The Preacher’s Wife: The Story Behind the Story




I’m often asked about my creative process. A rough idea comes first. Sometimes it’s just a few paragraphs or maybe a scene, usually longhand, but occasionally on the computer. Those pages go into a binder, which, depending on the complexity and research involved, develops into a big fat binder. When I go back to look for the information later, like when I do the art fact sheets or a blog like this, I’m sometimes stumped because the working titles on my binders are often not the same title that ends up on the book. This one was originally called Song of the Mountain. I need names for the characters before I can develop the plot, and I need a working title. 


Several years ago I began thinking of a series, where I would tell the stories of sisters. Then I went back in time and decided to write their father’s story first, and that’s where my hero, Sam, came in. I developed Josie, not only for Sam, but also as a mother to the three daughters. You’ll be seeing stories about Elisabeth, Abigail and Anna in the future. I enjoyed developing the personalities of the daughters. Knowing that they would eventually have their own books helped me to flesh them out and make them individuals.

spartacus-gvI have character grid sheets I use at this point and I start asking myself questions like “What is the inciting incident that gets this story going?” and “What is this character’s motivation or backstory?” and I figure out their goals and their strengths and weaknesses and the conflict between them. I usually have one person pretty well developed in my head before I start on the other, and I build in conflict by making them completely different personalities with vastly different pasts.

I also make a list at this point: 25 Things That Could Happen. I brainstorm the list with all kinds of wild and unlikely things and don’t let myself quit until the page is filled. I usually use several ideas from the list in the story—except the ones that include aliens or everyone dying of the plague.

Somewhere in the process I find pictures of the characters. Sam Hart is the spitting image of Goran Visnjic in Spartacus. Not a difficult picture to display above my desk. Josie is a Cover Girl model from few years back. Faces inspire me to know more about my story people. Usually they hang over my monitor, sometimes I use them as my wallpaper, or otherwise I add them to the binder, along with photos I’ve taken of locations and pictures that I find.


To my binder I add a list of names I will use, information on local plants and trees, and a month-by-month-calendar that I print out blank and fill in for a timeline as I develop the story. I often draw a map of the town and sketch blueprints of their homes and places of work, so I can visualize each scene.

Sometimes I write the first pages or a prologue to get started, but usually it’s the synopsis. The synopsis helps me flesh out the story and figure out if I have enough conflict and whether or not these story people interest me enough to move forward. Most writers detest writing a synopsis. I love it because for me it’s a fun part of the creative process.

josieAfter this, I’m a pretty linear writer. I start at the beginning and write straight through to the end with very little revising, except for daily and weekly edits and a read-through every several chapters. I’m a Nebraska girl, and I often like to get a little of my home state in there, so in The Preacher’s Wife the Harts meet Josie in Nebraska before moving on to Colorado. My ideas come from different places and at different times, but they all end up in a binder. Just part of my need for order, maybe, but I always say, “Do whatever works.”


My personal library takes up several bookcases in my home.  Since I write American historicals, I have visited a number of restored homes, living history farms and museums, taking notes and photos. Years ago I would spend hours at the library, researching details like railroad transportation and mills and state history.  Now everything is a click away with google.  Seriously, the Internet saves me hours and hours of research time, and I never cease to find the immediacy and quantity of information amazing.  Photographs, message boards and experts are all at my greedy fingertips.


It’s a always a challenge to get travel time correct, so planning a trip across the country takes quite a bit of forethought. I’ve never done a wagon train story, and thought that would be fun, but then The Preacher’s Wife ended up not including any of the backstory about the wagon train, either. I wrote an opening scene of Sam’s wife’s death as sort of a prologue for myself because I needed to know what happened, but then I cut it and started with Josie and her mean-spirited mother-in-law to show her ordinary life.


stjohn.jpgSometimes before the story is finished and always before it’s gone through the editing process, the cover information are due, and I have my handy binder and all the photos to use as reference for the cover material. I scan my pics and send them to the art department. Sometimes the new cover and characters look exactly as I imagined.


The Preacher’s Wife should be in your local stores this week. I hope you’ll look for a copy if you don’t already have one! Or … order it from eharlequin by clicking on the banner above or from amazon by clicking here:


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17 thoughts on “The Preacher’s Wife: The Story Behind the Story”

  1. Cheryl,
    I enjoyed reading about your process. Mine is quite similar except that I keep a file folder instead of a binder. I’m in the process now of trying to flesh out a synopsis for my next book. It is definitely the hardest part of the writing process for me since I am not a naturally creative person when it comes to plotting, but I need it to discover my direction and main story line. And it feels so good when it’s done!

    I’m looking forward to reading your book. I read the opening chapter on Louise Gouge’s Web site and am hooked. I’ll be scouring the bookshelves until I find it!

  2. Good morning, ladies! It’s a lovely cool summer day in Nebraska, and I’m heading out this morning. I have to enjoy these days before it gets HOT.

    Thanks for visiting me at Louise’s site, too, Karen. She is a sweetheart to feature my book!

    Have a great day!

  3. Good morning, Cheryl. I keep similar lists and photos, but mostly online. I like the idea of brainstorming 25 things that could happen. Mind if I use it?

    Congratulations on The Preacher’s Wife coming out this week. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  4. Hi Cheryl, thanks for the look into your writing process. I do not keep a binder but considering my collection of “horizontal files,” it’ll be something I will try for the next book.

    Congratulations on The Preacher’s Wife. I know I’m going to love it. oxoxoxoxox

  5. Yo have the coolest, most orderly, wisest writing process I’ve ever known.

    I look like a rat trying to sniff it’s way through a maze by comparison.

    But I might change…very soon…tomorrow in fact. Next week at the latest.

  6. Cheryl,
    This blog gives me a new admiration for writers. I will read your newest with a different mindset. (And Mary you do a very good job of sniffing your way through that maze.) I am shopping for The Preacher’s wife this evening!!

  7. Cheryl,

    Love the pic of Goran Visnjic. Wow! I thought he made the sexiest doctor of ER. He sure is nice to look at. And he has that wounded look in his eyes no matter what part he plays. That’s a definite draw. He’d make an excellent cowboy hero. Wonder if he’s ever considered doing a western? Your Cover Girl model makes an exciting love interest for him. She’s gorgeous.

    Now I really can’t wait to get my copy of The Preacher’s Wife. I feel a need to drive the 25 miles into Lubbock! I’ll have to get directions to a Wal-mart.

    Congratulations on the release. Hope you sell a ton of them.

  8. Hi Cheryl! I loved hearing about your creative process. I wish I could be half as organized. A binder is a great idea. I end up with stickies and notes all over my desk, along with odds and ends like scotch tape.

    I’m going to try your “25 Things That Could Happen” list. It sounds like a great way to kick open new doors. Sometimes I break out a poster board and colored markers and draw lines and ideas all over the place. It’s fun!

  9. Hi Cheryl – Yes, I agree with everyone the picture of Goran is a heartstopper!

    I’m always so interested in author’s writing process. I’m a panser, really. I jot down notes, but I don’t really get heavy into bios or what not of my characters. Sometimes, the characters are so clear to me, and others I really have to work at. After 28 books, I’m always trying to develop something different in my stories. Some times the readers like it, sometimes not. But I need to challenge myself.

    You are a great plotter. I love to see how your stories pan out in the end. I’ve ordered my copy of Preacher’s Wife and realized they put the wrong city code on it at Eharl, so now I have to wait longer for the book to come!!

  10. Thanks for sharing about how you write your stories. Do you find most of the stuff on the Internet to be pretty accurate? I’ve heard one has to be careful about what they read as some isn’t quite right.

  11. Cheryl,

    Laughing along with Mary C. and others. I have a 3 ring binder full of research for details – on careers and/or historical references. Pages of notes for synopsis, outline, and ultimately give each chapter a “blurb” of where I want it to end…

    Still, my characters develop as I go – and often rewrites on early chapters are a bear! Dealing with that now — and I am going to take your character development and inciting incidents to heart.

    25 what could happens. What a great idea!!!

    Thanks for sharing!


  12. Cheryl, I found your approach to writing very interesting. I pick up a book to read and don’t think what the author went through getting it into my hands, I will have a new mindset now. I also love the picture of Goran – I didn’t recognize him at first. And I watched ER faithfully. Will be looking for The Preacher’s Wife when I get to the store.

  13. Very informative chat. It has been interesting learning how different writers work their craft. So many people think you just sit down and write. I don’t think many consider the amount of research that goes into historical books, at least the good ones. I certainly agree with your choice for hero. He also does “bad” very well. He was the villain in PRACTICAL MAGIC and was convincingly creepy.
    I look forward to reading The Preacher’s Wife.

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