Interview with Rowena Cherry

Jen: Please help we welcome Rowena Cherry to Book Talk this weekend. Rowena, will you please share a short bio with us?
Rowena: I’m unreliably psychic (by which I mean that I occasionally know things that no one expects me to know. I have exceptionally good hearing, an eye for detail, and a near-photographic memory. And, I’ve lurked and observed from some of the world’s most glamorous and privileged vantage points.

Of course, I am also incredibly discreet! (Grin)

I’ve played chess in an exhibition match in the stately home of a Lord, and duplicate bridge for money (disastrously) in Marbella, dined aboard a sheikh’s yacht in the Puerto Jose Banus, and received the gold level of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award inside Buckingham Palace, I’m a member of ancient Cambridge University where I studied for my four-year “good combined honors” degree in English and Education, and I’ve taught the daughters of aristocrats and rock stars at exclusive boarding schools, first in Dorset, then in London.

I’ve lived the glamorous life of a corporate alien abroad, and I’ve been driven around the racetrack ahead of the field in pace cars at the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, picked the brains of rocket scientists and rock stars….and much more.

My life so far has been fantastic inspiration for romance novel scenes and alien-world building.

Sorry. That wasn’t very short!

Jen: Tell us about Knight’s Fork and where it’s available.
Rowena: All my titles are taken from chess moves or chess positions. In chess, if your opponent’s Knight forks you, you have a tough decision to make, because he is simultaneously threatening two of your best heavy pieces, and you can only save one of them.

Knight’s Fork is about a Queen whose life depends upon giving her King an heir. (If you followed “The Tudors” you might think that Electra’s dilemma is very like that of Ann Boleyn.)

The problem is that Queen Electra is married to an King to cement a political alliance, and they are genetically incompatible. She cannot fake a pregnancy and adopt, because the King’s hairless subjects don’t wear clothes. (They change their skin color at will, a bit like body painting.)

The Queen needs a sperm donor! One who doesn’t advertise. One who is the soul of discretion. Only one green-eyed god-Prince has the right stuff, but –being virtuous, sworn to chastity, and politically savvy– he refuses to give it to her.

From ‘Rhett’s point of view, the last thing he wants is to become entangled in any sense of the word with an enemy King’s consort. ‘Rhett has no desire to play a latter day Prince Paris to Queen Electra’s Helen of Troy.

So, the chaste Knight sets off on an interstellar quest, unaware that he has a sexy royal stowaway and, a saboteur along for the ride.

‘Rhett knows why he is going to Earth. He has a lost Princess to find, a secret that might petrify his enemies to unearth, and a scandalous Queen (whose motto is “Carpe Scrotum”) to avoid. What is unclear is why his half brother in law, Prince Tarrant-Arragon is so eager to lend him an Imperial space destroyer, a young Prince in need of a mentor, and the dour fellowship of the man, Grievous.

I love writing novels of character which are also quest stories! Take The Lord of the Rings, which is a classic quest involving a dangerous journey where the hero is obliged to travel with a motley crew of companions, some of whom are natural enemies, and not all of whom are what they seem. The team has to visit various (also dangerous) other people to ask for help, which they either get, or don’t; and along the way, they are given magical artifacts, garments, ornaments, weapons.

As for where it’s available, if you might be interested in Knight’s Fork (or the previous books in the series) you can find them through any online retailer, and most bookstores can order them. There are lots of links on my website, http://www.rowenacherry.com including for Europe, South Africa, Australia, the UK, Canada, and the USA.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Rowena: I’ve always loved to write. I expect everyone says that! I’ll skip straight to my call story, which led to my first publication of Forced Mate in 2004.

In 2003, I received what I considered to be the definitive rejection of Forced Mate from the New York print publisher that I’d set my heart on and pursued for six years.

Meanwhile, through RWA contests which I’d won or in which I’d placed, I’d received offers from e-publishers (and also from a few predators), and more than a couple of contest judges had suggested NBI to me. (NBI went belly up within a month of publishing their version of Forced Mate.)

I wrestled with the formatting for an e-submission, and submitted to NBI.

Less than two weeks later, I got The Call from Penny, the owner of NBI. It was a very pleasant and flattering conversation. Penny told me that she loved Forced Mate, and that she had forwarded it to her top author, Linnea Sinclair for a second opinion. Apparently, Linnea had read it overnight, disturbed her husband with her laughter, and had advised Penny to publish everything I could write including my laundry list!

Linnea has been a friend ever since. (Linnea Sinclair has won at least one RITA, the Oscars of the Romance industry, and is a rising star of sfr with Bantam. http://www.linneasinclair.com)

A few months later, while the contract was still under negotiation, another friend, Susan Grant (RITA award winning author of Space Opera, now with Harlequin, but Susan was at Dorchester at the time http://www.susangrant.com) told me that I would be an idiot if I didn’t enter the 2003/2004 Dorchester and Romantic Times New Voice In Paranormal Romance contest. This contest later became American Title.

With Penny’s blessing I entered. To my astonishment (because I hadn’t yet met a Dorchester editor who liked my writing!), Forced Mate was one of the three finalists, and I was offered a contract for publication.

Since I already had an electronic and POD contract, we all agreed that I would split the rights so I could honor both contracts. Dorchester wasn’t doing e-publishing in any case. I worked with two NBI editors on the electronic version, and with the brilliant Alicia Condon of Dorchester on the print version. That was very, very interesting…. to work with different editors on different versions of the same story!

I had my own cover photo for Forced Mate. That’s another story. NBI agreed to use it. (Dorchester didn’t) When NBI went out of business, the cover was still mine, and I couldn’t bear to let it sink from view, so I made some changes to the cover and to the text, bought the package of ISBNs, and self published Forced Mate as an e-book. It’s available exclusively through ebookisle.net and links from my website.

Forced Mate, the paperback, is still in print with Dorchester.

My books so far: (all chess-titles)
Forced Mate (e-book, January 2005)
Forced Mate (paperback, November 2004)
Mating Net (e-book, short, October 2005)
Insufficient Mating Material (paperback, February 2007)
Knight’s Fork (paperback, October 2008)

Jen: How does your family handle the time that you write? Are they supportive or disruptive?
Rowena: A bit of both. They are extremely good about my promotional car door and car bonnet magnets –which show massively buff and ripped, bare-chested hunks.

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Rowena: “racy, wildly entertaining….” according to Writers Write (a review site).

If you’d prefer three of my own words, they’d be: “Speculative Romantic Facetiae”

Jen: Do you have a specific time or place that you write?
Rowena: Yes. All day, every day –except for when I’m driving, of course– also half the night. If I need to get something done, I prefer to get up at three in the morning, or even earlier, which gives me almost four uninterrupted hours. I am a dawn person!

I write in my home office. It’s a lovely, spacious room with desks along two walls, and plenty of storage space for my research materials and chapters of my works in progress, and a view of a woodland lake. The sex lives of ducks and swans is quite inspiring.

Jen: How many hours a day do you write?
Rowena: Eight to twelve, at least, but not all writing is necessarily a novel. There’s a lot more to being an author than producing pages. Promoting, networking and marketing can be time-consuming, even if not all of that time is as well spent as focusing on the next novel would be.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Rowena: At various times –when asked about the hard parts of Romance writing– I’ve discussed the challenge of sex scenes, bemoaned my burgeoning middle sections and also my tendency to stray off topic and amuse myself.

Promoting and marketing are always challenging. I’d rather have a mammogram that write my own press release! (Which is something I’ve been putting off doing for the last two weeks. I find it hard to believe that anyone in the print media is likely to be impressed that my latest novel, Knight’s Fork, won the December “Authors’ Choice” award at amazonclicks.com.)

Writing can be a solitary passion. You might be surprised how many of us are shy, private, modest, and even slightly insecure people. It’s no wonder, then, that some of us are distinctly uncomfortable when we are expected to give a speech, or a public reading, or sit at a table in a bookstore waiting for someone to buy one of our books.

What is easiest? you ask. For me, it’s snark. Humorous, sarcastic dialogue. I have the most fun when I am writing scenes involving my secondary character Grievous, the Englishman. His proper name is Gregory Bodley Harmon. The acronym GBH stands for “Grievous Bodily Harm” which translates as “Great Bodily Harm” in American legal circles.

He is a sidekick, and the futuristic equivalent of a Greek chorus. He comments on what is going on, usually by “checking” that he has understood his part in his employer’s dastardly and convoluted plot. He verbally cuts the heroes down to size, but gets away with it. When I’m in Grievous’s point of view, even instruction manuals and government forms become a riot to fill out.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Rowena: It’s when readers appreciate what I do. Not everyone does. My books are novels of character. There is a plot, but –for me– the plot isn’t the point. If you are looking for non-stop action, explosions, volcanoes, and a quick read, you probably won’t enjoy Knight’s Fork. I’m interested in how a person’s history and attitudes dictate his behavior, which in turn determines the choices he makes which get him into trouble, and get him out of it.

“Thusness” is what it is all about (for me). I hope that my reader will stay up all night, fascinated, and at the end will slap her forehead, and say “Of course! He would!! Why didn’t I see that coming?”

If I may, I’d like to share my Mission Statement. My goal as an author is to give good value…to entertain. I expect to provide my readers with six to eight hours of amusement, a couple of really good laughs, a romantic frisson or two from the sensual scenes, a thoroughly satisfying Happy Ever After, something to think about when the book is finished.

Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write? Is there a genre you’ll probably stay away from and why?
Rowena: I’d like to write futuristic cozies! I think that my two Empresses are marvelous characters, and I’d love for them to be like Miss Marple (or Brother Cadfael) in outer space.

As for a genre I’d stay away from and why — now there’s a dangerous question! I suppose it wouldn’t insult anyone if I were to say that I’ve no interest in writing fiction about real people (with the exception of my husband), and I’m not romantically interested in highwaymen, pirates, terrorists, gangsters, zombies, or large animals (with the possible exception of dragons).

Jen: Who has inspired you as an author?
Rowena: George Orwell, Isaac Asimov, Georgette Heyer, JRR Tolkien, Agatha Christie, David Attenborough. Desmond Morris, Erich Von Daeniken, Jacques Cousteau. SURVIVORMAN…

The above named explorers, adventurers and serious men influenced content, of course.

When I was thirteen my mother shared a Georgette Heyer Regency romance with me: These Old Shades. I still love well-written, well-researched Regencies. The Heyer heroes influence me (or my idea of what is romantic) on many levels.

Of the moderns, George Orwell influenced my writing on a less obvious level… About writing responsibly, the ethics of authorship, of not misinforming, of the importance of hands-on research.

My favorite Romance poets are Tennyson and Browning. I particularly liked the dark monologues, such as Browning’s My Last Duchess.

I was very influenced by that monologue when I wrote the scene in MATING NET where the god-Emperor Djohn-Kronos asks the heroine’s guardian to vouch for whether or not the heroine is a virgin.

Jen: If your book was made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the hero and heroine?
Rowena: Oh, what a fun question! Let me see….

Ladies first: I’d cast either Liz Hurley or Finola Hughes as Electra Djerroldina, but honestly, there must be dozens of gorgeous, elegant, sophisticated, willowy, naturally dark haired stars with cultured accents who’d be wonderful as Electra.

As for ‘Rhett, who is quite a few years younger than Electra… I wonder which leading man would make a plausible virgin and swordmaster. Hugh Jackman possibly. Or maybe not. He’s too old –sorry Hugh–, and too famous. I think the leading man ought to be an unknown. He’d have to be tall, dark haired, slender, with great arms, legs and buttocks, but a six pack would not be a requirement, and he really ought to look just a little bit delicate.

I don’t mean effeminate! Just not rugged.

I don’t really set my heart on heroes and heroines. I spent a lot more time thinking about the fabulous parts in my novels for mature gentlemen and grands dames. Maggie Smith, for instance, would be amazing my sleuthing Empress Hell. Alan Rickman would make a superbly ambiguous Saurian Dragon. So would Anthony Hopkins. Or (be still my beating heart) Clint Eastwood.

The difficulty would be finding someone willing to play Viz-Igerd, who never wears clothes, who has fully retractable genitals (so they’d have to be small, which rules out Liam Neeson, or Kevin Costner), and whose skin takes on brilliant patterns rather like the skin of a deep sea octopus or fighting squid.

Jen: Most people only dream of becoming a published writer. Now that you’ve accomplished that goal, is there anything else you dream of doing?
Rowena: Honestly, no. Not unless Cambridge University (my alma mater) or Harvard offered me a Chair.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Rowena: I’m supposed to be writing a new series, provisionally titled “the forking books” but there are some other projects I really want to do, too.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Rowena: http://www.rowenacherry.com

I’m on most of the social networking sites, (MySpace, Facebook, GoodReads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Bebo, Plaxo, Eons, Multiply…. and would be delighted to be befriended.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Rowena: Absolutely!

For those who have read any of my stories, would you like the Empress Helispeta to discover that her old husband, Djohn-Kronos is still alive and in trouble somewhere? Or would that be too reminiscent of a soap opera?

If you could give me some advice on promoting myself and my books to readers, what would it be? Which questions did I fumble? How might I have done better?

Which glimpse into my life (bio) did you find most interesting (or least interesting) and if you could ask a follow up question, what would it be?

Thank you very much! And, happy Valentines Day.

Jen: Thank you Rowena for such an interesting look into your life and writing. Readers, Rowena will be stopping at the blog this weekend, so feel free to ask her anything you’d like and she’d love to hear the answer to one or more of her quesions. To a random reader, Rowena is giving away their choice of a $15 box of chocs (token) or any one of her books. So, comment away to be entered in the drawing. I’ll pick a winner around 5:00 pm PDT on Sunday, February 15.