Author Interview :: Cerella D. Sechrist
1 February 2010 5 Comments
Chef Sadie Spencer has learned that in life, as well as in food, sour balances sweet. After returning to her deliciously charming hometown of Hershey with a young daughter in tow, Sadie has managed to rise from the ashes following the death of her husband, the passing of her mother, and the dissolution of her career as a TV chef. With the help and encouragement of her best friend, Jasper, she opens a restaurant and looks forward to savoring the sweet side of life. That is, until a handsome Russian entrepreneur arrives in town, apparently intent on opening up his own restaurant in direct competition to hers. Sadie becomes obsessed with honing the one skill she’s never had — creating desserts — to keep up with her adversary, and in the process, she finds a love that’s simply icing on the cake.
In Sadie Spencer, author Cerella D. Sechrist has created a heroine that women can truly relate to. Sweet, sassy, fiercely independent yet childlike in many ways, Sadie is a joy to read, and the novel’s setting of Hershey, Pennsylvania, just adds to the delicious nature of this funny and touching romantic comedy.
I am honored to have Cerella guest blogging for me this week, sharing personal stories, creative inspirations, and a love for pop culture that rivals my own. We begin the week with an introduction in Cerella’s own words. Join us all week for more from this (very dear friend and) truly talented author of Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania. — Jules (aka Nolatari)
I’ve heard the average time you can expect to wait before you see a book in print, once you start the publishing journey, is ten years. It took me thirteen, so that sounds about right.
I LOVED stories when I was a child. I think it began with my mom, who consistently read to me when I was young. She’s a theater-arts lover, and every storybook became a full-on production. (What that woman can do with Dr. Seuss, I can’t even begin to describe.)
But it made stories live and breathe for me, and I was hooked at a very young age. Time went on, and I embraced chapter books. My parents could barely keep me in reading material.
Like any child, I was enamored with the considerations of what I’d be when I ‘grew up’. I had a list of possibilities at the ready: a lawyer, a singer, a nurse, an archaeologist, a marine biologist, etc. Then, one night when I was ten years old, I happened to watch a movie in which the heroine was… a novelist.
It clicked. These stories? These fascinating characters and heart-stopping adventures I’d been reading about? They began somewhere, bloomed in the mind of a real, live person.
To my story-loving mind, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my life. So I approached my mother and announced to her that I had made the final decision on my life’s ambition: writer.
My mom smiled, as most mothers would, and promptly dubbed it a phase.
She was wrong.
I never once wavered, never once said I would be anything else. Throughout my teens and twenties, I kept at this pursuit. I read up on the publishing industry. I studied style and craft. I went to work at a bookstore to learn more. I honed my grammar skills. I consumed any and every genre imaginable to become well-rounded.
I wrote my first book when I was 16 years old and started submitting it for publication at 17. Thirteen more years and several manuscripts later, I finally received a contract offer for my romantic comedy, Just Desserts (now published as Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania).
When I told my brother, the first thing he said was, “Congratulations. I know it’s been a long time coming.”
When he acknowledged that — the wait, the struggle, the journey — it wasn’t until then that it became real, and I finally cried.
My mom stopped calling it a phase, by the way, around the time I was thirteen.
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I think the most important discipline you can have with the writing process is to try to put some words on paper every single day. On very good (and very rare!) days, I may be able to put as many as 4,000 down and others, it’s as few as 100. But even a handful of words is a step in the journey to completing your story. You can’t share what you haven’t finished.
Establishing the habit of sitting down every day to write is difficult enough, but what do you do when it’s just… not… in… you? Ah, the fickleness of the muse — that rare and elusive creature.
It’s taken me years, but I’ve learned to gauge my moods in this regard. There are some days when it requires just reading back over what I’ve already written to re-establish my rhythm with the story. Other days, I might review my casting and pull up photos of the actors I have in mind for the roles to get my mental image back. Occasionally, I’ll utilize the soundtrack I’ve compiled and just listen to some of the songs while trying to re-imagine the scene that’s giving me difficulty. (Like playing the movie version in my head.) Some of the writing in self-help books can be very inspiring, too, but at some point, you have to put the books away and get back to it.
There are also days when I just know I need to step back for a bit because I’m overwhelmed and too close to the story. On those days, I reluctantly walk away from my desk and try not to feel too guilty about indulging in something else during my writing time instead.
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I like things to be organized — I’m a bit of a neat-nick in this regard — so usually everything is nicely filed where I can lay my hands on it when I need it. (It seems I’m unique in this as a writer. I’ve heard most writers have workspaces that are cluttered with research, plot bits and facts they’ve scribbled down.) I try to keep all those things neatly assembled because I work better in a clear space — it’s a Zen thing, I guess!
But I do love the visual aspect of writing. Because, though it doesn’t seem like a visual craft, for me it definitely is one. I have to be able to SEE my story as if it were playing out in movie form, so I usually have images at the ready to nudge me along in the process. I may have photos of my ‘dream cast’ (actors who could play each character’s part) hanging up, and I’m often playing some sort of mellow soundtrack as I work, to help me through the emotion of each scene.
The ‘what if’ is my favorite part of the writing process — that’s where the story is first born. People often ask where writers get ideas, and writers often answer, “Everywhere.” And that’s true. But additionally, for me, it’s a matter of prompting… I have a thought, and then I start wondering about it. WHAT IF… there’s this single mom who owns a successful restaurant? WHAT IF… she’s good at everything except one thing? WHAT IF… she can’t create desserts, and it drives her absolutely insane? WHAT IF… someone comes to town who’s GREAT at desserts, and she’s suddenly got a rival?!?
And so it builds. My favorite part is the possibilities — the blank canvas. I’m not generally intimidated by that at all. From there, it’s getting to know the characters. I love to meet new people, so when I have a fresh set of characters waiting to introduce themselves, I’m ridiculously happy.
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Like any journey, when you’re starting out, it’s new and exciting with lots of possibilities and adventures ahead. But once you’re halfway through, the newness has worn off, and the destination is so far ahead. Sometimes I have to slog my way through that difficult middle section to reach higher ground. It’s always a challenge to keep the story interesting the whole way through. Most people give up in that middle part. It’s hard, and it’s not always fun anymore. Fortunately, I love the challenge of writing, so I eventually strap myself into the seat and get back to it.
I also love variety in my writing. I know they say if readers like a story, they want to see that same story from an author, just told in different ways. But as a reader, that’s never been my feeling. I think if you’re a good writer, you can tell me different stories that I’ll love as much as the first one where I discovered you — because a good writer is capable of that.
I would get bored if I told the same story over and over. And I’ve come to find that the best way I grow as a person is when my characters are struggling with the same issues that I am struggling with. It forces me to work through them so the character can, too. I’m counting on having plenty of issues for many books to come. LOL! =)
I’m fairly adventurous when it comes to writing — I’ll try my hand at just about anything. However, there are definitely some genres that I feel are more of a challenge than others. To me, the most difficult story to write would probably be a historical mystery. Well-told mysteries are tough enough and then to throw in the historical aspect? Yowza.
Being a glutton for punishment, I’ll likely attempt it one day.
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I started out writing historical fiction because I’m a lover of that genre and of history itself. For years, I focused on historical storylines — pirates, westerns, Civil War, etc. But I wasn’t selling, and I was growing weary. In a fit of pique, I decided I would write something completely opposite of what I had been writing up to that point. I decided to come out of the historical drama period for a bit and try something else. A modern-day romantic comedy. I was both uncertain and excited about this — again, the ‘what if’ kicked in, and that was exciting! So I asked myself what I would like to read if I was going to be the person reading this story. I have a foodie streak, so a story revolving around food seemed like a fun bet. Then I gravitated to desserts because I thought they would be a lot of fun to describe and use as a theme. From there, it wasn’t so hard to set it in Hershey, which is less than an hour from where I live in southern Pennsylvania.
What I love most about Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania is Kylie, Sadie’s precocious five-year-old daughter. She made the story something lighter than it might have otherwise been. In the book, there’s a part that describes her smile as being like a suncatcher — it can light up a room with color. For all her hilarious antics, Kylie gives her mother hope. Because she loves Sadie unconditionally, as only a child can. Sadie can’t mess up so much that Kylie stops loving her mom. And Sadie can push everyone else away and make a destructive mess of all her other relationships, but she has a responsibility to Kylie that keeps her from doing irrevocable damage.
Kylie made me see the world (and Sadie) through a child’s eyes, and that’s a rare thing when you’re all grown up.
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In writing the book I learned that what I can and cannot do does not define my self-worth. Like my character, Sadie, I sometimes want to be something I’m not — to be better at things than I really am. But there is such great peace in knowing that who I am and what I can do is enough. That doesn’t mean I don’t challenge myself to be better — it just means knowing my limitations and accepting them. I had to struggle through this in order to get Sadie through it as well — that who I am and what I’m capable of right now… is enough. And it doesn’t define my self-worth if I can’t be anything more than this. I still have value.
At one point, I would have said that true success is being well-established enough as an author that I can do it full-time, without having to work another job to make ends meet. I’ve been humbled enough to learn that true success is one reader, only one, who laughs out loud or cries because they can relate when they read a story I’ve written. Not the amount of books you sell, nor the number of people who read them. Just one person, even if that one is only me, who walks away from a story a little bit better for having experienced it.
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