Introducing Author C.J. Darlington
Today, we have a special guest to the blog, debut author C.J. Darlington. And a giveaway of a signed copy of her book!
C.J., welcome to the blog. I'm so excited about your first book, Thicker than Blood, which I had the privilege of reading a few months ago.
You have a really cool “how I got discovered” story. Tell us about that whole process.
CJ: Back in 2004 I saw an ad in Writers Digest magazine for the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest. The contest deadline was the kick in the pants I needed to finish my novel. So I entered an early version of Thicker Than Blood. A couple months later I found out it had placed as a semi-finalist, but not as a finalist.
I started submitting proposals to editors and started receiving back rejections. I revised the book a couple of times and lengthened it by about 10,000 words. But still no publishers wanted it. I got close once or twice, but I began to feel discouraged and wondered if maybe I should put the novel in a drawer and start submitting something else.
I almost did. But late one night I had a flash of inspiration I'm pretty sure came from the Lord. I thought, “What if I enter this revised version of Thicker Than Blood in this year's Operation First Novel contest?” I had about two weeks before it would've been too late to enter. That was in September 2008.
In November I found out the novel was one of four finalists, and in February I attended the Writing for the Soul Conference where the winner of the contest would be announced. I was amazed when Jerry Jenkins announced Thicker than Blood was the winner! Part of the prize was publication by Tyndale House, and it's been the most exciting thing that's happened in my life so far.
I love that story. And such a great example of not giving up on your dream or your manuscript. C.J., you are definitely no stranger to Christian fiction or Christian music. You and your sister originated and operate TitleTrakk.com. Tell us about that awesome website and resource.
CJ: We want TitleTrakk.com to be a one stop Christian entertainment website for anyone interested in learning more about all the amazing Christian books, music, and movies out there. It's our goal to shine the spotlight on the newest and brightest in the industry, and we're excited at the opportunity to every week bring our readers new interviews, reviews, contests, and more. It's been amazing how the site has grown in the last few years.
Since beginning TitleTrakk.com, who is the coolest Christian musician you've interviewed?
CJ: Well, my sister Tracy is the music maven, but she's let me sit in on several cool interviews. Shhh…don't tell anyone, but I was incredibly nervous when we did a press conference once with Michael W. Smith. He was sitting about four feet from me, and I was star struck. We interviewed Rebecca St. James on several different occasions, and she's always wonderful. We also recently interviewed Britt Nicole and new artist Paige Armstrong and were really impressed with how sweet and articulate they both were. And their music rocks too!
Let's talk books. What is your favorite book you read as an elementary-aged kid?
CJ: Oh, wow. I had so many! If I had to pick. . . do I really have to pick just one? Okay, fine. The Chronicles of Narnia. I know that's technically seven books, but I love that series. Adventure, suspense, intrigue, redemption–it has it all.
Favorite book you read as a teenager?
CJ: Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti. I first read this one at twelve or thirteen, and then re-read it at least five times.
Now it's time to gush about your book. In Twitter-style, what is this book about?
CJ: Thicker Than Blood is about two estranged sisters who meet again after 15 years, one needing God's love, the other God's help.How's that for abbreviated?
Why is the main theme of Thicker Than Blood an important one for you to convey? What do you want your reader to walk away with after reading this book? (Besides an urge to buy 10 more.)
CJ: An urge to buy 100 more?
The main theme of this novel is that love is thicker than blood. God's love, that is. As Christy and May Williams find out, their blood ties were not enough to keep them together. It takes something more to make them a family again.
Another theme that's important to me is that no one's ever too far gone for God's love to reach them. We might think we've screwed up too many times, that God could never love us for what we've done, but in reality God's just waiting for us to take one step toward Him so he can wrap his arms around us.
Writing that first book is so hard. What all was going through your mind as you went through the publication process with Thicker than Blood?
CJ: Besides the millions of doubts saying I could never succeed as a writer, that my book would never be published, that the hours of time spent in front of my computer were wasted?
Seriously, I had many days when I felt like throwing in the towel, but in the back of my mind I knew I couldn't give up. I had a dream to be an author, and I was going to stick with it no matter how long it took before my writing was published. It certainly helped too that my family was a huge support and wouldn't let me quit. I had to write, whether I was ever published or not.
When Tyndale House did give me a contract for Thicker than Blood, I found myself so honored to have such a wonderful team coming alongside me in the process. Everything went so much smoother than I could've imagined, which taught me not to let myself worry so much.
What advice would you have out there for those who aspire to be authors, no matter the age?
CJ: Number one: You're never too young for God to use you. He often puts desires and dreams in our hearts when we're young to guide us into our callings. Are you passionate about reading, books,and writing? Are you happiest when creating? Allow yourself to pursue those dreams. Chances are God's given them to you for a purpose.
(Jen here, wondering what the purpose of my passion for ice cream could be… In my heart I've always known that deep love had to have some value.)
CJ: Number two: Follow your heart. It's easy to talk ourselves out of our dreams. But don't let yourself, or your friends, or anyone do that. You have the desire for a reason. God's got great plans for you!
Number three: Bloom where you're planted. There are always steps we can take right now. Don't wait until you're older to begin following your dream. You don't have to go to college or take a million courses (though some choose that route). I personally learned best by reading other novels and books on the craft.
Jen: I agree. I learn the most about writing from reading other people's novels. And I'd also add that while you don't have to go to college or take a million courses, I think you do have to do things that build your repertoire of life experiences, which could be college, work, travel, and just living. You gotta live to write about it. And get ideas. Reading is so necessary, but so is seeing some of it for yourself. Just like your experience as a seller of antiquarian books inspired so much of your first novel.
CJ: Number Four: Be flexible. If we had our way, our dreams would come true right now. But you know that Scripture in Jeremiah 29:11 that talks about God's ways being higher than our ways? It's so true. It took 14 very long years before my book was published, and I had to learn to trust God, even when I didn't feel like it. I'm glad now that I didn't get published right away. If my dreams had come true the way I envisioned, it would've been a lot harder journey. Commit your life, and your writing to God, and he'll make sure you get where you need to be at just the right time.
For those a little older, you're never too old for God to use you. Never give up. It doesn't matter if you're seventeen or seventy. I know of many writers who didn't see success in the publishing arena until they were over fifty. It's never too late, and it's always worth pursuing your dreams. Never stop learning.
Great words. And that happens to be my life verse. At least it was for last decade. I might need to pick a new one for variety's sake. C.J., I'm so excited for you and your book. Tell us what you're working on now.
CJ: I am putting the finishing touches on my second novel, tentatively titled Innocent Blood. It's a sequel to Thicker than Blood. I've also just started my third book. It's been rattling around in my head for way too long, and it's time to get these characters under control.
Jen: Thanks for stopping by the blog, girl. You guys will totally want your copy of this book. And to win it, just leave a comment now through Thursday evening in which you respond to today's prompt by giving me a little help. I just found out this weekend I'm GETTING A PUPPY!!!! (And I'm freakin' out. I'm such a cat person. I mean seriously. I LIVE for low maintenance.) But anyway, I need some name help. It's a girl. And it's a dorkie. And it's small. Forever small. So…what should I name it? I mean her. A furry, high-maintenance her. Leave your suggestions and help me in my time of need.
See you guys, Wednesday! I'll share pics of the dog. And we'll talk Chuck and American Idol. And my puppy commitment fears.