C.J. Darlington File:
C.J. Darlington Interview
"After writing Thicker than Blood I thought I knew how to write a book! But then when it came time to write another one, I realized each project is completely different and will require a different approach." -- C.J. Darlington
C.J. Darlington's first novel, Thicker Than Blood, was the winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest. She is the co-founder of TitleTrakk.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania. When she's not writing, she's reading. Her hobbies include book and art collecting, fly fishing, painting and drawing. Visit her Web site at www.cjdarlington.com.
We asked some of our faithful reviewers as well as several published authors to pose a question to C.J. They came up with some great ones! Read on...
Deena Peterson: What sorts of things or places get you in the mood to write? Do you have a special spot in your home or community? Special writing instruments?
If I get out and do
things completely unrelated to writing I’m often
inspired to write when I get back. Traveling is like that for me. I will
see things while driving down the highway that spark ideas. Sometimes it’s
just a flash, like seeing a cop on the corner stop a car, or watching a
woman sitting on the sidewalk with a sad look on her face.
I don’t have any special place where I write—most of my writing is done on a laptop wherever I can find space. Sometimes at a foldable desk in my bedroom. Right now I’m at the dining room table with headphones and music blaring. Sometimes if I get stuck I’ll pull out my notebook and write notes in longhand.
Vickie McDonough: Where did you get your idea for the story [of Thicker than Blood]?
The germ of an idea came from games my sister, me, and a friend of ours would play as children. We created imaginary characters and made up stories for them which we acted out. One of the characters was named Christy and would often go visit her sister May. I thought it would be neat to write their story. I also loved the concept of one of the sisters being a believer, the other still searching.
Eric Wilson: A number of your characters wrestle with deep issues. Was there a moment while writing when you experienced a catharsis of your own?
Even though I write about deep issues in Thicker than Blood (alcoholism, abuse, abortion, etc.), I have not personally experienced them. I’m thankful for this. However, both of my parents grew up as children of alcoholics, so I was able to ask them questions about that aspect of the story. I’ve always been moved by hearing stories of hurting people discovering the Lord. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to writing about these types of characters.
Eva Marie Everson: How does it make you feel to know that your words are impacting people through the art of fiction?
It’s incredibly humbling, Eva. I’ve dreamed about having my books published ever since I was a teenager, but I was just thinking about this the other day in amazement. People are actually reading the words I labored many a night over at my laptop. Someone recently wrote me and said they were giving my novel to their fourteen-year-old daughter to read, and picturing a young girl reading my story is a dream come true. It doesn’t feel all that long ago that I was that girl reading novels under my covers with a flashlight.
Marti Pieper: What advice do you wish someone had given you as a not-yet-published novelist?
I didn’t hear a lot of advice about the spiritual aspects of being a Christian writer, and I wish I had. I would encourage all unpublished novelists to cultivate their relationship with the Lord now, before you get published, so you have a firm foundation when you are faced with the additional duties of being published.
Sheryl Root: I'd love to know what a typical day for C.J. is like. Mainly, because I have no idea how you accomplish everything you do ... everything you do for TitleTrakk, writing, etc. How does C.J. do it all? :)
I have no idea sometimes too! There really is no typical day for me. Every one is different. I’ve been blessed to work for myself my whole life, and being self-employed allows me to have a fluid schedule. By day I’m a used book dealer, but when/if the book business slows, I’m able to focus on TitleTrakk.com or my novel writing, or both.
Time management is actually a big struggle for me. It’s so easy to get caught up in things that seem like writing—from social networking, reading industry blogs, etc. But I’m learning nothing can replace actually sitting down in the chair and writing. Ideally, I work on my fiction from 7-9 at night and at least one full weekend day.
Brandilyn Collins: I’m so thrilled to see Thicker Than Blood coming out. I remember when you were brave enough to allow me to edit a suspenseful scene for days on my blog, Forensics and Faith. (Long before the manuscript landed at Tyndale.) Remember all the various techniques we went through? Is there one that stands out in your mind as particularly helpful?
That was a lot of fun, Brandilyn! (Read those posts here, btw). I learned a lot. Several of the techniques stand out. First, speaker attributes like “he said” or “she said”. In that particular scene I cut out several at your suggestion. The final published version reads much better without them. But what I learned the most about action scenes is that to truly create suspense and give readers the most bang for the buck, I must slow things down and take the time to show the character’s thoughts and motivations with interior monologue. I tend to underwrite, and that was the case for the Action Scene you critiqued. It seems contradictory to say you need to slow action scenes down when you write, but it’s so true. Almost every movement needs to be described. If you just write dialogue, the scene will read too fast. You covered this valuable revelation when you talked about motivation and characterization.
Ed: If you had to pick a different title for Thicker than Blood, what would it be?
This is probably one of the hardest questions I’ve been asked yet! I love the title Thicker than Blood. But if I had to pick maybe I’d go with Her Last Hope. Maybe?
Tracy Darlington: Who’s your favorite character?
If I had to pick just
one, I would pick veterinarian Beth Eckert. She’s the kind of friend
I’d love to have. Fun, adventurous, loyal. She’s a strong
Christian but isn’t afraid to laugh and joke either.
Bonnie S. Calhoun: I love to see interesting characters more than once because they start to feel like family. Do you plan re-occuring adventures for your main characters?
Christy Williams, the main character in Thicker than Blood, becomes a strong supporting character in my next book, which takes place a year and a half after the events of Thicker. It’s a sequel in the way Piercing the Darkness was a sequel to This Present Darkness—some of the main characters in the first become minor characters in the second. May Williams, Hunter Dawson, and Beth Eckert also make appearances.
Karri Compton: What does your writing space look like?
It’s a complete mess! I’d like to think my messiness is because I don’t have a dedicated desk for my writing, but I’m probably just fooling myself. If I had a desk, it would probably be cluttered with so many papers, books and notes I wouldn’t be able to find my laptop.
Karri Compton: What helps your creative juices flow when you're stuck?
Stepping away from the keyboard. If I’m really stuck pushing the writing aside for a couple hours, or even a day or two, often helps. My subconscious will still be working on the story. Lately I’ve been discovering how important it is to re-fill the creative well by going out and doing things unrelated to writing. For example, I’ve been volunteering at a local horse barn doing chores like feeding, turning out, grooming, etc. A lot of my research is done through books and the internet, but I’m realizing nothing can replace hands on research.
Karri Compton: What comes first, characters, plot, theme, setting?
It depends on the project. For Thicker than Blood it was the characters. Christy and May Williams, two estranged sisters, were there from the very beginning. I didn’t know why they were estranged, who any of the supporting cast would be, or even that Christy was an antiquarian bookstore clerk.
For my second novel I had a little bit of everything, but for years I’d been holding this idea in my head—what if a character suddenly found herself with nothing but the clothes on her back and nowhere to go? How did she get in that situation, and what is she going to do about it?
Lori Twichell: Was there anything new that you learned about writing from this? (Aka - was there something you thought you knew and when you really got into it, you realized you didn't have a clue?!)
After writing Thicker than Blood I thought I knew how to write a book! But then when it came time to write another one, I realized each project is completely different and will require a different approach. I might have the plot for one story right from the beginning, but in the next one I might have nothing but the characters.
Darcie Gudger: How do you know the intimacies of cow birth so well? :)
Well, part of Thicker than Blood takes place on a Colorado cattle ranch. I’ve been fascinated with ranching for many years, and I wanted the story to take place during a busy time of year for a rancher. Calving season seemed like a great pick. I researched calving through many nonfiction books. I’ve amassed a small library of books on cowboys and the American west. I remember getting so excited when I bought a book called Calving the Cow and Care of the Calf from a bookstore in England! It was actually a book for veterinarians and had detailed pictures, which were invaluable. An episode of Dirty Jobs was also particularly helpful.
Dale Lewis: How long was this novel in your mind before you put it on paper?
I started writing the story that would become Thicker than Blood when I was fifteen, but it took almost fifteen more years before it was ever published. All during that time the characters in the story were running around in my head.
Dale Lewis: Describe some of the emotions of a novel writer throughout the process.
The thing I’ve noticed about writers is that we’re often an emotional bunch. We often have really high highs and really low lows. Usually, at least. We feel deeply, and that can be great when it comes to creating complex characters and situations, but it can be a hindrance in that we’re our worst critics. We’re so hard on ourselves. It can be hard finding the balance between the left and right sides of our brains. I think non-writers probably think writers are crazy. Why else would be spend hours of a day talking to imaginary people? Finishing a book comes with its own set of emotions. It can feel like you’re saying goodbye to good friends (your characters).
Dale Lewis: What gives you the biggest joy as an author?
When I write a scene and it turns out exactly the way I pictured it in my head. That hasn’t happened often for me yet, but when it does it’s pure joy. Another recent joy is hearing from readers. Knowing someone took the time to read something I created, and actually wrote me means a lot.
Dale Lewis: How important is it to you as a writer to hear from readers?
It makes my day! It helps me to know my writing isn’t for naught. I don’t take it for granted.
Erynn Mangum: If you could describe your novel in three words, what would those words be?
I suppose “Thicker. Than. Blood.” doesn’t count? :) Okay, how about: Rejection. Reconciliation. Redemption.
Diana Prusik: Would you please share one life experience that has brought you closer to God?
It’s usually small things for me, Diana. One time when I was on a camping trip and having my devotions, I was at a really low point spiritually. I didn’t feel close to God at all. I think I asked the Lord to speak to me through what I was reading that day, and I just opened up to a Psalm, and it spoke exactly to what I was feeling. That brought me to tears. Just realizing that God loves me, as unworthy as I often feel, means so much. Yesterday I saw the most beautiful sunrise . . . the sun was still below the horizon, and snow covered the trees, ground, fences, creating a winter wonderland. A mist hung in the air and pink tinged the sky. The cold stillness was breathtaking. Moments like those remind me of how amazing God is.
Alisa Hofer: How has being homeschooled affected your writing? And do you have any tips for parents of aspiring writers?
I truly believe I wouldn’t be here answering this question today if it weren’t for my being homeschooled. The gift my parents gave me and my sister Tracy in homeschooling us through all our schooling years was tremendous. Homeschooling taught me how to teach myself. Mom recognized my interest in writing, and I was given freedom to be creative. She tailored our curriculum to focus on our interests, which I think is imperative.
I’d encourage parents of aspiring writers to remember your words are powerful. Positive reinforcement is so important. My parents never once discouraged me from pursuing writing, and they helped me find the tools I needed. Mom would give me deadlines to help me complete projects. I needed a lot of prodding to stick to my dreams, and that’s where you as a parent can shine. You can be your kid’s cheerleader. If your son or daughter aspires to be a writer, encourage them to read and write endlessly. Sometimes they’ll have days when it looks like they’ve given up on their dream, but don’t let them. Often just one kind word about a piece they’ve written will be enough to spur them on. And teach them how to type!
Christina Berry: How much of yourself do you put into your characters?
There’s a little of me in almost all my characters. Christy Williams shares my love of reading and books, May Williams my love of the outdoors and animals. I’ll take little bits and pieces from my own life and sprinkle them into a character. Sometimes it’s as small as a quirk, other times as large as a name. Harvey Kurtz is a fictional character, but he shares the name of my great-grandfather.
Christina Berry: Which of your characters would be the most likely to bungee-jump?
Hands down, veterinarian Beth Eckert. She’s such an adventurous soul. And if I know her, she’d probably manage to talk May into doing it with her.
Peg Brantley: What’s next?
Okay, Peg. Just because you asked, I’m going to give you the first sneak peek I’ve given anyone of the summary I’ve written for my second novel, tentatively titled Innocent Blood. This book is a sequel to Thicker than Blood, yet stands alone too. Here you go:
Roxi Gold has prayed for a family all her life. She’ll do anything to fit in—even if it’s against the law. Soon she’s traveling the country in an RV stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. She knows it’s wrong, but after shuttling from one foster home to another, what choice does she have?
Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst society can offer, and not just at work. Her high powered attorney ex-husband has wrested her daughter away from her in a bitter custody battle. The job she once loved has become a chore, and it’s starting to show. She’s making mistakes even a rookie wouldn’t, but what’s the point? The world isn’t any safer, and she’s certainly not any happier.
One fateful night a man’s innocent blood changes both Roxi’s and Abby’s lives forever. One finds herself on the run; the other searches for justice. Could God have a plan for them both?
Watch the Thicker than Blood trailer: