Monday, January 25, 2010

Congratulations, Magdalena!

Good morning, everyone. I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the review copy of Thicker than Blood is Magdalena! Congratulations!
My thanks to all of you for stopping by the blog to "meet" C.J. Darlington-- your enthusiastic comments are truly a blessing for a new author. I encourage you to get a copy of her wonderful new book; it's a great read.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interview & Book Giveaway : C.J. Darlington

" . . . But just because we cast the line, doesn’t mean the fish will bite . . . Does that mean we should give up and never fish again? No, it just means we need to keep on casting. Maybe today isn’t our day. But tomorrow might be."
-- debut author C.J. Darlington

C. J. Darlington began writing the story that would become Thicker than Blood (her first novel) when she was a fifteen-year-old homeschool student. She received so many rejections over the next dozen years that she "almost gave up . . . almost put it away in a drawer." Then in 2008, Thicker than Blood won the Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel--which offered a publishing contract with Tyndale House. This book has released to rave reviews.

From the back cover:

"Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?"

Yes, this book is as wonderful as it sounds. I was grateful to receive a review copy of Thicker than Blood from Tyndale House, was hooked from the first paragraph--and read it straight through, non-stop. Action, suspense, emotion, enduring hope: this book has it all! I encourage you to pick up a copy, and to get the ball rolling I'm delighted to offer this interview with C.j. and a chance at . . .

A BOOK GIVEAWAY: I'm offering my ( oh-so gently treated) copy of Thicker than Blood. Leave a comment about this post and I'll include your name in a drawing. The book winner will be announced here on Monday January 25th. To discourage spam please leave any included e-mail address in "code." Example: candace (at) candacecalvert (dot) com.

And now, I'm pleased to share my interview with author C.J. Darlington:

Candace: Your non-writing passions are fascinating, C.J.
For instance, fly fishing. It recalls the novel and Academy Award winning movie “A River Runs Through It”—with a theme that compares fly fishing with life. May I challenge you, then, to find some similarities between fly fishing and writing?

C.J.: What a great question to start things off. Fly fishing is like the process of a writer searching for a publisher. Our flies are our manuscripts. Each cast is us sending out a query letter or proposal. The fish are the editors searching for a project to buy. It’s important to research what the fish like and when they like it.

But just because we cast the line, doesn’t mean the fish will bite. Maybe they’re not hungry. What if the trout aren’t interested in mosquitoes today? Our fly might be tied perfectly, but the fish just aren’t hungry for it right now.

Then sometimes a fish will bite, but right when we think we have them, they spit out the hook. Does that mean we should give up and never fish again? No, it just means we need to keep on casting. Maybe today isn’t our day. But tomorrow might be.

In Thicker than Blood, you have several very strong secondary characters, among them veterinarian Beth, ranch hand Jim, Ruth, and Aunt Edna. They are so wonderfully written that I found myself wanting to “see” through their eyes. Have you considered (or attempted) writing scenes via a secondary character’s points of view?

I actually wrote a scene in Aunt Edna’s perspective that was cut during the editing process. It was the only scene in her point of view, so we felt it wasn’t necessary. It would’ve been fun to write scenes through the eyes of some of the secondary characters, but I felt it was important to limit the point of view to as few characters possible.

Your troubled heroine Christy’s experience with men has for the most part brought her hurt and heartache; May, on the other hand, feels content in her life without a love relationship. As a reader, I can’t help but hope for more for each young woman. Can you tell us if romance will play a part in the sequel to Thicker than Blood?

Well, Christy’s the type of woman who would definitely be happiest finding true romance, so I could see her settling down someday. I’m just not sure I’ll be writing about it! Ha ha. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not a very good romance writer. Love does play a big part in my stories, but it’s usually familial love. But let me just say that within the first few chapters of the sequel you’ll find out the answer to your question, at least as far as Christy is concerned. It was hinted at in Thicker than Blood.

Which of these elements of scene writing do you enjoy most? Least? Why? -- Physical action, intense dialogue, humor, imagery, flashback, painful “dark moments,” romantic interludes.

Physical action and intense dialogue are the hardest for me to write. Perhaps because with action scenes you really have to slow things way down to make them work. Dialogue is so important too---selecting the exact right words, the tags, beats, and you have to get the rhythm perfect.

I’d say imagery and painful dark moments come easiest. I’m really quite mean to my characters sometimes! I try to avoid flashbacks whenever possible, but they have their place and can be fun to write. Romantic interludes are definitely not my strong point, as you’ve already picked up by the lack of them in Thicker than Blood. If I try too hard to write humor it ends up coming off stilted, so it’s usually just something that happens to come naturally out of the writing.

You are a painter and art enthusiast as well as writer. Just for fun, let’s imagine you are painting a portrait of three characters in Thicker than Blood. You’re limited to a single color/media type for each. Describe how you would artistically depict May Williams, Christy, Vince Dubois?

May would be a pencil drawing. She’d be dressed in work clothes---her jeans, chaps, cowboy hat, gloves . . . probably riding a horse.

Christy would be an oil painting using lots of shadows and black. It would probably picture her looking off into the distance, a sad and lost expression on her face.

Vince would be a caricature, like those in political cartoons, drawn with red markers.

In comparison to your long years of studying writing craft and submitting your manuscript to editors, the leap from Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest winner to debut novelist must have seemed breathtakingly fast. Was there any part of the publication process—editing, marketing and publicity, actual production--that took you by surprise?

I was just thinking about how fast it all went. From finding out my book won the contest to holding the final book in my hand was less than a year. What surprised me most was how smoothly everything went. I had allowed myself to worry about the process all during my trying to get published, and I shouldn’t have. Tyndale House, as you know, is wonderful.

The antiquarian book business is a fascinating part of the Thicker than Blood plot, one which you write from personal experience. Your love of books—heft, texture, scent—is beautifully apparent. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Thicker than Blood is also available in electric format. Do you own (or can you see yourself owning) a Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader?

I do not own an e-reader. There is absolutely nothing like holding a real book in your hands. I hope they never go away. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t own an e-reader in the future. It would come in awfully handing when traveling. Books don’t pack very well.

Will you describe your writing space for us, please?

As I write this I am in my bedroom typing at my laptop on a foldable table that slips beside my dresser at night. I also write at the dining room table. Wherever I can, really. Someday I would love to have my own little office space, but I’m thankful for what I have.

How did it feel to hold a copy of Thicker than Blood in your hands for the very first time?

Surreal. I could hardly believe it was happening. It still hits me sometimes that people are actually reading something I wrote!

The cover for your novel is exquisite. How much input did you have on the design?

Tyndale surprised me with the cover on stage when Jerry Jenkins announced Thicker than Blood as the winner of the Operation First Novel contest. It was everything I could’ve hoped for. I love how they perfectly captured the story.

Obviously you’d like your book to reach as many readers as possible, but if its message could resonate with (and positively effect the life of) a single reader, would you describe what sort of person you’d want that to be?

I would love to hear about someone giving a copy of the book to an inmate. I picture a person who’s hit rock bottom, kinda like my main character Christy. They’ve heard about God, but He’s never been real to them. Maybe they think they’ve fallen too far to be redeemed. I would love for this one to read the book and really understand how much God loves them. That no one’s ever too far gone.

Imagine that Thicker than Blood has been optioned for film. Who would play Christy? May? Vince? Hunter?

Sometimes I think Tracey Gold would play Christy well. But since this question has mostly stumped me, I asked my dad who he thought would play them (he watches more movies than I do). He thought Sandra Bullock might play a good Christy, Hunter could be a younger Harrison Ford, and he picked Meg Ryan for May. Neither of us know who would play Vince!

You’ve been hunched over the keyboard typing for hours, your daily goal has been met and you’re ready for an indulgent snack—what is it?

Chili and Lime tortilla chips. With a cappuccino!

Back to fishing: Catch and release, or batter and fry? You’re a fiction writer; ever told a whopper fishing tale?

Catch and release. I tell myself I’d like to catch and cook my own fish someday, but when it actually came down to, uh, ending the poor creature’s life, I always chicken out. And no, sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t told any whoppers lately.

Three words that best describe you would be . . . ?

Analytical, cautious, sensitive.

My twin sister Tracy answered: Spontaneous (sometimes), Hermit, Novelist

And now, before we end: Will you please share a favorite Scripture?

Romans 5:6-8: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Wonderful, C.J. Thank you. And now I'd like to offer one more treat for my readers: A dramatic trailer for the award-winning Thicker than Blood:

Additional information about author C.J. Darlington may be found in these links:

Remember to leave a comment below, and your name will be included in the January 25th drawing for a copy of Thicker than Blood.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Color Snuggie? and other Big Questions

Most of my thoughts and efforts this past week have involved questions--asking them, not answering them. For example, I've been pondering a good icebreaker question to ask the ladies in the Bible study that I'm co-leading next month. You know, that inevitable "Can you tell us something about yourself?" opener in a new group that helps folks get to know each other--but doesn't make shy people break out in hives and run for the Ladies Room. Our previous leader was so good at finding just the right question to ask; always discerning, with a touch of whimsy. Like:

"What's your favorite ice cream flavor?" Or "What's your choice--salty or sweet?" And the ever-popular, "Can you share something that people might be surprised to learn about you?"

I remember my answers: "Pumpkin." "Salty." "I'm an author."

It's my turn to come up with a new icebreaker question. And (because I'm a salty, pumpkin-loving writer) I may just set a little scene before tossing out my question. Something like:

"You've got the evening to yourself--just you, the TV, and big bowl of popcorn. You're going to treat yourself to a movie on DVD. So . . . you curl up on the couch, pick up the remote, and . . .

1) What kind of movie are watching? Comedy? Action thriller? Romance? Sci Fi? Classic oldie?
2) What color is your Snuggie?"

The other questions running through my mind this week have to do with finishing up my third Mercy Hospital book, CODE TRIAGE, scheduled for release in September. I've completed the edits and all that remains is to come up with a dozen or so Book Discussion Questions. These are the questions that appear at the back of a book, a sort of bonus that invites the reader to dig a bit deeper in experiencing the story. I've done these questions for both Critical Care and for Disaster Status. And, because I'd never been asked to do them before, I first read examples from other authors' work. I noticed that the questions not only addressed the story's events and characterizations, but invited the readers to reflect upon their own experiences. I gave it my best shot, and came up with this question for Critical Care:

ER nurse Erin Quinn finds it difficult to trust. She forces herself to try, despite “red flags” warning her about the sincerity of her boyfriend Brad. Have you had that experience in your life? What are signs you might be heading down a wrong path--anxiety, a “sinking” stomach, or sleeplessness? How easily do you trust? How readily do you turn to God to provide the answers to these nagging doubts?

Book Discussion questions are provided for both group discussion (book clubs) and for individual reading. Not all novels include them. While I've not been involved in many book clubs, I do find that I enjoy reading questions included at the back of a book, especially if the author wrote them personally. For me, it's a way of gaining insight into what the author thinks is important in the book--and if I "got" that from my read. Sometimes I feel that way when I've watched a movie that I found thought-provoking, or which has an ending left open to speculation. I'll sometimes Google reviews and see if other viewers were thinking along the same lines as I.

So . . . I'm writing questions for Code Triage. And wonder, how do you feel about having discussion questions at the end of a novel? Do you find them helpful? Have you included them in book club study? Do you skip right past them?

I'm curious about your thoughts.

Oh, and before I go back to work on those discussion questions--there's one last little matter I need your help with:

You've curled up on the couch, have your popcorn and the remote . . .

What color is your Snuggie and what kind of movie are you watching?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010: Rookies Needed

This post has nothing to do with the movie depicted above. It has everything to do with a brief conversation I had with the interim Rector of our church this morning. A man whose combination of ready (and sometimes "smart-alecky" he admits) wit and right-on-target sermons quickly endeared him to our congregation. And has stirred more than a fair bit of much-needed introspection. That was indeed my take-away this morning after this exchange:

Me (catching him moments before the service began): "Good morning, Father--may I ask you an 'official' question?"
He (Immediate smile) : "Absolutely."

Me: "I need to get your permission to start another session of the women's Bible study." (Big breath, swallow)"I've agreed to co-lead the 11 week Beth Moore study. . . though I've never done it before." (Sigh, small shrug--confession in my voice). "I'm . . . a total rookie."

He: "I think its wonderful, and . . . " (smile widening, wisdom in his eyes): "Don't worry. All you need is faith. And hope. Jesus was a 'rookie' too."

Whoa. Wow. Jesus was a rookie.

His simple statement played over and over in mind through the service, and stirs me still. Because it speaks volumes about things that have happened this past year--for me and so many others. Good things, tough things--2009 held both for most people. Changes, challenges. And sometimes we're suddenly on shaky ground. We feel unprepared for what's required of us. We feel (no matter what our age) . . . like a rookie. I've seen it with friends and family, who have:

1) Lost a job, and must start a search for something completely new.
2) Been unable, for the first time, to meet financial responsibilities--including a mortgage.
3) Stepped up to the plate for a spouse or family member coping with devastating illness, loss.
4) Unexpectedly become single, through a relationship breakup, divorce, or death.

And, in this roller coaster year that marked the end of a decade, I've also seen blessings like: a dear friend widowed 10 yrs. now a new bride; the re-marriage of a friend who suffered heartache and betrayal; the birth of my son's first child; a heartwarming reconciliation between a beloved estranged couple--and fellow writers whose dreams have taken heart-stopping leaps toward a goal of publication.

As well as my own journey that saw the release of Critical Care, my first Christian fiction novel, and a writing frenzy (!) resulting in two additional books in the series.

In every instance, from heartache to joy, we've all been "rookies." Thrust into circumstances that are unfamiliar, that challenge us. And therein lies the beauty. New year, new decade, new hope. It's there, waiting for us to accept the challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown down by Someone who sacrificed far more than is asked of us. Who offers us grace beyond what we deserve.

I'll be co-leading a Beth Moore Bible study beginning February 8th. And I plan to say--right up front--that I'm a rookie. But that my heart, hope--my faith--have led me there. And that as rookies go (according to my very wise pastor) I'm in Exceptional Company.

This new decade needs rookies ready for a challenge and filled with hope.

So, how about you? What challenges await you in the New Year? What makes you a brave, new rookie?