In the nooks and crannies of the Hardin Administration building, one office is dimly lit with photos, figures and Victorian paintings hanging along every inch of the small white walls. With a rolling case and a green cardigan, Sherry Rankin, assistant professor of language and literature, plops onto her seat as countless books on mounted shelves surround and embrace her. Mementos of her loved ones and personal interests stand proudly as the dim light gives glimpses into the real life of Rankin.
It was the office of a true writer – bold, calming and literarily inspiring.
Rankin said she first began her writing dreams when she was just a child in New Jersey. Composing and creating countless stories, Rankin said she always found ways to write and never grew tired of it until she went off to college.
“I was a big fan of murder mysteries as a kid,” said Rankin shortly. “I wrote excessively starting really young as a child and all through high school and stopped in college just because I didn’t have time. After that, I got married and had a family and I just stopped writing. It wasn’t until a few years ago I started writing my New Year’s resolutions and I said ‘I want to write a murder mystery.”
Over the span of five intense years with countless rewrites, writing support groups and doubts, Rankin had finished her work. “Strange Fire” was finished. Following the life of Abel Morales, a university security guard who discovers the murder of a student, Rankin said she wanted to convey the message and awareness of human trafficking that occurs across the borders surrounding the states. Rankin expressed how through the characters, Rankin understood how the characters felt and where they wanted to go within the plot – she was just the receiver.
“We think of slavery in the U.S. as something that is long gone and it’s not,” said Rankin. “So, I just thought ‘well, I want to write a murder mystery’ so I could write about something that could have some sort of social benefit that tells people about something that’s really happening in the world.”
Although Rankin’s novel has not yet been published, Rankin said she was interested in finishing it once in for all. If there was any New Year’s resolution, this was one she had to complete.
“I always said I wanted to write a novel at some point in my life and I don’t care if I never get published or anything, I just want to be able to say ‘that was a goal I had and I did it,” said Rankin.
And she did.
Upon reaching her goal, Rankin decided to send her novel to the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger competition in London for the possibility of being noticed or at least be try to see where “Strange Fire” could land. It wasn’t long before Rankin received the email that her novel was selected as part of the top five short list among the hundreds of entries submitted. Just like one of Rankin’s favorite novelists, Louise Penny, Rankin will be honored in London later this month as one of unpublished finalists for an award presented by the association. Along with countless recognized authors, Rankin said she was shocked to even be selected.
“I honestly was very surprised,” said Rankin as she laughs a bit. “I was like how on earth can I be in the top five among all the other people who entered and I thought there has to be a mistake. And I haven’t read the other entries, so I don’t know if I agree with them that I should be on the list, but I’m very excited about it and it’s very affirming.”
As novelists across the world may know, the process of writing is tiresome and weary. With countless pages, corrections, edits, name changes and self-doubt, one needs affirmation to tell you to keep going.
“Writing a novel is such a solitary thing,” said Rankin. “I’m part of a writing group with a couple of other professors here and we meet and share what we’re writing and that got me through it. Writing is such a solitary thing and all the thoughts in your head say ‘you can’t do this’ and so, it’s nice to see this and say ‘well, maybe the last five years of my life weren’t wasted’.”
Rankin believes she doesn’t think she’ll ever stop writing unless she feels inclined to. Rankin thinks the genre she’s chosen lends itself to more sequels (like the one she is currently writing).
Perhaps someday, one could see a published Rankin book on the shelves of the local bookstore.