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C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the winner of the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over a decade, scouting for stores similar to the one described in Thicker than Blood before cofounding her own online bookstore. She also cofounded the Christian entertainment Web site www.TitleTrakk.com. A homeschool graduate, she lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

Favorite Verse: 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."

 Our Interview with C.J. Darlington


 

How did you get started as a Christian fiction writer?

Before I was a writer, I was a reader. Going to the library as a kid was an adventure. I discovered so many amazing books by simply browsing the shelves. Books like the Childhood of Famous Americans series, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Doctor Doolittle series, and of course Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I’d come home with bags and bags full, loving to have so many at my fingertips.

My writing stemmed from this love of reading. I’d often write stories about my dogs or animals. I had an epic I began about a Labrador Retriever named Moby who set out to discover the type of dog he was meant to be. I never finished that story, but I had great plans for it.

Then I discovered Frank Peretti. I must’ve been twelve or thirteen when I first read his Darkness novels. I don’t remember an “aha” moment where I decided I was going to write Christian fiction, but I think those novels inspired me more than I realized. Around that same time I read and re-read Christy by Catherine Marshall.

When I was fifteen I began writing a story about two estranged sisters. I had no idea that fourteen years later it would become my first published novel, Thicker than Blood.

What inspired the concept for Thicker than Blood?

Early on I realized I wanted the story to be about redemption. I loved the concept of one sister (May) knowing the Lord and reaching out to her unbelieving sister (Christy). The whole idea came simply from the question, “What if May shared Jesus with Christy?”

Of course, the story is a lot more than that, but the core concept is the spiritual journey of my main character, Christy Williams. All the fun rare book and ranching details came later. In fact, when I first started writing the novel Christy was a real estate agent! But it didn’t take too long before I realized I knew nothing about real estate and was boring myself to tears trying to research it. That’s when my mom suggested I incorporate another of my interests, rare books, into the story.

Is any part of Thicker than Blood factual?

All of the rare books in the story are real. My fictional bookstore, Dawson’s Book Barn, is based on the real-life Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It’s an amazing store housed in a four-story dairy barn. I have literally gotten lost in that place. Before I was an author, I was a book scout, and Baldwin’s was the first bookstore my sister and I scouted for. The manager was very kind to us, and it was he who taught me the points of the rare book featured in Thicker than Blood---a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. All the peculiar points of that first, and the others mentioned in the story, are real.

How long did Thicker than Blood take you to complete?

From idea to publication, fourteen years. But keep in mind, I started the book when I was fifteen. Over the years I learned and grew as a writer, so the story was re-written numerous times. The finished product looks nothing like those early writings (save for the concept). Most of the story was written from the time I was eighteen to twenty-four. But even then the revisions never stopped. I was still writing new material during my edits with Tyndale.

How did you come up with the title Thicker than Blood?

My mom actually came up with the title. My working title was The City Girl and the Country Girl. I knew it would have to change to something more marketable, but I was having a hard time coming up with a catchy one. When Mom suggested Thicker than Blood it rang true. I ended up writing more of that theme into the story after she came up with it.

Do you have a favorite character in Thicker than Blood? Why?

I am partial to main character Christy Williams since I spent most of my time in her head, but if I had to pick a favorite I would pick veterinarian Beth Eckert. She’s the type of gal I’d love to have for a friend---fun and strong in her faith.

But Christy is a character who means a lot to me. She exemplifies everything I write about, how God can take someone who feels they’re unlovely and show them unconditional love. That’s amazing.

 

How much research did Thicker than Blood take?

The most research I had to do revolved around cattle ranching. Half of the book takes place on a modern day Colorado ranch, and I knew nothing about ranching when I first started. But over the years I have amassed a collection of books on the subject, subscribed to magazines like Farm & Ranch Living, and kept my ears tuned to anything and everything ranching. So really, I’ve been researching this novel as long as I’ve been writing it.

The rare books parts of the story didn’t take as much research since I’ve been involved in the antiquarian book industry for about as many years as I’ve been writing. But even so, I had to check my facts and make sure I was getting everything right.


What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Thicker than Blood?

It still surprises me what books end up being valuable. Old doesn’t always mean rare. You can have a book from 1850 that’s worth five bucks and a novel from 1991 worth thousands. Think Harry Potter. A true first edition Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (UK edition) can fetch over $20,000. And sometimes a book’s dust jacket can be even more valuable than the book itself, which is crazy.

What are some challenges you face as an author?

Time management is something I struggle with. I can let hours slip through my fingers and have nothing to show for it. Not exactly the best formula for production. I have to deal with it every day.

As far as actual technique, I sometimes struggle to come up with ideas. Plotting hasn’t been my forte, and neither has brainstorming. I need to learn how to turn off my internal editor and just get ideas on the page.

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

I love when a scene translates onto the page like I envisioned it in my head. That feels like magic, but I know it only happens with the Lord’s help. When you’re hitting your stride typing away at the keyboard and can look back over what you’ve written and not think it’s complete drivel---that is something to celebrate.

 

What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by the seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)

Oh, how I wish I could outline a book and know all the twists and turns before I start! But then again . . . that might take away some of the fun of discovery. I’m pretty much a seat-of-the-pants writer. I do generally have a basic concept before I start. For Thicker than Blood I knew I wanted to write about two estranged sisters, but I didn’t know exactly how the book would end. In early drafts I had things stopping rather abruptly. It usually takes a couple re-writes before I discover exactly what it is I want to say.

Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?

My characters become very real in my mind. I’ll be going about my daily life, see someone, and think, “Wow, she really looks like Christy.” Or I’ll wonder how one of my characters will act if faced with a certain scenario. I’ve actually been inspired to do the right thing when I realized how one of my characters would respond to a particular situation. Does that sound insane?

What other new projects do you have on the horizon?

I have completed a sequel to Thicker than Blood. Its working title is Innocent Blood, and some of the main characters in Thicker become minor characters in Innocent. I’m really, really excited about this book. The main character is a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxi who’s been in and out of foster care since she was eight. A strong supporting character is Abby Dawson, bookstore manager Hunter Dawson’s older sister. Rare books also play a big part in this story, especially a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

What message would you like your readers to take from Thicker than Blood?

I would love for readers to come away knowing that no one is ever too far gone for God’s love. No matter what we’ve done, God is just one breath away from enfolding us in His forgiving arms. Redemption is an amazing thing.

What is your greatest achievement?

Having my first novel win the Christian Writers Guild 2008 Operation First Novel contest has been the highlight of my life so far. That’s how I got to work with the incredible team at Tyndale House. I’m still amazed people are going to be reading the story that up until now has only been read by my immediate family.

 

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

It all comes back to that redemption theme. I hope all of my writing points people to that message. I want to tell stories that shine the spotlight on God’s love for mankind and reveal just how powerful His forgiveness is. When I hear about hurting people finding God, it really touches me. If I can touch someone else with that message, I’ll be happy. It would be such a wonderful thing if someone came to know the Lord as their savior after reading something I wrote.

What do you do to get away from it all?

If I really want to get away, I’ll go on a camping trip with my family. We have a tradition to go at least once every year, and there’s nothing like getting out in the woods with no computer, cell phone, internet or even radio. Being in nature is when I feel closest to God.

On days when I can’t visit the middle of nowhere, I’ll sit down with a good novel and a cup of tea, or a triple cappuccino!


 

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