PageOneLit.com: Where did you grow up and was
reading and writing a part of your life? Who were your earliest
influences and why?
Cheri Laser: Although I was born in Chicago, my parents moved to
Denver when I was a toddler. They were divorced when I was about
four, and my dad moved away after he remarried. But my mom,
stepfather, and ultimately my baby sister continued to live in the
Denver area until the middle of my high school junior year. At that
point, my stepfather was transferred to Seattle, an exciting move
for my mother since that's where she grew up (some of the reasoning
behind choosing Seattle as one of the settings in Separation of
Yes, both reading and writing have always been a huge part of my
life. I started writing poetry and short stories in elementary
school and began winning school contests in the ninth grade. My
early reading influences were sort of an odd mixture from the time I
was a very young girl. As a kid, I consumed Nancy Drew mysteries
with the same fever that I did potato chips. And even at that same
early age, I was captivated by Hemingway as a classic writer, and by
Allen Drury, who published Advise and Consent in 1959.
From the Drew mysteries, I guess I absorbed the "hook" technique
(although I didn't know that's what I was absorbing until I began
studying the technique of novel writing years later). From Hemingway
came the love of literary language--storytelling through beautifully
constructed sentences--as well as my love of character-driven
novels. And from Allen Drury I was exposed to stories about power
used for both good and evil, a subject that has never ceased to
fascinate me and that now shows up somewhere in my own novels
(usually for no good). (In the wake of Watergate, I read every book
written on those amazing events, and I still can't get enough of the
movie All the President's Men.)
PageOneLit.com: Why do you write?
Cheri Laser:I write because I have to. There doesn't seem to have
ever been a choice, looking back on the volumes I've accumulated
since I was young. While I was working in the corporate world for
more than twenty-five years, however, most of what I was writing was
being shoved into drawers and briefcases for "a later time."
Eventually--about ten or eleven years ago--I realized that the
passion/dream could no longer be contained, and I began methodically
reinventing myself and my resume (and becoming a rather "mature"
starving artist) so I could focus entirely on this "thing" that had
been driving me all of my life.
"If not now, then when?" I asked myself. So many of us deny
ourselves the pursuit of our dreams due to economic need, life's
complexities, or perhaps fear. When I speak to groups of seniors (as
young as in their 50s up to those in their 80s and even 90s), I'm
always stunned at the number of hands that go up when I ask how many
still have a major dream or passion unfulfilled. My hope is that my
story might inspire at least a few people to see that it's never too
late--and you're never too old--to pursue your life's passion.
PageOneLit.com: Tell us a little about your new book Separation of Faith:
Cheri Laser: Separation of Faith is a journey of
discovery--contemporary characters who find out stunning things
about themselves--unveiled through flashbacks about characters and
events in the 1940s. The headline on the press release "Reminds Us
that Knowing Who We Are Is Prelude to Uncovering Our Destiny." The
characters on both the historical and contemporary ends of the
journey are massively flawed as they encounter intrigue, suspense,
sorrow, and redemption. No one is left untouched or unchanged, and
few are left undamaged.
PageOneLit.com: Who is Abby Ryan? Who is Isaiah Mellington?
Cheri Laser: Abby Ryan is the historical protagonist--a woman who
struggles for years as the realities and traumas of her life compete
with her thoughts about becoming a nun. The reader comes to know
Abby through the story's flashback elements that take place in the
1940s. Isaiah Mellington is the contemporary protagonist--a
strikingly handsome middle-aged attorney who has been blessed with
wealth and education all of his life but feels adrift without any
identifiable or meaningful purpose to his life. Upon Abby's death,
Isaiah finds himself in charge of wrapping up some "loose ends" for
her--and then the fun begins.
PageoneLit.com: Where did the idea for Separation of Faith: A Novel
Cheri Laser:I wish I had a sensible (or sane) answer for this, but
the truth is that the story just sort of grew in my head. I started
with the idea of a young woman filled with talent and promise who
makes ill-fated choices that send her life in unimaginable
directions. Then Isaiah showed up (in my head), and I decided that
creating a male protagonist might be an interesting challenge. From
there, the other characters began appearing, and the story just
unfolded. I'm sure that sounds rather odd. But that's what happened.
And unlike my first novel, where I didn't know how things were going
to end until I'd written a huge portion of the book, Separation of
Faith was clear to me from beginning to end once the characters had
PageoneLit.com: Separation of Faith: A Novel would make a great
film. If Hollywood called and asked you to cast the characters , who
would you cast and why?
Cheri Laser:First of all, thanks for saying that this would make a
great film. That is, of course, every writer's ultimate fantasy. But
at this point in my second/reinvented career, I'm so grounded in
what's real/probable that this question is something I'd never even
After mulling the idea over, however, Isaiah would need to be a
George Clooney-type actor--middle-aged, very handsome, yet
unassuming (with the aura that he's a bit oblivious about his
assets). I'm sure there are other actors that fit such a
description, but George Clooney is the one who comes to mind,
primarily because of his age. Oddly enough, the first actress who I
thought of for Isaiah's love interest Ava is Christina Aguilera.
This is obviously not a musical, but Aguilera has recently proven
her acting ability, and she is how I envision Ava looking and coming
across. And the absolutely perfect choice for Abby (whose character
is always viewed as a young woman through the flashbacks) would be
I'd have to give some more thought to the rest. Tess, for example,
is primarily an older woman in the contemporary elements of the
story--short and stocky and looking a bit like Cinderella's fairy
godmother. But there are some elements in the flashbacks when she is
a young woman along with Abby. So I suspect Tess would require two
different actors. Zeke would be fun to cast, but he'd either need
two actors, or one with a great makeup artist to age him. And there
are more. Thinking about this is fun, though. Thanks for getting me
PageoneLit.com: Plot or character? Which do you find more important
Cheri Laser:Well, if you don't have an intriguing story, one that' s
logically and realistically woven, compelling the reader to keep
turning the pages, then nothing else really matters. But my stories
are definitely more character-driven than by action/plot. My
storylines are cerainly interwoven with twists and turns--and lots
of those "hooks." But rather than a lot of "shoot-em-up" action, I
love developing the character arcs, delving into the intricasies of
who they are and how those traits feed into the story, and
ultimately watching the characters change/evolve.
One of the most intensely dramatic scenes in the entire book, for
example, has all of the key comtemporary characters sitting around a
table in a tiny house. The setting could not be more simplistic. Yet
what happens at that table ends up being incredibly powerful because
each of the characters is deeply embedded in the reader by that
point in the story. No guns, violence, or blood are necessary for
the reader to be totally engrossed in what's going on (or exhausted
when everything is over).
Also, I've discovered that when the characters are real and flawed,
readers identify with them, either through their own personal
experiences or through someone they know. And nothing makes me
happier than to hear readers say that they didn't want the book to
end because they didn't want to let go of the characters.
PageoneLit.com: What advice do you have for other authors working on
their first novel?
Cheri Laser:The first thing is to always keep going, no matter how
discouraging things might get (which they will). Engage in thorough
research on every element of your story, because readers demand
authenticity and seem to have a sixth sense when that authenticity
isn't there. Don't take shortcuts. Write every word of the story
that comes to you--the details of the scenes, the dialogue, the
backstory, etc. You can always eliminate things later, and it's
better to overwrite initially that to skim over part of the story.
When the story is finally finished and you think you're done, seek
input from at least one professional editor, reader's groups, etc.
(in addition to your sister and your best friend, who love you and
can't be counted on for the truth). The professional input will show
you how far you are from actually being finished. Many, many, many
edits and rewrites are required to finally create a solid,
well-edited, quality novel. The biggest mistake that first-time
novelists make is either submitting their manuscripts to agents and
editors, or deciding to self-publish, way before the manuscript is
acually ready for any type of submission or publication. A great
deal of patience, tenacity, listening, and tough-skinned
determination are required. But, back to my first point, never give
up, no matter what happens.
There are hours worth of comments that I could offer new writers
(many of which I learn from other professionals and pass on, because
none of us is ever through with "how to do this"). My blog is full
of tips and suggestions interwoven with my own journey, in case
anyone is interested in taking a look (cherilaser.wordpress.com).
PageOneLit.com: What do you hope to achieve with Separation of
Faith: A Novel ?
Cheri Laser:Aside from giving readers a few hours of reading
pleasure, I'm hoping that Separation of Faith will help establish me
as an author with promise. Fully aware of the realities in today's
publishing world--and totally cognizant of the number of writers
sharing the same dream--I've worked extremely hard to create a novel
that will compete in terms of story and editorial quality on the
same playing field as anything coming out of mainstream publishing
houses. Getting the word out now is even more (and endless) work.
But I believe with all my heart that the dream is still possible.
And, as I write my third novel, I'm hoping that Separation of Faith,
along with the newly edited Second Edition of my first novel, The
Truth about Cinnamon, will help me prove that there's still a way
for the work of unknown writers with promise to enter the mainstream
publishing community. One way or another, there's no way I'm giving
PageOneLit.com: What was the last book you read?
Cheri Laser:I'm just finishing The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim
Edwards, which has been out for awhile (2005). But it's a heavily
character-driven novel that I felt I needed to read (and study) as
I'm getting ready to write my next book.
The book I finished just before Kim Edwards' was The Art of Racing
in the Rain by Garth Stein (currently still on the bestseller list
after many months). A character-driven story in the most unusual
sense of the definition, this was the best book I've read in years
and years. And I was both highly impressed and green with envy by
the fact that this was Stein's first novel. His work is totally and
absolutely amazing in every way possible.
PageOneLit.com: What's next?
Cheri Laser: According to my plan, my third novel needs to be
finished by the end of 2011. That doesn't mean that the manuscript
will be ready to submit yet, but the story has to be completed and
ready for professional editing. If I can get things done sooner,
that will be a sub-goal. But the key is that, because I have so many
books in me, I need to develop a rhythm that pumps out a novel a
year. I'm not a kid anymore, so six years per book just isn't going
to work from here on out.
There's also a nonfiction project in the queue, plus a memoir. But
getting the next novel out of my head is the first priority.
Promoting Separation of Faith is also a major venture. But as I said
in an earlier answer, I write because I have to. And as much as my
corporate marketing background enables me to enjoy the promotional
elements of this business, the truth is that even before we
celebrated the book launch party for Separation of Faith, I was
being driven to write an outline of novel #3.
We're all certifiable, you know--those of us who do this voluntarily
and largely without any financial payback. Completely
certifiable--but happy that the dream is finally out of the box.