Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
A native of Oklahoma, Cheryl Etchison graduated from the University of Oklahoma's School of Journalism and began her career as an oil and gas reporter, then moved into public relations before she started writing fiction. Her first novel, Once and For All: An American Valor Novel, is
winner of the 2017 Romance Writers of America 2017 RITA for Best First Book as well as a Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length category. Etchison has written two other titles in the American Valor series. Currently, she lives in Austin with her husband and three daughters.
Her social media profiles read, “Former news reporter/media specialist/PR whatsit turned RITA-winning romance writer. Lover of vodka, shoes and curse words. Sports fiend.” Meet the author behind the description. Fresh back from the swirl of events at the 2017 Romance Writers of America Conference in Orlando, author Cheryl Etchison took time from her busy schedule to be interviewed by email for Lone Star Listens.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Cheryl, you grew up in Oklahoma, but now live in Austin. What brought you to Texas?
CHERYL ETCHISON: My husband works for a general contractor so we move around quite a bit. We started out in Dallas after graduating college, then on to New Mexico, back to Oklahoma and then back to Dallas, where we lived for another three years before they moved us south to Austin in 2014.
Where in Oklahoma did you grow up, and how did your raising influence your writing?
I grew up in Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, not far from where Wilson Rawls set his novel Summer of the Monkeys along the Illinois River. While Where the Red Fern Grows is his more popular title, it was Summer of the Monkeys that began my love affair with books. My second grade teacher read it to our class, but I begged my mother to buy me my very own copy. She ordered it from a local bookshop, and today this day I have my beloved hardcover on a keeper shelf in my office. The writing is beautiful and the descriptions so vivid. I felt I knew the wooded areas along the river and bordering Tahlequah long before I ever visited there.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I often feel like writing chose me. When I was little, my parents kept their Selectric typewriter on the built-in desk in my room. My mother wrote youth soccer recaps for the local newspaper, and it wasn’t long before I followed suit, writing recaps of the Dallas Cowboys games I watched with my father. I even recall crying over the typewriter keys as I recounted the story of the evil Steelers defeating my beloved Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. Throughout school, creative writing assignments always came easy to me so they were never considered work, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of junior college that a professor suggested I ditch my business degree plans for journalism. Without any real thought, I changed my major the next semester. Then, once I transferred to the University of Oklahoma, I contemplated specializing in public relations instead of news writing. But my advisor convinced me otherwise, stating “You will always find a job with writing.” He wasn’t wrong.
What was your first big break as a novelist?
My break as a fiction writer came as I was on my way to pick up my middle daughter from summer camp (Camp Half Blood, to be exact) and a New York area code appeared on my phone. My now literary agent, Stephany Evans, called to say she loved the writing, the characters, the book and wanted to represent me. She sold Once and For All in a three-book deal within a matter of weeks.
Why did you pick romance?
The simple answer is, I love happy endings. There is only one requirement within the romance genre and that’s it. That’s not to say romances won’t have its ups and downs and the characters won’t face challenges along the way, but I like that I can pick up any book in the genre knowing without a doubt, these characters will be together and in love when I reach the final page.
Why did you pick a military-themed series?
As a teenager, one of my favorite movies was Purple Hearts with Cheryl Ladd and Ken Wahl. It was the story of a Navy surgeon who fell in love with an Army nurse during the Vietnam War. Although it was a romance, the movie was highly praised by Vietnam veterans as being accurate in its portrayal of war. When I began brainstorming ideas for a book in 2012, the Global War on Terrorism had reached the ten-year mark with no signs of ending, and I wanted to do an updated version of the movie. Around the same time, there were a few documentaries about the Army Rangers that garnered my attention, so I began researching the 75th Ranger Regiment, learning not only their history but the kinds of operations they currently conduct such as airfield seizure and hostage rescues. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked.
Congratulations on your 2017 Rita win for Best First Book. Can you tell our readers about Once and For All?
Danny MacGregor and Bree Dunbar were childhood friends and then sweethearts, until the day Danny lost his college scholarship and enlisted in the military on a whim. Ten years later, while home on leave, he runs into Bree and learns her life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. As a matter of fact, she’s been waging her own battles with cancer. With her life in a rut, living at home with her parents and no job prospects, he proposes marriage to make up for a decade’s worth of guilt. By marrying, Bree is given a fresh start in a new city and her medical expenses are covered by his military insurance. It’s supposed to only be a temporary solution and they agree to divorce whenever Bree can stand on her own two feet, but the best-laid plans have a way of changing unexpectedly.
What was it like to be nominated for a Rita, and what was it like to win?
It was a complete shock to be nominated, especially since there are so many great romance novels out there. I had several friends who seemed to believe it was a given, but at the end of the day, they’re my friends. What else would they say! When the RWA representative informed me that Once and For All finaled in two categories, my mind was completely blown. It’s just such a huge honor to even final. Winning was simply the cherry on top of a fabulous sundae.
You now have three books in this series in less than two years. What is your creative process like?
To be honest, it’s kind of an erratic mess. I consider setting and tropes and characters and themes all at the same time. When I brainstorm books with friends, I scribble pages and pages of ideas with items circled or scratched out, sometimes with arrows darting off the page and pointing to something on the other side. When I’m done, [my friends are] usually staring at me with a look of shell shock and likely wondering what in the world just happened. But it’s my process, not theirs, and somehow it works for me. Thankfully my brain can make sense of all these bits and pieces later on and hopefully shape them into a coherent novel.
Now that you’re an official Rita winner — and obviously an expert at romance! — what’s the most romantic place in Texas, to you?
I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a romance expert, but I do believe whether or not a place is romantic is determined by the one you’re with, not the location. While some might prefer a night’s stay in a boutique hotel in downtown Dallas or a weekend getaway at a beach house on the Gulf, my preference is anywhere far away from the city, away from the noise and traffic and city lights. Some place where you can idly sit with the one you love and watch the sun sink below the horizon before spending the rest of your evening together staring up at the night sky.
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“An emotional and fun marriage of convenience and second chance romance all wrapped up in one sexy package.”
“Solid characterization and plot development make this debut a fun, sexy read.” —Library Journal
“Once and For All is an awesome, emotional romance. It's full of high and lows, taking readers on a hold-on-to-your-heart rollercoaster ride.”
—I Heart YA Books
“Wow for a debut novel, Cheryl knocked it out of the park. I was hooked from the first meeting in the story to the last at the beach.” —Hooked on Books
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