Friday, January 22, 2010

Louisiana Saturday Night with Chere' Coen

If you want to learn all about the life of a busy freelancer, then meet Chere' Coen. She co-authors, freelances, teaches classes, takes care of a family, and she loves speaking to writers' groups and at conferences. Hey, I'm queen of the time-wasters so I'm hanging my head in shame here! Make note: if you collect cookbooks or have an interest in Cajun cooking, be sure to take a look at her new book, Cooking in Cajun Country. Now read on:
1. Tell us about your path to publication. What’s your background and what did you study (if anything) to further your writing career?
I’ve always been a writer, since I was a kid, just insane from the get-go. But I studied journalism at LSU and took classes year after year in fiction, screenplay writing and playwriting. I’m still studying to be a better writer and am considering getting my MA in creative writing if I can find the time and money. I believe you can never stop learning when it comes to writing.
I started out wanting to be a screenwriter and had a screenplay optioned in Hollywood, although it never sold. I veered off into novel writing when my son was born because it was something I could do in the comfort of my home and there were no pitch sessions involved. That turned out to be successful for me and I sold five novels and a novella.
In the last three years I have sold two non-fiction titles.

2. You write nonfiction and fiction. Be a name-dropper. What are some of your writing credits. And tell us where your heart is—nonfiction or fiction?

My fictional books were all historical romances by Kensington under the pen name of Cherie Claire: “A Cajun Dream,” “Snow Angels” anthology and “The Acadians” historical series of “Emilie,” “Rose,” “Gabrielle” and “Delphine.”
My non-fiction titles are “Cooking in Cajun Country” cookbook (Gibbs Smith) that came out last year with “Cajun” Karl Breaux of Lafayette and a book coming out in the fall titled “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris and Sachets” with Jude Bradley by Llewellyn Publishing.
I adore writing fiction. It’s the most fun legally I can think of to have — well, one of them. Non-fiction is like writing a VERY long article, which is fun for me as well. The gris gris book coming out in the fall was a whole lot of fun to do, although an enormous amount of work. I make gris gris bags to give to friends and family and always wanted to know why certain herbs and stones mean certain things and why so many cultures use these bags and the book allowed me to dig deeper and find all that out. I’m very excited about that book and can’t wait to hold it in my hands.

3. Being a freelancer, a novelist and collaborating with other writers, how do you stay organized? Give us all your secrets because we need them!
Being organized is the key! One thing about freelancing is you have to diversify to stay alive because publications go in and out of business all the time. I teach, write articles and books and even work as an election commissioner when we have elections.
I use calendars, to-do lists and have separate places on my desk for all the things I work on, such as binders for the classes I teach and folders for all the handouts, separate bookshelves for the travel press folders for my travel writing, binders with all the business cards I gather,separated by subject. I review books, too, so I have separate bookshelves for different subjects, such as cookbooks, Katrina books and children’s. If I wasn’t so organized I would go crazy trying to find all the things I need to do a good job.

4. What does a typical day look like for you? Are you involved in any critique groups—why or why not?
A typical day means coffee and chicory first thing! LOL And I usually sit down at the computer after reading the paper and don’t get up until lunch, which means the UPS man sees me in my pajamas if he comes to the house before noon. But hey, it’s one of the perks of working at home.
I believe strongly in critique groups as long as you find the right one. You need honest, objective criticism but nothing harsh and hurtful to make you doubt yourself or lose motivation. It’s not easy finding the right people. I have been blessed in the past but don’t have one at present.

5. What is your best advice for promoting yourself and your books?
Web sites are a must and you can always link yours to mine, Booksignings are not fun for me but they are necessary for getting the word out. Even if you sell one book, the booksellers now know you, it’s likely you were in the paper and you build on that. Don’t forget libraries — they love hearing about local writers.
You have to grow a thick skin and be courageous. This part of writing has always been hard for me. I actually prefer making speeches — believe it or not — and selling books at workshops and conferences than doing booksignings. I love talking to people about writing.

6. What is the biggest challenge you face in writing and publishing?
What isn’t a challenge? LOL
If I had to pick, I would say getting an agent. I sold on my own, then when I lost my editor at Kensington decided to focus on getting an agent. That took three years and I had written two books by then and she picked up one of them. It took 18 months to get the book out and read and by then the market for my type of novel was saturated and she dumped me.
I’m back to trying to get an agent and in the meantime sold two non-fiction books. Can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong in this area, but like I said, it’s all challenging one way or another.

7. What are the biggest surprises you've encountered as a writer?
How some close friends will turn on you when you get published. And how some close friends — and not so close — will do the most amazing things. A good friend of my sister and mom bought a bunch of my cookbooks to give away to friends and his family, had me sign them! My own family didn’t do that, outside of my dear sweet mother, my biggest fan, who bought up the store in Lafayette and GAVE the rest of my family copies, and my sister who is always singing my praises. I even had to buy copies to give as Christmas presents to my in-laws, who didn’t get them on their own. So, being disappointed by the ones you love was probably the biggest surprise. I thought the support would have been greater.

8. How do you inspire yourself? What are your sources of creativity?
Coffee. Chocolate. I don’t have writer’s block, but I do love long drives by myself to work on things in my head.

9. What's the best advice you were given about writing?
You can’t work with something unless it’s on the page. Write, write, write and then go from there. Just write it!!

10. Who/what do you like to read and why?
I have lots of favorites, really couldn’t possibly list them all, plus I’m always busy reading books to review, and I don’t always like those. Southern writers tend to be on my personal lists to read. Tolkien and Jane Austen were the only two authors I read three times; I read To Kill a Mockingbird twice.

11. What are you currently working on?
Proposals for new non-fiction books. I’m considering writing a ghost book on Acadiana, a book about the sacredness of trees and possibly a culinary guide to Louisiana. For fiction, I would love to do a series with a travel writer as the main character.

12. What is your favorite writer resource, one that keeps informed?
Shelf Awareness.

13. What professional organizations do you belong to and how do they help in your writing career?
Since becoming a freelancer, I have had to bow out of most of my organizations, such as Romance Writers, because money is so tight. When you work for yourself, especially as a writer (we all know how well-paying that is), you have to make painful choices. I am a member of the Writers Guild of Acadiana, however, and their program chairperson.

Wrap it up: Tell us about any stories, articles, books, etc you have coming out that we can look forward to, and point readers to your blog, website, etc.
I write a weekly travel and food column for The Times of Acadiana in Lafayette:
And a weekly book column titled Louisiana Book News in The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette and the Monroe News-Star:

You can read samples of my work, find out what’s going on the book business of Louisiana and join the Louisiana Book News Yahoo newsletter through my Web site:

I’m teaching an online life-writing genealogy class at Lamar University in Texas on March 2, 9,15, 23, 30 and April 6. Call 409-880-2233 or visit .

I also teach novel writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Continuing Education; call (337) 851-6386 or visit


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Great interview! And I don't think you're doing anything wrong--that's just the nature of this business! I look forward to getting a copy of your book. Just launched a cookbook myself, called Sassy Southern Classy Cajun, published by L & L Dreamspell. Thanks Jess, for interviewing Chere' Coen!

Jan Rider Newman said...

Great interview, Jess. I hope she can fit us into her schedule. You rock, as Mindy would say.