Author Interview: Brandilyn Collins

Apr 21, 2006Archive

I’m privileged today to host Brandilyn Collins here at relevantblog. I reviewed Brandilyn’s recent release Web of Lies on Amazon:

I like a good read, the kind of book that will transport you somewhere else and bring you at breakneck speed through a twisting plot. Maybe that’s why I read Brandilyn Collin’s Web of Lies in one day, practically one sitting. Collins has a beautiful way with language, even sprinkled on the backdrop of mayhem and scary villains. The plot, where forensic artist Annie Kingston pairs up with vision-seeing Chelsea Adams try to unravel a murder mystery while protecting themselves, is taut and unpredictable. Woven throughout the “web of lies” is the metaphor and reality of prayer and the hugeness of God-a much welcomed thread in a suspense thriller. If you’re looking for a good read (and you have a day to get through it in one sitting!), pick up this book.

The following is the result of our recent bantering:

I loved Web of Lies almost as much as I love your witty sense of humor. Where did you get your funny bone? Does it run in the family?

I’m visualizing a funny bone running around one of our family reunions. Looks like a dog bone, vertical, short skinny legs. I like this picture.

Is this too marrow-minded an answer?

What was your initial kernel-of-an-idea for Web of Lies?

Well, I had to have a title. Zondervan kept bugging me for one–early. For marketing purposes. Sheesh, I didn’t even have a plot yet–how in the world was I supposed to have a title? I had Brink of Death, Stain and Guilt, Dead of Night. Clearly I needed another Hm of Hm. I made lists of possibilities and prayed a lot and asked others’ opinions. God led. Web of Lies kept popping up.

Everything was totally backwards with this book. First came title, then came plot and spiritual theme sort of mixed together. Usually the spiritual theme is the very last thing to come as the story is written, but in this case, it came way early. God knew what He wanted–I just didn’t know it yet. He really had to guide me through this process, because I was totally discombobulated. No doubt this is one of the reasons the book was so hard to write.

If a reviewer were to write a two-sentence review of your life, what would it say? (And how many stars would it get on Amazon?

Stubborn and selfish in sin, softened through grace. Have patience; God’s still workin’ on her.

10 stars.

What tips do you have for balancing the craziness of life: writing, eating, dentist-attending, mommying, cleaning, being?

Of all things in this world, you mention the dentist? What are you, sadistic? Just because I’m the World’s Worst Patient. (Don’t believe so, just check my blog archives.) Just because I need a slew of drugs to darken the Big D’s door.

Cleaning? I have a housecleaner. I owe half my life to her.

Writing? Yeah, I’m stuck doing this. Part of being an author.

Eating? Definitely. Dark chocolate preferred.

Mommying? It’s easier now. We had some dark years. ‘Nuff said.

Being? Yes, I try to do this every once in a while. Actually, I do it far too often. Like when I should be writing.

In general, I have it wonderfully easy. I’m a full-time author. Our youngest is 16 (and now driving herself around, hallelujah!), so I don’t exactly have all the mommy interruptions I used to. My husband is the most loving, generous man in the world, and my biggest fan. My God is very, very good, not to mention all-powerful. (Did you know He hung the moon?)

Who has been the biggest influence in your novel writing career? Why?

I’d have to say my husband, Mark. Not because he taught me how to write. (Mark’s a very talented businessman–far from the world of creating fiction.) But because he allowed me to take an entire decade working night and day to learn the craft–without making a single dime from it. I’d been earning good money writing marketing copy for companies through my own business. That cut waaaay back when I decided to pursue writing fiction. Mark took the financial load, solely providing for our family. Without that support, I would not be where I am today.

(By the way, if it sounds like I am bragging on my husband–you’re right. I brag on him every chance I get. He deserves it.)

Do you feel you’ve written what folks call “the book of your heart”?

No. Not sure I have that in me. My interpretation of “the book of your heart” means a story that reflects the darkest days in the author’s own life. My novels haven’t really come from that place. Some of them have taken small experiences of my life and built a story around them, but that’s about it.

Your books are a thrilling read–fast paced seatbelt suspense–yet you manage to make the reader care about the characters. How do you manage a twisting, suspenseful plot with a deep sense of characterizaton?

Yeah, that’s hard. I struggle with it. It helps that I’ve studied the craft as much as I have (and continue to learn), and that I’ve written a book on writing fiction, having a lot to do with characters. (Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors.) So I at least understand the concepts now, but getting them to work on paper day to day is a constant challenge. I could teach for hours on this issue, but in a nutshell, I’d say two things. First, we have to fully explore character emotion. Way too often we novelists skim the surface of human passions. Emotions are not separate entities; they’re interwoven, complex, constantly moving. Second, we have to portray that emotion through the fewest words possible–using effective dialogue, action beats, facial expression, etc. Not by lines and lines of telling.

In my genre particularly–and even more so with my branding of “Seatbelt Suspense”–the key is just what you’ve noted–fast-moving, action-oriented plot, but with strong characters. Still, there’s a balance, and that can change somewhat depending upon the kind of story I want to tell. My Hidden Faces series, of which Web of Lies is the final book, majors on that pulse-pounding read. My next series–Kanner Lake–takes a little more time with characterization.

The books are still Seatbelt Suspense (they start off quickly, and all that), but with a different feel to them. Right now I’m planning what I’ll be writing after the Kanner Lake series, and I think I’m going back to the full-out pulse-pounding read. This bit of leeway within my brand/genre allows me to satisfy my side that misses writing women’s fiction–where characterization can claim much more of the story–and still (I hope!) satisfy my suspense readers.

What kind of advice would you give me, an emerging novelist, in terms of writing and career management?

Sheesh, Mary, I don’t think you need any advice from me. Seems like you’re holding your own very well. But to all newly published novelists and those not yet published in general, I’d say this: Count on the fact that writing will become far harder. And because of that, you must know your craft very, very well, and constantly improve in it. And your talent had better be placed firmly in God’s hands.

Before I was published in fiction, I viewed landing a contract as the be-all and end-all. Now I know that landing that first book contract merely puts you at zero. From there the struggle is all upward. It’s one thing to write without a deadline. To take as long as you want to finish a novel, editing and re-editing, and not forcing yourself to write if you’re not feeling creative. I know. I had that privilege for years. But with a contract comes a deadline–usually for more than one book (because the best publishers know that you acquire authors, not books, and they want to build your career.)

At that point, you have to write whether you feel like it or not. Whether you have a plot to fulfill that “blind book” in the contract or not. You have to make the deadline. Now a smart author will agree on a deadline that’s a comforttime frameframe to produce the best possible work. But it ain’t gonna be five years. (Most often a year at most.) And besides that, even with a doable deadline, life can happen. All this, plus you’ve probably been paid half the advances up front. That means money pressure. And you have an editor and house that believes in you. That’s social pressure. And if you’ve written a number of successful books and are building a good core readership, there’s the career pressure of satisfying your readers yet another time.

All of these things can really choke creativity. And that’s why you have to know your craft so well. When creativity has taken a temporary hike, knowledge of the craft can pull you through. That, and praying a lot. If God wants you in this business, He’ll see you through it. Remember–He hung the moon. What’s too hard for Him?

Would you share one story of how one of your books has deeply affected a reader?

I’ve received fan letters like this with every novel. They’re my favorite kind. I’ve dedicated a page to “Reader Feedback” on my Web site that’s solely for “spiritual-impact” letters. Please visit the page and be blessed–see what God can do even through the words of a struggling, pea-brained novelist. Through Web of Lies, readers tell me they’re learning not to listen to walk in Satan’s subtle, whispered lies. Through Dead of Night, they’re learning the power of prayer. Through Brink of Death, one reader tells how the story “reached into the depths” of her and “awakened something that had been asleep for a very long time.” Etc.

God’s word is powerful. Even when it’s interwoven into stories of murder and mayhem, the ranting voice of a serial killer, a sociopathic spider-lover. Amazing, isn’t it–what He can use.

If you’d like to learn more, stop on by Brandilyn’s website and her amazing blog Forensics and Faith.