“There isn’t a lot of books for fire dancers… there’s one now.”
~ Cherie Dawn Haas ~
Last year I had the absolute privilege of interviewing Cherie Dawn Haas, the author of Girl on Fire. I wanted to sit down with her for some time, after having read her book, and was eager to hear all about her experiences as a first time author. Below you’ll find her kick-booty answers to all my various questions about this unique, fire eating novel!
(Britta Hages) Do you have a special time to write and how is your day structured? (Cherie Dawn Haas) My favorite time to write—this sounds dorky—is on a Friday night or Saturday night.. I think it’s because growing up, it felt like those are the nights that you get out and go do something, so even though I don’t go out as much as I used to, I still have that special thing to look forward to. My kids will be playing video games or doing their own thing, my husband will be watching his show on TV or working outside, and I’m just like a bored Border Collie who’s either go to chew the couch or work. For me it was to write a novel.
The publisher name that I chose, which is New Routine Press, kind of ties into the way my days are structured. A while back I realized that I don’t have a routine. Every week is different because of my kids, family, and my crazy life. I would get anxious because I would think, “Gosh, I have a lot to do this week.” Then the next week, “Gosh, I’ve got so much to do this week. I just want a normal week.” But there is no normal week, and I’ve learned to be okay with that.
Why do you write?
I think I was a closet writer for a long time and I didn’t know I was a writer until F+W Media, Inc. hired me to write. I started writing poetry when I was in grade school and I have hundreds and hundreds of poems written from then through college. I would also journal a lot, but I had never write any fiction unless it was an assignment in college or something like that. Even now, it’s weird to feel that I am a writer, even though I am. Somebody called me an author the other day and it was so weird. (Laughter.)
Why did you ultimately decide to go the self-publishing route?
Originally, I wanted to have a regular publisher – my experience is like almost everybody’s story. I sent out a ton of queries and I got a lot of rejections. I did the research to find the right agent that would be passionate about this, and that I thought that I would get along with—based on what I could tell. Then there was a period where I was going to self-publish, then I would talk to somebody in publishing and they would tell me “no, you need to go through a publisher.” Then it was, “no, you need to self-publish.” I just went back and forth. And then in January or December (2016), my editor told me that she just doesn’t see this type of work come across her desk. She said I should get this in front of an agent because there is an agent who would want this – a publisher who would want this. So, I gave it another try.
But before I took that path, I decided to give myself a three-month goal. And I still, actually work with that now. My three-month goal was to query it. I was going to query it for three months and if at the end—by my birthday—I didn’t have an agent then I was going to self-publish. So, in January I started querying and I did something else… I set up a bank account only for this project. Then I had an automatic deposit put in where—I think it was like $200 would automatically go into the account—every two weeks. That way, if I was going to self-publish, I wasn’t going to feel guilty for taking that money just out of our bills, you know what I mean? Because, in the end, I spent $2,000 to self-publish. You can do it for nothing or you can spend upward to $7,000 to include even a marketing plan. In regards to marketing… I think everything at F+W has prepared me for this, as well. (Readers please note: Cherie is inferring that her job at F+W Media, Inc. incorporated a lot of marketing which prepared her for the behind-the-scenes marketing of her own book.)
Very close to the end of that three months, an agent said they wanted to see the first 50 pages. I sent it to them, and the day after my birthday they wrote me back and rejected it.
So, instead of me just wallowing—because I had my deadline—I decided, “Okay, well, Plan A didn’t happen so I’ll have to go with Plan B.”
In January, I contacted Brianna (the designer) and told her what the plan was. I told her that I may or may not need to design a cover, depending if I get an agent, so she was on stand-by. When it came time and my deadline was up, I said, “Brianna, it’s go time, let’s do this.” Then we started having conversations and we set a new deadline together. It took a few months of us going back and forth and we would eat here (a local food franchise in Newport, Kentucky) every few weeks or so. She started out by showing me cover thumbnails and there were times when I would come up with an idea and I would call her at random in the middle of a Tuesday night and say, “Hey, I just thought of this…” And she would send amazing samples to me.
What was it like working on the design of the book?
I was thinking of the different designers that I knew when a friend of mine at F+W suggested Brianna. I emailed her and said, “Hey, so-and-so sent me your way, would you be interested in this project?” She gave me her rate and, normally, I negotiate on things like this but with my cover it was worth every penny. She knew that the project might be coming but she knew that I was going to contact her either way in April—to either go forward or not.
Brianna did the front cover, the spine, and the back cover. She used some clip art but she really cleaned it up. And then she pretty much designed the font for me. For the interior, she designed the fleuron. A description of that symbol in the book was added late in the process, once I realized how prevalent it had become to the design of the book. I wanted people to understand what that was and, unless you’re a fire spinner, you probably wouldn’t.
Working with a designer is like working with a marriage of ideas. We collaborated for about 2 ½ months, getting together every two or three weeks or so. We met in person more often than communicating through email. She wanted to see my reaction to the art. As opposed to getting an email back from me where I’d say, “I like A more than B,” she could see my excitement or hesitancy—things that wouldn’t come across electronically.
Who did the inside designs?
My husband, Dwayne, drew the art that’s included on the title page.
Is that you? (Pointing to the image of a woman in the introductory pages of the book.)
Yes, Dwayne based it on me. It’s a common pose for eating fire. (Hint: This pose is discussed in the book!)
I loved how in Chapter 6, Leslie tells Summer that the number one rule of poi spinning “is that you cannot compare yourself to others” and, likewise, to “do; don’t watch.” That seems to hit the nail on the head for most interests in life. Have you ever had to use that philosophy when writing your book or completing an extracurricular activity?
I would say both. I learned that you should compare yourself only to yourself, not to others. I learned that through poi spinning. There are so many amazing, talented poi spinners that just blow me out of the water—there always have been and there always will be—and it’s hard not to feel jealous or think, “Why should I even do this? I’m never going to be as good as they are.” So, I felt like it was important to include that because I try really hard to not compare myself to others in some ways.
As far as doing it instead of watching it, there’s another thing that I find myself doing a lot. I like to read books about writing and creativity—a lot. Generally, what happens, is while I’m reading those, they inspire me to actually write. I might be reading for 15 minutes and then I’ll put that book down and work on my own project. Even if it’s just getting out my notebook and making notes about characters or something like that. Whenever I’m reading nonfiction, part of my brain is thinking about the nonfiction but part of my brain is thinking about the projects that I have going on.
Do you plan on writing more books?
I’m working on a draft right now that is completely different than Girl on Fire. It’s set in the country and it’s about a family, and just has cool characters. That’s all I want to say right now because I’m still messing around with it. When Girl on Fire was out of my hands, I would dabble in this. I’m also working on a book of poetry. (Hint: Cherie’s poetry has been published in Carpe Nocturne magazine.) I also want to do a stage version of Girl on Fire, somehow. (Insert me oohing and ahhing!) I feel like it would translate well on stage, so I’m still cooking with that idea right now. I have more ideas that I could do with this character (Summer), if I hear more of a push from people saying, “I want more of this.” I’m going to wait and see over the next year or so what people want—and what I want, too.
What’s it like maneuvering a full-time job, motherhood, wife, extracurricular activities, as well as being a published author?
(Laughter.) I just read something the other night from the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love. She’s talking about how your creativity is kind of like a border collie and how, if you don’t keep it busy, it can be destructive. She says if she doesn’t work on something creative then she’s going to end up chewing up her couch. (Laughter) And I think that is so me. It’s a great concept. If I don’t have 10 things going on, then I’m looking for that 10th thing. Or the 11th thing. Like, what else can I do? I have busy hands. My oldest son is 13—that means I’ve had 13 years of not really being able to relax. (Laughter.) I think it’s just that I feel driven. I feel driven for the ideas that I get in my head and I think that being a part of the tribe taught me that—it taught me how to stay inspired. Because everything we did performing was so creative, like we worked together to develop our costuming. I mean, I was designing my own costumes—we all were. We were choreographing our movements, we were experimenting with makeup or hairstyles—everything about it was just so creative. We would get a new show and that would be like a whole other thing—we’d need costumes for that because we never really repeated very much. Performing with a small group started my appetite for being creative.
There’s a tribal theme prevalent throughout Girl on Fire – do you have a personal tribe in your real life?
Leaving Dante’s Gypsy Circus, which is what our tribe was called, left a little hole in my heart. But I had to come to accept that it would never—will never—be filled. We were like brothers and sisters. We all had our moments, like any creative group would. But the bonds that we had weren’t like anything else that we’d ever experienced. And I have to tell myself that it’s okay that I will never experience that again. I mean, we had had shows that were so satisfying by the end of the night. I think part of that is the danger, the adrenaline of working with fire, of having really enthusiastic audiences, you know, people were taking our pictures while we were performing—by the end of the night I’d think that if I died, then I was good with that. (Laughter) That’s how amazing it was.
And, you know, I’m 39 now. So I know that I’m not going to be… you know what I mean? I’m not going to start a new tribe. I wouldn’t say that I want to either because I did it and it was awesome! But now it’s time for me to experience what else there is for me to do. Plus, I’m flirting a little bit with my friends from another group called the Keshvar Project. And it’s a tribal belly dance group and they have musicians, and they’ve invited me to perform with them. (Update: Cherie Dawn is now performing again, with Keshvar Project!)
If readers would like to learn more about Cherie Dawn Haas, please visit her website at cheriedawnlovesfire.com for more information on Girl on Fire, book signings, and other upcoming engagements! She has also written a wonderful article for Writer’s Digest that I’m sure you won’t want to miss!