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!
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 www.charlenesands.com and visit her Win Stuff page.