Friday, October 19, 2007

Interview with Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is one of my all time favorite suspense writers. She's also become a friend through ACFW. As Crimson Eve was hitting bookstores, she graciously agreed to an interview. I hope you enjoy it, and don't forget to run out and buy the book! It's fantastic.

1. Crimson Eve is book three in the Kanner Lake series, and it races to the end from the very first page. How did you get the idea for this book?

I sort of backed into it. When you’re writing a series, you have more to consider than just the current book. I knew Crimson Eve would be book three of a four-book series. I already knew what I’d be doing in the fourth book, Amber Morn. That story is a culmination of all my Java Joint characters—an ensemble cast. In the first two Kanner Lake books, Violet Dawn and Coral Moon, I featured Paige and Leslie, respectively as the main characters. What happened to each of them involved the whole town.

Kanner Lake’s a small, idyllic place. It used to be quiet until I got hold of it.

Wait a minute. I created it.

Well, anyway. (This fact-and-fiction thing can be quite mind-bending.) I figured with the havoc I’d already wreaked upon the town in books one and two, to be surpassed only by the havoc I planned to wreak in book four, I needed to give the poor town a break in Crimson Eve. So I focus on the character of Carla and take her out of Kanner Lake proper into the surrounding countryside. Only thing is, in giving the town a break, I then had to unleash all my havoc upon Carla herself.

Poor thing.

2. This book, like the rest of the Kanner Lake series, blends the past and the present, but this time it collides on the very last page. Were there extra challenges to writing a book that is so closely woven in time?

The challenges I faced in writing the book focused more on the present-day events than in weaving the present with the past. In fact the dichotomy between how the past scenes and present ones play out allowed me to use the jumping back and forth in time to increase tension in an interesting way. The suspense action of the present-day story takes place in a mere 27-28 hours. The past story spreads out over about 10-11 months. Placing scenes from the wider-spread past story at key “hook” points in the current continuous-action story made those present-day chapter hooks all the more effective. Then, to keep readers interested in the past story, I tried to end those chapters also with strong hooks. In this way, the reader has questions and tension about both times in the main character’s life—and wants desperately to see how it all comes together in the end.

3. This is the first book of yours that my husband has read (I know, about time!), and he read it even faster than I did. Do you plan on cross-over appeal?

The majority of my audience is women, but many men read and enjoy my books. One of the ways I work to keep men interested is to feature a strong supporting male character. Now in Crimson Eve that’s not so much the case. For instance Chief Edwards doesn’t show up much in this story. Yet men do seem to be really enjoying this book. A bit surprising to me, because the issues covered are so female-oriented.

But—there’s always the suspense story itself, which men tend to like. And this is a chase story, which men also tend to enjoy. In addition the “bad guy” hit man gets to show a good side of himself, while a supposedly “good” and powerful man shows a very bad side. So perhaps it’s the multi-layering of the male characters that makes it all interesting.

Also, maybe it’s something else—an emotional impact at a level that a male reader may not even think he’d like in a book. But the dilemma that the teenage Carla gets herself into is so heart-rending. A slow play-out of certain tragedy—but you don’t know the final outcome. So even though that part of the story focuses on a teenage girl—I don’t know, maybe men feel a protectiveness toward her. For whatever reason, they’re getting caught up in her story.

4. The pages of this book are filled with the consequences of past decisions. What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

That the decisions we make in our present will form our past—which directly affects our future. We are what we have been. The terrible, wrong-headed decisions we can get caught up in may hurt us in unforeseen ways down the road—and even worse, hurt those we love.

For those yet to make the wrong decisions—I hope to steer them clear, make them think twice. For those who have long ago made the decisions—I hope to steer them toward God. He is the Great Healer.

5. What did you learn while writing this book?

Actually, I’m learning more now—with the release of Crimson Eve. I’ve been blessed to see all my books well-received. But the response to Crimson Eve has been way above and beyond what I expected. This book is resonating with people at a whole new level. Reader after reader says it’s my best, or at least their favorite of the Kanner Lake series. I’ve tried to study on what exactly that’s all about.

Perhaps it’s the blend of suspense with Carla’s characterization. Or perhaps the trauma in her life—caused by her own poor choices, and yet we can understand how she got there. Maybe it’s an ending that’s true to life in which not everything is neatly tied up. In fact I almost think we leave the story of Crimson Eve with more trauma than when we began. But that’s life, isn’t it. Tidying up our past isn’t a wave of the wand. Even when we ask God’s forgiveness. Even forgiven and washed clean spiritually—we can face an awful lot of baggage because of our choices.

As a wise woman once told me, “God will forgive you, but nature won’t.”

6. One thing I love about your writing style is that not one word is wasted. How many times do you scour a manuscript to achieve that tightness?

Thanks for that. Great feedback. Tightness in writing is something I really strive for.

Unfortunately I never get it right the right time. My typical MO is to overwrite in the first draft. Once I receive the editorial letter, I’ve had at least a month to be away from the story. During that time I regain my “fresh eyes” for the writing. When I go back to rewrite, all the extra words I would have sworn I deleted the first time just jump out at me. I cut, cut, cut. Never scenes—I don’t write a scene unless it’s needed. But a word from this line, two words from that one. Or three sentences from a paragraph. I may lose as much as 20 manuscript pages in this process. What’s left when I’m done is a swiftly-moving story. I’ve cut out the fat and left the meat.

Now if I could only manage to do that the first time around.

7. Amber Moon is the final installment in the Kanner Lake series. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Shouldn’t that be “Sneak Pique?” J

Okay. How about the draft back cover copy:

Bailey hung on to the counter, dazed. If she let go, she’d collapse—and the twitching fingers of one of the gunmen would pull a trigger. The rest of her group huddled in frozen shock.

The shooter’s teeth clenched. “You seen enough to tell you we mean business? Anybody who moves is dead.”

On a beautiful Saturday morning the nationally read “Scenes and Beans” bloggers gather at Java Joint for a celebration. Chaos erupts when three gunmen burst in—and shoot to kill.

Police Chief Vince Edwards must negotiate with the desperate trio. The gunmen insist on communicating through the “comments” section of the blog—so all the world can hear their story. What they demand, Vince can’t possibly provide. But if he doesn’t, over a dozen beloved Kanner Lake citizens will die …

8. Final question, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?

If you want to be published in fiction, understand that you have a long, hard journey ahead of you. You must keep at it. Learn the craft, learn how to deal with the rejections. Kick a cabinet when the rejections come, then get back to work. Most of all, keep God at the center of your life.

And know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there myself—on a ten-year journey to be published in fiction. You can read that long, frustrating, trudging, miserable, rejection-filled, grit-teethed, kicking-cabinets, ultimately victorious story—titled “How I Got Here”—in the archives on my blog, Forensics and Faith.

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