Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
I write women’s romance. About 15 years ago I took a Saturday class on writing romance offered by Catherine Spencer, a local Harlequin romance writer. I wrote a couple of romance novels and submitted them to Harlequin only to find out that the competition to break into Harlequin is fierce - and nearly as tough with other publishers as I tried to find a home for my writing.
Romances follow a patterned script: boy meets girl, they have huge conflicts, they overcome the obstacles, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Following this script many romance novels feature a hero who comes across as a jerk and often the heroine is a woman that everyone else, particularly the hero, walks all over. I was writing based on the Harlequin romance formula, loosely following a book by Vanessa Grant on how to write a romance. After a couple of attempts I went outside the box. Creating male jerks on paper is one thing. Trying to find a reason why a woman would be attracted to them is another. I couldn’t connect that bridge.
In my novel Ringer, I didn’t follow the pattern. In the opening chapter, Matt does come across as a jerk because he’s angry paramedics are taking him to the hospital and he is not cooperative. His original hostility is replaced by Mr. Nice Guy and throughout the rest of the novel he is kind, attentive, and respectful to everyone he crosses paths with. Nobody walks over his love interest Holly. She’d rather walk out than be a door mat and she nearly left Matt stranded inside the hospital until he had an attitude adjustment.
In recent years I have discovered several cozy mystery series writers: Cynthia Baxter, Elaine Viets, Blaize Clements, Jessica Beck, and Paige Shelton. Their novels cover a little of everything that I like – romance, comedy, mystery, and suspense. The main character, amateur sleuth, is always a female with a love interest that has a supporting role throughout the series. The novels have a happy ending but not necessarily happily ever after because their love carries into the next novel where their developing story continues. The men in their lives are not jerks but they can be a little unreasonable, mostly out of concern over the heroine’s sleuthing activities. My writing has switched to the cozy mystery genre and I have a publisher looking at my new series so everyone keep their fingers crossed for me!
What research is required?
I write contemporary so I don’t have to research life in another century or become familiar with paranormal or science fiction. I admire writers who can write in those genres. They must go through an incredible amount of research to keep their novels accurate of the era they write in.
My romances feature horses and Standardbred horseracing. I’ve owned horses all my life and I’ve worked in both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries. I draw a lot from my own experience but the plots and characters are pure fiction and not based on any people I know or actual events. In my novel Ringer Matt Winter claims a horse that he knows has been switched, but he doesn’t know who did the horse swapping and why. His intent is not to race the ringer horse but to remove it from the racing scene and flush out the horse’s previous owners who are hiding behind a fake stable name. He needs to figure out what their scheme is and what happened to the real horse he’d owned as a foal.
I’ve never known anyone involved in swapping racehorses. Prior to a race the racing officials check the horse’s tattoo number against the sheets of the horses entered in the race and are able to catch errors, though occasionally a horse does slip past the check points and runs in a race. Mostly that is due to human error. The groom or trainer brought the wrong horse to the pre-race area and the paddock judges didn’t do a thorough check. The racing industry is highly regulated and participants are fined for any wrong doing whether or not it was intentional. Even the racing commission’s judges and stewards will be fined if they missed an irregularity that should have been caught as part of their normal job duties. Whenever I have questions to create a realistic scene I ask people I know in the horse racing industry. Everyone loves talking about their horses!
Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
Rather than naming the one thing I have already learned from my hero/heroine, I’m going to switch it up and say the one thing my heroine Holly learned from is that it’s okay for a woman to drive solo from British Columbia to California. Except in Holly’s case she ended up with sexy horse trainer Matt Winter as a passenger. The one thing I would like to learn from Holly is how to hotwire a car! So far I haven’t mastered that ability!
Any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
Wow! I’m boring. I have a horsey hideaway. If I’m fleshing out a scene or trying to figure out dialogue I often can figure out the missing links when I’m horseback riding. I’ll saddle up my Appaloosa, Whistler, and go for a quiet, relaxing ride when I’m able to work out what comes next in my writing. Whistler is very tolerant of me talking to him during the ride!
Plotter or pantser?
Definitely a panster. I start writing and I might have some idea of the mystery or the person who is going to die but it usually takes me a few chapters of writing to get a feel of where the characters are going and how I should develop the storyline. Sometimes I don’t know who the murderer is until I’ve written at least half my novel. I’m often fluctuating between two or three potential bad guys and then something becomes obvious to me who committed the crime. That also means I have to go through the entire novel again and check for consistency.
Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
Right now my foster dog, Gabby, is sitting to my right on my sectional sofa. I volunteer with Dogwood Rescue and I often have a foster dog in my house waiting for its forever home. Many of Dogwood Rescue’s dogs have been rescued from the pound in their final days right before being scheduled to be euthanized usually for no better reason than space restraints. Too many dogs coming in to the pound as strays or owner surrenders and the dogs that have been there the longest are the first to be put to sleep when new dogs come in and space is needed. Gabby is a wonderful black German wirehaired pointer. She is smart and loves to snuggle. Her crime was her previous owner in Idaho kept putting her outside to roam the neighborhood and the dog catcher had no trouble catching her because she’s very friendly, loves people, and loves going for car rides! Gabby was a frequent guest at the dog pound. The previous owner bailed her out a few times and then decided to hold on to his money and told the pound to keep her. Gabby is staying with us in Surrey, British Columbia waiting for her forever home. Here is her profile on Petfinder if anyone is looking for a loving dog. http://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/21937588
Anything new coming up from you? What?
I write articles for magazines so at any time I could have something available on the magazine racks or coming soon.
I have another romance novel that will published with Musa Publishing in December – Horseman Spell. This is a sweet romance that also takes place in the Standardbred racing industry. Pam’s new neighbor Scott is the younger brother of an ex-boyfriend. As neighbors they put their differences aside to become friends and just as their relationship heats up to the next level, big brother returns to town determined to pick up where he left with Pam.
Do you have a question for our readers?
Who has a favorite horse story? I’ll start. In December 2002 my husband Kerry and I went to a local horse auction. We saw a Standardbred horse in bad shape. A walking skeleton – several hundred pounds underweight, covered in rain rot and lesions, legs swollen two to three times their normal size. Not sure whether or not he would live, I outbid the meat buyers and took him home for $50. I named him Lucky and told him all he had to do was stay alive and he’d have a home with me forever. Ten years later Lucky is still with me and he’s never had to worry about his next meal.
Holly and Matt follow clues from British Columbia to Matt's home in Oregon to a horserace in California, trying to find who is behind the horse-swapping scheme. Matt didn’t count on losing his heart to a feisty woman who can saddle her own horse and hotwire a truck. And Holly has done the unthinkable: fallen in love with a horseman, something she vowed she’d never do. Is Matt a wealthy racehorse owner or just another backstretch con artist, cheating on horses and women? And will he ride to her rescue when they unravel the mystery of the ringer?
Cheryl Rhodes spent many years working in the horseracing industry with both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. She lives in Cloverdale, British Columbia with her husband Kerry and their Border Collie cross, Shadow, and Dalmatian, Holly. She owns three horses: Whistler, a gorgeous Appaloosa; Cajun, a mischievous Quarter Horse; and Lucky a retired Standardbred racehorse. When she’s not helping Kerry in their home renovations business or spending time with her animals, Cheryl enjoys traveling, photography, swimming, reading, and writing mysteries.
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Buy links for Ringer
Musa Publishing http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=240
Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ringer-cheryl-rhodes/1110498696?ean=2940014943260
All Romance eBooks http://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-ringer-772909-149.html
Ringer is available from other online booksellers and iTunes. Or your librarian can order it on their Overdrive system.
The first chapter of Ringer can be read here. http://www.drb1stchp.com/2012/04/ringer-by-cheryl-rhodes.html