Today’s author interview takes us to Los Angeles, California to speak with Cheryl McKay, author and screenwriter, as well as producer. Hello, Cheryl and thanks for taking time to share with my blog readers and me.
Janice: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?
CHERYL: It started around the time I was 5 years old. I wrote a play based on my Winnie the Pooh lunch box and we acted it out for neighborhood kids. I was always writing plays and short stories. I wrote about 10 plays the year I was fifteen. Well, that’s what I called them. I didn’t realize they were actually screenplays. (Too many locations to be on a stage.) I’d write them on loose paper and then recopy neatly into a notebook, and that was my idea of “rewriting.” I began to study screenwriting in college and then went to grad school specifically for that.
Janice: Where do you get the ideas for your stories and screenplays?
CHERYL: A lot of times, they come from my life: experiences, challenges, painful times, or questions I have about the world that I want to wrestle with. Never the Bride is lifted straight from my life. I wrote it as a script first then it was sold to Random House to be done as a novel with Rene Gutteridge. Most of it was similar to the heart of my journey as a single person, except the happy ending. I had to write that first, publish it, and still had to wait another year and a half to see the fulfillment of that in my own life. It’s not often that I write something that has nothing to do with me or something I’ve been through. Writing from personal experience connects me in a deeper way to what I’m writing.
One of my current projects I’m brainstorming, though, is inspired by a small town my husband and I have visited about five times now, Solvang, CA, a Danish-American town that makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into another era or country. I’m working on a series about four sisters. It’s called Windmill Falls. It could be a movie or novel series. Maybe both. We shall see. But just going to that town inspired me to write the story.
Janice: I’ve been there, Cheryl, and it is enchanting. You’ve mentioned several genres that you work in. Is any one your favorite?
CHERYL: My two favorites are family dramas and romantic comedies. I love a good love story. But I also like family stories with a heart, like my film The Ultimate Gift (which was based on a novel that I adapted). One day, I’d love to write Young Adult fiction too.
Janice: What do you like most / least about writing, and how do you manage these challenges?
CHERYL: Most: it can really redeem some of the difficult things you have been through in life. I love how even the process of writing can be healing. And if it does that for me, maybe it can help someone else who’s had similar experiences or even current struggles. I hear from a lot of readers who are single and waiting and appreciate hearing my story because I really did wait a long time to get married. Least: marketing. I would love to just write, write, write and ignore the whole marketing side of things.
Janice: Wouldn’t we all?! Do you edit your own work or do you hire a professional editor? Why or why not?
CHERYL: When I publish with a traditional publisher, of course they take care of that for us. But when I self-publish, I’ve done it both ways. In the beginning, I hired a professional editor (who also worked on Never the Bride) on Finally the Bride: Finding Hope While Waiting. Watching how she worked taught me a lot about editing. So I was able to use that with the next book, Finally Fearless, on my own. Now, I have a stable of writers who also self publish and we all swap books every time we publish. We work on one at a time, which means one will read a current draft. We make those changes before sending it on to the next proofer /editor. This way, if we accidentally added errors while fixing the others, the next person may catch it. I have at least 5-6 of these people so there are more than just my eyes on a project. When self publishing, I do like to keep my costs as low as possible so that once the book is on sale, I’m into profits within the first couple of days of release. I couldn’t do that if I hired an editor on each book. So this exchange of services works out great for all of us.
Janice: Sounds like a great idea. Everyone benefits. How much are you involved in social media, and what do you find to be the most effective?
CHERYL: I use Facebook the most, but really more so on my personal page than my author page. I have trouble keeping up with blogging on a regular basis, posting status updates and especially Twitter. I am not a fan of Twitter at all and just don’t get the point unless you really want to follow what a particular celebrity is doing. I do, however, love Pinterest.
Janice: In your opinion, what are some of the best methods of promoting your work?
CHERYL: One is Pinterest. Ironically, my most popular pin I ever designed is tied to a blog I wrote. It’s called “16 Ways to Pray for Your Future Husband.” It’s an excerpt from my book Finally the Bride. I get about 100 hits a day just to that blog alone, many of them generating from other people’s repins, not even my own original pin.
I also like to do website interviews to share about books and about myself personally, like this one. Since I always have a personal story behind what I write, I like readers to know that. For example, with Song of Springhill, my new novel, is based on actual disasters that happened in the 1950s in Springhill, Nova Scotia. My grandfather survived the big Bump of 1958. Some of his experiences inspired this book / screenplay. (I ended up releasing a second companion book to the novel, Spirit of Springhill, of all the interviews with the real live people of the town, which shares the behind-the-scenes stories.)
Janice: You’ve worked on a number of screenplays that have become or are becoming novels. That must be a very rewarding feeling. You’ve also worked with some well-known writers and actors. Do you have any favorite stories to share about that?
CHERYL: Rene Gutteridge and I met after she adapted my screenplay for The Ultimate Gift into the novelization. We didn’t work together while she did that, but once I saw what she did (and loved it) I tracked her down. We talked about collaborating on other scripts of mine, to turn them into novels. Two of those have been done: Never the Bride and Greetings from the Flipside. We are currently working on a new one titled Love’s a Stage. The highlight was seeing how deeply she got inside my thought processes as she wrote Jessie’s internal monologue for Never the Bride. I couldn’t believe how perceptive she was. I was like, “Rene, did you read my journal?” That was such a fun process to see unfold.
Janice: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?
CHERYL: When I wrote Song of Springhill, I interviewed about 15 survivors, widows, orphans, rescuers and people affiliated with the town of Springhill and mining. Nothing like going straight to that source for information! I also hired a museum and a newspaper to find back issues of all 1950s newspapers that reported on the mining disasters. I consider those pretty accurate. I used internet searches to research the time period of the 1950s, so I could describe clothing, styles, music, dances etc. of the era. Pinterest and what people are selling on ebay can be great resources for this. I usually build a Pinterest board for any new setting I’m taking on so I can get more visually into the time period or setting. I actually wrote a blog about how to use Pinterest when writing:
When working on research for a story about a 911 operator, I got to sit in at a police station and watch them work! Nothing like getting that up close and personal view of what the real world setting is like. (I could never do that job!)
Janice: One of my favorite questions: I believe that although all readers are not writers, all writers must be readers. On that assumption, what are you reading? Do you prefer digital or print?
CHERYL: Currently I’m reading a few of the new release books that were “competitors” on the top lists on Amazon when I first released my book. I never would have heard of these love stories had I not been so closely watching the new releases as we’d hop back and forth with each other over who got the top three slots. I’m enjoying the work of others who write in my genre.
If it’s fiction I prefer digital. Since most fiction books are only read once, there’s no need to take up additional space. But if I’m reading something for the sake of spiritual growth or writing how-to’s, I tend to prefer the print books so I can highlight and refer back a little easier than having to flip through kindle bookmarks. (One exception would be reference books, like The Emotion Thesaurus, I love having on a kindle.) I use that a lot while writing novels.
Janice: Tell us a bit about yourself. What are some of your favorite things?
CHERYL: My husband. I waited forever for him, so I have a deep appreciation for his presence in my life. Taking daytrips or weekend trips to new places with him. We love taking fun photographs everywhere; it’s like the world is our playground. Our favorite places are just about anywhere off California’s Highway 1. Gorgeous scenery and fun small towns. I love small towns that have character. I also love scrapbooking with my mom and sister, either in person over holidays or over Skype if I have to miss a family trip. I’m also a Christmas fanatic!
Janice: I have a daughter who is a Christmas fanatic too. Her husband draws the line at putting up the tree before November!
Sometimes writing and meeting deadlines can become overwhelming. How do you balance your professional life with your personal one?
CHERYL: I’m extremely disciplined. Since I don’t have to hold a full time job, I do have enough hours to work with to keep writing in a normal place and timeframe. There were times during heavy deadlines on films, I’ve had to put in 13 hour days. But that is a rarity and a season that will pass. For the most part, I write from 9-6 with breaks or time to do some household things. But I have evenings free to keep my personal life going.
Janice: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
CHERYL: Write, write, write. Get feedback either from friends or professional critique services. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in your writing. And write what you’re passionate about, not what you think you should write because of trends. If you only write, like say in a particular genre, because people are buying it right now, by the time you’re done people will have moved on. But if you are passionate about what you’re writing, you can find an audience.
Janice: Thanks so much for sharing your life with us today. God bless you in your writing career as well as in your personal life.
Cheryl McKay has been professionally writing since 1997. Cheryl wrote the screenplay for The Ultimate Gift, based on Jim Stovall’s novel. The award-winning film stars James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin and was released in theaters by Fox in 2007. The Ultimate Gift won a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival, received three Movieguide Nominations, winning one of the Ten Best Family Films of 2007, and won a CAMIE Award, for one of the Top Ten Films of the year. Cheryl also wrote the DVD for Gigi: God’s Little Princess, another book adaptation based on the book by Sheila Walsh, as well as the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. She wrote a half-hour drama for teenagers about high school violence, called Taylor’s Wall. It was produced in Los Angeles by Family Theater Productions. She wrote a script called Greetings from the Flipside, commissioned by Art Within, after winning a year-long fellowship. It’s currently being adapted into a novel for B&H Publishing (with Rene Gutteridge). Her screenplay, Never the Bride, has been adapted into a novel for Random House Publishers and was released in June 2009. The film version is in development. She also wrote the screenplay for A Friend for Maddie. Cheryl lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Chris, who is a photographer and a musician.
Check out this list of Cheryl’s social media sites: