Meet Novelist CJ Eernisse Chase

Award winning novelist CJ Eernisse Chase writes “Intrigue of the Past, Inspiration for the Present.” A six-time Golden Heart® finalist who was the 2010 winner in the inspirational category (!), she loves to set her romantic suspense stories in historical time periods.

A degree in statistics and a career in information technology may seem like an unlikely start to a novel writing career, but after coworkers discovered CJ was a member of that rare species—a computer programmer who could also craft a grammatically-correct sentence—she spent more time writing computer manuals than computer code. Leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, CJ quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene, so she decided to take the advice of her ninth grade English teacher and write articles and stories people actually wanted to read. In addition to penning novels, she also wrote non-fiction for The Banner, a small Christian publication, for five years.

CJ lives in the swamps of Chesapeake, Virginia—just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and North Carolina—with her handsome husband, her two active sons, one kinetic sheltie, and an ever-increasing number of chickens. For the past three years, she and her husband have been in the process of adopting a boy from a Guatemalan orphanage. When she is not writing or traveling to Guatemala, you will find her gardening, collecting antiques, watching old movies, playing classical piano (“badly”), or teaching a special needs Sunday School class.

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•I invited CJ to prepare a special cyber treat, which is, of course, calorie free.

We currently have 18 chickens—which means I always have more eggs than I can use. Need deviled eggs for a potluck? Call me.

Today I’m baking cyber cream puffs because a full batch of puff pastry and custard uses nearly a dozen eggs. (Unfortunately, my virtual cream puff recipe calls for virtual eggs, so I haven’t actually reduced the quantity of eggs in my refrigerator.)

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it. I invite you to enjoy your treat as you get to know more about this talented novelist and her interesting and entertaining writing journey.

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CJ Embarks on Her Journey

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•We’re all writers, whether our efforts are emails, grocery lists, or notes to our children’s teachers. You wrote news stories for five years for The Banner, a small Christian publication. How do the skills you learned from that experience contribute to your novel writing?

Working with editors gives one insight into their minds (a scary thought, I know) and gives the writer a different perspective of publishing.

Editors insist a story be interesting. Don’t offer an editor a same-old, same-old story. It must be unusual in some way. (As a former editor once warned the correspondents, “We don’t cover baptisms—except maybe a baptism by sprinkler.”)

Editors want a great first sentence. That beginning of an article is so important, it even has a special name, the lede.

Editors want tight writing and precise language. During my five years, the word count of a typical story dropped by one-third.

Editors get paid to change things. And when everything works as it should, their changes improve the story. However, Murphy’s law dictates that if a writer uses imprecise language, the editor’s changes will alter the meaning of the sentence. In almost all cases where I found errors in my published stories, the fault was mine because my original language was imprecise. Which leads me to the most important thing I learned …

Don’t read your work once it’s published. You can’t change it, and you will find mistakes. Editors, like writers, are human.

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CJ’s Phenomenal Contest Success

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•You experienced your first contest final some twelve years ago, and that was only the beginning of some serious success. What have been some of the highlights of your time traveling the contest circuit? Are there some wins that stood out and had special significance?

My favorite win happened in the Duel on the Delta some years back. DoD was the first contest I’d entered back when I was greener than Virginia swamp water. Despite my making every newbie mistake in the book, one of the judges was particularly encouraging, and she signed her name.

A few years later, I entered DoD again with a different story, and I won my category. But the best was yet to come. When I got my scores back, I saw a familiar name—the same judge who’d offered such help and encouragement the first time! That was a wonderful thank you letter to write.

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• And I heard you won a publisher-sponsored contest that enabled you to really go places. I wanna hear the story, so spill it.

I entered a Silhouette-sponsored contest in 2001. The theme was how Silhouette makes your love come alive and the contest required a 500-word essay and matching pictures/photographs. Since I was writing 500-word nonfiction articles for $50 at the time, I decided the cost/benefit was worth writing a short story and trying my luck against the other entries.

My humorous, first-person tale about a harried mother of a special needs child won the grand prize – an all-expenses paid trip to NYC, two nights at The Plaza Hotel, and a day at the Elizabeth Arden salon and spa for my husband and me. That prize worked out to a value of almost $10/word! (Or the equivalent of making a million dollars for a 100,000 word novel. Ha! Stephen King, move over!)

Now, did you catch that I entered the contest in 2001? I originally wrote the story in early September, then put it away for a few days. Then came 9/11, and I ended up spending most of the month writing nonfiction articles about that very emotional time. Two days before the entry deadline, I pulled out the story and decided it was pretty good—except for two places. Can you believe that in a 500-word story about a mom relaxing with a romance novel—written on 9/8/01—I managed to include both the phrases “World Trade Center” and “international terrorists”? I’m just glad I hadn’t mailed it or I might have had the FBI at my door asking what I knew and when did I know it. You can bet I changed those two phrases before I sent it off.

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•Early in your writing journey, you finaled in the Golden Heart. The year was 1999, and the category was Short Historical. I’m sure you can still remember the thrill of getting the call from an RWA board member telling you the BIG news. How did you react, and what did that final mean to you?

Oh, my. The call came early, about 8:00, I believe. And I knew as soon as the caller gave her name it was about the GH. My heart was pounding and I think I made some suitably idiotic response that my mind has fortunately wiped from memory.

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•That GH final was but the beginning. You’ve added five more, including your current final in the inspirational category. Any special stories behind those calls? And, I gotta know, is it just as the thrilling to receive that call from RWA the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time as it was the first?

I was away from home when both my second and fourth calls came. The second time I finaled (2001), my husband was overseas, so I had taken the boys to my mother’s house for a week or so. Back then, RWA waited up to two days before posting the names on the website. Board members tried to reach a person rather than leave a message. Calls began on Saturday. I kept calling my answering machine that weekend, but no message from RWA. I had pretty much given up, but I read on a writers loop the board was trying to reach one last finalist before posting the names, so I tried my voice mail one more time late Sunday night. And there was the message.

As for the excitement for subsequent calls, it is hard not to become a little jaded. Many years I’ve entered on the last possible date—just in case that other call came before the deadline. The first time is definitely the best, but being a GH finalist is a great honor whether it’s the first time or the sixth, and I appreciate all the judges who believe my writing worthy of such complimentary scores.

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•As a six-time GH finalist, what tips would you offer other writers eager to place in contests and attract the attention of the publishing professionals?

Keep writing. Try new things. I’ve written short books and long books, books set in the present and books set in the past, and books I knew would be difficult to sell. Some things will work and some won’t. But only by writing all those books was I able to learn the best fit for my interests and voice.

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•OK, CJ, we’re gonna dream BIG. It’s July 31, the night of the Awards Ceremony at Nationals. Your smiling face has flashed across the jumbotron along with those of your category mates. The presenter opens the envelope, smiles, and reads your name. You wend your way to the stage with the spotlight trained on you, make it up the steps without stumbling, and take the podium to deliver your acceptance speech. Who will you thank?

Well, I’ll probably be so shocked I can’t get any words out of my mouth.

My husband has stood by me and encouraged me all the years I’ve been writing. Yes, he has suggested I quit when the disappointments had accumulated and he knew I was hurting. What can I say? The man just wants me to be happy, and he’ll support my writing as long as it makes me happy. What a hero.

My critique partner and best friend Candace Irvin has been my pat-on-the-shoulder and kick-in-the-pants for 11 years. We’ve gone through so much, good and bad, together over the years. She’s the sister I never had. (Twin sister almost, since we’re only 10 days apart in age. I’m younger, of course.)

And my boys have made sacrifices over the years when Mom is working. My oldest has now reached the point where he encourages me just like his dad. Can we say, Future Hero?

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CJ Surmounts Several Hurdles

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•Sometimes, despite our dream of being a published author, our determination, and our dedication, life intervenes. You faced a number of major hurdles that sidetracked your plans of pursuing publication. What happened, and how did you handle the challenges that came your way and keep your dream alive?

I started writing seriously in 1996 when I left my day-job (as systems analyst) to stay home with our eldest son. And then in 1997, we had received a special surprise when our second son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. After an extended stay in NICU, he came home but required more care than the typical newborn. He wasn’t allowed to go out in public, and feedings lasted upwards of two hours! I’d feed him, then while he rested I fed his 2-year-old brother and me – and then it was time to start over. Writing went on the back burner, but the dream didn’t die.

Eventually I finished another book (the one that became my first GH finalist in 1999) and then yet another (the one that finaled in the 2001 GH). 2001 was going to be my year. Nathanael was finally getting stronger, I finaled again in the GH, and I signed with my first agent.

And … then my husband was diagnosed with a serious illness. No National conference for me. I kept writing (and collecting rejections) for a while longer, but I’d pretty much stopped by 2004 as we prepared to move from Northern Virginia (the DC suburbs) to Southeastern Virginia.

I took the next few years off, but writing still called to me, so in 2007 I made it a goal to finish another book. I did—but I discovered I had changed in the meantime and I wanted my writing to reflect that. I realized that the stories I wanted to tell required a faith element to make them fully believable, so in 2008 I switched from general market romances to novels aimed at the Christian publishing industry.

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CJ’s Research Process

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•Since you write historicals, there are lots of details to be nailed down. Where do you begin?

Well, I’m probably a bit different from most writers – I usually start with a setting that interests me. Yes, that’s right. Not a character. Not a plot. A setting. Of course, this has led to some unusual books. How many novels have you read that are based around the “Starving Time”? I mean, “starving” doesn’t exactly say “romance” to most people. I really want to write one about Bacon’s Rebellion, but I’ve been, er, strongly cautioned that it might not be the best career move at this time.

I love non-fiction almost as much as fiction, so I’m often reading books about history. And that’s what will usually get me started down the road of wanting to explore a particular time/place more.

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•Sounds like you like to work actual historical events into your stories. How do you go about incorporating them?

After I have a setting that interests me, I research the time/place for some obscure nugget I can build a story around. For instance, did you know that the Treaty of Ghent contained an unusual ratification procedure? Or that most of the information we have about the original Jamestown fort comes from the Spanish archives? (They had spies in the early Virginia colony.) Or that a group of Quakers sued the Federal government in 1874 for destroying their property during the Civil War (and won a partial victory)?

Then I play what-if games and finally develop plot and characters. What if an American woman travels to Regency London – not with the intent of being a belle at Almacks but to get revenge for British actions during the War of 1812 – and unwittingly learns about a conspiracy involving the Treaty of Ghent? As a result, many of my books straddle the line between historical romance and historical fiction.

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CJ’s Journey Continues

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•What captivating new ideas are swirling in your creative mind? Have new characters begun chattering away?

I’m thinking of changing the name of my 2010 GH finalist from Unforgiven to Finding Forgiveness and turning it into a three-book series: Finding Forgiveness, Finding Faith, and Finding Freedom. Finding Faith will be set during Yorkshire England’s Luddite Riots. And the clearances have been calling to me for years, so I’ll jump across the border to Scotland for Finding Freedom and write about that sad time of Scottish history. You may have noticed, I’ve picked out the settings – but not the plots or characters.

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Five Little Known Facts About CJ

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~ I still own my first car, a 1987 Mustang convertible.

~ From the ages of 6 to 8, I lived in a group home for at-risk children. There is a catch: my parents were live-in staff. We had our own apartment in the building but shared meals and such with the kids. My experiences there contributed to my desire to adopt other homeless children.

~ I was a church organist for over 20 years, including that unforgettable morning worship service on Sunday, September 7, 1997. By the time the service ended, my contractions were about 20 minutes apart, and our second son was born later that day.

~ The oldest thing in my closet is a green bustle-back gown circa 1870—and it fits. (In fact, it is slightly big on me.) I also have a lovely gray and peach original Edwardian gown (circa 1900), and I look a lot like Anne Shirley when I wear it. At least, I did some, ahem, years ago.

~ Just like Indiana Jones, I got my nickname from the dog. Many years ago, my cousins got a new dog named “CJ,” and someone in the family realized my initials were CJ. And it stuck.

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CJ’s Question for You

One of my books features a seven-year-old boy that I loosely based on my oldest son at that age. Of all the characters in my books, that boy is my son’s favorite. Do you identify with characters who are radically different from you, or do you prefer to see more of yourself in a character? Who are some of your favorite fictional characters, and why?

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CJ’s Drawing

CJ just returned from Guatemala last week, a country known for its beautiful jade and colorful weavings. Unfortunately, CJ is selfishly keeping the jade earrings she brought back, but she has generously offered to give away a beautiful 6 x 8 inch Guatemalan notebook cover (perfect for meetings, writers conferences, or classes) and a handmade/hand embroidered Guatemalan change purse.

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To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for CJ by midnight July 20 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)

On July 21, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)

Congrats to Carrie Pagels, winner of the notebook cover and change purse.

Note: Offer void where prohibited.

Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

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Learn More About CJ

Friend Her on Facebook ~ Cj Chase

Contact CJ ~ cjchase@cox.net

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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42 Responses to Meet Novelist CJ Eernisse Chase

  1. MaryC says:

    Hey CJ! It’s so nice to see a face from the old days and my days on the contest circuit. I was so proud to see you final again this year!
    Best of luck to you!

    Mary

    • cjechase says:

      Thanks, Mary.

      Calling them the “old days” makes me feel old. Maybe I’ll start lying about my age when I began writing. I was 15, no 12, no 8 …

      Nice to see you here, Mary. Are you going to Orlando?

      • MaryC says:

        Nope. Can’t swing Orlando. DD1 is heading to grad school and DD2 is still in college. Needless to say, money is tight.

  2. Julie J. says:

    Congrats on all your success! I’m 30, and I almost always end up writing at least one character who is eighty or older in my novels. So maybe, I relate to characters who are much older than me.

    • cjechase says:

      Do you like music from the 40’s, Julie? XM has a channel devoted to 40’s music that we put on when my in-laws (80 and 86) visit. They love it — and I do, too.

  3. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, CJ! It’s great to have one of my Pixie and Unsinkable Golden Heart pals here. What fun it is to learn more about you and your writing journey with its many successes.

    In answer to your question, there are aspects of me in some of my characters as well as some of my daughter in one, but they really are creations of my mind with their own personalities, interests, and quirks. In almost every case they are stronger people than I am and handle the trials I put in their paths better than I would. 🙂

    • cjechase says:

      Thank you, Keli.

      And for everyone else, Keli edited a line out of my responses. Keli and I are GH finalists in the same category. I wrote that I would be shocked if I won because I think Keli has it wrapped up. Really. If I were a betting person, I’d put my money on Keli.

      (Ha, Keli. I got it in there after all!)

      • Keli Gwyn says:

        You are sneaky. But here’s the deal. You’ve proven time and again what a talented writer you are, so I hope you’re prepared to have that spotlight follow YOU to the stage come July 31st. I’ll clap so hard for you my palms sting. And I’ve got my cheer ready: “Yay, CJ!”

  4. Jillian Kent says:

    Hi C. J., Hi Keli!
    Well anyone who writes about Yorkshire, Luddite Riots, Regency England, and the power of faith is someone I have to meet.:)

    As to your question I’d say that my sense of humor comes out through my characters. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes the faith issues I’m thinking about come out through my characters too.

    Favorite fictional character: Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because I love a good snoop. 🙂

    Blessings to you, C.J.

    • cjechase says:

      Sherlock Holmes. Cool answer. We do sound like twins separated at birth. When I do my Luddite Riots book, it will doubtlessly include a bit of murder and mayhem.

      I think one of my favorite characters has to be Horatio Hornblower (and not just because I keep envisioning Ioan Gruffudd in uniform). I like how he is so adept as an officer while being so awkward and shy socially. Larger than life in one area and totally approachable in another.

  5. cjechase says:

    Hi, everyone. I’ll comment when I can, but my computer died Friday. It went to sleep Thursday night and never woke again. What a peaceful way to go. And the good news is that the problem isn’t in the hard drive, so I won’t lose anything. (As for my day Friday, it just got worse when I discovered the heretofore unknown-to-me hornet nest in the shrubs around my house. The hornets did not like me trimming branches right next to their hive. Yikes. Can’t believe I was only stung 3 times before I managed a mad dash to the house. Oh, and $95 will get you a professional to remove one of those things. I was NOT going to go an entire summer with that thing getting bigger and bigger right next to my house!)

    Anyway, I’m commenting via dh’s laptop, but he’ll probably be wanting to take it to work soon. (Unless I can convince him otherwise …)

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      CJ, I’m sorry to hear about your computer. Technical troubles are the pits. At least you didn’t lose any data. I hope there’s a nice new machine in your future.

      I hope you didn’t suffer too much as a result of those hornet stings. Those can really hurt.

  6. bethtrissel says:

    Kewl little known facts about you. Amazing stuff in this interview, CJ. Wonderful family Much wisdom here too. I can’t get over all your Gh finals, but that’s a given.
    Thanks for sharing so honestly. I enjoyed learning more about you.

    • cjechase says:

      Thanks, Beth. I’m not sure what all those GH finals mean, other than I’ve been too stubborn to quit.

      We’ll have to get together sometime when we’re both in Richmond.

  7. First off CJ, my condolences for your computer. And then thanks a great interview. Who I identify with depends on if I am the author or the read of some other author’s fiction. I most normally write about women over 40 so there’s bound to be a bit of me in them. But when reading, I might identify with any number of characters and most not like me at all. I can truly escape!

    • cjechase says:

      Thanks for the condolences, Brenda. My husband says it’s a power supply issue. Best Buy says they have the part, so we should have a fix for now — but husband’s been after me for a year now to replace the whole thing.

  8. christicorbett says:

    CJ,
    As someone who dresses up while I write my own historical novel I must say I LOVE that you have such beautiful dresses tucked away in your closet.

    As to the character question, as long as I make them interesting I’m happy 🙂

    Christi
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

    • cjechase says:

      I never thought of dressing up while writing. I think I do my best work in the morning in my pjs.

      I used to wear the dresses as an extra at a local plantation at Christmas time.

  9. Walt M says:

    CJ,

    I write historical novels myself. I don’t dress up for them, but there is a picture of me in the basement dressed as a samurai.

    I also love characters like Sherlock Holmes, but my preference in detectives is Hercule Poirot.

    I have a question for you. Do you include real people as secondary characters in your novels and how much research do you do in tracking their comings and goings before putting them in?

    • cjechase says:

      Walt,

      Yes, I do have real historical people as secondary characters. My easy (and safe) rule of thumb is that the more famous the historical person, the smaller the part in my book. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way, but I try to stick to it as much as possible. The more famous the person, the more research you have to do. Time period also makes a difference. I recently switched from the 17th century to the 19th century. There just aren’t as many records from the 17th century, so there is less chance of getting tripped up. Also, people aren’t as familiar with it, so there is less chance for readers to catch errors. (Unfortunately, I also learned editors aren’t crazy about settings that are less popular with readers.)

  10. Walt M says:

    CJ,

    Please let me add that I write Japan-based historical novels.

  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    So great to learn more about you CJ! That Silhouette contest sounds incredibly fun.

    Can’t wait to see you in Orlando!!

    • cjechase says:

      Thanks, Elise. I’d never been to NYC before. First class all the way, right down to a black limo to take us from the airport to the hotel.

      I will see you in Orlando, and good luck next Saturday night!

  12. Hi, CJ-

    Just had to stop by and wave. Guys, I am truly blessed to have this amazingly talented woman as my CP & best friend. Her unusual settings and awesome character insights make for the coolest books. (Her latest is no exception!!) If anyone here is going to National, please do me a favor and give CJ and extra hug from me when she wins. I just know this is going to be CJ’s year! 🙂

    -Candace

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Candace, sounds like you are one blessed writer to have CJ as your CP. I’ll be sure to seek her out and give her a great big hug on July 31st when she wins the GH and gets that new bit of bling.

      Too bad you can’t share the experience with her. Those of us who are going will have to keep our cameras busy so we can post pics on our blogs. I’ll have some to share, that’s for sure.

  13. Kathy Alexander says:

    CJ,
    Your true witt and humor really shines through in this interview. And as a native of Chesapeake, I must admit to our swampy geographics! Best of luck at Nationals

    Kathy

    • CJ says:

      When I first moved to Chesapeake, I thought brick was used for buildings because of hurricanes. But now I know the truth. Brick doesn’t show the mildew like vinyl siding.

      I console myself with the thought that surely all that humidity keeps our complexion younger.

  14. Jillian Kent says:

    Ohhh C.J.
    Ioan is on my Amazing Grace movie poster and I loved him as Horatio too. I loved Gregory Peck in the original Horatio Hornblower.

    Sorry to hear about the computer. I won’t be in Orlando this year, but I’ll be praying for both you and Keli. 🙂 Enjoy.

    • CJ says:

      Oh, I love Amazing Grace — but then, I’ve been an admirer of Wilberforce from way back. Some years ago (before the movie came out) I took homeschooled oldest son to the library, thinking to find a biography of Wilberforce in the children’s section for our history class. There weren’t any. Lots of celebrity biographies, but none about Wilberforce. How depressing.

      I was hoping to get Hannah More to make a cameo appearance in my current book, but it didn’t quite fit.

  15. Thanks for letting me know about this fantastic article CJ! You are such a darling person and I am looking forward to seeing you again soon! Thanks Keli for this interview.

  16. CJ! What a great entry–I learned so much about you.

    RE: characters. I like Joe Pickett (CJ Box novels) the heroine in in Charlaine Harris’ GRAVE series. Both are tough and focused. Not a bit like me.

    • MaryC says:

      Waves to Jane. I’ve been loving that GRAVE series too. It’s a bit odd, so it keeps me intrigued.

    • CJ says:

      I didn’t think I had many secrets left from you, Jane.

      P.S. Could have used your linguistic talents when I was in Guatemala. Next time I go, I’ll get you a ticket …

    • Hey, Mary! Yes, ODD describes that series well, but very creative.

      CJ, I am planning to print out all this information I can read about you at leisure. I don’t think I know this much about my husband. Wish I could go with you to Guatemala–both because I’d love to go and because I’d love to help you through. We’d have a lot of fun!

  17. Sofie Couch says:

    Hi CJ! Lovely to read your very interesting bio. There never seems to be enough time to catch up at the wrting workshops/functions, so it’s nice to “catch-up” here! I’m also a huge fan of the “swamps” of Virginia. 🙂

    Characters with whom I identify? Hmmm. Characters who have defects that turn out to be real gifts – those are my favorites.

    • CJ says:

      Hi, Sophie.

      Defects => gifts. Ah, yes, the weakness that has a corresponding strength. I wish I were better at creating that in my characters.

  18. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to learn more about CJ and her writing journey.

    I held the drawing for the Guatemalan notebook cover and handmade/hand embroidered Guatemalan change purse CJ so generously donated as prizes, and the winner is Carrie Pagels.

    Congratulations, Carrie! I’ll be in touch.

  19. Thanks so much Keli and CJ! They look beautiful. I feel spoiled already. The cover will be great for ACFW conference and my DD is not getting her hands on the change purse, either. God bless you both!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I just wanted to add my congratulations to Carrie and a thank everyone for their kind words. Keli has offered to post an update when I sell, so when that day comes, I hope everyone returns for my coming out party.

  21. Keli Gwyn says:

    Mega congratulations on your Golden Heart win, CJ! I was delighted to witness your memorable walk to the stage in Orlando. You’ve worked so hard for so long, and it was your turn to bask in the spotlight. You looked stunning and delivered a great acceptance speech. Enjoy the thrill! I can’t wait to have you back for one of my Saturday Special: She Sold stories. 🙂

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