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C.J.Darlington is a homeschool graduate from Pennsylvania, who is also now a published author. Her first novel, Thicker than Blood, about the challenges of two sisters, just recently won a major Christian book award, as we noted in our left-hand side bar a few weeks ago. C.J. was active in the 1990's in the Chester County Homeschoolers group led by the Joye family, and remembers her homeschooling days fondly. She has given us permission to reprint some of the postings on her excellent and comprehensive website, www.cjdarlington.com. I highly recommend this site to all aspiring novelists among our readership, of all ages. CJ has posted extensive interviews with other authors, has links to all sorts of helpful writing networking sites, and shares her thoughts on the writing life. This would be a terrific site for homeschool co-op groups to use when helping kids develop writing abilities-- they'll really hear from real authors about what the process is really like. For our first entry from CJ, we're reprinting her description of how she got her idea for her first published novel-- you'll love it! And if you head to her site, you'll be able to read the first chapter of the book right online-- and click a quick link to order the book for yourself, too!
Thicker than Blood was born on May 1st, 1995 as a story called The City Girl and the Country Girl. I was fifteen-years-old, and I still remember the excitement I felt at starting a new story. Here’s my journal entry from May 3rd, 1995:
...Let me read to you the little Prologue I wrote for [The City Girl and the Country Girl]. Christy Thomas looks like she’s got it all. A steady income, and a job that just allowed her to sell one of the biggest houses in town. But inside she’s hurting, really hurting in her heart. One night she can’t take anymore so she cries “God if you’re really out there, help me!” Can her sister who she hasn’t seen for 9 years be the answer? Find out in The City Girl and the Country Girl...
Years later I realized I needed a more marketable title, and my mom actually came up with the title Thicker than Blood.
Where did this story idea come from? My twin sister Tracy and our best friend Erica would often play imaginary games as kids and pretend we were different characters. Basically we role-played them and made up stories to act out. One of our characters was a woman named Christy who had a sister named May living on a farm. Sometimes Christy would go to visit May on the farm. I guess those characters were real to me because I just thought one day it would be fun to write their story. And then I asked myself, “What if May shared Jesus with Christy?”
From the time I was fifteen to nineteen, I worked off and on at the novel. During this time I began an apprenticeship learning how to write better through how-to books, other novels and writing magazines. Slowly but surely I began to learn the craft.
Soon I realized I needed to change the setting of the novel, and Christy’s profession, to better reflect my interests and research. She started out as a real estate agent. But as I became interested in rare books (I've been involved in the antiquarian book trade for thirteen years now), I changed her character into what she is in the published novel---a used bookstore clerk with a troubled past. I set May’s parts of the story during calving season at her cattle ranch (another fascination I'd had for many years). I’d done research on this subject for a short story and thought it would be great if the information did double duty. And Christy's last name changed as well. For some reason it was originally Thomas, and her sister was named May Williams. I realized I either had to come up with a reason why their names were different (i.e. marriage, divorce but keeping the last name, etc.) or they needed to match. So Christy's got changed. :)
When I was nineteen I finished the first draft of the novel. I re-wrote and tweaked it over the next several years. I added a villain in the form of Christy’s abusive ex-boyfriend Vince. At twenty-four I completed what I thought would be my final draft. It was 67,000 words long, and I submitted it to the very first Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest on January 7th, 2004. It placed as one of twenty semi-finalists but didn’t make it to the finals, so I started submitting to publishers directly.
The next four years were spent submitting and revising the manuscript further. I added about 10,000 words to bring the manuscript up to a more marketable 77,000 words. Most of the major Christian publishers rejected it, and I grew discouraged.
On September 3rd, 2008 I think God spoke to me. No, it wasn’t an audible voice. It wasn’t anything more than a thought. I was staring at the ceiling right before going to sleep and all at once an idea hit me. Here’s what I wrote in my journal the next day:
...I had a thought last night. What if I entered the 2008 Operation First Novel contest with my revised version of Thicker than Blood? I could see then if it’s worth pursuing.
I submitted the manuscript to the contest, and in November I found out it was a finalist. On February 19th, 2009 I was amazed when Jerry B. Jenkins announced Thicker than Blood as the winner of that year’s contest. The winner received a contract with Tyndale House, and I couldn’t be more blessed with the way the Lord brought it all about. I almost gave up on this novel. I almost put it away in a drawer. Goes to show persistence is vital in writing.
During the editing with Tyndale I decided to set the story in a specific western state. Up to that point I’d left it up to the reader to guess even though I’d always pictured it in Montana or Colorado. But I decided it would benefit the story to set it in an actual state. I selected Colorado since I had been there several times on vacation and was at least somewhat familiar with the terrain and wildlife.
Dawson’s Book Barn is a fictional used bookstore, but it’s based on the real life store Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania (pictured at right). That’s where I first started bookscouting, and it’s an amazing five story barn holding over 300,000 books. Click here to visit the Baldwin’s Book Barn website. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.
All of the book collecting and first edition information in Thicker than Blood is real and based on my own experiences in the antiquarian book trade. Some of the book values I quote will no doubt fluctuate over the years due to supply and demand, but most first editions will at least hold their value. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway was one of the first rare books I learned about as a fledgling book scout.
The town of Elk Valley, Colorado is fictional. Basically I replaced the real town of La Veta, Colorado with a slightly larger version of itself.
The Spanish Peaks are very real and amazingly beautiful mountains overshadowing La Veta and the entire Cuchara Valley. The mountains you see in the header of my website are a real photo of them.
From the story written at age 15:
1st draft at age 19:
Manuscript submitted to Operation First Novel contest in 2004:
Manuscript submitted to Operation First Novel contest in 2008:
Published first line: