We're excited to welcome back a return interviewee to Things We Learned! In October 2021, Cherie Dawn joined us to talk about her newly-published poetry book Personified, the self-publishing process, and tackling the big question of "What do I want to do in life?"
Cherie Dawn is a writer, maker, Certified Yoga Teacher, mom and wife, and an Online Editor for the art division of Streamline Publishing. She lives on a small hobby farm in the rolling hills of Kentucky with her family, their three dogs, a flock of 13 hens, and 250 grapevines.
Today, we connect with her to get a behind-the-scenes look as she gets ready to self-publish her third book, a novel called Ashes for William. Take an inside look at her writing process, how she balances larger creative endeavors with day-to-day life, tips for authors looking to self-publish, and how to bring dreams to life using the simple-but-overlooked technique of asking for help.
CHERIE DAWN: Well, my creative writing projects tend to overlap quite a bit; it’s like trying to separate individual waves that are in the same ocean.
I began writing down ideas for this new book, Ashes for William, back when I was still refining my first novel, Girl on Fire, in 2016. Then Personified was born in 2020 as a result of the pandemic lockdown since it was a collection that, until then, I didn’t have the time to pull together.
As the waves that come from each other, near each other, and exist both together and apart, I’m also writing what will become my third novel as we speak, so the timeline looks a little like this:
— 1990s?: Starting writing the content that would find its way into Personified
— 2010ish: Started writing Girl on Fire
— 2016: Girl on Fire was published, and the beginning drafts of Ashes for William were being written
— 2020: Ashes for William was still being written, and Personified was self-published
— 2021: I started what will become my third novel, still to be named and with a goal to publish in 2027
— 2023: Ashes for William will be published
There’s a lot of overlap!
Do you often have multiple outlines/writing projects that you're working on at the same time? How does that look and how do you organize it?
CHERIE DAWN: I do apparently, haha (I didn’t realize how much until I mapped it out for the previous question!), and it’s not necessarily intentional. I tend to prioritize my “One novel-of-the-moment” because I think it would be easy to start one and then get distracted by another writing project before finishing the first. So as I’m writing one, there are natural times that it needs to rest or be with a beta reader, and at that time, I’ll allow myself to veer in another direction temporarily, but usually have a timeline so I know when to come back to the “One.”
I use index cards on my corkboard to remember my priority levels for each project, and I can easily move them around as the books and stories develop. For example, during National Novel Writing Month (November) in 2022, writing my new draft for the next novel received top writing priority while I let Ashes for William rest.
On December 1, it was go-time for the already-finished novel, Ashes for William. Then, I began taking key steps to get it closer to being published. This included planning my Kickstarter to get ready to self-publish, reaching out to my cover designer, researching interior layout companies, and writing my Acknowledgments page.
At other times and pretty much only as I’m inspired, I’ll take a few minutes to write a poem or an evening to draft a short story that’s in my mind. These pieces will come together in the future as well when the time is right.
How do you fit writing, self-publishing, and other creative endeavors into the rest of your life?
CHERIE DAWN: I joke that all of this (my writing and yoga life) is my 5-9, since I also have a 9-5 job. That said, my 9-5 comes with a lot of flexibility. I work from home, which saves me hours every week. I’m grateful for that, and so I intentionally use the time that would otherwise be spent commuting by taking any daily steps I can toward my personal goals.
This comes from my motivation, my personal theme, “to be a lamp, a bridge, or healing medicine.” I don’t recall where I originally heard that phrase, but it stuck with me and inspires almost everything I do, including my 9-5 as the Editor of several art newsletters for Streamline Publishing, including my 9-5 as the Editor of several art newsletters for Streamline Publishing (Fine Art Today, Plein Air Today, and Realism Today).
It’s hard to define, but I feel so driven to write and continue on this creative path. When I have to go for a week or so without writing, I get antsy and even irritable about it sometimes. I listen to that part of myself that keeps saying, “Hey, remember what you’re supposed to be doing. Get back to it.” I don’t know where it comes from but I always feel better after I listen to it and take any steps toward it - this includes working on an outline, writing a novel chapter, putting together a blog post, or even posting a short social media video that I hope will move someone.
If I had to guess why, it would be because either I think (and I’m told) that my stories inspire my readers, and on the other side, I think (and I’m told) that I am inspiring other writers, especially women. With that in mind, it makes sense why my drive is there.
What is your new book, Ashes for William, about?
CHERIE DAWN: In short, it’s about friendship. While it’s not based on my life or relationships, it’s inspired by the same feeling of having a best friend who knows you better than you know yourself and still loves you, who would do anything for you, and you would do anything for them. That spark (along with a few others) drove me to write the story. It was fun to develop the characters' personalities and the conflicts they experience when it comes to things like ethics, loyalty, grief, and personal boundaries.
Small-town Maddy has big dreams of becoming a pastry chef, though her reality looks more like a dated kitchen in her family's leaky old farmhouse. Little does she know that her sassy best friend and roommate, Kat, is using her baked goods and other household props in less wholesome ways to help pay their bills.
As the women cross the threshold of adulthood, their relationship is tested by grief, dishonesty, and a seemingly perfect guy and his pet rooster. At every turn, they are forced to choose the path each wants to take--and if they'll take it together. When a dark twist leaves them with a harrowing problem to solve, Maddy and Kat will discover just how strong a bond they share and the lengths they'll go to protect it.
Were there any notable lessons you’ve learned about yourself while working on the new novel?
CHERIE DAWN: Yes - I thought I knew “things about stuff” and as I dug deeper into the underground world that one of the main characters is involved in, I realized I know nothing about it, haha! I don’t want to give away a spoiler, but it included research that I quickly erased from my browser history.
What advice would you give to authors who are shopping for a literary agent for the first time?
CHERIE DAWN: Oh my goodness. Grow some thick skin.
Know that this is like trying to find your soulmate and that they have to be head-over-heels about your work in order to represent it because they don’t get paid until your book gets picked up by a publisher.
Remember that you can self-publish. It’s difficult but not impossible, and there are difficulties either way.
Definitely do research on sites like WritersDigest.com, and consider using Query Tracker, which is a free site that I found to be very helpful even though I ended up choosing to self-publish.
You’ve self-published before, but this time you’re adding a cool new twist: launching a Kickstarter to fund the self-publishing costs! Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign? And what lessons have you learned through that process?
CHERIE DAWN: I wanted this book launch to have more of a community feel to it, so instead of me hitting “publish” and then throwing confetti in my kitchen, I would instead have a group of people to be a part of it and share in the excitement because they helped make it possible.
Some of my reward tiers include interactive elements such as a Zoom call about creativity and writing with me, behind-the-scenes goodies like original draft pages and deleted scenes, and there’s even an option where backers can name a minor character.
Through the process, I've learned that people want to help. Every step of the way, I’ve had friends and family offer to help with the Kickstarter process, back it monetarily, and even just share verbal support. Amanda Palmer wrote a book called “The Art of Asking,” and I keep it in mind - ask for help and it will come in some way.
Through the process, I've learned that people want to help. Every step of the way, I’ve had friends and family offer to help...ask for help and it will come in some way.
"Ashes for William" Book Launch Kickstarter
Your support helps me get one step closer to publishing ~ thank you for your consideration!
Hi! My name is Cherie Dawn Haas and I’m a writer. You may know me from my first novel, “Girl on Fire,” or from my book of poetry, “Personified,” from my beloved day-gig as Editor for Streamline Publishing (Plein Air Today, Fine Art Today, and Realism Today), and before that, F+W Media (The Artist’s Magazine, Artists Network, and more). I live on a small farm in Kentucky where I work from my one-room cabin studio. I’m married and have two teen sons; my family comes first but I also work hard because I want to set a positive example for them about following one’s dreams.
In 2022 I finished writing (which includes years of re-writing and editing) my second novel, “Ashes for William.” Because I believe in this book, I spent months sending query letters to about 70 literary agents in hopes of finding my “soulmate” of a representative. Alas, it never happened and although I received many rejections, it wasn’t enough to make me give up on this book. That’s where this Kickstarter - and you - come in.
How often do you get new ideas?
coming up with new ideas is a challenge
my brain is always overflowing with new ideas
How hard is it for you to follow through on your ideas and make them happen?
I have to force myself to follow through on things
I love carrying out tasks and completing things
What does your work-life balance look like right now?
I live at work!
I NEVER WORK
I struggle to sit down and get work done.
What’s the #1 thing you recommend outsourcing so that you can focus on the parts of your business that really light you up?
For me, right now, it’s video production. I don’t understand how to edit videos, and I don’t want to take the time to learn how right now, haha (especially because I’m using that time for publishing and writing). I’m looking for someone whom I can hire (or barter with) to create my book trailer.
What’s your favorite non-work thing right now?
I love to teach yoga classes at our local studio (Shout out to Studio43 Sweat+Soul!), and I spend as much quality time with my teens as I can - one is a freshman in college and one is a senior in high school, so this mama bird is going to have an empty nest before long. I miss them already.
CLOSING: Any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share with fellow business owners & entrepreneurs?
Follow your heart and listen to your gut. You can’t go wrong when you do this, and I believe in you.
Thank you for sharing your creative process and Ashes for William with us! Support the Kickstarter campaign here.
LEARN MORE ABOUT CHERIE DAWN
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