The Christa Banister File:
by C.J. Darlington
Christa A. Banister Interview
"A modern day Emma, I am not, but yeah, I've definitely played matchmaker a time or two and have a track record about as good as Sydney's" -- Christa Banister
Christa Ann Banister lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Will. They love to play Scrabble and throw darts on a map, dreaming about exotic travel locations. In addition to writing fiction, Christa is happily employed as a freelance writer for her many, many clients.
C.J.: Christa, share with us what it was like writing your second book, Blessed Are the Meddlers. Was it harder or easier than the first? In what ways?
Christa: I think it was both easier and more difficult to write Meddlers—if that makes even a twitch of sense. I learned so much about the novel writing process while fine tuning Around the World in 80 Dates, so in a sense, I felt far more prepared for the journey the second time around. I knew exactly what it would take to get the job done, so that was helpful.
But like a musician’s debut album, something he/she has invested in and worked on for years and years, I knew exactly what Around the World in 80 Dates was going to look like from a story perspective. However, with Meddlers, I was completely starting from scratch and deciding where the next adventures of Sydney and company would lead. And unlike last time, I didn’t have years and years to consider all the little nuances of the story. I had to make decisions pretty quickly in order to make my deadline.
And there were all sorts of questions to consider: Do I follow the same format as last time? Which characters’ storylines were the most important to continue, and who needed to take a backseat? And most importantly, how do I make the reader still care about my protagonist, even though she’s happily married now? So all of those factors definitely made Meddlers a challenge—a welcome challenge— from a writing perspective.
After you finished Around
the World in 80 Dates did you immediately know
you wanted to write a sequel?
With a quirky character like Sydney, I always knew there would be another story to tell, so I was excited about getting to write a sequel. Plus, it allowed me to indulge a curiosity I’ve always had: What happens after the girl gets the happy-ever-after ending that everyone had been rooting for? As a huge fan of the romantic comedy movie genre, that’s something I’ve always wondered about. Sure, we get to see the guy and girl kiss and decide to be together forever after they’ve beaten the insurmountable odds, but after they say “I do,” what’s their life like? So I got to explore that in Meddlers, which was a lot of fun for me and something I hope will be equally rewarding for readers to see play out.
Did you intentionally set out to write a character with an Emma complex?
When I wrote Around the World in 80 Dates, I had no idea that Sydney would end up having an Emma complex later on. But after she married Gavin, it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility for a girl like her. Since she always wants everyone to be as happy as she is, I could just picture her being just like Emma, albeit less vacuous. And given the humorous tone of the first book, I felt that a story like that could definitely keep up that fun, lighthearted pace.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
More than anything, it was probably time. Since I’m a full-time freelance writer and critic by day, it was sometimes challenging to keep the creativity flowing freely when you’ve already been writing for magazines all day. But as the old adage says, “necessity breeds invention,” so as long as I stuck with it and put the time in, everything keep moving right along.
What message do you hope readers come away with after reading Blessed
Are the Meddlers?
There are several messages that readers can, and I hope, will, take away from Meddlers. One is that we have to be especially careful when we’re giving advice—love or otherwise. If done so flippantly, there can be relationship-altering consequences as Sydney ultimately discovers.
Another theme that’s prevalent in the book is that whether it’s with love or even your career, it’s important not to settle for anything less than what God has for us. I think so many times in life it’s tempting to opt for the easy, comfortable life choices rather than the longer but infinitely more rewarding path that involves a whole different level of trust in God’s plan. So while I hope that readers are entertained when reading Blessed Are the Meddlers, I also want them to be inspired to pursue God’s best in life.
we gather you’ve
probably played matchmaker yourself a few times . . . care to share any
mishaps or successes? :)
A modern day Emma, I am not, but yeah, I’ve definitely played matchmaker a time or two and have a track record about as good as Sydney’s. In fact, I have a friend right now who would be perfect for one of the pastors at my church—or at least I think so. So I’m trying to hatch a plan for them to meet even as we speak.
Overall, while I’ve introduced a couple of girlfriends to guys they ended up going on a few dates with, most of my matchmaking efforts have been nothing but good intentions gone wrong once the people in question actually went out. Bottom line, I wish I had a better track record. Hmmm, now about my friend and that pastor…
Did you find you had to do a lot of research to write about a columnist
effectively or did it flow naturally from your freelance career?
Sure, there was a bit of research involved, but my experience in the publishing industry certainly came in handy when it came to writing about Sydney’s foray into columns for the lovelorn.
What is your favorite part of writing books?
What’s not to like? I absolutely love hanging out at Starbucks and figuring out what’s going to happen to all these people next. It’s fun crafting the scenes, coming up with dialogue and moving the plot right along…so basically, well, everything!
Is there anything
surprised you about the publishing process or the industry in general?
After finishing my first novel, I immediately had a whole new respect for anyone who writes a book. Whether the quality of said book is good, bad or otherwise, I better understood how much time and effort is involved. And yet, that’s really only the first hurdle.
The work doesn’t end once the final edits have been made, of course. There’s the promotional aspect that will consume hours and hours of your day, whether it’s updating your Website, doing the social networking thing at MySpace and Facebook, setting up book signings, doing interviews, etc. Through the process I’ve learned just how much it takes to get the word out. It won’t happen by osmosis. Pure and simple: If you’re not handpicked by Oprah for her book club, plan on being really, really busy if you want people to know about your book. While I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me, I had no idea what I was really in for.
What do you do when you hit a brick wall in the process of creating a
There were times when I simply had to walk away for a few hours—or even a day—to clear my mind. Since you’re spending so much time in front of your computer screen, you’re bound to hit a brick wall at one point. So it’s good to distract yourself with something else—a movie, a long walk, a few well-placed punches to your living room wall (just kidding on the last one) to regain your writing mojo. Sometimes when you’re on a serious, down-to-the-wire deadline, you can only escape for 20 minutes or so, but that’s better than nothing.
We hear you’re a Food Network junkie. What’s
your favorite show? Why?
Yep, I love watching the Food Network because it’s great TV that you can actually learn a ton from. I’ve stockpiled all kinds of great cooking tips and recipes, and my hubby gets to reap all the benefits!
It’s really difficult to pick just one favorite show, so I’ll have to go with three: Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa,” Giada De Laurentiis’ “Everyday Italian” and Rachael Ray’s “30 Minute Meals.”
I like each show for a different reason. Ina (see, we’re on a first name basis!) uses simple ingredients to make really delicious food, and you can’t go wrong with any of her recipes. Plus, it’s just so funny when she throws in three stick of butter in her Kitchen Aid mixer, and without batting an eyelash, says “Now how bad can that be?’”
Meanwhile Giada makes my favorite genre of food—Italian. Since I’ve never met a pasta I don’t like, it’s always fun watching her whip up something new. Plus I have to admit that my hubby and I like to make fun of the way she insists on pronouncing words like spaghetti, prosciutto and ricotta like they do in Italy. It always feels a tad pretentious, but it makes us laugh.
As for Rachael Ray, I know she has her critics. My brother thinks her voice is annoying, and I’ve heard other people poke fun at her perky demeanor and love of acronyms like “EVOO.” But I think she’s terrific, and I love seeing many cool dinners she comes up with that can be made in just a half hour. Saving time (and another call to Papa John’s) is always a good thing, right?
What’s next for you book-wise? Any chance we’ll
see another novel featuring Sydney?
I am in the very beginning stages of a third novel featuring Sydney (yay!), so be sure to stay tuned because so far, it’s shaping up to be really fun.
What do you
wish your readers knew about you that maybe you haven’t
shared with anyone yet?
Nothing pressing immediately springs to mind, but I would encourage my readers to check out my brand spanking new blog at http://christabanister.typepad.com/heythereitschrista/. Now that I’ve found a format that I love so much more than MySpace, I’ve been posting away. It’s got everything from reviews of all the latest movies (so you can save your hard-earned cash if it stinks) to information on my latest book signings to all other sorts of randomness. So check it out!
Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Depends on what’s going on—sometimes I’m doing a book signing. But most Friday nights are date nights with Will. So maybe we’re at a movie, a restaurant or playing 10 frames at the local bowling alley.
What will your epitaph read?
Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. If going the whole jokey route, it could say, “I told you I was sick.” But in all seriousness, I guess maybe something along the lines of: “She loved, she laughed, she wrote” might work. I guess my epitaph is still a bit of a work in progress…
Favorite food of all time:
At Amerigo’s, an Italian restaurant in Nashville, they have the most amazing three-cheese tortellini in a cream sauce w/crab. It’s totally decadent and probably has about a gazillion calories, but it’s my absolute favorite. If that wasn’t bad enough, their bread that you dip in olive oil and parmesan cheese is amazing. And you also can’t leave without having a piece of the best tiramisu I’ve ever tasted. It’s funny to say that about a city where barbeque and deep-fried everything is their claim to fame, but it’s truly out of this world.
Your most memorable vacation was:
My honeymoon. After our wedding, Will and I rented a small SUV and made the scenic drive up the coast from L.A. to San Francisco, something I recommend to anyone who hasn’t already. We stayed in L.A., Santa Barbara, Carmel and San Francisco and had the best time taking in the gorgeous stretch of land and sea.
Last time we talked,
one of your goals for life was to travel to Italy, Spain and The Greek
Islands. Are you any
closer to making that happen? :)
I haven’t made it to any of those locations yet (one day soon, I hope), but I did score some major frequent flyer miles and Euro travel in when I went on assignment to Scotland this past January. It was breathtakingly beautiful there, and oh those accents!
Your favorite movie of all time:
I’m a major movie buff, so choosing just one isn’t easy. But in the spirit of the question, I’m going to say Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Everything from the screwball humor to the gorgeous Roman cinematography to the unexpected tear-jerker ending gets me every time.
You’re standing in Barnes & Noble
and a customer beside you has no idea what to purchase. What book, CD
and movie do you recommend?
Wow, another toughie for someone who can’t ever choose just one. For an unexpectedly funny book with some thought-provoking faith takeaway, I’d recommend The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Basically, in a quest to learn more about the Bible, this particularly author follows it, well, literally, and everything from his first attempt at stoning to the ridiculous outfits he wore, made me laugh so hard. Plus given the fact that he doesn’t embrace belief in Christ, what he learns in a year’s time is particularly intriguing.
For the ears, I’d recommend the latest from Death Cab for Cutie called Narrow Stairs. While it’s certainly a departure sonically from what they’ve done in the past, frontman Ben Gibbard continues to create some of the most unique and catchy pop music around. Plus, to get the full effect, this is one of those albums that makes the most sense to listen to from beginning to end. So for the iTunes faithful, I’d recommend downloading the entire album rather than cherry picking.
As for movies, our most recent DVD purchase was musical—John Mayer’s Where the Light Is. It’s cool because he does three sets: one acoustic, one with the John Mayer Trio and one with his pop ensemble. And while the non-concert moments in the car with his dog don’t really add much to the bottom line, the concert itself is fantastic (especially his cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’) and makes you feel like you’re there—the sure sign of a great music DVD. As for regular movies, it’s been a bit of a slow spell DVD-wise. We liked “21” for purely escapist entertainment and like everyone else, are looking forward to picking up “The Dark Knight” on disc soon.
Thanks so much for this opportunity…your questions were terrific, and it was tons of fun hangin’ out with TitleTrakk.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.