This month Novelspot Talks to Rowena Cherry. "Who is Rowena Cherry?" you may ask.
For your information, Rowena Beaumont Cherry writes, racy, wildly entertaining space romance for broadminded adults.
All her alien romances have suggestive, chess-position-inspired titles. Her first book was FORCED MATE, an alien abduction romance which might also be called a futuristic take on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. MATING NET (published by New Concepts Publishing) is a short ebook, and tells the story of how Grandmama Helispeta made the greatest mistake of her youthful life by getting into bed with the wrong god. And the full-length sequel is INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL.
Novelspot: As a former English teacher myself (American/English--), I know I bring something of my teaching history into writing. What have you found in your teaching history that adds something unique to your writing?
Rowena: That is a really great question! And, I’m sorry to say that my answer might boil down to a short, dirty laundry list: Lawyers and Sex… neither of which belongs in the classroom.
For me, I think my teaching history relates more to the things I do NOT do, than to things that I might claim make my writing unique.
As a former teacher of History (as well as of English) I’m not comfortable about taking liberties with real historical figures.
For one thing all the sexiest titles of nobility, including King, have been “taken” either by real people, or by fictional characters. I prefer to avoid potential embarrassment –or a lawsuit— by setting my romances in outer space, and giving my characters names with Dj- prefixes. There are only four words spelled like that in my dictionary: djinn (djinns, djinni), djellaba, djibbah, and Djerv. (The D is silent.)
Moreover, in a “hot” romance it is generally considered A Good Thing if the hero is sexually equipped like a heavy duty quadruped with a rigid spine (or even a carapace). While this may be fun to imagine, it’s not the sort of thing a real person might want put about concerning a dignified and distinguished ancestor.
I feel no such inhibitions about Darth Vader types... or indeed in expanding broadly on Erich von Daeniken's theory that all our ancient gods and mythological heroes were aliens.
Personally, I think an English teacher has to be a bit of a Historian, and vice versa in order to do justice to both Literature and Language. Appreciating Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or Jane Austen (to name just four) is so much easier if one has a feel for the way they lived, what their world was like, and the etymology of the words they used.
I’m not sure, that I can say that being an educator helps me to be an entertainer. I did one of those Harry Potter related “Sorting” quizzes you can find on MySpace. Apparently, I am a Hufflepuff type (hardworking, loyal, reliable, nice, etc).
However, when I was a teacher, I think I was probably closest in style to Severus Snape, as portrayed by Tim Rickman (not as dark and mean as in the books). Of course, I do wash my hair.
For me, I’ve an inconvenient tendency to do too much research, to go to great lengths to use grammatically correct language, and to include cool and wicked facts, just because they are so cool and so wicked that it would be a crime to leave them out.
Of course, I try to let my research be like the tip of a shark’s fin showing in the surf line, with the body of it looming beneath the surface.
Novelspot: Forced Mate is practically a mix of genres, or at least so it seems to me. It feels like a classic comedy of manners merged with a speculative fiction and romance. I was first introduced (these qualities in) your writing when I read an earlier incarnation of Forced Mate (with a cover that hooked me--probably the only cover that ever did convince me to get Any book). It's one of the best named books I've come across, referring to the parallels between the chess move and the book itself. How did you come up with the name?
Rowena: Oh, wow! Thank you so much for your very kind and insightful words. I love my own Forced Mate cover, too. And, it is still around on the privately published e-book version of Forced Mate, which can be bought through the links on my website.
Buy the Book
I first saw that photograph of Matthew Twiggs on a Men’s Health magazine cover back in 1994, and I got goose bumps because he looked so exactly like my vision of Tarrant-Arragon. So, I contacted the publication and the photographer, and –although it took me ten years-- I bought the perpetual rights to use that image for my Forced Mate cover.
As for the title, how could I call my alien abduction romance anything else when the chess term is Pandolfini’s name for the end game situation where the first of the two rival Kings to make a pawn his Queen is the winner?
I’ve been a chess player since I was a schoolgirl. In fact I was chess champion at my school for three consecutive years. I must have been captain of the chess team, but I don’t remember that, though I do remember playing against the boys’ school captain… and one year he and I were among the Island champions (twenty-five adults and two schoolchildren) chosen to play in an exhibition match against Max Euwe, who was President (or ex-president) of the World Chess Federation.
Dr. Euwe played all twenty-seven of us simultaneously, and he beat us all! The boy and I both lasted three hours, which was a lot longer than the adults, but that was because we children were playing our own games and not re-enacting classical moves.
Now, I teach chess to gifted children as a volunteer, for a couple of hours one morning a week, or whenever there’s room in the curriculum.
Regarding the title, “Forced Mate” did present some problems, even if it was too “clever” to change. It was one of the first “Mate” type titles, and a lot of very important people assumed that it was a “violent” book, or that there was a great deal more sex in it than there is.
In many romance novels, the hero's alpha male perspective changes for the better as a result of --or while-- making love to the heroine. In Forced Mate, I wanted this paradigm shift to occur during a game of chess. My arrogant alien hero discovers that he has met his mate in the heroine when she beats him at a war game.
All my books have chess-move titles, which you can google (sadly, the chess scene had to be cut from Insufficient Mating Material, but the explanation is there). It’s supposed to be my “branding” and if you search for my books by title on Amazon, you tend to find them among chess manuals. I think that’s pretty neat!
The original draft of FORCED MATE had fifty-two chapters, and each chapter had a different and appropriate sub-title. I was influenced by Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. I adored her comedies of manners, and some of her Georgian and Regency heroes made a lasting impression on me.
My favorite Heyer heroes are Avon and Vidal, and I always thought Andover ought to have got the girl, bad as he was.
Novelspot: As an English transplant (sorry--I'm not trying to make you sound like shrubbery or clippings), how has being here instead of there affected you, or how you approach your audience or your page?
Rowena: I really don’t think that where I live makes a difference at all. Wherever I lived, I imagine myself sitting down in front of a computer, or spreading out on the floor with a couple of hundred pages of A4 and a teetering stack of reference books –and a chamber pot sized mug of strong, sweet, milky tea. Where I live doesn’t affect me as much as you might expect, because I’ve been someone’s idea of an alien for as long as I can remember.
I was first made to feel like an alien (in this case, a Mainlander among Islanders) when my parents moved to the tiny British island of Guernsey. It’s a mystical, idyllic setting with its prehistoric earth-goddess, historic Martello towers, underground gun emplacements, and legends of faery men emerging from a cleft in the Hommet Headland –called the Creux Des Fees-- to mate with human women.
Owing to the fairy heritage (or not) the island girls and boys were a lot shorter than I was, so I was always the male lead or a supporting male character in school plays, the male dance partner in dancing lessons, and at mixed sex discos I was a wall flower because I didn't enjoy bopping with my partner's nose on a level with my bosom.
The island is about 27 square miles in size, and obviously does not support a university, so those of us going to College had to leave the island. Since I was not “an Islander” and had not lived there long enough to acquire rights, I would not have been able to go back to the island for one of the choice teaching jobs. Locals got preference, quite rightly, really. I would probably have had to sweep roads for a pittance…. and I would have had to live with my parents, because I wouldn’t qualify for affordable housing, either.
So, I took a teaching post on the UK mainland.
Until my marriage, I lived in various parts of the British Isles including Warwickshire, Cambridge, Dorset, central and north London, and a quaint little village just outside Luton called Harpenden.
Shortly before our marriage, my husband was transferred to Germany, where we stayed for nine years... (now Auslanders) first in the corporate compound in Konigstein, then in Bad Soden, and finally Morfelden. I loved Morfelden. It was a tiny industrial suburb where the locals made special arrangements to keep frogs safe during their breeding season migrations across a local road!
Now I live by a lake in Michigan and seldom see frogs, but there are herons, egrets, swans, turtles, deer, foxes, and ground hogs.
Novelspot: I've seen you mention that you dream elements of your stories--can you recall any particular dream events where you woke up and urgently started writing an unexpected twist?
Rowena: Yes. And no. If I can, I will dream load. That is, I will go to sleep running over a scene in my mind, and I might replay it, and replay it until it is polished. Unexpected twists usually come to me when I’m at an intersection (driving) in which case I have to repeat it to myself until I find a safe place to pull over, and rummage for the proverbial back of an envelope and stub of crayon.
Kidding aside, what is an unexpected twist for you, the reader, might have been something I thought out very carefully –and it might have taken me ages!
It seems to me that when one writes a truly character-driven story, everything the character does, the trouble he/she gets into and the way he/she averts the inexorable has to be totally logical, given who and what he is.
For me, writing a complete novel is like doing a big jigsaw puzzle… the sort where any number of bits would fit in several different places, and there do seem to be a few pieces missing.
Novelspot: I hesitate to call it writer's block, but how do you handle it when the page doesn't cooperate?
Rowena: I have a choice. I can write drivel, knowing that I can edit it, cut it, or rescue some portion of it later (or maybe not) and hope that it ends up not half bad, or I can move on and deal with a scene that I find more interesting.
A lot of writers write “action of some sort here” or “sex act of some description here” or whatever they are not in the mood for, and come back to it later.
The major problem is when the last page of the Outline doesn’t cooperate, and one has to write the book with no idea who the villain is, or why the unknown villain wants to stop the hero and heroine getting together.
Novelspot: You have had some brushes with Royalty, which we classless Americans secretly find twice as impressive as do traditional monarchists. Not to say we Americans have no class but the closest I've been to Buckingham Palace is in the pages of The World of Christopher Robin. Do tell...
Rowena: I have had some glimpses into elevated circles, certainly. I tutored one Duke’s son in Chaucer studies, another Duke taught me to appreciate vintage whisky, and the highlight of one of my more memorable birthdays was having an Earl and a famous rock musician sing “Happy Birthday” to me at a small dinner party.
I spent a couple of summers as a guest at a Spanish castle folly, and played competitive duplicate bridge, hung out at the Marbella Club, and once dined off gold plate on an arab sheikh’s yacht moored in the Puerto Jose Banus marina.
The story of why His Royal Highness called me a cow isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds. Along with scores of other recipients of the Gold level of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive my certificate and briefly meet HRH Prince Phillip.
He called me a cow because he knew that I had come from Guernsey, and Guernsey is famous for its relatively beautiful cows. Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney all have (or had) their own unique cows, which are “golden” and famous for their exceptionally rich, yellow, cream and butter.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme was a wholesome, character-building project for young people requiring a minimum of eighteen months of dedication, perseverance, athleticism, endurance, adventure, and all-round excellence as well as some “good works”. For instance, for “Service” I mostly worked with the Police force, and I did a stint of helping out at an animal shelter (mostly cleaning cages). Then, there was the mandatory “Residential Service” where I stayed at an orphanage as a helper. Also, there was the life-saving.
Novelspot: From your work, who has been your favorite character (and why?)
Rowena: It’s still Tarrant-Arragon, which is why he continues to be in the sequels, albeit in lesser roles. With Forced Mate, I wanted to write the ultimate hero. I wanted him to be a god and an Emperor's heir, to be intelligent, intellectual, and decidedly Machiavellian. And I wanted a clash of cultures between my hero and heroine.
Tarrant-Arragon had altogether too many jobs, one of which was a lawyer. He was the most important lawyer in his world, of course. What I like about lawyers is the ruthless cut and thrust of their wit, their deadly precision with language, their deductive reasoning, the verbals traps they set, the way you can never take what they say quite at face value.
As for Tarrant-Arragon, I cannot decide which scene of his is a favorite, I love so many of them... especially the ones where he learns something unflattering about himself.
There’s the scene after the heroine nearly breaks his nose, where the Imperial gynecologist examines his deviated septum with a gynecological flashlight and informs him that the royal bedside manner is questionable.
There is also the scene where he learns that sex is really very funny. And, in Insufficient Mating Material, there’s a scene where ‘Rhett questions his morals.
Novelspot: What work do you have upcoming?
Rowena: I am working on a series of “Forking” books. It sounds rude, of course. Forking is where one chess piece simultaneously attacks two (or more) of the opponent’s pieces, and only one of them can be saved.
At the moment I am writing ‘Rhett’s story, because I think almost everyone who has read and enjoyed Forced Mate and Insufficient Mating Material is keen to see him lose his cool over a lady… and to see him draw his sword and fight someone!