An Interview with Cheryl St.John

me555.JPG 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  The story is as yet unpublished, though some day I’d like to rework it.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.

dsc00326.JPGWhat 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).   

+ posts

11 thoughts on “An Interview with Cheryl St.John”

  1. I loved hearing about how you got started. It’s fun to hear what you do when your not writing. I love all your books I am a huge fan. I love this site you guys made together. There are never enough “good” westerns. Don’t shop to much write more books.

  2. Cheryl, I think it’s neat for you to let your fans known more about you. We need to let them see that we’re just like them. We have the same problems and desires and struggles that they do.

    And I like seeing how much you and I have in common. It took me a long time to publish too and that first finished ms is still under my bed. It’s not publishable. I was learning the craft. I think most of have those first dust-collectors hidden away. What’s important though is that we kept trying and never gave up. I think perseverance is the single most asset a writer can have. And I think it’s strange that a reader thinks that once we sell the first ms we’re set for life. That’s sure not true. We’re never assured of a sale, no matter how many we’ve gotten into print. We have no guarantees.

    But, we sure do love what we do. I’m really passionate about writing western romance. Give me my cowboys any day! 🙂

  3. Don’t you suppose everybody is embarrased to think of the first book they finished and sent off? I mean sure there are a few out there who get it…right out of the gate. Didn’t Nicholas sparks get one million dollars for his first book?
    But MOSTLY we’ve all gotta learn. I think I’d been writing two or three or four years before I ever heard of RWA and I found it through something you, Cheryl, were quoted as saying in the Omaha World-Herald about the local RWA chapter in Omaha. So I began finding out there was a community of writers and finding that was the next step in a long slow journey.

  4. Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing your beginnings with us. I’ve always loved to hear “how I got started” stories.

    I love westerns for all the reasons you mentioned. I have a ton of mss. that are straight westerns stuck away in boxes. That’s what I started out writing. Then, I happened to read Janet Dailey’s “This Calder Range” and I was completely hooked. I knew that’s what I wanted to write.

    Your journey resonates with so many of us because it’s similar to our own. We write our hearts out purely for the love of it, then at some point we discover there are other writers out there like us. Then, we begin to learn HOW to write. *g*

    I wish you all the best and continued success. It was your story about a widowed sheriff with a small child (can’t remember title, and that’s embarrassing) that got me started on HH’s several year ago. :o)

  5. Thanks, Sheila! I was just planning on sneaking out for a Sat evening shopping trip. <g> I live really close to lots of good shopping.

    You’re right about no guarantees, Linda! Many people are surprised to hear how many rejections I get.

    No, kidding, Mary!? That had to be quite a while ago, but then I always plug our wonderful RWA chapter when given a chance. How cool that something I said led you to the organization!
    Teaser: We’re having a retreat in January….

    Devon, don’t feel bad, I don’t remember the title off hand, either! Widowed sherrif? LOL


  6. Okay, okay. So the old gal’s memory isn’t what it used to be. I went looking and realized “Land of Dreams” was the first book I had read of yours. Good grief, now I’m wondering who wrote the book about the sheriff with the spoiled brat daughter who needed a mother/teacher/keeper. All this time, I thought it was you! LOL!

  7. Devon, you make me laugh! There have been some WONDERFUL western HHs, haven’t there? In the day, some of my favorites were by Laurie Grant, Linda Castle, Ana Seymore, Mary Burton, Deloras Scott and Cassandra Austin.

    Any of those ring a bell?

  8. Well, yeah, those names are familiar, but not in relation to that book. All I can picture on the cover is your name! Oh, well. There must have been something about the writing, style or something that my aged brain associated it with you. Wish I still had it so I could look.

  9. Hi Cheryl,

    Rework that novel, Girl! I’ll bet it is a real winner.

    I agree with your statements about cowboys….I love cowboys–real cowboys. There’s just something about those long legs and cute cowboy butt But mostly I love cowboys because most of them are still gentlemen.

    That’s why, no matter what I write, my favorite heroes are those in my ‘Tempered’ series….cowboys. 🙂

    Pamela S Thibodeaux (aka PamT)
    “Inspirational with an Edge!”

Comments are closed.