Brandilyn Collins interview on Focus on Fiction

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Focus on Fiction is pleased to feature

Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn is a wife, mother, and drama queen (literally!:) as well as an award-winning and best-selling novelist, who writes both contemporary and suspense fiction for Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins Publishers. She has also written an acclaimed and distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors.  When she’s not writing novels, Brandilyn can be found at various writers' conferences, teaching the craft of fiction, performing hilarious skits, and helping fellow authors play practical jokes on unsuspecting victims. She and her family divide their time between the California Bay Area and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. - free web hosting. Free hosting with no banners.

Focus:   Brandilyn thanks so much for joining us! Can you start our interview off by telling readers a little bit about yourself? What one word would you use to describe yourself to someone who’s never met you?

Brandilyn Collins:  One word to describe me? Sheesh, I don’t know. How about “eclectic.”

As for personal stuff: I have a wonderful Christian heritage, with parents of strong faith who were missionaries in India and evangelists (Ruth and J.T. Seamands). My career has always been in writing. For years I had my own business, writing marketing materials for companies. But I always wanted to learn how to write fiction. My first major in college was drama, so I had the background on character development and generally being wacky (required for a novelist). Fourteen years ago I made the leap to an almost full-time study of fiction. I wrote, wrote, and read, read. After ten hard years of work, my first novel was published. This was 3 ½ years ago.

More personal stuff: I’ve been married 23 years to Mark, who loves and supports me like you wouldn’t believe. We have two children—Amberly, 14 (going on 20) and Brandon, 21.

Focus:   One of the words I would use to describe you is powerhouse.  Particularly when it comes to writing! In the last three years you’ve written how many books, seven?  Eight?

Brandilyn Collins:  I have seven novels out now with Zondervan, three women’s fiction and four suspense. I know, I know—that’s a huge difference in genres. In all my novels, I try to live up to my brand, “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e . . .” In my thrillers, I hope to snatch your breath away through peril and fear. In my women’s fiction, I hope to snatch it away through poignancy and tears.

Also, my how-to-write-fiction book, Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors, was published a couple years ago by John Wiley & Sons. If ya wanna write fiction, go buy it!

Focus:   Books one and two of your latest series, Hidden Faces, are on store shelves now.  Can you give our readers a quick synopsis of both Brink of Death and Stain of Guilt, and maybe a sneak peek into book three, Dead of Night?

Brandilyn Collins:   This thriller series features Annie Kingston, a forensic artist. Not good reading for scaredy cats. The rest of you—leave a nightlight on. In book one, Brink of Death, Annie enters the field of forensic art. Not that she planned on it . . .

Brink of Death:  Annie Kingston moves to Grove Landing for safety and quiet—and comes face to face with evil. When Annie’s neighbor Lisa Willit is murdered, Sheriff’s detectives find few clues to her killer’s identity. Lisa’s daughter, Erin, saw the killer, but she’s too traumatized to give a description. Because of her background as a courtroom artist, Annie is asked to interview Erin and draw a composite. But what if her lack of experience in forensic art leads Erin astray? The detectives could end up searching for a face that doesn’t exist. Leaving the real killer free to stalk the neighborhood.

Stain of Guilt (Just released!):  For twenty years, a killer has eluded capture for a brutal double murder. Now, forensic artist Annie Kingston has agreed to draw the updated face of Bill Bland for the popular television show American Fugitive.

To do so, Annie must intimately learn Bland’s traits and personality. A single habitual expression could alter the way his face has aged. But as she descends into his criminal mind and world, someone is determined to stop her. At any cost. Annie’s one hope is to complete the drawing and pray it leads authorities to Bland . . .before Bland can get to her.

Dead of Night: Will release next spring. Definitely the scariest, most intense book I’ve ever written. About a serial killer. Just telling you more would send you searching for a second nightlight :)

Focus:   Forensic art is an interesting and unusual job for a main character! Can you tell us a bit about why you chose this line of work for her? And how much research have you had to do, to write with such detail about her profession?

Brandilyn Collins:  A few years ago, when Zondervan asked me what I wanted to write for them next, I took a good look at the Christian fiction market and realized it lacked stories about forensics, which was a hot topic in secular novels and on TV. I wanted to fill that niche. I chose a forensic artist because they have the scientific knowledge of aging, plus the creative knowledge of drawing, and the ability to deal with people who’ve been through tragedy. That’s a three-dimensional character. For research I’ve used the Internet and relied heavily on Karen Taylor’s textbook, Forensic Art and Illustration. A retired Sheriff’s deputy helped me with law enforcement issues. I’ve learned some way cool stuff. Like, did you know that . . . nah, I better not tell you. You’ll read about it in Stain of Guilt. After you read Brink of Death :)

Focus:   An intriguing part in Brink of Death is the way you worked flying into the story. Did you draw on your husband’s experience for the parts of the story that included private planes?

Brandilyn Collins:  Yes. My husband, Mark, is a private IFR (instrument flight rated) pilot. We have a Cessna Turbo 210, the kind that Annie’s sister, Jenna, flies. So, all things flying come from him.

Focus:   Prior to the Hidden Faces series, you wrote another pair of suspense stories, Eyes of Elisha and Dread Champion.  What did you enjoy the most about writing these books?

Brandilyn Collins:  These were fun books to write. I’m still jazzed about the twists in Eyes of Elisha. Most creative, if I do say so myself. (By the way, this is the first novel I ever wrote.)

And Dread Champion, sheesh, what a workout. That story has over a dozen point-of-view characters, with all these subplots that coalesce at the end. While Eyes of Elisha is more heart-pounding suspense, Dread Champion is a mind-bending who-done-it.

Focus:   You attended a real-life murder trial in California to do research for Eyes of Elisha, but ended up writing a completely different story—one that made quite an impact in the secular market—as a result.  Can you tell us a little about A Question of Innocence?

Brandilyn Collins:  While I was writing Eyes of Elisha, I attended a local, nationally watched murder trial to research how the courtroom works. It was a very sad, but legally and psychologically speaking, fascinating case. A 14-year-old girl wrote in her diary that she killed her little sister (who’d died inexplicably in her sleep). The parents found the diary and turned it over to police.

One day at that trial, and man, I was pulled in. I went back the next day. And the next. I knew there was a hidden story there. I ended up getting the exclusive story of the defendant and her family. The defense attorney was Melvin Belli, which made the trial all the more fascinating. I sold that story (my first book) on proposal. One trial turned into three. I kept asking my editor, “Um, can I have a higher word limit?” The media was crazy. CNN aired the final outcome of the trial.

Publicity for that book sent me to the Phil Donahue show (with the family), and the Leeza show. I sold a lot of books, but, yow, those audiences can be brutal.  This book is now out of print, but can be found through used booksellers online.

Focus:   I’m sure it was a tremendous blessing to that family to have you champion their story. Do you still keep in touch with them? And if so, how are they doing now?

Brandilyn Collins:    Yes, I do. The parents, Sharri and Michael, are amazingly still together, after all their tragedies. The defendant, “Serena,” (her name was changed in the book per court order) is about 26 now, is married with three children, and is working as a physical therapist.

Focus:  In addition to your suspense stories, you’ve also written a three book women’s fiction series set in the fictional town of Bradleyville, Kentucky. Of all the wonderful characters in these stories, is there one that’s a particular favorite for you? 

Brandilyn Collins:  Boy, that’s a hard question. I love so many of those characters. Celia, I think, is the most complex character. (Color the Sidewalk for Me.)  Thomas and Jake, the ol’ “bestin’ feud” buddies, are a real kick. (Color the Sidewalk and also Cast a Road Before Me.) I fell in love with Danny (Color the Sidewalk) and Greg (Capture the Wind). Mrs. B., the gossipy aunt in Cast a Road Before Me, was fun too.

Focus:   Without question, my favorite characters are Thomas and Jake with their hilarious marble feud.  How much work was it to figure out ways for Thomas to constantly best his friend? Did you ever paint yourself into a corner and not know how Thomas would triumph? 

Brandilyn Collins: The escapades of these two were really needed in Cast a Road Before Me and Color the Sidewalk for Me, because the main stories were so deeply emotional. Definite need for some comic relief. I don’t know how I landed on the ‘besting’ subplots. I guess I started out wondering what tangible thing old men could have been feuding about since they were nine years old—and thought of boys and their favorite marbles. That Thomas, I’ll tell ya, he just got more wily as I kept writing:)

Focus:   Rumor has it you’ve got another series that will be coming out in 2006.  Would you tell our readers what they have to look forward to in the Dearing Family series? 

Brandilyn Collins:  After knocking people off for four books in a row, I’m gonna be exhausted. So—back to women’s fiction I’ll go. The Dearings are a wacky extended family—four generations—who have some mighty unpredictable reunions. Three books currently are contracted in this series. The characters are colorful, with unique quirks and experiences. But their stories will also tug at the heart. In the first book, the only son of the Dearings brings his new fiancée to a reunion to meet everyone. But his fiancée had a terribly abusive childhood and doesn’t know how to be a part of a large, loud, loving family. How will she fit in?

Focus:   One common thread in all of your books is dreams and visions and God’s use of them in your characters’ lives.  Is this a way that God speaks to you personally?  Have you ever dreamed a scene that you used in one of your books?

Brandilyn Collins:  No, I haven’t dreamed a scene that appears in any of my books. But God has protected and led me numerous times through the dreams and visions of other people—right at the moment when protection was very much needed! These experiences have been amazing, and are a testament to how God sometimes uses supernatural ways to effect His will. Time and again I have seen God’s power against evil. These experiences very much affect what I write.

Focus:    Can you tell us what you feel is the greatest message with which God has entrusted you, and why you’ve chosen fiction as the medium for that message?

Brandilyn Collins:   Well, that’s a good follow-up to the last question. My stories, more and more so, are interwoven with the message of God’s power. Christians all too often walk in weakness. We don’t seem to understand the immense power available to us through prayer. Our God hung the moon. He can surely help us with our problems. And I think He protects us against evil way more times than we’ll ever know.

Focus:   Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?

Brandilyn Collins:  Sure. Always.

A. I send an e-mail newsletter, “Sneak Pique,” out every other month. This newsletter gives the inside scoop on Christian novelists and features the latest releases in all genres. It’s a great way to keep up to date with what’s new in the market. You can sign up for the newsletter on my Web site. Also, I’m running a drawing right now for four months in a row—four winners receive gift baskets, each worth $65, full of body care products and chocolates, and all things wonderful for women. Sign up for it at my site.

B. The prologue/first chapter of all my novels can be read on my Web site.

C. I’m even cooler in person than in an interview.

D. I’m a true redhead with no temper. So there for the stereotype.

E. I’ll emcee your event with lots of humor and fun—for a small fortune. Okay, just kidding on the last part. Take out the word “small.” :)

F. I’m currently traveling the country as a part of Zondervan’s fall novelist tour, which also features Terri Blackstock, James Scott Bell, and Bill Myers. We will be in eight cities, in the states of California, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Illinois. Readers can see the complete tour schedule under “Upcoming Appearances” on my Web site. I’ll hope to meet many of you!


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