By Amy Sondova There’s one thing they never teach you in those college journalism classes—how to deal with the angst of interviewing and writing about another writer, especially when that individual is music journalist and author, Christa Banister. Not only has she just released her second novel, Blessed Are the Meddlers, she also has an illustrious career in journalism which includes contributions to CCM Magazine, Crosswalk.com, Christian Single, ChristianityToday.com, and even a Christian music blog for MTV’s Urge.com.
Yet Christa could put anyone at ease with her dynamic people skills and cutting edge wit, which is also prevalent in her writing. Falling in the genre of chick lit, Christa’s novels follow the adventures of Sydney Alexander, a travel writer who’s looking for love in Around the World in 80 Dates. In the second book, Blessed Are the Meddlers, Sydney has found wedded bliss and is helping her friends and family do the same.
Finding inspiration for the books was easy—Christa wrote from her own experiences and those of her friends with a few tweaks here and there. Christa’s main character, Sydney Alexander, is similar to her creator, “I can’t help but have things in common with Sydney. Because I write for a living, it was a logical profession for her. But then I wanted her to do something a little different. She’s not an entertainment writer; she does that a little bit on the side. She’s a travel writer, which I thought would be a really fun job.” With a chuckle she adds, “We both enjoy the same beverages and we both travel quite a bit.” Plus, like Christa, Sydney and many of her friends also share a faith in God.
Samantha Alexander, Sydney’s younger sister, is a caricature of Christa’s own sister. However, fans find it hard to believe that some of the books more unusual characters are based on real life individuals, “People say there’s no way that Rain [Sydney’s hippie friend] could have been inspired by someone real, but she definitely was,” shares Christa, saying that Sydney’s good friend, Rain, was crafted after her college roommate.
However, when it comes to Sydney’s wardrobe, Christa has to laugh, “She dresses way better than I do.” Because a lot of chick lit books take place in fashion-savvy cities like New York or L.A., top-of-the line brands and extravagant spending is a marked feature of the literature. Seeking to be stylish and fashionable, Sydney spends a lot of money on looking good. “All characters have flaws,” explains Christa. “Rather than give her a drinking problem, I gave her a shopping problem.”
Being surrounded by products like MAC cosmetics and Prada bags is a life most women only dream about, which is exactly why they flock to chick lit. The genre began to take off in the late 90’s with the success of books like Bridget Jones’ Diary. “Generally, they are those books with a pink cover that feature a girl with an umbrella and a purse,” says Christa, who not only enjoys reading chick lit, but is a Jane Austen enthusiast as well.
Christa finds heavy influence from Austen’s strong heroines, particularly Emma, the heroine of the book by the same name. “From a literary perspective, those books are considered some of the original ‘chick lit’ books; at least that’s what they say about them now. I know I’ve merged that with my love of romantic comedies,” says Christa. “I didn’t want the typical boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl scenario. I wanted to mix it up like Jane Austen does.”
And mix it up, she does. Heartbreak after heartbreak, weird date after weird date, and surprising hook-up after surprising hook-up, readers are constantly wondering what’s next for Sydney and friends. As a heroine, Sydney is slightly neurotic, fully endearing, and distinctly charming. “I feel like a lot times the heroines we’re given are these dippy girls who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances that aren’t that plausible. I wanted a strong heroine who definitely had a point of view and opinion about things. She has her typical girl struggles, but I wanted her to learn something in the process,” explains Christa.
Sydney’s sister, Samantha, is often compared to another feisty female close to Christa’s heart is “Allie” from Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. “Nicholas Sparks—it’s a completely guilty pleasure! I love all of his books!” exclaims Christa enthusiastically. “They all end very, very tragically, but I love it! That’s melodrama at its best. If you’re going to do it, you have to go all the way with it.”
Winks to Austen and Sparks aside, before marrying the love of her life, Christa also wondered if there were any good Christian guys left. “That’s part of the reason I wrote the books; I had the same questions. It’s funny because in dating there are enough complexities as it is, but then when you add the whole Christian element to it; it gets more confusing,” commiserates Christa. “We often talk about girls making a list of qualities they want in their future spouses, but I think guys do the same thing. They want this supermodel that can cook like Rachel Ray and is this spiritual Mother Theresa and all these unattainable things.”
Just because God gave Christa an amazing love story doesn’t mean that she doesn’t remember how difficult the singles scene can be. “Everyone would tell me, ‘When you stop looking for it, when you least expect it, it will happen.’ I hated hearing that more than anything. How can you not expect it when you really want that in your life?”
Finding herself somewhat contented in her singleness, Christa didn’t expect to meet her future husband in Nashville while covering a Derek Webb concert. Since the show was kind of boring, Christa struck up a conversation with a handsome writer in the crowd and sparks flew, even if Derek Webb’s performance didn’t. “I tease him to this day, ‘Because you were so boring, I met the love of my life,’” laughs Christa. “Six months after we were dating, he proposed before the U2 show in Chicago. He had to upstage Bono and he did a very good job of that.”
Just like her character Sydney, Christa isn’t afraid to dole out some dating advice for single ladies, “First of all, I would encourage all single women who want to meet a quality single guy to pray first. It seems elementary but I think it’s the best thing you can do. God wants to know the desires of our hearts. Of course, he already does, but he wants us to verbalize them. Secondly, you need to be proactive. Girls want to be pursued and want to be asked out, but spend a lot of time at home waiting for him to show up at the door. That’s not going to happen. It could, but it’s not very likely.”
She continues, “It’s mostly getting out there and being available. When you see someone you do want to get to know, strike up a conversation. You’ll find the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It may not lead to Mr. Right, but you might make a good friend in the process. Who can have too many good friends?”
Besides, if you’re like Sydney (or Emma), the more good friends, the more matchmaking combinations available! So, what’s next for Sydney? Christa is in the infant stages of writing her third book to round out the series, “She’s going to get quasi-famous and she’s going to deal with all the things that you start to deal with when you start to believe your own hype.” Unfortunately, fans will just have to wait with baited breath to see how Sydney’s move to the Music City changes her life.
Sharing a mutual love of Diet Coke, Death Cab For Cutie, and self-depreciating humor, I’m proud to be known as a colleague of Christa Banister’s in the wild word of journalism. I also hope to meet my future husband at a Derek Webb concert, which would be my fairytale ending. Until then, I’ll curl up with my Christa Banister books and get lost in the hilarious adventures of Sydney Alexander and her friends.
When she’s not writing, Christa enjoys a multitude of activities, which include watching the Food Network and trying out fun new recipes. Because of her love for cooking, we decided it would be fun to include one of Christa’s favorite recipes for you to try. Let us know how it turned out!
Christa’s Marvelous Chicken Marsala For Four (or two if you’re really hungry!)
This can be served over a variety of tasty sides—your favorite pasta w/butter and parmesan cheese, couscous or brown rice flavored with chicken stock (instead of water) and fresh basil. Crisp green beans or asparagus work as another great accompaniment.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
3/4 cup of Marsala wine (Florio or Holland House are my favorites)
3 T butter
3 T olive oil
a splash of chicken stock
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I prefer mini portobellos but any mushrooms will do)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
3/4 cup flour
shredded parmesan cheese
In a heavy non-stick skillet, heat olive oil in a pan over low-to-medium heat.
Then using two sheets of plastic wrap, pound the chicken until it’s about a quarter of an inch thick. (This allows the sauce to really take center stage.) Season the chicken (both sides) with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a few red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Then dredge the chicken in the flour, and be sure to shake off the excess.
Now that your pan has been heating up, carefully place the chicken in the pan. Cook it on the first side until lightly browned (about two to three minutes). Then turn the chicken and add the mushrooms into the pan. Cook about two minutes longer, until lightly browned and continue to stir and incorporate the mushrooms.
Add the Marsala wine and the splash of chicken stock to the pan, along with the butter and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. To finish it off, tear up some fresh basil and sprinkle on top of the chicken, along with a liberal amount of parmesan cheese.