Interview with Cheryl Eichar Jett: Spring '15 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up
Cheryl Eichar Jett is a historian, author, and blogger. Currently working on her sixth nonfiction book for Arcadia Publishing, she is also a regular contributor to several regional publications including a monthly column “Along Route 66,” in the paper-plus-online www.thebuzzmonthly.com. She blogs about her adventures at www.route66chick.blogspot.com as the Route 66 Chick, a mostly lighthearted look at her travels, Route 66 and other history, and Route 66 events and tourism.
She is the Conference Director of Miles of Possibility Route 66 Conference in Edwardsville, Illinois, October 29-31 of this year. This new event is featuring Route 66 authors, artists, historians, collectors, and celebrities from around the world.
As a small child, she learned how to read road maps from her parents and soon put this skill to work in the back seat of the family car on road trips. Many years later, she began writing about history, Route 66, and travel and found herself published. She believes there’s a connection between the two.
Between then and now, this daughter of professional musicians/music educators worked as a salesperson, bookkeeper, music teacher, professional musician, grant writer, and nonprofit executive director. Cheryl holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in history from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has done additional study at the Santa Fe Screenwriters Conference (in person) and from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (online).
Now about that fiction! Cheryl is thrilled to have placed in the WOW! Top Ten the second time in a row! This is her second placement in a fiction writing contest and she feels excited and inspired to aim for more. She has been writing short stories and parts of novels for 30 years. Her stories are usually framed by historical settings and she is drawn to themes of the impact of loss, ties between the past and the present, second chances, new beginnings, and travel (including time).
Cheryl lives in Illinois, where she is a member of Eville Writers (a play on her city, Edwardsville). In any spare time, she enjoys reading, genealogy, travel, music, and visiting her adult children and grand-dogs.
If you haven't done so already, check out Cheryl's award-winning story "Waiting Out the War," then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Spring 2015 Flash Fiction Contest! What was the inspiration for your short story, or what prompted you to write this particular story?
Cheryl: I am fascinated by the WWII era, perhaps since my parents, aunts, and uncles lived through that time period. Or perhaps because it's such an interesting time in terms of women's social history. Stories seem to take on a greater poignancy in times of war or upheaval. Anyway, fiction ideas often just pop into my head, and one day there was an image of a woman on a train waiting for her man to come home from the war. I wrote several versions before I was reasonably satisfied with this one.
WOW: We are glad you were able to harness the power of that image of the woman on the train and turn it into an award-winning story. What do you enjoy the most and/or the least about writing?
Cheryl: I love the research, the planning stage, and the blossoming of my idea on my computer screen. (I don't write well on paper.) I love it when the words come fast and furious but know that it seldom happens that way—writing is work like anything else. The part I like the least, whether a short story, magazine article, or book, is when I have to do the final edit, trust that I've done the best job I can at that moment in time, and let it go on its way.
WOW: It can be hard to trust and let go. I understand that you write a lot about Route 66. What fascinates you most about Route 66 and how does that inspire your writing?
Cheryl: Route 66 seems to embody a lot of memories, or maybe it's our collective American memory, of rock 'n roll and drive-ins, or the Okies, or WWII. For me personally, it's the memories of road trips with my parents, and then with my children and their father. Learning to read maps as a child and “co-piloting” with my parents in the car. A hamburger and a Coke with someone special in a tiny roadhouse, somewhere in Colorado, with no one else around besides the guy behind the counter. This fascination goes beyond Route 66 to include the old named auto trails, like the Lincoln or the Dixie Highway, or other two-lane highways. I think it inspires my writing because there is always another story to tell—in the next town, around the next bend, in that abandoned business building. There's a story there, and sometimes you're lucky and you can find it.
WOW: I love the way you’ve described that – it makes me want to look deeper into unexpected places to find their people and their stories. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
Cheryl: I'm reading Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery, by Susan Croce Kelly. I chose to read this book because of this one man's incredible effect on one highway, Route 66, and its history. It's a little bit like that now, during what you'd have to call a Route 66 revival. What one person does – opening a new business, restoring a historic building, sharing stories and photos –on one end of Route 66 impacts the rest of us. Also, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Susan Croce Kelly, and she will be one of the guest speakers at our upcoming Miles of Possibility Route 66 Conference, for which I'm serving as director.
WOW: Wonderful! It’s fascinating to keep learning of all the different ways Route 66 has touched your life. If you could have dinner with one writer, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Cheryl: I would choose Erik Larson. I admire him tremendously, because he writes amazing nonfiction that reads like amazing fiction, because he shows incredible attention to detail and meticulous research while he clearly sees the big picture of the story, because he has a very funny dry wit, and because he appears to be as long-winded as I am. I think it would be a long and inspiring conversation.
WOW: Great choice with an excellent justification. Anything else you’d like to add?
Cheryl: I truly love both nonfiction and fiction. Whichever it is, there's certainly one thing in common – it's all about telling the story well.
WOW: I agree! Thanks so much for your inspiring answers! Good luck and happy writing!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt