Complementing the blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and sixty-fourth, is of Cheryl Anne Stapp.
Cheryl Anne Stapp published her first short story at age eleven and served as Features Editor of her high school newspaper and the school’s correspondent to the Sacramento Bee, but didn’t seriously pursue writing until well into adulthood (while holding down a regular business-career day job) when she became a contributing editor to Working World, a Los Angeles regional magazine. This association lasted five years, until she moved back to northern California.
A lifelong, voracious reader since age four, she had always wanted to be a writer, scribbling down “ideas” and character sketches from a young age. However, as the daughter of parents who valued a standard and more viable means of earning a living, she found a paying job right after high school and “real life” intruded on her aspirations from then on, relegating her writing efforts to occasional enthusiastic bursts which resulted in some editorial encouragement but mostly rejection letters, until the inaugural issue of Working World caught her eye. Her fifty-two articles published there led to assignments by another employment oriented magazine and these successes prompted her to once again try her hand at writing fiction in any of her somewhat disparate leisure reading passions: modern mysteries, historical romances, and California history.
But trying hard and then even harder to write fiction just didn’t bring the desired results. Then in 2009, while actively looking for a writing project that would require more commitment than a magazine piece, the subject of California women’s history—and an excited need to learn more about this—suddenly beckoned from a subconscious that had probably stored it away for years. After two and a half years of research and writing, she published Disaster & Triumph: Sacramento Women, Gold Rush Through the Civil War in March, 2012. Shortly before publication of this book, Cheryl submitted an outline for another manuscript to the History Press and was awarded a book contract. Sacramento Chronicles: A Golden Past will be released February 19, 2013, by the History Press.
Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Cheryl lived in Los Angeles for many years and while there, graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a B.S. in business. She returned “home” in 2000, to marry a Sacramento resident she had first met in high school. Currently she is VP-Programs for the California Writers Club, Sacramento branch; a member of Women Writing the West, and an active docent at Sutter’s Fort Historic State Park. Leisure time is spent indulging in the escapist pleasure of reading the mystery novels of genre-masters Elizabeth George, John Lescroart, John Sanford and Michael Connelly. Her all-time favorite novels remain the oft-reread Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. She and her husband have cruised Alaska’s fabulous Inside Passage, and three years ago spent a month traveling about Australia.
And now from the author herself:
Most of us who write say that we’ve wanted to be a writer since our childhoods, treasuring the dream that someday, when we were grownups, we would publish Important Things or thrilling entertainments as a vocation—until the reality of very possibly becoming a starving artist collided with the “more mature” notion of getting a real job. I was no exception. I went to work for the telephone company right after high school, because my parents couldn’t afford to send five children to college and that meant they wouldn’t, in fairness, provide it for any of us. I stayed with the telephone company for 10 years, earning a degree from a local two-year college at night, and then worked in radio for a time. I moved to Los Angeles where I became a full-charge bookkeeper in the entertainment industry.
I did continue to write and submit, sporadically—until I enrolled in college again, balancing long working hours with study time. Happily, I had finally graduated after ten long years of night classes when the inaugural issue of Working World magazine appeared on newsstands. I wrote a short piece that they accepted, then another, and another. For five years an article of mine appeared every month, and of course I was thrilled to have my name on their masthead as a contributing editor.
During this time I happened upon Joseph Henry Jackson’s nonfiction California Gold Rush account Anybody’s Gold in a bookstore. My earlier enthusiasm for that exciting era came rushing back and thus inspired, I began writing an historical romance novel.
I made it past Chapter 15 before I finally faced an inescapable fact: when it comes to book-length works, I have no fictive imagination. My story idea was good, my characters were believable, my setting was sound…but the mechanics of plotting simply eluded me. After all those pages, the story itself was floundering and I had no idea how to fix it so I packed it away. As a historical romance, it had more history than romance. This should have told me something, but it didn’t. Instead I blamed my shortcomings on the genre and over time, began writing character sketches and outlining stories (to a point) for my newest interest, mystery novels. Again, I had a good situation—but situations aren’t stories, and I had no idea what should happen next. In retrospect, I look on these efforts not as mistakes, but as lessons. After all, I was still writing and loving it, wasn’t I?
American history as taught in high school was definitely not my favorite subject, but I have always found certain histories of selective times and places fascinating: Egypt (3000 + years), Elizabethan England (16th century), and the California Gold Rush (1840s-1850s). When I decided to explore history as a writer, Egypt and England were too far away for adequate research, whereas an abundance of Gold Rush documents and sites were practically in my own back yard once I returned to Sacramento. More dilettante behavior here, though: new husband, new day job, new house; new proximity to my aging mother. In the fall of 2009, however, something “jelled,” and I felt ready, at last, to get serious again about writing. I began looking for a project that would commit more of my time and effort than a magazine piece. For some reason I can’t fathom but am grateful for, it was then that the California history I had first learned in the 4th grade combined with the irresistible narrative in Anybody’s Gold bubbled to the surface from forgotten depths, and smacked me in the heart.
Most California histories are men’s stories, and although there are a growing number of excellent nonfiction books about pioneer-era women, there were none on the bookshelves that focused on women who settled in my hometown. Learning about them, and writing their stories just seemed like a natural. After two and a half years of research and writing and another year beyond that hoping for positive replies from publishers, I self- published Disaster & Triumph: Sacramento Women, Gold Rush Through the Civil War in March, 2012.
One of the publishers I had approached was the History Press, who liked the book but rejected its 77,000+ word-length as far too long for their 35-40,000-word requirements. They suggested that I could re-write it, but the work was already complete and I wanted to see the whole of it in print. Instead I submitted an outline for another book, which they accepted. The History Press is publishing Sacramento Chronicles: A Golden Past in February 2013.
Sacramento Chronicles is different from Disaster & Triumph in several ways, not least for its lesser word count or greater number of illustrations. Disaster & Triumph presents the biographies of six women whose very presence contributed to the “taming” of a rough gold rush town. Sacramento Chronicles contains historical vignettes from the time of the Spanish conquest of California through the restoration of Sutter’s Fort in 1893 and the 1970s restoration/renovation of the original city that sprang to life at the Sacramento River waterfront in 1848 after the gold discovery that rocked the 19th century world.
What’s next? Self-marketing my first book and working with History Press publicists for the second one, of course! Yes, I have some as-yet incompletely-formed ideas for another history. No firm decision yet, but I do so love to explore and write about the past.
You can find more about Cheryl and her writing via…
- Her website / blog devoted to postings of California history at http://www.cherylannestapp.com/
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cheryl.stapp.9?ref=tn_tnmn
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/CherylAnneStapp
- Disaster & Triumph at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Disaster+%26+Triumph%3A+Sacramento+Women
- Sacramento Chronicles: https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Sacramento-Chronicles-/9781609495794
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with horror and western author catt dahman – the six hundred and thirtieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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