The Christa Banister File:
by C.J. Darlington
Christa A. Banister Interview
"I've got to be one of the biggest Food Network geeks. If I had more time, I could watch all day." -- Christa Banister
Christa Ann Banister lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Will. They love to play Scrabble and throw darts on a map, dreaming about exotic travel locations. In addition to writing fiction, Christa is happily employed as a freelance writer for her many, many clients.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
CHRISTA: I think I first figured out that I wanted to be a writer when I read Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I was in 3rd grade and thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever read. So I started invented stories not long after and have been ever since. Later on in junior high, I thought if you could make up stories for a living, that would be the coolest job in the world. And it is.
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
I have always loved books. My grandpa always read to me as a child, so a love of words was instilled into my life from early on. Some of my favorite books growing up were anything by Dr. Seuss (I thought his writing cadence and made-up words were so funny, even though I had no idea at the time what that meant), the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Clearly and anything by Judy Blume.
How did you get your start as a freelance article writer?
After I graduated from college in 1998, I moved to Nashville from Minneapolis because it had always been my dream to write for CCM Magazine. And much like Sydney did before she landed her dream gig in Around the World in 80 Dates, I did a variety of odd jobs and interned at the now-defunct 7Ball to gain magazine experience (with fellow novelist Chris Well as one of my bosses) until a job at CCM Magazine opened up. After working at CCM for five-and-a-half-years, I decided that I really wanted to try working for myself. I’d just gotten married and figured since that was a new start to my life in the relationship aspect, a job change might be great, too. So with the encouragement of my husband and some incredible contacts from my time at CCM, I started my freelance writing business. It’s been an incredible change of pace for me, and I feel honored that I get to do something I love. And hey, some days I even get to do that and wear my pajamas…it doesn’t get much better than that.
After the success you’ve had in the freelance world, what originally drove you to write your first novel Around the World in 80 Dates?
Writing a novel has always been a dream of mine. It was on the list of the things I definitely had to do before I died. But what inspired this particular book was a conversation I had with a friend of mine, Jesse Butterworth, who played in a band called Daily Planet. He always found my dating adventures to be so funny that he dared me to write a book. So I did, and the rest is history, right?
But it was also my passion to write a book that really spoke the language of someone who was single. When you’re a single person with a desire for a relationship, whenever that may be, there’s plenty of trite advice passed along your way. You’re sometimes forgotten in the shuffle. And when you’re a Christian navigating the tricky waters of relationships, there’s all kinds of anomalies that are unique to you, so I hoped the book would be funny, relatable and ultimately, encouraging to anyone reading, whether you’re there in the past, present or future.
Okay, we gotta ask . . . how many of your character Sydney Alexander’s dating experiences mirror your own?
One of the best pieces of writing advice I was ever given is to “write what you know.” So, in doing that, some of my own train wrecks of dating couldn’t help but play into some of Sydney’s. It was inevitable.
Sydney also is a writer for a magazine. Did you find it at all challenging to write about something you know so well? How were you able to create enough distance in your mind to make Sydney’s experiences her own?
Well, a major difference is that Sydney writes for a travel magazine, and I wrote for a music magazine, so her day-to-day experiences in the book were far different (and probably more glamorous, being that it’s fiction and all) than mine. But it did take a concerted effort to try and figure out who Sydney was. I didn’t want her to be a carbon copy of myself. I wanted her to have her own struggles, her own feelings, her own work experiences. So I guess it was just a matter of asking myself how she would be in the magazine setting I know so well.
What was the hardest part about writing Around the World in 80 Dates?
Probably the hardest part of writing the book was the whole time factor. Writing novels is my full-time second job. So after writing music reviews, features and the like all day long for my clients, I had to find the inspiration and energy to keep writing the novel, whether I felt like it or not. That, of course, made for very, very long work days, but it’s also been very rewarding.
What is the number one thing you want readers to take away from this book?
A prevalent theme in the book, one that I intended to run through all its different facets, was not to settle for anything less than what God has for you, whether it’s in your relationships, your career goals, whatever. So many people grow impatient with waiting. I don’t even like waiting five minutes for a Lean Cuisine to heat up in the microwave, so I can relate. But that journey, whether it’s to Mr. or Ms. Right, the career you’ve always dreamed about, etc., will help shape your life and force you to trust in God, rather than your own strength, which is always a great reminder.
Now that you’re happily married, what advice would you give to Christian singles trying to navigate the dating waters while still honoring God in their relationships?
Oh there’s so much I could say here! One thing I guess I couldn’t stress enough is that dating is a valuable learning experience. And like anything, the more you flex the muscle, the stronger and better you get at it. I learned a great deal from having bad dates. Was they fun to go through again and again? Absolutely not. But it made me figure out what was important to me in the grand scheme and what wasn’t in relationships. It’s also important to guard your heart in relationships. Don’t rush things just for the sake of getting to that next level. Get to know someone before giving your heart away, it’ll save you a lot of pain in the long run. But at the same time, love is a good risk to take if it’s the right person and the right time.
What was your most embarrassing dating experience? (Yeah, we know. Kind of a hot button question!)
There are far too many to mention. But off the top of my head, I’d have to say my most embarrassing dating experiences were blind dates. Since I didn’t know the guy beforehand, the conversations tended to be a little awkward. Nothing embarrassing in the oh-no-I-just-spilled-marinara-sauce-all-over-myself way or the I’ve-tripped-and-split-my-pants-open f way, but those definitely weren’t the most comfortable dating experiences.
As someone who’s been involved in the music industry for many years, we’d love to hear about the most memorable interview you ever conducted with a band or artist. What sticks out in your mind that makes it special?
Hands down, my most memorable experience was when CCM sent me to London to interview Delirious for a cover story. Not only was the Q&A with the band so fun at their offices in the countryside of Arundel, but it was a week before Christmas and my first trip to London, so the whole experience was just magical.
What are some of your favorite albums to listen to while you write?
I tend to prefer mellower music when I write—Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble provides the right kind of ambience. I also enjoy Ryan Adams, Nick Drake, Sondre Lerche, Feist and Josh Rouse as background music, too.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A children’s book. I’m working on that idea already.
Do you ever find it challenging to balance your freelance career with your novel writing? If so, what specific things do you do to get it all done?
I think the important thing to know if you want to be a freelance writer and a novelist is that you’re going to have to be willing to devote a lot of your time to it—even weekends. My husband is in seminary right now, so we’re always taking our laptops to a library or Starbucks and working on something. People probably think we’re a bit goofy with our matching MacBooks and all, but that’s how we roll.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Starbucks is a great place for me—caramel macchiatos and writing are a good combo. But sometimes I do better in the quietness of my home office. It’s easy to get distracted, accidentally hearing other people’s conversations when you’re out and about, but some days you need that energy, so it all depends on the day.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
That success in freelancing has a lot to do with your skills, but also your connections. Freelancing full-time is a relationship business, and fostering (and maintaining) those connections is crucial to your success.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?
I guess the lowest point was the year and a half it took me to break into it. I was working three measly jobs and still barely making my rent. But it was also a very teachable, trust-in-God-and-not-myself type experience, too. I just keep praying and interning and honing my skills until CCM came calling.
Tell us about your next book, the sequel to Around the World in 80 Dates. When can we expect to see it, and what sort of trouble does Sydney get into this time? :)
I just finished my first draft of my second novel titled, Blessed Are the Meddlers. It’s slated to release in June 2008 and is sooo much fun. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Sydney has an Emma complex and leave it like that.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
Since I’m the quintessential girly girl, people might be surprised to know that I wanted to be a sportswriter before I went into writing about music. When I was in junior high and high school, I so wanted to be the one scoring the interview with Brett Favre after the big game.
A second little known fact? I wanted to marry Michael Jackson in his Thriller era. I thought he’d be the perfect husband. So glad that didn’t work out.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Hanging with my hubby. We’re huge (and competitive) Scrabble buffs, so it’s fun to play and have a cup o’ joe wherever we happen to be. I also love hanging with friends, watching movies, reading, traveling and cooking. I’ve got to be one of the biggest Food Network geeks. If I had more time, I could watch all day.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
A couple of slices of turkey bacon, an English muffin with a little crunchy peanut butter and coffee.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Dasani water, Diet Coke with Lime and vanilla soy milk.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A grande, non-fat caramel machhiato. Yummy!
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
I’m definitely looking forward to being a Mom whenever the Lord has that for Will and I. Aside from that, there are plenty of unchecked travel destinations like Italy, Spain and The Greek Islands.
When was the last time you cried?
During a screening of the movie August Rush—what a great, moving film!
Three words that best describe you:
Compassionate, creative, chatty
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
I have an iPod Nano with close to 1,000 songs on it that includes everyone from ABBA to Bebo Norman to Frank Sinatra. I also have a serious soft spot for Euro artists, so the majority of the songs on there are from U2, Coldplay, Keane, Jamie Cullum, Travis, Oasis and The Beatles. But lately, I’ve been digging the new Ryan Adams album, Easy Tiger, Radiohead’s In Rainbows.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Thank you so much for reading this, and if you ever want to know anything else, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because I’m probably already sitting at my computer.
C.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.