Sherri Leimkuhler said she always wanted to be an author.
Leimkuhler’s journey from inspiration to publication took 11 years before her dream finally came to fruition. Her debut novel, titled “What’s Left Untold,” hit bookshelves May 19, and her inspiration delves from a real-life occurrence.
“What’s Left Untold” tells the story of Anna Clark and Lia Clay, two unlikely best friends with opposite personalities. Lia walks out on the pair’s friendship during college, leaving Anna hurt and confused.
Twenty years later, Anna discovers a letter Lia wrote the summer after high school that contains a cryptic message with a devastating truth. Their 20-year high school reunion is approaching, and Anna is moving closer to uncovering Lia’s secret, and its consequences.
What happens after that remains a mystery.
“This book is about secrets, betrayal, and loss, but it’s also about friendship, forgiveness, love and family,” Leimkuhler said. “There’s a lot of twists.”
Leimkuhler was helping her parents clean out their house in 2009 as they were getting ready to move. She discovered a trunk of her childhood memorabilia that had been tucked away in a closet containing items such as photo albums, a box of letters, and even a pair of leg warmers.
One of the letters in the box had a postscript that caught her attention. She described it as “ominous.”
“It said something like, ‘I need to see you, I have something important to tell you,’” Leimkuhler said. “I don’t remember what that important thing was or if it was ever revealed, but later I thought, what if it did matter? I started to ask myself, ‘What is something you could discover 20 years after the fact that could still have a major impact on your life?’”
Leimkuhler, a Sykesville resident and former columnist for the Carroll County Times, said the book is not about her and the characters are composites of personalities she has known, but they are not based on real people.
She graduated from Ohio University in 1994 with degrees in aviation and journalism, so writing was already one of her strong suits.
Life happened after Leimkuhler graduated from college. She got married, had children, and spent three years training for two Ironman triathlons with her husband. She is also a certified yoga and group fitness instructor.
Leimkuhler spent a year finishing the manuscript for her novel and, during that time, joined the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association in 2015. She entered the association’s RISING STAR Award for Unpublished Women’s Fiction, an award designed for the unpublished writer of women’s fiction, and her manuscript was selected as one of the finalists.
“That was a big turning point for this book because it definitely breathed some new life into the book and gave me a little boost of confidence,” Leimkuhler said. “Part of being a finalist was that several agents reviewed my manuscript and provided feedback, so that was huge.”
Leimkuhler spent another year editing after that and changed her manuscript format from chronological to a flashback. She began submitting it to publishers and agents in 2016 and, in September 2018, she signed a contract with Red Adept Publishing.
“It’s not uncommon in the world of publishing that once you sign the contract, it’s anywhere from 18 months to two years for that book to come out,” Leimkuhler said. “Mine was just under two years.”
Leimkuhler already has the first draft of a second novel completed, but said it might take at least two to three years before it is released. She has rough outlines for a few more books in the works as well.
Leimkuhler’s first two books are based in Maryland, but her characters venture to other cities. Much of her storytelling comes from an event that happened or a place she has been to, so she crafts the character’s journey through what she envisions and starts to write.
There is a twist in the book that Leimkuhler said people might not see coming, but the element of suspense is something she strived to reach when developing the story.
“[Something] that has been so happy to hear is from readers who haven’t read a book for pleasure in a long time, they either have little kids or they’re really absorbed in their career … when they say they grabbed my book, sat down and couldn’t put it down, that makes me so happy,” she said. “That was my main goal, not only to get a book in the world, but to write a book that people would find a lot of pleasure in reading.”