I’d like to introduce you to the seventy-ninth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Cheryl St. John.
Hi, Cheryl! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. You are on Wikipedia as a best-selling author of romance fiction. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
Even as a young girl I was an avid reader. 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 was crushed.
I wrote longhand off and on after that, occasionally typing a story on a manual typewriter my grandmother gave me. 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 then I read a few Victoria Holt books I received from the book club and found them appealing, yet somewhat unsatisfactory in some way I couldn’t define my discontent at the time.
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 classic romances 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 Deveruaux, Johanna Lindsey, Francine Rivers, Catherine Cookson, 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. I guess you could say I’ve always been a writer.
Your first novel, Rain Shadow, was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award. Can you tell us about the book?
I wrote Rain Shadow after I’d attempted several other books—and after I’d learned the concept of writing with goals and conflict planned out before I started. Previously I had submitted the book that came first chronologically, Heaven Can Wait, but it was rejected, because it was packed with research and was way too long. Once Rain Shadow sold, I told my publisher I had Heaven Can Wait. My editor read it and advised me on how to fix it, so it was released after Rain Shadow. Now readers can get them as ebooks.
Three of your novels, Land of Dreams, The Magnificent Seven, and Prairie Wife, have won Romantic Times’s Reviewers Choice Awards. Can you tell us about them? Are they part of a series?
They’re not connected in any way. Land of Dreams remains a reader favorite and one of my bestselling books of all time. It’s a timeless story, when I think about it. A heroine with self-image issues, a couple of unwanted children, and an ex-army major who loves them all boundlessly.
The Magificent Seven is a contemporary and part of the wildly-successful Montana Mavericks series. Two single parents come together to create a family. The story was a lot of fun to write, because of an ornery pair of twins and the chemistry between the hero and heroine.
Prairie Wife was a book of my heart. It’s a story of loss and recovery, but especially of abiding love between a husband and wife. I used an excerpt from the beginning in Writing With Emotion Tension & Conflict.
Your Amazon Author Page says you’ve written fifty Harlequin and Silhouette novels, which include historical romance as well as contemporary. Do you have a favorite? How long does it take you to write a book?
I have favorites here and there, because of how much I enjoyed writing the stories and how the characters have stayed with me. Land of Dreams, Joe’s Wife, Sweet Annie, Saint or Sinner, Prairie Wife, and Her Colorado Man are a few that stand out for me.
I can write a book in three or four months. There have been years when I wrote three or four books and other years when I wrote one. It depends on the contracts and how life is going.
You’ve also written several novellas. Can you tell us about those?
I think I love every novella I’ve ever written. I don’t know what it is about condensing a story and the characterization into that short format, but it makes for a compelling experience. A Magical Gift at Christmas in Snowflakes & Stetsons; Winter of Dreams in Colorado Courtship; Christmas in Red Willow in Western Winter Wedding Bells; Mountain Rose in To Be a Mother—these are some of my favorites.
I first discovered you when I read your Writers Digest Book, Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict, which I loved. How did that book come about? Do you give presentations at writers’ conferences or writers’ workshops?
First of all, thank you. It never gets old to hear my book is being appreciated. As a beginner, there were several generous writers who helped me find my way, so it was natural to turn around and share what I’d learned. I’ve taught workshops at writing conferences, and I taught online classes regularly for a few years. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner to put a lot of what I’d learned into a book, but when I got the idea my agent loved it. When we sold Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict to Writers Digest, I was humbled and amazed. Now my book is right there among those of authors I have studied and admired. The reviews have been outstanding, and I’m thankful for the great opportunity.
I know from your Writers Digest Book that you do a great deal of research for your novels. What is your favorite part of research?
Eating chocolate. And the availability of the Internet. I researched for years by going to the library, shopping the Friends of the Library sale, etc. and collecting more and more books. I still have a lot of books with information on states, Audubon Society wildlife, clothing, horses and much much more, but if I have a question during my planning or writing stage, I now have Google and Bing. The tough part is finding the answer and pulling myself away to move forward on the story.
Are you working on a new book? If so, can you tell us about it?
I’m working on a Harlequin Historical. The working title is Song of Home. Often I get to keep my titles, but I’m never married to them, because they can change when the book gets to marketing. Ruby Dearing left the drudgery of farm life at a tender age to sing on stage and travel with theater troupes, soon realizing she’d made a mistake, but too proud to come home. Seven years later, she returns to make amends, but everything has changed. Ruby must learn how to forgive herself for the years she missed. Her journey is not an easy one, but of course it involves a handsome rancher.
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
Undoubtedly the middle of each and every book. I actually developed a workshop to help others through this section and refer to my own teaching to keep myself motivated.
Do you have a writing routine?
This answer changes with every season of my life. I write weekdays from the time I get up until one of the family arrives home from school or work or until it’s time to prepare supper. I don’t write on weekends unless I have a pressing deadline or have missed a page count during the week. I don’t clean my desk in between books, so it’s messy and covered with pens, notes and binder. It’s a ritual to clean it once the book is finished—and then start messing it up all over again with the next one.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your books. Thanks!
email Cheryl at: SaintJohn@aol.com
Visit her on the web: http://www.cherylstjohn.net/
Like her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/CherylStJ
She’s a Pinterest junkie! http://pinterest.com/cheryl_stjohn/
Read her blog, From the Heart: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/
Writing With Emotion Tension & Conflict:
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.”