Interview with Cheryl McKay: Screenwriter, Novelist, and Successful WaiterApril 28th, 2013 by WTM.org Community
Cheryl McKay is an accomplished screenwriter and Christian novelist with seven film and video projects and eight books under her belt (and more on the way). Read our exclusive interview with Cheryl, where she talks about waiting until marriage to have sex, narrowly-avoiding the dreaded “40-year-old” virgin status, meeting her husband, writing, and living happily every after.
- Tell us a little bit about your background, and the creative successes that preceded this current book, Finally the Bride.
- I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My big break came when I got hired to adapt Jim Stovall’s novel, The Ultimate Gift, into a film. It starred James Garner, Brian Dennehy and Abigail Breslin.During my very frustrated years of being single and “waiting on God to write my love story,” I wrote a script called Never the Bride. We ended up selling the story to RandomHouse as a novel. It came out in 2009, about a year and a half before I started dating my husband.
I wrote it loosely based on my life.The irony is a lot of it came true in my life after it was published. Finally the Bride is the non-fiction version of Never the Bride. I wrote it at the same time, but waited to release it til last year.
- At what point in your life did you decide to wait until marriage to have sex?
- I grew up in a Christian home where hearing it’s best to wait for marriage to have sex was just a natural part of the values I was taught. I heard this at home, at church, at youth group. I became a Christian so young, so faith was always part of my life. Pleasing the Lord has been important to me, especially in this area.
I will say I did have some very difficult experiences when I was very young that partially contributed to my resistance to giving in before I was married. (This is part of my testimony as shared in my other book, Finally Fearless: Journey from Panic to Peace. If anyone struggles with fear in the realm of relationships, Finally Fearless may help them.) But even without those experiences, I always had a sense that if I gave into temptation, I would be really disappointed in myself.
I only had a handful of boyfriends that made an issue about it… I never discriminated against someone because they weren’t a virgin.
I had this strong sense that it may “feel good in the moment” but that horrible guilt would follow and it would never be worth it. It was a gift I really wanted to save for my future husband. It’s a gift you can only give away once. I didn’t want to have big regrets and do that with someone (or someones) I’d likely never see again later in life.
I only had a handful of boyfriends that made an issue about it, especially when I was in my teens or early twenties. But as I got older, most people I dated knew up front that if they asked me to sleep with them, I would break up with them. If that happened, it would have been a telltale sign that they were not coming from a strong relationship with the Lord, that they wanted to put their “needs” over what was best for me, for us, and wasn’t prioritizing pleasing God.
I never discriminated against someone because they weren’t a virgin; I even dated a divorced guy. But it was important to me to date people who wanted to follow God’s directives in this area currently, and something they had already decided for themselves.
I didn’t want someone to just change this part of their lifestyle for me. I wanted to know we were in agreement that sex outside of marriage is a sin and would not be part of our relationship until or unless we got married. It helped to talk about these things going into relationships, because then you can hold each other accountable.These are not decisions to be made “in the heat of the moment.”
There’s nothing wrong with being tempted; it’s what you do with the temptation that matters. (It would be pretty unnatural, to not have some temptation!) I wanted those boundary lines clearly established in advance, and I wanted it to be a mutual decision, not a guy just going along with me.
- How long did you have to wait before meeting your husband?
- We met in the 90s when I still lived in North Carolina, but didn’t date. I thought he was the only cute guy in singles class at church, and my sister wanted me to date him. But he didn’t ask me out. I knew without a doubt I was moving to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. I was afraid if I dated anyone in NC, I would be torn about moving. So I was okay with not dating. We reconnected by way of Facebook in 2010. We got married in May 2011.
- What’s the longest stretch of time you were ever single for?
- Before moving to LA, the last boyfriend I had was in 1995. I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and only dated two people. One in 2001 and one in 2003. After that second relationship ended so painfully, I felt like God offered to “take over” and write my love story for me (which is how the story of Never the Bride was born). I had no idea God would take so long after that point! But I didn’t date again til my husband and I reconnected in 2010.
- How did you meet your husband?
- We were both in the same singles class in NC. I cast him as an extra in a couple of my video productions. We lost touch once I moved. Then he showed up on a mutual friend’s list on Facebook, and I sent him a note to add him. Who knew that note would change everything?!
He knew pretty quickly that God was speaking to him about me and my future place in his life. It took a little longer for me to cooperate with God’s plan. He still lived in North Carolina. So we got to know each other again, long distance, for six months. Then on trips to visit my NC family, we finally had a chance to date. It only took three months of dating to get engaged. Then we had three months to plan our wedding. We didn’t waste any time.
- Was it worth the wait?
- Absolutely. I will say, having a short dating and engagement season helped since we already knew each other so well by that point. It’s like once we knew what God was leading us to do, why drag it out? Especially at our age. He was 40 and I was 39 when he proposed. And as I joke in the intro of my book which I wrote long before he entered the picture, I did not want the title of 40-year old virgin.We were excited about the idea of being together intimately once we got married. Thankfully it was never a question of whether or not we’d give in before the wedding.
We knew we wanted God to be first in our relationship, not our “desires”. We wanted God’s best, and we knew being obedient to His plan was important. So yes, this was a very biblically-driven decision. But we both felt it was the right thing to do. When you do the right thing, there is no guilt or shame attached. Do I regret not having other partners first? Heck no! I’m glad that my husband is the only one I will ever know that way.
- Besides your faith, what else helped make the wait easier?
- Watching other girls, who weren’t waiting for marriage, go through heartbreaks when relationships ended. They’d given themselves away to those guys only to have that part of themselves ripped away. There was no commitment to follow. (Often girls will give in because they think it’s how to save a relationship.) That never appealed to me.I do tend to learn from other people’s mistakes. I had a hard enough time getting over a horrible break up when we didn’t sleep together. (The last one before I started dating my husband.) I couldn’t imagine how much harder it would be if I had let it go that far intimately.
There is no “condom” to protect you emotionally.
While I always understood the hazards of things like pregnancy out of wedlock or STD’s, they were never the driving factors that helped me say “No.” It was usually the emotional attachment component I didn’t want until it was with my “one”. It’s not just about staying physically safe. There is a spiritual dynamic to this. There is no “condom” to protect you emotionally. The Bible is clear that sex is not just physical but spiritual. I didn’t want that baggage following me into future relationships.
- Before you met your husband, did you spend a lot of time analyzing your past relationships, trying to figure out what went wrong? Or did you always have faith that they weren’t right for you?
- Oh, I am a big analyzer. I work out my thoughts on paper. You know the cliché; hindsight is 20/20. I may not have known right away the rejections were good for me. But I sure as heck know that now. I never knew I could love a person as much as I love him. While I usually landed in a place where I could see rejection as a gift or God’s direction, sometimes it took a while to feel that way.
- Does having your happy ending help to wash away all of the pain and frustration of your wait?
- It actually does. I didn’t believe that it could when I was on the front end of that. But many told me it’s like having a baby and you “forget the pain.” Once the wait is over, it really does redeem a lot of what you went through. Especially if you are able to understand why it couldn’t have happened a day sooner than it did.
My husband and I were able to compare notes about what was happening in our lives over the years and why it couldn’t have happened sooner than it did. He was definitely worth the wait, because he’s wonderful. When I now think back to all the guys I thought I wanted, I see clearly I didn’t know what I was asking for. God gave me is so much better. People often comment on how it seems we’ve packed a lot of life into two years of marriage. And we have. I feel like we’re making up for some lost time.
About her new book, Finally the Bride…
- Can you give us a quick summary of your new book, Finally the Bride?
- I wrote 90% of that book while I was single, frustrated, and waiting to find love. So many who are single will relate to it. I am brutally honest about the ups and downs of singlehood, how frustrating it got to constantly wait. It wasn’t just about waiting for sex (which of course is a huge part of it), but waiting for friendship, intimacy, marriage, starting a family. I got to be very straightforward about what it’s like to be single in a seemingly “couples” world, with your age creeping up and no end in sight to the wait.
- What life experiences inspired you to write Finally the Bride?
- Rejection, unrequited hopes, times when men would be very misleading in their intentions toward me. Are there any other guys or girls out there who wonder what one of their “best pals” is thinking of them? Will this friendship turn into more? I seriously had about 7-8 of those friendships from 2003 onward. It’s probably what I hated most about being single. Those experiences definitely impacted my desire to write a book for singles.
- What effect do you hope that your book has on its readers?
- I want readers to find hope in their waiting, and to realize they are not alone in how they feel, and to maybe be inspired to put their love story in God’s hands, welcoming Him into the process of directing them rather than stumbling into a lot of mistakes that could delay the start of the right love story.
- What do you feel is the balance between praying for God to bring someone into your life and being proactive in finding him/her?
- Everyone’s story is going to be different. Most of my efforts were pretty fruitless. I think what’s important is being open to what God asks you to do and then do it. That way, you’re not proactive or inactive. You’re just obedient.
The funny thing was, in our case, we both independently felt like we were not supposed to sign up for online dating. It didn’t mean online dating was bad; it just wasn’t the way God was going to introduce us. My husband has a funny story about God telling him to delete his dating profile; he shares this in his chapter of Finally the Bride. (He wrote the final chapter!) But since I wasn’t online, God couldn’t re-introduce us that way. And he might have wasted a lot of time with other girls who weren’t God’s best for him.
- You mention receiving prophecies from God through other people that helped signal to you that your husband was coming. Of those, which one gives you the most confidence that prophecies are real and divine? As in, which sign is the hardest to explain away?
- That is a very long answer, and it’s explained best in the book in context of our full story. I share the many words and prophecies and how they paid off, then my husband shares his side of the story. We have some remarkable similarities in how God spoke to each of us separately, sometimes during the same years.
One prophecy example is, I have a transcription of a whole prayer time in the book that was from a church where I had three strangers praying over me. It was when I was being stubborn about seeing what God had for me in my husband. (I was still trying to get over one of those “friends” I wished had seen me as more than a friend, yet my future husband was trying to pursue me.)
God was very specific through these strangers, saying what I’d been asking for, for so long, was right in front of me, and that if I didn’t say yes to it, I would really be missing out.
One guy said I’d been looking for my lifelong mate, that he was already here, and I just needed to say yes to him. That woke me up; my heart really changed that day, and God healed me of desires for that past friend. Thankfully, those prayer warriors were absolutely right.
I also share a cautionary tale in the book about what happens when prophecies are wrong or when you try to make them fit a situation you’re in that God is not speaking about. It can be a dangerous territory to walk through.
- For the prophecies, how do you know it’s God and not your subconscious?
- I do want to acknowledge that I realize not everyone who reads this article is going to be a believer in God and the Bible, let alone a believer that God would still speak to us today.I can only share from my personal experience. It actually was news to me, at one point in my life, to realize God wanted to be involved in my life and speak and direct me. At the same time, I have made some serious mistakes when I thought God was speaking and it was, indeed, my subconscious instead. Or even in some cases, it was probably the enemy trying to lie to me.
I share all types of examples in the book to show how I made some big mistakes, but thankfully I have many encouraging stories where I was correct. Considering I cannot tell the future, if God tells me something to come and then it happens later, I know it was Him speaking and not just my subconscious.
Sometimes, only time will tell you if what you feel you’re hearing is correct. Seeking confirmation from other sources (like the prayer warriors in your life who also have a good track record for hearing God’s voice), can help.
Also, I do not believe God will speak in a way that contradicts His Word. So that can be an easy to way to kick out some of our own thoughts at the front end. Like if a husband felt God were telling him to leave his wife for someone else, that would fall under the category of the man telling himself what he wants to hear and passing it off as God speaking. (Or the enemy trying to get him to sin.) I am a flawed human being who will make mistakes. But I’d rather be wrong sometimes, than never listen for God’s voice for fear of making a mistake.
- Now that you’ve finished writing Finally the Bride, what’s your next creative project?
- I just released Finally Fearless: Journey from Panic to Peace (and it’s accompanying workbook) for those who deal with fear, anxiety, and panic. My testimony includes being fearful of relationships for a season of my life.I have a romantic comedy novel coming out (with Rene Gutteridge) in Oct 2013, called Greetings from the Flipside. My husband and I are going to be co-writing a marriage book, called Finally One, which will have a focus on how to make the most of your first few years of marriage and building intimacy. We definitely feel like we’ve had an unusually peaceful first couple of years from other stories we’ve been told. We have a heart to help other couples get started on the right foot.
- What’s it like working in Hollywood as a Christian author?
- Most people know what I’m about, what I’m interested in writing which is going to fall under the family-friendly or faith-friendly areas. So it’s not often I’m approached to write things I would have a problem with.I think the hardest thing is finding funding for these types of projects to make them independently, even though there are many success stories about projects that do really well in this arena.We are currently trying to get Never the Bride made into a film. (It’s like Bruce Almighty meets Bridget Jones’ Diary. God is a character in it and shows up to write this girl’s love story.)
- Any sage advice for a first-time author?
- Write your passion. Write from experience. Use the difficult things you’ve been through, and write about them either in fiction or non-fiction formats. It can be so redeeming. If your heart isn’t in what you’re writing, no one else will care either. One assignment I love to give my writing students is “What is the story that only you can tell?”I also tell my screenwriting students to get to know the world of books because so often, it’s easier to sell ideas that have a book out first. I’ve been hired to write quite a few movies or video projects based on pre-existing material.I also would try to figure out how to “brand” yourself.
If your heart isn’t in what you’re writing, no one else will care either.
For example, in the book world, how will you stand out so your readers will know how to follow you from one book to the next? I definitely don’t stick to the idea that we can only write one genre for the rest of our lives. But especially if you self-publish to get started, it helps to have some common denominator for people to follow you from one book to the next. Whether that’s a series or books that are designed to look like they belong together.
You can’t just start out thinking “one book” either. You need to have a plan so that once you release one book, you have another one to release shortly after so you can ride some momentum.
In the same way, don’t come to Hollywood with one script. If someone likes a script but it’s not an exact fit for their company, their next question is going to be, “What else do you have?” And your answer better not be that you don’t have another project written.
Lastly, if you are blessed enough to submit a project to someone, you only get one chance. Make sure it’s free of typos, formatting problems and by all means, make sure it’s written as best as it possibly can be!
A final word on waiting till marriage…
- Anything else you’d like to add?
- Today, waiting for marriage has become so unpopular. It really breaks my heart, especially for young people to feel so much pressure to give in. My profession, TV and movies, is a big offender in spreading the lie that casual sex / multiple partners is a great thing.I feel like people have taken the gift, which by the way was God’s idea, and counterfeited it. I truly believe waiting is the best way. Though I recognize my beliefs may be unaccepted by those who do not believe the Bible is true. Even if someone has fallen in the past, there is forgiveness, and there is room to make a change from this day forward.I don’t want to come across as judgmental of those who’ve made mistakes. But I would caution anyone in those situations currently (especially if abstinence is taught as part of their faith) to rethink their relationships.If the guy or girl they are dating makes it a requirement for dating, I have a hard time believing they are God’s best for you. They are looking out for their own selfish desires. I don’t care if “culture” has changed to say, “this is okay.” God never changed His mind about it. Only people did.
Thankfully, God is a forgiver and a restorer of those who have made mistakes when we turn from our past ways. I was excited when I heard teen or young adult book clubs were forming to go through either my fictional book Never the Bride or the non-fiction book Finally the Bride, to encourage abstinence.
If people are waiting on God to write their loves stories, as both books encourage, they’re not jumping into the wrong relationships. That is my hope and prayer for these projects. Young people are worth so much more than allowing themselves these intimacies before the right time, especially if they think they have to, just to keep a relationship.
Sex is a sacred, God-given gift. It may not be perfect in the beginning. There may be a learning curve, but it’s something a husband can wife can learn together, to build intimacy.
Want to find out more about Cheryl McKay?
- Buy her new book:
Amazon.com: Finally the Bride
- Read her blog post about waiting
FinallyOne.com: Unpopularity Contest
- Cheryl’s official website:
- The ministry she runs with her husband:
- Her Pinterest pin board for singles: