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Interview With Cheryl Wyatt

What two things does Cheryl Wyatt have in common with her stories? She was born on a Naval base on Valentine’s Day, something she claims destined her to write Inspirational Military Romance. Cheryl’s living her dream as her second book, A Soldier’s Family is about to release.

Cheryl, your first book, A Soldier’s Promise released in January, and your second book, A Solder’s Family releases this month. You went through quite a rewriting process for the Wings of Refuge series. Can you share some of that with us and what you learned through the process?

Be glad to. I’d been targeting Steeple Hill for years. After a couple of rejections, I received a revision request. The editors asked if I’d be willing to either strip the suspense from the submitted manuscript or make it stronger to fit the Love Inspired Suspense line. I opted to strip the suspense and aim for Love Inspired instead. After substantial revisions, the story sold. I had written much of the rest of the series as romantic suspense, and found out later that publishers don’t normally cross authors over lines mid-series. LOL! So that meant revamping the entire Pararescue series. But, I was so glad to be writing for Steeple Hill, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. One problem with my suspense is that it leans more toward action-adventure than the murder/mystery/mayhem kind. So, I’m still able to put some action scenes in, but for the most part, I’m focusing on keeping the stories straight romance rather than romantic suspense for now.

Through the extensive revision process, I learned how patient and great my editors are. LOL! I also learned how very much work goes in to getting a book shelf-ready. I learned the caliber of writing my publisher expects. I learned how an editor will go to bat for an author they feel has potential even when the story needs a bit of work. I think that I was so willing to roll with the changes they suggested proved to them that I was someone they’d want to work with. I think it is so important to keep ourselves as revisable as our stories. That pre-sale revision was very similar to my post-sale ones.

Reflecting back, what do you see as being most significant to your publication journey?

God’s hand in it. Obviously, I wouldn’t even have the talent had He not granted it. So, first and foremost, the credit goes to Him for blowing doors open, and for giving me a tenacious faith that helped me to persevere until published. For giving me a heart to write as worship, even if that meant I’d never see a book on the shelves.

Secondly, the way my parents raised me played a profound role in the fact that I hung in and kept trying. My dad refused to let us back down from something we’d started, and he never let us say, “I can’t.” My mother is my greatest encourager and supporter. My parents have spoken affirmation over me from the time I can remember, and I know this has made me part of the writer I am today.

Thirdly, writing organizations such as ACFW, FHL and RWA have provided incredible learning and support as has the Steeple Hill community. Institute of Children’s Literature, Christian Writers Guild, author mentors, critique partners and writing contests played significant roles as far as teaching me about the industry and about craft and preparing me to work with editors.

How do you balance your writing time with other responsibilities?

Insert hysterical laughter.

Well, I keep thinking any day now that the laundry is going to be able to get up and walk itself to the washer. So far, it hasn’t happened, but I’m still holding out hope. Of course, I don’t mind the laundry carpeting the floor at the moment since the clothes are effectively covering up evidence of how long it’s been since I vacuumed. In fact, where is the vacuum. . . .

I’m also wondering how long I can send my kids to school in the same jeans before teachers notice? And, I’m conducting a seriously freaky science experiment in my sink right now. My children have started to name our dust bunnies and claim them as pets. They’ve hung around so long, my kids have grown irrevocably attached. I mean, who wants to traumatize their children by merciless dusting?

Okay, I’ll try to be serious and stoic now and try to feign having it all together:
I am fiercely protective over my time. I try to always put God and my family first. Before my feet ever hit the floor, I start talking to Him and ask him to order my day. When I don’t do that, things unravel fast. LOL! I set strict boundaries and stick to them. I am a list person, so it helps to have goals. I hardly have idle time. I didn’t watch TV or do IM for three years before I sold because I was so desperate for writing time. You have to want it bad enough to sacrifice things that don’t really matter. I try to always prayerfully consider commitments and not overextend myself. It helps that I am OCD about organization. I set deadlines for myself and try to stay as disciplined as possible with routines and goals. I ask (beg, bribe, borrow, plead LOL!) for help when I need it.

How does your faith influence your stories?

Profoundly. God means everything to me, so it’s completely natural for me to let my faith come through the writing. I know He is the greatest source of hope to mankind and I hope readers will sense aspects of God’s character through how He responds to characters in my books.

What was your biggest obstacle in writing and how did you overcome it?

My biggest obstacle was (and still is) writing under chaos. When I get distracted, my train of thought derails and I end up repeating myself or writing scenes out of order. I always end up several thousand words over. To remedy that, I get delete key happy after I’ve rushed through the rough draft. I really need to be able to get the mess draft down in a matter of days or the end result isn’t pretty. LOL!

How I’m overcoming the chaos-in-every-corner challenge right now is, I do the stuff that takes intense concentration while my children are in school. I wear noise-cancelling headphones. I ask God to give me the ability to write with distraction and chaos. Thankfully, He has given me the ability to write extremely fast. I wrote both of my debut novels (mess drafts) in a matter of days. This doesn’t include the prep work of getting to know my characters (months) or the later work (weeks) of layering, rewrites, proof and polish.

What has been the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

Oh, please don’t make me pick just one! LOL! The Call. When I was sitting at my computer having just sent an e-mail when I felt God ask me if I’d promise to always write as worship. The second I told him yes, the phone rang. THAT moment The Call came. I’ll never forget the excitement and exhilaration in my agent’s voice. That shared moment of bliss will always stick with me. The Romantic Times Top Picks. Receiving Genesis and Noble Theme awards at ACFW’s conference was awesome! Placing in FHL’s Touched by Love was a thrill too. Double finalling in Heart of the Rockies and hearing that Audra Harders stood up and shouted out for me since I couldn’t be present, was a high honor as well as an absolute hoot to imagine. Reader letters are high points. Okay…see? Told you, there are TONS of high points…I could go on all day but since I’m beginning to decompose with boredom, I can’t imagine how the rest of you are still holding up…so I’ll spare you. LOL!

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

Much of the witty dialogue comes from my husband. He is a complete riot and our home is filled with hilarity. He’s also ACFW’s conference sound guy. Other than him, inspiration doesn’t come from any one thing in particular. I get story ideas from everything I see and hear. Armies of ideas stalk me wherever I go and whatever I do. Seriously. I get ideas at the worst times. I fend off literally hundreds a day. Everything in life inspires me. There is not one thing I can think of that doesn’t inspire me.

Characters, physically I base them after a celebrity usually because I have to have a visual. As far as their personalities, each character is a little bit of a kaleidoscopic conglomeration of several people I’ve met or known. But mostly, they’re completely and thoroughly made up. I sometimes brood over characters for months or years before writing their story.

I regularly eavesdrop on conversation and I’m incurably honest about that. LOL! I have a general warning: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the craft of fiction. LOL! If my friends don’t heed it, too bad. It may up in a book.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

Um…I dunno. Honestly, I don’t. I challenge everyone listening to rush out and buy my books. Or order them then read ‘em and let me know. LOL! My editors tell me I have “an amazing voice” and that my writing “is tight with a strong core of emotion.” They also tell me I have very strong openings and write action heroes well. Unfortunately, I can’t end a book as well as I start one, LOL! But we’re working on that. There’s always room for growth.

I honestly think Joel Montgomery sold my first novel. (Hero from A Soldier’s Promise) He will always be special to me since he launched my fiction career. Wink.

Nearly every reader letter I’ve received (hundreds) has stated the exact same four things: Memorable characters, writing that evoked tears and provoked laughter and a story that kept them reading. So, I guess what makes it unique would be that I take great care with getting to know and creating strong characters, emotion that moves people to laughter or tears, strategically placed hooks, and letting my borderline deviant sense of humor peek through. LOL!

Finish this question. As an author, my dream story would be …

Up for an Emmy? LOL! Do books-turned-movies get those? (Told you I haven’t watched TV in a while. LOL!)

Any parting words for up-and-coming writers?

EEEEK! …I’m still so new at this I’m not sure I can do this question justice. Maybe you should ask me five years and fifty books from now. LOL!

Since there might be one or two people out there who are a little behind me in the road, I’ll take a stab at it and just spill the first things that come to mind:

Write as worship. Read a lot. Write a lot. Be willing to hear hard things about your writing. Stay as revisable as your stories. Don’t give up. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Every journey is different and no two writers are alike. Learn what works for you. Find out from God if this is something He wants you to do then don’t let anything deter you. Angst over your first chapter. Then write every chapter as if it were your first. Don’t forget to thank Him for things along the way. Invest in a conference if you can. If not, have some form of online support where you can learn and grow, encourage and be encouraged. Determine never to forget what it feels like to be new, and help others as you’ve been helped. Get some good craft books. Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages is among my favorites. Stein on Writing, GMC (Dixon), Getting into Character (Collins), Eats, Shoots and Leaves, On Writing (King), Writing the Breakout Novel (Maas), Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (Bickham), Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Brown and King), Techniques of the Selling Writer (Swain), and Margie Lawson’s courses. This list is by no means conclusive.

Thanks for sharing with us, Cheryl!

Thanks so much for having me! It’s been loads of fun (for me anyway! LOL!) and a tremendous honor.

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