Author Interview: CJ Milacci

SP: Hi CJ! So glad to chat with you today! When did you start writing and what are your favorite genres?

CJ: Thank you so much for having me! I started on my writing journey about eight years ago. I wanted a story I could hand to the teen and young adult girls I was talking to, who needed a reprieve from the pain they were facing in their lives, but also a way to learn deeper truths. 

Stories can be a way of escape, a way to forget the difficulties of life for a time, but I wanted a story that could offer those things AND point to true hope. Hope those young women could then bring back with them into whatever circumstances they were going through. 

I love stories with action, excitement, and mystery with battles of good vs. evil, standing up for what is right, and overcoming great obstacles, where the protagonist discovers who she was made to be, and where hope shines through the darkest of moments. And a lot of what I love I find in young adult novels. 🙂

SP: Your debut YA novel, RECRUIT OF TALIONIS, is a YA dystopian novel coming out late fall 2022. For more information, check out CJ’s website and Kickstarter!

America has fallen.

Seventeen-year-old Bria Averton grew up in a small town of survivors near the ruins of Portland, Maine. It’s all she’s ever known — until she’s kidnapped along with hundreds of other teens and brought to the city of Talionis. A city no one knew existed.

The soldiers tell them the intense trainings are for the good of the survivors, and Bria resists being forced into a new life as a recruited soldier. But she soon finds the dangers in the city are greater than she imagined.

Escape is impossible, and Bria fears drowning in the evil of the city… and the guilt from her own past. But can she find hope, even here?

SP: Can you tell us about writing, RECRUIT OF TALIONIS? How long did it take you to write it and what inspired this story? BTW I feel like dystopian novels are here for a comeback!

CJ: I agree! I think dystopian novels are here for a comeback too. It took me about a year to write the first draft of Recruit of Talionis, but this story has gone through so many rewrites since that it hardly resembles that first draft. I went through about four drafts and then I set it aside for two years before picking it back up again. Which ended up being one of the best things for the book because God used that season to change me and redirect my focus in really necessary ways. The book is better now as a result of a break I didn’t even know I needed.

I was inspired to write the story because I wanted to illustrate how to find hope when the darkest possible circumstances collide with guilt from one’s past. So I imagined a world in which America has fallen and the rest of the world has moved on — like how Rome fell and the world dynamics changed. Then I thought, what would it be like if a man came and set up a hidden city in America and started kidnapping teens to, essentially, build himself an army? And what if one of those teens was a girl who has a dark past that she thinks will always define her and make her unworthy of acceptance? How could that girl find hope when evil seems to be taking over? And so Recruit of Talionis was born.

My biggest inspiration was because I’ve talked to many young women who struggle with depression, anxiety, and painful situations in their lives. I want the stories I write, this story, to meet them where they are at, minister to their hearts, and, ultimately, bring them hope and point them to Jesus. God alone can change hearts, but my hope and prayer with this story is that it can be a tool He can use to encourage hearts, strengthen faith, offer hope, and transform lives through the power of the gospel. And be a fun and exciting read along the way.

SP: So Kickstarter! What made you decide to try Kickstarter? How long did it take you to plan? Would you recommend it to other authors?

CJ: I first heard about the idea of doing a Kickstarter as a “pre-release” for your novel from Thomas Umstattd Jr. on his podcast The Novel Marketing Podcast. The idea stuck with me. Then, an author in my one writer’s group did one for his novel, so I was able to pick his brain a little about it. And, because I love learning how to do new things, I read every book I could find on Kickstarter, listened to podcasts, and, after a while, decided it sounded like an awesome addition to my business and marketing plan.

The biggest reason I decided to jump into this is because it provides a way for me to offer things to my readers that I couldn’t offer in any other way. For example, there are “reward tiers” available where people can purchase a special, limited edition copy of my novel, other tiers where they can help me create a character, and, since we funded in the first 20 minutes of the campaign, we’ve also been hitting stretch goals which benefit all of my backers. The higher the campaign funds, the better it is for everyone who has backed it, which I love. It allows my audience to engage with me and be a part of bringing this book to life in a way that’s far beyond anything I could have done on my own. And for all of those who have jumped on board to back the Kickstarter, I’m ensuring they receive at least their ebook copy of the book a couple months before it launches. I’m hoping to get them all their physical copies as well, but printing and shipping times are outside of my control. I like to say to think of it like getting the opportunity to go see the exclusive premiere of an epic new movie before it becomes available for everyone else to see. 

I consider the planning stage for the campaign to include the learning process, and that started about ten months ago. In that time, I read multiple books on the subject, backed other campaigns, and tried to learn from others — both their failures and their successes—so I would be as equipped as I could be once I launched my campaign. I think that really paid off in the end. As far as the actual “putting together” of my Kickstarter page, I worked on it for about two months before I launched (writing the copy, working with my cover designer to create graphics for the page, etc).

Running a Kickstarter has been fun, exhilarating, overwhelming, exhausting—pretty much all the feels mashed up together in a crazy (but amazing) whirlwind. And I would recommend it to other authors, but I would say do your research first. Back other campaigns, watch what they do, read books, listen to podcasts, talk to authors who’ve done a Kickstarter for their book. By doing these things you can help set yourself up for success.

SP: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer so far?

CJ: I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is imposter syndrome. As you may have picked up from some of my answers above, I did not start writing stories as soon as I could hold a pen like so many other wonderful authors have. I always enjoyed writing in school, did well on any paper I had to write, but I didn’t start actively looking to write novels until I was in my twenties. Because of that, it’s so easy for me to have moments where I think, “I’ll never be good enough to do this well.” But God has graciously reminded me over and over again that when He calls us to something, He equips us for it. All He requires of us is that we faithfully do whatever He sets before us. So that’s what I’ve tried to do—be faithful to learn, write, grow in the craft, and pursue this calling to produce stories with hope.

SP: How would you encourage other creatives? What things/recourses have most helped you as a writer? What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

CJ: I think the best advice I’ve received is to enjoy the process, the journey. Enjoy writing and crafting stories, watching them come to life, hearing a reader get excited over your character — all the little things. It’s so easy to strive for the next thing and miss out on the beauty of the moment. But as soon as we can slow down enough to enjoy where we’re at, what we get to do, it changes everything.

Some of the resources I’ve found most helpful are from Thomas Umstattd at Author Media. I’ve gone through every course he has (and they’re all worth more than what you’ll pay for them), listened to his podcasts, and found an incredible community of other authors at AuthorMedia.social. Most recently, I went through his Book Launch Blueprint which he does with Christy Hall of Fame author, James L. Rubart, and it was phenomenal.

SP: And lastly, do you have a favorite quote from your book? What does it mean to you?

CJ: “Sometimes the things you’re learning and doing have a greater purpose than what you realize at first. If you give up because you don’t understand, or because something doesn’t make sense to your logic, you risk missing out.”

This quote is from the “mentor” character in my story and it has a very practical application to my protagonist, but I’ve also found it to be true in my own life. The littlest things in life often have a far greater impact than we’ll ever realize, and if we faithfully do what we need to do, we will reap what we’ve sown eventually. It’s easy for me to want to give up sometimes because I don’t understand, but faithful diligence always brings about the best results.

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, CJ! We are so excited for the world to read Recruit of Talionis!

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