by C.J. Darlington
Jennifer Erin Valent Interview
love to laugh, and I really think we need more fun fiction that doesn’t make you blush."
-- Jennifer Erin Valent
Jennifer Erin Valent is the 2007 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes. In fact, the childhood memory of a dilapidated Ku Klux Klan billboard inspired her portrayal of Depression-era racial prejudice in Fireflies in December.
She has spent the past fifteen years working as a nanny and has dabbled in freelance, writing articles for various Christian women’s magazines. She still resides in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
C.J.: Before you were a writer, you were a nanny (and maybe still are? :)) Share with us how you became involved in nannying and made it your profession for fifteen years.
I’m actually still working part time as a nanny for two terrific kids. Nannying came naturally but unexpectedly to me. All of my spare change as a teenager had come from babysitting so I already knew I loved working with kids, but I didn’t really know there was a market for nannies in our area. My first nanny job was recommended to me by my sister, and I fell in love with the job.
What has been your most memorable experience as a nanny thus far?
The most memorable is also the most frightening – one of the kids choking. All I remember is the look on his face and the sound of him trying unsuccessfully to swallow. I managed to swipe his airway clear, but I didn’t stop shaking all day. I hope I never go through that again!
Supernanny, Nanny 911 . . . do you ever watch these shows to get ideas?
After 15 years, I’ve got my own ideas! My fourteen-year-old nephew says if the Supernanny ever retires, I should take over. But, I always say there’s no way I’d want that job. I’ll take the nice, obedient kids, thanks.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
There was a children’s story I started about seven years ago, but I put it away unfinished like all the other writing ideas I’d started. Until then, writing had always been an occasional hobby, something I’d decide to do every now and again for fun. But after a year, I found that children’s story and decided to finish it. Once I finished my first book, I was hooked.
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 to say, I wasn’t a huge reader outside of Archie comics and Nancy Drew books. I really avoided the classics. We had some nice ones that I liked to flip through, but I couldn’t bring myself to read them. I did read Little Women, though, and enjoyed it. I was into the melodramatic then, and I got a good cry out of that one.
Let’s talk Fireflies in December. I hear it was seeing an old KKK billboard that inspired you. We’d love to know the story of how the novel developed.
The story really developed through the characters. I sat down with the intention of writing a southern drama and once I came up with Jessilyn and Gemma, things just started to fall into place. It was when I started heading down the road of racial prejudice that I thought about that billboard and how it made me feel. That sign meant that a high level of prejudice existed outside of the history books, and it was a frightening realization for me. That’s what Jessilyn feels in Fireflies In December. She’s realizing for the first time how hateful people can be, and it’s something she’s extremely reluctant to accept. I drew from my experience to write from her perspective.
What was the hardest part about writing Fireflies in December?
Fact checking. Writing historical fiction made me realize how different things can be all these decades later. I had to check things like whether or not they would have screens in their windows and whether or not they might be able to have electricity. Even with all the internet resources, it’s incredibly difficult to hunt down some of these minor details. But it’s so worth it to write a believable story.
You actually entered an earlier version of this book in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest in 2006, and it placed in the semi-finals. What did you change about the novel before you entered in 2007 and won?
I primarily focused on format, technical stuff. After I lost Operation First Novel in 2006, I entered another contest where the judges gave critiques, and one judge in particular had some great points about the flow of the story. I worked some on that. And all three judges pointed out my overuse of exclamation points. So, obviously I had to go back through and work on some of my punctuation!!!
Even though Fireflies is your first novel to be published, it’s actually the fourth you’ve written. Have you found your niche in historical stories or do you think you’ll ever return to those romantic comedies you wrote before?
I adore writing romantic comedy. It was my first love, and I most definitely want to see the existing books published. I want to write more of them, as well. I love to laugh, and I really think we need more fun fiction that doesn’t make you blush.
What was it that kept you going during those years of waiting and writing those three unpublished books?
Primarily knowing that the Lord willed it. He led me into it, and I knew I couldn’t just quit. Also, the Lord sent people into my life to encourage me, particularly an editor who couldn’t get my manuscripts through at his publishing house but still offered me tips and resources.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I’ve been toying with an idea set during World War II for years, and hopefully I’ll get to do that someday. But I really want to travel overseas before I do that, to get a good feel for the setting.
Is it ever a struggle to balance your day job and writing? How do you manage?
It can tend to be a difficult balance, but the Lord has always provided the time. Sometimes I sit down for bits and pieces at the kids’ naptimes or at other free moments. Other times, I sit down for hours on a Saturday. It’s primarily when the inspiration hits. The most difficult parts to fit in had to do with industry research and writing proposals, etc.
What has surprised you the most about the Christian publishing industry?
The amount of exposure Christian fiction can garner in crossover markets. There has been great acceptance of Fireflies In December by secular press and booksellers, and I’m very excited to see a widespread appreciation for faith-based fiction.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
How the publishing industry works. The nuts and bolts, so to speak. I’m still learning, but I was so completely clueless at the beginning as to what goes on in a publishing house that I felt in way over my head.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1) I’m a huge ice hockey fan. I watch every Pittsburgh Penguins game, and if I can’t watch it live, I DVR it for later.
2) I’ve laughed my way through Napoleon Dynamite at least a half dozen times.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I like to shop, watch movies, and spend time with my family and friends. I also love figure skating, but I have a hard time fitting it into my schedule.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Yogurt, pudding cups, and cranberry juice
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A tall Café Mocha with two shots of vanilla
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Publishing my comedies. I really want to see them on the shelf.
When was the last time you cried?
I guess that would be January 30th, in the car, listening to a particularly touching song on the radio.
Three words that best describe you:
Oh, this is hard. I suppose I’d say imaginative, loyal, and humorous. But then not everyone finds me humorous! (There I go with the exclamation points again.)
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Francesca Battistelli’s My Paper Heart
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Writing can be difficult,
and trying to get published can be excruciating, but if it’s what you feel the Lord is leading you to, it’s
all worth it. Just trust Him to lead you every step of the way.
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.