor, what would it be and why?
Sharon came prepared to answer this question! After completing online questionnaires and quizzes, she came to a thoroughly researched conclusion. She describes herself as strawberry ice cream because she adores the fruit and loves picking the berries with her daughters. I also believe that she has the bright personality to match the vibrant strawberry and is just as sweet!
What books and authors have inspired you as both a reader and a writer?
Sharon began reading at an early age and is particularly passionate about the classics and history books. In Cold Blood, Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, Rebecca, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Dracula are a few of her favorite books (don't ask her to list just one!), and her favorite authors include Charles Dickens, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Antonia Fraser, and David McCullough. Sharon also said that writing runs in her family. Her mother wrote poetry for greeting cards in the 60s and 70s, and Sharon inherited her library.
How have you been passing the time during the pandemic?
Like so many of us, Sharon has found that social media and cooking have helped her to pass the time at home. Her daughters have helped her to set up an Instagram account, and she has been actively promoting her novel and creating connections with bloggers, reviewers, and readers on the platform. If you love adorable cats, you'll see a lot of Jasper, Lucky, and Jack posing with The Association. Honestly, I can't tell if her cats or her special edition are more photogenic.
Sharon is also a passionate cook and has a stuffed mushroom recipe that I'm dying to try. She adds spinach and prosciutto to her mushrooms, and I wish I had thought of that savory combination sooner. If she isn't making up her own recipes, she's finding them online based on what's already in her fridge. I'd try that strategy this weekend if my own fridge didn't just have condiments, cheese, and pasta in it (it's definitely time to go grocery shopping).
What was your inspiration for The Association?
Sharon chose to focus upon a homeowners association because we have all been affected by property law at some point in our lives. Homeowners associations are also widely joked about in popular culture. Take for example, Sharon said, the iconic HOA representative Cynthia in the GEICO commercial or the comical HOA in Del Boca Vista in Seinfeld. As a lawyer, Sharon has researched homeowners associations and feels that they need more legislation to control them. Sharon also said that she received writing inspiration from the anecdotal narratives in Don Quixote.
Tell me a little about your publishing and writing journey!
Sharon felt that she was a total outsider to the publishing world. She has written numerous legal briefs, motions, and appeals over the course of her 25-year career as a lawyer, but creating a work of fiction was a new and exciting endeavor for her. Sharon sat on her back patio with her cats for the same amount of time at the same time of day for four years as she wrote her thriller. On days when she was lacking inspiration, she circled back and edited her draft. Once her draft was completed, she sent it out to publishers, but she did not hear anything back. Without connections, Sharon said, it is incredibly difficult to traditionally publish your novel.
Upon further reflection and advice, Sharon realized that her draft needed more edits. Her neighbors were generous enough to read her drafts and provide her with feedback as they looked for typos. Her husband was one of Sharon's biggest supporters and also assisted in the editing process. Sharon reached out to Palmetto Publishing Group to further edit her draft.
Sharon's husband designed the book's cover, and BindTech brought Sharon's vision to life with their astounding artistry. It was such a joy for Sharon to see her book come to life in the special edition run (which can be purchased here). Regular editions of her book may also be purchased on Amazon here. The Amazon edition is 40% off currently, so you won't want to miss this special deal!
What advice do you have for aspiring lawyers?
The field of law, Sharon says, can be vicious. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Sharon's career began over twenty years ago in Tennessee, and the culture was more welcoming then. Sharon recounted that people used to argue their cases and then go out to eat together once the trial was done. While more women have been entering the legal field, Sharon says that it is still far from equal. She quoted a statistic that in Tennessee two years ago only 36% of those practicing law were women. She knew judges who remembered when women couldn't be on the jury, and she believes that sensitivity training is much needed.
Sharon says that it's necessary for new lawyers to have a thick skin and to be aware that their opponents will play tricks on them to gain the upper hand. While most legal books focus on the trial, Sharon wanted to highlight other aspects of the legal process in her novel.
What advice do you have for new and struggling writers?
Sharon says that there is so much advice out there for writers, but authors should focus on creating a novel that they'd like to read. While Sharon believes in taking from all the authors that you like, she also believes that it is vital to make your own unique voice. Your creativity will be unleashed when you don't follow all of the rules exactly as they're written.
End notes and updates.
Sharon is thrilled to celebrate the second anniversary of her novel and is running a massive giveaway on Goodreads during the month of September! 10 lucky winners will receive deluxe, limited edition copies of The Association! Sharon is also excited to announce that a community college near her will be teaching The Association this spring. Sharon is hard at work assisting the professor in making the teacher's guide, and she hopes to partner with more educators in the near future.