Interview with Award-Winning Author CJ Darlington

Get to know C.J….

C.J. Darlington’s first novel, Thicker Than Blood, was the winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. Her second novel Bound by Guilt has just released from Tyndale House. She is the co-founder of the Christian entertainment website. She makes her home in Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, she’s reading. Her hobbies include book and art collecting, horseback riding, painting and drawing. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

It was a natural extension of my love for reading. Ever since I can remember, one of my favorite pastimes was visiting the library. I would come home with bags and bags of books. I remember sitting down at my dad’s old word processor and typing stories with names like, “The Horse Story” and “The Hot Dog”. I guess it was my way of doing something with an overactive imagination! Later when I was a teenager I was drawn to stories that described hurting people on their journey toward God. I’d always enjoyed reading storylines like that and wanted to tell some of my own.

Who is your favorite author?

I’ll always love Frank Peretti. His Darkness novels were part of what inspired me to write. More recent favorites include James Scott Bell, Sibella Giorello and James David Jordan.

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas come from all over the place! For example, the impetus for Bound by Guilt came from a newspaper article and a random thought I had while out walking in my back yard. Sometimes I’ll get an idea from seeing a person walking down the street and asking, “What if . . .” I got an idea for a short story years ago from watching an episode of the old TV show Rescue 911.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

Right now I’m busy working on my third novel, but I can’t spill the beans quite yet on its plot. I will say that if you enjoyed Thicker than Blood and Bound by Guilt, I think you’ll enjoy this one. But since it’s still in the early stages, I try not to tell too much too soon.

What advice would you give young writers?

Write the book of your heart. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks (including editors and publishers) during the early stages of your writing. You’ll have plenty of time for that later. Ask yourself, “What is the story I really want to tell?” Then write it. If you aren’t passionate about your book, it’ll show on the page.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My writing mentor James Scott Bell once told me that the best cure to the writing blues is the act of writing itself. If we write through our blue times, or our blocks, we won’t stay blue or blocked for long. But sometimes it just takes pressing on whether we feel like it or not.

More recently I received advice from my friend Sibella Giorello along the lines of what I shared above about writing the book that’s on our heart to write. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

When are you the most productive? (Morning, noon, or night?)

Most of my writing is done in the evenings. That works well for me.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

They are mostly fictional, but occasionally I will take a personality trait from someone I know (or even myself) and apply it to my characters. I haven’t yet taken someone straight from life and plopped them into a story, though.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Both of my novels have been equally challenging, and equally rewarding. They were written at different times in my life, so what I brought to the table as far as technique varied for each. Thicker than Blood was written over a period of almost fifteen years, whereas Bound by Guilt took a lot less time.

What is your dream vacation?

An RV trip to Colorado! Or maybe even Alaska. I fell in love with the American West and would visit it every year if I could. Another vacation I’d love to take is to a working cattle or horse ranch. Not a dude ranch, but a real life working ranch. I would want to be put to work and experience all the trials and joys of that way of life.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Ellen Hopkins

Get to know Ellen…

Ellen Hopkins was born in Long Beach, California on March 26, 1955. She was adopted by Albert and Valeria Wagner. She grew up in Palm Springs, where she went to private school. At age 9 she published her first poem, which is when she knew she wanted to be a writer. She had one brother, who was adopted separately and his name was Albert Jr.

She attended high school in Sata Ynez Valley in California. She then went on to attend to college at UCSB where she studied journalism. She left college to get married, have kids, and start her own business. That didn’t last very long though before she had met John Hopkins in 1984. She soon divorced her husband, got re-married and then pursued her dream of becoming a writer. She has 3 kids, Jason, Cristal, Kelly, and adopted a baby from her oldest daughter Orion who is now 11. He is the baby from the book crank. Her oldest daughter is also the girl in Crank.

Her novels are praised by teens and adults alike, and she has been called the “bestselling living poet in the U.S.” by mediabistro.com. She lives with her family in Carson City, Nevada. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Books. I loved reading from way back before kindergarten, when my mom read to me every day. Loved stories. Storytelling. Language. Poetry. Classic literature. Horse stories. Fantasy. Horror. Contemporary fiction. Stories. Writing my own stories grew as a natural progression from reading them.

Who is your favorite author?

Historically, I’m a big Stephen King fan. Also, Ken Kesey and John Irving. Which may seem widely disparate, but they’re all such character-driven authors. And for me, character is everything.

Where do you get your ideas?

My kitchen. My neighbors. Gossiping with friends. Airports. Bookstores. Newspapers. Watching people at church or at the dentist’s office. Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to know where to look.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I just turned in Triangles, an adult novel about three women (two friends and a sister), hit with midlife crises. In writing their stories, I built teen characters with stories of their own…. not purposely, just what happened. I just started a YA companion, Tilt (September 2012), which will explore the teens’ stories, as well as their views of their parents’ meltdowns.

What advice would you give young writers?

To learn patience. Those fabulous success stories starring teen authors are rare. Every day you live brings broader perspective, which allows deeper character building. Talent is only one part of the equation. The other two are luck and persistence. Keep growing, as people and as writers. There are no shortcuts to success, and if writing is your heart, it’s your words that count. Publication will come when the time is right.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

That any job worth starting is worth finishing, and giving it your all.

When are you the most productive? 

I am a morning person. Usually up before the sun is. I do my best writing as soon as the family is off to school/work. Afternoons, I do errands. Evenings are dedicated to family.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

Some are very real. The others all have threads of real people. Sometimes those threads are thin–facial expressions or tendencies toward something. But I think all authors pull from real life to build their fiction.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Each book had its challenges. With Crank (my first novel, loosely based on my daughter’s story of meth addiction), the story was there. Reliving it was difficult, and so was developing the formatting. It was also single POV, so easier in that way. With every book, I think, the writing gets better. More complicated plots and more layering to the characters. So each was a step forward toward where I am now.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

To revise toward mystery. Don’t give everything away early on. And don’t drown the heart of the story in unnecessary verbiage. In other words, take yourself out. Let your characters do the talking.

What is your dream vacation?

A month in a villa overlooking the ocean in Greece. With a very good looking butler to cook and clean (okay, and maybe give daily massages).

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Author Interview with Susan Berliner

Get to know Susan…

Susan Berliner has been a nonfiction writer for nearly her entire career. She had originally planned to be an elementary school teacher, but left after a year to become a newspaper reporter for Fairchild Publications. She covered men’s retailing for Daily New Record, a men’s wear/textile trade newspaper, which was the “brother” paper of Women’s Wear Daily.

After Susan’s children were born, she switched to freelance writing–mainly in education–publishing several book series dealing with editing skills, language arts, and standardized testing. She has also created teachers’ guides, student activity sheets, and test passages. During this time, Susan was the project editor for a national science magazine for elementary school students and edited subject-related manuscripts for children in grades 7 and 8. In addition, she freelanced as a local reporter, covering board meetings for the North County News, a weekly newspaper in Yorktown Heights, New York.

When she returned to work full-time, Susan became the promotion manager of the Yorktown PennySaver, a job she held for 20 years. She created many original weekly contests–Phony Ad, Rhyme Time, and PennySaver Prophet. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Where do you get your ideas?

I get ideas two ways: from real life and from my imagination. I’ve always been a nonfiction writer, but my career as a novelist began several years ago after I read a small newspaper article about a strange weather phenomenon called a “dust devil”—a miniature tornado that’s strong enough to toss dust and dirt into the air.

In the little news clip that inspired me, a dust devil lifted the roof off an auto body shop, collapsing most of the building and killing the owner. Since the story was so weird—and it happened in Maine—I was sure Stephen King would write a book about some kind of supernatural dust.

I put the article aside and forgot about it. When I found the story again years later, I realized Stephen King had never written a novel about weird dust. Suddenly, I had an idea, which turned out to be the basis for DUST.

I got the idea for my second (not yet published) supernatural thriller, Peachwood Lake, from another newspaper story, this one about a large fish that—for reasons unknown—jumps in a Florida river during the summer, sometimes injuring boaters. Of course, my fictional jumping fish is a lot stranger—and a lot meaner.

But not all of my ideas come from newspapers. The inspiration for my third paranormal thriller, The Disappearance, came directly from my brain. No outside source was involved. I’ve always loved reading time-travel stories, so I decided to write one. And the book I’m writing now (still untitled), is also from my imagination. It’s on another supernatural subject I’ve always loved: mind control.

What advice would you give young writers?

Writing a novel is such an individual undertaking that I don’t have any specific tips. There’s no right or wrong method; what works for me won’t work for someone else. However, I would suggest that an aspiring author treat writing a novel like a job—something you have to do. Get into a writing routine and force yourself to work for a certain amount of time every day.

Even if I don’t feel like working, I close the door to my room, concentrate, and write. Of course, I became a novelist after leaving my full-time job, which made it easier. But there’s always time to write, even if it’s just a half hour. You just have to decide to do it!

When are you the most productive?

I write best in the morning, even before breakfast. As I explained above, my routine is to lock myself in the computer room with no distractions and do my writing. My family knows not to bother me then. Each morning, I try to write a scene, about 200-500 words. It’s not much, but by writing almost every day, the words add up. I’m currently more than 33,000 words into my new novel. In the afternoons and evenings, I edit or review my work. I usually don’t write new material then.

Are your characters completely fictional or do you base them on real people?

Most of my characters, especially the main ones, come directly from my imagination. Some of my minor characters are combinations of friends, relatives, neighbors, or former co-workers. For example, in DUST, the teen Adam Ackermann, is based on several young tech guys I used to work with.

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Interview with Bestselling Author Beth Wiseman

Get to know Beth…

Beth is the best-selling author of the Daughters of the Promise series — Plain Perfect, Plain Pursuit, Plain Promise, and Plain Paradise. Her new series–Land of Canaan–recently debuted with Seek Me With All Your Heart which has been selected as the 2011 Women of Faith Novel of the Year. She is contracted with Thomas Nelson Publishing for ten Amish novels and five novellas – releasing into 2013. All of her books have held spots on both the CBA (Christian Book Association) bestseller list and the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) bestseller list.

As she puts it, her writing has been “all over the place.” As a former newspaper reporter, she was honored by her peers with eleven journalism awards, including first place news writing for The Texas Press Association. She has been a humor columnist for The 1960 Sun in Houston and published articles in various publications. Those articles included a wide array of topics – an article on premature birth, an article about performance boating, and an article about her mother–a whitewater canoeing enthusiast who still paddles the rivers at the age of 77. However, writing novels is where her heart is. For more info, visit her website.

What initially drew you to writing?

I honestly have no idea. I’ve been writing in some capacity for my entire life. I wrote my first story to my grandparents when I was about five or six-years-old. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, columnist, and a freelance writer. But writing novels is where my heart is, and the voices screaming in my house demanded to be heard. Somewhere along the line (many years ago and many rejections ago), I knew I had a story to tell. I wanted to publish just one book that might make a difference in someone’s life. From the moment that I started writing Plain Perfect, I knew God was holding my hand and that it would be the start of something. And He continues to bless me with stories to tell.

What was your favorite book to write?

I think that whatever book I’m working on at the time is my favorite. I feel fully vested in the story and the characters while I’m writing, but if I had to choose…I suppose it would be my first one, Plain Perfect. For most of my life, I’d had this feeling that there was something I was supposed to do. Writing these books was it, and I never had that feeling again.

Who is your favorite author?

Oh my…way too many to list!

Where do you get your ideas?

The voices just find me. Seriously. In my car, while I’m sleeping, out at restaurants…everywhere. And once a few characters show up in my head, they pound out the story until I listen and begin to write. That is happening to me right now since I’m about to start another book.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m super excited—if not a bit nervous—about the book I am working on now. It is tentatively titled Let Me Love You, and it will be my first non-Amish Women’s Fiction book. It’s a love story that calls to my heart. Not a romance, but a love story, and I can’t wait to see how readers respond to it.

What advice would you give young writers?

Having a great story is not enough. Study the craft. I think I wrote some really good stories in the early days, but I hadn’t devoted enough time to the craft of writing. I believe that anyone can get a book published if you don’t give up.

When are you the most productive? 

It used to be in the morning, and for some unknown reason, that changed. I seem to write best from noon until about five or six o’clock. Never at night. Disregard everything I just said at deadline time…lol.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

I never set out to base a character on a real person, but several times it’s happened by accident. I never realized that Grandpa Jonas in several of my books was a lot like my father until my sister pointed it out. And I think that all of my characters have a little bit of me in then, whether it’s things I’ve done that I regret, or characteristics that I strive for to make me a better person. Writing books can be like therapy – you just act out scenarios in a way that makes it a learning—and healing—process.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The easiest would be a tossup between book #1, Plain Perfect, and book #3, Plain Promise. Plain Perfect because it was such a calling for me, and Plain Promise because I think I finally hit my stride with that book and felt a level of writing comfort that I hadn’t before. The hardest? Most definitely Seek Me With All Your Heart. I tried to spread my wings a little too far while writing that one, and ultimately I had to rewrite 30,000 words of the book. It was also a new location for the setting that required lots of research. In the end, I think it’s my best book to date.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Can I offer some instead? I can’t pinpoint the best writing advice that I’ve received. There’s been a lot of good advice from my editor and fellow authors. But the one thing that I have come to realize on my own as a writer—and encourage new writers to adhere to—is to take care of yourself, nurture your relationships, and make time for those you love. Most of us are living our dream, and as such…it’s easy to get so caught up in everything that it becomes all-consuming. I keep a rock on my desk that says BALANCE. I try very hard to spend as much time as I can with my family and friends, make doctors’ appointments as necessary, go to the dentist, get rest, and vacation with my husband.

What is your dream vacation?

Oh…too many to list. We’re trying to go to Hawaii this summer. That will be the first of many, I hope.

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