Friday, April 2, 2010

Mother's Day Novella~by Cheryl St. John

I just love novellas, and a lot of readers do too. They’re often a quick read, and have lovely special occasion themes like Christmas and Mother’s Day. I’ve done several Christmas stories, but this was my first Mother’s Day novella. When I was asked to do it, I immediately agreed, of course, and didn’t think until later: “Hmm. A story of a mother for an inspirational romance.” That’s where the plotting and planning got a little tricky. There are only so many acceptable ways to give a single woman a baby.

My heroine was first to develop in my mind, and she became a teacher with a student who had no family. So the child isn’t a baby at all, but a child. Olivia Rose sees herself in this girl. Olivia was raised in the academy, with no one who ever needed or wanted her, and when the school closes after the Civil War, Emily needs her. I create character grids to plot my story, and on the grid I list for each character: an inciting incident (This is the moment of change that kicks off the story) their motivation, which is the reasoning behind their actions, long range and short range goals, a character flaw, conflict, a black moment, their growth/realization and the theme which connects the characters.

At the same time I do a prep sheet on each character, and on this sheet I list who they are, including personality and family and at least ten adjectives that describe them. I also include their strong trait and their greatest fear. After I’ve brainstormed those sheets, I can write a synopsis and the story comes into focus. Many times I don’t see the whole picture until I write the synopsis and am forced to make it all logical.

Other times I never see the whole story picture until I’m halfway through the book. But my notes are the skeleton for my story and I refer back to them constantly to remind myself who these people are and what they want and how they will react to situations and to the other person.

Olivia Rose is naive, private, intuitive, sincere, agreeable, forgiving, gracious, soft-spoken, idealistic, but deceptively delicate. She has strength of character and a hopeful determination that drive her to find a family and a home for the little girl she is protecting. Jules Parrish has a plan in motion, but when Olivia shows up with his niece, he doesn’t stand a chance of refusing her.

In my online class this month, I’m teaching on drawing emotion from the reader, and I had plenty of opportunity with this set up to do just that. I always teach never to be afraid to dig deep into your character’s head and heart and pull up those things that are difficult. We can’t grab our readers if we stay on the surface. As writers, we need to feel right along with our characters. I like to look past the initial reaction and emotion and get to the heart of things. People don’t always remember what you said or did, but they remember how you made them feel. Readers don’t always remember all the details of a book, but they remember how it made them feel. I’m hoping Montana Rose is one of those feel-good stories.

Cheryl St.John is the author of over thirty Harlequin and Silhouette books. Her first book, RAIN SHADOW was nominated for RWA’s RITA for Best First Book, by Romantic Times for Best Western Historical, and by Affaire de Coeur readers as Best American Historical Romance. Since then she's received several RITA nominations and three Romantic Times Achievement Awards. In describing her stories of second chances and redemption, readers and reviewers use words like, “emotional punch, hometown feel, core values, believable characters and real life situations.
Cheryl's Blog
Cheryl's Website
Petticoats & Pistols


Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm first in if I type fast....

But it doesn't matter because I've got the coffee, which makes me immensely popular in these here parts, LOL!

Cheryl, I can't wait to read this.

First, love the name Olivia Rose. Beautiful.

Second, love the awakening awareness factor. Beautifully done, no doubt, as is all your work.


God bless and keep that art team that does such a bang-up job of making SH/LI covers come alive for the reader. And that cover in particular makes me feel "Little House on the Prairie" good.

I know, I know, that's trite. I don't care. It looks absolutely wonderful, girlfriend. A definite AWWWWWWW factor going on.

I brought bagels and eggs this morning. I know for some that Good Friday is a day of fasting so I didn't bring treats, but I do have a lovely Easter basket full of home-made goodness for the weekend.

See me then!


Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

LOOOOVE the video, Cheryl. Sounds like a wonderful story.

Welcome back to Seekerville.

Pouring the first cup of Ruth's coffee now.

Have a blessed day and weekend.

Project Journal said...

Hi Cheryl!
Wow third commentor!!

This sounds really great, Cheryl! I hadn't heard anything about it, but now I think I might buy it : )

My first Love Inspired Historical was The Substitute Bride and I LOVED it!!! So, I'm very excited to try some different kinds of historicals.

I agree with Ruthy that the cover's great!

Thanks for stopping by Seekerville. It was nice hearing more about the book : )


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Cher! Congrats on the release of To Be a Mother! Looks wonderful!

Thanks for sharing how the wheels turn in your head when you're plotting. Excellent information.

Great point about not staying on the surface of our characters if we hope to bring emotional stories to our readers. Digging deep is hard work.

Breakfast is perfect, Ruthy. Thanks!

Hannah, congrats on taking the plunge and reading your first historical! I'm tickled it was The Substitute Bride! Your sweet words made my day!!!

Easter blessings all,


Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Cheryl, What a punch of emotion already with the video trailer. I'm so impressed. Did you do that? Another thing I need to learn to do. sigh.

But I love your stories and writing. I like how you outline (see Ruthy it works) You gave me some great ideas. You're right. The emotion is the key. And you started us off with tons in that trailer.

Thanks for the coffee Ruthy. Needed it and I'll be by this weekend to dip into that basket of goodies.

And Hannah, Substitute Bride was a perfect way to start into historicals. You should read Janet's other books. You'll love em. And Cheryl's too.

Glynna Kaye said...

Welcome, Cheryl! And how true your observation is: "Readers don’t always remember all the details of a book, but they remember how it made them feel."

Julie Lessman said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Cheryl! LOVE the trailer and the cover!!

But I do have a question for you. After writing over 30 books ... does it get harder or easier? If easier, why, and if harder, why?

Have a blessed Easter, everyone!


Kav said...

Wow -- the book trailer is fantastic! Whoever thought that 'novel' way of booktalking is a saint! LOL. It's definitely sold me on the book! And there's just something about a cowboy too...sigh.

I'm definitely an emotional reader. I almost take on the personality of the book...which means it's lucky I don't read horror, I guess. There's so much more depth in a book that draws out the emotions in the characters...and consequently the readers.

Rose said...


I like novella's too. Sometimes the short read works so much better in my busy schedule.

Thanks for sharing with us today.

Project Journal said...

Why Janet, I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true! I really loved it! I'm so glad I listened to you *wink*

Sandra, I'm definitely trying to get my hands on copies of your other because I think I'd really enjoy them.

Any recommendations on which I should read first?

Project Journal said...

Are you writing anymore books for your "Courting" series? I noticed that you have 2 written.....
Just wondering, thanks!

Cheryl St.John said...

Thank you, Ruthy! I got the name Olivia Rose from one of my Anne Geddes coffee table books, which I thumb through often. She was a beautiful baby who sadly, drowned a few months after sitting for her photo. The story stayed with me, and I loved her name, so I used it.

Cheryl St.John said...

Thank you, Tina. I get my videos done at paperback Flyers. Great to see you.

Cheryl St.John said...

Good morning, Hannah and Jenet!

Sandra, I've given making trailers a shot, but it is SO time consuming. I found it's well worth the cost to have it done for me. And I can't say that about everything, because I'm pretty good at techno stuff, but my website and the trailers I leave to the professionals.


Project Journal said...

I checked out your blog and left you a long comment there, lol! You have a wonderful blog!

Cheryl St.John said...


I wish I could tell you it gets easier. Occasionally I write a book that simply flows from my head to the page. But that's rare.

In the beginning, before I knew about marketing hooks and internal conflict and dangling participles, writing was a breeze. But once I learned there are issues like good writing and marketable stories, it became a lot more difficult.

It also makes a difference when being creative is your livelihood and you've been paid up front to be brilliant. I was stressing over just that a few years back, and my good friend said to me, "You don't have to think of something brilliant. You just have to do what you do. That's why readers like your books. That's why editors buy them."

Boy, was that a wakeup call. It really helped remove some of the pressure to remember nobody writes or tells a story the way I do. We are each unique and special in our own way--which seems like such a simple point, but it's not. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

The process gets easier, because I have a method that works for me. But sometimes the process changes up on us. No two books are ever created in exactly the same way. A technique that worked for the last five or ten books might not work this time.

We should be able to grow confident and comfortable in our ability and gift, but writing is still hard work. The book I'm finishing right now is one of those that has been like pulling teeth. The page count crawls along. In fact, I stopped part way through and wrote a novella and then went back to it. I can't recall ever having done that before.

One thing I have learned is that no matter how difficult a story is to write - and no matter what is going on in my life at the time - when the book is finished, it reflects none of that. I may look back with negative feelings on the period of my life, but the story is solid, sometimes surprisingly so. Our talent doesn't just up and leave us because life is tough. Sometimes writing through a difficult situation is cathartic and life-affirming.

Wow, windy answer, huh? :-)

Cheryl St.John said...

Good morning, Glynna and Kav!

Hannah, thank you so mucch for visiting my blog!

Mary Connealy said...

I've made a few book trailers in my life.
I found it an exercise in maddening, hair pulling, temper igniting frustration. After about eight solid hours of work I come up with something embarrassing, boring and illegal.

So, I swear them off. Eventually hysterical amnesia sets in and I think, "Let's try another one."

So far I've held on to the memories and not allowed them to be repressed.

So, yes, Cheryl's right, pay someone or forget it.
I've gone with 'forget it.'

Janet Dean said...

Hi Hannah,

I'm glad you listened to me too.
:-) Not sure if I'll write more Courting books. I may talk to my editor about that very thing.

My wip is the story of a pregnant widow who opens her home to unwed mothers.


Project Journal said...

Oh my goodness, Janet! That wip sounds so intriguing!! better tell us when you're getting that published! Lol.....

I haven't read either of the Courting books (obviously), but as I said before, I'll look into it.

Cheryl - No problem! It was a joy to visit : ) I'm sure I'll be stopping by often!


Janet Dean said...

Cheryl, I loved your comments! As the saying goes, "Ignorance is bliss." But it won't get us published. LOL

Thanks for the reminder that the way we tell our stories is unique to us. We need to trust our voice and silence those naysayers in our heads.


Janet Dean said...

The title of my wip is Wanted: A Family. It releases in March 2011. Lots of time to read the Courting books, Hannah. :-)


Virginia said...

Hi Cheryl, your books sounds like a wonderful read and i would love to read it!

Missy Tippens said...

Cheryl, thanks so much for a great post! I'm so glad you joined us today.

Also, thanks for sharing what you put in your character charts. Really helpful!

Debby Giusti said...

Great info. Loved learning what you put into the pot as your story stews.

Tell us about when and where you'll be teaching your next class on emotion. Sounds like something I could use! :)

Audra Harders said...

Hi Cheryl,
I love the way you create a book! Especially the 10 adjectives per character. Hmm, I don't think I can come up 10 adjectives to describe myself, LOL!

Beautiful story; beautiful cover!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Cheryl.

Your novella sounds wonderful.

And it's good to know that well- established authors still go through a similar angst as the rest of us!

Take care,

Barb said...

Cheryl, I do love that trailer. Want more information on getting your own trailer?

Stop by and check us out!

Cheryl St.John said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment (or two or three) today. This is a fun place.

Debby, I don't have a projected class schedule up yet. Since I just did that class, I could do it again in September.

Julie Lessman said...

Cheryl, thank you SO much for your very straightforward and detailed answer -- that is exactly what I wanted to know, and you put my fears to rest that I am not crazy ... at least when it comes to writing books.

I guess I expected it to be the same every time, but it isn't ... sometimes I can write a 500-page book in 2 months working part-time and sometimes I can barely finish in a year. I wish it got easier every time, but I had a feeling it didn't, so thank you for sharing your in-depth experience with me, and may God continue to bless you in your writing.


Melinda said...


The book trailer is really good. I can tell you worked hard on it.

You are one of my favorite authors. I know this will be a wonderful read.

Anytime the story line is about a child it really makes the story.

Have a wonderful day

Walk in harmony,

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for the glimpse into Olivia Rose. (Just love that name!) I can't wait to read your story.

Thanks also for the writing tips. I'm super bummed that I missed your class. :(