“As I neared the finish line, I had to forego my three mornings at the gym; my only exercise became sitting at the computer!”
Claire Underwood Hertzler recently released her first book, The High Sheriff of Greene, based on the life of a legendary Georgia sheriff.
Claire’s writings include these published articles: “Travel Insurance Tips,” Transitions Abroad Magazine; “Encounter With God,” Church Recreation Magazine; and “Easter at Flat Rock,” Georgia Magazine, also about Greene County, Georgia. She has two articles in The Pens in the Piedmont, an anthology released July, 2017 by the East Metro Atlanta Christian Writers.
In addition to writing, Claire was one of the first activists fighting human trafficking in Atlanta. She is active in Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Jim Wall Coaching (JWC): This is your first published book. What prompted you to write this story as your first?
Claire: I had been considering writing a book set in Greene County, Georgia, because I grew up there. I knew Sheriff Wyatt by sight – “there go Wyatt and Taylor”; however, I never expected to write a book about a sheriff! So it’s been a surprise to me. It’s like L.L. Wyatt’s name came to me from outside myself and the more doors the opened to me, the more I felt called to write his story.
JWC: Can you give us some highlights of the The High Sheriff of Greene?
Claire: It’s the true story of legendary sheriff, L.L. Wyatt, who was recruited to Greene County, GA, at age 21 to break up a thriving moonshine industry during prohibition; the largest operation was over on Carey’s Station Rd. Wyatt’s battles with the bootleggers soon made him a larger than life figure, sweeping everyone up into the lore of L.L. Wyatt. After making the county one of the most crime-free in Georgia, Wyatt was elected sheriff. He was a sheriff and a gentleman, treating the most heinous criminal, black or white, with respect and kindness, while not sparing the law. At 70 years of age, Wyatt gained national recognition and the attention of Hollywood when he put his own life at risk to stop the car of two armed bank robbers and freed their hostages. This little slice of Georgia history pictures a lawman of the deep South, revered by “his people” (as he called them) for 52 years, whose life speaks to readers today of courage, honesty, fairness, right dealings, and the utmost respect for the law. It also speaks to young adults today who are seeking a calling for their lives; Wyatt felt kind of a divine calling and protection which made him fearless.
JWC: The High Sheriff of Greene contains many stories about the main character, L.L. Wyatt. How did you get these stories?
Claire: I started with the Sheriff’s son, Sonny, who had retired and moved with his wife, Madeleine, to Reynolds Plantation, Greensboro. Once I gained their confidence, they began to give me referrals to folks who knew the Sheriff. In Greensboro, I dropped in to see Carey Williams at the Herald Journal and Joel McCray, County Historian, at Greensboro Florist and Steve McCommons at McCommons Funeral Services. And then I followed up every lead anyone gave me – about 30 in all. The interviews were the fun part – my re-connecting with my home town – and just the surprising ways interviews came about. I am now collecting stories for an expanded edition in the future.
JWC: How do you go about the process of writing, particularly book-length writing?
Claire: At first, I would come home from Greensboro so full of wonderful stories and praises to God about how well things went. After a few months, I realized this book would not get written if I did not structure some blocks of time. Since I do have another busy life, I set aside Tuesdays and Thursdays as my writing days and the afternoons of the other days as much as I could. As I neared the finish line, I had to forego my three mornings at the gym; my only exercise became sitting at the computer! My first interview with the Wyatt family was in January, 2015 and I sent the manuscript to the publisher on June 2, 2016 – one and a half years in the making.
JWC: What has surprised you the most about becoming an author?
Claire: It was hard work at times, especially the need for accuracy, but it was always a joy as I was bringing Wyatt back to life for those who knew him and for those who would wish they had. It has been an unexpected journey which I feel God orchestrated and which I am totally enjoying.