Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Cheryl St.John: The Early Years

The first romances I ever read were Lisa Gregory's The Rainbow Season and LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird. I still remember the thrill of discovery that led to a life-long love of romance and the desire to write one.

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's Techniques of the Selling Writer and garnering the advice of the great writers in my group and also being in a critique group, the first book I wrote start to finish was Rain Shadow.

At a Minneapolis conference, after spending the entire morning in the bathroom doing self-talk, I nervously 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. All these years and 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 Harlequin Historical 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 eleven 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. A few years ago my rights to both books reverted. I had run across a review by a reader who had never read the story before and gave some very insightful comments. What worked in 1993 no longer worked today—plus there’s more freedom in the creative aspect when a writer publishes a book independently. So Jakob and Lydia got new lives and the villainess of the story took on a new and improved persona. They're both available at Kindle, Nook, itunes, Kobo and other ebook sites. It’s a thrill to know that the stories I’ve worked so hard on are bringing pleasure to readers

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?