For the next three days, we have a Q&A with suspense novelist Brandilyn Collins. Her latest novel, Web of Lies (Zondervan), is a crossover between her two popular series characters, Chelsea Adams and Annie Kingston.
After a quiet three months in the town of Redding, Calif., forensic artist Annie Kingston’s life finally seems to be returning to normal. That is, until she stops for milk one day at a local convenience store and just happens to be witness to a crime—a crime ending in murder.And now, the first part of our Q&A ...
Now Annie must work with the surviving witness to identify the killer, while crossing paths with Chelsea Adams, who made national headlines with her visions of murder. Chelsea is desperate to meet with Annie because God has been sending Chelsea more chilling visions, visions of a killer so cold-blooded he won’t let anything—or anyone—stand in his way.
As Chelsea and Annie team up to stop a killer, they find themselves snared in a terrifying battle against time, greed and a deadly opponent, ultimately uncovering a web of lies that goes deeper than either could imagine.
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Are you an “entertainer” or a “minister”?
I'm an entertainer first. I do weave God's truth into my suspense, but the spiritual thread doesn't drive the story. In fact, as I set out to write a suspense, I have no idea what the spiritual thread will be. My first job is to write the best suspense I can. Sweep readers along on a rollercoaster ride. If I can keep them turning pages, keep them caught up in the story, they'll eventually read spiritual truth. But if I lose them as a storyteller, they won't bother finishing the book, much less hear its message.
Who are your literary influences?
I had two particular authors as I traveled that long journey toward publication in fiction. The first was crime/suspense author Richard North Patterson. (He endorsed my first book, a true crime titled A Question of Innocence.) Through Ric's work I learned story structure, facility of language and effective use of POV. The second author was Anne Rivers Siddons. She taught me characterization and beauty of language. Not to mention a lot of cool words. Siddons has a well-rounded vocabularly and isn't afraid to use it. Sometimes I wish I could do more of that, but my editors tend to bong me over the head if I use too many unusual words.
Today I read a lot of Dean Koontz, who's a master of suspense, language, and characterization. Triple-threat, that guy. I also admire his expansion of the suspense genre.
Who are your spiritual influences?
My parents, my grandfather, my husband. My grandfather, followed by my parents, were missionaries to India for many years. Their untiring service to God, and their hard-lived faith, are amazing. In contrast, my husband works in the secular arena. He's a successful businessman, respected in his field. His faith is strong, although not always overtly spoken, and his integrity unquestioned -- in a world where half-truths to outright lies for the sake of a dollar are so rampant. I look at what he deals with every day and am very happy to sit all my myself behind my home office computer.
What is the best thing anyone said about one of your books?
I've received so many letters, it's hard to say one thing. The reader feedback on the stories themselves -- "I loved your book, couldn't put it down, etc." -- are always encouraging. But the letters with the most meaning for me are those that speak of the spiritual impact of my books. I have received such letters for every novel I've written, suspense and contemporary alike. Often the letters are from hurting people who read my book for the entertainment value, but walked away with something God showed them. One male reader wrote:
"I found Color the Sidewalk for Me intensely moving, and (don't tell anyone) I actually cried at the ending. The characters reminded me that we are all imperfect beings. This was a very real portrayal of God's healing powers to restore relationships, both with other humans and with Him. When I read this book, I had just made contact with a friend who really hurt me back in grade 9, and the reconciliation within this story convinced me to 'try again' with this friend, and write him a letter telling him I forgave him for his actions. God truly spoke to me through your words."
A few other examples:
"I just wanted to thank you so much for your inspiring books. I am facing brain surgery for an aneurysm, and your books have helped me to reinforce my strength in God."
"There truly are no words to express how Brink of Death reached into the depths of me and touched something that I believe has been asleep for a very long time. Thank you so much for the blessings that you have poured into my life."
"The spiritual aspect of Web of Lies really spoke to me. Satan is relentless in his lies. I fight the same false guilt as Annie, and I battle feelings of unworthiness. I need to get rid of Satan's influence, not listen to his lies, and live in the freedom of Christ. But part of me feels I deserve to be bogged down. More lies, I know."
A page on my Web site ("Feedback from Readers") lists many more such excerpts. These keep me going when the writing gets tough.
What is the worst thing anyone said about one of your books?
Drat. Couldn't we stop with the last question?
When my first suspense, Eyes of Elisha, was published, I received good reviews and reader feedback. But there was one reader review on amazon.com that was awful. For the sake of all authors out there who've ever heard negative opinion, I shall repeat it:
"This book typifies what is wrong with most "Christian" fiction. I am a Christian -- but I also like to read books with intelligence and depth -- this book doesn't have much of either. The plot is see-through, the characters are shallow, and as is typical of this genre, every problem is a "spiritual" one. Most characters are "good" or "bad", and the ones that aren't are wishy washy "spiritually lost" people whom we are to pity for their lack of "knowledge" about God. The only reason I kept reading after about the 4th chapter was that I was sure the book would get better -- I was wrong."
I must say, to this day the review is suspect. Written anonymously and very generally, with no specific points to show the person read the book. "Every problem is a spiritual one" seems particularly strange, given that a murder occurs in the prologue. I had the feeling then and now that this was written by someone who really resents Christian fiction. He/she purports to be a Christian, but the tone sure doesn't sound like it.
Either way, it was painful feedback. Hard to think a person would have not one good thing to say about a book of mine -- and go out of his/her way to write a review and denigrate the story. And if he/she didn't read it, it was equally hard to know that people out there won't like my writing simply because of what it stands for.
With a few more books under my belt, today I wouldn't give such feedback a second thought. First, I know I can't please everyone. Second, if a reader can't even sign his/her name to an opinion, I figure that opinion doesn't count for much. Thing is, I know I'm on the path where God wants me, and this can be a difficult and sometimes depressing business. I need to keep my eyes on Him and guard my heart.
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Come back tomorrow for the second part of our Q&A. Find Ms. Collins online at www.BrandilynCollins.com or at her daily blog, www.ForensicsAndFaith.blogspot.com. She is also a regular contributor to the multi-novelist blog Charis Connection.
Find Web of Lies at Amazon or ask for it at any fine bookseller.
BRANDILYN COLLINS, PT 2
BRANDILYN COLLINS, PT 3