Christa Conklin, author of the fantasy novel Tranquility and a mother of two, remembers the first time her father introduced her to the classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. Her father was a big reader, but fantasy was not his favorite genre.
“He saw how I devoured these books, and he fed my imagination with fantasy series,” says Conklin, who grew up in Edison and moved to Middletown before she and her husband settled down in Pitman to raise their kids. “The books I read as a child, and continued to read through adulthood inspired me to conceptualize my own fantasy world. The talent and confidence of the authors fueled my creativity and determination.”
Fast forward to 2019, and Conklin has been busy doing book signings in and around New Jersey, including a “Local Author Day” signing set for this Saturday at Barnes and Noble in Edison. We asked Conklin how she got inspired to write the book, what it was like getting published as a first-time author and how she juggled it all while homeschooling her children.
NJF: The idea for Tranquility appeared in one of your dreams. Tell us about the dream and how that inspired the book.
Conklin: What I remember of the dream is vague except for the girl who became the protagonist in Tranquility. I have dreams that I forget, and others stick with me. This girl took up residence in my mind, so I began creating her story. The dream was a gift. I started writing when my dad was quite ill. That well-developed imagination of mine needed a positive outlet to overpower anxiety and worry. My dad knew I was writing my own fantasy book. He was not well enough to read the drafts I brought him, but he understood the leading role he’d played in encouraging my new adventure.
NJF: Tell us about the book and its main character, Drethene.
Conklin: I’ll begin with the tagline: She must prove there’s more to life than peace and more to death than dying. Drethene is the daughter of two upstanding members of the One People, a single nation resulting from an ancient peace treaty, Tranquility. They live in peace having rid themselves of everything that could cause divisiveness. Drethene makes her people uncomfortable. She looks different and questions their ways and complacency. This is the story of her discovering why she is different and using her knowledge to save her people from an evil they have neglected to fear.
NJF: What was your journey as a first-time author trying to get your book published like?
Conklin: My journey was long. I wanted to publish traditionally. As I dipped my toes in the waters of the book world, I realized I needed a crew to navigate those stormy seas well. It would be nice if collecting rejection letters from agents and publishers was treated like a video game and I could brag about my high score. However, this game is on a golf course, so I’ll keep my total to myself. Thankfully, I finally did score an agent and a publishing house. There was a lot of learning along the way: writers’ conferences, query letters, writing contests, editors, and incredibly supportive family and friends whose confidence carried me through when mine failed. Once my team was organized, I knew I made the right choice. Contract negotiations, editing, cover design, interior layout; the list is long and I am thankful to have professionals in my corner who love my story and used their talents to transform the manuscript into a book.
NJF: Since then, you’ve won the 2016 Cascade Award for Unpublished Speculative Fiction, garnered great reviews and done many signings, the next of which will be in your hometown of Edison at Barnes and Noble at Menlo Park Mall this Saturday. What has that been like for you?
Conklin: Winning the Cascade Award was a great honor. I entered the contest because it promised judges’ comments. One thing lacking in agent and publisher rejection letters is why your submission has been turned down. Writing contests which provide feedback are helpful for debut authors still honing their craft. I entered the contest a couple times before winning the award and used the comments to direct my editing.
I’m thankful for the positive reviews I’ve been receiving. I love that my story is finding life in the minds and hearts of readers. People are making it their own, and that’s what story is all about. Readers who share their thoughts are important to authors and potential readers. I love author events! I’m an extrovert, which is not the norm for authors, so I’m energized by meeting people. What a wonderful feeling to meet someone who is excited to read my book. I’ve had readers come to events who’ve already read Tranquility, and want their copy signed. I also enjoy meeting and encouraging aspiring authors. I usually meet at least one at each event. Their enthusiasm, in turn, encourages me as I continue to write.
NJF: You’re a homeschooling mom of a 9-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy. When and how did you find time to write?
Conklin: I’m a night owl. I usually get a second wind once everyone else is in bed. I do give up sleeping hours to write, so there are nights I just need to go to bed. When I was writing Tranquility, my son participated in a weekly two-hour program at the Philadelphia Zoo. I spent those scribbling hours surrounded by inspiring creatures. A pair of southern ground hornbills inspired characters in the last chapter of Tranquility. These same birds still live at the zoo today!
NJF: You’re working on the sequel now? What inspires your writing?
Conklin: A few things inspire me. The joy of writing these characters into life and seeing how the story further develops each personality keeps the creative juices flowing. My readers inspire me. They’re asking for the sequel, and I have a responsibility to let them know what happens next. Finally, spending time in conversation with people and remaining quiet in nature both energize me. Setting and characters are key elements to good writing. Real people and the beauty of our world are endless inspiration for story development.
NJF: Where do you do most of your writing?
Conklin: Our coffee shop in town just moved into a new space! But I don’t write there. I really want to write there, at least once. For now, most of my writing happens at my kitchen table. I avoid waking my family with my keyboard tapping, and there’s coffee. If I get some writing in during the day when the kids are outside, I can keep an eye and ear on everyone and dinner. Did I mention there’s coffee?
NJF: As a New Jersey mom promoting your book, where and from whom have you found the most support?
Conklin: I’m blessed by a tremendous support network. My family first. My husband has been my steadfast champion, and is the person who encouraged me to publish. My kids have never wavered in their support, even when author events take up my time and dinners are lousy due to deep edits. So many NJ moms continue to help me get the word out. Long-time friends find publicity outlets through their professional connections and even get me into schools for presentations. A NJ librarian and mom arranged my launch event. The moms in my NJ homeschool community are tremendously supportive, getting the word out, helping me at events, giving my book as gifts, inviting me to speak to co-op publishing classes, lending me table cloths for book signings and the list goes on. These NJ moms are selfless, generous, tireless, and precious to me.
NJF: You grew up in Central NJ and now live in South Jersey. What do you love about where you grew up (Edison) and where you live now (Pitman)?
Conklin: Edison was a great town in which to grow up. My neighborhood was more like a little village with endless streets for bike riding, parks nearby, and my best friend next door. We could walk to school, the library, restaurants, and stores. We felt so grown up grabbing a slice of pizza on our own. I have a great number of Edison friends with whom I stay in touch and see regularly. Many of those friendships developed at our dance school, in Edison, and through great programs at Edison High School like the marching band. You are still an Edison kid, even if you move. Sal of Zia Lisa Pizzeria hugs me and asks about my mom whenever I visit and pick up a pie.
Pitman is a terrific town to raise a family. It has a great downtown, which we call uptown, surrounded by neighborhoods. Our kids have grown up playing outside with their friends, and as they get older, are able to traverse most of the town because it’s so connected. Pitman is a small town, and our family is involved in town soccer and our church, so we have become a part of this town family. Everyone watches out for each other and our kids. There are also plenty of delicious restaurants to which we can walk, and we love that.
NJF: What are your favorite things to do with your kids in NJ?
Conklin: During the summer, we love to pick our own everything at local farms. We enjoy time on the boardwalk and beach in Ocean City. We love to kayak the many lakes of NJ. We love to shop and eat local, and are fond of architecture, NJ history, and enjoying downtowns. We live in Pitman but also love to visit Metuchen, Collingswood, Red Bank, Mount Holly, and Haddonfield. We are hikers and enjoy trails all over the state. We try to camp at least once a year in Stokes State Forest or High Point. My husband proposed to me on Sunrise Mountain so we take our kids there whenever we camp in the area and torture them with the proposal recap.
NJF: What’s next for you in 2020?
Conklin: The sequel! I also have another work in progress on the back-burner, so maybe 2020 will be a two-book year. Not a promise, but a possibility!