by C.J. Darlington
Christina Berry Interview
very words I thought would help someone else ministered to me."
Single mother and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time to write from her busy schedule because she must tell the stories that haunt her every waking moment. (Such is the overly dramatic description of an author's life!) She holds a BA in Literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem, as well. All that confusion must have influenced her decision to be team captain of a winning team on Family Feud.
Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, released from Moody in September and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Buried deep within my closet, one might find some angst-filled poetry from my teenage years and a very spooky seven pages of the novel I started in high school. Though I was in love with the idea of being a writer, it wasn’t until I finished college and stayed home with my first child that I actually decided to write a book. Truthfully, my mom told me we were going to write one together, and being the obedient daughter I am …
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
My mother read to my
older brother all the time while I was kicking her from the inside, then
kept the habit
going while I was clinging from the
outside. I never remember a time when I’ve gone more than a few days
without seeing her read a book. She would read to us on long car trips.
By the time I had some IQ testing done as an 8-year old and they asked
who my favorite authors were, I responded, “James Harriot and Erma
I love the haunting stories of Heidi and The Secret Garden. Those are actually books with tough themes, but strong females who triumph in hard situations.
I’ve been following you and your mom’s writing endeavors for a while now, and it’s so wonderful to see the close relationship you guys have. When did you and your mom start writing together? Tell us how the process works for you. Do you trade off chapters? Write it while you’re both at the computer?
We began writing in the summer of ’99, figuring the accountability of having a co-writer would make us actually do what we’d always dreamed of but never put action to. It took a long road of learning how much we didn’t know, tons of re-writing, brooding over rejections, making connections, pitching at conferences, and directional prayer to make our writing salable.
Writing with a co-author, Mom and I both needed to know exactly how a character looked and his or her history. We wrote out each scene’s main plot point and point of view character on index cards and posted them on a large corkboard. We also found catalogue models that looked like our characters, made collages of the pictures, and slipped our character interview in the back of the plastic sleeves.
Then we wrote whatever scene came next on our own and passed it along to the other person for a first-round edit and to make sure she knew what was happening in the story.
What is the number one thing your mom taught you about writing?
That writing a book is possible if you write one word after another. I never knew I could do it before I did it with her encouragement!
When did you first start writing your solo novel The Familiar Stranger, where did the idea come from, and how long did it take you to finish?
In the summer of 2006, two stories appeared in the newspaper. One was a huge, national story; the other a smaller, local-interest item. I wondered what it might look like if those two stories conceived a child. Boom! I had the entire plot.
Undiscovered (my working title for the book) was written by February 2008,
edited by June, won second place in the ACFW Genesis Contemporary category,
and was renamed The Familiar Stranger and contracted by Moody Publishers
in October, with a release date of September 2009.
Unfortunately, you’ve had to personally deal with several of the themes in this novel … after you wrote it. Did the process of writing this novel help you at all during the tough days?
Though the plot of The Familiar Stranger came from news stories, I’d been looking for a fictional vehicle to express the lessons I’d learned regarding forgiveness in my own marriage. I knew no one was interested in reading my particular story, but I still felt God had given me something to say. My husband and I worked through a major issue six years ago and found a vibrant, completely renewed marriage on the other side.
However, nine months ago, that same issue broke our bond. Now as a newly-single woman, I’m in the midst of promoting a book that touches far closer to home than I would have ever dreamed. If no one else ever reads it, I’ve been convicted and encouraged by my own words. If that isn’t a gracious God at work, I don’t know what is!
I was in the middle of revisions when my marriage fell apart. God orchestrated it so that I was beefing up a "struggle with forgiveness" scene in those first few weeks of singleness. While aspects of that were hard to deal with, the very words I thought would help someone else ministered to me.
What character and/or scene was the most fun for you to write in this book? Why?
I have a scene involving a Krispy Kreme donut that was particularly tantalizing
to write. I laugh every time I read it. Also, I took a research trip to
Multnomah Falls in the gorgeous Columbia Gorge. Using the beauty of that
place in a scene was a lot of fun.
Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?
I’m a snacker when I write, so I’ve tried to find computer-friendly treats other than M&Ms or other candies my sweet tooth craves. My latest find is Cinnamon Life cereal. Bite-sized pieces, satisfying crunch, and deliciously sweet flavor with not many calories and lots of vitamins.
I also like to write while sitting on an exercise ball. When I’m having trouble thinking/plotting/conniving, I bounce. Even if I just sit on the ball, my posture is straightened and I burn calories trying not to fall off.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A best seller. ;) Honestly, I’ve been blessed to have my first published novel be the “book of my heart.” If I never publish again, at least I wrote this. Even though it’s my one and only so far, I believe The Familiar Stranger will always have a special place in my heart because it comes from such deep personal pain … and shows the strength of the Lord’s restoration.
Who are some authors you enjoy reading now, and why do you enjoy them?
I LOVE Jennifer Erin Valent and Christa Parrish. They are fabulous writers, but I also like that they are new. If they’re just starting out and are already immensely talented, that means I have many years of reading pleasure ahead of me.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
Besides bounce on my exercise ball? ;)
I’ve found I’m most productive at actually writing when I play games with myself. I make a list of my word count (usually around 1500 for the day) in hundred-word increments. Then I make a list of the chores I need to get done: laundry, dishes, bills paid, etc … As soon as I write 100 words, I cross off a line and allow myself to do one household related task. The writing flies by AND I make progress on my other duties at the same time. Many writers hate to “interrupt” their writing time like that, but my brain seems to process better with frequent breaks and words spill out when I set back down at the keyboard.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Anywhere I can! I have
a desktop computer in my office, which is attached to my master suite.
there makes me feel like I’m really a
writer. Most of the time, though, I feel like a mom who happens to write,
which is when my laptop comes in handy. I might start on a kitchen stool,
move to the couch, settle on my bed, and then sit at the dining room table
in one day’s work. I’ve also been known to run a battery out
at the park while the kids play.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
How bad I was. Truly. Mom and I thought our story was so captivating,
our writing so original and real, our characters so authentic that editors
would be begging to publish our book. If I had been more humble and looked
for ways to improve at the beginning, perhaps my journey would have been
It’s exciting to hear that you, and your mom, have recently signed with Wendy Lawton of Books & Such Literary! What’s in the pipeline for you guys?
We’re thrilled at the chance to work with Wendy!
I’m about 1/5 of the way through my next manuscript, Unafraid, a story about a girl’s kidnapping, and how her life unfolds because of the trauma. One of my characters is a PI, so research is tons of fun.
The humor my sometime co-author/always mother and I display in our infrequent, humorous newsletters--sign up at www.ashberrylane.net/update.aspx for your chance at free autographed books for life or a 4GB iPod Shuffle--has garnered the attention of an editor. You just might see a funny, non-fiction cooperative work from the Ashberry Ladies at some point in time. Plus, I have a funky TV-based devotional a house is interested in … Busy, busy, busy.
But not as busy as my mother who is a scant couple of thousand away from successfully completing NaNoWriMo!
Okay, I gotta ask you to re-tell the story of your Family Feud experience for TitleTrakk.com readers. :)
We were going to be in California anyway, staying with family and blasting around Disneyland, so I called the show to see about auditioning. We spent an entire day at tryouts, practicing on the Richard Dawson stage—though no kissing was involved. Though they couldn’t guarantee we would make it to the actual taping, we were invited back a few days later. As the day progressed, they called team after team and our hopes faded … until the final filming segment.
My cheerleading experience came in handy as team captain. This was during the one year Louie Anderson hosted, and we chatted with him during commercial breaks. By the time we got to the last round, it looked as if we would be thoroughly trounced, yet we stole the triple points and won the game. My father worked the first fast money round, racking up an amazing 183 points! I came out and did clean up.
The prize money arrived a few months after the show aired … and just in time to keep our family afloat while I endured ten weeks of complete bed rest during a problem pregnancy.
like to share with us?
I’ve been impressed with the quality and scope of Titletrakk’s reach for years and am honored to be here!
The recent changes in my life—losing my husband, facing finding a “real” job, selling my home—have done nothing but solidify what I hope to be the theme of the book and my life: Live Transparently—Forgive Extravagantly. If reading The Familiar Stranger makes even one man or woman be more honest with his or her spouse or delve into trust issues in a healthy way, I’ll consider it a success. Maybe there’s a hurting heart that can find a new path to forgiveness because of the story.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1) I’m a first-degree
purple belt in Tae Kwondo and can break boards with my awesome kicks.
2) I’ve never been on Oprah. I know, I know, shocking, but true.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to read, as most authors do, but feel like I barely have the time to relax with a good book anymore. I DVR my favorite TV shows, and like to catch up while eating lunch. Eating, sleeping, and the occasional exercise session (on the Wii fit) are right up there with breathing. Yep, I’d have to say that breathing is one of my favorite activities. It’s almost as if I would die without it!
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Strawberry flavored frosted mini wheats in 1% milk
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Tea or a smoothie thingy or a hot chocolate. Whatever it is, it’s not coffee!
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Find true and lasting love with the man of my dreams.
Save a life.
Be totally, 100% sold out for my Savior no matter the cost.
When was the last time you cried?
Tonight, when I found out a loved one is having a very hard time and is listening to the lies that run through all our heads when we are facing the toughest circumstances of our lives.
Three words that best describe you:
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
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.