Cheryl St.John: The Early Days

I had been writing and submitting for several years before I joined an RWA chapter and a local writers group. With the help of other more experienced writers, workshops and conferences, I learned and grew. Those first early projects are still in boxes in a storeroom—where they belong. I truly didn’t know what I was doing. After studying Dwight Swain and garnering the advice of great ladies like the late Diane Wicker Davis (Avon) and Barbara Andrews (Ecstasy – and Silhouette as Jennifer Drew with her daughter Pam Hanson) and also being with a critique group, the first book I wrote start to finish was Rain Shadow.


At a Minneapolis conference Pam and I attended, after spending the entire morning in the bathroom doing self-talk, I pitched the book at my first editor appointment. The editor asked to see it and later rejected it saying my hero was too unsympathetic.


I had submitted to agents about that same time, and one called me, saying with certainty, “I can sell this book for you.” I was thrilled, of course, and she did indeed sell it to Harlequin Historical. Forty-four books later she is still my agent. After some initial quibbling over my title, it stuck and RAIN SHADOW was released in 1993. Back then HH did what they called March Madness and introduced two new authors each March. I loved the cover, loved it loved it. Loved the Wild West Show on the front. Adored her fringe jacket. Blew up the image and admired it. The art department used the pictures I’d sent them, and even her gun is in perfect detail.


Question from shopper at one of my very first book signings: “Is this you on the cover?”


Note to self: At all times be prepared to answer very odd questions graciously.


My second sale followed right on the heels of the first because it was a book I’d written previously. It had been shopped around other publishers without success. My new editor, who continued to be my editor for the next ten years, agreed to look at Heaven Can Wait, then asked me to cut a hundred pages and take out a subplot. Which I did with a lot of help from my critique group. It’s difficult to be that brutal to your own work. The story was indeed better for that revision. So the books came out one after the other, but not in the correct chronological order, story-wise. The villainess in Heaven Can Wait is the dead wife of the hero in Rain Shadow. So whenever I talk to people who will be reading them for the first time, I suggest they read them in the correct order.


So there you have the inside scoop on my first two sales and how they came about. It’s still exciting to see a new cover for each current release. It’s always a thrill to know that the stories I’ve worked so hard on are bringing pleasure to readers. Nearly twenty years later, I’m currently revising those books to bring them out as digital releases. I’m working on Heaven Can Wait right now. Interestingly, I ran across a review by a reader who had never read the story before and had some very insightful comments. What worked in 1993 doesn’t necessarily work today—and there’s more freedom in the creative aspect when a writer publishes a book independently. So Jakob and Lydia are getting new life and the villainess of the story? Well, she has a new and improved persona.


As readers ourselves, writers know the delight of finding a new author, of becoming lost in a story, of falling in love with appealing characters. Being able to write those stories for others is a joy and a satisfaction beyond measure.


What we remember when we think back on a story isn’t always the specific details of the plot or even the character names. What we remember is how the book made us feel. If we were swept away, excited, intrigued, riveted, saddened, we recall those feelings. I’ll bet you remembered the way the first romances you ever read affected you on an emotional level, and you probably remember the stories today.

Which romances did you first read that have stayed with you forever?


Addendum to this blog post:

As soon as Kristin Burns saw this announcement come across Facebook, she went to her bookshelf and got books out to take this picture and send it to me. It’s foreign editions of these two books. Fun – thanks!

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17 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: The Early Days”

  1. In answer to your question, I think the first book “Terms of Surrender” by Janet Daley was one of the first books I read of hers. Up until then I really hadn’t read romance novels but after reading her book I read nearly every book she wrote. Of course as time went by I discovered other romance authors that I enjoyed, Penny Jordan, Nora Roberts and Carol Mortimer to name a few.All of these authors had one thing in common, they were able to create a story line and characters that I as a reader was able to connect to. And Cher it is hard to believe you ever got a rejection letter. Ahh, you give me hope.

  2. I would have to say that it was Palimino by Danielle Steel. The Heroine, who is a model and love to ride horses is hurt in a terrible fall that takes away her ability to walk and she does not know if she will ever ride again. The hero, who never knew what happened to her when he leaves her, before she had the accident, comeas back and find her at the ranch where he met her. She has turned it into a riding school for kids that have disabilites. Such writers like Daneille, Nora Robers, Luanne Rice who write such heartwarming books stay with me always.
    I love the cover of your books…

  3. Cheryl,

    It’s always so inspiring to hear a respected author’s tale of publication. I love the Buffalo Bill Wild West show background on the RAIN SHADOW cover.

    My first romance novel was THE GIFT by Julie Garwood, and it remains an all-time favorite along with most of Garwood’s books. There are lines from her books I can still quote.

  4. Cher, I always love hearing how authors got into the business. My first sale came about because I submitted to Dorchester’s new historical voice contest. I didn’t win but they offered me a contract. Then I sold two more to them.

    You’re right about books that stand out in your memory years after you finished reading them. All of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s books did that. I fell hopelessly in love with the romance genre. Couldn’t get enough. Johanna Lindsay is another author who captivated me early on. I still remember those stories. They were/are very special.

  5. Howdy Cher, wow, 44 books. I can’t even imagine! I’ve read a ton of yours but realize I gotta catch up LOL. I fell in love with romance as a newlywed in the late 70’s. IN those days, there were dozens of them even at the grocery store and I’d pick one up every time I shopped. Several of my favorites are set in medieval times, and I re-read them every few years. Oh yes, Woodiwiss’s Aislinn and Wulfgar. Hard to forget those two. (Wolf and the Dove) Love the post! And looking forward to your new releases!

  6. Enjoyed reading the comments. My first authors that I always looked for their books were LaVeryl Spencer/janet Dailey/Bertrice Small/Natasha Peters/Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. some of their books are on my keeper shelf. I also loved reidng Sandra Brown’s early work. Don’t recall the name of it, but she wrote a really good Western romance back in the 80’s.
    I have been a fan of yours for a long time too and I think I have one of those early books of yours. Looks familiar

  7. I have to say, like Linda, Kathleen Woodiwiss was the author that really got me hooked on romance. I did start out reading gothics and I still have fond memories of those but it was The Flame and the Flower and The Wolf and the Dove that I fell in love with. Julie Garwood is another old time favorite. For a recent favorite, it’s Kathryne Kennedy who introduced me to romantic fantasy with a touch of historical too.

  8. Hi Kirsten. I like the background on that book, too. 🙂

    That’s a fact I didn’t know about how you got started, Linda. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks, Tanya. The first romance I ever read I picked up at ShopKo – ran right back and got another. lol

  9. Am trying to remember Sandra Brown’s other name, but it’s escaped me.

    Loved those gothics, too–Catherine Cookson too. I didn’t realize at the time that they were romances. lol

  10. Cheryl, I cannot tell you who the very first romance author I read that hooked me. I have always read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I read “Hawaii” as a preteen. Way more information than I needed at that age but by then the librarian was having trouble finding suitable books that I hadn’t already read. She had not read Hawaii yet but thought that I woulkd like it.

    I met you at a book signing in Norfolk many years ago. I was already hooked on your books and am sure I now own all of them. Looking forward to many more.

  11. Cheryl,

    I love all your books. You are an inspiration to me. I know that writing is my passion. I hope to one day have as many books as you have out there. I do love the cover….


  12. Johanna Lindsey was the first author I got hooked on followed by Sylvia Summerfield and Georgina Gentry.

    My favorite of yours is still Sweet Annie

  13. I’m a huge fan of Sandra Brown’s early romances. One of Sandra Brown’s names was Rachel Ryan. Also Laura Jordan and Erin St Claire.

    She had the Texas Chase, Texas Sage and Texas Lucky series.

    Also Sunset Embrace

    I remember:
    Catherine Coulture’s Wyndham Legacy, The Heir
    Nora Roberts Irish Rose and O’Hurley’s
    Elizabeth Lowell’s Unforgiven, The Outlaw
    Jayne Anne Krenz The Cowboy, The Pirate
    Joan Johnson The Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
    Sharon Sala Always A Lady
    Karen Robard’s Walking After Midnight
    Cathy Maxwell The Marriage Contract
    Julie Garwood The Bride, The Gift
    Kat Martin The Fire Inside
    Diana Palmer Lacy
    Joan Honl Nevada Silver

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