Saturday, April 9

RITA Award Winner Cheryl Reavis is here to visit.

Hi, Cheryl. Thanks for coming. I remember telling you after I’d read and wept over Blackberry Winter that I wanted to be you when I grew up. You said, No, I didn’t, but I’m not convinced. I know you’re a nurse, that you’ve written long and illustriously under two different names, that there are RITAs in there somewhere. Fill in between those lines for us, including what’s happening now.
Hi, Liz. Thanks so much for having me. To get right to it, I still think you should only want to be you—so that you can tell the story only you can tell. I’m sure you’ve had people ask you if any of your characters are real. What they don’t realize is that ALL characters are “real” in the sense that they are filtered through a writer’s own personality, knowledge, preferences and life experiences. And not just the people—everything. My chairs, rocks, trees, houses, etc. etc. are just that: Mine. And yours are yours. We may make them up, but they come from what is our “real.”

I’ve written under two names. I started out as “Cinda Richards” for the old Second Chance At Love line. Later, when it folded and I went to Silhouette, I began to write under my own name—Silhouette Special Editions and Harlequin Historicals. I have four RITAS and three other books which were finalists. One of the RITA-winners, A Crime of the Heart, was condensed in Good Housekeeping magazine.

What’s happening now?

If you’d asked me a little over a week ago, I would have said nothing, but things change suddenly in this business. I got a call from NY, and when the dust cleared, I had a brand new agent (my long time agent had retired) and a contract offer for a couple of books for Love Inspired Historicals. This was particularly surprising to me because I hadn’t submitted anything. I wasn’t even thinking about writing beyond prepping some of my reverted-rights backlist for digital release and trying to find some kind of home for my two women’s fiction contemporaries that had been orphaned when Harlequin’s NEXT line folded. Okay, I was beyond surprised. I’m still walking around going, “Wait. What?”

I find myself in a tough spot these days, because my writing voice has aged right along with me . If anything like this has happened to you, what how has it affected your writing direction?
A big part of the reason I wasn’t actively submitting anything—aside from the fact that I’m a card carrying member of the Sandwich Generation and trying to help out with three grandchildren in this economy and my ninety-year-old mother and there are only so many hours in the day and my agent wasn’t interested in taking on any new projects—it seemed to me that the genre had gone in two directions (or a combination thereof) I absolutely didn’t want to go. I was quite happy doing NEXTs, but I think I’ll feel comfortable doing historicals for Love Inspired even though it’s not something I had actively considered. That NEXT door closed, and now here’s another door opening.

If you were starting over again as a writer, what would you do differently?

Probably nothing. I’ve been told by enough people who should know that I shot myself in the foot by writing in both the historical and the contemporary genres because I’m not a prolific writer. But I had two historicals, THE PRISONER and THE BRIDE FAIR, which I just HAD to write—whatever it cost me. And I think it was worth it, partly because I needed to tell both those stories, partly because they both won a RITA, but mostly because I got an email from the daughter of a reader. Her mother had just undergone another of a number of surgeries for cancer—and she told me that the only thing her mom had wanted with her in the hospital was her copy of THE BRIDE FAIR, even though she’d read it many times. Now I consider that a true honor. I would rather have a piecemeal career than have missed that.

Do you have any hobbies?
Oh, Liz. I remember those somewhere in the long, long ago. I used to dabble in acrylics, I know a few guitar cords, I took piano lessons when I was in my thirties, I crocheted. These days, I consider sleep my hobby, mostly because I hardly ever get to do it.

What’s at the top of your bucket list?

My bucket list is more a Bucket Post-It note. What few things I’ve wanted to do, aren’t around to do anymore. Like flying on the Concorde. I think the Orient Express is still running. Maybe I’ll get to do that before they close it down.

I’ve gone from the dining room table to a dedicated room back to the dining room table (or a rocking chair in the living room) for writing, and I have NO routine. Do you have a time, a place, things you have to have—like caffeine or peanuts or whatever—to write?
I took over the living room as my office, and I would like to have a routine. I do try. I like to shower, dress, and eat breakfast as if I were going to a “real job” and work at the computer until 1PM or so. At which time have lunch and then I go to meet my granddaughter’s school bus, help her with homework, and tutor her in reading—and then pick up the football grandson after practice and handle any other transportation snafus or emergencies. (We have been known to have so many complications that somebody gets left locked out and standing, but we do our best.)

“Try” is the key word here, I guess, and basically, I write when I can write. This past Tuesday, I thought I would have the WHOLE day to write. I woke up to no electricity and the non-cordless phone ringing instead. A bad storm had come through during the night, and my daughter in law was calling to say she was trying to get to a teacher’s exam she absolutely had to take 40 miles away, but she’d just found out that the schools were closing AFTER the buses had already arrived, leaving all three grandchildren displaced. My son was already at work some 50 miles away, AND my mom was sick and needed to see her MD ASAP—if his office had power. Did I get everybody situated? Yes. Did I write any? Actually, I did. Late in the evening. I had a headache (having your hair on fire all day will give you one) and I was beyond tired, but I got a word or two down, so all was not lost. Or so I like to think.

My favorite question: If you could choose any woman, past or present, to have dinner with, who would it be and what would you talk about—oh, and where would you eat? I guess that’s three questions, but…
I know where I’d like to eat—it was on my Bucket Post-It Note, but they closed it. I don’t know if they ever reopened it—the restaurant in Central Park in NYC. Tavern on the Green? I’d like to have dinner with Hillary Clinton. I’d like to talk about politics, women’s and children’s rights, everything. Lets make it four questions: what would I eat? Anything but sea/water food. I don’t like water critters of any kind. Fish oil capsules are as close as I get.

Anything you’d like to answer that I haven’t asked?
Can’t think of anything, Liz. I’d tell you my age, but I’m not telling how much I weigh.

Enjoy an excerpt from THE MUSIC BOX below.

Navajo policeman Ben Toomey was out of his element and knee-deep in something worse than Window Rock's usual chaos. Wealthy Eden Trevoy, the little visitor he'd once adored, was back on the reservation, all grown-up—and tangled in secrets about her lost heritage. She needed Ben's help, and somehow he just couldn't turn her away.

But Ben's People said the outsider would never fit into his world, and Eden had her own doubts about her newfound heritage. Yet as Eden learned more about where she came from, she discovered where she truly belonged…with Ben.

Excerpt: © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

IT took him the better part of a day to find the way into the arroyo. He had only been there once, when he was a boy, and while the terrain hadn't changed all that much, he had. All those years ago, he had navigated the narrow slit between the great rocks easily, but now he could barely fit himself into the small crevice that led to the place where he thought Edna Trevoy would be. He was reasonably certain that he had finally found the actual entrance, but the daylight was rapidly fading, and he decided that the path was too treacherous to attempt alone in the dark. He tried calling out to her, knowing that if she had indeed gone to the ledge and the wall where the spiral petroglyphs were, the sound of his voice would likely never penetrate the rocky overhang.

In spite of his sense of urgency, there was nothing to do but wait for somebody to catch up with him. As it was, he would have a lot of explaining to do. The entire time he'd been looking for this place, he had gone over and over in his mind how he would justify his being out here to the lieutenant. He had decided that he would say first that he'd gone on alone because he hadn't wanted to waste any more time. He would say that the whole situation was crazy, that he hadn't seen Professor Trevoy in years. He would say that there had to be some serious reason why she would tell people she was going to this almost inaccessible place in the big canyon and that the only other person who knew the way in was Navajo tribal police officer, Ben Toomey. She'd apparently been very specific about that part, leaving her colleagues to think that he had gone with her.

They'd been so certain that, when she didn't return after two days, they'd called the tribal police to find out if said officer had given anyone a specific itinerary.

He had been happily minding his own business when the call came in—no, actually, he'd been minding the business of a beautiful clerk-typist named Angelina, who had just been assigned to the station to help catch up on a records backlog. At first, he had been amused by the obvious mistake concerning his whereabouts. Here he was standing around drinking coffee and being relentlessly witty and cute for the new personnel, and these people thought he was off on some kind of expedition with an archaeo-astronomy professor his father had worked for when Toomey was a boy. Very funny.

Except that the professor wasn't a practical joke kind of woman, and after a moment or two, he remembered that. She was precise, exacting and no-nonsense. Her long interest in the Anasazi ruins had been in the Old Ones' use of astronomy and their possible observatories, rather than their trash heaps and potsherds. She had wanted to know how they marked time and the summer and winter solstices. He'd once seen her uncover the mathematical precision of a ruined building by the positions of its seemingly random tiny windows. He'd seen her locate nearly the exact center of a ruin simply by snapping her fingers and listening to the echoes. She had that kind of mind, the kind that wouldn't do anything so out of character as to pointedly mention a certain Navajo police officer and then disappear.

Crazy, he thought again.

He walked back to the police utility vehicle to call in to the dispatcher. He had made a point of giving his position as exactly as he could all along the way. It was the only thing he could think of that might temper Lieutenant Singer's anticipated aggravation with him. Regardless of the fact that he was the logical person to come out here, Toomey hadn't waited to be officially assigned. He had taken matters into his own hands, because Lucas Singer had been out of the building and unavailable when the call came in. It was not a wise decision for anyone as far down in the pecking order as Toomey was. And the lieutenant wouldn't cut him any slack, because Toomey had been entirely too helpful in getting Captain Johnny Becenti—whose job it was to tell both of them what to do—married to Lucas's sister, Lillian. It was Toomey's understanding—now—that Becenti and Lucas Singer had barely tolerated each other for years—which explained why Lucas was still somewhat less than thrilled with the marriage and the junior officer who had done his part to bring it about.

Toomey sighed. Well, perhaps he hadn't done all that much. Mostly, he'd just kept his mouth shut about what he knew and when he knew it. It was almost impossible not to tell anyone—a couple as unlikely and mismatched as Becenti and Lucas's too-good-for-the-rez lawyer sister was big news. In fact, the People were still talking about it. But Toomey had managed to stay silent, even under the onslaught of questions from longtime tribal police dispatcher and resident busybody, Mary Skeets. And he had learned a thing or two in the process. How to stand up under Mary Skeets's intense interrogation, for one thing, and how totally unpredictable male-female relationships could be, for another. It didn't seem to matter how indifferent and unreceptive a man thought he was to becoming involved with a particular woman. If she was the right woman, she could still turn him completely around. The problem was whether or not the man could survive the turning.

Toomey sighed again. He had decided all the things he would tell the lieutenant about his one-man quest to locate Edna Trevoy, but there was one thing he wouldn't tell him. He wouldn't say how uneasy all this business with Dr. Trevoy had made him. He was still uneasy, out of harmony, caught knee-deep in something that was not in keeping with the usual chaos of his life and something that he didn't begin to understand. He didn't like surprises, and he was increasingly certain he was about to get one.

He waited what seemed a long time for the dispatcher to respond. He kept hoping that he hadn't gotten into one of those ever-changing pockets of interference that wreaked havoc with radio communications on the rez.

The dispatcher—Mary Skeets—finally answered him. The professor was still lost, she said—unless he had found her. Her tone of voice suggested that his current situation would be much improved if he had.

"No, Mary," he said. "I think I've located the entrance into the arroyo, but I can't be absolutely sure in the dark. I'm going to wait until the others get here before I go in. Does the lieutenant want to talk to me?"

"Oh, yeah," she assured him, and it was clear to him that he might as well accept the fact that he was always going to be in trouble with Lucas Singer. And it wasn't that Toomey did it deliberately—well, today he had done it deliberately, but there were mitigating circumstances.

"Okay," he said. "Put him on."

"My information is that the lieutenant is on his way out to where you are," Mary advised him, and he closed his eyes and cringed. Being lectured via the radio and having half the tribal police force hear it was one thing. Facing Lucas Singer in person was something else again.

"Okay," he said again, because there was a chance Lucas was hearing the transmission even now—but he didn't mean it. He signed off and got out of the utility vehicle, looking back down the dirt track in the direction he had come for headlights. He didn't see anything yet.

What if this isn't the way in?

The thought presented itself with great authority and led to a host of other notions that were equally unsettling. What if the lieutenant couldn't find him. What if the lieutenant did find him? He had no idea which would be worse. What if he'd gone off by himself like this, dragged Lucas Singer all the way out here, and it wasn't the right place? If so, he was pretty sure he could kiss town life goodbye. The lieutenant would have him shipped off to some tribal police outpost so fast he wouldn't know what hit him. It would be months before he'd be able to have any kind of social life again. No flirting with Angelina around the coffeepot, no hope of taking her out dancing, no nothing.

He checked his flashlight to make sure it was still working, then walked back to the slit in the rocks. If Edna Trevoy had gone in there, then why? It was true that the two of them were likely the only people who knew that the wall with the petroglyphs existed; she'd called it her "ace in the hole" and sworn him to secrecy. He had happened upon it when his father was working as a guide and gofer for her. Young Ben Toomey had been allowed to come along on this particular trek because he was interested in the search for ruined watchtowers and faded glyphs and because he knew how to stay out of the way and not cause trouble—a trait he earnestly wished had followed him into his adulthood. Even so, he had been a boy with time on his hands that day, and he had gone into the slit between the huge rocks simply because it was there and he could. He had realized immediately that there was more to the place than first met the eye. He had kept going, following the narrow, winding path, knowing instinctively that he was perhaps the first human to do so in nearly a thousand years.

He finally came out at the big overhang with the decorated rock wall beneath it. The pictograph was clearly visible. Four spirals and a handprint. And some kind of mark above them he couldn't recognize. The professor was particularly interested in spirals, and he knew she would be interested in this. It had taken some doing to tell her about it, because she had been more than a little annoyed by his abrupt disappearance.

Eventually, she had listened long enough to understand that he had found something for her, and she had let him lead her in. Incredibly, she had wept at the sight of it. She kept moving from glyph to glyph, wiping her eyes on her shirtsleeve, so overcome with emotion that she would have actually placed her hand exactly on the ancient handprint if he hadn't stopped her. He had believed in the evil that came from the dead then, and he'd tried to protect her from it, surprising himself and her with his audacity. But she had seemed…touched, he supposed ...


  1. Wow! Wow! Wow!

    FOUR Ritas? I bow at your feet! Amazing.

    Do you have any advice for the unpubbed trying to break in?

    Thanks so much for coming to WW today!

  2. Thank you for the insight Cheryl. Inspirational interview. Following your heart when it comes to writing seems like a good idea to me. It worked out for you pretty well. Two RITAs for the Historicals. Just curious What do the "shoot yourself in the foot" people say now?

  3. Hi there, Cheryl. You sound like a very busy woman. When I was younger, I was addicted to Second Chance at Love books. I always imagined myself as one of their authors. I was so disappointed when the line closed.

  4. This was one of my favorite interviews. I loved the questions. They were insightful enough to let us get to know the author more than I've seen in some other interviews. Thank you.

  5. Hi D'Ann. Probably the best advice I got was in a French II textbook, a phrase that translated: "By writing, one learns to write." So write, write, write. Polish your craft. I think if you've got a tight handle on the basics and you're a storyteller, you can get there. The "story telling" is probably the main thing -- but you have to get through the door. I'd add to that: Read, read, read. And not JUST romance. The more you read, the more you can see what works and what doesn't -- at least for you as a reader. Joining a group like RWA can be very helpful-- and a membership is a great suggestion to make to a person or persons who might be inclined to buy you a present, BTW.:))))

  6. Hi Kary. The "shoot yourself in the foot" people don't say much. Alas, they aren't as impressed by RITAs as they are by bestseller lists. :p

  7. Hi Shawn. I was disappointed when SCAL fizzled, too. One of the editors there told me once that she thought the SCAL premise of "second chances" made for more complex stories -- because there HAD to be a history. And because there was one, the characters were much more developed. They didn't just "spring from the head of Zeus."

  8. Huge congratulations on your RITAS.
    I'm with Kary, I would love to know what the people who said you shot yourself in the foot have to say now.

  9. Cheryl, great interview! I worry about writing cross-genre type stuff, too. Because as much as I like my fun contemporaries, I know I have other stories to tell.

  10. Awesome interview! Congrats on your success!

  11. Cheryl, you have a simply charming voice. Thanks for sharing part of yourself with us. And Liz, thank you for interviewing her.

  12. Thanks, Brenda.

    Kristi: Re: the cross genre thing. My agent at the time figured out how I could do my two historical "books of the heart." In this case, she suggested that I submit a category contemporary, and if it was accepted, then to do several of those to build a readership. AFTER WHICH, because I had some publishing credentials, I would stand a better chance of getting a publisher to publish the historicals (the historical market was extremely dead at this time). And that's pretty much how it went. Of course it took me more than a decade to get the first historical, THE PRISONER, into print, and then more years for THE BRIDE FAIR to gel. An overnight success, I was not. I think sometimes my muse goes to hang out at Nora Roberts house.(LOL)

  13. Thank you, Martha.

    Stacy, you have a charming voice, too.

  14. Great interview! Sounds like you're a writer for all the right reasons, whether it leads you to some bestsellers lists or not.

  15. LOL, Lisa. Money would be nice, though. No, really. It would. :)))

  16. Thank you so much, Cheryl, for sharing your great career with us. I'm curious, were the two historicals your only ones? And if so, did you ever consider writing more? With Ritas for each, it sounds like a good idea.

  17. Hi, Jenna. Re: my historicals, I did THE BARTERED BRIDE, THE FORBIDDEN BRIDE, HARRIGAN'S BRIDE (I think I see a theme here), and THE CAPTIVE HEART. I stopped writing historicals when the chance to write for NEXT presented itself. Also, the handling of Harlequin's historical line in NY was in the process of being shifted over to Mills & Boon, and I wasn't sure how much of a place American writers would have after the move. I really hadn't thought about doing more historicals until this opportunity to do two for Love Inspired came up.

  18. Let's see how many directions can we pull Cheryl in! For the amount of hats you wear, just slap a Lazy Susan on your head and spin. Thank you for your honest and frank peek into your world. What a pleasure it is to know you better. FOUR Ritas...holy smokes. I better get back to writing!

  19. LOL, Sheri. Did I say I say my cell is aka THE BAT PHONE? (My loved ones haven't figured out how to shine that thing in the sky yet.)

  20. Wow! Congrats on the new contract and all those RITAs... You have a career the rest of us are hoping for.

  21. Very nice interview, Cheryl. The comment about the mother in the hospital, very touching. That alone indeed would make everything worth while! Congrats and it's been a pleasure getting to know your world.

  22. I'm so glad you came, Cheryl. Your answers were great and so were the comments they generated.

    I was an addict like you, Shawn, and I'd love to see something like SCAL come back.

    I will say, in case anyone hasn't read Cheryl, that THE BRIDE FAIR and BLACKBERRY WINTER are my absolute favorites. Not that you can lose no matter where you start, but those are just...special.

    Thanks again for coming.

  23. Thanks, Sara and Tammy.

    Liz, you're very welcome and thank YOU.

    Everybody: Do come by my "Writing Life" blog sometime:

    I think I can safely say it's nothing if not eclectic: old movie star photos, bluebirds, recipes, a diary kept by a cadet at the Citadel in the 1930s, even some writing hints buried in there somewhere...)

    Love to "see" you there.

  24. I'm late to the party. Loved your interview and just for the record, I so miss HQ's Next line. Those were becoming my faves.

    Good luck with your upcoming endeavors, Cheryl.

  25. I am so thrilled there will be some new Cheryl Reavis books out there.