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Interview With Brandilyn Collins

Meet Brandilyn Collins
Interview by Sandra Moore

Tell us a little about yourself -- age, married/single, children, how many books authored, etc.

Age? You really want my age? Okay. 22. Times two.

I'm happily married to a fabulous man. This July will be our 20th anniversary. We have three children -- Ryan, 26 (Mark's son) Brandon, 18; and Amberly, 11. Thank heavens for daughter Amberly! Without her, I wouldn't have anyone to take me to boy band concerts.

My professional writing career began in 1982, when I opened the doors of my business, Vantage Point. Through Vantage Point I wrote and produced marketing/advertising materials for companies, such as brochures, annual reports, press releases, booklets, magazine articles and newspaper features, etc.

My first book, a true crime titled "A Question of Innocence," was published by Avon in 1995. I visited a nationally-watched media trial here in the California Bay Area in order to research for a suspense novel I was writing. And I ended up writing a book about the true case! It was a complex murder trial, involving numerous psychological and legal issues that were worth exploring. Still, true crime was not exactly the genre I wanted to remain in. After that book, I did write the suspense novel, which is now "Eyes of Elisha."

My first women's fiction, "Cast A Road Before Me," released in March 2001 (Broadman & Holman). It is the first of three in the Bradleyville series, Bradleyville being a small, fictional town set in rural Kentucky. "Color the Sidewalk for Me," the second in the series," releases March of 2002. And the third (as yet untitled and unplotted!) releases March of 2003. These second and third books of the series are being published by Zondervan.

In between the women's fiction, I'm also writing suspense. "Eyes of Elisha comes out in October of 2001, and the second, "Dread Champion," comes out in October of 2002. These are also published by Zondervan.

I've also just finished my nonfiction how-to book, "Getting Into Character" for John Wiley & Sons (ABA market). "GIC" will release in April 2002. This is a very different look at writing fiction. Using my drama background, I have taken seven characterization techniques from the art of method acting and have adapted them for the novelist's use. These techniques can lead novelists into new ways of thinking. I think "GIC" will be helpful to writers who are fairly new to the craft as well as those who've written numerous novels.

Hobbies for me include singing, jogging and reading. I took ten years of classic training in singing. (Soprano.) Jogging five miles in the mornings helps keep me sane. And reading -- well, actually, that's part of my job.

What else you wanna know? I'm a redhead and proud of it. I also have freckles, which I'm not proud of. I can probably beat you in Scrabble. You can for sure beat me at sewing on a button. I really don't like to cook on a daily basis but can put on a too-die-for seven-course gourmet meal when I have to.

How did you become interested in writing?

I grew up in a writin' family. Learned what metaphors and similes and malapropisms are way early in life. (Had a tougher time figuring out algebra.) I learned to read before kindergarten, I think. (Ask my mother.) I started acting (no, I DIDN'T say "acting out!") in about sixth grade. Was in plays in junior high all the way through college. Majored in drama in college. All the drama teaching has provided wonderful and rich background training for writing. For, after all, we novelists have the same goal as actors: we want to bring characters to life.

What was your biggest obstacle in regards to writing and/or getting published? How did you overcome it?

My biggest obstacle was myself. I wanted my writing for ME. I wanted fame and glory as a novelist for ME. Then I finally said, "Okay, God, here's the talent YOU gave me. What would you like me to do with it?" When I obeyed God and gave him my writing, he began opening up the doors for publishing that He'd had for me all along.

What has been the highest moment of your writing career?

Oh, sheesh. Well, it ain't been that long yet. I can name some interesting moments. Appearing on Phil Donahue and Leeza Gibbons for "A Question of Innocence" was certainly interesting. But the highest moments have to do with seeing God at work in my career. Seeing the doors He opened after I gave him my writing. Holding my first novel in my hand. Now THAT'S a moment. Hearing what the story is meaning to folks who read it, and how it's pointing them to Christ. Hearing a grandmother tell me that she, her adult daughter and her 13-year-old granddaughter all read "Cast A Road Before Me" and loved it. Now that's cool, hitting all three generationals.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write?

No doubt God guides my stories. I pray daily for His leading in what I write.

Inspiration for the stories themselves come from my own life and from watching others. I am constantly, CONSTANTLY recording and watching life. An emotion here, a certain characteristic walk or way of talking there. A passionate moment in my life or someone else's, a memory, a dream, conversations, encounters between strangers. I watch 'em all.

Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer, or do you plot extensively before your fingers hit the keyboard?

I know where my stories are going. I use my Four Ds for major plot points (Desire, Distancing, Denial, Devastation). A seat-of-the-pants writer can use just them. I tend to use them plus plot scenes between each of the Four Ds. However, characters do tend to do things you wouldn't expect. This is because we discover more about our characters as we write their stories. In "Color the Sidewalk for Me," for example, my main character, Celia, did something I absolutely had not plotted. Even as my fingers were flying over the keyboard, I was telling her, "You really shouldn't do this. You're gonna totally mess up your life." She did it anyway. And, of course, this is some of the truest writing in the book, for SHE was leading ME.. Without this act of rebellion on her part, the story would not have all the depth that it now contains.

What's the nicest thing anyone ever said about your writing?

I love hearing that my stories move people in some way. "It made me cry." I LOVE that one. "I couldn't put down the book even though I really needed to go to sleep." Yes, indeedy, I like that one too. Most of all, I look forward to hearing from readers who learn a truth about Christ from my novels. One nonChristian reader said of "Cast A Road Before Me" -- "Hm, I'm going to have to look into this 'giving Jesus your heart' thing. I've never done that." Now THAT made my day.

Who is your favorite character in your books, and how did you come up with that character?

Oh, man. That's kind of like asking me to name my favorite child. Well, let's see. I sure like the supporting character of Thomas in "Cast A Road Before Me" and "Color the Sidewalk for Me." He's a real, well -- character. He's feisty and witty and cunning and unpredictable. And he loves the Lord. Great combination.

How did I come up with this character? He sorta just grew. I needed some comic relief for these two novels. So I developed Thomas and his friend, Jake, and put them in the middle of a "bestin' feud" that's been going on since they were 9 years old. (When we meet them, they're about 60.) Thomas and Jake keep the town of Bradleyville laughing even in the midst of some tragic times.

How do you balance a writing career and being a mother?

I write full-time in my wonderful home office. The office is about 600 feet and is on its own floor. It's connected by intercom to the rest of the house, but other than that, it's really private. The set-up of my office allows me to write while the kids are home and not be bothered. I'm one of those writers who must have absolute silence, so a little cubby somewhere while the television is going just wouldn't work for me.

My 11-year-old is quite independent and keeps herself busy in the afternoons. So I manage to put in about 11 hours a day, from about 8:30 to 7:30. My husband works till about that time anyway, so we tend to eat dinner late. Of course there are times when I need to take Amberly somewhere or she needs me for something. But I am fortunate in that I have so much time to work.

Of course, this has not always been the case. When the kids were younger, I had far less time to write. And no matter how old the kids are, they still are the first priority. Sometimes I just have to be available for them, regardless of deadlines. This issue is a constant one of prayer with me, as I'm sure it is with most writing moms.

If you could tell a beginner one thing, what would it be?

First and foremost, give your talent to God right off the bat and ask what He'd like you to do with it. Then -- if the course He puts you on is learning to write fiction, I'd say, "Give yourself time." Learning the craft of fiction takes years. Often a writer will study and study, and write and write for 10 years or more before getting to the point of being accepted by a major publishing house. There are always those exception stories, I know. But for every exception story there are thousands of authors who put in years of learning time. This is especially true in TODAY's MARKET. So allow yourself the time to learn. Don't think your first book will immediately be accepted. There's nothing wrong with you if you find the process is taking years. That's NORMAL. Hang in there, keep learning. Kick some cabinets when rejections come in. Then get back at it. You CAN succeed with God's help.

Would you like to share a MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT you have experienced in your writing career?

Hm. Haven't really had one yet. But no doubt it's coming. You'll be the first to know.


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