Friday, July 1, 2011


My guest today is award-winning author Christina Berry--who, recently married, is now Christina Tarabochia. Congratulations, Christina!! I met Christina at an ACFW conference and when I learned that she was branching out into editing I enlisted her services in preparing for the 2011 Genesis Contest. With Christina's sharp eyes and professional advice, and with God's blessings, I made it into the Semi Finals of this year's Genesis in the  Contemporary Fiction category. It is my pleasure to have Christina as my guest this week.

Christina is graciously giving away one copy of her novel, THE FAMILIAR STRANGER, to a randomly chosen commenter. Please post your e-mail address within the comment!

Christina, publicly, you’ve gone from an unknown wannabe writer to 2nd place winner in the 2008 ACFW Genesis to 2010 Christy Award Finalist to 2010 Carol Winner for Long Contemporary fiction—with your novel THE FAMILIAR STRANGER published in 2009. For some of us that’s a very short trip down the path of publication. Looking back, aside from your excellent writing, do you think there was anything else that helped you along, whether self-determination, a mentor, or God’s timing?
Many people weren't privy to the Grow-Ouch-Grow-Ouch-Grow years from when I started writing in 1999 until I placed in the Genesis. (I flunked the same contest a few years before when it was known as Noble Theme!) I received 47 rejections during those crafting years, including my favorite, which came in one week after I signed a contract with Moody Publishers. ;p If you are a writer that's there--in that place of limbo--don't despair. Just keep writing! I've heard the average overnight success takes ten years.
I had wonderful mentors, wrote for many years with my mother/co-author, schooled under Donna Fleisher's tough edits, attended and staffed Oregon Christian Writers conferences, built a large newsletter following, blogged, prayed, read craft books, never gave up, used my cheerleading background to portray enthusiasm for projects I was sick of pitching, helped and cheered on fellow authors as they published before me, managed my website, used my wit to network … but I think you hit on the One True Answer there at the end of your question. It was simply God's timing. In fact, as a nice segue into the next question, it was my counselor who told me that God had kept my book for such a time as that, to give me hope, focus, and purpose as I went through the worst months of my life.
You’ve been through a few rough patches of life while you pursued publication? How did you balance writing, working, and maintaining sanity?
Many people would question the sanity part. (As evidenced by my sudden urge to begin each answer in this interview with the phrase "many people.") I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom for most of my writing career. However, my husband of thirteen years left our family the week before the dedication page was due to the publisher. From there on out, I scrambled to write, market, and meet publishing deadlines while taking care of 3-5 children (I was also a foster mother) while substitute teaching, and getting serious about my editing career. In some ways, being a single parent was freeing, as I could work until 4 AM if I needed to without disturbing a spouse. In other ways, it was a tremendous handicap because nothing got done if I didn't do it, or delegate it to my kids, or say Yes to my extremely helpful parents' offers.
Here's a practical Helpful Hint: Make a list of the jobs you have to do. Include physical chores, professional duties, and writing goals. Then jump back and forth from one area to the other. This ADD approach might not work for everyone, but it did for me. I felt like consistent progress was being made everywhere, which was better than big progress in one area while another was neglected. Also, I stopped watching most of my favorite TV shows, quit any hobbies, and generally had no life. This helps one get a lot done.
But then I started dating ...
Mr. and Mrs. Tarabochia
And you’re newly married. Congratulations!! Any tips for focusing on writing despite caring for children, demanding bosses, or spouses wanting more of your time?
Many people … ah, forget it. lol
Thank you! We met on eHarmony and they matched us perfectly. :) I've had to reprioritize my life. My husband comes first and needs to know it. Our combined five children come next. Then I do the mix of making progress on unpacking, set up the household, editing, and writing-related jobs. Slow, but steady, progress. My heart is truly a Tarabochia, so I'm also going through the process to change all my professional sites to Christina Tarabochia (ter-ah-BOK-ee-u) from Christina Berry. Yes, it's incredibly hard to spell or say, but the truth of the matter is it's my wonderful husband's presence in my life that will allow me to continue my writing career and he deserves the credit on the book jacket!
My tip, after having gone through the dramatic and unexpected loss of a marriage, is to treasure your loved ones. If they are truly and deeply loved, it's more likely they will band together and pull more weight to give you writing time. Don't despise the small moments. Maybe it's five minutes in the carpool line, ten minutes as the noodles boil for dinner, or fifteen while the spouse checks his email--grab those minutes and write a paragraph, edit a page, or brainstorm. Little bits add up to large amounts.

A wedding is meant for the whole family

In addition to your writing you’re now offering editing services. Can you tell us about these services? And what has led you to expand from writer to editor?
God's given me a heart to help people achieve their writing dreams, and editing falls into that calling naturally. For the last eight years, I've been blessed to be part of a critique group—The Redeemed Writers—that goes above and beyond the usual critiques. Basically, we edit each line while still looking at full story arcs and character development. That was my training ground. A man tried our group out and we declined to offer him a spot as we weren't a good fit, but he so enjoyed my comments on his novel that he hired me to edit the whole thing. That was the beginning of it all.
Now I have great clients--with room for more--who are brave enough to let me go through their novels and are wonderful enough to pay me for doing something I love!
When I began looking into getting a free-lance editor to take me to the next level, I simply could not afford the prices well-established authors were charging. I determined to give a luscious, cheesecake edit at an apple pie price. I do as much or as little of a project as my clients want and charge $2 a finished page. This past spring, ALL of my current clients either semi-finaled in the Genesis or were going to committee with respected houses. Whoohoo!
Christina here are some of what I hope will be fun but interesting questions:

Dear Ms. Editor,
When you say 85,000 words do you really mean that? Or is it okay to send 86,905?
Challenged by word count in Illinois
Dear Challenged,
I've not met a word count Nazi yet, so you're good to go. If you are within 5% of the stated word count, you'll probably be fine. However, stating 86,905 might brand you as a newbie who's so in love with each precious word that each one MUST be counted. Instead, just say 87,000. Don't worry; it's called rounding up, not lying.
Dear Ms. Editor,
I keep falling in love with my hero & while I know I can improve upon his character, every time I reread my work, for the life of me, Hero does no wrong. Any suggestions?
Vexed Velma, PA
Dear Vexed,
Create a profile for him on eHarmony and see if other women fall in love with him too. There's always the chance that you've written the perfect man. In fact, that might just be the problem. Give your hero a flaw. Scars tell stories. He will improve as you make him more fallible.
Dear Ms. Editor:
Do you have any suggestions on weaving snippets of back-story into the front of the book?
Eager to tell all in British Columbia
Dear Eager,
I love back story. Obviously you do too. The only problem is … readers don't. But that back story provides you with rich characters and complicated plots, right? Right. So type those first fifty pages with all of that in your head and none of it leaking onto the page. Trying to figure out the subtext of speech and actions is one of the most intriguing part of reading any book. Until you err on the side of too little information, as in Mr. Bigtime Editor reads your manuscript and says, "I love the writing, pacing, characters, and dialogue, but I'm lost as to the story," keep cutting the back story out.
For an interesting lesson in how quickly a character can be formed with extremely little back story, watch Improve Everywhere's Ted's Birthday Surprise Disclaimer: it does take place in a bar.
Dear Ms. Editor:
I’d love to get a jump on the next hot thing. Is that possible? Do publishers consider anything as fresh writing these days?
Dreaming of being the next big name, Kansas Katrina
Dear Dreaming,
Maybe you could write retro fiction. Old is new. Do a King James English chick lit Amish series.
Or just keep writing, learning, refining, and wait for what you naturally write to BECOME the next hot thing.
Dear Ms. Editor,
With the explosion of e-books, what do you see as next? Can an author just stick to printed sells and be oblivious to all the extra media formats hatching daily?
Wishing for yesteryear in Wyoming
Dear Wishing,
If you are an author who has done well to middlin' in print sales, I think you will tend to stay with traditional houses. If you have done extremely well, you will also be able to do extremely well epublishing because your name is what sells the book now, not the publisher. If you have never published in print, but start in ebooks, you will probably have the same experience either way. Meaning that your book might take off and sell thousands, it might sell hundreds to close friends and family, or it might only sell what you buy yourself to make sure the Purchase button is working.
Personally, I'm looking forward to taking old projects, and releasing them as ebooks. Take, for instance, the novel my mom and I wrote and rewrote for SEVEN years: On the Threshold. It made the publishing rounds a few times. It was almost bought before round after round of budget cuts hit that publisher. We put the time and talent into it, and soon readers will have a chance to decide if it's any good. Yet I'll continue to pursue traditional publishing with my new projects.
Dear Ms. Editor:
When using third person POV and trying to ground your reader with your POV character, how do you avoid seeming redundant? Any creative ways to remain inside your POV character's head without constantly using the generalities of she saw, she noticed, etc.? Any rules or reminders that will help the writer make the association outside the box?
Perplexed about POV
Dear Perplexed,
I can't take credit for this, but I think it's a great way to make third person more intimate: write the scene in first person initially, then convert back to third.
As for the distancing phrases--"I wondered" and "I heard" and "I hoped" and "I saw"--quite often, those phrases can simply be chopped off the front of the sentences.
If it's wondering, rephrase an internal dialogue question.
"She wondered if he saw her grand entrance." => "Had he seen her grand entrance?"
Using informal writing and sentence fragments can also ground the reader in the character’s mind.

And Christina, our hard-working editor, here is the one question that every new writer--or perhaps even multi-published authors--are curious about:

Dear Ms. Editor,
If I were to enlist your help in fine-tuning my work to pitch to an agent or editor, how could you guarantee that I might stop hearing those grating words “Your story is well written but somehow I just didn’t fall in love with your characters.”?
Feel-like-I’m-running-out-of-time, Detroit boy
Dear Detroit,
I offer no guarantees. My award-winning novel was turned down by one editor because she didn't like that it started in the male POV. Publishers have strong and varying opinions of the projects that come before them. I can't manipulate any of their opinions to keep you from hearing the dreaded it's-not-me-it's-your-story editor break up speech. But I can help you delve into deeper POV, faster pacing, and powerful prose.
As for the timing issue, see the top of interview, and ask God to help you wait on His timing. :)
Christina Tarabochia (formerly Christina Berry)
Carol Winner & Christy Finalist 2010 ~ The Familiar Stranger(Moody Publishers) Order now!
Author's Bio:
Free-lance editor and author Christina (Berry) Tarabochia writes about the heart and soul of life with a twist of intrigue. She holds a bachelor's degree in literature, yet loves a good Calculus problem as well. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Oregon Christian Writers (OCW). This newlywed attempts to stay sane--somewhat--even with the mixing of two families and five kids. 

Her debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, released from Moody in September '09 and deals with lies, secrets, and themes of forgiveness in a troubled marriage. A moving speaker and dynamic teacher, Christina strives to Live Transparently--Forgive Extravagantly!


  1. Christina, First, best wishes for enduring happiness in your marriage. Second, thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

  2. Thanks so much, Christina, for sharing your real-life love story. I'd love to win your book! :)


  3. Thank you, Caroline! We're blissfully happy, but they say ignorance is bliss, so does that mean we're living in ignorance? :D

    Ann, the book really captures the feelings of the hard time I went through in my last marriage, so it's a joy to share "the rest of the story." Hope you win! ;p

  4. Well, my darling daughter, you did it again! Great interview. You sound like someone I'd have a lot of fun hangin' out with! (I'm so glad we get to do that often.) It's just a joy to see you continuing on with your career even with the new marriage and all that entails. People who enlist you as an editor will be glad they did. Love you lots, Mom

  5. Aww, Mom, thanks! You started me on this journey and you keep me on it with your support. :)

  6. AnonymousJuly 02, 2011

    Congrats Christina on your wedding! The book looks awesome!

    srstormo at yahoo dot com

  7. Thanks to both interviewer and interviewee (what a weird looking word that is!) for the fun and informative post. As Arnold said, but Maria didn't, I'll be back.

    And I'll also keep Christina's name (the new one) handy for some of that cheesecake-at-apple-pie-prices editing!

    -Lewis lgreer[at]mac[dot]com

  8. Lewis, thanks so much for your positive feedback--you have me cracking up with your Arnold-Maria comment. Hilarious ☺


  9. Great answers to the Dear Editor questions and Congratulations on your marriage!

  10. Thank you, Salena! Let's go the opposite of the cliche and DO judge a book by its cover, as Moody gave me a great one.

  11. Lewis, you are funny! (But that situation is so sad.) Hmmm, and eerily reminiscent of my book. lol I look forward to seeing your material in the future.

  12. Jolene, thank you. Love that man o'mine. And it's easy to give good answers when the questions are so fabulous.

  13. Oooh, I'd been wondering what to call my prepublished time - the Grow-Ouch-Grow years is perfect! And thanks for your helpful hint as I try to keep all the plates spinning! Blessings!

  14. I read Familiar Stranger and reviewed it when it was first released. It is still one of my favorite books. I'd love to win another to give as a gift.

  15. Christina, your story is humble and encouraging. Thank you for sharing it. I do have a question. What have you found to be the most effective line of marketing for your writing? Facebook? Twitter? A blog? Your writing friends? Also, if you have a large Twitter following, how have you encouraged people to Follow you? Best, Sara Goff

  16. Cathy, I'm glad my pain was good for something. lol Have fun treasuring your family!

  17. Jean, you gave a fabulous review! Thanks so much.

  18. Sara, I'd say my personality has been the most effective tool. Being open and interactive with my readers and potential readers seems to have the most return for the time. During the book launch, that was by daily blogging and a 90-blog tour and facebook. Now it's the occasional twitter, but more facebook, and FAR less blogging. It's just the season of life I'm in with the new marriage. I only have 425 followers on Twitter, but I'm not actively recruiting more. I would guess that the more people you follow that are in your area of interest, the more will follow you back. Good luck!

  19. Christina, while pain is never fun, I am learning so much from all of my guests that share from their hearts the experiences that have helped them achieve their goals, whether writing related or down any of life's many twisting paths. I appreciate your honestly.


  20. Elaine, you are so right. I'm horrible with references, but I love the verse that basically says we go through things to we know how to comfort others.

  21. Wow, that was too fast of a week, Christina! You'll have to visit Everyone's Story again as a guest--I sincerely hope you'll consider this. Thank you for an extraordinary week, full of fun, learning and sharing. And thanks for letting us see your handsome, happy husband and that terrific photo of your kids that still has me grinning ear to ear.

    I wish you and your family a lifetime of blessings.

    And tomorrow we'll announce the winner of Christine's novel THE FAMILIAR STRANGER.

    ♥ Elaine

  22. Elaine, this has been a wonderful experience. What a community you have brought together with this group! Way to go. And I'd love to come back ... maybe with Mom when we release our ebook! :)

    Thank you, Elaine and everyone!

  23. Christina, I'd love to have both you and your mom appear as guests. What a sensational idea!! I'll just have to count the minutes until you release the ebook . . .unless you two would like to do something else beforehand. One way of the other, you are both welcome back anytime.

    Again, thanks so much for this past week.


  24. Drum roll please . . . .

    The winner of Christina Tarabochia's (formerly Christina Berry) novel THE PERFECT STRANGER is Caroline Clemmons. Yea, Caroline!!!

    I'll be in touch with you shortly. I know you'll enjoy this fantastic read.



  25. And thanks to everyone who visited and to those who left comments. You've helped to make Christina's visit very enjoyable. I hope you will visit again.



  26. Congrats, Caroline! And thanks again, Elaine, for this great week. :)


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