Romance writer Sherrill Bodine has placed her most recent spicy novel right here on the North Shore. Currently residing in Glencoe, she uses the sights and sounds of the surrounding communities as fodder for her passionate books.
Photographs by Jon Cancelino
Novelist Sherrill Bodine bases her books on real people and places. For instance, Tim Long, the curator of the costume collection at the Chicago History Museum, told her a story over drinks once that inspired her latest book, A Black Tie Affair. He divulged some information about a top-secret bomb shelter outside of Chicago, where the Museum stores much of their clothing collection, and revealed that he was once poisoned by a black Dior evening dress—hallucinating and being unable to control what he was saying. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what an incredible story to share with my readers!’” she says with excitement. To vividly write about it in her book, she was taken to the undisclosed location and, while sporting a mask and gloves, saw the fabulous collection of couture garments.
A Black Tie Affair’s main character, Athena Smith, endures a similar situation. The fictional character is a fashion curator dying to get her hands on the wealthy Clayworth family’s couture collection. When she is finally called upon to authenticate the collection, a dress she examines turns out to be loaded with toxins and she faints, only to wake up face-to-face with a past love interest—notorious Chicago bachelor Drew Clayworth. Sherrill’s powerful imagination allows her to integrate such real-life situations into her sexy romance novels.
Having lived in three suburbs on the North Shore—Wilmette, Winnetka, and now Glencoe—she uses many of the communities’ residents and sights as material for her most recent books. “The North Shore is so rich in history,” she explains. “I’m so familiar with it, and I’ve met some fascinating people up here. If you’re writing about Chicago, I don’t know how you can’t write about this area.” Much of A Black Tie Affair takes place in Lake Forest with its fictional family the Clayworths loosely based on the Marshall Field family. Through socializing and studying the history of Chicago, Sherrill learned that many of the wealthy families re-established themselves in Lake Forest after the Chicago Fire and thought it apropos to place her characters there.
Sherrill wasn’t always a resident of the area; she grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, and it was her husband’s roots which brought her up north. Winner of a childhood essay contest and editor of her high school newspaper, she always had the gift of writing, maybe even before her Indiana upbringing. “Someone once gifted me a reading by a famous numerologist. We’re having a session, and she told me I’ve been a writer almost too many times in past lives,” she explains. “At a very young age, I knew I was going to be a writer. When I told my grandparents that, they said, ‘Oh that’s lovely, but you’re going to be a nurse or a teacher or a secretary.’” She actually pursued a degree in nursing at Indiana University, but recognized that wasn’t her true calling.
Prior to college, she met her husband, John, who was a student at Purdue. He swears it was love at first sight, but Sherrill suspects it was the sentiment of relief rather than love that he originally felt. For their first (blind) date he had to wend his way through piles of earth because the basement of her house had collapsed and it was up on jacks, and when he knocked on the door it was mistakenly slammed in his face. Despite the awkward first meeting, they eloped a year later. Together they moved 22 times as John took on different faculty positions at universities across the country.
Ultimately, they came back here because of John’s family business. His grandfather and great-uncle started Bodine Electric, a manufacturer of fractional horsepower gearmotors, motors, and motor speed controls, in 1905. He had always resisted joining the business, but once his uncle developed a very early case of Alzheimer’s and another relative passed away, he knew it was time to return to the Chicago area. Though his parents wanted him to move back to his hometown of River Forest, Sherill had a different idea. “I thought if we were going to move to Chicago, why wouldn’t you want to live somewhere near the lake? So we bought the cheapest house in East Wilmette on Greenleaf,” she remembers. Ever since, they’ve stayed on the North Shore, moving northward along the Lake.
After living in so many places, she has really fallen in love with Chicago and enjoys writing about it. “It’s a fabulous city with fabulous people and so much warmth. Why shouldn’t I write about Chicago the way Candace Bushnell writes about New York?” she questions with a giggle. Sherrill just received an offer from Grand Central Publishing on another “sexy and sassy” Chicago story with the working title Another Touch of Venus. With 17 books under her belt (the first 15 under her aliases Lynn Leslie or Leslie Lynn), she is always working on some story in her imagination. “I can teach you writing, but I can’t teach you imagination,” she explains. “When you’re in school they call it daydreaming, I call it creating.”