Cheryl St.John: Behind the Books


Some of my favorite shows are the programs on how movies are made. Movie Magic is one, and there’s another on Bravo. And there are all those HBO specials; I looked to see what is on in May and it’s The Making of P.S. I Love You, Blades of Glory, and Hairspray (Oh! I have to see that one!) among others. I always remember my favorites, too. And I love bloopers.


Sometimes after seeing how over budget a production is, or the how the blue screen effects were done, I go see the movie just to see how it came out. Even if I don’t have the slightest interest in a movie in the first place, after I watch one of those programs, I have to see how all the special effects and the computer imaging and fake rain and snow and all that stuff came together into 90 minutes of near-perfect cinematography and sound and lighting. The process absolutely intrigues me.
















Even seeing a movie first and then watching the how-they-did-it program fascinates me, but I’d rather know the behind the scenes first, for some reason. Then I can sit and pick out all the places where I know they did a particularly wonderful job—or had an especially difficult time.


I think one reason why that intrigues me so, is because everything that looks so polished and perfect in the finished product, was actually grueling, laborious, often times FRUSTRATING work behind the scenes.


I remember for example, in the making of Jurassic Park, every time that huge stegosaurus—the one that broke through the fence and came after the kids in the car—every time it got wet in the rain scenes, the mechanical parts stopped working. The crew would have to stop, dry it down, wait, and start over. Hours and hours and hours, and in some cases DAYS of painstaking work just getting a few perfect shots.


It’s not so unlike what we writers do.


Other writers and all the readers see us with our good clothes on, our hair fixed, at meetings and conferences, at signings, with stacks of the glossy finished product in front of us.


typist1How many hours of unglamorous work went into the finished product? I hate to even think how much I’ve made an hour on some of my projects, because when I think about it, the more difficult it is, the more time it takes. And the more time it takes, the less I’m making per hour. And I must tell you I don’t get up in the morning and slip into my pink ostrich-feather trimmed negligee or dictate to my personal secretary. Some days (and nights) I do my best writing in my jammies! Now there’s a picture for ya, eh?


Finished books can represent years. They also often represent other projects that fell by the wayside in between. Not every book that a writer proposes sells. I know a lot of authors who claim they sell about one out of every three stories they come up with.


A book takes anywhere from a few months to several months to complete. Some writers take a year or more. And those words don’t flow out of our brains in perfect order. Great scenes don’t just happen without plotting and planning and playing with dialogue. I usually write a story from beginning to end. I’m a very linear writer. But sometimes I have to go back and add things I belatedly realize are needed. Many authors write in layers, with dialogue first and then go back to add body language and setting. Others write scenes out of order and then connect them like a puzzle. It always amazes me how the process differs with each person—and with each book. I don’t write every book the same way. And then there’s the middle muddle, and all kinds of things that can get a writer off track.


I’ve never asked other writers about this, but most often my books leave an impression on me—an imprint of what was happening in my life at the time it was written, be it good or bad. I remember which book I was writing when something significant happened in my life. While we’re bringing characters to life, we’re simultaneously living life.


I think I can imagine what it’s like when the director, producer and crew of a movie watch the finished product for the first time. They remember how that scene came off beautifully after the boom was repaired or how amazing it is that a shot was edited to remove a dog that shouldn’t have been there. And then I imagine they look at the film with fresh eyes and marvel at how all the parts and players came together in a satisfying and rewarding piece of work.


new-booksThat’s how a book feels, too. Satisfying and rewarding, even though I know all the things that happened behind the scenes. It’s still a delight to see a new book cover for the first time. When my author copies arrive, I open the box and touch them, open them, read the first few pages. Spotting my release among all the others at Wal-Mart or the grocery store never gets boring.


Coming in just a few weeks now is another first for me: My June Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical will be my first inspirational with Steeple Hill, and I’m excited about its release. It’s one of those stories that were a long time in the making. I planned it years ago, but never had the perfect place for it until the LIH line was created.


stjohn.jpgI’ll be drawing a name for a copy at the end of the day, so leave me a comment!


Seriously, how many people can work in their jammies?

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48 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Behind the Books”

  1. making of Hairspray? Oh, wish I had HBO.

    I really enjoyhearing about the processes other writers go through–they are as individual as fingerprints, huh?

    Congrats on the first of many LIHistoricals!

  2. Hello Cheryl,

    I’m always in awe at the way authors bring their stories to life. The processes has always been fascinating for me. I’m an avid reader and can confess I know I could never do what you all do. However, I do like the jammies part. LOL

    Congrats on the new book. Have a great day.

  3. Cheryl you must do your best work in your jammies. Keep it up you know I love reading your books I have never found one that I couldn’t follow and have great feelings from it. You get all our emotions going.
    It is neat how you want to know all the inside facts about how the movies are made.
    Can’t wait to get your new one.

  4. Hi Cheryl. I am always fascinated by the writing process of authors. I love your books. 🙂

  5. Maybe we could start a new trend like Casual Friday only have Jammies Monday. Everyone could just roll out of bed after a tiring weekend, put on their slippers and head for work. Maybe not if you sleep in the nude. :o).

    When I walk into a library it just amazes me all the different stories there are to read and how many hours it must take to get a book published. I’m not a writer, but love to read especially a good mystery. Keep up the good writing.

  6. Hi Cheryl, I am always intrigued by the making of movies. The one movie that really impressed me was the making on Polar Express. Even though I am not a techie, it amazing what they can do, to repoduce a human into a anmimated figure. It boggles the mind..
    Anybody who can work in there jammies has got my vote. !!

  7. I’m glad you found a home for your story in the LI Historical line. I’m a writer for the inspiration market as well, and I’m always glad to see another talented historical author add her stories to bookshelves. More good choices for me! I hope to see more from you in this new arena.

    • hi Cheryl, oh, I need to watch the making of Blades of Glory. I confess to loving that movie. I relaly enjoyed the making of Polar Express…and years ago, Forrest Gump. I actually thought Gary Sinese didn’t have legs LOL.

      Congrats on your entry to Love Inspired. I just read a Jillian Hart and have got yours on my TBR list. I’m finding I like the inspirationals very much. Yes, I write in jammies or my robe (long, pink, and fuzzy fleece) or loungie things if it’s early in the morning or late in the evening. Which reminds me I have another two chapters to go.

      Now…thanks to YOU for always inspriring me!

  8. Cheryl,

    I’m thrilled that you’re writing inspirationals now can’t wait to read your new one.

    My husband works at home, like I do. He came downstairs at noon yesterday, unshaven in his pj’s. My son asked him if that was the new business casual. 🙂

  9. Wonderful blog about the creative process, Cheryl. And congratulations on your new Love Inspired. As for the jammies thing…not quite jammies but my favorite writing costume is leggings and a big, baggy sweatshirt. Since I live alone sometimes I have to answer the door.
    Years ago my sister gave me this beautiful white lacy nightgown and red velour robe–for a writer, she said, bless her. It’s still hanging unworn in my closet.

  10. Thanks, Roberta! It’s always fun to learn how others do things, isn’t it? I like peeking inside the process.

    Jen, your name’s in the hat!

    Thank you so much, Brenda. You’re a lovely friend as well as a fan, and I do appreciate you.

    Thank you, Crystal! You’re in the drawing.

  11. Sue, Jammy Monday! I’m a likey. I know, I’m the same way in a bookstore. I love the smell.

    Kathleen, I haven’t seen the making of the Polar Express. I remember watching how they made Waterworld, though, and even though the movie sucked bilge water, I went to see it to see all the blue screen effects.

    Thank you, Karen! You’ll see more from me. I already have a series planned from this first book.

  12. LOL on poor Gary’s legs, Tanya! That’s hilarious. I’ve seen that movie at least a dozen times, and each viewing cracks me up. I think TH is so funny in it.

    What an image, Vickie. You should be a writer. *G*

    Okay, Elizabeth, I seriously think you need to get all prettied up and don that negligee for a photo shoot. That would be a hoot, and you could have a copy framed for your sister.

  13. “Seriously, how many people can work in their jammies?”
    Ain’t it the truth? Sweats are my uniform of choice – my neighbors were shocked when they saw me in something fancy, wearing makeup. lol

    Thanks, Cheryl, for a great post. I’m really looking forward to your LI release.

  14. I love the billboard. C’mon, Cheryl, tell me your book cover really IS a huge billboard somewhere. I need to believe that happened.

    I’ve heard actors say, ‘if you could see how a love scene is shot, you’d never think it was romantic.’ Very businesslike and weird, twisting around to keep everybody’s face in the camera. Exhausting and boring.

  15. I love those “Making of…” shows, too. I also like the dirctor’s commentary on certain DVDs. Shekhar Kapur did a great one on Elizabeth, and the first Pirates of the Caribbean has several, including one with the screenwriters, which I love – more movies need to do the screenwriters’ commentary and not just the directors. Maybe ebooks will eventually come with similar “Author’s commentary” 🙂

  16. Wow, Cheryl, that billboard is the coolest! Did you take the picture?

    What a fun post–I find I do my best work in my jammies 😉 Cheers on your new book!!!

  17. The Montana Man image in Times Square is the coolest! Wow, I really love that.
    As for jammies, that’s what I’m wearing now, sipping coffee, my kitty laying across the desk. Business as usual.

    Can’t wait to read your LIH! June is just around the corner!

  18. I once thought I wanted to write a book, but several
    years of contact with authors ( through blogs, etc.)
    has shown me that I was right to change my mind.
    (It all sounds too much like work! LOL!!!) But one
    thing has come through: though writing is not for
    me, I truly admire authors and greatly enjoy the
    fruits of their labor.

    Pat Cochran

  19. MaryD! I thought I was the only person who watched and listened to the director’s commentary! LOL My husband thinks I’m nuts. He gets up and runs away after a movie ends, becaue he knows I’m going to watch all the behind the scenes, etc..

    I have LEARNED so much about writing and plotting from the directors. It’s fascinating. Do you know I have never watched the Pirates commentary? Off to do that today. LOL

  20. Congrats Cheryl on your first Steeple Hill release! 😀
    I always enjoy background bits, whether for movies or books. You find out some very interesting tidbits… Have a wonderful day all!

  21. Hi, Cheryl! Congratulations on your first book for Steeple Hill! I’m always intrigued with the writing process of authors. Your books are fabulous! Thanks for the post and I’m looking forward to your Love Inspired Historical release!

  22. Hi Cheryl! I loved the shot of your cover in Times Square. Here’s hoping the picture is prophetic and you get a movie deal. We need more westerns, especially western romances. Your book would be a perfect choice. With all the movie-making shows you’ve watched, you’d be a great consultant. I love that idea!

    Can’t wait to read your LIH. I know I’m going to love it!

  23. Hi Colleen and Margie! Thanks for stopping by today. You are faithful.

    Hey, Vicki, I like the way you think. I would love to be a consultant while my book is being made into a movie! Wouldn’t it be great to help pick the actors? I know the screenwriters don’t get that choice, but it’s a lovely dream.

    And I would call on Mary to direct those love scenes, eh, Mary? Could you tell Hugh Jackman to keep his face to the camera, please?

  24. Cheryl, your post reminded me of something that happened at the ACFW booksigning I attended at the Mall of America last year. Hundreds of authors were present, and we lined up several hallways in one section of the mall. A reader approached me and commented on how neat it was to have such a huge event in one place, and then she remarked, “It’s all so glamorous!”


    I didn’t tell her we’d all ridden over from the hotel on a school bus, with no air conditioning and the all of the windows down. Then, our hair all windblown and with all of us sweating from hiking through this HUGE mall, we finally found our table, took a moment to collect ourselves, and started signing books.

    Yeah, it was glamorous, all right! 🙂

  25. Hey LuAnn and Estella, how cool to see the gang all here!

    Yes, it is rather like a new baby, Robyn, and it sure is pretty to its mama. LOL

    Elizabeth, what a wonderful story! I can see you perfectly as you described. It reminds me of a retreat weekend I was at a couple of years ago:

    My girlfriend Bernadette and I see each other only for conferences and retreats and her rare visit to town, so we don’t actually SLEEP at those things! At 3:30 in the morning, the fire alarms went off in the hotel, and employees came pounding on doors to get everyone downstairs. We were in our jammies, but we pulled our coats on over and grabbed our purses and joined all the women in the lobby.

    It was a sight to behold, I tell you. They’d all been awakened and were in various stages of undress with no make-up and some with hair rollers! If ONLY I’d have carried my camera along, but I fear I’d have been lynched had I tried snapping shots.

    Anyhoo, it was SO unglamorous.

  26. Huge congrats, Cheryl! How neat to have a new “first” after so many books! 😉 Thanks for sharing it with us!

  27. I am always amazed that someone can create the great stories that I read in their imagination. Congratulations on the new book. June seems like a long time away but it’s just a few weeks.

  28. Hey, Fedora, always a pleasure to share new books!

    Hi Maureen. I know, I can’t believe we’re into MAY already! But I’m loving the flowers and the garden.

  29. Hi Cheryl, congrats on your new book! I really enjoyed your post today! I love to hear about authors writing process. It would have to be very rewarding just to say the end! I know when I make a quilt, I am sick of it by the time I am finish,but then look at it later and think to myself I really done this. Its a great feeling.

  30. I can’t imagine making a quilt! I love them. I own a couple – two that my grandmother made and one of those needs repairing, but I haven’t a clue what to do about it.

    Isn’t it wonderful that we each have our individual talents that make us unique?

  31. Hi Cheryl

    Love the making of movies. Love to see the outtakes too. Somehow these things make you realize how human this actors are and kind of puts them down on our level.

  32. It’s always a wonderful feeling with you have a finished product of your own making – no one really realized how much heart and soul goes into something unless they’ve tried. A book would be a fantastic thing to call one’s own 🙂

  33. Hi, Cheryl,
    Have read your book for years and always enjoyed them. Western historicals are some of my favorites. People don’t appreciate what a craftsman (woman) really gets paid. As you said, if you figure the hourly wage, what you make isn’t very much. My son is a blacksmith and rarely makes minimum wage when materials and time are figured. Once you make a name for yourself – writer, artisan, craftsman – you can get a higher price, but starting out is a different story.
    I’ll have to check the listings for the making of Hairspray. Like you I love those programs. It is truly amazing what they can do.
    Good luck with your books. I look forward to enjoying many more of them in the future.

  34. Hi Sherry and Jeanne!

    Thanks so much, Patricia. It’s great to know that you’ve been reading and enjoying my stories for a long time.

    I’d be fascinated to learn where your son plies his trade! That’s an occupation we don’t hear of anymore.

  35. Hi Cheryl!!! I love to stay in my jammies on those long cold snowy winter days and just cuddle up with my reading! I did those alot with my kids when they had no school! But I don’t want to write, I want to read them all! Even though I learn how you do all you do, I don’t know how you fit all that time in there! So know you are all appreciated more than you know! What would I do without all your reads! Thanks again.

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