Charlene Sands and Cheryl St. John’s Christmas in October

Since Cheryl St. John and I both have short Christmas stories in Western Winter Wedding Bells we thought it would be fun to chat with you together. We both love the holiday season and I feel blessed authoring this anthology with two very talented writers!  Hope you enjoy this fun little perspective about our stories!

How would you describe your heroes, Alpha or Beta?    Do you want to slap his face or wash his underwear?

CHERYL SAYS:  I usually write a beta hero. That seems to be the way I’m wired when it comes to creating characters. I do occasionally make a concentrated effort to do an alpha male, and it’s a lot of fun. If I made a list of all the heros in all my books, the percentage would lean heavily toward betas.

CHARLENE SAYS:  Oh, slap his face, to be sure!   I write mostly Alpha heroes, who have a soft side that they rarely show.  Cooper Garnett is hot, sexy, tortured and on a secret mission to hunt down the man responsible for his wife and child’s murder.  He’s not happy that a robbery left him injured on the Double J Ranch with a widow woman and boy tending him. They are a painful reminder of the family he’d lost.  Though, there’s some underwear washing going on too!

Is there someone in your story that STEALS the show?  Any cute kids, pets or secondary characters we might see again?

CHARLENE SAYS:  Eighteen-month old Johnny Bodine slowly worms his way Cooper’s hardened heart.  He’s the same age as the boy Cooper lost many months ago and he’s quite adorable, if I say so myself.  Probably won’t be seeing him again, but he’s a keeper!   

CHERYL SAYS: She doesn’t steal the show, but Owen’s youngest sister JoDee captured my interest. She’s a gifted musician in a small town, and Owen plans to send her to a conservatory. She might show up again.

It takes skill to create a satisfying story in the short novella format.  Do you have any tips for writing to this length?

CHERYL SAYS:  A novella needs all the same elements as a full-length novel: Engaging sympathetic characters, internal and external conflict, believable motivation, a realistic setting and hooks that keep the reader turning pages. However, you have a lot fewer pages in which to do all that. Here are a few techniques I use.

*  The first place I look for a story is in my idea file where I’ve saved ideas that didn’t have enough conflict to support a full-length novel. Don’t ever throw out an idea—the archives are a gold mine when you need a novella.

*  It can be helpful if the hero and heroine already know each other. There is less set up and getting-to-know-you time involved.

*  When developing your characters, don’t give both major story people complicated pasts or set them both up with difficult to resolve motivations or conflicts. Keep the major stumbling block to falling in love focused on one character.

*  One character may already be in love with the other or have admired them from afar.

*  Use a secondary character from a previous book as your hero or heroine. You already have their names and descriptions decided and most likely your setting has been established, so your job is easier.

*   Secondary characters are important, but one character may serve several purposes. Look to combine characters if the cast gets too large.

*  Use stereotypes for secondary characters. The reader already has expectations and a mental image.

CHARLENE SAYS:  Pretty much what Cheryl said, but I’ll emphasize that reunion stories work very well.  If they know each other first, then they have past history. But I broke the rules in Wearing the Rancher’s Ring– Cooper’s mission to hunt down his family’s murderer, works well because the conflict to see justice to the end, wars with the eventual love he feels for Rachel and Johnny. He’s torn and that’s makes for a very strong conflict. 

Also, I write only 8 chapters in an anthology, keep the pace fast and the story moving forward. Each scene has to be important. No room for dallying, as they say.

How did you come up with a story to fit the Christmas or Springtime theme?


CHARLENE SAYS:  The setting played an important role with this Christmas themed story. When you think Christmas, you immediately think of snow, cold winter days and sizzling fireplaces.  So I was lucky with this story since I’d left one heroine hanging, without a story in my full-length western historical, Bodine’s Bounty.  Rachel’s tale had to be told.  And she lived in northern California, where, guess what?  There’s snow, cold winter days and fireplaces.  The same holds true for Mother’s Day or Spring Brides themes. Though they CAN be set anywhere, I tend to think of them as clear blue-sky places, a western setting on the plains or small towns of the Old West.

CHERYL SAYS:  Anthologies are most often released in time for Mother’s Day or Christmas, so those themes are already established. My novellas have always been part of a western collection, so that narrows the possibilities even further. I just start thinking cowboy hero or small town holiday or babies, and an idea comes to me. As I mentioned in my previous list of novella tips, I sometimes have a story set aside because it wouldn’t work for a full-length book, and this is a good place to use it. I often use a secondary character from a previous book whose story begs to be told.

What one word would describe your heroine?  

CHERYL SAYS:  Tenacious.  Chloe does not give up. She is bound and determined to save her grandfather’s church, and she’s fighting with all her resources–as well as Owen’s–to see the task completed before the deadline.

CHARLENE SAYS:  Survivor.   Rachel has endured much loss and suffering in her life, but as a young widow with a little son to raise, she still manages to keep her heartache to herself and keep the ranch going.

Now tell us why?

CHERYL SAYS :  She’s alone and always has been. The church is her connection to the only family she ever had–her grandfather. She will do anything in her power to save it from demolition.

CHARLENE SAYS:  Rachel doesn’t try to find a new beau, or a man to marry. She was deeply in love with her husband and never thought she would find love again.  The appearance of Cooper Garnett on her ranch and the yearning she feels for him makes her realize how lonely she truly is. 

Any special Christmas traditions in your story?  And what holiday traditions do you enjoy today with your family?

CHARLENE SAYS:  In Wearing the Rancher’s Ring, Rachel maintains the same traditions that she had enjoyed with her husband Josh.  She asks Cooper to chop down a small pine tree and then she invites her ranch hands inside the house to string popcorn and help decorate the tree.  Her humble home is open to friends and they sing carols, enjoy her pumpkin muffins and cakes as she hands out knitted gifts to her close friends and her loyal employees.  

Our family spends Christmas Eve together every year at my sister’s house.  It’s a fun night of eating honey-baked ham with all the fixings and playing games.  We open gifts and eat some more!  The most wonderful thing about Christmas is that the entire family is together. 

CHERYL SAYS: Christmas in Red Willow features a family gathering with all the chaos that makes the day special and memorable. Owen’s family plays parlor games, to which Chloe has never been exposed.

My family plays board games on winter holidays. We play Masterpiece, Monopoly, Scrabble, Aggravation, Clue, Uno and more recently, Life. I introduced the younger kids to Apples to Apples a long time ago. They were all excellent readers at a very young age and the game helped their vocabulary skills as well as being fun. We just like to laugh, and that is parallel to Owen’s family.  

CHARLENE SAYS:  Would you believe that I found fully decorated Christmas trees in a department store in the middle of September?  Which warrants this question:  What kind of holiday shopper are you?  Do you shop early and often?  Do you wait until after Thanksgiving?  Or are you a last minute shopper, waiting until the week of Christmas?

One lucky commenter today will win a $10 Amazon Gift Card and for a bigger Amazon Holiday Shopping Spree go to Charlene’s website at and visit her Win Stuff page.




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44 thoughts on “Charlene Sands and Cheryl St. John’s Christmas in October”

  1. Reading your post reminded me that Christmas will be here before you know it. It’s hard to imagine that but your new book looks like a great way to get into the spirit. I don’t really shop until November since I am not sure what anyone wants until then.

  2. When my children were younger I would pick up bargains through out the year.

    Now I tend to put off shopping until early December. Presents now seem to be one larger item versus several smaller ones. Side note I hate to shop so I do put it off.

    I love Christmas themed books. I’ll read them all year long. They always give me a good feeling!

    We play old and new games. All of the ones you mentioned (except Mastermind) and Boggle, Scategories, Pictionary, Cranium, Mystery Mansion and Mall Madness.

    Card games: Poker, Texas Hold’Em but primarily Sheepshead!

  3. We don’t buy a lot of gifts in my family. Some gifts I buy early, others (the kind of gifts you eat) I buy as late as I possibly can.

  4. I’ve been buying things for months for Christmas and putting them up. There are a lot of kids in my family and we all buy for the kids. It’s the only way I can buy for all of them. We usually gather at my sister’s for the holidays as she has more room than anybody. Before all the kids arrived we played games but since there are so many small kids it’s too hard to play and keep an eye on them.

  5. Thank you ladies! A very enjoyable post : ) September through December is my favorite time of the year. I love the holidays, and I try to keep the spirit of Christmas in my heart every day. There a few very special people for whom I “shop” all year long, collecting things to add to goodie bags and gift baskets. When it’s time to exchange gifts, I add baked goods and other food items. When it comes to shopping for individual holiday gifts, I just can’t do it unless I’m in the Christmas mood! When it hits, it hits, and I am a super shopper–without that holiday feeling, I can’t even buy a Christmas card : )

  6. Hi Maureen – That’s the one reason I really don’t shop all year long. My kids are older and their needs change. Styles change and heaven knows, the latest digital whatever is always changing. Still, this month, I’m looking for bargains!!

  7. Hi Laurie G — We are hooked on Phaze 10. It’s a card game and it involves attaining a series of 10 different groupings of cards. So the game can last for a few hours. And it’s always changing. We love it. For really large groups, like at Christmas time, we play Catch Phrase– it’s a blast. So glad you stopped by and so glad you love Christmas themed books!!

  8. What a great post! I have not written a lot of novellas–I tend to stick to short stories or full length novels. So these ideas are really a help to me. I’m going to print out this post and keep it for a reference. I’m a “list” person, in some respects–which is weird, because I am such a “pantser” when it comes to writing.

    Thanks, Char and Cheryl for your insights, and a glimpse into your family Christmas traditions.

    The book looks wonderful–I love holiday stories.
    Cheryl P.

  9. Minna– I love the kind of gifts you eat! Yummy!
    Have you ever had a candy decorated apple? You’ll find them with everything from peanuts and almonds to marshmallows and they are usually dipped in chocolate, white chocolate or caramel first!! They are so rich, I can usually eat only one slice.

  10. Hi Linda – oh, we are looking forward to the day that we’ll have a bunch of kids playing around at Christmas. Young children always make Christmas much more fun, if not more chaotic!! Smart of you to shop early for them!!

  11. Hi Virginia- I love the idea of gift baskets. Sometimes my sister will give me a themed basket- like popcorn, Raisinets and a gift Card to the movies, set in a bowl for the popcorn. Very cute and original! I know what you mean, when it hits, it hits. I can’t think about shopping right now. It’s too hot here, in CA. As soon as the heat wave leaves us, maybe I’ll get more in the mood to shop!

  12. Hi Cheryl P- I think keeping lists is a good idea. I do it too, for just about everything, otherwise, I forget. And I’m the same as you in that I’m more a “pantser” when I write, but I need a fully detailed synopsis or outline, before I do. Kinda strange, but we all get to our stories in different ways.

  13. I hate shopping, I wait until after Thanksgiving to do my shopping and it last all the way up until Christmas! In a lot of cases I give money or gift cards because the kids are all grown now, and i never know what to buy them!

  14. Charlene and Cheryl, I love learning about the development of your stories, and can hardly wait to read them. This post really got me in the mood to go work on my Christmas novella due out in 2011. All of our stories are taking place during a blizzard at Christmas and we’re revisiting Kasota Springs, our town in “Give Me a Cowboy”. I really enjoyed your posts today, and congrats on a great release … and cover … and characters! Do you all have any tricks to get you in the mood to write a Christmas story when it’s 100 degrees outside?

  15. I love Western books and around Christmas is even better.

    I shop during the year whenever I get to the city and see something(s)I like and know it would suit someone on my list. I’ve been known to wrap a gift or 2 in early October.

  16. Hi Cher! Hi Charlene! Is it too early to say Merry Christmas? YES! But I’m saying it anyway… this blog was an early Christmas gift. Hearing how two gifted authors craft their stories is food for the writer’s soul.

  17. Hi Dina — That’s a great way to look at each holiday. Personally, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! We have it at my house, and there’s no pressure, just a warm gathering of family.

  18. Hi Quilt Lady – Yep, my kids are grown and it’s not as much fun with gift giving. I loved it when they were young and we’d see the light of their eyes and eager anticipation of opening their gifts. But I am looking forward to the holidays…and cooler weather!

  19. Hi Vicki – aren’t you so sweet! Thanks for stopping by this morning. Merry Christmas to you and may your shopping efforts and writing endeavors go smoothly this year!!

  20. Hi Phyliss – It’s always usually nice weather in CA, so I just surround myself with pictures of winter scenes, find and upload some pictures of my story scenes and hope for the best. It’s actually kind of a treat to write about snow and chill factors when it’s hot outside. Have fun with your Christmas novella!! I always love reading about the holidays.

  21. Hi Charlene! Soooo good to see you back at Wildflower Junction. I love your Desires, but youw cowboy stories really do it for me. Yay!

    I totally love Christmas anthologies. I re-read old ones every year. I love the abbrev. length during the hectic time but as Cher aays, all the regular elements are still there. Since writing novellas is kind of a new thing for me and I tend to be VERY long winded, all the hints today are especially meaningful.

    Yeah, I’ve seen Christmas decorations already. Grrrrr. I don’t even have my autumn decorations up yet!

    Love you, Cherlene! xoxoxo

  22. I enjoyed your contrasting/similar answers. I’m not much of a shopper. My mom, sister and I use to go for an entire day and get a chunk of it done but with larger families and changes we no longer do that. I try to wait until after Thanksgiving or at least until the first snow lol. A friend of mine saw decorations up last month and I think it’s horrible. I want to enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving first. I guess I think it’s all too commercialized now. I really enjoy reading anthologies during the holidays. With everything there is to do, the shorter stories seem just right.

  23. I really enjoyed reading the way both of you answered the questions!
    I actually saw Christmas stuff in the stores last month. As for shopping, I do pick up some stuff early, but tend to be a last minute shopper. Boy, It will be here sooner than we think! 😀

  24. Hi Tanya– Thanks for your kinds words!! Would you believe it’s actually raining here today? After all my blustering about the heat, we heard thunder and as my husband took his car for a wash, it rained. Yay to that!!

    Yep, I haven’t put up my autumn decorations yet either. Gonna get to that tomorrow, now that I’m seeing some signs of fall!

    Oh, Don JUST came home with 2 pumpkins. Fun! Guess I’ll start putting them out now!

    Love to you too!!

  25. Hi catslady – Sometimes, if my hubby comes shopping with me, we can get chunks of shopping done at one time. It’s just good to have another opinion and believe it or not, I do get more done when he’s with me. Plus, he carries the heavy bags. 🙂

    Halloween is not my favorite holiday, but I do so enjoy the neighbor kids coming over in their costumes. I agree the stores push the holiday on us so much, we get sick of it. By the time December rolls around, it’s really too much already!

  26. Enjoyed reading the comments and the book sounds really good. This is the time of year I like reading Christmas themed stories and if it is a western, well that’s all the better.
    I came from a creative family so we made our own presents for the family. Some of us baked, some sewed, and some made rag dolls, hand carved wooden toys, etc.

  27. I prefer to shop during the Christmas Holiday Season. I remember one year when I had all my Christmas shopping done by August and that was the most boring Christmas…it didn’t have all the hustle and bustle and fun of shopping right after Thanksgiving..So I never did that again. Enjoyed your blog today.

  28. Hi Joye- oh I’m writing a story now about my young heroine who fashions rag dolls to bring in extra cash to the ranch. Do you have any tips about dollmaking? And those homemade gifts are really special. My girlfriend crochets and her gifts always warm my heart. 🙂

  29. Hi Jackie W – Well, that’s a very good point you make. Without all the fuss, it might hardly seem like Christmas. I think there definitely is a happy middle somewhere!

  30. Hi Charlene! So glad to see you back at the Junction. Your anthology was delivered yesterday. Cannot wait to dig in!

    I’m a hit and miss shopper. Sometimes I start in July, other times I’m running around as Xmas bears down. Now that our nieces & nephews are all out of school, the shopping has tapered off. But with two grand-nephews growing quickly… I think it’s time to hit the mall. 🙂

  31. Cheryl and Charlene,

    I want to say I have to get this book You are two of my favorite authors. I always do my shopping near Christmas Its my favorite time of the year

    Hope to win

    Walk in harmony,

  32. My family doesn’t exchange gifts—so no shopping.
    We do have a family dinner on Christmas Day.

    The book looks like a wonderful read.

  33. Hi Melinda, Estella, Apple blossom, and Anon – great to be blogging with your today!! I appreciate your comments. Hope you enjoy the holidays no matter what your shopping habits are!!

    Hi Tracy- thanks for the welcome back!! You’re so lucky to have grand-nephews!! Wish we had some little ones in our family. We are all ready for them!!

  34. oooh, what a fun post! 🙂

    christmas–i think it should not be displayed until after thanksgiving..seeing trees now drives me INSANE!
    i also think lights need to come down after the first of the year–i hate christmas lights in april
    i know it’s cold people–but just don’t turn them on
    i take my tree down asap
    it depresses me after it’s over

    i shop some early
    some after christmas season starts-after thanksgiving and very little last minute
    i don’t like shopping
    do it mostly online…though really streamline and simplify

  35. I love the cover of Western Winter Wedding Bells. It’s hard to believe we are in October let alone that Christmas is right around the corner. I use to have my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving…now that I am married, I’m lucky to start it by Thanksgiving.

    I love the Christmas season and the wonderful magic that is in the air.

  36. Ladies, you have a winner in this anthology! I
    just finished reading WWWB last week (I won a
    copy in one of Charlene’s contests) and I so
    enjoyed every bit of it! I love reading about
    Christmas, add in a good love story, and I’m in
    Reader Heaven!

    Pat Cochran

  37. I was totally shocked when I came to the picture of the cowboy. I printed that EXACT picture off the internet for my character in the current story I’m working on.

    Great blog post. Sound like great stories.

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