Today, I’ve very excited to be talking to Christis Joy Pinson. She is an amazing young lady with some wonderful God given gifts, among which is an incredible gift of writing. I’m so happy to be interviewing you today, Christis. Before we get to your book, however, I wanted to say, you have such a beautiful and unique name. Is there a story behind it?
Mom’s had come up with it and said that if they ever had a little girl they would name her ‘Christis Joy’ because then every time she spelled her name she would be spelling ‘Christ is joy’. Well, Dad and Mom thought that was a splendid idea and when their friend did have a little girl but chose to name her differently they asked if they could steal it. I am very grateful that they did, because now it gives me a wonderful witnessing tool whenever people just ask for my name! And it is very true: Christ is joy incarnate! :)”
What an amazing story and testimony. Your parents gave you a real treasure in that name. Now, tell us a little about your new book. What is the main storyline?
My new book is entitled Sengali: A Cat’s Tale. The main storyline follows the adventures of a large, exotic cat (named Sengali J) who lives alone on a jungle mountain until one day, when an unexpected guest and a mysterious Dream force him to leave everything he has ever known to try and save himself and some unlikely friends from extinction.
That sounds so interesting. How long have you been writing?
For as long as I have been able to hold a pencil in my hand. My earliest stories were mostly pictures with a few short, very misspelled words but I was very proud of them.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I started at such an early age that I truly don’t remember a time when I decided this is what I wanted to do. It was much more a matter of just knowing in my heart that God made me with a passion for stories and for telling ones that would glorify Him.
I remember you at a young age when I went to visit your mother, and I think I remember you writing. What inspired you to write this book?
In March of 2010 I was sick with what must have been the Flu…not sure, but whatever it was had me laid out in bed for days. Finally, after about the third day, I was trying not to go stir crazy when suddenly I heard a voice in my head saying, “Hello. My name is Sengali and I am a cat—a BIG cat.” It grabbed my attention and I started scribbling on a note pad. I didn’t know right then where the story was going but once it came to me in a couple of days I was hooked.
Did it turn out the way you first thought it would? If not, what was different?
Basically. The biggest difference from the original version I scribbled down was, in the original, Sengali had a beloved sister at the beginning who met with a tragic death on account of him, causing Sengali to live with so much guilt that he became a loner. It was an interesting backstory but in the end was just too much melodrama right at the beginning that turned out to be unnecessary for the story. If you can avoid that, avoid it!
Sengali’s sisters story sounds interesting too. How long did it take you to write? Tell us a little about the process.
It took about four years to write (then three years to edit and publish…but that’s another storyJ). As previously stated, the final manuscript is pretty close to the original idea but it took several revisions before I realized that the original was best. With each revision, however, I was learning something important about the storytelling process. I believe I remember J.R.R. Tolkien saying one time that writing the Lord of the Rings was something like the tide coming in: with each revision he would start all the way back at the beginning but he got a little further up shore each time. Sengali was quite a bit like that. Once the first half was (roughly) solidified the rest came rather quickly.
I’ve never heard that quote by Tolkien. A tide is a great description and I found the same with my own writing. Did you need to do any special research?
Yes, which was a lot of fun because much of it had to do with animals—one of my favorite subjects (which you probably guessed by now)! My favorite research moment involved an up-close-and-personal tour at a rescue shelter for exotic animals, during which I actually got to touch a real tiger (briefly, but it was still incredible). There was also some other research involved, but if I told you what it was for I would give away the story…
And you’re not going to give that away, are you? I can vouch personally that it’s worth waiting for! Do you have a special place or atmosphere you like to write in best?
Usually I write best hibernated in my room—if I’m on the computer, that is. During moments of “writer’s block”, I also like to grab a note pad and pencil and head outside. Much of the time I will get fresh momentum just walking around and praying; I scribble the ideas down as they come and transfer them to the computer later. Music is also a big inspiration. My Spotify playlist is comprised of worship music and movie soundtracks and they are both greatly utilized!
I like what you said about getting momentum from prayer. In many ways my own writing is reflective of my prayer life. If I’m not praying, I can’t write no matter how hard I try.
How are you like your main character?
Wow. What a great question! In many ways I am nothing like him (though I always wanted to be a big cat as a kid). I am not nearly as skilled, smooth, or cool under pressure. But, in other ways, very much so. I can be quite a loner. I enjoy observing things and people at a distance, even when they’re not aware of it. I like analyzing personalities and behavior (animal and human). But, by far, the way I am most like Sengali is in the similarity of our journey of faith. Without giving too much away, this book is a story of redemption that is very personal for me, with some key moments being taken from my own walk with the Lord. Obviously the circumstances are different but the struggles and outcome—very similar.
I think that mimics many people’s lives. Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing this book?
I don’t think your Blog is long enough for that answer! J Suffice to say, it was a constant discovery in my own weakness and the strength of Jesus Christ coming through when I could not do what needed to be done. But He was always faithful and His Spirit always carried me. I learned more and more how very much I need Him in everything!
What new project are you working on now?
My new project is a Young Adult Novel. God gave me the idea about three years ago and told me it would be the next one, so I am really excited to get started on it! The story is very different from Sengali in that it is set in a slightly futuristic world with a human protagonist: a teenage boy named Seth. But I am hoping it has the same action/adventure feel and will appeal to much the same audience. I certainly appreciate your prayers for it!
That sounds exciting! I can’t wait to read it. I love reading Young Adult Fiction. What advice would you give a new author?
There are so many things I would suggest. One of your recent author interviews mentioned having a good knowledge of grammar and vocabulary beforehand and I could not agree more (that is something I am working on improving myself). But, more than anything, I would encourage you to know and seek the Lord and commit your work to Him. He alone is the Giver of all wisdom. If Sengali ever succeeds it is only because He stepped in when I had no idea what to say or where to go. He led me every step of the way: giving me scenes and dialogue, telling me to rein back when some descriptions got too graphic, even showing me how to make a character funny who needed to be when I had no idea how to write comedy (drama is way more my thing). Before I sat down to write—every single time—I prayed the verse in John where Jesus says “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and I asked Jesus to do through me what I could not. Never forget your own weakness and cry out to God for His strength. He will take your “five loaves and two fish” and do more with them than you can imagine!
How can we find your book(s)?
You can visit sengali.com and follow the “buy books” link or got to Amazon and search “Sengali: A Cat’s Tale”. The books are also beginning to appear in some local bookstores and libraries—always exciting for an author!
Yes, that is exciting. There is nothing as exciting as going to a book signing event with your first book. Any closing comments you have for us today?
Follow Jesus and keep writing! As C.S. Lewis said to Tolkien, “Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall just have to try and write some ourselves.” I pray Colossians 3:17 will always be our creed: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Thank you Christis. I’m so glad for this time together. I want to encourage all of you to pick up a copy of Sengali: A Cat’s tale. You won’t be disappointed!
Also, be sure to leave me a comment, and visit this week’s contest!