SIERRA VISTA — Sierra Vista author Debbie Ries has had the kind of writing career any struggling novelist would almost kill for.
One of America’s most prolific writers, seemingly never short of ideas for a fast-paced new novel, the Cochise County native and Bisbee High School graduate has written more than 100 short stories and novels. She has been under contract with St. Martin’s Press – considered one of the largest publishers in the English language with 700 titles a year under six editions – with 21 novels published under two pseudonyms. She has received eminent praise and criticism for her work over the years.
The Herald/Review spoke to Ms Ries – whose lead author name is Cheyenne McCray – to find out more about her writing process, the different genres she used, how she wrote a novel in collaboration, why she moved away from traditional publishing and what she is currently working on.
Herald/Review: When and how did fiction writing develop for you? When did you believe you had this ability?
Debbie Ries: I wrote my first poem in kindergarten and decided that one day I would become an author. I read voraciously and wanted to write words that others could get lost in, like I did when I was reading. I grew up writing stories and turning homework into stories.
HOUR: How many books have you published? What genre(s) do you usually write in?
DR: I’ve been writing full time for 22 years. I have written and published over 100 novels and short stories during my career under four pseudonyms. I have written and published in romantic suspense, suspense with romantic elements, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and cozy mysteries. I co-wrote a book for writers. Early in my career, I also had four young adult (YA) novels published under another pseudonym. I now write romances under the pseudonym Cheyenne McCray because it’s a fun name that I loved. McCray was the last name of a heroine in a romance I had written but had yet to publish, and the sound appealed to me. I co-wrote three YAs under the name RS Collins to separate them from my romance novels. Deb Ries is my beloved married name for my intimate mysteries.
HOUR: Many authors I have known have said that working with large publishing houses was one of the most demanding experiences of their lives, while working with smaller ones was a delight. What was your experience with a large mainstream publisher?
DR: I wrote for St. Martin’s Press for seven years, with a total of 21 novels published under two pseudonyms. During this time, several of my books reached the USA today and New York Times. In 2011, when independent publishing was just starting to take off, I decided to step away from traditional publishing and self-publish for a while. I found writing for traditional publishers and writing to deadlines very stressful, and I needed a break. Once I started independent publishing, I fell in love with it. The freedom to choose my own deadlines, set my own schedule, and post more frequently for my readers was perfect for me. My stress levels dropped dramatically and I decided not to go back to traditional editing.
In 2013, I fell ill for seven years with Epstein-Barr. Because I was self-published, I didn’t have to deal with the pressure of deadlines, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet. I was able to work at my own pace, which was extremely important during this difficult time in my life. Luckily, I fully recovered in early 2020 and am grateful every day to have my health back.
HOUR: What are the names of some of your books that have been published?
DR: My most recent streak as Cheyenne McCray is Deadly Intentmy newest romantic thriller series, the last book in the series is Point Blank. This series is set in Cochise County; the King Creek Cowboys contemporary thriller series, with the most recent release being Country rain. I’ll be starting a new US Marshals romantic thriller series this fall.
As Deb Ries, I launched a cozy new mystery series last December, the Shawna Taylor Cozy Mysteries. The first in the series is Cooking up murder. The second, Recipe for killing, will be released later this year. The town, Sunset Peak, is actually Bisbee. HDThompson and I co-wrote a book for fiction writers, Writer’s secret weapon. We are publishing a second writer’s book in 2023.
HOUR: How long do you on average work on a book? When you’re writing one, is it hard to get some air until it’s finished?
DR: The time it takes me to write a book varies by length and genre. I usually publish two books a year, but I’ve published up to four novels a year in addition to short stories scattered here and there.
I can write one book at a time. I have author friends who are working on multiple books at once, but I have to stay focused on one book. When I had to make edits to another book, I put the one I’m currently writing aside until the edits are complete, then I come back to the work in progress.
I’ve written so many books that I write differently than I did early in my career. Before, it was hard for me to get some fresh air, but now that it’s 4 p.m., I’m mentally done for the day.
HOUR: There are no guarantees in the publishing industry. There are probably more rejections than acceptances, and then suddenly it’s like you’ve been blessed with a magic wand when a book you’ve been working on for months or years is accepted. What is this feeling?
DR: I have been very blessed in my career. My first young adult novel was sold to Llewellyn in 2002, and I sold my first fantasy romance in 2002 to a small publisher. Both sales were exciting and I was absolutely thrilled.
My books as Cheyenne McCray did so well with the smaller publisher that I built a name and caught the attention of St. Martin’s Press in 2004. They approached me and asked me to submit a synopsis for a paranormal romance series and a romantic thriller series. They hired me for four novels based on the synopses I submitted to them.
HOUR: You told me once that you wrote in collaboration with another writer. Writing fiction on your own is a difficult process, but in collaboration, it sounds like a recipe for crazy crafting. How did having a writing partner come about? How do you combine your work into one seamless story or submit your work simultaneously to an editor?
DR: I wrote a YA paranormal series with a good friend, and it was great fun to write. She wrote from the point of view (POV) of a teenager, and I wrote from a teenager’s point of view. I would send her a chapter and leave her with a situation she needed to get out of, and she would turn around and do the same to me. We had fun doing this. We had an idea where we wanted to end up at the end of the story and worked together on the journey, the conflict and the resolution. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had while writing. I tried writing with a romance writer, and it didn’t work. Unless you have someone to work with like I did with my friend who writes YA, I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you do, it can be a lot of fun!
HOUR: Who is your primary audience and how are they received?
DR: My primary audience is romance readers, and I have a large following. I love my readers!
HOUR: You wrote mostly at home in your studio. But now you’re writing in a cafe with lots of traffic and music, and you write 3,000 words a day! Why the move to a cafe and what spurts out 3,000 words a day versus writing in a quiet studio?
DR: I have a career spanning 22 years and I write from home full time. I’m usually in my office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I looked at writing as a career and set office hours early on because I wanted to build a career and thought that was the best way to do it. I get out of my pajamas, take a shower, get dressed for the day and get to work.
Last fall, I started participating in Zoom writes with several author friends and wrote a lot during those. It lasts three hours; we go up and talk for 5-10 minutes, then turn off our cameras and microphones for 50 minutes. Then the organizer says “time”, and we go back to five minutes, then it’s time to write again, and so on. I found this extremely useful. My author friends are all in the Phoenix area, since I’ve lived in Mesa and Scottsdale for most of my career, so it’s nice to be able to see them regularly from so far away.
I started to feel claustrophobic at home and needed to get out and be with people. I started writing in a café recently and had great success. I used to write regularly at coffeeshops when I lived in Mesa and Scottsdale, but I hadn’t since moving five years ago. It was nice to go out again.
I’ll trade home work and coffee, I’m just enjoying being outside at the moment.
Sometimes I have 3,000 word days and other days I’m lucky enough to put out 1,500 words. It depends on my concentration, or my lack of concentration, what I’m writing or where I am in the story. Distractions play a big part in the amount of writing I get. I recently bought a tablet on which I write. I have no social media or other distractions on it. All I have is the program that I use as a “bible” for each of my books, and Word, which I use to write my novels.
HOUR: What are you currently working on and how is it going?
DR: I’m working on Recipe for killing, a cozy mystery. When I’m done I’ll start country breeze, the fifth in a contemporary romance series. This fall I will be working on a romantic thriller series US Marshals.
HOUR: What is the hardest part of your writing process?
DR: The hardest part is describing the book. I used to be pants, but started doing brief outlines a decade ago. I make outlines of a page that are alive, breathing things that change as I progress through the novel. However, it makes it much less difficult to write my novels because I have a path that makes it easier rather than just making it up as I go.