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Rene Gutteridge & Cheryl McKay Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"There was a time when I had made writing too important to me. I felt like God revealed to me that I had made writing an idol before Him, so I had to give it up. I spent a year of my life not screenwriting. Once it wasn’t too important to me, God was able to give it back to me."
--Cheryl McKay

Rene Gutteridge has published thirteen novels including Ghost Writer, My Life as a Doormat, the Boo Series, the Occupational Hazards Series, and the Storm Series. Together, McKay and Gutteridge are the authors of The Ultimate Gift, a novelization based on the feature film and popular book by the same title.

Cheryl McKay wrote the screenplay for the award-winning film, The Ultimate Gift, starring James Garner, Abigail Breslin and Brian Dennehy. She co-authored Frank Peretti's Wild & Wacky Totally True Bible stories series, and the DVD for Sheila Walsh 's Gigi: God's Little Princess.

C.J.: Rene, I know you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were young, but Cheryl . . . how about you? Have you always wanted to write? When did the bug bite?

CM: I wrote my first play when I was five, and my first book when I was six (a book of short stories). I have always loved writing. In college, I decided this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. God led me out of acting and into writing during undergrad. So I then went to grad school at Regent University to study film and screenwriting.

Never the Bride is a fun book! But before it was a book, it was a screenplay written by Cheryl. Rene, what did the process look like turning it into a novel? Any particular challenges?

RG: It’s really a fun process. My fellow novelists who have done it all have enjoyed it too. It’s like working with a really detailed outline. What made it wonderful was how supportive Cheryl was. She really listened to my suggestions and gave me a lot of room to move. Some of the challenges were adding scenes in order to make it long enough for a novel. I wanted Cheryl to be totally okay with everything I added. We worked really nicely as a team.

God is actually a character in this story. Where did that idea come from and how did you approach writing him into the story while staying within biblical limits?

CM: Putting God into this story was the seed of the idea that started this whole thing. The idea was born out of season when I was struggling with God regarding the “singleness” area of my life. You could even say I was “arguing” with Him about it. I found some of my conversations with Him so funny, I knew they needed to go into a script. The conversations between God and Jessie in the story are based on my communicative relationship with God. Because of this, I felt like my portrayal of God is based on something real. I knew He wanted me to write about a message of surrender to Him. And hopefully, that biblical theme comes through with this story.

NEver the Bride by Gutteridge and McKayNever the Bride deals with the subject of single ladies turning their lives fully over to God. I hear some of the story is based on your personal experiences, Cheryl. If you could sit across the table from the single Christian ladies reading this, what one thing would you say to them (besides read Never the Bride!)

CM: I would encourage single women to wait on God to write their love story. There are too many bad marriages out there, and personally, I’d rather be single longer than I ever wanted to be than to rush into a situation God doesn’t have for me. Now, I know this is hard. And I still struggle all the time with this area of life and get tempted to go beyond where I know God wants me. I wrote this story because of my understanding of how hard this can be. I’m certainly not immune to its difficulties. I’m not talking about hiding out at home and waiting for the guy to show up on your doorstep. I’m talking about being prayerful and inviting God into the process and asking Him for the right steps (and staying surrendered to Him in the midst of it).

Rene, as a married woman, how did you approach this subject? What would you like to say to the single Christian ladies out there?

RG: I think they are awesome and wonderful. Honestly, to be single is sometimes hard and sometimes freeing. And I know it can be very difficult and lonely, too. But so can marriage. When a marriage is struggling, it can be one of the loneliest times in a woman’s life. I think if a woman has a strong relationship with God during the season of singleness, it will help her through all the ups and downs of marriage, too.

What was the hardest part about writing Never the Bride?

CM: For me, it was challenging to put myself and my emotions on the line and put my story out there for everyone to see. I’m so thankful I did it and I enjoy making fun of myself and my angst. But I’ll admit, it was hard to do. It seems the more I delved into the story, the more reasons I’d have to experience pain in my real life over this issue. Thinking about and talking about singleness in relation to the script and book puts the issue more present on my mind than it ever used to be. And that makes it hard.

RG: For me, it was staying true to the voice of Jessie and making sure I didn’t insert my own voice. I wanted Jessie to everything Cheryl envisioned.The Ultimate Gift DVD

Is there going to be a Never the Bride movie? We’d love to have the scoop!

CM: The director, Susan Rohrer, and I are progressing with trying to put the right elements together for the film version. We hope to shoot in Savannah, Georgia and we have some really awesome potential team members surfacing that can help bring this story to the screen. Filmmaking is very complicated and financing a film is a big challenge these days. But I know it’s meant to be a film. I want Rene to come visit the set so I can throw her in a scene as an extra. I also intend to play a small role.

What was the most fun part about working together on this book?

CM: I loved seeing how great Rene was at getting inside my head, writing all of Jessie’s inner monologue. Every day she’d surprise me with her instincts an how perceptive she is.

RG: Cheryl is an amazingly giving artist. She trusted me and that meant the world to me. Sometimes she trusted me more than I trusted myself. We had a great working chemistry. We sort of just read each other’s hearts and minds and it flowed so nicely.

Going in, did you have any guidelines in mind on how to make the collaboration process work well? For example, does one of you have final say on plot, the other on dialogue, etc.?

CM: We really had no sources of conflict on this. Working together, we had a beautiful symmetry. In the same way I feel God anointed me to write the script version, I believe God anointed Rene for the novel. Ultimately, on the novel version, I trusted Rene’s instincts over my own because that is her world. I have been trained so much in writing scripts but not books. So I definitely default to her wisdom in the collaboration process. But she was also very respectful of my story and the script and used the same material. If we shoot the current script, no one will say the movie has nothing to do with the book. They are very much the same story.

Cheryl McKayRG: Cheryl read everything at my request, because I wanted to make sure she was happy with it. But because this was a novel, I had instincts that she had to trust sometimes. For example, it took me awhile to convince her the book needed to be told in present tense. But she always extended that trust and that was liberating to me. I tried to stay very true to the dialogue. I would add on the front end and back end to make a complete scene, but almost all the dialogue that is in the script is in the book. The whole story is very true to the script.

Cheryl, as a Christian working in Hollywood, you’ve probably had your faith tested. How do you keep the faith, so to speak, in an environment that often doesn’t foster it?

CM: I’ve been very blessed to get work on such amazing projects that are honoring to God and contain content I can stand behind, like for example this book and The Ultimate Gift. I haven’t really had to deal with a lot of difficult tests fighting battles against content and being encouraged to write material I don’t believe in. I know plenty of other Christians working in this industry dealing with those types of battles. I’m thankful, at least thus far, it hasn’t been part of my journey. I find Hollywood to be a wonderful place and really am thankful God’s chosen it as my missionsfield.

Rene or Cheryl, What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?

CM: There was a time when I had made writing too important to me. I felt like God revealed to me that I had made writing an idol before Him, so I had to give it up. I spent a year of my life not screenwriting. Once it wasn’t too important to me, God was able to give it back to me. And it came in the form of the job writing The Ultimate Gift.

RG: There have been many! Before I was published, I’d hit a new low about every other month. After I was published, I struggled with being overwhelmed during certain seasons in my life. Prayer always lifted me out. I have always, and will always, give my problems to God. Who else wants them??Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay

Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?

RG: I really like Anne Lamot’s Bird by Bird. She knows the writer’s heart so well and she makes me laugh. I also like A.W. Tozer a lot. And I often find myself turning to my fellow novelists’ books. I’ll read one of their books and be challenged and inspired.

What’s next for both of you?

CM: Rene and I are working on a couple of proposals based on my scripts I’ve written. And I am also working on some television series pitches and getting the film version of Never the Bride and several other scripts set up for production.

RG: I’m really excited about a new suspense novel I’ve got coming out from Tyndale called Listen. And Cheryl and I are also hoping to return to the rom/com game together!

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

CM: We so appreciate you caring about our work and the support. We’d love to hear from you! Please visit our websites at www.cherylmckay.net and www.renegutteridge.com

Rene GutteridgeWhat are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

CM: I have an insatiable addiction to chocolate and eat it every day. My grandfather survived one of the biggest disasters in coal mining history in Springhill Nova Scotia in the 1950’s. If that hadn’t happened, my father never would have met my mother. The disaster led my grandfather to leave mining and move the family to Massachusetts, where my dad met my mom.

RG: I used to be on the same gymnastics team as Shannon Miller and I don’t know how to download music to an iPod.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

CM: Strawberry Special K

RG: Fiber One flakes with blueberries and bananas on top.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

CM: Stuff to make yummy dinner-sized salads, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Raisins, and Pepsi One.

RG: salad ingredients, organic eggs, milk.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

CM: I’m next door at the frozen-yogurt shop! I don’t drink coffee.

RG: Tall Caramel Macchiato, decaff, non-fat. Always.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

CM: Er, um, well, getting married and having a family, I guess. :)

RG: A trip to Disney World and Hawaii with my family.

When was the last time you cried?

RG: Yesterday when I cut an onion. I’ve tried everything, even goggles. Nothing works to stop the tears!

Three words that best describe you:

CM: Creative, Devoted, Prayer-Warrior

RG: Nice, creative, mom

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

CM: I have a lot of praise and worship music by groups like Hillsong, Mercy Me and Casting Crowns, and some 80’s music on my MP3 player.

RG: Iron Man soundtrack and Phillips, Craig and Dean’s new song, Revelation Song

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C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.