I'm pleased today to post an interview with one of the First Ladies of Christian suspense fiction: Brandilyn Collins.
RM: Brandilyn, Amber Morn has just been shipped to bookstores and, like your other fans, I’m anxious to read it. I’ve seen the first few pages and you’re setting up a hostage situation at Java Joint. How difficult was it to maintain tension with the location staying the same for so long?
BC: It is difficult when the main location—that is, the location where the crime is taking place—remains the same throughout the novel. There are a couple things I did to keep the tension going. First (since this is an ensemble cast story), I switched POVs from one hostage to another. Each hostage has his/her own unique fears and thoughts about family who will be worried. Each also has unique reactions to the hostage takers.
Second, I kept up the action. It’s not only three perpetrators against the hostages, it’s also three perps against each other. This father and two sons constantly argue. One son’s a meth head. The other’s a hothead. And the dad is simply on edge with everything. I helped set up this tension between the trio by starting the novel in a scene at their home, as they’re getting ready to leave on their “mission.”
Third, in even quieter moments in a static location (and, in fact, even in very quiet scenes with just one character), tension can be heightened by effective word choice and tone.
Fourth, I cut away from the Java Joint café often—to scenes of the negotiator at his command post, and to scenes of a few other characters around town during the crisis. One of the most effective ways to keep a suspense story going is to end with a hook at every chapter, then jump to another location with a tension of its own—ending on a hook there, as well. That back and forth tension can really keep pages turning.
RM: Tell us more about the opening to Amber Morn. As you mentioned, the take-over of the café doesn’t happen in chapter one.
BC: Doc, I know you’re used to a body on the first page from me. Or at least in the first chapter. But I did something different in this one. I wanted to take some time setting up the attack on Scenes and Beans. I start with the three bad guys—showing their plans and why they’re doing it. Establishing how serious they are about their attack, and that they don’t care who they take down with them. Then I switch to the Scenes and Beans folks going to the party at Java Joint. Then back to the bad guys getting closer … back to the café … the bad guys … the café … The juxtaposition between the Scenes and Beans folks’ light-hearted partying and the death and destruction that’s coming to their door intrigued me. It’s like a fun gathering on hidden tracks, with the celebrators not knowing a train’s headed straight for them. This is certainly an example of a delayed inciting incident—something I don’t do often. And it’s a tricky thing to write. But now that it’s done, I like the effect.
RM: In your blog you’ve been talking about speaker attributions and the need to keep them to a minimum. Did having eleven people in a scene tax your inventiveness?
BC: Well, it kept me on my toes. Eleven hostages plus three perpetrators, all in one area, with lots going on—that’s a lot of characters to keep straight in more ways than just who’s speaking. I had to remember where each of them was. Who could see what. Who faced what area. Had to draw myself a diagram.
RM: So, apparently this is good-bye to Kanner Lake. Do you feel like you’ve just moved away from a beloved hometown, leaving behind friends?
BC: Yes. But frankly, I’m so busy with contracted novels right now—both adult and young adult—that I didn’t have time to think about it. I just had to go directly to the next novel. And with my novels—you never know when some character from a past series may turn up. Or maybe the whole lot of them…
RM: You’ve been sort of silent about your previous ankle injury lately, although you’ve confided to me that you sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies when you come down a flight of stairs. Can you bring the readers up to date on your status?
BC: Thanks for asking, Doc. I’m back to my regular routine of running. The break is healed, but I tore the ligaments badly, and those still aren’t the same. I walk normally and run normally, but I don’t have all the flexibility I used to in that left ankle. And yes, it sounds like giant sized Rice Krispies when I go down stairs.
RM: And have you been back on a snowmobile since the injury?
BC: Are you kidding?! I didn’t like it in the first place. Never again.
RM: You wrote a YA novel with your daughter. Can you tell us about that?
BC: Actually, we’ve now done two. It’s a three-part suspense series featuring Shaley O’Connor, sixteen-year-old daughter of a rock star. Who’d have thought, all those times Amberly and I shelled out the money for close-up seats at a concert, that we were doing research. ☺ The books begin when the band, Rayne, named after Shaley’s mom, is on tour. Naturally there are a few dead bodies along the way...
These books are part of Zondervan’s new young adult line. All three will be released in 2009, the first two together in April, and the last one in the fall.
RM: As we do this, you’re getting set to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. Do you go to any other writers’ meetings besides ACFW and Mt. Hermon? And how do you decide?
BC: Right now I only accept these two. I just can’t do any more per year. I also need to attend ICRS every summer, and every other year or so Zondervan hosts a retreat for its novelists. Plus there’s occasional travel for the ACFW advisory board. All this is enough for me now, given my current contracts.
However, I have accepted one extra invitation for 2009. I will be teaching a fiction track at the Christian Writers’ Guild conference in Colorado in February. The track will focus on using suspense techniques in all genres of fiction.
At some point, one by one, I’d like to accept invitations from other writers’ conferences.
RM: Any last thoughts for my readers?
BC: Doc Mabry is a really cool guy.
Thanks, Brandilyn. You wrote that just the way I suggested. Seriously, I appreciate your taking the time to visit with us here. Have fun at Mount Hermon.