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Adam Interviews...Cheryl Peña!


Hello!

This weekend was the unofficial kickoff to summer, and today's Memorial Day - and it's MONDAY, so you have an interview headed your way! And you'll see that it's entirely the right person to interview today. Ready? Here we go!




A smiling woman with dark hair - Cheryl Pena

Cheryl Peña was born to parents of differing ethnic backgrounds. She graduated with an honors BFA in art and photography from the University of Texas – San Antonio in 2000. Her twin sister passed in 2014, sparking Peña to honor her sister’s memory with her writing endeavors. Peña is an avid reader, knitter, and photographer when she isn’t writing. Her first novella, The House of Wynne Lift, was published in 2021 and won an Honorable Mention in the 2022 Indies Today Awards. She is also the author of Descent of the Vile, The Blood Hotel, and The Chimera Gambit.


Star Trek or Star Wars?  I’ve always loved Star Trek. It was a show I was introduced to by my mother, and all of us watched it together when it ran as part of “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturday nights with The Twilight Zone. We had a whole ritual around it, and I still love the show and most of the newer iterations, as well. But I most love the ones that remind me of that sense of wonder I got from watching TOS. I loved the sense of belonging somewhere, that you could be yourself and still be valid. I was very much the ostracized kid, so acceptance and respect were a huge influence, just the sense that I wanted that future to be a real place and that I wanted to do what I could to make it happen.

 

A book that pleasantly surprised you?  I’ll admit that I didn’t want to read Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I’m not sure why. But maybe it’s just that everyone was making such a big deal about it, and I rarely like what everyone else likes. My tastes just differ. But I finally decided I would give it a try, and I absolutely loved it. It’s one of my favorite books and one of my most recommended books, also. I even cried at the end, and I never cry reading (unless you count math textbooks).

 

Coffee, tea, or cacao?  I love all three, but I usually choose coffee. I just like the taste, but I’ll admit I prefer cold brew or espresso or something a little sweeter than just drip coffee. I will drink one cup a day, because I’m trying to cut back from my older 2-3 cup a day habit. I’m actually sensitive to whatever is in it that makes me feel relaxed more than the caffeine though.

 


The cover of the book The Chimera Gambit by Cheryl Pena

 

*Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?  Ideas can come from anywhere for me. I actually have 3 books and 3 short stories that were inspired by dreams I had because my dreams are so vivid. But I can also get ideas while doing research for future projects. I love my local library and use it a lot. But I was almost an archaeology minor in college, so some of that experience and study can inspire stories, as well. It also helps me understand the mechanics of culture and how things tie together. I also love reading about ancient civilizations. It’s truly fascinating to me.  

 

*When did you write your first book and how old were you?  I remember being in love with books at a young age and always wanting to create things. I wrote my first book at age 3 (a children’s book) even though I wouldn’t learn to read or write for another year. I drew the pictures and memorized the story that went along with it. Naturally, this is long lost, but I was writing stories for as long as I can remember, and I always loved it. I even liked research papers, if you can believe that!  I wrote short stories, poetry, and a novel in middle school and high school, but I don’t have copies of them. In 2014, there was a hot water pipe that burst in my apartment when I was out of state at my twin sister’s deathbed. It was bad timing for such a tragedy. I lost almost everything, but I’d give all of it up to have my sister back.

 

*What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  I used to be a commercial photographer, and I still love photography. I have a BFA in art (photography). I also taught myself to crochet, then to knit, then to weave with a weaving loom. I still love to draw and paint, as well. But I think I need much cheaper hobbies! Art is expensive.

 



The cover of the book The House of Wynne Lift by Cheryl Pena

*Is there a trope you find yourself going back to in multiple works? Or one you avoid?  I don’t really pay attention to tropes. But if I think back on my work, I know some common themes come up. Mostly, it’s never too late to start over or try something new. I prefer writing older protagonists because a lot of genre fiction like sci-fi is full of coming-of-age stories and the like, but there isn’t much representation for older adults. I try to make my protagonists at least mid-30s if not 40s or even 50s. I even have an unpublished series where one of the main characters is 70+. Part of the reason for this is that I’m older (in my 50s), and I just want to write books I would want to read.

 

*What does your family think of your writing?  I think most of them are a bit puzzled. They don’t quite understand why I would want to publish anything. I guess I’m not sure either, so I understand that sentiment!  But they’re still supportive, even if I’m not sure they’re all reading my books. I know my father has read them because he’s told me.

 

*How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?  I know I’ve written 19 books, with one more about to be completed. However, only 4 are published. The others are in varying stages of revisions. My favorite is a space opera I can’t give too many details on, but it’s a series dedicated to my late twin. I don’t think it’s yet ready for publication, but I hope it will be soon. Of my published books, my favorite is probably The Blood Hotel. I just like the creepy tone of it and some of the settings. I enjoyed the research that went into creating it, as well.

 



The cover of The Blood Hotel (Descent of the Vile Book 2) by Cheryl Pena

*Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?  Definitely read. Read a lot. Read in and out of your genre. Don’t be afraid of research either. It can make a big difference in creating your world. And don’t be too precious about your work. People may not all agree on what makes a good book. They may not like what you wrote, and that’s okay. But definitely take advantage of writers groups and friends who might read your story. Don’t take suggestions personally, either. If something isn’t clear, you don’t have to use suggestions exactly the way they are but figure out what wasn’t working for the reader and make adjustments as needed. My beta readers have made me a much better writer.

 

*As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?  When I was very young, I wanted to be a teacher because I knew of so few jobs at the time. I liked most of my teachers and thought it would be a good way to inspire others. By the time I was older, I wanted to be a writer or else a photographer for National Geographic. I loved nature and photography and science, so I wanted to learn to create work like I saw in that magazine. That was the main reason I studied photography in college, because I wanted to know how to take better and more visually appealing photos. I fell in love with the large format cameras (view cameras).

 

*What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?  I’m close friends with a young writer from Taiwan named Hermione Lee. She’s incredibly talented, and I value her opinion if she’s able to read my work. She always has valuable insights, but I also learn a lot by reading her work in return. She has a good style and sense of the beauty in the English language that I think native speakers forget. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without her support and friendship.

 

*What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?  I don’t remember how old I was, but I was just a toddler. My mother used to read us fairy tales at bedtime, and she made different voices for different characters, and I would be completely engaged in it. I even loved the book itself. It had gold-rimmed pages and smelled of the glue used for binding it. It made such an impression on me, that love for stories and literature, that I still remember it to this day.

 


The cover of Descent of the Vile by Cheryl Pena

*Do you write novels, novellas, short stories, episodic fiction, poems, screenplays, or something else? What is your preferred format?  I’ve written short stories, novellas, and novels, but I think I write novels most often. I do love novellas, however, but I think my writing lends itself better to the longer format. I’m practicing writing short fiction again after so long, because I haven’t written any since my early twenties, and it’s helpful to learn brevity and teaches me how to build a world without giving too much away.  Since there isn’t time to fully develop the descriptions, I have to learn to choose my words more wisely so that I can do more with less.

 

*Are you traditionally or self published? Or both? Do you feel there are advantages to one over the other?  I suppose you can say traditionally published, although I’m with a small press and don’t have an agent. I’m open to a larger press and going that route, however. For me, it was necessary because I didn’t have the money to have my work professionally edited or pay for the licensing on images or fonts, and I am definitely not happy with the limitations of free design software. Perhaps it’s because I’m a perfectionist with my own work, and I didn’t want my eyes to be the only eyes on my manuscript. That’s always a bad thing because I won’t be open to criticism, and I believe I grow as a writer through having multiple viewpoints. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it was the only choice I could make that made sense for me since my budget was so small. A traditional press will make the covers and do the editing for free, so that was the route I chose. But I will say that my publisher allowed input on the cover and was always open to suggestions.

 

*How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?  I have 19 completed works (novellas and novels anyway) and 8 works in progress (don’t hold me to that number—it might be more). I also have 3 completed short stories and several works in the planning stages (at least 5 more). I hope I can finish all of them!

 

*What does literary success look like to you?  To me, it’s simply being on bookshelves in brick-and-mortar stores and libraries and being able to pay my bills. I will say that I want to create books I love and want to read and characters people love. I think the coolest thing would be if I went to Comic-con and saw people cosplaying as my characters. I would be so honored.

 

What do you have coming next?  I’m about to start querying a new project, so I don’t have anything due for publication just yet. I might be going to the Boerne Book Festival in October, which will be held in Main Plaza in Boerne, Texas. The details will be updated on my website when I have confirmation, but I always update my upcoming events list and my written works page. There’s also a blog where I detail my writing journey and my health struggles (you’re not alone!). The page can be found at CherylJPena.wordpress.com

 


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