Author Interview ~ Cerella Sechrist

Monday, February 22, 2010

While growing up, I adored books. I think it started with my mom, who read to me consistently as a child. Being a theater buff, every storybook was a production of appropriate voices, exclamations and characterizations. I fell in love with stories at an early age.

Like most children, I spent quite a bit of time considering what I would like to ‘be’ when I grew up. My ambitions included a lawyer, nurse, singer, archeologist and marine biologist until the age of ten, when I watched a movie where the main character was a novelist. A light bulb went off. Somewhere out there, all those books I’d been reading, originated with a WRITER. It had never dawned on me before that one day, I could tell stories just like the ones I’d been soaking up for years.

Armed with this new knowledge, I announced my intentions to my mother. She smiled indulgently but remarked it was probably a ‘phase’. Twenty years later, I’ve finally seen a novel in print, and my mom has long since recognized my ambition was no passing thing. I wrote my first book at 16 and began trying to sell it at 17. Several novels and thirteen years later, I’ve finally achieved my goal.
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When did you decide to be a writer?
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I was ten years old and had just finished watching a movie in which the main character was a novelist. Up to that point, it had never dawned on me that the books I loved so much originated with an AUTHOR. It was quite a revelation for me! So I went to my mom and told her this is what I was going to be when I grew up – a writer. She smiled and nodded her head but dubbed it a ‘phase’. (I was only ten, after all, and up to that point, there had been a long list of things I wanted to do ‘when I grew up.’) But twenty years later, here I am, and my mom has long since recognized it was not just a passing phase.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

Since I decided at age ten that I wanted to be a writer, I used my childhood to read as much as possible in a variety of genres. I wrote here and there throughout my early teens and then at sixteen, I wrote my first novel. I started submitting it to publishers at seventeen, without success. I continued to write several books before Love Finds You in Hershey, which is my debut. It took me thirteen years from trying to sell that first book to seeing this one in print.

Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Now that you’ve walked that road, what tips can you give to authors still hoping for that first contract?

Although my journey felt like a very long one, I still feel I did a lot of things right – I’m grateful that I learned as much as I could about the publishing industry along the way so there were less surprises when I actually received a contract. The one thing I wish I had done sooner was establish some of my online presence. I feel my website, blog and social networking is very strong and growing every day, but I spent an inordinate amount of time getting those established in the months before the book came out. The benefits of online networking are huge, and if you can get a jump on that ahead of time, so much the better!

Was there something about the experience of getting published that was a surprise to you?

Fortunately, because of all my research throughout the years, I was prepared for a lot of what came my way with the publication of a first novel. The biggest surprise is probably the amount of time an author puts into promotion and getting the word out about their book – I knew I’d have a lot of responsibility this way, I just wasn’t aware how great that responsibility would be. It’s been crazy but also a tremendous learning experience. I’ve really enjoyed it!

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

If I wrote only when I felt like it, I would rarely write! I enjoy brainstorming and plotting more than the actual writing, so I have to discipline myself to sit down and put my visualized scenes on paper. I was homeschooled growing up, and this really helped me establish the necessary disciplines to sit down and write something every day.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I can obsess over things like deadlines so I have to physically remove myself from my computer in order to get some distance from that type of thing. I’ll usually schedule some time with a friend to distract me and help me relax – going out for coffee, perusing a bookstore together or just seeing a movie often helps give me some perspective so I can return to the deadline refreshed and ready to dig in!

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

It is sooooo difficult to choose only one! Hmm, the Christian fiction novel(s) that continues to resonate for me is Francine River’s Mark of the Lion trilogy, especially the first book: A Voice in the Wind. Rivers has such a gift for highlighting the depth of what an individual can experience. This trilogy on ancient Rome and the persecution of Christians just went straight to my heart and has stayed with me. The characters were varied, and even in living through things most of us haven’t experienced, there were moments to relate to and a lot of things to appreciate. I still love it, even though it’s been years since I read it.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I’m a big believer in reading as many different genres as possible to round yourself out as a writer. Just because you write in a particular genre doesn’t mean you can’t learn plenty from reading outside your area of expertise. Historicals give you an appreciation of meticulous research. Fantasy can teach you how to create elaborate details and then maintain consistency within them. Mysteries highlight the emphasis of perfectly executed misdirection. That’s just the beginning. By reading a little of everything, I hope it’s made me a more complete writer, no matter what genre I’m writing in.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania is the story of Sadie, a single mom and restaurateur who is looking forward to savoring the sweet side of life until a mysterious Russian entrepreneur shows up in town with plans to open a competing restaurant across the street from her own. Add to the mix her n’er-do-well father, who has come back into her life seeking forgiveness, her best friend who declares he’s falling in love with her and the antics of her impish five-year-old daughter, and she’s got a recipe for disaster. It’s a story filled with a lot of tasty layers – and a little chocolate in there, too.

Where did you get your inspiration for Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania?

I’m a food lover, so when I chose to write a modern-day romantic comedy, it wasn’t hard to decide on food as a theme. Having lived in southern Pennsylvania my entire life, Hershey has always been a nearby ‘sweet place’. Once I narrowed my food theme to desserts, it was a natural progression to choose Hershey as the setting. I took day trips to the town, just to enjoy all it has to offer (and smell the chocolate scent that permeates the streets!)

Which character is most like you?

It’s hard to choose just one because I see a little bit of myself in each of them. I can probably relate to Sadie, the heroine, most of all in how she struggles to prove herself in ways that can be destructive to the relationships around her. However, she’s experienced so much already in her life (loss of a spouse, the death of her mother) that there’s a big gap between our mutual life experiences. I like to think I pour a little bit of myself into each character, but beyond that, they stand on their own.

Who is your favorite character and why?

This is another tough question! I’d probably narrow it down to Kylie, Sadie’s five-year-old daughter. She brings a unique, childlike perspective to the story, and she has that uncanny ability children possess to draw out wisdom that seems beyond their years. At the same time, her antics are so outrageous that as I wrote it, I’d burst out laughing, just imagining the trouble she was getting herself into. I never expected a child character to be so entertaining, but she truly amuses me.

Did you know how Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

I always try to have the plot and most scenes loosely in place before I write, otherwise, I’m too tempted to walk away when the going gets tough. I did this with Hershey, although I remember there was one section of scenes in particular that just became too outrageous, and I had to scrap it. This did create a hiccup in my writing as I struggled to figure out how to replace those scenes and get back on track. That was really the only surprise except that when it was all said and done, I had fallen in love with it far more than I thought possible. It was the first thing I had written, that when I was finished, I felt I had done it justice and couldn’t ask any more from myself.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

That a toilet is not just a toilet – sometimes, you can look at it as a ‘volcano’. (I know it makes no sense if you haven’t read the story, but people tell me they just don’t look at the bathroom the same way now. Again, this is thanks to the character of Kylie.)

In all seriousness, though, I want people to just remember it as a story that made them laugh, helped them feel a little lighter and perhaps reminded them that by God’s grace, who you are is sufficient – no matter if you possess all the talents you’d like to have.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

I’ve been trying to do a variety of marketing: blog interviews and giveaways, press releases, radio, speaking engagements, book signings, and when all else fails…I bribe people with chocolate. Because a book set in Hershey gives me the perfect opportunity to do that!

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

I’ve finished the first book in a (hopefully) series about three sisters who are working at mending some of their past relationships. (I love sibling stories! There are so many layers to be found there!) I also started out by writing historicals, so I’m hoping to get back to that at some point. In particular, I have a pirate story I wrote years ago that I’d like to try telling again. We’ll see. =)

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Writing is a personal thing, so it’s hard when receiving rejection from a publisher, NOT to take it personally. It helps, though, to remember many things can affect a book’s acceptance or rejection, and sometimes, the timing is just off with what a publisher already has in the works or is currently looking for.

If you enjoy writing, then keep writing. A story told, even if it’s only for you, is still a story that matters. Don’t measure the value of what you do on how much ‘success’ you see. At the end of the day, a story well told is STILL a story well told – and the experience of it will make you a better writer for the next time around. =)
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Cerella is giving away a copy of her book, Love Finds You in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!

3 comments:

Casey said...

This book looks like such fun! Great interview, I enjoyed it!

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

Thank you so much for stopping by The Borrowed Book, Cerella. Your book, like chocolate, sounds heavenly!!

Cerella said...

I hope everyone enjoys the interview! And Elizabeth, it was my pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to be featured on your lovely blog! :)

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