Music Critic – Author – Christa Ann Banister ~ Interviewed

In addition to possessing a funny, whip-smart pen, Christa Ann Banister has the gift of gab.
After years of working as a respected music critic and freelance writer for various Christian publications: CCM Magazine,, Christian Single,, not to mention kickstarting the inaugural Christian music blog for MTV’s, Christa has inked her first novel about her erstwhile adventures in dating, and she hopes that her story will inspire countless twenty and thirty-somethings in their quest for snagging Mr. Right, even as they hold fast to their Christian values

Christa lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Will. They love to play Scrabble and throw darts on a map and dream about going wherever the darts land someday. And until her book hits the New York Times bestseller list, Christa is happily employed as a freelance writer for her many, many clients.

Click here to read a review (11-30-07).

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

Travel writer Sydney Alexander is ready for one particular journey to end: her frustrating search for a Mr. Right. As a Christian twentysomething navigating the weird world of dating, she’s encountered more than her share of frogs. From men who can’t keep a jo to self-centered professionals, her lackluster dates leave Sydney wondering where the good guys are hiding.

But things are looking way up. Just after landing her dream job, she meets an eligible round of bachelors, including a dashing European, a promising blind date, and a charming coffee-shop wordsmith. Now Sydney will discover just how far she’s willing to compromise to land her dream guy.

Around the World in 80 Dates shares a woman’s humorous take on being single. Filled with wit, real issues, and quirky characters, Sydney’s story will encourage female readers to never settle for less than God’s best.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I started writing a few ideas down for Around the World in 80 Dates about five years ago. Ideas soon evolved into sample chapters, and I sent out two proposals (with four sample chapters and a quick introduction) to people I knew in publishing as a result of my time at CCM magazine in Nashville, where I worked as a writer and editor for five-and-a-half years. Like the music business, the book world is all about connections, connections, connections. Many publishers don’t accept unsolicited proposals, manuscripts, etc., so I had to be referred by friends who already had book deals to even get my foot in the door. And even with a foot in the door, I had to be patient (not exactly my strong suit).

Basically, I waited for months and months and did all sorts of follow up before I’d get the sorry-but-we-just-can’t-do-anything-with-you-at-this-time-but-keep-working-at-it rejection e-mail. That happened twice, but I persevered and kept tweaking my sample chapters until I was really happy with them, and they eventually made their way to NavPress via my friend (and fellow author) Matthew Paul Turner.

After Matthew’s NavPress contact moved on to another publisher, the new editorial assistant at Nav stumbled across my manuscript in her pile of papers, read it and really loved it. She even sent me an e-mail to that effect the next day and really began lobbying for it to get published. So of course, I got really, really excited. But that was only the beginning of the process. After a couple of months filled with phone calls and proposal forms to fill out, not to mention a couple different committee meetings at NavPress, they offered me a two book deal (with an option for a third) in October 2006. Needless to say, the third time was the charm.

After the papers were signed, I couldn’t even begin to express how excited I was. So after ample celebrating, I went to work and finished Around the World in 80 Dates, a long, intense and amazing process that fulfilled one of my greatest writing dreams.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I think writing involves three things—a measure of God-given talent, a love of words and a strong work ethic. There are lots of people who want to write a book but don’t want to devote the long hours to developing and honing his/her craft. Sometimes I fall into that category and need a little more motivation like an upcoming deadline or the gentle nudge of my husband who’ll say something like “I need 2,000 words today!” Fortunately, I’ve never really dealt with writer’s block but that’s probably because I write every single day whether it’s a movie review, a blog entry or the latest chapter of a book I’m working on.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

One of the key things I’ve learned about publishing is that persistence pays off. Just because one publisher doesn’t catch your vision doesn’t mean that another won’t. Always keep knocking, and if you keep hearing know, consider revising your pitch.
What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?
The best advice I’ve ever heard is that it’s good to write a little bit every day. Also that great readers are great writers, so I try to stay current within the genre I write in and with pop culture at large. I guess I’ve never really received any bad advice, which I’m thankful for.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?
I’m a people watcher, so stories naturally seem to evolve from what I see and hear around me. My first novel is about dating, so those stories came from my own experiences and experiences of family, friends, classmates, etc.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, anything by Jane Austen, Judy Blume or Sophie Kinsella. U2 At End of the World by Bill Flanagan
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
Around the World in 80 Dates was definitely a proud moment. There are several music features that I wrote for CCM, one about the London music scene, in particular, that I was really happy with because I actually traveled there by myself to get the story.
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
Maybe Oprah should consider more titles for her book club? No, honestly, aside from wishing the biz paid more from time to time, I can’t think of any.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and continue to improve in the process.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite part is the sheer joy is doing something you love for a living. It still doesn’t seem possible sometimes. My least favorite part is that sometimes you’re just not in a creative mood—not writer’s block per say—but maybe you’re just not in that mode, and you have to be. So that’s occasionally a struggle.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Wordiness. I’ve had to really work at the art of editing. Saying something in a few words instead of too many. That’s something I continue to work on every day.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
Grab a Diet Coke? I don’t know. I just leap right into it.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session?

Nope, I’m pretty boring in this regard. Sometimes I aim for a specific word count, but mostly I just write, take breaks, grab a Diet Coke (or coffee) and repeat until I’m done for the day.
Plot, seat of pants or combination?
Definitely a combination. I have a rough outline and go from there.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Finding the ending that really sings. I put so much energy into leading the book off that sometimes I struggle with an ending. So that’s what I have to put the most effort into.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
A few actually…and it’s been so rewarding to find people connecting with the book/stories as much as I have over the years.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
A ton! Not only do I have two publicists, but I’m constantly blogging and doing interviews to get the word out however I can. I’ve also been known to strike up conversations with complete strangers who also end up wanting to read the book, so that’s a great thing.

Parting words?

Nope. Just I want to thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Blessings to you!

Roxanne Rustand ~ Author Interview

Plug time. What new book or project do you have coming out?

The Snow Canyon Ranch trilogy for Love Inspired Suspense starts out with HARD EVIDENCE in early December, followed by VENDETTA in March and WILDFIRE in February. These books are all part of the Snow Canyon Ranch trilogy. Set in the Wyoming Rockies, the books follow the three daughters of a tough, no-nonsense Wyoming ranch widow, who each return to the Rockies to begin a new life…only all of them face unexpected challenges and danger.

There’s actually a free, online serialized story running right now at . There are twenty very short chapters that introduce this mountain town and some of the residents, including a sheriff long-past the need for retirement. The sheriff will soon leave town, making way for the hero of HARD EVIDENCE.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

I love the Wyoming Rockies. To me, the Tetons are the most beautiful place on earth! I’ve long wanted to set some books there, so I started to think about what could bring a trio of heroines to this area–and what sort of trouble I could stir up for them when they arrived.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

I read just nonfiction for years….then one day, my friend Judy gave me a Judith McNaught historical novel, smiled, and dared me to put it down once I started it. I did–at four o’clock the next morning. It totally swept me away, with its emotion and characterization. After that, I started reading everything I could find in the genre–I would bring grocery sacks of books home from the store. That same friend later invited me to write some human interest articles for her regional horse magazine and gave me an older computer to do so. The wonders of writing on a computer swept me away, too! It was such fun, I just kept going…and eventually started trying to write a story. Judy had a small critique group, I joined them, and found a whole new world in writing fiction. I began writing in late 1992. I puttered around with my first 127 pp for two whole years, trying to perfect each word, but learned this was the wrong approach when I took a University of Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival two week class given by Leigh Michaels. The class members critiqued each other, and every one of them (AND Leigh) said my first seventy pages had to go! Ouch! They were right…but was it ever hard to do. That fall, I entered the Golden Heart. I didn’t tell my critique friends because I knew they would think I was crazy to enter with so little of the book done. I wrote night and day, literally, to finish the book in time…and by some incredible miracle, the entry won the RWA Golden Heart that year. That book didn’t sell. The next time I entered the Golden Heart, I finaled (but didn’t win) and a final round judge (Paula Eykelhoff, a wonderful editor) said she remembered my winning entry from before. She said this new project showed growth–and she bought the manuscript plus another project that was just a proposal. So my first sale was a two book, thanks to the GH! I was thrilled beyond measure. I’ve now sold twenty books since late 1998 and am now working on three more proposals…so hopefully, it will be up to twenty-three in the near future. Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?After writing fifteen family drama type stories with mystery or suspense, plus light humor, I just hit a wall. I floundered for months, unable to get myself going again, but then dove into online classes and books on writing. I had to really analyze what I had been doing, and how I needed to change that process in order to get myself back on track.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your writing journey), i.e. plot, POV, characterization, etc?My most difficult challenge is time management and steady page production. I was a “last minute gal” at writing papers and cramming for tests throughout college, and until deadline adrenaline kicks in, it can be hard to make good, steady progress on a daily basis. But–I’m getting better!

Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated office or a corner or nook in a room? I have a home office dedicated to writing only.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?Before deadlines loom, ten would be nice on the days that I can be home to write. As the pressure mounts, I may do twenty or more.

What does a typical day look like for you? I work twenty hours a week as a dietitian, which leave me two and a half days at home. The earlier I get up, the better, as that’s my most creative writing time.

Take us through your process of writing a novel briefly—from conception to revision. After figuring out a setting, main characters, main external plot, and a list of possible subplots, I spend a lot of time brainstorming long lists of things that can happen, for each major and minor subplot. Once those lists are each organized in chronological order, I have lots of material to work with. I may never use half of the items on those lists. I may veer off completely. But it helps a lot to have a lot of ideas and imagination starters posted next to my computer!

What are some of your favorite books (not written by you)?Paradise, by Judith McNaught (and also her old historicals), some of LaVyrle Spencer’s earlier books. Everything by Jane Austin, Lee Child, and my friends Cindy Gerard, Kylie Brant, Lyn Cote. I’m really enjoying reading all of the authors for Love Inspired Suspense. What great books!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard? FINISH THE BOOK! Then go back and start polishing and revising. Read all of your dialogue (preferably your entire manuscript) aloud–you’ll catch awkward, stilted phrasing so much better that way!

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I often advertise in Romance Sells when I have a book coming out. I’ve advertised many times in RT and the RWR. I do promotion mailings to bookstores, conferences, and readers groups across the country, and participate in various blogs. I just revamped my website at . And now that I am writing inspirational novels, I have become active at and have a wonderful time interacting with the people there. Whether or not it all helps, I don’t know!

Do you have any parting words of advice? To everyone who is writing with hopes of being published, follow your dreams and don’t give up!To read a review of Roxanne’s book, click HERE.

Guest Blogger ~ Cathy Marie Hake

How did you go from Nursing to becoming an author?

As a nurse, I injured my back and was off work for three years and had a problem with pain. I ended up reading a lot just to escape the pain. One day my husband walked up to me and took a book out of my hands, shut it, laid it on the coffee table and said, “You’ve done enough reading, you need to start writing.”
Why did he say that?

We have two children and I was forever making up stories and telling them stories and he’d already lived through me every time we went on vacation having a perils of Pauline sort of thing where I would have the next portion of the story each time we got in the car. He was used to my imagination by then. He said that I needed to start writing.

I thought about what do I write? What I know is that the Lord loves me and I know the love of a really good man is the two things that get through anything in life. So I decided to write Christian romance.

What type of nurse were you?

I was a cancer nurse. I was in oncology for eight years. I loved it. It was a wonderful ministry. I would have stayed there forever. I had a terminal patient and his bed broke so we needed to move him from his bed to a different bed. I ended up injuring my back. It really has been kind of interesting in addition to writing, I also teach Lamaze and breast feeding. So I went from death to birth.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a native Californian.

Did you go to school to write?

God redeems all our experiences in life. I’ve always loved to read. I devoured books all my life. In college I majored in getting my bachelor’s in science in nursing but I minored in English. It was kind of a fun way of keeping up with that.

I met Tracy Bateman because a mutual friend knew that she was coming to California for a Romance Writer’s of America conference. She asked her if she’d mind taking a friend of hers around, show her Hollywood, Wax Museum, Gram’s Chinese Theater and the beach. I said sure, fine, I’d be happy to. I did not know Tracy or Becky Germany were editors at that time. I was just writing stories and really hadn’t looked at the market yet. A few days before they came out my friend said, “You do know that they’re editors, don’t you?”

How did you connect with Joyce Livingston?

Joyce and I were both writing together for Barbour. Just because we were writing for Barbour we would IM back and forth. One time I said to her that we ought to write something together. I said let’s do twins, companion heart songs. I would do one twin and she would do the other one.

She and I went through this long IM and basically plotted out the concept and pitched it and the readers were wild about it. We decided to go ahead and do two more and did those two together and now they’re coming out as San Diego. It’s been so wonderful.

Is this going to be a series?

We already have a second book coming out called Bittersweet.

What is the name of the series?

What is your favorite scripture verse?

Micah 6:8 KJV

Tell us about Letter Perfect. How much of it is based on your life?

I don’t think you could ever say there’s any parallel between Ruth and me. Definitely not. I am the person who has slipped in her own driveway and shattered her own elbow. I am the woman who can look down at her shirt and say where did that spot come from?

Recently my daughter and I were at the corner bakery and I fell up the stairs. Other than just being the woman who can just open her mouth and not just swallow not just her foot but her knee and her thigh…no.

How did you come up with the idea for the story line?

I really don’t know where that story came from. I have books that I could tell you exactly where it came from. I have one book that started from a fortune cookie. This one I really do not know where it came from.

Do you prefer to write contemporary or historical fiction?

My favorite is historical fiction especially romance. I can’t say life was simpler back then It was a harder physical life but I think that the values and the morals are ones that I’m far more comfortable with. My parents collect antiques so I spent my entire childhood going through antique stores. I love history and think it’s fun to revisit a time I would have enjoyed living in.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

I would like about 60 hours in a day instead of 24. Time is always an issue. The other one is I think a creative mind is probably an oxymoron. I once had someone say that there are filers and there are pilers. I am a piler. Living in a small house and my daughter is also a published author, between us and all of the books we need for research, it’s a challenge.

How long did Letter Perfect take you to complete?

About 4 months.

How much research did Letter Perfect take?

Oodles. I had to research to find all of these little details like have who ruled in the Pony Express, which leg of the journey did they have? I make a historical time line for each book that has both regional and national occurrences. What the inventions are at the time. I spend an extreme amount of time on research and even went to Sacramento and met Tracey there. We did a research trip there and had a wonderful time. Our husbands met each other and they’re probably twins separated at birth.

Do you have any more projects on the horizon?

We’re working on a series that’s going to be taking place in historic Texas. At least three in the series. (No name yet.) Planning on every six months for a release.

I have several books that will be coming out with Barbour. I’m writing my last book with them right now because I signed an exclusive with them.

Do you have a Favorite character in Letter Perfect?

It would have to be Ruth because I am so much like her. I was constantly surprised when I was writing her of the things that would come out of her mouth and the things that she would do and I would just laugh and go, “I could do something just as crazy”.

Who is the person who most influenced your writing?

George Reyes, he wrote Curious George. It’s the very first book I checked out of the library. It opened up the magic of books and the written word and how it can take you someplace different and someplace wonderful and each book can be a wonderful experience.

What were your favorite books as a child?

Curious George. Was there a book that I didn’t read as a child? My sister and I would walk to the library and each pick out seven books because that was the limit and we would trade them half way through the week. We’d read fourteen books a week. We weren’t allowed to have T.V. I read all of the Newbury award winners, read Ellen Tebbits to Nancy Drew to Hardy Boys. Christy was a fabulous book in my child hood. All of the Anne of Green Gables books.

What message would you like your readers to take from Letter Perfect?

That perfection is essential to love. My husband taught me that. You’ll see that in the dedication.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

To share the overwhelming, unstoppable love of God.

Author Interview ~ C.J. Box

C. J. Box is the author of the eight novels including the award-winning Joe Pickett series.He’s the winner of the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and an Edgar Award and L.A. Times Book Prize finalist. FREE FIRE was a New York Times bestseller.

His short stories have been featured in America’s Best Mystery Stories 2006 and limited-edition printings. BLUE HEAVEN will be published by St. Martins Press in January, 2008. BLOOD TRAIL, the eighth Joe Pickett novel, will be published by Penguin/Putnam in May, 2008.

Blue Heaven, your first stand-alone novel will be released January 2008. Tell us a little about it.
I first heard the term that became the title in LA when an ex-LAPD police officer told me how many of his former colleagues had moved to extreme North Idaho to a place they called “Blue Heaven.” Turns out there are scores of ex-LAPD up there. The situation intrigued me, and I went up there to do research. The storyline came from the country itself: two children are fishing along a creek when they inadvertently see the execution of a man by four others in a campground. The children run and hide and the murderers, who turn out to be ex-cops, go to town to the sheriff and volunteer to lead the search effort for the missing kids. The novel is told in real time over 60 hours from the point of view of the children, a local rancher, a banker with a secret, a cop who has traveled to North Idaho to follow up on an unsolved crime, the distraught mother, and the cops themselves. It’s a wild ride.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How you get started, how you sold your first book, how long it took, and all the gritty details.

I’m one of those twenty-year overnight success stories. I always wanted to be a novelist, and wrote in secret since college. (In secret because I didn’t want my daughters to think of me as “My Dad, the failed novelist.”) When I completed OPEN SEASON I thought I had something and got an agent in New York who supposedly showed it around for four years with no interest. Whether he did anything at all I don’t really know. I stopped calling him and later found out that he’d been dead for a year! Before I knew that, though, I went to a writer’s conference and pitched the book to agents. One bit, and was talking about it in the bar that night and was overheard by an editor from Putnam who said it was the kind of thing she was looking for. She read it and offered a three-book contract. Luckily, OPEN SEASON went on to win a slew of best first novel awards and it got excellent reviews. I was off…

You’re continuing to write your Joe Pickett Series for one publisher while writing stand-alones for another. How do you balance this and meet both deadlines?

It’s difficult but possible. I write every day and keep as organized as I can be. I treat writing as my job and I work hard at my job. And, by the way, it’s a pretty good job.

What is it about the Joe Pickett Series that is so popular do you think?

I’m always wondering that myself, so I have to rely on what readers tell me to answer the question. Part of the appeal is that Joe Pickett is portrayed as a real human being. What I mean is he works hard, doesn’t get paid well, makes mistakes, and frets about his family. I think many readers empathize with Joe. Also, each novel is built around a real-life issue like the Endangered Species Act, or eco-terrorism, or development … real social issues in the modern west. I try hard to show both sides of many controversies and balance the approach. Readers all over the country – and now in 13 countries – seem to like that. And each novel is different. There is no formula – anything can happen to anyone. Kind of like real life.

With your first novel, Open Season, I read that you began with an issue, how a well-intentioned law like The Endangered Species act can make people do things they wouldn’t normally and built your novel around that. Do you always start with an issue?

Yes, and that’s important to me. I want to write about real things, not just who-done-it. This isn’t to say that the books are screeds or rants. I don’t have an agenda other than that a reasonable approach is the best with most issues. I’ve found that readers really enjoy seeing issues explored that are close to home.

Besides crime novels like the Pickett Series, and thrillers like Blue Heaven, do you have other types of books in you that someday you’d like to write?

Oooh, tough one. I think someday I’d like to write a book of nature and fishing essays. But since that sounds really boring and I doubt anyone would want to read it, so don’t look for it soon. I’d also, some day, like to write an historical novel set in the mountain man period. Don’t look for that one soon, either.

Joe Pickett tends to clash with his bosses, does CJ Box sometimes clash with his editors? Like when they change the title of his novels for instance?

Not really. I harken back to my days as a state employee to recall those kinds of clashes. I know this sounds like I’m being a brown-nose, but my editors have all been extremely bright and supportive and have only wanted the novels to be better. If they want to change the title I hear them out and have to conclude they’re right in nearly every case.

How do you handle it when an editor suggests changes that you don’t feel are right?

It rarely happens, to be honest. Usually, if they want changes at all, they are more of the “can you please flesh out this scene more” variety. They rarely want outright changes of direction, but ask for more detail or nuance. That seems fair to me because it makes the scene better and the book better.

What are the challenges of writing a series? What about a stand-alone? What are the benefits of each?

To answer this inj full would take days, so I’ll try to be brief. One of the great things about a series is familiar characters and the continuity from novel to novel. But the baggage can get very, very heavy as well as the series progresses. I need to always remember that a reader might be picking up Book Eight having not read the previous seven, so I’ve got to introduce just enough back-story to make the characters clear without going on and on and bogging down the narrative, especially for the loyal readers who’ve read them all. That’s tricky. One way I’ve tried to keep the series fresh is to change the circumstances – Joe’s children get a year older each book, or he gets fired or changes jobs – so it’s not all rote or formula. The challenge to writing a stand-alone is the same as writing that first book in the series – a whole new world needs to be created and the style and tone needs to be shifted a bit so it doesn’t read like a novel in the series that isn’t a novel in the series.

You’ve said yourself that your craft continues to improve from book to book. What do you attribute this to?

Simply experience and an inner feel that’s tough to describe. Plus, there’s a certain arc and flow to a novel that comes with having written nine of them. I think one learns with each book what can be left out.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to write suspense novels?

Read! The world is awash in great crime fiction and much of it is as “literary” as most literary novels – only it is fun to read. Too many would-be writers don’t read enough to know what’s out there. I do think it’s a mistake, though, to read nothing but crime fiction. Horizons should be broadened. I try to read fiction, non-fiction, fiction, with a crime fiction novel being every fourth or fifth. It helps me as a writer to read great writing no matter what the genre.

Who do you like to read? Is there an up and coming novelist that you’re particularly excited about?

Here’s my list of favorite writers:

– Thomas McGuane
– Ken Bruen
– Cormic McCarthy
– Elmore Leonard
– Joseph Heller
– Steven Ambrose
– Raymond Chandler
– Dennis Lehane
– Annie Proulx
– Tom Wolfe
– James Lee Burke
– Donna Leon
– Richard Russo
– Harper Lee
– Ivan Doig
– John Houston (White Dawn)
– Thomas Berger
– Farley Mowat
– Herman Melville
– Wallace Stegner
– Edmund Morris
– Michael Kelly
– John Sandford
– George Pellecanos
– Denise Mina

Two up-and-comers I really like are Denise Mina and Kevin Guilfoile.

Would you give a tip or two regarding keeping readers on the edge seat for those who are writing thrillers?

A thriller is like a shark – it needs to always be moving forward. If it stops, it dies.

And good luck on your thriller, by the way.

You’re a family man, a writer, an avid outdoorsman, and you co-own an international tourism marketing firm with your wife. How do you time manage to find balance?

I don’t know! He cried desperately.

Parting words?

This was a very long interview, but fun as well. Time for a beer now.