We're in the final countdown for the writing series! I will post my Q&A on Friday - so be sure to write with questions! :)
I'd like to introduce my friend, CJ Darlington. Ask anyone who has been in Christian writing for very long and they will know her name! She's the co-founder of TitleTrakk.com and has done more interviews of authors than any person I know. She's also a newly published author! CJ won the Operation First Novel contest given by the Christian Writers Guild for her novel, Thicker Than Blood. CJ is one of the nicest people I've met - I know you'll love hearing from her!
Here's the interview!
Erynn: Why did you decide to write fiction? How did you get published?
CJ: I don’t remember ever deciding one day, “I’m going to write fiction.” It just sort of happened. I’ve always loved to read, and it seemed like a natural extension to write. I remember writing stories when I was eight years old on my dad’s Panasonic word processor (we called it “the computer” long before we ever had a real computer).
What really impacted me to write book length fiction was reading Frank Peretti’s Piercing the Darkness. I was just a teen, but I remember being amazed at how he shared hope and truth in that book. I loved how he took his character Sally Beth Roe, a hurting, lost, sinner, and brought her to Jesus. That conversion scene impacted me. I see now that the Lord was gently guiding my steps even back as a kid.
I’ve wanted to have a book published since I was eighteen. But it didn’t happen overnight. Aspiring writers would do well to go into the profession assuming it’s going to take at least ten years to be published. Maybe longer. It’s like an apprenticeship. A silversmith doesn’t show up at the shop and expect to craft a masterpiece their first day. It’s the same with novel writing.
I started writing my first novel when I was fifteen. After many years I completed it, and in 2004 I entered Thicker Than Blood in the very first Operation First Novel contest run by the Christian Writers Guild and sponsored by Tyndale House. At the time the book was only 67,000 words and needed lots of work. But it still became one of twenty semi-finalists that year. That was a huge boost to my writing self-esteem.
So I started submitting to publishers. And received rejections. And more rejections. I wasn’t submitting simultaneously in the beginning, so often I ended up waiting months for a response. But some editors were kind enough to offer suggestions on how I could improve the story. I tweaked and revised. Added 10,000 words. Continued to submit. And got rejected some more.
By this time I was really getting discouraged. It had been almost fifteen years since I began writing the book, and I was ready to put the novel in a drawer and start submitting my almost finished second book. I was, literally, days away from doing this when lying in bed one night a thought hit me (and this time it really did come as a Eureka! type of moment). “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I have a completed novel that’s even better than when I first submitted it. Why don’t I send it to this year’s Operation First Novel contest?” I would use the contest as a test of the novel’s worth. If it placed again, I’d know it wasn’t complete rubbish. If it didn’t, then it was time to move on.
At this point I had something like two weeks before the cut off for submissions in the contest. I got my manuscript sent in the nick of time. That was in September 2008. In November I found out Thicker Than Blood was one of four finalists. Needless to say, I was elated. Maybe the story was publishable after all.
In February, at the Christian Writers Guild’s annual conference, I was amazed when they announced on stage that Thicker Than Blood had won the contest! The winner received a contract with Tyndale House, and my little novel that could will release in January 2010.
Erynn: How do you usually get ideas?
CJ: Oh, wow. I get ideas from all over the place. The idea for Thicker Than Blood came from a childhood game my sister and our best friend played as kids. We would pretend to be different people and act out scenarios. Two of the characters we often played were sisters. One of them owned a farm, and sometimes we’d have the other sister go visit her. I asked myself, “What if these two sisters haven’t seen each other for years, and what if one of them shared the Lord with the other?” Very basic. That’s how it usually is for me.
The predicament of a character in my second novel came to me at night when I was out walking in my back yard. It was chilly, and I had on a jean jacket. As I walked, I wondered, “What if all I had were the clothes on my back and nowhere to go? What would I do?” For years that idea stuck with me before I found a place for it.
My very first published short story came from watching an old TV show called Rescue 911. One episode featured a woman who walked into a convenience store and pulled a gun on everyone inside. But she didn’t demand money. She had a death wish and was purposely trying to provoke the police to shoot her. It all ended okay, but I took that scenario and wrote “Her Last Hope”. In my story a woman does indeed walk into a convenience store with a gun, but someone inside is prompted to stop her, and I wrote the story from that woman’s perspective.
Erynn: Do you ever have problems finishing a book or an idea? How do you overcome that?
CJ: I struggled to finish my second novel. And not from lack of desire either. I knew how I wanted it to end, but I could not figure out how to get the characters to that final point. So many parts had to fit together perfectly; like a puzzle. It took hours and hours of thinking. But my breakthrough finally came when I talked to my family and asked them for ideas. It’s amazing what a fresh set of eyes will give you. And I have a great family! My dad is a voracious reader, so he has a gut feeling of what’s believable and what he’d like to see in a story. My mom’s my first editor. And she’s a good one! I’ve learned to trust her advice, and everything I write is stronger after she’s given me her redline edits. My sister Tracy is always a great sounding board too. She lets me go on and on sometimes about my stories.
Erynn: Are there any books on writing that have helped you?
CJ: Several. The book Writer to Writer by Bodie & Brock Thoene (now out of print but still available used) gave me the encouragement I needed to hear about God using my writing for His purposes. Secular writing how-to books are great. The nuts and bolts of writing are the same whether you write for the Christian market or the secular. But there comes a time when you need to know if God can call someone to write. I learned that He can by reading the Thoene’s book.
But if I could only have one writing book on my shelf, I would pick Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. He covers everything you need to know in there. Also, Write Away by Elizabeth George is one I turn to just to read the excerpts from her writing journals. It helps me to realize that I’m not alone in my writing struggles. Every writer feels doubt and discouragement. That’s the way we’re wired. But it’s what we do with those thoughts that matters. I like what someone said about bad thoughts: “You can’t keep the birds from flying above your head. But you can keep them from building a nest in your hair!” You can’t keep bad thoughts (including those of fear and doubt) from entering your head, but you can keep yourself from entertaining them and acting on them.
Erynn: What's your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite part of writing?
CJ: My least favorite part is plotting. It is so hard for me sometimes to figure out what I want to have happen in a story! I’m dealing with this right now as I figure out what to write for a third book.
My favorite part? Hmm. . . I’m starting to like revising. Once I have my rough draft finished, then it’s time for the good stuff. In revision is when a novel can truly start to sing.
Erynn: How do you take your coffee? :)☺
CJ: Order me a triple grande cappuccino, please! Maybe some sugar-free vanilla or caramel flavoring, too, if I’m in the mood (and not thinking about how many chemicals must be in the stuff!)
Ah, I love this girl. Triple grande cappuccino! See, this is a real writer. ;) Just kidding! To all of you who don't drink my favorite refuel, more power to you. Leaves more for me! :)
Thanks so much, CJ!! I'm so excited to read your book!
Tomorrow we will hear from Sandra Byrd, who has written the adorable Lexi Stuart books starting with Let Them Eat Cake. If you haven't read them, you should!