We are excited to introduce you to debut author Cheryl Schuermann, whose book A BOY CALLED PREACHER, comes out on April 18th. You will find her cover reveal at the end of her post.
Thank you, MG Book Village, for the opportunity to introduce my upcoming middle grade novel, A BOY CALLED PREACHER! Here is a peek into my journey as a writer and how this story came to be.
As a child, I asked a million questions. I wanted to learn everything possible about my parents’ childhoods and the major historical events during those decades. I dreamed of traveling back in time and read historical fiction voraciously, two to three novels per week.
I relished my mother’s stories of her extraordinary childhood north of the Arctic Circle. Her parents were teachers for the Territory of Alaska and her childhood was happy, secure, and fulfilling, despite the isolation and bitter cold temperatures.
Her life was truly Little House on the Tundra. How could I not write about it? In 2007, I began to focus on the craft of writing. My mother’s story became my first book, a sort of love letter to her family.
When the Water Runs: Growing Up With Alaska (2008, 2019) is a work of creative non-fiction. I wrote in my mother’s voice, as if she were sitting in your living room, telling her stories over a cup of hot tea. Though not a middle grade novel, the opportunity to write one would soon come.
My father grew up in central Kansas on a 320-acre wheat farm, far from the Eskimo village in the wild, untamed North Country. After his father abandoned the family on the farm, life became much more difficult and challenging. At the age of eight, my dad dug in and worked to help keep the wheat crops going, feeling the weight of responsibility for his mother and younger brother. He went to school, hurried home, and climbed on the tractor.
In 2009, I began writing the story of a twelve-year-old boy who finds himself managing a Kansas farm. A Boy Called Preacher is fiction. The emotions and the frustrations in the story are, unfortunately, true.
Once or twice, I found a good time to offer my dad a cup of coffee and ask a few questions. Some of his responses developed into scenes in my novel. (Yes, he really did shoot jackrabbits for the War Effort in the early 1940s.) He also mentioned a best friend who always had time to fish and always had money for the soda fountain. My dad typically did not have either.
After completing a few chapters, I asked my dad if he would like to read them. One of the sweetest memories I have is standing in my kitchen listening to him chuckle from the living room as he read. When he finished reading, I asked him what he thought. He just said, “Good job, Sis.”
In my draft, I had nicknamed the main character Preacher and named his friend Sam.
What was your best friend’s name, Dad?
He grinned. Earl Floyd.
Yep, Earl Floyd. Both names together.
Thankfully, Word has a feature called Find/Replace. I quickly replaced every Sam with Earl Floyd.
In the Fall of 2010, I submitted the completed manuscript to several agents. One expressed interest but asked me to revise the last few chapters and submit again.
I was on track to re-submit at the end of February 2011. All writing came to a halt, however, when my dad suddenly passed away the first week of February. At the time, my mother was experiencing dementia and the next five years revolved around her care. Somehow in 2015, I managed to write a biography for children for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Jordan Tang: Think…Create…Discover.
In February of 2019, nearly three years after my mother’s passing, I opened the file titled Preacher and again immersed myself in the story of Johnny “Preache Wilcox, his dog Deke, and his best friend Earl Floyd. I revisited Preacher’s encounters with Eldon Dunn (meanest tractor mechanic in Kansas), his persistence at solving a water crisis threatening the family farm, and his relationship with a stranger who brings clues about his father’s past.
Through the years, I have grown to love Preacher and Earl Floyd, their personalities, the way they interact with one another, and the way Preacher tries to make Earl Floyd understand. Earl Floyd just doesn’t get it–not in a mean way, just in an Earl Floyd way. Though ignorant of the depth of Preacher’s pain, Earl Floyd is a faithful friend. And Preacher grows up before our eyes.
Having taught reading to all grades K-12, I can honestly say my favorite students to teach were the middle grade readers. I was especially drawn to reluctant boy readers in middle grades. Maybe because I raised four of them in my home. Oh, mine could read just fine. But they did not choose to read. What?? Why would
I want to read? They would much rather be outside seining the pond for crawdads than curled up on the couch with a good book. Finding a book that would turn magic in their hands and draw them into a story was not always easy.
Will a middle grade reader start reading A Boy Called Preacher and not want to put it down? Will students relate to the characters, the challenges, and the emotions in this story? Will they ask, Is there another one?
Then, we have readers.
This is why I write middle grade.
And, yes! A second Preacher book is coming.
Cheryl Schuermann loved her many years in the classroom as a special educator and reading specialist. Always a literacy advocate, she spent sixteen more years consulting with educators across the United States. Her desire is for students everywhere to be proficient readers who can hardly wait to open a new book. Cheryl and her illustrator husband, Stan, live in Oklahoma where they enjoy being close to their family, including thirteen grandchildren.
A Boy Called Preacher is scheduled for release February 29, 2020 by INtense Publications. This is Cheryl’s debut MG novel and Stan Schuermann’s debut as a children’s book illustrator. Their debut picture book, Gwyneth Came to Dance, is scheduled for release Fall 2020.
You can find Cheryl on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.