As a single mom and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time out of her busy schedule to write about the heart and soul of life. She’s one of those crazies who enjoys Math and Literature, majoring in both with a minor in French. All that confusion must have influenced her decision to be team captain of a winning team on Family Feud. Get to know her better at www.christinaberry.net
My agent, Sarah Van Diest, had been back and forth with me on the phone and over email for a few weeks as two houses were showing a lot of interest in what was then titled Undiscovered. House “A” said they would be making an offer, but nothing concrete came in. House “B” rushed the project through so they could compete.
Being a compulsive email checker, I actually found out House B—Moody—had come through with an offer about three minutes before I answered The Call. Instead of breaking the news to a clueless author, Sarah had to listen to me shriek with excitement for a few moments before she could even speak.
Tell us a little about the book:
The Familiar Stranger is about a couple going through a really rough patch in their marriage. When an accident incapacitates the husband, their relationship must be redefined. Which would be a lot easier to do if BIG secrets from his past didn’t raise their ugly heads. Despite the upheaval, the choices they make involving forgiveness and trust might allow a new beginning. Or … they might not.
You can see the back cover copy and what other authors have said about The Familiar Stranger by going to http://www.christinaberry.net/books.aspx
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
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. It will be interesting to see if readers can figure out which stories inspired the book.
Though the plot of The Familiar Stranger came from the news, 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, renewed marriage on the other side.
However, that same issue broke our thirteen-year marriage bond permanently. 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!
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
Sounds like a simple question, but I’m going to take Complex Answer for $300.
One of my main goals was to show both perspectives of the marriage and make the husband’s choices and the wife’s behavior understandable. I chose to go back and forth between first person of His and Hers, similar to the early 90’s movie He Said, She Said. [here’s a link if you want it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102011/plotsummary]
Most of the CBA market is geared toward female readers, so several editors had concerns with the story starting in Craig’s point of view. Because of this, I needed to know him inside and out. Fortunately, he arrived in my imagination fully formed, though I didn’t always know the whys of what he did, I knew the hows. The whys explained themselves by the time I wrote the first draft.
But Denise carries half the book. I needed to know her just as intimately. She also “arrived” as a complex character, but took on nuances and that womanly paradox of consistent character and erratic behavior as the edits progressed.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
Most: The story flowed, weaving its own subplot quite naturally. I enjoyed meeting my daily word count goals and finding out what would be happening next that fit with the plot points I sketched out beforehand. Until beginning The Familiar Stranger, I had never started a fresh novel with such training and professional preparation. I loved feeling prepared and equipped to plunge into the project.
Least: There are a lot of layers to the story, a precise timeline, and hints of intrigue. Frustration could get the best of me when I edited and the change dominoed throughout the book. My greatest fear? That I would leave a now obsolete foreshadowing statement that should have been removed.
What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
As a single mother of young children, and currently serving as a foster parent, time is my biggest challenge. I have to make sure my family knows they come first, but to balance that with treating writing as a career.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
Any character has some aspect of my personality, for better or worse. I can only write what I know. I’ve seen a richness develop in my writing as I’ve grown in my faith and walked through some valleys in the last decade.
Denise and Craig’s story is based on the lessons of forgiveness God taught me when my marriage fell apart … the first time. Accordingly, many of the emotions Denise goes through correspond to what I felt, though our situations differ. However, I also wanted to really understand the male perspective, so Craig took on parts of me as well. The path away from God and following temptation is something we can all recognize and, unfortunately, identify with.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
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.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
My previous writing—joint efforts with my mother, Sherrie Ashcraft—has been heavily plotted and I’ve known almost everything about the characters before diving into the story. Writing with a co-author, we both need 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 catalog models that looked like our characters, made collages of the pictures, and slipped our character interview in the back of the plastic sleeves.
With The Familiar Stranger, the first scene came to me like a movie. Once the first chapter was written, I took a few hours to write down how I saw the story progressing. Then I numbered each main point and called it a chapter. All told, I had just over one page of plotting. To keep everything straight, I made notes about the characters as I went along. A very different experience to write by the seat of my pants, but I’m working through my current book in the same way.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
In November 2006, my mother (who is, again, my co-writer on other projects) and I launched our website
We set a goal of getting 1,000 subscribers before one of our books made it to print. While we’re still a couple hundred short, setting such a goal pushed us to recruit from real world, shoutlife, facebook, and conference contacts. Having access to 750+ interested readers and the building of momentum over the years has been priceless. I can’t imagine starting at ground zero in the midst of all the release hoopla!
As soon as Moody designed the cover and secured the ISBN, Amazon and cbd.com put the book up for pre-order. Though I haven’t seen much of a push from other authors, I decided to really promote pre-ordering. We’ll see if it worked!
I’m also focusing on making one reader at a time, whether it be the woman who waited with me as our snow tires were removed at the tire shop, or the checker in the grocery store. Pretty much just looking at me sideways will earn you a business card.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
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 I’m having loads of fun with the research.
The quirky wit my sometime co-author/ always mother and I display in our infrequent, humorous newsletters (sign up at www.ashberrylane.net/update.aspx) 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!
Do you have any parting words of advice?
If I may, I’d like to speak to those of you who have been writing for years and have yet to get published.
Start a new novel.
I'm a stubborn girl—just ask my parents. My mother and I reworked and reworked our co-authored story for eight years, each time putting our newly acquired writing knowledge/skills to use. We were determined that it wouldn't end up in a box in the closet or shoved under the bed. I still love that manuscript, and it's actually very close to selling, but it wasn't until I took the advise of others far sager and more experienced to start a new novel that I finally made my first sale.
Undiscovered was started in earnest September 2007, 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. A two-year journey from writing the opening scene to publication—a miracle that happened because I opened myself up to a new story.