Sunday, May 17, 2009

YAedge Featured Author: Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Cheryl about her debut release, Breathing, published by Viking.

Here’s the blurb:

What if the guy who took your breath away was the only one who could help you breathe?

Savannah would be happy to spend the summer in her coastal Carolina town lying in a hammock reading her beloved romance novels and working at the library. But then she meets Jackson. Once they lock eyes, she’s convinced he’s the one—her true love, her soul mate, a boy different from all the rest. And at first it looks like Savannah is right. Jackson abides by her mama’s strict rules, and stays by her side during a hospitalization for severe asthma, which Savannah becomes convinced is only improving because Jackson is there. But when he’s called away to help his family—and seems uncertain about returning—Savannah has to learn to breathe on her own, both literally and figuratively.

This debut novel has it all—an endearing, funny, hopelessly romantic main character, lots of down-home Southern charm, and a sunny, salty beach setting that will transport you to the Carolina coast.

A brief excerpt:

Oh Lord, I got a prickling on the back of my neck. Either somebody
walked over my grave or else I’m being watched.
I turn to look and there he is staring right at me from up by the snack
shack. Some kind of crazy zingy feeling goes shooting right on up my
chest. I should have brung my inhaler, all the sudden my breathing is
clunky. Hell ‘n high water, he’s headed this way. And he’s got that big
ol’ smile plastered on his face like I’m his long lost best friend. And
I haven’t a clue what his long lost best friend would say. I drop my
bike down in the sand beside me.
“Hey,” he says, just like last time.
Ah, hell. “Hey,” I reply, promising myself that no matter what happens
I will not run off like a baby.
“We met behind the libary,” he says.
“I remember you,” I say, all shy-like. “I’m Savannah, you know, as in
Georgia.” Hells bells, I should have kept my mouth shut. But he smiles
at me with those sparkly sea-green eyes. “Jackson,” he says, “as in

Now for the questions!

1. Here’s a scary stat pulled from:

Between 100 and 150 million people around the globe suffer from asthma and this number is rising. World-wide, deaths from this condition have reached over 180,000 annually. In the United States, the number of asthmatics has leapt by over 60% since the early 1980s and deaths have doubled to 5,000 a year.

In light of these statistics, I’m sure you’ll have many readers who can relate to Savannah’s plight. What drew you to telling this story?

Great question. I came to the asthma in a round about way. Initially, I was using it as an explanation for Savannah’s visions or special feelings. I thought they would be more believable if they came when Savannah was in an altered state of oxygen-loss. As my process went on, that connection was dropped and the visions were scaled back. But by then, the asthma had become part of who Savannah is.

My husband and daughter both have mild asthma. So I have some experience seeing its role in people’s lives. I also worked in a pediatric unit in a hospital in college. There were kids and teens who I got to know there with asthma and other respiratory issues. My husband is a pediatrician, so medical issues are around here a lot. And I got to thinking that not that many stories include a child with a medical challenge without that being the main focus of the book. I wanted Savannah’s asthma to be something she has to deal with, but not the point of the story.

2. In your bio, you mention that like Savannah and Jackson, you and your husband met as teenagers and endured the trials of a long-distance relationship. Congrats on your twentieth anniversary! Did you make things easier or harder on your characters compared to your experience with long-distance love?

I made things much easier on Savannah and Jackson than they were on us. I don’t want to give away any details about the story, but our long-distance experience included a much greater distance and a much longer separation.

3. When I first read the excerpt for Breathing, I had to go back and re-read it a few times to get the rhythm of the language to flow in my head…if that makes sense…lol. Your bio says you grew up in Northern Carolina, so you must be very familiar with the dialect you’ve chosen for Breathing. Savannah’s voice is fabulous – but did you worry readers might have trouble with the style?

This is also a great question. When I wrote the first draft, I put the words down exactly the way I heard them in my head. Then, through many rounds of revisions, we chose very carefully when to leave the dialect in and when to take it out to make it easier for the reader. I’ve had a lot of readers tell me that it only seems challenging in the first few pages and that once they get the feel for it, they really enjoy what it adds to the story. I wanted the reader to know Savannah completely and I didn’t feel like that would be possible without including the way she talks and thinks.

4. Your website is impressive – who’s gonna fold all that laundry?! I especially enjoyed the Bonus Materials with your character sketches (interviews with your characters). Did you use these interviews when developing your characters?

Yes. Usually I start writing without doing character sketches. Then, once I know the character to some degree, I’ll have a little written chat with them to get to know them better. Then I go back to the story and weave in what I’ve learned and also use it in the remainder of the novel.

5. What’s your writing day like?

It varies so much. Life gets busy. But ideally, after I take my kids to school, I spend half an hour or so dealing with emails and Facebook and myspace and all that. I usually do that kind of work on my desktop computer. Then I leave the busy world behind and go into my bedroom. I light candles and sometimes incense. Some days I write with pen and paper, other days on my laptop, always on my bed, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I love when I have a three or four hour block of time to write. But that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I usually have other things I need to take care of. And before I know it, it’s time to pick the kids up from school.

6. Any announcements or promo ops you’d like to mention? Plug away!

I have a number of events coming up, which I’m really excited about. Many of them are in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ll also be in North Carolina. Starting in June, I’m going to be teaching a bunch of creative writing classes for teenagers. All the info can be found on my website

Thanks for hanging with us, Cheryl. We wish you many readers!


Tami Klockau said...

Awesome Cheryl! Sounds like a great book. Can't wait to pick it up.

Cheryl Renee Herbsman said...

Thanks Tami!