Ask the Author

It hasn’t escaped my notice that many of my “regulars” are writers in their own right. While I’m happy to field your questions as usual (by email or snail mail), using the blog as a forum will give us more room to share and compare notes. If you have a writing-related question for me, drop it into the comment box below. Perhaps you’ll inspire an upcoming ASK THE AUTHOR blog post! : )

PAST QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Are your books inspired by your experiences?

32 thoughts on “Ask the Author

  1. Arian says:

    Do you agree with the comment you quoted a couple of weeks ago, that no book should be written unless the author feels they must write it or die? I told someone several years ago that I hadn’t written any fiction since I was a teenager, and my reply when they asked why not was “There hasn’t been anything I wanted to say.” I still don’t have anything specific in mind, but I’m thinking that if I just sat down and put wool on my verbal needles, maybe something would emerge and agree to be knitted. What do you think?

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    • Arian says:

      I found it again. It was reportedly said by Robertson Davies: “There is absolutely no point in writing a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.”

      Well, that’s pretty discouraging, isn’t it? :/

      Although, when I think about it, I don’t believe I agree with him myself. There are plenty of reasons for writing aside from being the victim of an irresistible urge to write something in particular.

      For a start, if you haven’t done plenty of writing before the irresistible idea occurs to you, you’re going to waste your wonderful idea by writing about it badly. You have to build and maintain your writing fitness, otherwise the muscles will be weak and flabby when it comes time to write the Novel of the Decade.

      And for that purpose, it probably doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you keep doing it, keep learning from it, and keep getting better at your craft.

      Another point is that books have a tendency to suddenly bolt off in new directions as you’re writing them. Very often, the book you start to write is not the book you’ve written once it’s finished. Is it still incumbent upon you to go mad or die if you complete a book that turns out *not* to be the one you originally planned? Or are you allowed to make a second attempt? :)

      And a third point is that it’s often the process of actually writing that triggers ideas for what to write. A person who deliberately holds off writing till they’ve thought of a good idea may well never have one, because they’re not putting themselves in the right frame of mind for ideas to flow. It’s often said that if you don’t know what to write next, write anything, and see where it takes you.

      So all in all, Mr Davies, I don’t think I’ll allow the view of a person who died in 1995 to influence my decision about whether to start writing in 2015. I may or may not end up with something you’d think was worth the time, but if I took your advice, I’d end up writing as many stories this year as I did in the years since 1990. Which is to say, none. :P

      – Er, there we go, Christa … I think I answered my own question. :D

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  2. Sky Perran says:

    When did you start writing books? Where did you get inspiration to
    write the “Threshold” series? I just LOVE your books! you are such a great writer! ~Sky

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I was wondering if you know any young authors like really young like 11 (my age) because I want to become an author since I was little and I am writing a book right now and I want to make a list of publishers that will publish a book written by younger people

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    • Arian says:

      Hi, Anonymous – Christa might have different advice for you, but this is what I can offer.

      I don’t think it’s a good plan for really young writers to aim for publication. This part of your life is your training period.

      It’s the time for you to be reading a lot of really good books, and writing a lot of stuff that’s as good as you can possibly make it. And then reading more good books, and writing more good stuff, which will turn out better than what you wrote before.

      If you’re a good writer when you’re 11, you’ll quite certainly be a better writer when you’re 12, if you’re doing the training all the time. And you’ll be better again when you’re 13, and 14, and so on.

      If you find a publisher who will publish the book you’re writing now, there will be a book in the world written by 11-year-old you. That’s pretty exciting. “Book written by really talented 11-year-old” – not bad, huh?

      But the thing is, you’ll have put into the world the best work of you-at-11. Whereas if you write the best work of you-at-11, and then go on to write the best work of you-at-12 and you-at-13, you’ll be able to look at the best work of you-at-11 and go, “Oh, yup, now I can see what I could do better there,” and fix it, either in that story or in the one you’re writing by then.

      And wouldn’t it be frustrating in a few years to know how much better you’d got since you were 11, and have that book out there where you can’t fix it? :)

      I said in my post further up that “if you haven’t done plenty of writing before the irresistible idea occurs to you, you’re going to waste your wonderful idea by writing about it badly.”

      Not badly for right now – it’s probably pretty impressive for right now! But not as well as you’ll be able to later on.

      So that’s my advice. Read. Write. Read more. Write more. Learn more. Get better. Get better and better and better.

      And once the getting better slows down, then would be the time to look toward having your best work of that time published.

      My 2 cents. My rather long 2 cents. My 2 bucks, then :)

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    • Sky Perran says:

      Wow Arian! I always wanted to get a book published SO bad, but after reading your comment to anonymous, I think you’re right. it WOULD be pretty frustrating to feel like you could make your book SO much better, but not be able to. Thanks so much for the helpful comment! ~Sky

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  4. Emma says:

    I often have trouble with all of my characters’ speaking voices sounding exactly the same. Do you have any suggestions for making their dialogue distinct?

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    • Arian says:

      I think the main thing that helps is understanding each of your characters well.

      Who is this person? Are they male, female, old, young, American, Norwegian? How would someone like that talk? Very commonly when a writer’s characters all sound the same, the real problem is that they all sound like the writer. If that’s the problem, think about the ways these people are different from you, and how that would influence the way they talk.

      And if two people in a story have a lot of things in common – let’s say they’re both American girls aged 15 who were born and raised in the same town, and who are in the same grade at the same high school – ask yourself what characteristics do make them different from each other. No two people are carbon copies, after all. What makes Amber obviously *not* Emily?

      If you consciously differentiate each character in your mind, and know what it is that makes each of them unique, you’ll often find that the unique voice that goes along with that person will become much clearer.

      Another useful technique is coming up with ‘marker’ words or expressions for each character. For example, Jayce says, “Sure, sure.” Prissie says, “Obviously.” Naomi says, “The more, the merrier!” Kester says, “Most assuredly.” Ransom calls Prissie “Miss Priss”.

      If the person speaking uses one of those expressions, we don’t even have to be told who it is, because we know whose ‘marker’ words they are.

      Unless of course a person deliberately or unconsciously uses someone else’s marker words – and that’s something you can use for all sorts of interesting implications! – But that’s really a separate topic, so I’ll stop talking now. :)

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  5. Arian says:

    Two people have asked about choosing characters’ names, so I may as well give my 2 cents on this as well. :)

    The name of a real person doesn’t come out of nowhere. Someone gives them their name, most often their parents. So what made your character’s parents choose this name rather than another?

    Was it a common or fashionable one when the character was born? Or was it chosen deliberately to be unusual or unique? Was the person named after someone else? If so, who, and why? Is the family of a particular racial, religious or national background? What type of name (first name and surname) is that likely to mean they have?

    Do they have a name only some people use, or a nickname? Do they like their given name and dislike their nickname, or would they rather never hear their given name again? Have they changed their name? Do their parents still call them by their full name or former name anyway? And how do they feel about that?

    You don’t have to include all – or any! – of this in the actual story, of course – especially not for every last minor character. :) But it can help in generating likely names, and also helps in fleshing out a character, so you know what they’re likely to say and how they’re likely to say it (see post on defining a character’s voice).

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  6. Sheay says:

    In your series The Byways, will any of the adventure be set in Oklahoma? if so which book will it be? I’m a native of Oklahoma and I want to see how you would represent my state.

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    • The Byways Books aren’t truly “set” in any of the U. S. states. People, places, icons, cities, claims to fame, etc. are hidden within a story set in the fictional land of Liberty. I’m covering the states in order of ratification, so Oklahoma will be near the end. It’s our 46th state!

      If anyone else wants to check and see when the Byways brothers will reach YOUR familiar territory, the list is posted here > http://cjmilbrandt.com/byways/byways-state-by-state/

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  7. Savannah Perran says:

    When did you decided you wanted to be a published author? What are some of the steps you took to become published? I”m hoping to be published (hopefully sooner than later!) so I’m really curious :).
    ~Savannah

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  8. Miss (or is it Mrs? Sorry, not sure!) Christa, I absolutely LOVE your books!…but you may want to check your details. I’d like you to look at Zechariah 5:9. In The Blue Door, Koji told Prissie that there are no female Angels. And I thought that too! Until I did some research and saw this.

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    • Well, hi~! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the Threshold books.

      I’m quite aware of the Zechariah passage. (In it, an angel chats with the prophet as a vision unfolds. Wickedness is depicted as a woman, then two more women come along who have wings like a stork’s.)

      If you like the notion of female angels, this is definitely your go-to verse. But this is a vision rife with symbolism, and therefore subject to interpretation.

      In making decisions about how the Threshold universe ticks, I paid attention to what the scriptures tell us about angels. And I invented the rest (angel culture, origins of manna). So it’s not really that I don’t have my facts straight. After all … it’s fiction! ; )

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    • Oh, you’re not being rude. I know about the winged women in that passage. The vision in Zechariah is open to interpretation, but If you’re looking for a basis for female angels, that’s certainly your go-to verse. However, the angels who appeared to folks in Scripture (including the fellow talking to Zechariah in that passage) are always male. So that’s the direction I took for my fiction.

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    • Arian says:

      I can answer this, at least about the meaning of ‘Marcus’. It was a very common personal first name of male Roman citizens. Its origin and meaning isn’t really known, though it is possibly connected with the name of the Roman god Mars.

      The most famous ‘Marcus’ in the New Testament is John Mark, who is said to have written the Gospel of Mark, Our Marcus may have been named in his honour or in honour of another famous Christian, but it’s a name that existed before Jesus’ birth, Maybe Aleff just liked it. :)

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  9. Barb Anderson says:

    Hey Christa,

    Have just recently heard about you and began exploring your books. Would love to hear more of your own faith journey and story with Jesus

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