by C.J. Darlington
Terri Blackstock Interview
"I’m very proud to tell people I write Christian fiction. It often opens the door to a conversation about my faith." -- Terri Blackstock
Terri Blackstock, known for her Up All Night Fiction, has sold six million books worldwide. She is the bestselling, award-winning author of Last Light, Night Light, True Light and Dawn’s Light of the Restoration Series, as well as the Sun Coast Chronicles, Second Chances, Newpointe 911, and Cape Refuge series.
C.J.: What are some of your earliest memories of reading, and what books would you say had the most influence on you growing up?
Terri: I grew up in the Air Force and lived in nine states and a foreign country before I was in seventh grade. So I was a perpetual new kid, and things were constantly changing. One of the constants in my life was the public library. I used to cherish my library card, and whenever we’d go to a new town, I’d bug my mother to take me to the library. I had a lot of favorite books as a child, but the ones that stand out most in my memory are those in The Box Car Children series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I don’t know why I so strongly related to those orphaned children living in a box car, but they sure captured my imagination.
How did you know God had called you to be a writer?
I knew as a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t really connect that to a calling from God. I just loved writing and making up stories. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties, after over a decade of publishing secular romances, that I realized that God gave me that gift for a purpose, and that I was meant to use it to glorify Him. It was only then that I began to think of it as a calling. Knowing that I wasn’t using my gift as God intended made me absolutely miserable. I finally repented and told God that I would never again write anything that didn’t glorify Him. I bought back my contracts, and decided to try my hand at writing faith-based suspense novels. God cleared the way and guided me to the right publisher, and I’ve been writing Christian novels ever since.
Some people believe Christian fiction authors are limited in what they can write. But when you wrote in the secular market you actually felt more limited than you do in the Christian market. Could you elaborate on that? How and why did you feel this way?
In the secular market, I often had passages about God edited out. In one of the last books I wrote for that market, I had a Christian character who lived in a small church-centered town, and the editor told me that I had to tone it way down to make it more “ecumenical.” That meant I couldn’t mention Christ or Christianity, and God was much more tolerable if used as profanity. Because they didn’t want to offend those who weren’t Christians, I wasn’t allowed to be true to that character. Yet at the same time, they were willing to publish books with strong Muslim or Hindu characters, and they didn’t encourage them to be ecumenical.
I can honestly say that I’ve never had a Christian publisher limit me that way. Part of that is because I have the same worldview now as my Christian publishers. I’m writing things that I, as a Christian, would want to read. But that certainly doesn’t mean they’re white-washed or benign. I’ve written about rape, murder, child abuse, cancer, grief, drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic abuse, eating disorders, divorce, adultery ... I could go on and on. But always, my purpose in portraying evil and suffering is to show growth in my characters, and hopefully challenge my readers to examine their lives and grow themselves. My books end with light, not darkness. So I guess my publisher trusts me to delve into tough issues and come out in a place that honors Christ.
Where did the idea for Double Minds come from?
The book was born from the main character. For years I’ve had Parker James walking around in my mind. I wanted her to be a quirky, sweet singer/songwriter who’s trying to make her mark on the Christian music industry, but things keep coming against her. She always puts others before herself, but in doing so, she’s often abused. But she loves the people in her life and continues to give them the benefit of the doubt. She works as a receptionist at a recording studio, and when a girl filling in for her is murdered, she begins to realize she may have been the target. As she gets her big break—the chance to go on tour with her famous friend Serene Stevens—a stalker begins to torment her. I loved the idea of putting such a sweet, stable, passionate Christian character in dire jeopardy, and forcing her to rethink all of the passions in her life.
This novel gives us an inside look at the Christian music industry. What sort of research did you conduct to write about the Nashville music scene accurately? I hear you got input from an up-and-coming new artist?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville because one of my children went to college there, at Belmont University, and majored in Music Business. She worked for a few years in the music industry. I also read a lot about the recording industry, to understand how it all worked, and talked to a lot of people in the industry. I was particularly inspired by a woman I met named Erica Lane, who is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter who’s documented her quest for a recording contract in a television reality show called “Inspired Ambition.” I talked with her last year and watched her television series, and found it very helpful as I created my character.
What are some things you learned that surprised you about the Christian music industry?
I went into it with the premise that Christian music artists, like all other Christian celebrities, have sin natures. So my examination of the industry didn’t really surprise me. It certainly isn’t my intention to give the Christian music industry a black eye, because I love Christian music. My intention was to illuminate the problem of hero-worship. We put our Christian celebrities on a pedestal and think that everything they say or sing is straight from their hearts. But some of them aren’t there because they’re passionate followers of Christ. Some of them come to the Christian market because it’s a stepping stone to a secular career. That’s fine, as long as they remain true to Christ once they cross over. But sometimes we see them succeed on the world’s stage, and they never make a stand for Christ again. I’m certainly not saying that it’s wrong for Christians to work in secular arenas. Not at all. I’m just saying that we need to be discerning about the people we admire as our spiritual celebrities.
What was the hardest part about writing Double Minds?
I wanted to be very careful not to paint the Christian music industry with a broad brush, so I balanced the corruption in some of the characters with good intentions and true passion in others.
I’ve heard you say that you hope your novels will send readers to the Bible. Are there any particular Scriptures you used as the theme of Double Minds or any verses that tie into the story you’d love for people to know?
The title and one of the themes in the book came from the passages in the book of James that talks about the double-minded man. It says that he is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. In the book, Parker writes a song called Double Minds, and that song and the concept of those biblical passages play into the plot of the book.
Even though you plot out your stories in advance, in one case you wrote two drafts of a book and then changed the villain! We’d love to know what book that was and how that worked out for you. :)
If I knew that everyone who was going to read that book had already read it, I’d tell you. But if I name the book, I’m afraid future readers will have a heads-up about the villain, and I don’t want to spoil the experience for them.
Now that you write exclusively for the Christian market, where do you draw the line in portraying violence/adult situations in your novels? Is that even an issue for you?
I try to write books that I would like to read, and I don’t like to read things that make me feel defiled in any way. So I don’t give long descriptions of blood and gore. There is violence, because they’re murder mysteries, but it’s not graphic. If I need to have an intimate scene for whatever reason, I use the technique they used in the movies years ago—I simply close the door.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
A book that changes the world, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But for now, I’ll take all the ideas God gives me and see what I can do with them.
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?
Yes, it’s always challenging to get started in the mornings. I do experience writer’s block sometimes. Usually I combat that by reading a good book.
What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?
A few years ago I hurt my back, and had so much pain that it was difficult to sit at the computer. That was a very low point because I had to take several months off. Ultimately I had surgery, and had to take more months off. I still have the chronic back pain, but I’ve learned to cope with it. Contracted books were a big motivator for me. I had deadlines and my publishers were depending on me, and I had some books I really wanted to write. I just had to find ways to work through that.
Some Christian authors don’t believe there even should be the label “Christian fiction”. What do you think?
I think it’s a very handy way for people to find the kind of books they want to read. I’m all for specific labels for our books, if it makes it easier for readers to buy them. I’m not embarrassed by that label at all. I’m very proud to tell people I write Christian fiction. It often opens the door to a conversation about my faith.
Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian? Why?
I’d say I’m a Christian fiction writer, because my novels really do have a strong faith message. Every single one has biblical truths and messages about Christ.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
That I’m a terrible housekeeper and I don’t cook at all.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love going to movies with my husband and eating too much popcorn.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I didn’t eat until almost one o’clock today. It was a busy morning.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Cranberry Juice, Iced Tea for my husband, and empty shelves
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Hot chocolate, because I hate coffee.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Learning to speak Spanish, but I’m working on it
When was the last time you cried?
Just a few days ago. I often cry in church.
Three words that best describe you:
Opinionated, temperamental, loyal
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Songs by Bebo Norman, Natalie Grant, Sarah Groves, Fernando Ortega, Twila
Paris, Third Day, and many others.
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.