Sharon Mabry, retired APSU music teacher, publishes her first novel

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CLARKSVILLE, TN – In “The Postmaster’s Daughter,” Sharon Mabry’s haunting and suspenseful debut novel, a young woman is murdered shortly before her wedding day. This tragedy unfolds in the late 1930s, deep in the hills of East Tennessee, and in the years that follow, the traumatic event causes the community’s two most important families to crumble.

The Putnams and the Cantrells: two very different families whose lives are torn apart by the murder of a young woman,” said Khristeena Lute, author of “Finding Grace and Grit,” in a book review. “This southern mystery grows more complicated with each chapter as elements of region, family, and sordid plot slowly heat to a boil.”

The book, which will be published next month by Thorncraft Publishing, has won quick acclaim from critics, who praise its beautiful writing and Southern Gothic charm, but they often fail to mention another fascinating aspect of the novel: its author.

The Postmaster’s Daughter, Sharon Mabry’s debut novel, will be available worldwide on October 20.

Most people don’t know Mabry as a fiction writer. To them, she is an award-winning mezzo-soprano soloist and recording artist. She recently retired from Austin Peay State University, where she taught voice for 52 years, winning the Richard M. Hawkins Award for Research and Scholarly Achievement and the Distinguished Professor Award for Teaching. But she’s as comfortable with pen and paper as she is with a microphone.

“I’ve always been interested in fiction,” Mabry said recently. “Even when I was growing up.”

At 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center will host a book launch for the new novel, with Mabry reading and signing copies of her book.

‘I wrote a little, I jotted down little ideas’

On a beautiful September morning, Mabry stopped by the APSU Ann Ross bookstore to talk about her new novel. She was sitting at one of the small square tables, smiling as she told stories of her childhood in Newport, Tennessee. The small, rural town sits about 25 miles east of Gatlinburg in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It was there that she first developed her passion for music, but at the time she also found herself drawn to books and English lessons.

“When I was growing up, I was an only child, so I didn’t have any siblings to play with and distract me with,” she said. “And so, I either practiced the piano or I read. And I wrote a little, I jotted down little ideas.

She would eventually leave Newport to begin a long and successful musical career, but the city and her affinity for songwriting never left her. Even when performing as a recitalist and soloist with symphony orchestras around the world, she found time to jot down scenes and character details in a journal.

“During all the years that I was performing, traveling all over the country, I always carried a journal with me, and during downtime, just to distract myself and not worry about the upcoming performance, I would write “, she said. “Just observations. I have lots and lots of observations about people. I like people watching.

When she wasn’t writing, Mabry enjoyed reading mystery novels by Elizabeth George, Agatha Christie and Patricia Cornwell’s famous Scarpetta series. So it was no surprise when she started developing her own murder story. The story was completely fictional, but the setting and characters were based on the East Tennessee community it once called home.

Then one day in the early 1990s, Mabry went to Abingdon, Virginia to perform at Emory and Henry University. She checked into the Martha Washington Inn with her attendant, then read an early draft of the novel aloud to her friend.

“I remember her saying, ‘You should do something with this,'” Mabry said. “But I never really did. I was just busy teaching and singing.

She has also written two non-fiction books – “The Performing Life: A Singer’s Guide to Survival” and “Exploring Twentieth Century Vocal Music”. The novel went into a desk drawer, and a decade passed before a friend – Ellen Kanervo – invited her to join a writers group. Over the years, the group read more chapters of the book. and they encouraged Mabry to keep working on it.

“It got me back into the habit of writing because we met once a month and I had to have something to contribute,” she said. “If it really hadn’t been for them… I blame them for that.”

“I was blown away”

Earlier this year, Kanervo spoke to Mabry of Thorncraft Publishing — a Clarksville-based book publisher that focuses on women authors. Over the past decade, Thorncraft has published such popular titles as the novel “Grace Among the Leavings” and the non-fiction “Seasons of Balance: On Creativity and Mindfulness.” In 2020, the company won an Ovation Award for its “significant contribution to supporting arts and culture in Montgomery County”.

Mabry looked at the publisher’s website and decided to send her manuscript to Shana Thornton, the owner of Thorncraft.

“She responded quickly and said, ‘I want to post this,'” Mabry said. “I was flabbergasted.”

The book will be out next month, but it’s already getting a lot of advanced acclaim. Paula Wall, best-selling author of The Rock Orchard, called “The Postmaster’s Daughter” “a haunting southern requiem that will play in your mind long after the book is closed.”

Barry Kitterman, author of “The Baker’s Boy” and “From the San Joaquin: Stories,” said “There’s something here for anyone who likes to read a book on a rainy afternoon.”

To prepare for this rainy day, be sure to visit the Customs Museum and Cultural Center at 1 p.m. on October 22, or amazon.com.

For more information about the book, visit https://thorncraftpublishing.com/.

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