>> Monday, June 25, 2012
Brandilyn Collins is a Christian author of the popular Seatbelt Suspense® books. One of my writing pals, Amy Michelle Wiley, had an opportunity to interview her and I thought I’d share. Here is part I and stay tuned next month for the conclusion.
AW: Brandilyn, thanks so much for joining us.
BC: Amy, nice to be with you. I’ll do my best to behave (but make no promises).
AW: Haha, thanks! I love your books and have gained a lot of inspiration from them, especially now as I'm writing a suspense book myself. Your first books, The Bradleyville Series, are contemporary Christian fiction with smaller elements of adventure. What prompted the switch to focus on the suspense genre?
BC: I didn’t really switch genres so much as focus. At the beginning of my career I was writing in both the contemporary and suspense genres. For marketing and branding purposes I needed to choose one genre. Suspense seemed the best choice at the time, due to its sales. I really did mourn losing contemporary for a while. But choosing a genre was the right thing to do. To this day, I find that having written contemporaries really helps me in my characterization in suspense. (And when I wrote contemporaries, you can see my pull toward suspense in each of them.)
Color the Sidewalk for Me. This is the second book in my Bradleyville series, and I think it’s the best in the series. In fact I think it’s one of the best books I’ve written.
AW: The title of that particular book is what first drew me to read your work, actually. It's such a lovely word picture and I enjoyed the story, as well. I know several other of my blog readers also write suspense. Do you have any advice for those of us writing in that genre?
BC: Well, it’s very hard. I find it way harder than writing contemporary fiction. Suspense has some strong conventions: tighter and tighter trouble for the protagonist, chapter hooks, twists, etc. A good surprising twist is difficult to pull off. I always write on two levels—the surface level of what I want the reader to believe, and the underlying, real level where the truth resides. Often individual sentences must be able to sound correct for both levels. I lead the readers to assume A or B or C (regarding who the bad guy is and the outcome), when the truth is really D or E. Or A and E. Or F and Z. You get the picture. The reader will read a sentence with the assumption in mind. But when the truth is revealed, that reader should be able to go back and relook at the sentence and say—“Ah. That’s how she fooled me.” Calls for some very careful, precise writing.
If you’re going to write suspense, find some good suspense writers you enjoy and read them. Notice how they handle story structure, characterization, twists, chapter hooks, etc. I found when I was learning how to write fiction that my growth came 50% from reading and 50% from writing. Also—don’t forget that no matter how brilliant your premise is, readers will stop reading if they don’t care about your characters. It’s absolutely essential to make your readers empathize with your main character immediately. But without loading up the beginning with a bunch of backstory, which only slows the plot. And is boring. So there’s a balance. And that’s hard to find.
AW: Sigh. Methinks in my next life I’ll be a rocket scientist. It’s easier. I've got my work cut out for me! Glad I know some good suspense writers to study from. ;-)
When did you know you were called to be a writer?
BC: I can’t give you a specific date. I come from a family of writers, and I’ve always had the love of drama. In fact, drama was my first major in college, before journalism. I went from creating characters on the stage to creating them on the page. Once I began writing fiction I used what I’d learned through acting to create my characters. I wrote a book that takes seven techniques from the art of method acting and tweaks them for the novelist. It’s called GettingInto Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors. It’s helped a lot of people, which makes me very happy.
AW: I'm one of those people who have been aided by that book—thank you!
Don't forget to come back for the conclusion of Amy's interview.