Cheryl Harrison of Westerly is a photographer, image consultant and championship ski dancer. (More on ski dancing in a minute.)
But it is her 20 years of memorable experiences working at high-end hotels — at The Americana in New York City and The Playboy Club Hotel in New Jersey — that formed the basis for her first book, a romance titled "The Cougar Club Hotel."
Not a shy name for a first novel, but fitting for Harrison's personality and her mission. Harrison, it seems, is a fierce believer in love. Fierce.
"If they're willing to search and not compromise, the love of one's life is out there for everyone," she says. "Life is not complete without experiencing unconditional love, understanding, emotional and sexual connection and this is the point I wish to convey with my writing."
The protagonist of "The Cougar Club Hotel," Jennifer Rose, undertakes the uncertain journey toward true and lasting love in a decadent environment; one that challenges her understanding of herself and others.
"Jennifer is not a perfect mother — sometimes you fall into an abyss and make mistakes," Harrison says.
But she wanted her novel to be reflective of life, with all its difficulty and stops and starts. Writing honestly about life also meant writing candidly about sex.
And knowing your characters, she says, is critical to writing a convincing love scene.
"You have to be honest and open about the character's experiences in lovemaking — whether they're good or bad or strange."
The element of "strange" doesn't seem to have deterred her readers, Harrison says.
"I thought it was nicely written," said Diane Handrahan of Westerly, who attended Harrison's recent book signing at Fripperies in downtown Mystic. (See story, opposite page.)
"I'm not a big reader but it kept my interest. I read it out on our boat this summer."
"I've been very straightforward about saying [the book] was sexually explicit," Harrison says. "What I tell people who aren't comfortable with the sex is, 'read beyond it, read the love story.'"
She says she hopes the love story encourages people to find that someone who "meets all your needs, as another human being in your life — the love, the sex, the sharing, the cooking, the fun times, the love for your children, the respect and caring that you know should be part of the best kind of a life you can lead."
Sound like a tall order? Harrison dismisses the idea that there is any other kind of relationship worth having.
"Not ever have I been in my life a fan of compromise. I seek the best and a level of truth that makes me feel alive and vital and happy," she says.
Harrison herself has had the support of a wonderful man along the way — her husband, Charles Malfetti. The two are the reigning U.S. ski dancing champions and founded the International Ski Dancing Association in 1992. The sport, which is similar to partner figure skating, incorporates choreographed moves on snow blades with convex bottoms.
The blades give "the freedom to spin and be on one foot," she explains. "We've been fortunate to be able to travel all over the world doing this," she said, adding that it takes a great deal of trust to ski backward with someone down a mountain.
In some ways, she says, love is like ski dancing. You can't really see the end of the course, but you hold hands and set out together. Your heart races as you pick up speed, but you hold fast, and create some beautiful moments together as the scenery rushes by.
Meet the author
Sunday, Feb. 19, Noon to 4 p.m.
Green Light Boutique
64-66 Bank Street
New London, CT
(Joining Harrison will be the book's cover model, Jon Auth.)