Writers on Writing: An Interview with Florida Mystery Writer Cheryl Hollon

CH Author photoCheryl Hollon writes full time after leaving an engineering career of designing and building military flight simulators in amazing countries such as England, Wales, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and India. Fulfilling the dream of a lifetime, she combines her love of writing with a passion for creating glass art. In the small glass studio behind the house, Cheryl and her husband design, create, and produce fused glass, stained glass and painted glass artworks.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. A mystery conference addict, she regularly attends SleuthFest in Florida, Malice Domestic in Washington, DC, and New England Crime Bake in Dedham, MA.

Cheryl and her husband live in St. Petersburg, FL in a 1920’s Craftsman Bungalow.

Cheryl, your story from engineer to writer is absolutely amazing. Would you please share your journey with us? How did you get from engineer to writer?

As a flight simulation engineer, or any engineer really, there is a tremendous amount of writing that accompanies both the delivered simulator and also in proposing new projects for the Government. On one of those really long haul flights to foreign parts, I began to write poetry to pass the time. After that I moved on to fiction. The feeling of satisfaction I enjoyed when crafting my own stories has driven me to continue. That I now write full-time is a dream come true. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

Cheryl, can you take us back to the moment when the character Savannah Webb first appeared in your mind?

Actually, Savannah first popped into my mind as Charlotte Webb about three years ago. I know, I know – whopper of an homage to E. B. White. Luckily, clearer heads prevailed and I renamed her after my favorite walking city. It took me almost a year to think of her as Savannah as I wrote the Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery Series.

Please share about your experiences with Donald Maass’ Break-Out Novel Workshop. How did you get involved with it, Cheryl? What was your initial visit like? Please give us the scoop.

I heard about the Donald Maass’ Break-Out Novel Workshop from a new author who had won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She thanked Donald in her acceptance speech and I gathered up my pennies and went to the San Antonio workshop in 2009. It turned out that the organizer, Lorin Oberweger of free-expressions.com, lives right across the bay in Tampa. What a happy coincidence. I attended the workshop, met Lorin and Don, and learned more in that week than I had in the prior five years. My writing and revising skills advanced dramatically. In 2010, I attended another workshop in Charlotte and I again felt I had fast forwarded as a writer. I’m not saying that I would not have learned these skills on my own, but I met some live-long friends and shortened the journey to publication.

Let us talk about your inspiration for Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery Series. It is based on an actual shop in St. Pete, Grand Central Stained Glass. How did it all come together?

My husband and I have been working with glass for a number of years. He started in stained glass, but as he is color blind in the blue-green range, I have always picked out the glass, so we’re basically a team. When he moved into fused glass in about 2006, we found a new glass shop near us owned by Eloyne and Bradley Ericson. Over the years, we became friends and when I was looking for a new idea for a cozy mystery series, I looked around at their thriving shop filled with happy crafters and inspiration struck like a thunderbolt. Grand Central Stained Glass & Graphics (www.grandcentralstainedglass.com) has been an enthusiastic supporter of my books. We held the launch party for Pain and Suffering in their shop.

How did you get involved with your critique group? What has been your most uncomfortable moment upon first joining? What has been the most appreciated lesson you have learned so far from being part of a critique group?

The Tampa Writers Association is an organization to encourage people to write. I stumbled across them just after I had completed my first novel. They offer critique groups at a Barnes & Noble near my job, so I joined. The first few sessions were brutal. The group was large and I was so inexperienced, it seemed like everyone hated everything. But, I persevered and began to pay attention to the comments that made sense to me and I ignored the rest. That was the most important lesson – know your work and know what will make it better – than do that. After a few months, I realized that I was one of a very few working on a novel while the majority were submitting short stories. We split off into a group that concentrated on long works in progress. Eventually three of us formed our own critique group that has been meeting since 2009. We added a fourth five years ago. I have learned so much about pacing, voice, tension and plot from my critique group.

How has Sisters in Crime been an integral part of your writing journey? How has their online chapter, The Guppies been influential to your career as a mystery writer?

I joined Sisters in Crime in 2007, just after I decided that writing would be my next career. Of all the organizations I investigated, they seemed to support my goals with support and resources. I don’t remember how I discovered the Guppies online chapter, but no other group has been as helpful, informative and giving as the mind hive of The Great Unpublished. I found my agent through the referral of a published Guppy – how cool is that? I have followed in the tradition of those before me and remain a Guppy to pass along my experiences and give advice to those that follow.


What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

Writing takes an enormous amount of time.

How has this helped you as a writer?

I set a daily word target. If I make the target, I have a novel.

Mac or PC?

I use a PC.

Do you use Word or Scrivener?

I use Word, but am going to give Scrivener a trial run in 2016.

Do you write or take notes with an iPad or tablet?

I use a Surface tablet with a keyboard when I’m traveling.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Coffee! I must have coffee first.

Do you start by writing or researching first?

I write a bit first, then research a bit, then repeat.

Favorite spot to write in the winter?

My free-standing writing shed has a ceramic heater.

Favorite spot to write in the summer?

My free-standing writing shed has an air conditioner.

Visit Cheryl’s website for the latest news.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane Morasco

Interview first appeared on Blogcritics.

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