Interview with R.G. Strickland from Writing Forums

Mar 12, 2023 by Cheri Krueger

I'm pleased to present our latest interview, this time with Cheri Krueger, better known to us as C.K. Johnson here on the forum.

When someone says that "we're going to go around the room and have each person tell us about themselves," what is your response when it gets to you?

Hi, my name is Cheri Krueger. I'm 61 years old, married to Kurt for 20+ years. I have two grown sons and a 21-year-old grandson. I've lived in central California most of my life except for several years in the Tahoe/Carson Valley, Nevada area, and eight years in Arkansas where I bred, trained and showed Quarter Horses. From 2007-2020, I sold lingerie on my website and made a very comfortable living until 'Zon took over the world. My author site is now parked on that URL.
I retired in January 2021, and since then I've been writing fiction and studying the craft full-time. My good girl Sophie crossed the rainbow bridge October 2021 and I'm not ready for another dog of my own so I pet-sit for fun and side money. Kurt and I love to travel and I use the places we've visited for settings in my novels.

What led you to start writing?

I think because I've been reading constantly since I was four years old, I cannot remember a time when I didn't have voices in my head, basically telling myself 'fan fiction' about the characters in my books. But it wasn't until 4-5th grade I started writing down my thoughts. In junior high and high school I wrote for the school newspaper and worked on our yearbooks. During the Smokey and the Bandit era, I wrote a column for our local newspaper called CB Chatter. I wanted to be Barbara Walters, but most journalists make starvation wages and I was a single mom of two sons by age 19, so I had to make other choices.
Like everyone else, I always said one day I would write a novel, but it wasn't until January 2021 that I forced myself to sit in the chair for eight hours a day and get this story about my mother out of my head. Once the words started, they wouldn't stop, and now I'm working on book number seven.

All three of your published novels say that they were published in 2021. What's the story on that?

I consider myself a total pantser, but my first book (Thanks, Universe) had been brewing in my head for decades so when I made the decision to get serious about finally writing a book, I wrote almost 150k words in six weeks. That feeling of being 'in the zone' became addictive; I could not wait to get to my office each morning and write down the movie in my head.
Because Stephen King said I should set my manuscript aside for 6 weeks before tackling the second draft, and because the characters from Thanks, Universe were so alive to me, I wrote a sequel (An Artist's Heart). By then, I already had a semi-autobiographical story outlined in my head (Dragonfly) and by the time we received our first stimulus check, I had three complete novels. I used my $1400 to hire an editor on Reedsy to help me with Thanks, Universe and then started querying. After only 15 rejections, I grew impatient and self-published all three books in August 2021, where they languish among the zillions of other books people have written since Covid lockdown. I had all the time I wanted to write, but not the budget nor the inclination to market myself.

Family and relationship dynamics seem to be a central theme in your works. Is this based more on personal experiences or just an area of interest?

My mother married at 14, gave birth to me at 15, divorced at 16. I didn't meet my father until I was 50. By the time she was 21, Mom had 4 kids by 3 different men and she did not enjoy being a mother. So my books have a pretty universal theme of distant mother/absent father, 'found family' and the idea that it's love, not DNA, that makes a family.

Do you consider yourself a "romance novelist?" Or if not, what's the quick answer when asked?

I write women's fiction which includes romance but my books are not considered romances.

Your copyright pages say, "This book was professionally typeset on Reedsy." Can you tell us more about your work with them?

I first wrote Thanks, Universe in .rtf but I knew I needed to transfer the words to a better program. When I started researching editors and found Reedsy, I learned that I could also write my book on their site for free. It's in the cloud so I can write from anywhere and it formats the manuscript in PDF and/or ePub with one click, with options for front matter, back matter, about the author, etc.

What's your overall opinion of the current state of the publishing industry?

It's crazy competitive out there and if you're trying to land an agent, you need a polished manuscript with a marketable hook. It doesn't matter how well written your book may be, if an agent doesn't think you will make them money, they will pass. If your query doesn't grab them in the first couple of sentences, they will pass. Even if you get an agent, they have to find a publisher and many times books die in submission. Traditional publishing is a game of patience, research, and constant learning.

Self-publishing is great if you have the budget and you're good at marketing and advertising, but there's a learning curve and it's also fiercely competitive.

There's vanity publishing, where the publisher asks the author for money. In my opinion, the worst choice.

And then there are publishers that accept unagented submissions (Harlequin, for example) that can help you get your book in the hands of readers. My novel, The Abduction of Adrienne Berg, is under contract with Black Rose Writing, a small Texas-based publisher. They design the cover, pay for printing, marketing and advertising, and my royalty is 30%. Since my goal is not necessarily to make piles of money, I'm okay with less profit and less work on my end. There are hundreds of boutique publishers if you're interested in this option.

Your blurbs are quite attention-getting. Do you enjoy writing them, or hate it like most of us do?

HATE! My current blurbs are only attention-getting now because of all the help I've received from this forum. The early ones were extremely cringy.

Are you interested in other media platforms for your work, like movies, TV serials, and such?

To see one of my books become a movie would be a dream come true. I retain the movie rights with my contracted novel so I've started kicking around the idea of writing a screenplay for that book.

Tell us about your social media presence as an author.

It pains me to generate income for that psychopath Zuckerberg, but I am on Instagram: cheri_krueger_writer
On Twitter: LoveIsCool where I am a woke liberal and tweet more about politics than writing.

Do you find encouragement for your writing among family and friends?

My family, not at all. My mom died before I could ask her to read Thanks, Universe but we were not speaking at the time so she probably would not have read it anyway. Two of my friends bought my books. I was actually quite crushed to see how little everyone seemed to care and went through a depressing period where I was was convinced everyone secretly hated me. I've made peace with the fact that A) Most of the people I know don't read fiction and B) Those who do read fiction don't read the genre I write.

You, Danielle Steel, and Nora Roberts walk into a dark alley together, with no weapons allowed. Who walks out?

The only weapon I need is my rapier wit, and I will use it to convince these successful ladies to walk out of this dark alley to the nearest wine bar where we shall become besties and I will cleverly use their contacts to further my career.

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