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Brandilyn Collins Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I don’t hold back on depicting the evil in this world. It’s real. But so is God’s power over that evil." -- Brandilyn Collins


Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®. Awards for her novels include the ACFW Book of the Year (three times), Inspirational Readers' Choice, and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice. Also, The Writer magazine named her nonfiction release, Getting Into Character, one of the best books on writing published in 2002. When she's not writing, Brandilyn can be found teaching the craft of fiction at writers' conferences. She and her family divide their time between homes in the California Bay Area and northern Idaho.

As someone who suffered from Lyme disease, it makes sense that someday you would tackle the subject in a novel. How did you know it was time to write about something so personal?

I first suffered from Lyme in 2002-2003, then I was reinfected in 2009. It was after that second bout with the disease that I knew it was time to write about it. Being plunged back into fighting Lyme obviously brought it all to the forefront again. Meanwhile, little had changed in the medical world as far as Lyme patients were concerned. They still fought the “Lyme wars” with their physicians, battling for proper testing and treatment. It was the issue of the Lyme wars that prompted me to write a story that would highlight these challenges for the Lyme community.

Wanting to write about Lyme disease is one thing, but deciding on what plot to write that best shares the message you want to share is another. Where did the actual story idea come from for you? Was Janessa a character who developed over time or did she come to you full blown?

Here is an excerpt from my Author’s Note at the end of Over the Edge:

I remember slumping in the waiting room of my doctor in 2003, so sick I could not remain sitting in the chair. (They had to move me to the doctor’s personal padded armchair with footrest in a private office.) Hanging on the waiting-room wall was a framed newspaper article summarizing the 2001 findings written in The New England Journal of Medicine. The newspaper article explained how researchers had once again proved that Lyme was never chronic and was, in fact, very easy to treat with a short-term round of antibiotics. People claiming months or years of crippling symptoms from the disease were just wrong.

What those know-it-alls need, I thought with an admittedly un-Christian attitude, is a real good case of Lyme.

That thought sat in the back of my brain for seven years, until I began to write Over the Edge. Because of the story’s premise, I knew my protagonist, Jannie McNeil, had to be the wife of one of those prominent doctor/researchers who espouse that chronic Lyme disease does not exist as an active infection. Her characterization grew from there. In my Seatbelt Suspense® novels I always give the protagonist a big problem in her life before the major conflict arises that sets off the rest of the story. This problem then exacerbates the major conflict. In Jannie’s case, her marriage is falling apart, and she so wants to fix it. She’s a fixer—a child of an abusive alcoholic who’s grown into somewhat of a perfectionist. When the antagonist purposely infects her with Lyme, she automatically turns to her doctor husband for help. But when he denies she has Lyme, if she pursues her own treatment/testing, she will be defying him, and pushing an even greater wedge between them, thus hurting her marriage.

Aha! (Insert wicked grin here.) Now you have the makings of a true Seatbelt Suspense® novel.

Over the EdgeSometimes as a novelist being too close to a subject can actually make for tougher writing. Did you ever struggle with this? Why or why not?

I really didn’t. Yes, writing about Jannie’s terrible symptoms made me relive the nightmare of Lyme, but that only helped my writing. Jannie is so different from me. My own husband happens to be the most wonderful man on earth. I could deal with Jannie as any other character I’ve created.

You’ve shared your personal story on your website and blog in depth, but if you could share only one thing about your experience with Lyme to readers, what would it be?

The symptoms can be far worse than others realize. And some of the symptoms—such as the brain fog—are hard to understand. In Over the Edge, since I place my readers inside the head of my protagonist, they experience first-hand what it’s like to be unable to think or speak clearly.

I love your stance on not showing graphic violence in your novels. Why do you have this policy and has it ever been tested?

It’s simply not needed. That’s not to say I haven’t had some brutal murders in my books. But there’s nothing to be gained by explaining the murders in detail. Besides, those victims die and are no longer in the story, so what’s the point of being in their heads to explain everything? What’s more important to the reader is the impact of the murder on the protagonist.

What about those who say it’s impossible to show true redemption without showing true evil?

I’m a little puzzled by the statement. Following the previous question, it appears to make the illogical assumption that not depicting graphic violence means I fail to show “true evil.” Not so. I don’t hold back on depicting the evil in this world. It’s real. But so is God’s power over that evil. Often in my novels I place the readers in the head of the antagonist as he plans his crimes. But a “bad guy” never thinks he’s bad. There’s always a rationalization for his actions. It’s chilling to be inside the head of such a person and see his twisted thinking. That is a depiction of evil. And the fallout of his actions upon the protagonist force her to face the evil.

Is there anything you would still love to write someday but haven’t yet?Brandilyn Collins

Yes. The book that writes itself in about—oh, two weeks. With absolutely no cabinet-kicking on my part. Aaah. Maybe in heaven…

Do you have any plans to write more books with your daughter, or even co-write with any other authors?

No. The three-book young adult Rayne Tour series, written with daughter Amberly, was a specific project that my publisher (Zondervan) wanted me to do. We knew that once those three books were written, I’d return to writing my adult fiction only. Truth is, I’m busy enough writing adult suspense and really don’t have the time to do both. As for writing with another author, I have no present plans to do so. “Never say never,” so they say. But I think it would be much harder and make for double the work.

As a runner, do you often find yourself hitting the pavement when you’re stuck in the writing process? How does running help you as a creative person?

I usually run in the mornings. It’s a great time to be by myself and away from phones. I use the time to pray and often to plot. Exercise gets those good ol’ endorphins flowing, which in turn stimulates my brain.

Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian? Why?

Well, hmm. I know this is an ongoing debate, but I’ve never paid much attention to it. (Too busy writing, I guess.) I talk about my novels in terms of my Seatbelt Suspense® brand and its four promises. One of those promises is an element of faith. So call that what you will.

What’s your favorite Scripture and why?

My life verse comes from Psalm 138:8—The Lord will accomplish what concerns me. (New American Standard Version) If I can truly live in the midst of that kind of trust in God, I’ve got it all covered. (Problem is—ain’t always easy to do.)

Brandilyn CollinsHow do you stay on track spiritually in order to have a full well to draw from as you share Biblical truths with your readers?

I have my morning devotions, which consist of reading the Bible and praying the Psalms. A lot of people ask me to pray for them too, due to my healing prayer ministry. So I pray the Psalms over them. Besides that, for me it’s a conscious effort to know God is with me throughout the day, and that my actions should reflect his graciousness to me. (Again, uh, let’s just say I’m working on perfecting this.)

I’m curious… have any of your books been optioned for film?

Yes, Dark Pursuit was optioned, but the option ran out and I didn’t want to renew it. Dark Pursuit would do well in film, but a lot of my books wouldn’t, as they are past/present stories. Film typically needs a more linear approach. Over the Edge would work in film, as it all happens in the present.

What’s your favorite way to relax?

Hang out with my family. Also I love to read, although I can only do it a little each night before I fall asleep.

What’s next for you bookwise?

After Over the Edge, my next novel, Gone to Ground, releases in March of 2012. It’s the story of three women caught up in the pursuit of a killer in a small Mississippi town.

Where can we find you on a Friday night?

Typically at home with my husband. Tired. :] Work weeks are long.

What was your first job? Any memorable stories about it?

At 16 I was the typesetter for the private college I was attending. I kept that job for 2-3 years as I continued to attend there. I learned the very complicated IBM Composer machine (back in the day before computers) and set all the college’s print pieces, the student newspaper, forms, etc.

Favorite movie of all time and why:

Fantasia. Great music, creative and very avant garde for its time. The first real music video. :]

Parting words?

Yes, thanks. My web site www.brandilyncollins.com offers much additional information, including the first chapters of all my books, the story of my healing from Lyme, and a page of information on Lyme disease. I’m also on Facebook www.facebook.com/brandilyncollinsseatbeltsuspense and Twitter www.twitter.com/brandilyn.

Watch the trailer for Over the Edge:

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.