Monday, June 04, 2007

An interview with...Cheryl St John

Cheryl St.John is the author of thirty Harlequin and Silhouette books. Her first book, RAIN SHADOW was nominated for RWA’s RITA for Best First Book, by Romantic Times for Best Western Historical, and by Affaire de Coeur readers as Best American Historical Romance. Her 2005 HH, HIS SECONDHAND WIFE, earned another RITA nod. HH LAND OF DREAMS, SSE THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and HH PRAIRIE WIFE each won RT’s Reviewers Choice Awards. Many of her Special Editions made Waldenbooks Top Ten and HH BIG SKY BRIDES anthology climbed to #35 on the NYT list. In describing her stories of second chances and redemption, readers and reviewers use words like, “emotional punch, hometown feel, core values, believable characters and real life situations.”

Cheryl's latest The Preacher's Daughter is currently available at all good local bookshops, on e-harlequin and as an e-book.

Although many writers know they want to be a writer from an early age, was there something in particular that made you decide to pursue your dream?

The defining year for me was the year my youngest daughter went to first grade. I had been at home raising four children spread out over several years and felt the void of sending the youngest to school all day. Until then I’d been playing at writing, keeping handwritten notebooks and dallying with the stories like a hobby. Then and there I decided that I was going to actually do what I’d always dreamed of doing and write an entire book. I started it in October and finished it during that school year. I had the time of my life. I had no idea what I was doing, so it had no plot or conflict and the villain was wishy washy, but the characters were fun and I enjoyed creating a romance. I even submitted the manuscript to every publisher and agent I could find. Only years later did I understand how embarrassing that was. I did everything you’re not supposed to do. Who knew the time period was unmarketable? Who knew you weren’t supposed to bind your submission in a pretty folder? The story is as yet unpublished, though some day I’d like to rework it.

How long after you first started submitting did it take for you to have your first book accepted?

A lo-o-o-ong time. As I said, I started submitting before I was ready, before I’d discovered a writing group or Dwight Swain. I was writing for about four years before I found a local writers group. I was fortunate. I generous lady and talented Avon author named Diane Wicker Davis started my local chapter. She read my stuff and showed me how to make the stories better and the writing stronger. I lucked into a critique group with another published author, Barbara Andrews (who now writes with her daughter as Pam Rock) and she and the group encouraged me. Once I learned the techniques to write to sell, it took about another three years.

What attracts you to your time period?

For me the appeal of Americana and westerns is the simplicity of the time and the durability of the men and women. Life was difficult. People were determined and resilient. I watched westerns from the time I was a kid and learned to appreciate the charm and strength of a cowboy. The ever-present themes of good verses evil are the foundations of those universally appealing types of stories. Who doesn’t love to root for an underdog? Who doesn’t want to see the bad guy get his comeuppance?

The rancher/farmer’s sweat and blood are imbedded in his land--as deeply as the riverbeds and the roots of the ancient trees. It may have been his father’s before him, or he could have broken his back to earn it. In any case he will die to keep it. Solidarity. And any man who would pour this much passion into his land, will love his woman even more ardently.

To nearly all women I’ve spoken to on the subject of cowboys, physical appearance plays a major part in the attraction. The reality was that dungarees or Levis were not exactly ‘slim cut’ or sexy; they were stiff and probably dirty, and few real cowboys fit the image of the Marlboro man, but our fantasy cowboy has a lean backside in a pair of tight-fitting jeans, long legs, and that ever-present Stetson pulled low over his eyes. Ever notice how a pair of chaps invariably draws the eyes to the uncovered sections of denim?
Our man wears his Colt strapped to his thigh, the holster rides his lean hips, his spurs jangle--this dangerous guy exudes sex appeal. The western hero is a hard body due to demanding work on the range, riding and roping, chasing outlaws, stopping the runaway stage, and sleeping on the ground. He’s untamed, a little wild, and a lot sexy. He doesn’t need a gym membership or a treadmill.

Who are some of your favourite romance authors?

Dangerous question for any booklover, isn’t it? This list could be huge. I was a Stephen King fan and read horror, true crime (Anne Rule) and westerns, the latter primarily written by Louis L’Amour. I read Dean Koontz back when he wrote under a woman’s name. Through a bookclub I discovered Catherine Cookson and Nora Lofts and had a peep into the possibilities of great storytelling plus a romance. The first romances I deliberately bought because they were romance were by LaVyrle Spencer and Lisa Gregory/Candace Camp/Kristin James, Jude Devereaux and Erin St.Claire (Sandra Brown). I was hooked. I found Maggie Osborne and Pamela Morsi. I loved everything Jill Marie Landis put her hand to. Laura Kinsale came of the scene and I found her stories irresistible. Ad to those greats writer Theresa Weir/Anne Frasier, Janet Evanovich, Kristin Hannah, Megan Chance,Catherine Anderson, Linda Howard, Alexis Harrington, Sharon Sala, Laura Lee Ghurke, Eloisa James, Penelope Williamson, Emile Richards, Robyn Carr, Jane Goodger, Rachel Nelson and more.

What are some of your favourite movies?

* Hope Floats
* Sommersby
* Pay It Forward
* Return To Me
* The Con
* Bounce
* Quigley Down Under
* The Love Letter
* Winter People
* Lonesome Dove
* Far & Away
* Phenomenon
* Mrs. Winterbourne
* Paradise
* High Road To China
* At First Sight
* Notting Hill
* The Fulfillment of Mary Gray
* A Star is Born
* While You Were Sleeping
* The Substitute Wife
* Face Off
* The Bone Collector
* The Wedding Date
* Music & Lyrics

What does your writing cave look like?

Messy. Papers everywhere. Books all over. I’m known far and wide as a collector and my office reflects that particular gene as much as any room in my house. In my office have a curio full of old and new dolls: Barbies, My Scene, Ginnys, Disneys, Madame Alexanders, and any others I can’t resist.

There are framed writing awards on the few visible walls—most of the wall space is taken up by bookcases. The color of the walls is called Strawberry Pot, it’s a soothing and inspiring teal, my favorite color. I have a comfy rocking chair piled with pillows, a TV on an upper shelf, a counter full of office machines like copiers and printers and two computers. My book covers are thumb tacked to the bulletin boards that back my desk area on three walls, along with pics that readers have sent. I have half a dozen oil lamps, a row of Angel Cheeks, framed photographs of the cutest kids ever, a jeweled tiara and paperweights. A vintage globe that belonged to my grandmothers sits atop one of my cabinets. There are many things I love about my space, and one of them is that it’s sound proof. You can actually hear the difference when you come into the room—the effect created by four walls of books.

When you are not writing what do you do?

Probably not sleeping, LOL My husband and I like to garden together, so many of our weekends are spent creating arbors and gardens and soon ponds. We love to shop flea markets and browse antique malls. More often than not you could find me selecting paint, then watching him roll it on or arranging a spot in the house just so. I like to make interesting displays of vintage collections and have so many I have to change them out to enjoy them. I’m a movie junkie, so late night I watch movies (and take plotting notes—it makes me feel like I’m working).

Can you share a special recipe? Either one that your characters make in your latest book, or one you often make?

I love to bake and also collect cookbooks and recipes. This is my summer specialty. We have oodles of family on hand all the time so I make this about once a week, believe it or not.

Cheryl's Easy Strawberry Shortcake

For years I made angel food cake from scratch and only recently did I discover the mixes are awesome! I buy the angel food cake mix that only takes water. Other mixes require egg whites, but that one is so simple, that's why I like it. Some of the store brands are really good. Bake the cake according to the directions, but bake it in a 9 x 13 pan that you've lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

While it's baking clean and slice 1 - 2 pints of strawberries. (I've also used frozen with excellent results.) While the cake is cooling, prepare a large package of sugar-free strawberry jell-o. I use crushed ice (cause it's on the door of my fridge and easy) added to the cold water to speed setting up. It will still be liquid. Add the strawberries to it.

Use a large meat fork or a knife and poke holes all over the cake. Use the utensil to pull the sides away from the pan. Stab it up really well. Then pour the strawberry and jell-o mixture around the sides first, then over the top. You may have to use a big spoon to distribute the liquid and fruit evenly.

Cover it and immediately refrigerate. It takes only a couple of hours to set up if you need it right away. I've made it at the last minute or the night before with perfect results.
Serve with whipped topping
Many thanks to Cheryl for taking the time and trouble to answer our questions.


Anonymous said...

yummm, your description of cowboys sounds as good as the shortcake!

And soundproofing a room? Now I have a great excuse for the number of books in my home. Thanks!


Andrea said...

I have yet to read a Cheryl St.John book that I don't LOVE! Keep up the great work!