Today I want to take the time to introduce a wonderful woman that I’ve recently begun to know by the name of Cheri Vaus. I asked Cheri to tell us a little bit about herself and background as I think her stories can make for some compelling reading and I always like to expose my audience to those in the body of Christ who are writing powerful works of fiction. So without further delay let’s jump right into things!
So tell us about your book. Why did you write it and who is it targeted towards?
The Truth and Nothing but Lies was an idea I had from my volunteer days in the organizations of Birthright, First Way, and Human Life. When I began at Birthright, I started out as a counselor. Later, I was asked to be the director after the former one stepped down, and I enjoyed serving in that capacity. We performed pregnancy tests, gave out maternity and baby clothes, and counseled the women on their options available; either to keep their baby or work with an adoption agency. We provided homes, raised funds, and did everything we possibly could to help the women keep her babies. We even partnered with Catholic Family Services for further help, and with several adoption agencies that came on board just before I stepped down. We were also instrumental in a Project Rachel forming within our diocese.
The idea for my book really began to take form when an Hispanic woman came into our center and requested a pregnancy test. I performed one and it was negative. But while we were waiting for the results, she told me she and her husband wanted to have a baby. However, the last time she was tested was at Planned Parenthood. She went on to share how her last pregnancy was diagnosed as a hydatidiform mole, which is a pregnancy that attaches itself outside the womb or invades the walls of the uterus. Planned Parenthood told her she would have cancer die if she didn’t have an abortion immediately, so she acquiesced. But there was no follow-up exam, or lab tests performed to see if it was cancerous, which flagged me that the diagnosis may have been ruse.
The following week I had another woman tell me that Planned Parenthood had diagnosed her with a hydatidiform mole, and no lab tests or a follow-up exam. Then two more showed up the next week. I became concerned that Planned Parenthood was up to something, misdiagnosing deliberately to frighten the women into an abortion. I went to the local Human Life center and asked if other Crisis Pregnancy centers had encountered Planned Parenthood diagnosing the clients with the same pre-cancerous condition. What we found was so frightening that one of the leaders of Human Life went to the State and asked them to launch an investigation into the practices of the facility. It also appeared to be a burgeoning trend to scare women into having an abortions across the country.
I was threatened with jail by the State if I didn’t turn over all my records because the women refused to testify. That was the beginning of my idea. But that was twenty some years ago. I did use other incidents in the book that came from those days, and I also used recent headlines of abortion atrocities, like the death of Tonya Reaves.
What were some of the biggest challenges in writing the book?
Trying to keep a level head, and not become so political that I would turn off anyone with an opposing viewpoint on the subject to read my book. My editor and I worked very hard to present both sides in order to let the reader make up their own minds, rather than forcing one opinion down their throat. It’s why I created one character, an FBI agent, who considered themselves to be pro-choice, begin to question his position as the story unfolds. After everything he hears from the witnesses, he begins to examine the subject in a different way, coming to another conclusion, in a natural progression.
The reason we did this was to present the facts, and let them speak for themselves. So far, I did have one reader admit that I made her think about it in a way she hadn’t thought of before. I believe that when you just present the truth, outside of the slogans and political-speak, people see the abortion industry for what it is. It’s the perfect book to read as a family and discuss if you have teenagers at home. You not only have an interesting story that keeps you engaged, but there’s a great opportunity for discussion about sexual choices we make that can have a lifetime of consequences.
What advice would you give new novelists?
Learn the craft. Read, read, read, and read some more. Learn how to tell a story from the masters. Then practice writing short stories, beginning with 650 words. If you can tell an engaging story within 650 words then you have a marketable skill. Have others read your stories to see if they enjoy reading them. If you can’t hook a reader, then you should rethink whether you have the skill to be a writer. Today, too many believe they possess the skills to tell a story, but they really don’t. The only way you can know if you are good enough is to have those within the profession tell you that you do. This means going through the process of querying agents and editors and beta readers, not family members or friends. You want people to be honest, and family and friends might have difficulty telling you the truth.
Tell us about your journey of faith. How did you become a Christian?
Over thirty years ago, I had another painful event, in a series of painful events, that threw me out onto the street. I was homeless and searching for a job at the same time. This placed me in the perfect position for God to nudge me; I was completely broken. You know, we are silly creatures, filled with self-importance, and we have to be snapped in half before we realize we need help. Well, I was no different. I had to be brought to my knees before I quit trying to control everything.
I had always believed in God, and had a strong sense of the eternal. I knew there was something greater than myself existing in the universe, a kind of truth that continued to speak like an echo since the dawn of creation, rumbling through me and around me, but I never gave in to it. I was still the master of my destiny. Oddly enough, I had The Gospel According to Saint John chapter one memorized. The reason I had put it to memory was because I thought it was the most profound and beautiful words I ever read, since I was a child. I wanted those words to possess me, become a part of me, so that I would breathe in and out those beautiful words, and feel them remake me into their beauty.
In that moment, as I went flying off to find a place to live, I pulled out a little Gideon New Testament a friend of mine had given me a few months earlier. I began to read a Psalm, and my soul felt like it was bursting inside, screaming, and crying out to be heard. Then, I distinctly heard a voice say to me, “Don’t you know I’ll always be with you.” Some may think I’m crazy because I was hearing voices, but it wasn’t like that. It was inside and outside of me. It was the answer to my soul’s wail. And I believe I found sanity in that moment. My life was literally insane before that affirmation. But being the self-important fool I was, it took me hours of wandering before I realized I had to take the next step. I had to throw myself into God’s arms. The surrender was surprisingly easy. I remember I raised my hands into the air and said, “I give up. You handle it.”
After that, I got a job, and I married my husband, my one true love. But the journey didn’t change until I came into the Church. We attended all kinds of churches before becoming Catholic, from one end of the spectrum to another, but it was during the RCIA process that I knew I had come to the right place, that I was home. The night of the Easter Vigil when I was confirmed, I felt like one of the apostles standing in the presence of Christ during his transfiguration. It was my own transfiguration occurring during that night, my soul had finally grown up and blossomed. I was formed into a disciple of Christ, and my feet were firmly planted on the path. I knew I was in the right place, that I belonged. I still weep during Mass because I find it so beautiful and moving, and they’re tears of joy, of thankfulness for God taking me in.
Who are some of your favorite authors and or books to read?
Well, I adore scripture, and the Talmud. They are at the top of my list, but I do love mysteries, like the kind Daphne du Maurier wrote. And I love the classics, like The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I enjoy reading Dickens because he’s so funny. He makes me burst out in laughter while I’m reading. Joseph Conrad wrote dark but psychologically compelling novels that should be read by everyone. No one can reach into the brain of someone and pull out the hidden demons haunting a person like he could. Actually, there are quite a few authors I could list, including poets, like Tennyson. I’m finding it difficult to love many of the authors today, although I’m reading Elizabeth George and I’m enjoying her books, plus a few others to see what’s popular these days. I can’t say any author today is my favorite, maybe George. I think it’s because many of the mysteries today have really sleazy anti-heroes. You can’t fall-in love with a sleazy anti-hero, and I so want to fall in love.
I read a lot of nonfiction books. Probably on a par with my fiction reading. I read everything from physics to the origins of English to music theory. I do a great deal of research, and must read to learn about those subjects. Right now I’m on a World War II kick and reading everything I can get my hands on. I’m studying what happened with the Cambridge 5 in Britain, and the violence caused by the Soviets and Nazi groups that influenced the groups like the Weathermen here in the States. I also love to read philosophy. You know that Pope John Paul II considered himself to be a philosopher rather than a theologian. I find that fascinating.
Now that you’ve written the book what other projects if any are you working on?
I’m writing the third in my mystery series, which began with The Night Shadow, and the second will be released in March, The Touch of a Shadow. They are all about the exploits of two Catholic private investigators and their journey toward living a sanctified life after experiencing tragedies. Each one is very noir, and more of a psychological thriller than a typical blood and gore mystery you read today. I may have some blood, but it’s suggested rather than in your face.
After that I’m writing a Gothic mystery that takes place on the Cornish shores of England. And an adult fairytale about a vineyard that changes hands. I don’t have any more planned in the series yet, but I’m thinking. Maybe when I finish this third one I’ll have a better idea.
When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing my entire life. Mostly poetry up to about ten years ago, and theology pieces. In my theology pieces I use the Catholic Ladder as the framework, and for my sources I use the Catechism, the Talmud, the Aggadah (which is a compilation of the Oral Stories in Judaism), and the creation story of the Kabbalah, including the beautiful writings of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XIV.
What books have most influenced your life?
The Bible for its beauty and spiritual timelessness, as well as its life changing effect on you. Shakespeare’s Folio of plays for their beauty, and his use of remarkable characters within the most compelling stories of all time. The third is the Talmud that made the Old Testament come alive for me. If I had to choose another book it would probably be Martin Buber’s I and Thou. The best book I ever read for the sheer pleasure was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Did you know that Miss du Maurier wrote that entire story without once mentioning the name of the heroine? Everyone talks about Rebecca, the former beauteous wife, but never once is the new Mrs. de Winter’s name ever given. It’s because she is so totally eclipsed by Rebecca that she is nameless, living under the shadow of Rebecca’s ghost. Incredible. The best mystery ever written. And last, but certainly not least is Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton. You can feel the longing in that book. It’s palpable. I know I’m missing dozens of others, but space won’t allow for me to wax on and on. So, I’ve limited myself to those.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Daphne du Maurier. I’ve read a number of Agatha Christie novels and all the exploits of the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes, but I’d still have to say Daphne du Maurier is the queen. She has inspired me more than all the others. That’s not say I haven’t learned from the writings of many authors. I have. I’ve learned a great deal from Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad, and even from James Ellroy. This list goes on and on, but for sheer movement through a mystery and enjoying the writing style, it’s Daphne du Maurier, hands down.
What book are you reading now?
I never just read one book at a time. I have several going for any number of reasons. I’m reading Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George, In the Cage by Henry James, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, Julius by Daphne du Maurier, and Meta-Politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind by Peter Viereck. Plus, I’m reading some of the writings of the Weathermen released by the FBI in order to understand the insanity of the mind that believes in violence as a means of helping address their perceived wrongs Americans have committed against humanity. Most of it is written by Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, the former Fascist style Communists in the Weathermen turned college professors and political activists in the Democratic Party.
My private investigators in my series will be encountering a group funded by the Soviets much like the Weathermen in my third book.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Writing is such a solitary exercise, and I can get lost in it for hours upon hours, taking up most of the day. I have to pull myself out to interface with others, and sometimes that can be annoying to my family. My family is more important than spending hours on my books, and I’m hyper-aware of my tendency. I make sure that they know they come first, and writing comes second. That way when I’m in the middle of an edit and meeting a deadline, they are more likely to give me the space and time I need to complete a project. If I’m selfish and want to spend all my time writing, they will end up feeling cheated.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that I work very well with an editor, that I take her suggestions very seriously. I’ve learned to rely upon her experience and judgment about how a sentence or a word can be perceived by others. I had to excise quite a bit out of The Truth and Nothing but Lies because I became angry when revisiting some of the incidents in my past. I let her help me tone down the rhetoric and, like I said before, let the facts speak for themselves.
Humility is cleansing. It helps me to recenter myself on something other than my stupid ego. I feel I can’t grow if I’m always right.
Thank you so so much Cheri for taking some time to talk to my audience.
~ I want to thank you, Mr. Neal, for your time and your graciousness in allowing me to be on your blog. Your voice is an important one, and you show the world what a true gentleman is. Thank you, again.
If you are interested in purchasing any of Cheri’s books you can find them by clicking here for her Amazon author page.