Boy, howdy, do we romanticize the old west ranching days or what? Let me tell you, there’s nothing romantic about ranching. Or is there?

My husband and I worked and lived on mountain cattle ranches for over 25 years. I remember my first year working on the ranch was a real shocker. As a rodeo barrel racer, I never dreamed how difficult it would be working with cattle.

Sorry to bust anyone’s bubble about those big doe-eyed, four-legged animals, but them cows sure are stupid. I could never figure out why they just didn’t save themselves the trouble of getting poked and prodded by just walking into the chute when they were coaxed to. When my husband had to get tough with them, me in my ignorance would holler at him and say, “H-o-n, treat ‘em with kindness.” He would just give me a look that said, yeah right lady. I truly felt that way until one day when I had roped a calf and had finally gotten it in the alley between the corrals. I jumped off my horse, and when I went to remove my rope from around the little “darlin’” calf’s neck, the thing waylaid me in the shin. I was so mad, I started pounding on that little duffer with my rope. (Please note that my pounding would be like getting a slight punch on

the arm.) My husband peeked over the fence and said, “Treat ‘em with kindness, huh, Deb?” To which I replied, “Oh, shut up!”

Ranching is hard work. Actually it’s a lifestyle that you have to love because you live it every day by working from sunup to sundown and the work is never done. When you finish with a long arduous, sleep-deprived calving season, then there’s the branding, the moving of cattle from one grazing parcel to another all summer long, the doctoring, irrigating meadows, the long haying seasons, the weaning, etcetera, etcetera, and then the cycle begins anew.

Living in town now, however, has made me appreciate the lifestyle I used to have. Things were much simpler. Life was much simpler. And now because I miss ranching so much, I set a lot of my stories in the ranch and county where I used to live, and relive those days through my characters.

Sunny Weston, the heroine in my Colorado Courtship story, The Rancher’s Sweetheart, loves ranching too. In fact, it’s in her blood, it’s all she knows. But there are those that don’t think Sunny’s capable of running her own spread. She’s out to prove them all wrong. That is, if love doesn’t get in the way.

So, is there romance in ranching?

Well, just ride through the trees with the man you love and discover hidden waterfalls, wild strawberry patches, abandoned broken down homestead cabins that scream of stories to be told, watch wild animals in their natural habitat, or have your hubby pick you a batch of wildflowers and give them to you when you least expect it. Or go for a sleigh ride together while feathery snowflakes are falling, or cuddle with your hunky cowboy husband in the pickup with the heater blowing full blast under a snow covered windshield while you wait to make sure a mama cow is going to have her calf successfully. Or take a walk on a warm sunny evening under a canopy of stars listening to a chorus of frogs, water running, coyotes howling, and owls hooting. I’ve experienced all this and more. So while there may be plenty of work to go around, there’s equally plenty of romance to go around too.

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for one copy of Colorado Courtship signed by both Debra & Cheryl St. John.

Horse Power to Horsepower


“When a man opens a car door for his wife,

 it’s either a new car or a new wife.” 

                                                                                      Prince Phillip

Ah, the automobile. What would we do without it?  The car I most remember is a battered old ’61 white Valiant with a stick shift.  The clunker almost caused me to gave birth and file for a divorce on the same night.  That’s because my husband steadfastly refuses to drive over the speed limit.  No thanks to him, I missed giving birth in that auto by mere seconds.


 The reason I have cars on my mind this month is because  of my new book, Waiting for Morning, a historical romance set in Arizona Territory in 1896. The hero, Dr. Caleb Fairbanks introduces the Last Chance Ranch cowhands to his beloved gas-powered “horseless carriage,” Bertha. When Caleb and backfiring Bertha incite gunfire from former dance hall girl, Molly Hatfield, the handsome doctor barely escapes with his life.  Little does he know that his troubles have only just begun.


Today, cars are blamed for everything from global warming to funding terrorism through oil dependency.  It might surprise you to learn that it wasn’t that long ago that the old gray mare was held responsible for the social and economic ills of the world.


In 1908, it was estimated that New York City alone would save more than a million dollars a year by banning horses from its streets. That’s how much it cost back then to clean up the tons of manure clogging the roadways each year. 


 A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense. 

American Proverb

Horses were also blamed for traffic congestion, accidents, diseases and, of all things, noise pollution.  Hooves clattering on cobblestones were said to aggravate nervous systems.  Even Benjamin Franklin complained about the “thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, waggons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise” that assailed the ears of Philadelphia residents.


The first automobiles to drive west were driven by insurance salesmen and land agents.  When an attorney in a small Texas town rose to leave during an important trial, he practically emptied the courtroom. Jurors,  witnesses and spectators all wanted to see his two-cylinder Maxwell.  An irate judge pounded his gavel and ordered the autorist to “Drive the contraption a mile out of town where there are no horses and permit everyone to look it over so the court can resume its regular business.”


As with all technology, outlaws were quick to see the advantage of automobiles. The auto allowed for a quick get-away and would keep going long after a horse gave out. This left local sheriffs at a disadvantage. 


Youths hopped on the auto band-wagon long before their elders and many ceased driving the family springboards entirely. Frontier lawmen suddenly found themselves issuing stern warnings, not to outlaws, but to racing youths.


Remember: When everything’s coming your way,

you’re in the wrong lane.


The automobile was supposed to make the world a safer, saner, quieter and healthier place.  That’s something to think about the next time you’re stuck in traffic.  But take heart: the safer, quieter, more economical Robot Car is here. 

To celebrate the publication of my book, my publisher is running a fun contest. To enter all you have to do is write a paragraph or two about the car that played a part in your life’s story and send to:

That’s it!  The winner will receive a $100 gas card. 

 So what car played a part in your life story?


To order print or eBook click on cover

Better yet, order from your local bookstore.

Drawing for 2 copies of Colorado Courtship: Interview Cheryl St.John & Debra Ullrick

The great thing about doing anthologies is spending time with the other author or authors. Sometimes there are stories to coordinate, but there’s always promotion to do together. I was glad for this opportunity to connect with Debra Ullrick. Hopefully you will catch our other blogs around the blogosphere this month as well as pick up a copy of our anthology.

For something different we thought it would be fun to interview each other. So here you have it.


Debra: When did you decide you wanted to be writer?

Cheryl: I used to read horror, true crime and westerns—primarily those by Louis L’Amour. Through a book club, I discovered gothic mystery-type romance and had my first peek into the possibilities of great storytelling plus a romance. Wow, I was hooked and started reading romances.

Up until then I’d been dabbling at writing, but I‘d never gotten serious. The defining year for me was when my youngest daughter went to first grade. I had been at home raising four children spread out over several years and felt the void of sending the youngest to school all day. Until then I’d been playing at writing, keeping handwritten notebooks and dallying with the stories like a hobby. Then and there I decided I was actually going to do what I’d always dreamed of doing and write an entire book. I started the manuscript in October and finished it during that school year.

I had the time of my life. I had no idea what I was doing, so it had no plot or conflict, but the characters were fun and I enjoyed creating a romance. I even submitted the manuscript to every publisher and agent I could find. Only years later did I understand how embarrassing that was. I did everything you’re not supposed to do. I chose an unmarketable time period, and I even bound my submissions in pretty folders. The story is still in a box where it deserves to be.

The thrill of creating those first stories is a good memory. The job suits me perfectly. I set my own hours; I’m my own boss, and I don’t have to get out of my jammies or put on makeup if I don’t want to. Romance is what I love to read, and one of the first things we hear in writing classes is “write what you love” or “write what you know” — well I don’t know all that much, but I know what I love.


Debra: Do you have a favorite out of all the books you’ve written? If so, why?

Cheryl: SAINT OR SINNER and JOE’S WIFE have a couple of my all-time favorite heroes, and SWEET ANNIE and HIS SECONDHAND WIFE are two of my favorite heroines. THE DOCTOR’S WIFE and PRAIRIE WIFE are favorites because of the depth of emotion and healing.


Debra: What do you like to write about most?

Cheryl: Anything with deep emotion. My critique group says I love angst, and I guess I do. I enjoy taking a character out of a familiar setting and placing him somewhere completely foreign. I also like stories of false pretense or masquerade, where a person is pretending to be someone he or she is not. I love to put a character in a place where he or she has to feel strongly and react. I write about underdogs who deserve better, people who get second chances, those who need redemption or forgiveness. Love might make the world go around, but these things keep it on its axis.


Debra: What is one myth you think people have about authors?

Cheryl: That anyone could do it.


Debra: What inspired you to write Winter of Dreams?

Cheryl: I had been wanting to write a story about an undertaker for a while, and when this opportunity for a novella came along, that was the first think that popped into my head. Novellas are great for writing that story that doesn’t have enough plot for a full-length novel. Once I had my undertaker, the rest was easy: Create a heroine with built-in conflict.


Debra: What do you want people to take away from Winter of Dreams?

Cheryl: Just as people come in all shapes and sizes and colors, love happens in many shapes and forms as well. We are faced with situations every day, not romantic situations necessarily, but circumstances in which we can recognize love and share kindness. In my Love Inspired books I hope readers recognize God’s limitless love for us.


Debra: What is your favorite quote?

Cheryl: “I do not sit down to work because I am inspired. I become inspired because I sit down to work.” – Oscar Hammerstein


Debra: If you could sit down and talk to any author, even one from the past, who it be and why?


Cheryl: There are two authors I’d like to talk with:

LaVyrle Spencer, because, even though I always wanted to write and dabbled at it here and there, her books inspired me to get serious and go for it. She wrote some of my favorite books of all time. Rye Dalton from Twice Loved remains my ultimate hero.

Stephen King, because, well, he’s Stephen King. I’m in awe of his brilliant ability to create characters and scenarios that engage readers on an astonishing level. I know it seems odd for a romance writer, but before I read romance, I read western and horror, and he was my go-to author. When my kids were young we had a pool, and every summer I read The Stand while lying on the deck. I enjoyed both mini-series versions too. I really like his book On Writing, and I’d love to pick his brain.


Debra: What does your writing cave look like?

Cheryl: Messy.  Papers everywhere.  Books all over.  I’m known far and wide as a collector and my office reflects that particular gene as much as any room in my house.  In my office  have a curio full of old and new dolls: Barbies, My Scene, Ginnys, Disneys, Madame Alexanders, and any others I can’t resist.

There are framed writing awards on the few visible walls—most of the wall space is taken up by bookcases.  The color of the walls is called Strawberry Pot, it’s a soothing and inspiring teal, my favorite color.   I have a comfy rocking chair piled with pillows, a TV on an upper shelf, a counter full of office machines like copiers and printers and two computers.  My book covers are thumb tacked to the bulletin boards that back my desk area on three walls, along with pics that readers have sent.  I have half a dozen oil lamps, a row of Angel Cheeks, framed photographs of the cutest kids ever, a jeweled tiara and paperweights.  A vintage globe that belonged to my grandmothers sits atop one of my cabinets.  There are many things I love about my space, and one of them is that it’s sound proof.  You can actually hear the difference when you come into the room—the effect created by four walls of books.

Debra: When you are not writing what do you do?

Cheryl: Probably not sleeping,  LOL  My husband and I like to garden together, so many of our weekends are spent creating arbors and gardens and ponds.  We love to shop flea markets and browse antique malls.  More often than not you could find me selecting paint, then watching him roll it on or arranging a spot in the house just so.  I like to make interesting displays of vintage collections and have so many I have to change them out to enjoy them. I’m a movie junkie, so late at night I watch movies (and take plotting notes—it makes me feel like I’m working). December found me watching every Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movie there was.



Cheryl: What was your first novel and what do you remember most about it?


Debra: My first novel was The Bride Wore Coveralls. I love the heroine because if I could be like anyone, it would be like her. She’s tiny, petite, feminine, yet rugged, she’s feisty and spirited, a woman who doesn’t let people bully her around. Plus, she’s a great mechanic who repairs autos and builds and races mud-boggers as well, if not better, than any man.


Cheryl: Do you have a favorite character you’ve written so far?

Debra: Yes! Selena Farleigh Bowen, the heroine in The Unlikely Wife. I fell in love with this heroine because what you see if what you get. She’s not out to change who she is for anyone or to put on a show for anyone. She’s real and genuine. Despite her Kentucky hills upbringing and those who think less of her for it, she’s content with who she is and where she comes from. She’s kind, caring, and yet she doesn’t let people walk all over her. She’s a woman who can take care of herself, and I admire that. She’s also a woman who loves deeply and enjoys the simple little things in life.


Cheryl: What can your readers expect from you in 2013?

Debra: Well, I’m working on a three-book proposal and a contemporary single Christmas heroes novel. Plus, The Unintended Groom, the last in the Bowen series, is coming out in June and, of course, our novella anthology Colorado Courtship is coming out in January.


Cheryl: What is your favorite thing to do during a relaxing evening at home?

Debra: Watch a good movie or TV show with my sweet hubby. Boring, I know, but just being in the room with my husband is a joy to me, no matter what I’m doing.


Cheryl: Do you enjoy hobbies or creative pastimes?

Debra: I used to love to draw western art, using acrylics, charcoal, and pastels, but not anymore. (You can see some of my drawings on my website at I also used to crochet dolls, but I don’t do that anymore either. I do love to go to classic car shows as often as I can. Not sure that’s creative or not, but it is to me. hehe Actually, writing has taken over all of those creative pastime activities. Shame on me. Tee hee.


Cheryl: What book is on your desk right now?

Debra: None. If I had one on my desk I wouldn’t get anything done. However, I have a ton of them on my headboard, my bookshelves, and my two Kindles.


Cheryl: List your top five favorite movies of all time:

Debra: All of Jane Austen novel movies – every version of them, Wives and Daughters, While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle.


Cheryl: What is your favorite quote?

Debra: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” By Eleanor Roosevelt.


Cheryl: Do you make New Year’s resolutions or set goals in January? If so, will you share one or two?

Debra: Yes, to get better organized, to completely read through another devotional, and to pray more, especially since I have a better understanding of what prayer really is all about – connecting with God.


Cheryl: What is your guilty pleasure?

Debra: Hidden Object and Match 3 computer games. I’m addicted to them and find them very relaxing. I have almost 300 pc games. Talk about guilt. Yikes!


Colorado Courtship
Love Inspired Historical 2-in-1
January 1, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0373829484


Winter of Dreams by Cheryl St.John

If Violet Kristofferson had known that her new employer was the town undertaker, she might never have come to Carson Springs as his cook. Yet she needs a fresh start away from scandal. And Ben Charles’s unflinching faith could be her path to something truly precious—a new family.


The Rancher’s Sweetheart by Debra Ullrick

The cowboys on her uncle’s ranch show Sunny Weston no respect—except for foreman Jed Cooper. A riding and roping contest is Sunny’s chance to prove herself. But now that she’s falling for Jed, will she find courage to take the biggest risk of all, and trust her heart?

Cheryl and Debra are each giving away a copy of COLORADO COURTSHIP signed by BOTH of them! LEAVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IN A COMMENT TO BE ENTERED IN THE DRAWING.


Share this post on Facebook and Twitter while you’re here for an additional chance.


The Chickens In My Kitchen

Do you have something in your kitchen that says “home” to you in a personal way?  I do.  It’s a pair of blue glass roosters. Whenever we’ve moved–eight times now–the blue roosters get special treatment. Inevitably as I wrap them in newspaper, I think about the pioneer women who packed their most treasured possessions into covered wagons and traveled across this vast country. What to keep? What to give away?  What’s a necessity? What’s a luxury? And what’s a memory worth compared to hauling food and provisions?

I really do love the blue roosters.  They belonged to my grandmother who moved with my grandfather from New Braunfels, Texas to Los Angeles in the early days of the Depression. The story behind the roosters has been lost, but I suspect it’s rather ordinary. She probably bought them on a whim, or perhaps they were a gift–maybe a wedding gift.  If anyone recognizes the color of the glass or the style, I’d love to know more about them. My aunt thinks they were purchased in the 1930s and are made of blue depression glass.

The blue roosters started something. We’re not overrun with chickens, but I’ve collected about twenty or so over the course of time.


 These are the dinner plates we’re currently using. The history here is easy:  JC Penney Vintage 2008.

These roosters sit on top of the refrigerator. Rite-Aid, Vintage 2009. We were in the middle of the move to Lexington when we found them on the dollar table. Total bargain! You can also see a a few of our refrigerator magnets. We have about 200 of them.

This chicken trio sits above the kitchen sink. 

This weird little guy came from Gordmans here in Lexington. We felt sorry for him!  

And last . . . this bad boy was a souvenir from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It’s hard to see in this picture, but he’s perched on a beam and checking out the kitchen sink.  

So those are some of the chickens in my kitchen.  What about you?   Do you collect something fun or unusual?

Birthday Traditions

My birthday was last week.  I’m floating in Starbuck’s gift cards (hooray!) and the UPS guy will be delivering Amazon boxes for many weeks to come.  My family knows me–Starbuck’s and Amazon are my two favorite things and I like gift cards. Add in Half Price Books and I’m all set for a while. .

My family is pretty low key with birthdays. There’s an unofficial seven-day grace period for late cards, and we get together for cake on whatever day we can all manage.  This year I found myself wondering about some of these traditions.

The Happy Birthday Song–The tune was written in 1893 by two sisters–Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill. It was originally published in a book called Song Stories for the Kindergarten and was called “The Good Morning Song.” The original lyrics were “Good Morning to All . . .” These lyrics morphed into “Good Morning To You” and then to the birthday tune we all know.

Birthday Cakes–Birthday cakes go back to ancient Greece, but no butter cream roses! The Greeks celebrated with honey cakes or bread baked. So did the ancient Romans. The custom continued into the middle ages, particularly in Germany and England. In England, cakes were baked with small objects inside–things like coins and thimbles. The coin was considered lucky and a sign of future wealth. The thimble? Not so good . . . whoever found the thimble was destined to never marry. (I have to wonder how many people choked on coins and thimbles…)

Birthday candles–The Greeks decorated moon-shaped cakes with candles. It was believed the smoke carried messages to the god named Artemis. In Germany in the middle ages, the candle custom shifted a bit. Instead of many candles, one big candle stood in the center of the cake. It was marked with the years 1-12 to signify a child growing up, and the candle was saved and used every year.

That’s a lot nicer than the standard gag in our household . . . You know those candles that reignite after you blow them out?  You might get a whole cake covered with them, or there might be one or two mixed in with the regular candles. On top of the “eternal flame” motif, someone is usually ready to make a joke about the number of candles and the need for a fire extinguisher.

Birthday cards–If your family is like mine, it’s spread all over the country.  Cards and phone calls are as much a part of a birthday celebration as cake and candles. Greeting cards have a long history, but cards similar to the ones we know today were first produced in the 1870s by a German immigrant named Louis Prang. The industry started with Christmas cards, endured a slump in the 1880s and 1890s, and came back at the turn of the century.  Color was introduced to the printing process in the 1930s, and the “humor” angle became popular in the 1950s.

Who’s up for cyber cake and ice cream? What family traditions do you have?  What’s your best birthday ever?  Or the funniest? 

Vicki’s western romances are available at Amazon.

Rescuing Retired Racehorses

My husband and I live in Lexington, Kentucky–the Thoroughbred Capital of the World. You can’t drive down the street without seeing horses grazing in the bluegrass, or noticing a statue of a horse posed on a street corner. We’re particularly blessed to live next to a farm for retired thoroughbreds. These beautiful animals routinely come to our back fence for carrots and peppermints–an event that sends are little dog into raptures of joy. 

I didn’t realize it until we moved here, but there’s a sad side to the world of horseracing. When a horse says goodbye to its glory days, where does it go? Not all of them are big winners and famous like Secretariat. Some are mid-listers. They have some success but not enough to guarantee a plush retirement.

Then there’s the story of Ferdinand, the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby.  By all rights, Ferdinand was a success. He won close to $4 million and was the 1987 Eclipse Horse of the Year. He was retired to stud in 1989, sold to a breeding farm in Japan in 1994 and sadly met his end in a slaughterhouse in 2002. Not a very noble end for a horse with the heart of a champion, but Ferdinand’s demise led to the formation of Old Friends, a thoroughbred rescue program started in 2002. 

Old Friends is in Georgetown, Kentucky and  just up the road from where I live. It’s the only thoroughbred rescue operation that accepts stallions, and it’s supported solely by donations. The rescue farm behind my house belongs to a different organization, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation,  but the principles are the same. These amazing athletes are retired with dignity.  Some live out their days peacefully; others (though not many because of injuries) are retrained and adopted out to new owners.

I often see dog adoptions on facebook, and they always tug on the old heartstrings. Our little dog is a “rescue,” and I sometimes wonder if that’s why he goes so crazy for the horses. It’s like he’s saying, “Home! Home!  We have homes!”  He might also be saying, “Hey, I’ll get my mom.  She has carrots in the fridge.”

These thoroughbreds have truly inspired me. In “Josie’s Wedding Dress”, my novella in the  Brides of the West anthology, Ty Donner comes home to from prison to discover Josie Bright still owns Smoke, his beloved mustang stallion. In one of the final scenes, Ty and Smoke ride like the wind in a race for their lives. As I wrote that scene, I had my next door neighbors clearly in mind.

Noelle Marchand – Location Matters

Last week a friend and I went on a day trip to celebrate my recent graduation from college. The landscape went from the towering glass and steel buildings of Houston to the rolling hills and wildflowers of the country in less than two-hours. Suddenly, the tension I accumulated during my undergraduate years floated away like the fluffy white clouds painting that big Texas sky. I left the hustle of the city and the normalcy of my everyday life to experience a new adventure. And an adventure it was… Somewhere between a miniature horse attack, rambling through a rose garden, and singing “Chantilly Lace” at a 1950s style diner, I finally got it. Location matters.

I wandered into Peppin, Texas for the first time in 1877. It was a sleepy little township tucked away in Texas Hill Country. Back then, there wasn’t much to Main Street other than what the hero and heroine of my debut novel, Unlawfully Wedded Bride, needed to keep their farm and the story going. Only a few months passed before I started working on the next book in the series, The Runaway Bride, but that ended up being about ten years in Peppin. Imagine my surprise when I walked into that country hamlet and found it had changed into a bustling small town with modern conveniences like the railroad and telegraph.

After double checking the map of my imagination to make sure that I was in the right place, I set about familiarizing myself with Peppin, Texas of 1887. There was the boardinghouse, the seamstress shop, the hat maker, the livery, the blacksmith, the bank, etc. There were new streets, a residential section, and alleyways—even the alleyways became important. Finally, I could give you directions from my heroine’s house to the café and from the café to the church and from the church through the alleyway to the hotel. Then I sat down, took a deep breath, and wrote my story.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just writing—it was an adventure. I was in an entirely new location and after mapping out the town, I watched it come to life. I watched new characters emerge from those new businesses and houses to interact with old ones. Finally, I discovered what I suspected all along when my heroine explained Peppin to someone who had never been there before.

“It’s small but not stiflingly so. The people are friendly and really care about you. There is always something going on so you’re hardly ever bored. You can just go to the mercantile or the café to find someone to talk to or about, in some cases. It’s just a normal everyday Texas town. The only thing special about it are the people.”

Yes, sometimes it does feel a little weird to have an entire town of people in my head taking up space but I will gladly bear that privilege and burden because I want their stories to be as real to you as they are to me. I want their adventures to sweep you from that high rise, subway, or suburb into a country church, dark alley, or raging river so that hopefully when you finish the last page of my book you’ll smile and think to yourself, ‘That location mattered.’ 


Noelle has offered to give away two copies of her book, The Runaway Bride, to two lucky winners. All you have to do to be entered is join in the conversation.

Sherri Shackelford: What is a Mentor?

Winning the Widow's Heart, Love Inspired Historical, June

What is a mentor? I searched out quotes on mentors to see what people had to say. Here are some of my favorites:

A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.  Bob Proctor, Author, Speaker and Success Coach

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.? -Benjamin Disraeli

Every Timothy needs a Paul; Every Ruth needs a Naomi.- Pastor Aaron Williams (Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Seattle WA)

I had always seen a mentor as someone to admire, someone to whom you aspire, someone whose advice you trust. As I read these quotes, I developed a more mature understanding. A mentor is someone who helps you discover and develop the talents already inherent within you.

When I first entered the career world, the wisdom of the time pushed people to discover their weaknesses, and attempt to strengthen them.  We took workshops and seminars, filled out assessments, and discovered our weaknesses. Then we set about changing ourselves. With mixed results.

Fast forward after a ten-year hiatus raising my children. The new wisdom had turned to ‘Strength Finder.’  The idea centered on finding your strengths, and exploiting your talents.  Suddenly it was okay that I was a loner! I didn’t have to force myself out of my shell.

I felt like a window had opened for me. Instead of fighting my nature, I could harness my strengths. For me, a true mentor is someone who helps you exploit your talents.

Almost five years ago, I joined Romance Writers of America, and my local chapter, Heartland Writers Group. I was terrified at my first meeting. I had never written a word. (Who joins a writers group if they’ve never written anything? Me, evidently!) When they asked me what I wrote, I misunderstood the question and thought they said, ‘read.’ The next meeting, my name tag had three lines: Sherri Shackelford, writes Regency, Victorian, some Contemporaries and the occasional Western.”


Luckily for me, I met Cheryl St.John at that meeting. I still remember the peach shirt she was wearing. In a weird quirk of fate, I discovered that we had lived only blocks apart for many, many years. We bonded over the old neighborhood, and Cheryl invited me to join her critique group for a limited, six-week, learning session.

Had I realized the six weeks was an ‘audition’ period, I probably would have frozen in fear. Luckily for me, I’m kind of slow. After six weeks, they invited me to stay for good.  Cheryl gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever received: eventually, you just have to believe in yourself.

Cheryl trained me in writing, and when it was time, she kicked me out of the nest. The novel I submitted to Harlequin Historical wasn’t picked up, but I received my very first personalized rejection. In writing, that’s a win!

It took another year after Cheryl encouraged me to submit before I sold a book. Cheryl encouraged me the whole way, and taught me the most important thing a mentor can teach a mentee: Eventually, you have to believe in yourself. A true mentor gives you the power to discover your talents, and believe in yourself.



A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.


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Working (And Laughing) With A Critique Partner

This post is for anyone who loves languarge–readers and writers alike. It’s also for anyone who’s jumped from the frying pan into the fire.  This  past year, I decided to stretch my wings with a completely new project. In addition to writing the proverbial “book of my heart” aka BOMH,  I started working with a critique partner. I’ve written fourteen books for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical, but I’ve always worked alone.

I thought I was an experienced writer.

I thought I knew how to plot a story.

I thought I had a good ear for language.

Oh. My. Goodness. When I finished the first draft of the BOMH, I shared a chapter with my best friend, an award winning author who really knows her stuff.  She had a few ideas.  Actually, more than a few. Every one of those ideas–from word choice to plot shifts–proved to be valuable.

I didn’t realize it, but I’d fallen into a rut. Mentally I had incorporated every writing rule I’ve ever read, and that obedience had limited my voice. As we worked on that first chapter, I realized that my sentences lacked variety, and my diction wasn’t as precise as I thought.  Adverbs? Nope. G.O.N.E.. But there were places were an adverb would have been stunningly useful. Use a semi-colon?  Maybe, but aren’t they considered distracting?  Not always. Sometimes they’re the perfect link between two ideas. (I used one somewhere in the blog. Can you find it?)

My CP and I have a lot of fun when we do a phone edit.  She’s big on strong verbs.  So am I, but my writing style is simpler. We had a good time playing with synonyms for “to walk.” This verb is particularly synonym-challenged. How many ways can you describe a person walking?  Here’s where my mind went in a moment of hair-pulling insanity:

            Annoyed, he walked to the sliding glass door and looked out.

            Annoyed, he scampered to the sliding glass door and looked out.

            Annoyed, he marched to the sliding glass door…

            Annoyed, he did the cha-cha to the sliding glass door . . .

            Annoyed, he sidled to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he crawled to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he bunny-hopped to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he kicked like a Rockette to the sliding glass door …

            Annoyed, he said, “Forget it! I’m not getting off the couch!

My hero told me in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to walk, he’d walk. No way would he march, pace, amble, shamble, shuffle, waddle, toddle or kick like a Rockette.  He did consent to stride, but only after I convinced him I hadn’t used that word in the past two chapters.  At least he got off the couch! Now on to that happy ending . . .


Brides of the West is currently available at Amazon