Saturday, November 5
Welcome Cheryl St. John...
Okay, allow me a little gushing time here. I've been reading Cheryl's work from the get-go, when we were both spending much of our time picking up and dropping off our housefuls of kids. I have never been disappointed in the first word she's written, and this interview is no exception. Cheryl, thanks so much for coming!
Where are you from?
I'm a Midwest girl, born in Iowa, but raised in Nebraska. I live in a big city, however, so don't ask me about cows or corn-unless it’s Cornhuskers, and then I'm all over that. Go Huskers!
Cheryl, how long have you been writing?
I've always written in one form or another. As a child I wrote stories, drew the covers, and stapled them into mini-books. My first rejection came at age fourteen when I submitted a romantic short story to Redbook Magazine. I still have the form rejection.
I wrote long hand off and on after that, occasionally typing a story on my Grandma St.John's manual typewriter. I submitted a novella length story to a magazine. Remember how the women’s magazines used to print a condensed version of a popular author’s book? What a dreamer I was! Then for years I pretty much dedicated myself to my family, and raised my four kids. I used to read only horror, mystery and mainstream novels, but I read a few by Victoria Holt and Catherine Cookson I'd received from the book club and found them appealing, yet somewhat unsatisfactory.
On a whim one day, while browsing the store shelves, I bought Lisa Gregory's The Rainbow Season and LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird. Imagine that out of all the books available, I chose those two classics for my first taste of romance! Needless to say, I was hooked from that day forward. I devoured everything either of those two authors ever wrote, and went on to Janelle Taylor, Jude Devereaux, Johanna Lindsey, Francine Rivers, and Kathleen Woodiwiss.
When my youngest daughter went to Kindergarten, I was lost without her. In retrospect, it was empty nest syndrome, but instead of having another baby, which many women do, I decided it was time to write the novel that would launch me to stardom.
Yeah, right. The rest of the process took a little longer. And I’m still not sure about the stardom part.
On that same order, is there any specific writer, living or dead, who made you know that's what you wanted to do?
That would have to be LaVyrle Spencer. I fell in love with romance when I discovered her books, and from then on I knew I had to be a writer.
Can you tell us how you found a publisher and/or agent?
The really ignorant way, I assure you. I was clueless, unlike the beginning writers today who have the Internet and online communities. I didn't even know any other writers to ask about the process. Looking back on my amateurish manuscript preparation, all the stories with no plot or conflict, and the volume of editors I sent the manuscripts to is a humiliating, yet laughable experience. I can't believe I did that! I wrote in a vacuum for years, reading how-to books from the library and sending stuff out to everyone in The Writer's Market. Those early books are still on a shelf in my basement, along with a few others, and rightly so.
Cheryl, you’ve written a lot of romances over a number of years. Can you share some tips on sustaining a writing career in romance?
I think for me, consistency has been the key. I know a lot of authors reinvented themselves when the market got tough. Some are doing well in new genres, but others aren’t having much success. There was never anything I wanted to write as much as I wanted to write American West, so I stayed with it. Even when Harlequin Historicals looked like it might take a dive and the publisher asked if we wanted our scheduled books back, some authors took theirs back, but I gave them mine, in a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may sort of way. And now westerns are once again thriving, with writers like Linda Lael Miller, Margaret Brownley and Jill Marie Landis right in there on top again.
I’ve stuck with an era I really love, and I’ve written characters who could be someone we all know. I think readers can identify with the down-to-earth story people and their struggles for love and happiness.
What do you enjoy most about the writing process and what do you find the most challenging aspect of the writing process?
I absolutely love the creative process. Brainstorming with my writing partners is an amazing experience. No suggestion is too crazy. I jot down all the ideas as fast as I can. And then I let it all simmer in my head for a couple of days. Before long I get out my character grids and plot grid, several different colored pens, my name books, and I sit on a comfy sofa in a quiet house and come up with a story.
Sometimes I watch a few movies for inspiration. I always have a steaming cup of tea. This process takes a day or two, and once I’ve filled out my paperwork, I take it to the PC and write a synopsis. This part of the process never fails to get me excited.
The most challenging aspect is staying on target with a deadline, while life is happening all around me. It takes a lot of self-discipline to be a writer.
So what are some of Cheryl St.John’s favorite things to do when you aren’t writing away the day?
I enjoy hanging out with my family. My grandkids are great, and we have so much fun together. I collect recipes and love to bake. Ever so rarely, I lose myself in a movie marathon and either Netflix to my heart’s content or get out all my favorites and watch them right in a row. Occasionally I go to a matinee all by myself, and once in a while I sneak off to the antique mall.
Western historical romances are unique to the American experience. Any lessons modern Americans should learn from those who tamed the Old West?A spirit of independence and hard work created this nation in which we live. Good things are worth working for—and sometimes waiting for. As Americans, family is the backbone of everything we stand for. We all want to make better lives for ourselves and our children, and we need to learn from past mistakes and past successes to make that happen. So stand tall and don’t squat with your spurs on.
What’s a typical writing day like?
It’s changed over the years as my life has changed. I went from dropping off kids at school to having an empty nest, to dropping off one child—my grandson. Right now I don’t have any kid duties, so I get up, make a fresh pot of tea—chai is my preference—and read through my email, take care of the things that are pressing that day, and then open my Word file.
I read over what I wrote the day before, edit a little as I go, and then continue forward.
Many nights after supper and my favorite evening shows, like American Idol and Bones, I go back to my desk and work. If my brain is too tired to write much past 11 or 12, I do promo work and blog.
I teach several online classes each year, so sometimes I’m up until 2 or 3 preparing lessons. Bookmark my workshop: http://cheryl-stjohn-workshop.blogspot.com/
What's on your TBR pile?
A mountain! Pictures from an Expedition, Diane Smith, A Texas Christmas, Linda Broday, et all, Captive Trail, Susan Page Davis, We Who Worship, Cheryl Salem, Failing Forward, John C. Maxwell, A River to Cross, Yvonne Harris, A Bride in the Bargain, Deeanne Gist, Leota’s Garden, Francine Rivers to list the pile in front.
What’s new for you?
My October release is a Christmas anthology, Snowflakes and Stetsons. In April, I kick off a Love Inspired continuity about three Irish sisters coming to America in 1850 with The Wedding Journey.
What's your favorite thing about yourself? Your least favorite?
The least favorite is the easiest. I’m easily distracted. I start a task in one room and before I know it I’m in another room and have forgotten what I started out to do. I have lists and a planner to keep me on track with writing, and I need the same checklists and deadlines for other things, as well.
I thought the favorite thing would be tough, but it didn’t take me long to think of something. I think it would be that I’m a positive and optimistic person. I don’t get bogged down with what I can’t do, but focus on the possibilities. Every day is a do over. I encourage myself and believe for the best. And I enjoy being able to encourage others.
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