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ODU Professor Sheri Reynolds’ Latest Book Is Out; Radio and Literary Event Appearances Upcoming

For her newest novel, Old Dominion University creative writing professor Sheri Reynolds diverged from paths familiar to readers of earlier titles to compose her "first funny book."

"The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb" is Reynolds' sixth novel. She will be a guest on WHRV's "Virginia Conversations" radio show at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and will read from her new book at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at ODU's Virginia Beach Higher Education Center.

The ODU reading and book signing event will be televised live, by video stream, to the university's Tri-Cities Center, in Portsmouth, and the Peninsula Center, in Hampton. It is free and open to the public. For more information on viewing locations, go to www.odu.edu/regionalcenters.

The latest published work by Reynolds - a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author and ODU's Ruth and Perry Morgan Endowed Chair of Southern Literature - tells the story of Myrtle T. Cribb, a middle-aged special-needs teacher from the Eastern Shore who is languishing in a dysfunctional marriage. The book's action begins to play out when Cribb embarks on a spontaneous road trip, only to discover the town drunk - aptly named Hellcat - stowed away in the bed of her pickup truck. During the adventure that ensues, Cribb faces the realities of her home situation and her own racial prejudices.

"It's told from the point of view of a woman who views herself as a spiritual teacher distributing theology and practical advice to average people," Reynolds said. "It's my first funny book. I think I'm at a lighter time in my life in some ways."

However, the journal-style "devotional" novel, which Reynolds said was re-written at least three times, didn't start that way.

"It was much more serious at first. When I shifted into her voice, it became very funny," Reynolds said. "She's irreverent, neurotic and wise, but wacky."

While crafting the story of Myrtle Cribb, Reynolds said she didn't think a lot about themes or analyzing social implications.

"If I did, I probably would quit (writing) because I would feel too exposed," she said. "I try to stay closer to an intuitive state. The fastest thing to kill a project is if I think about what it means to the culture."

As far as plot development goes, Reynolds said she always starts with a character and works outward. The story of Myrtle T. Cribb and Hellcat was drawn from a personal experience Reynolds had when she once gave a man a ride home from the grocery store.

"I thought about what my dad would say or do. I started thinking about my mother and how it would be to be married to someone who would say 'you can't do that.' It came to me that sort of way," she said. "Myrtle is an unlikely feminist. She had a traditional-looking marriage and then she wakes up at mid-life to relationships between the sexes and her body."

"The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb" was released in October by Turner Publishing - a new publisher for Reynolds after the Crown Publishing Group put out her three previous novels. When the book was published, Crown also reissued "A Gracious Plenty," "The Firefly Cloak" and "The Sweet In-Between" at the same time.

Even as Myrtle T. Cribb's saga receives rave reader reviews on Amazon and other websites, Reynolds has already completed the first draft of her next selection: "The Cordial Grave" - a story, with a title derived from an Emily Dickinson poem, which is based on a hate crime and the main character's repentance.

"It's a vicious, dark, violent novel," Reynolds said. "The characters decide the tone of the book."

Typically, Reynolds said, her favorite book is the one she's working on "because those are the characters I'm spending time with." Even so, she cited her most prized work as "A Gracious Plenty," the story of a character mediating between people living and dead.

"That freed me to be dreamy and imaginative. I got rid of a lot of reality I'm stuck in," Reynolds said. "It's a fun place to visit - I still visit when I can."

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