Unexpected Joy: When My Dream Became Reality

This article about unexpected joy first appeared on May 13 on the Seriously Write blog. For those who did not see it then, here ’tis  again …

***

Miss Colombia, Miss Philippines, and I have next to nothing in common—not hair color, body shape, facial features, age, heredity, ethnicity, residence, or life experiences—except one, in an eensy-weensy way.

I, a 70-year-old grandmother, and those two goddesses have shared a this can’t be happening moment. Theirs occurred at the Miss Universe pageant last December when Steve Harvey announced Miss Colombia was the new Miss Universe … and then had to admit he’d made a mistake. The crown went to Miss Philippines, not Miss Colombia. Whooops. 

MissUniverseMistake
The Miss Universe Mistake. Whoops. An unexpected moment. Unexpected joy for one and not-so-much for another.

Watching that unwatchable yet can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it moment transported me back to January 2015 when I received word my Operation First Novel entry—THE CALLING OF ELLA MCFARLAND—had won first place. I experienced unexpected joy … and a few more emotions.

My first words: “That’s impossible.” (A few months prior when I learned my entry had made the list of 11 finalists, I had told my husband it was a good thing the list didn’t end at 10 or I wouldn’t have made it.)

I expected something akin to the words poor Miss Colombia heard: “I’m so sorry but there’s been a mistake.” Any minute the Whoops call would come. Surely. But the clock ticked away what remained of the evening and the phone sat silent while I worked my way through believing the unbelievable.

The unexpected joy experience was traumatic—in a good way—but traumatic, all the same. I’ve read that when a person experiences trauma, the needle in the brain’s “trauma center” goes “KERBAM!” all the way to “Full” and beyond. That’s true.

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Unexpected Joy=A cup that overflows

My tank—or cup if that suits better—ran completely over. (Tweet That!)

I couldn’t wrap my head around such unexpected joy. I wept. And wept some more. Around 11:00 p.m. my husband asked if I was going to be OK. (He was eyeing bed but wanted to be awake and alert if I had a stroke.)

Sure, I was OK. But I couldn’t stop pacing. Shaking my head. And weeping.

I slipped on my wool coat and sat on the porch. The air was cold. The sky clear. The stars in their places. Moon, too. The earth hadn’t shifted on its axis.

Deep breaths. And prayers of thanksgiving. God was seeing to it that my dream would be reality. Jerry Jenkins was the tool.

Johnny Cash’s “Why Me, Lord?” came to mind, reminding me my journey began in late 2006 when I stumbled across an essay contest online. Adam McManus, talk radio host on KSLR AM in San Antonio, together with one of his sponsors, Jerry B. Jenkins, was offering the Christian Writers Guild Conference to the winner.

It wouldn’t hurt to enter. I wouldn’t tell a soul, so I wouldn’t have to answer questions. I could write an essay about why I should attend the conference. I’d been dreaming secretly about writing illustrated children’s books.

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Unexpected Joy: The day I learned I would be a first-time grandmother in triplicate form, I reacted in much the same way as when I learned I’d won Operation First Novel.

Our daughter had carried (with great agony) and then delivered (at 28 weeks) a beautiful set of triplets (1 girl and 2 boys) in 2005. She had rejected the fertility doctor’s insistence that she abort one of the babies early on and had spent the better part of 21 weeks in the hospital experiencing every complication in the annals of “at-risk pregnancy.”

I wore my knees out in prayer. (Tweet That!) Daily when I arrived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and heard “They’re doing OK” I whispered a prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for honoring Lynn Lee’s trust in Your care.” A year later, another boy came along. Four babies in diapers—not your everyday baby experience—requires extra applications of prayer.

Fast forward—past joining several writers’ organizations, critique submissions, conferences, workshops, contests, mentors, tossing aside one idea after another, starting and stopping, reevaluating and going at it again, and even throwing in the towel for 6 months. I’d had it!

Until one morning in April 2014 when I woke with a story on my mind. It wouldn’t let me go. I sat at my computer, opened a document, typed CHAPTER 1 … and began to weep.

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Yep. Prayer changes things. Unexpected Joy.

“I can’t do it, Lord. You’ll have to stand beside me.” 

The Kleenex box grew lighter and lighter—the way it does when it’s getting to the bottom and a quick yank throws it up over your head. That’s the picture.

At times I thought I felt Jesus beside me, whispering words every now and then, his finger pointing to a pathway, urging me to get my heart in tune—in rhythm—with His, the most precious moments in my writing life so far.

I did my best to edit the manuscript but on the last day before the deadline, I clicked “Submit” knowing it needed a lot of work. The consolation: The feedback would be valuable.

Did I expect the feedback I received on the following January 16? Absolutely not. Was I stunned and traumatized and unbelieving at first? Duh!

William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910
William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910. My grandparents. Mama left a name worthy of the heroine of The Calling of Ella McFarland.

For whatever reason, the Lord chose this blessing for me. The story isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But neither am I. By the Lord’s gracious hand, I was granted some ideas and words and the freedom to put them together as I chose. My ancestors’ experiences are tucked into the story, and readers see my heart and soul laid bare. Mainly, I hope they see Jesus.

Writers, if I can do this, YOU can. Don’t give up!

And, readers, when you open your next novel, pray for the writer. She might be gasping for breath!

Thank you, Lord.

I haven’t stopped giving thanks … Ephesians 1:16 NIV

Website: www.lindabrooksdavis.com
Email: linda@lindabrooksdavis.com
Twitter: @LBrooksDavis
Facebook: www.facebook.com/LindaBrooksDavis/
YouTube Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/1VZcAi5
Publisher, Mountainview Books, LLC: http://bit.ly/1NqmYtF
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1RCKMgf
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1SEJUEI

 

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Author Chat: C. J. Darlington

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control;
against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 ASV

Reader Friends,

The Apostle Paul admonishes his student and beloved friend and helper Timothy in 2 Timothy 1 to hold onto Paul’s sound words and to guard the treasure committed to him in the faith and love of Jesus. He reminds the younger man that doing so is possible through the Holy Spirit which indwells him.

In Galatians 5 Paul speaks of the “fruits” of the indwelling Spirit. These come to mind when I read our guest author C.J. Darlington‘s answers to questions about her journey from aspiring writer to award-winning author and now publisher as co-owner of Mountainview Books LLC. In particular, four fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, and long-suffering–shine when C.J. writes about her Paint mare named Sky

Look carefully, and I think you’ll find the clues …

~~~

C.J. Darlington Welcome, C.J. What an honor it is to have you as our guest today. 

1) How would you categorize yourself as an author?

I mostly write contemporary stories that include elements of suspense, but I also have a lot of fun writing my speculative YA stories. It’s a great time to be a writer because we don’t necessarily have to stick to one genre. I love the variety!

2) You won the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild Operation First Novel award for Thicker Than Blood. Can you give us a brief summary of the plot, C.J.?

thicker-than-blood-250Thicker than Blood is the story of two sisters who meet again after fifteen years of estrangement. The older, Christy, is a troubled alcoholic who works at a rare bookstore. The younger, May, is the co-owner of a failing cattle ranch. They both have something the other desperately needs, but they don’t realize it.

A bit about the main character … The majority of the story follows Christy, who is becoming adept at the intricacies of rare book buying and selling. She works at a four-story used bookstore called Dawson’s Book Barn. But on her thirty-third birthday she’s arrested for drunk driving and has to decide whether to return to her abusive ex-boyfriend or face the consequences. It isn’t long before she hits rock bottom.

The main theme? No one is ever too far gone for God. (Tweet That!) I also love weaving a story of sisterly love and devotion.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It was always about two very different sisters. The plot grew from there. I loved being able to share about rare books, and that was something that developed over time. Christy was actually a real estate agent in early drafts! A first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls plays an important part in Thicker than Blood, which is especially neat for a book lover like me.

3) Tell us about the other three novels in the Thicker Than Blood series: Bound by Guilt, Ties That Bind, and the latest, Running on Empty:

Brief summaries and a little about the characters:

bound-by-guilt-250Bound by Guilt: A botched robbery at a used bookstore sends a teen girl on the run. The story focuses primarily on teen Roxi Gold who’s desperate for the love of a family. She’s been in and out of foster care since she was eight and just wants to fit in and have some stability. We also get to know police officer Abby Dawson who’s determined to find out who killed her brother.

ties-that-bind-250Ties that Bind: On a quest to find her father, a young woman discovers she has two sisters who have no idea she exists. Brynn Taylor has just gotten out of prison and is finally ready to fulfill her mother’s dying wish and find the father she’s never known. She ends up in the small cattle town of Elk Valley, Colorado, where her plans and her life begin to unravel.

running-on-empty-250Running on Empty: A lonely, down-on-her-luck young woman suddenly finds herself the guardian of her much younger half-sister. Not only is she blindsided with the news that she has a biological mother out there somewhere, but now she has to take care of Callie. But Del and Callie soon develop a sweet bond that I really enjoyed writing. Plus there’s a greyhound named Utah who I hope readers come to love too.

The theme of families and reconciliation is woven into all my stories (Tweet That!), right along with the theme of Thicker than Blood about the amazing reach of God’s love to all of us, no matter what we’ve done.

How would you compare/contrast the four novels?

I wrote all four with the intent that they stand completely by themselves. You don’t have to read Thicker than Blood to be able to enjoy Running on Empty, for instance. But there is a deeper experience if you read them in order. They all have the same flavor but take a look at a different issue.

Do the novels’ main characters intersect in the four stories?

Yes! That was something I enjoyed a lot. Most of the main characters from each book have a supporting role in the next.

In which main character do you find the most of yourself?

I think May Williams from Thicker than Blood is the closest to me in some ways. She has a deep love for animals and the outdoors and she’s trying to live a good Christian life. When she messes up and makes mistakes, which she does, she picks herself back up and keeps going. That’s what I hope I can always do in my life.

3) Your novel Jupiter Winds was a finalist in the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award contest. How does it compare with the other four? How different was the writing experience?

jupiter-winds-250Jupiter Winds was a novel I wrote originally for pure fun. I had all these crazy ideas in my head and just spilled them out on the page, which I think allowed for some interesting plot twists! The book is different from my other books mostly just due to the genre change and that it features two teens. I came away from writing Jupiter Winds with a renewed respect for those who write fantasy and science fiction because world building is hard!

4) Having won Operation First Novel Award for Thicker Than Blood, you’ve been asked many times how the win changed your world. Now that you’re a publisher, how do the life changes compare?

Every new venture creates some great experiences. The great part about working as a publisher is the chance to bring even more stories to readers. I love great stories. Period. So it’s been a privilege.

5) How do you balance writing and publishing on a daily basis?

I am still learning! One thing I am discovering is the need to set a writing quota based on words rather than time.

6) Tell us about your Paint mare named Sky.horse-422111_1280

Sky is a sixteen-year-old Paint mare who has been such a blessing to our whole family. I have learned so much from this horse. Sky teaches me how to be patient, listen to animals, work hard, and have fun. (Tweet That!)

Have you written into a story an equine character with Sky in mind?

Not yet, but in Ties that Bind I wrote about a troubled horse named Lacey who was based on the horse I rode before we got Sky.

piercing-the-darkness7) You’ve said reading the Frank Peretti novel Piercing the Darkness was a turning point in your writing journey. Can you point to one scene or one element of the story that transformed or inspired you?

His character Sally Beth Roe is still one of my all time favorite characters. Her spiritual journey (I won’t give too much away) is beautiful. In fact, I think it’s time I picked the book up again!

8) Mountainview Books is a family endeavor. And home schooling was a family endeavor. How do they compare? Which has been the most challenging?

Each are uniquely challenging, but homeschooling taught me so many value things I am now able to bring to life as an adult. Pretty much everything I do stems back to the sacrifices my parents made to homeschool me. I am convinced I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

8) Describe for our readers your spiritual purpose in writing for the Christian market.

You know, each book provides a different answer to this question. With Thicker than Blood I was focusing on a salvation message.

In Bound by Guilt it was about unconditional love.

Ties that Bind continues with that.

Running on Empty is about child-like faith.

And Jupiter Winds challenges us to realize no matter where we go, God is with us. (Tweet That!)

I also value just telling a good story and have learned not to try too hard to force a spiritual take-away.

9) What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your writing/publishing experiences?

Oh, my. Trusting God with everything!

Thank you so much, C.J., for taking the time to chat with our circle of friends. You are a young adult possessed of uncommon wisdom. Thank you for sharing with us.

~~~

Did you see the fruits, Readers? Look at how C.J. described the lessons she’s learned from her Paint mare Sky:

…What’s patience if not long-suffering?
…Doesn’t listening to animals require a listener at peace?
…Doesn’t love of life require hard work?
…And isn’t having good fun just plain joy?

Father God, we bow before you as Creator, Sustainer, and Thicker-Than-Blood Friend. We thank and praise You for stooping to love us, for coming so near You’d reside within us. Keep us in You, the Vine. Feed us as we cling to You. And produce fruit from us according to Your perfect will. For Jesus’ sake …

12 thoughts on “Author Chat: C. J. Darlington

  1. Thanks so much for having me, Linda!

     
     
    1. Having you was an honor, C.J. Thank you for being our guest.

       
       
  2. I like your thought on not forcing a spiritual take-away, C.J. So many books that have challenged my faith really didn’t seem to have a spiritual agenda, but it was THERE.

     
     
    1. Thanks for joining the chat this past week, Gail. Sometimes I feel as if C.J. writes her books–and lives her life–rather effortlessly. And that’s a spiritual lesson in itself.

       
       
    2. It’s a challenging balance, I know, but you are right–sometimes we get the most out of books that were more subtle.

       
       
  3. G.J. Hoffman

    Thank you, Linda, for hosting this.

    And thank you, C. J. Darlington. It was fun to hear more about you.
    A couple of years ago, I picked up Bound by Guilt at a Barnes and Noble to read the back and realized you were an Operation First Time Novel winner. At the time I was taking classes from the Christian Writers Guild, so I actually knew what that meant. So I bought your book.
    I enjoyed it and found it refreshing, particularly because it was different from the run of the mill adult romance or teen genres. And, I just finished Ties that Bind a couple of months ago.
    I did not, however, know that you had published anything in the speculative genre so that was fun to find out here. I too love the fact that, as writers, we can jump from contemporary to speculative, or in my case, to period medieval.
    So, I’m curious. What are you working on now/next?

    G.J. Hoffman (https://whentherocksspeak.wordpress.com/)

     
     
    1. Thanks for joining the chat this past week, Given. C.J. and her writing and publishing story are an inspiration to both of us and many others.

       
       
    2. Hi G.J.! Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the stories. Running on Empty was just released in December of last year (Book 4 of the Thicker than Blood series), but I just finished the first draft of the next Jupiter story (sequel to Jupiter Winds.) I am also in the beginning stages of a completely new book! I still don’t know where I’m going with it, lol.

       
       
      1. G.J. Hoffman

        Wow, sounds like you have been busy. 🙂 I look forward to checking out your other books. Thanks.

         
         
  4. C.J.’s books definitely held my interest–for all the right reasons: well-developed characters, mystery, tension, history, and clean, crisp, intelligent writing!

     
     
    1. Ditto, Clarice! Thank you for joining the chat.

       
       
    2. Thanks, Clarice! Appreciate it.

       
       

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