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Interview with Cheryl Wyatt

Cheryl Wyatt is a writer who studied her craft, practiced hard at writing both fiction and non-fiction, and then placed numerous times in several contests (including ten RWA contests, the ACFW Noble Theme Contest, and the ACFW Genesis Contest) before publishing any of her fiction.

Despite the long road to publication, Cheryl loves to laugh and to make others laugh. She notes on her web site that she often plans comedic moments for her defenseless characters in spite of their grumbling. She says it’s payback for when the refuse to obey the plots she’s set out before them.

Cheryl, you took more than one writing course prior to being published. Do you feel that the time and price were worth it and how were the different coursed unique from each other?

I took classes through Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers’ Guild and also a creative writing class through a local community college. I also took a writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. I feel like those programs helped in different ways. Christian Writers Guild formed a strong writing foundation that I still use today. ICL helped me learn to meet deadlines. The local college instructor encouraged me and convinced me I had what it took to write professionally. So each helped in different ways. Since I write full time now, I do feel the initial investment was worth it, because, while I wrote for free and still write as a ministry in many venues, I am able to stay home and write full time now. I currently take a lot of classes through ACFW and I continue to strive to grow. It’s the best organization in the world for Christian writers, in my opinion, because of the mentoring spirit overall.

You also took the time to enter numerous contests. What are the benefits you experienced that kept you entering them?
Getting on the contest circuit was one of the best things that boosted my career. When I first entered contests, I would come in dead last. I kept learning craft and picking through comments and applying judges’ suggestions and finally began placing in almost every contest I entered with every manuscript I entered (about a dozen or so.) Benefits included getting noticed and “known” by industry professionals as well as growing as a writer due to judge feedback and encouragement that kept me going.

At one point you were a registered nurse, but have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have wanted to write for as long as I remember. I’ve always been an avid reader. I love words. In school, I would drool and cheer rather than groan when the teachers would inform us we were having an essay test. LOL! I’m the only kid I know who read the dictionary for fun growing up. My mom still has the first “book” I ever wrote: a little stapled construction paper and Crayon piece about a blue puppy. Keep in mind this was decades before Blue’s Clues. LOL!

Do you feel your previous nursing career has enhanced your ability to write authentically beyond the medical fiction genre?
I do, because of the vast experience I have in assessment skills of people and of surroundings. We are so trained in a sensory capacity, that it helped me learn to use and incorporate all five senses in a scene. Unfortunately though my characters are grazers and gazers a lot, meaning because I’m so strong on textures, they look at each other and eat a lot. LOL! I almost always have to tone that down on revisions. I’m trying to do better though.

You previously wrote military fiction, do you still have more military stories to tell or is medical fiction your new direction for a while?
I think military fiction is a huge part of my brand. Even the Eagle Point Emergency series, the medical mini series from Love Inspired, has a military theme and military characters. It’s part of who I am as a person, the desire to honor veterans with my books. The only reason I attempted the medical miniseries is because my publisher wanted to do one and they asked me to try. I sent in a proposal and, because of my brand, incorporated a military slant, and my editors loved the idea and offered a three book contract. I am having such a blast and I’m really thankful to my publisher and my editors for stretching me in this way, and for seeing my strengths as a writer, even more than I do.

Where or when do you most frequently find yourself inspired by new story or character ideas?
Every hour of every day. I think when I fall asleep, I dream of nothing but nouns and when I get a paper cut, I bleed action verbs. LOL! People inspire me mostly. I like to warn people that I am a professional eavesdropper and that they have the right to remain silent because anything they say or do can be used in the craft of fiction. LOL! I am inspired by touching things that others do for one another. I like to use my books to show the good in humanity and how people can reflect the hands and heart of God through acts of kindness.

The photo for instance is something that inspired me to write about a character from the Secret Service. I’ve been plotting a K9 series since 2009 and in fact many of my Facebook readers took part in that brainstorm and helped me name the dogs. Once when my husband was called upon to assist with security equipment for a political function, I got to go and had the great opportunity to meet SS agents as well as dogs who also work in the Secret Service. Beck, the dog in the photo, took a shine to me. So much so that the SS agents cracked up. When Beck got “off duty,” I was able to play and interact with him for a long while. We became good buddies. Story ideas come out of meaningful life experiences like that.

Do you consider yourself a character-driven author, or a plot-driven author? (Which idea usually comes first for you?)
Totally character driven. I have to know my characters through and through. Then I normally get the opening scene/scenario. I am a weak plotter, I think. It takes a lot of work to get it right. I spent a lot of time with Lisa Rector-Maass and she helped me tremendously with developmental issues in my plotting. I don’t normally struggle with thinking of characters and I love featuring very unique character careers in fiction, such as Air Force Pararescue, etc. But coming up with plot points are like pulling teeth.

You’ve mentioned a chaotic home life. How do you make time to meet deadlines? (Do you have a favorite way or time to write when you can make it happen?)
I try to write when my kids are in school. Thankfully God has enabled me to write extremely fast. That said, I am not as prolific in this season as I know I could be, simply because I feel like God is tugging me back by the proverbial shirt collar. He knows I don’t want any regrets in my life and I don’t want to look back and realize I should have spent more time with my kids. They’re only little once and they take precedence over my writing. Somehow, when I apply Matthew 6:33 to my writing, and put God and my family first, I always manage to have time to get things done. It’s hard. I’ve heard it called “the juggle struggle” and that’s so true. It is a struggle to find time to write. Prayer and a supportive family and friends help.

What tips would you give beginning writers that you wish you had known? (Do you have any regrets?)
No regrets whatsoever. My advice is to write as worship and pray like breathing. Commit your works to God because literature always makes a difference and it greatly impacts the culture. My best advice is to remember Who gave you the gift and never use that to make the wrong kind of difference.

I also like to urge authors to stay teachable and humble. So often I see newer writers posting publicly when they’ve lost a contest, or bashing a judge. This is so unprofessional and extremely disheartening to judges. I encourage aspiring authors, especially in the digital age and with so much of their writing journeys visible online, to act Christ-like and to think before they post when they’re having a bad day or have received a rejection or other disappointing news. Once it’s “out there,” it can’t be retrieved and the industry has a long memory. I urge authors to honor God by being humble and professional.

You also offer fiction manuscript critiques. When you were starting out was this something you sought out for your own writing?
I did and that seemed to help. I’ve used Kathy Ide, Robin Caroll, Linda Rondeau and more recently Lisa Rector-Maass and each time, God used the person to spur me on in growth. I also have given and received fiction critiques at ACFW and learn a lot from those.

Any parting words?
I just want to encourage writers not to give up. This is an extremely bumpy road. It can seem brutal at times, but it’s also rewarding if you hang in there. I encourage people to seek God for direction and encouragement. One thing that always keeps me going is Mick Silva’s Your Writers Group devotions. God ALWAYS uses Mick’s words to steer, bandage, challenge, buoy and encourage me.

I also want to say how much I love my readers. I am thankful and love to connect with book lovers. We have a ton of interactive fun on my reader-focused Facebook page. I regularly hang out there and ask for reader input that I use in every book. I’m also on Twitter and would love to connect with readers and aspiring authors there: My Facebook Reader Page: (we have LOTS of fun here. I hope you’ll join us.)

Twitter Handle:!/cherylwyatt

I also want to mention that book 2 in the medical miniseries (Eagle Point Emergency—Love Inspired Books), titled Doctor to the Rescue, releases on December 18th, wherever books are sold. It’s up for pre-order online now.

Thanks for sharing with us, Cheryl!
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it!

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