Hi, Cheryl. Welcome to Novel Journey. Why don't you start by telling us what made you start writing?
How neat! I thought I wanted to be an actress, too, and I also turned to writing, though some parts of the transition were more difficult than others. What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey)?
As much as I love writing for myself, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to pour myself out on the page just for an audience of one. Me. (Well, and my parents, who faithfully read and love everything I write.)
That year held a wake-up call for me. I realized I had made writing an idol before God; it was too important to me. I needed to be willing to give it up. So, I did. The next year my life totally changed into something I didn’t recognize. I was volunteering at a group home for abused kids and started working at a high school for at-risk teens. I was taking Christian Counseling classes. God did a mighty work in me that year. And after that season where I “laid down the pen” God did return writing to me in the form of The Ultimate Gift. I was given the extraordinary blessing of adapting Jim Stovall’s novel into a movie. But God couldn’t bless me with that until He could trust me to not make it too important.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters/screenplays?
Absolutely. I don’t think I ever write a story where I am not in there somewhere. Like, in one called Night Prophecies I’ve shared some of my experiences with receiving prophetic dreams from God. In one called Three Faces of Angst, I’ve explored some of the issues I used to have battling a panic disorder. It’s fun to see how many ways you can rewrite your life and still come up with completely different stories. Never the Bride, my latest release, is the most autobiographical story to date. I am very much like “Jessie.” Her relationship with God is based on my fun, communicative relationship with God.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
But God has been abundantly clear with me that I’m doing what He wants me to do and writing what He wants me to write. That helps me overcome the battles when others tell me not to. However, I’m still very much open to critiques and suggestions. I had to trust I was on the right track to write Never the Bride, even though quite a few people told me not to bother. However, even when you write what God inspires you to write, that doesn’t mean you will write a perfect story.
Sometimes, I joke with God that if He’s truly my co-writer, then I shouldn’t have to rewrite. We should get it right the first time. But that’s usually when He reminds me we aren’t writing the Bible and He hones my character through the rewrite process. It takes humbleness to receive another person’s suggestions. I enjoy this and have no trouble telling my note givers when the have ideas that are genuinely better than what I wrote. If others want to weigh in on my work and they come up with outstanding ideas, I’m more than happy to use them! They make me look good. If I get a note I really don’t agree with, I try to address what the real problem is behind the note. Obviously, something may need to be fixed to address their concerns. But it doesn’t mean their proposed solution is the only way to go.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
The story is a tug-of-war between God and Jessie and who is really writing this story. Is she too afraid to trust God because He may not write what she truly wants? Or can she surrender that pen to God and let Him write the best love story for her?
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
One day, I went out for a prayer walk. I looked up at God angrily and said, “Why don’t you just put a sign on my head that says ‘Never the Choice’?” I meant it; I was mad. But then I started cracking up. My next comment to God was, “That’s going in a script, isn’t it?”
I was both angry and humored by the realization that one day, this was going to be a story. Maybe a book. Maybe a movie. I knew I needed to really explore what it’s like to be my age, still single, still waiting for love, battling feelings of inferiority and yet finding true worth in God and the way He sees us, and then trusting Him to pen that love story. How do you do that, make it entertaining and funny and yet still real? I chose to make fun of myself, my experience with God as a single. I knew I wanted to personify Him so others could hear Him and see some of our conversations, and see the way in which I believe God has an amazing sense of humor.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
You co-authored this book. How did that come about?
With Never the Bride, I wrote the screenplay first. Then I worked with Rene Gutteridge on what we could submit to publishers. I wrote the proposal, and she wrote the sample chapter based on the beginning script pages. Random House/Waterbrook picked up the project. Then Rene took my script and novelized it. She was extraordinarily faithful to my script, using a lot of the same dialogue and scenes and the same characters. But she got to dig deeper into the inner life and thoughts of my character in a way you just can’t do in a screenplay. (It’s told in first person present tense from Jessie’s POV.) In a screenplay, you are not allowed to write internal thoughts. You have to hope your dialogue carries a lot of subtext the actor can play.
It was such a delight to watch the entire process. I thought it would be scary to watch someone take “me” as a character and mess with it. But it was amazing! Rene gets me, completely! And Waterbrook was great with the material and seemed to respect what we wanted to do. This book is exactly what we want it to be! We didn’t have to change one thing that we didn’t want to change. (I understand this is very unusual, and I could get spoiled from this experience.)
When we make the movie version, it’s likely to be so similar that no one will accuse us of saying that the movie was nothing like the book. Especially since it was already a script first.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
What does your writing space look like?
What kind of activities do you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
I love listening to music on my MP3 player. I just got a Sony E-Reader and am really getting into reading e-books. I love rollerblading, walking on the strand in Santa Monica, being at the beach and taking trips to visit my family. Playing with my nephews is such a kick! I love getting them on the webcam to chat. They’re so silly. My mom, sister and I love scrapbooking together. And I love working on projects with my dad. He loves to help me with my projects, like driving me to sets or to go location scouting for a film.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a story—from conception to revision.
I love to brainstorm. When I start a new project, it gets a three ring binder. I use very colorful dividers for various sections like Synopsis, Broad Story Ideas, Main Character Notes, Supporting Characters, Scene Ideas, Location/Setting, Meeting Notes etc.
Once I figure out what a story is about, I use colored Post-It notes to write scene ideas. I make a list of all the main plots and subplots and assign each one a different color. Then as I write a bazillion scene ideas out, each one gets its own Post-It. I don’t try to put them in order yet. I just get them all out. Then, I try to divide them by Act One, Act Two, and Act Three. I put them in story order. And what’s great about the various colors is that I can look at them all and see if I go a long time neglecting a particular storyline if that color doesn’t show up for quite a few scenes in a row.
From there, if I need to submit the idea to a publisher or a producer, I type those notes in scene order in what I’d call a treatment for a film or a proposal for a novel. That’s actually where the bulk of the work takes place. My treatment for The Ultimate Gift was 33 pages long! It took me three weeks to write that treatment but only one week to write the first draft of the script. So much legwork goes into those treatments (or scene-by-scene outlines).
I haven’t written a full-length novel myself (that’s Rene’s job!) I’m perfectly content for now to let her do all of my novelizations. But my job with her is to give her a completed, cleaned up script worthy of adapting. (Which usually means it’s in the shape where it’s ready to be shopped to producers.) Sometimes, my first drafts can be pretty messy. I just try to get that first draft on the page, then do deepen the characters in the revisions. I try not to critique myself too much during a first draft.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
One favorite is Kristin Billerbeck’s What a Girl Wants. She cracks me up with her humor in the Ashley Stockingdale Series. Another favorite (though it’s not published because it’s not finished yet) is one by a friend, Caroline Way, who is penning an updated exploration of the Book of Job from the wife’s point-of-view. It’s awesome and I relate to the story of Job so much, about how to deal with suffering and what God allows. I like books that make me ask hard questions like this one does.
Because of that, I actually enjoy reading non-fiction a lot more than fiction. I like books that challenge me to grow deeper in my relationship with God. Any books about hearing God’s voice (like Dialogue with God by Mark & Patti Virkler) will spark my interest, or about God speaking through dreams.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
After that, I really hope to make my family’s mining movie, Song of Springhill. My grandfather survived one of the biggest disasters in coal mining history in Springhill, Nova Scotia. I’m in the midst of becoming a dual citizen with Canada so it might help me get the movie made up there. Rene and I hope to start another novelization soon. We’ve already completed the proposal based on another script of mine.
And I’m just about finished with Finally the Bride, which is best described as the non-fiction companion book to Never the Bride. In that book, I can get even more honest about the journey of singlehood for Christian women waiting on God to write their love stories. I’ve spent the last year while Rene was novelizing my script penning this non-fiction work as sort of a Bridge Jones Diary memoir style of a book that’s very honest and yet hopefully humorous about how hard this journey can be. Through this book as well, I want to give hope to women in their present circumstances and give them some very constructive things to do while waiting for the love of their lives to show up. At some point, I need to develop the story for the sequel to Never the Bride. It’s going to be called Finally the One.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Photo Credit for the 2 headshots: