A six-time Golden Heart® finalist, C.J. Chase headed to Orlando this past July to attend the Romance Writers of America® national conference, where she was named the winner in the inspirational category. She sold her winning story to Love Inspired Historicals just two months later—and received an offer of representation from a top-notch agent the same week. Redeeming the Rogue will be released in August 2011.
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 C.J. 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, C.J. 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.
C.J. 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.
•Wow, C.J., what wonderful news!
Let’s start with your GH win. I was in the ballroom in Orlando and got to see your beaming face, listen to your great acceptance speech, and give you a big hug. I was and still am sooo happy for you.
Six times you watched your face flash across the jumbotron and heard your name and title read. Six times you waited as the announcer of your category opened the envelope, pulled out the card, and read the winner’s name. And on July 31, 2010, yours was the name you heard. What went through your mind as you made your way to the stage with the spotlight following you all the way? How did you celebrate this momentous occasion?
I heard the name of the winning book, and it took several seconds for me to realize it was my title. My roommate and awards ceremony guest (Love Inspired author Lisa Mondello) grabbed me around the neck in a giant bear hug, so I was simultaneously trying to free myself from Lisa and untangle a heel (caught in my skirt hem) when I rose from my chair.
As for what went through my mind – the usual, I suppose. You know, thoughts about how far away the stage was and would I stop shaking enough to talk. I was wearing 4” heels that night because I really didn’t think I needed to worry about walking across the stage. Fortunately, I floated up the stairs and didn’t stumble at all.
•Many of us have heard that a GH win is no guarantee of a sale, but it can catapult a writer into the limelight and help her garner the attention of publishing professionals. In fact, the last four winners in the Inspirational category sold their GH entries to Love Inspired within months of their wins, including you.
Please tell us what took place between the memorable day when you fastened that new bit of GH bling around your neck and when you received The Call.
The week after winning was quite a ride. I hadn’t sent the manuscript out to anyone before the RWA conference because I was still giving it another coat of polish. I contacted the agent who had a full of my previous manuscript (one with a setting everyone was telling me would be hard to sell) and let him know, and I sent out a couple of queries.
And then … things began to get strange. I got an email from an editor asking if the GH manuscript had sold and if not, could she see it. And then a couple days later, I got an email from another editor who also asked to see the book. My oldest son said, “Editors emailing you? Isn’t that backwards, Mom?”
So there I was, editors requesting my manuscript and no agent. Eventually, I did get an offer of representation from Steve Laube. And someday I’ll be certain to tease him about his warning that I might not be an easy sell and we might have to be patient – because I hadn’t even gotten the agency agreement when Tina James called …
•And then The Call came! As regular visitors to this blog know, I love hearing call stories, so please share yours. When did it come? Where were you? Who was on the phone? What were your first thoughts? How did your react to the BIG news?
Tina James at Love Inspired was one of the editors who had emailed and asked for the full. To be honest, I hadn’t considered Love Inspired because I thought the manuscript violated some of their guidelines in that my hero drinks rather heavily for the first two-thirds of the book. The heroine’s father was an alcoholic, so the hero’s drinking is an important part of the conflict between the two characters. I’d talked to other Love Inspired authors, and most of them concurred with my assessment that my hero would be a hard sell at Love Inspired. But hey, my mama didn’t raise no fool. When an editor asked to see my book, I happily mailed it in.
Several weeks after I mailed the manuscript, Tina called on a Wednesday afternoon and asked if I had an agent. I said, “Um, kinda. We don’t have the agreement formalized yet.” And she answered, “Do you want to formalize the agreement with the agent first? I really like your book.” In fact, she used those exact words (“I really like your book”) three times in that short conversation before I called my kinda sorta agent. Who was in a meeting. All afternoon.
By the time Steve got back to me, it was already evening on the East Coast. And Tina had sent an email saying she was going to be out of the office until Monday – five days away – so I didn’t get the “official” offer until the following week. But it gave me a chance to get the agency agreement signed and FedEx’d.
That Friday I had lunch with some writer friends, and I explained away my big grin by saying I’d signed with an agent. It was the truth, just not quite the entire truth.
•You got The Call, and life as you knew it changed. I’ve gathered your plate suddenly became very full as you embarked on your new career as a published author. Would you please share with us what’s going on now, what you’ve been learning, and how you’re adjusting to living with deadlines?
Fortunately, I didn’t have many changes beyond cutting the book to fit Love Inspired’s word count. However, writing the discussion questions took a fair amount of time. And getting together all the pieces for the “art facts” (cover design) was interesting and more time consuming than I expected, but when a friend pointed out the importance of a good cover, I happily put in the hours. Okay, I spent many of those hours looking at screencaps of Colin Firth (I wanted to be certain the costumes were just so, you understand), so maybe that made the work less onerous.
Of course, you do change one kind of stress for another. Instead of wondering if I’ll ever sell a book, now I have the worry that my next book won’t be as good. Will I ever sell another book? I guess it never ends!
C.J.’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about Redeeming the Rogue.
American Mattie Fraser arrives in Regency London with a chip on her shoulder and a pistol in her pocket. But her inquiry into the fate of her brother, a sailor impressed into His Majesty’s Navy, draws her into a web of lies, conspiracy, and danger. Is Kit DeChambelle—the one man who might help—working for her or against her?
Kit DeChambelle thought the war was over, until his government tasks him with one final assignment: find out what Mattie knows about British plans to nullify the Treaty of Ghent. Can the woman bent on vengeance and the man who won’t forgive learn true forgiveness in time to save Mattie’s life?
Questions for C.J.
•C.J., it’s been wonderful having you back at Romance Writers on the Journey to share your wonderful news with us. Congratulations again on your First Sale!
I invite your visitors to ask you any questions they have about your sale, your debut novel, and what life is like after receiving that long-awaited contract offer. And, of course, feel free to squee with C.J. all you’d like.
Learn More About C.J.
Visit her website ~ www.cjchasebooks.com
Friend her on Facebook ~ C. J. Chase
Contact CJ ~ firstname.lastname@example.org