Sherrilyn Kenyon was born in Columbus, GA while her father was stationed at Ft. Benning, GA. Her father was a sergeant in the Army and her mother a convenience store clerk who used to take Kenyon to work with her where Kenyon would stock shelves and price items. Kenyon’s father abandoned the family when Kenyon was eight (he returned to the family her senior year of high school), leaving her mother to raise Kenyon, her younger brother, and her older sister, Trish, who has severe cerebral palsy, alone. Kenyon’s brother was sent to live with their grandparents in Atlanta, GA while Kenyon stayed in Columbus to help care for her sister. After almost two years of separation, the family was reunited when Kenyon and her mother and sister moved to Atlanta also. Kenyon’s first recognition for her writing came when she won a contest in third grade by writing an essay about her single mother for Mother’s Day and it was followed a year later when she won a DAR Award for a historical story she wrote about a girl living in Colonial Virginia.
Kenyon was raised in the middle of eight boys, but only two of them were actually her brothers. The other six were her cousins who, due to family crisis, lived with her family off an on most of her early life and young adulthood. She also has two much older sisters.
Even as a child, Kenyon knew that she wanted to be a writer as it provided her an escape from an abusive childhood. She is a big advocate against child abuse and participates in fundraisers to help other victims. In kindergarten, she wrote in her Brownie manual that she wanted to be a writer and a mother when she grew up. Yet neither of those ever came easy for her. At age seven she wrote and illustrated her first novel, Sharron’s Secret, a horror story about a girl who uses her psychic powers to kill her brothers and take over her school. At fourteen, Kenyon made her first professional sale, and continued to write for school newspapers, yearbooks, local papers and magazines throughout high school and college. She gained her love of horror, zombies and paranormal films and novels from her mother, who never censored what movies the young girl was allowed to watch. Her mother even took her to see Night of the Living Dead at a drive-in theater when she was only four years old.
Kenyon originally intended to major in art in college so that she could work in the comic industry and develop her own series. Her dream was to one day work with Marvel or DC comics (her Dark-Hunter comics were turned down by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse back in the 1980’s). She was accepted into the Savannah College of Art and Design, but was unable to afford the tuition to attend. She entered a state college instead (Georgia College) where she majored in English, hoping to be admitted into the Creative Writing program at the University of Georgia (she transferred there after her first two years at GC). Her first quarter of college, she was placed in a remedial English class due to her dyslexia which resulted in a low score on the placement test. The first day of class, her professor realized the mistake and had her placed in an advanced English course that the professor also taught.
Kenyon spent two years as an English major and as an editor for the school paper. She applied three times for admission to the Creative Writing program at the University of Georgia, but was never admitted. After her third attempt, the professor in charge of the program asked her not to apply again as the program was designed for students who had a serious future in publishing and said that Kenyon lacked the talent it would take to be published in fiction, even though Kenyon had already published numerous short stories in magazines and journals.
Disheartened, Kenyon tried to switch her major to journalism, but was unable to be admitted there because she couldn’t pass the typing test required of all students. Kenyon’s right hand is partially paralyzed, making it difficult for her to type on a standard typewriter. With those doors closed to her, Kenyon switched majors to history. Kenyon finished with an interdisciplinary major that combined medieval history and language with Classical Studies.
When Kenyon was 20, she decided it was time to take her experience writing for magazines and parlay it into the book market. Just as she finished her manuscript and prepared to send it to publishers, her older brother who was a staunch supporter of her work, died, and a devastated Kenyon lost the desire to write. That same brother had borrowed a typewriter from his roommate over the Christmas break so that she could type up her manuscript for submission. His last words to her about her writing were, “I know this one’s a winner, baby. I can’t wait to see it in print.” That manuscript later become her novel, Born of Night.
Three years later, Kenyon moved to Richmond, Virginia to marry her longtime boyfriend. While moving her things in, her husband came across her old novels and writings, and asked her why she didn’t write anymore. Kenyon told him her desire to write had died with her brother and packed her manuscripts away. Due to the recession, Kenyon was unable to find a job of any kind. A childhood friend mentioned that the magazine she was editing needed several articles written and offered them to Kenyon. Although Kenyon had not written a word of fiction since her brother’s death, Kenyon agreed to write the articles. As soon as she began the work, she once again began feeling that writing was something she had to do. Even though they had very little money, as soon as her husband found out that she was writing again, he immediately bought her a Brother word processor. He set it up in a corner of their apartment on a card table and with a $10 steno chair. It was there she wrote her first ten novels, including the first three books of her Dark-Hunter series.
Two years later Kenyon sold her first book, Born of Night, with five more sales coming quickly. She won several awards and made several bestseller lists, but after the publication of her sixth novel she found herself unable to get another writing contract. For a total of four and a half years (1994 – 1998), Kenyon was unable to sell any of her manuscripts.
While her career plummeted, Kenyon was in the midst of a great deal of turmoil in her personal life. Her father died in February 1995 from cancer. A very difficult pregnancy cost her her job. The baby arrived seven weeks early and was forced to spend six weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and Kenyon barely survived this delivery. Because her husband was just finishing school, and with her inability to work and their high medical bills, the family “lost everything [we] had which wasn’t much.” As a result, the couple and their severely ill son were forced to live out of their car in the parking lot of a hotel in Columbus, MS until they were finally able to find lodging in a rundown apartment. During that same year, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Kenyon became pregnant again. This second pregnancy resulted in serious medical issues as well, causing Kenyon to be hospitalized for the majority of it. With her mother unable to visit because of her condition, her son restricted from visiting, and her husband spending most of his time taking care of their son and his medical issues, Kenyon turned again to her fiction where she wrote the two books that would ultimately relaunch her career.
Once her second baby was born and she was able to work again, Kenyon took a minimum wage job teaching computers. From there, she worked as a web designer, still writing at every spare moment. Her agent, who’d stayed with her through all the years she hadn’t been selling, continued to submit her work but every submission was turned down.
In 1997, Kenyon received the rejection she credits with relaunching her career and forever changing the course of her writing style. At that time, the hottest novels being published on the market were Regency-set historical romances. Since her critique partners at the time were well-known authors in the field, Kenyon sat down and wrote such a novel. Her agent and critique partners loved it, yet it was the manuscript that garnered her the worst rejection of her career. “No one at this publishing house will ever be interested in developing this author. Do not submit her work to us again.” Kenyon was again devastated. Since they were still living in poverty, Kenyon promised her husband that she would never spend another cent chasing a dream that obviously wasn’t meant to be.
But she couldn’t stop writing. That rejection spurred her to stop paying attention to what was selling to New York. She spent the next few months writing books for herself while listening to the characters and not the market reports. When it was done, Kenyon sent her latest work to her agent who did not like the manuscript at all and declined to further represent her. Believing her career was over and with no money left to pursue it on her own, Kenyon set her work aside.
A few weeks later, Kenyon saw a notice in a writing magazine that Laura Cifelli at HarperCollins was looking for manuscripts. Since Cifelli had been Kenyon’s agent at the beginning of her career, Kenyon sent a single query letter to her. Kenyon offered Cifelli two books. The first in the Dark-Hunter series and the one her agent had left her over. Cifelli declined the paranormal idea because there was no market for those storylines at that time. But she asked to see the historical. Kenyon borrowed money from a neighbor to send that manuscript to New York and Cifelli offered Kenyon a three book contract.
Since the historical was very different from the paranormals and science fiction novels of Kenyon’s early career, Cifelli asked if Kenyon would mind using a pseudonym. Kenyon who was now superstitious over her real name since her initial foray had been so short-lived, chose Kinley MacGregor (the irony here is that even though the MacGregor name appeared on all the bestseller lists first, it would be under the Kenyon name that she would gain her greatest accolades).
Even as Kenyon submitted her Kinley MacGregor manuscripts and slowly built that career, she continued to work on her vampire stories. At the urging of Cifelli, she contracted with a new agent in late 1998. Even though that agent had never represented paranormals before and was reluctant to do so because there was no market for that style of novel, Kenyon convinced her to submit them. The Dark-Hunter novels were turned down by every house. Some even more than once. But by that summer the agent found a home for them at St. Martin’s Press when Jennifer Enderlin bought them. It was almost ten years to the day from the time Kenyon had submitted the first Dark-Hunter novel to the day one was contracted.
Kenyon is best known for her Dark-Hunter series, which comprise the Dark-Hunters, Were-Hunters and Dream-Hunters stories. The books deviate from traditional vampire stories in that the vampires, called Daimons, only live twenty-seven years due to a curse from the god Apollo who appears frequently in the series. To elongate their lives, the Daimon vampires are forced to take human souls in order to live. Apollo’s sister, the goddess Artemis, set up an army of immortal warriors called the Dark-Hunters to kill the Daimons and free the human souls before the souls die. A few of the original Dark-Hunter heroes were taken out of fantasy stories Kenyon wrote in middle and high school.
During the mid-1980s, while working for a small science fiction magazine called The Cutting Edge, her boss asked her to write a long-running serial for the magazine. She brought many of her favorite characters from her previous fantasies into one larger series. This was the start of the Dark-Hunter world. In this series, which has now been percolating for over twenty years, Kenyon has created an entire universe, the rules of which are maintained solely in her head.
In addition to her successful fiction career, Kenyon has also written several non-fiction books. She wrote the Character-Naming Sourcebook, which was finally purchased and published by Writer’s Digest. Writer’s Digest was interested in launching a new series of books, and, because of Kenyon’s background in studying the Middle Ages, she was asked to write Everyday Life in the Middle Ages. When the line was looking for a writer for their Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference, they again turned to Kenyon.
The Character Naming Source Book, has its roots in Kenyon’s childhood. When Kenyon began writing her own stories as a small child, she began keeping a list of names that she liked for future use. As she aged, she continued to develop the list, eventually organizing it by origin, so that if she were writing a French character she could easily find a French name. When fellow author Cathy Maxwell saw the list, she insisted that Kenyon should submit it for publication, as other writers would find it invaluable.
Because of her lifelong love of comic books, graphic novels and manga (Kenyon credits her ability to read to her older brother who used Spiderman comics to teach her), in 2005, Dabel Brothers Productions (“DB Pro”) signed an exclusive contract with Kinley MacGregor (a.k.a. Sherrilyn Kenyon), to adapt the novels in her Arthurian fantasy series, Lords of Avalon. The initial publication was supposed to be 2006, but when the Dabel Brothers partnered with Marvel not long after the contract, the publication was delayed.
Under the Marvel banner, Lords of Avalon was intended to be produced as a monthly comic starting summer 2007, with a script adapted by Roynne Gillespie (The Burning Man) and artwork by Tommy Ohtsuka. A graphic novel edition of Sword of Darkness, the first novel in the series, was originally supposed to have been available in Summer 2007 but was delayed as Dabel Brothers and Marvel Comics ended their partnership. Lords of Avalon: Sword of Darkness was eventually published by Marvel Comics November 2008.
Though Kenyon was in contract discussions with St. Martin’s Press to have a Dark-Hunter manga adaptation as far back as 2003, it wasn’t until 2006 when St. Martin’s brought in Dabel Brothers Productions (“DB Pro”) to be the packager of the books that they were able to move forward. Because Kenyon credits herself with being an Otaku (in the American sense of the word), it would be several months before an artist could be found that Kenyon approved of. Claudia Campos, who is known for her work with Tokyopop, was chosen. The first Dark-Hunter manga artwork appeared in Kenyon’s nonfiction compendium, The Dark-Hunter Companion, in November 2007. It would take another year before Kenyon approved a writer for the adaption of her words, Joshua Hale Fialkov of Afro-Samurai, Elk’s Run, Cyblade, Vampirella and Alibi fame. The Dark-Hunter manga finally debuted July 2009 where it spent two weeks on the New York Times manga bestseller list, hitting a high spot of #4 behind Naruto, Bleach and Fruits Basket. Kenyon was the only American on the list for those two weeks.
As a result of her love of technology, Kenyon had one of the first e-books published by the now defunct Dreams Unlimited. She was the first New York published author to contract in this emerging medium.
Kenyon first entered the internet realm while in college back in the 1980’s. In 1994, she was the first female author to set up a website. Though basic, she understood even then how important the web would become and has been an innovator ever since. She was the first author to have character interviews and profiles, blogs, chats and a truly interactive website that engaged her readers and made them connected to the books, individual series and author. Her various sites continue to set standards in the publishing industry.
Kenyon is severely dyslexic. She is also ambidextrous. Kenyon can write a first draft of a novel in three to four weeks, although she has been known to completely finish a novel in less than four weeks. Her usual time for a novel, however, is four to nine months. In her spare time, Kenyon plays the guitar, flute, piano (though this is limited by what she can do with her one hand), and the drums. She’s also an avid gamer and anime/manga junkie and has been since early childhood. As a child and young woman, she was a sparring partner for two Golden Glove boxers. She was also a football quarterback and an award-winning cook. A past member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and Haskins Society for medieval historians, she is currently a member of Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Author’s Guild, Novelists Inc., and the Romance Writers of America.
Kenyon jokingly states that she only owns three pieces of clothing that are not black (a white chemise for Ren faires and two pairs of jeans) and fans have noted her obsession with this wardrobe choice. She has described her personal style as what happens to Goth when it gets older, and claims that her obsession with wearing all black happened when her mother refused to buy her a black velvet dress when she was in first grade.
Over the years and due to what she humorously calls “her children’s need to eat,” Kenyon has worked a variety of jobs: D.J., photographer (her publishing credits include the Washington Post), store clerk, cook, baker, dollmaker, painter, camerawoman, secretary, receptionist, freelance journalist, janitor, waitress, teacher, ditch-digger, psychic, web designer, programmer, and bookseller.
Kenyon is married and has three sons. The family lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with a menagerie of pets that include dogs, cats, fish, chickens, rabbits and reptiles.