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Conlan Brown

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The Advocate

Conlan Brown Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"...no matter how bleak things might seem at the moment, dreams can and do come true."
--Conlan Brown

Born in 1984, Conlan Brown was functionally illiterate until the fifth grade, when he learned how to read and write, as well as a love of story, from his grandmother. Conlan went on to start college at the age of sixteen, and now holds a Master's degree in Communication, which taught him the academic principles needed to write Firstborn.

Conlan lives on Colorado's Front Range where he is working on his next book. He enjoys video editing, film scores, and developing high octane, thought provoking fiction that turns pages and excites the senses.

Your first novel, The Firstborn, is dedicated to your grandmother. Can you share with us the story of how she impacted your life?

I have very serious ADD and dyslexia and as a result fell very far behind in elementary school. I could hardly read, and what I could “sound-out” I didn’t comprehend at all. I was more than a few years behind my classmates and missed virtually every recess because I had to stay in to chip away at the work I didn’t understand. Those early years in school were hell for me.

My fifth-grade year I was pulled out of school for health reasons. My mother was working, but my grandmother – who had been a 3rd grade teacher for more than 30 years – was available. I went to her house every day, and she taught me reading and writing from scratch, starting with basic phonics and working up. She gave me the time and attention needed to make up for the many years I was so far behind. I improved in leaps and bounds, and the first book I read after working with her was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

In those days I would stay at her house on Friday nights and do chores around that house she couldn’t. She and I would talk about science and politics – I have a strong memory of she and I discussing the Oklahoma City bombing the day it happened. We were friends. The next year she was diagnosed with cancer, and died in hospice only a few months later. That was when I realized I wanted to use stories to affect people’s lives the way she had.

What is the number one thing you remember her teaching you about books, reading and writing?

My grandmother had spent her life in children’s ministry, going to churches and summer camps to tell Bible stories to groups of kids. It showed me how powerful story could be, and how deeply it could change someone’s life. When she died I wanted to carry on that legacy.

When did you realize you wanted to be a novelist?

Truthfully, I’m a movie guy. I always wanted to get into film, and I even started going to college at 16 to start learning video production. I wanted to make movies that would change people’s lives. Big, exciting, amazing spectacles that would draw in millions of viewers.

Then I started to learn how much money it cost to make a movie. Millions of dollars would be spent on making a simple film, with no special effects, that all took place in a coffee shop. Adding things like rain, snow, people, locations, car chases (anything even remotely interesting) would cause the cost to skyrocket at an exponential rate.

But I had the stories in my head, and they weren’t content to stay there, so I wrote them down. At first in short stories, and then I started writing books. It wasn’t like I meant to be a writer or anything, I just kept sitting down at the computer and stories just kept coming out.

Finally, in my late teens my family (who had been reading my stuff) started telling me that if I was going to keep writing books (I think I had six written by then) I needed to try to get published. The more I put it off the more adamant they got, and finally I started going to a Christian writer’s conference to pitch my work. By then I was hooked.

So the answer is: I just sort of fell into it, and was a writer before I even had a chance to get comfortable with the idea.

The FirstbornHow long had you been writing before The Firstborn was accepted for publication, and how did that come to be?

I’d been knocking out books as an obsessive hobby for about four years when I sat down and wrote a book called Civilization. It’s a novel about a guy who gets abducted by talking animals from another dimension who want him to come up with a reason why they shouldn’t blow up the earth out of self defense. Strangely, it got some pretty serious considerations, but was ultimately rejected because it was just too far off the beaten path. So I decided to write something much more mainstream.

And thus, it came to pass that Firstborn was conceived. I had just finished my Master’s degree and took the summer to write the book. About four months later it was done. I then went out and got a grown-up job with my Master’s degree and was management for a rental car company. In February of 2008 two things happened: the economy crashed and I lost my job.

Broke, dejected and unemployed, I went to my annual writers conference and spoke very briefly to a representative of an imprint of Strang Communications. She told me to go ahead and send in the manuscript for Firstborn, so I shrugged and sent it in, assuming it would never make it out of the slush pile for her imprint, much less the sister imprint that did fiction.

Two weeks later I got an email saying that the editorial staff at Realms was going to be pitching the book to the executive committee. In September – almost exactly a year and a half after typing the first line of the book – I signed my contract and became a real author.

This novel is a highly imaginative thriller. Where did you get the idea for the story and how did it develop as you wrote it?

The Firstborn is actually extremely tame compared to what normally comes out of my brain. I worked really hard to keep The Firstborn as grounded in reality as possible, despite the fact that my mind wants to think about penguins working as furniture movers.

Where that comes from? I don’t know. My niece, Allanna (who the book is also dedicated to), is three. Just the other day she was hanging upside down from the trampoline growling. When asked what she was doing she boldly Conlan Browndeclared, “We are the good monkeys! We are the cure!!” Nobody has any clue where she got that from. So I guess bizarre thoughts are just in my blood. My grandmother had them, my niece has them, and so do I. As for taking those insane delusions and bringing them down to earth? I would have to say that is the result of grad school.

Much of the novel is based on stuff I learned while I was getting my Master’s degree in communication and the things I studied. I had very brilliant and giving professors who indulged my academic curiosity.

Specifically: I took a long hard look at what was and wasn’t selling and sat down to write something that could be popular while still making use of the elements I love.

Tell us about the Triquetra symbol and how it plays a part in the story.

The Triquetra is an ancient symbol. It first appeared in India about 5,000 years ago and made its European debut in the form of Norse and Celtic art. The symbol seems to be universally known and accepted as a representation of three intertwined parts. In the west it is best known for being a symbol for the trinity, but has also had other meanings (including past, present, and future, which are central concepts in the book).

I like to work a lot with iconic imagery when working on a story, and this symbol had it all: religious significance, expression of the number three, and a meaning that was open to personal and cultural interpretation. It was all the themes of the book wrapped into a single image.
In the book it is used as the symbol for the Firstborn in conjunction with the inverted crown, which is the symbol for the first born son in heraldry.

How much research was required for this book, and what surprised you most in your fact digging?

I do research all the time. It’s a compulsion. My mother has a doctorate and my brother graduates with his Master’s degree today. It runs in the family. When I write I just take the time I would normally spend researching String theory and the history of the band Queen, and dedicate it toward finding out about Ayatollah Khomeini.

I started researching terrorism on my own before I even thought about doing the book. I had several students when I was teaching at the University who were practitioners of the Islamic faith. They were some of my best students and very likeable. They still had family in Palestine, and provided deeply profound insights into the hearts and minds of those living in the Middle East. At the same time my brother was serving his tour of duty in Iraq, so these things combined, and I became very curious about the conflicts taking place in the world today.

The biggest shock for me was when I watched a real beheading. It was deeply traumatizing. So much so that I revisited the idea in the book as a means of exorcising those demons.

Conlan BrownWhat was the hardest part about writing The Firstborn?

I had just finished a major faith crisis when I started writing this book. I’d stopped going to church and didn’t even identify myself as a Christian anymore. I had only decided to give faith another chance about three weeks before I started writing the book. The result was an ongoing process of asking myself: “Do I really believe what I’m writing here?” I was so deeply embittered with so much of the religious world that it was hard to stay level-headed about anything. The book forced me to come to terms with many of my personal wounds.

How do you keep all the plot twists straight as you’re writing?

The twists are the story. They give the narrative energy, building tension and facilitating release. I know what things are going to ambush my characters long before I know how they get there. There is absolutely no way to lose track of them when you approach it that way.

The biggest challenge is figuring out how to keep it a plausible secret from the characters and reader while still making it believable when the moment does arrive. The mental gymnastics and property destruction that takes place in between turning points often makes the twists seem more profound than they really are.

What authors or books have had the most influence on you as a writer?

Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces has influenced me more than any other book. A must for anyone who wants to understand what makes story resonate with the human heart and mind.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

Not much. There was a lot I didn’t know when I started, but I actively worked at learning. I was always teachable, and I hope I still am. The day I stop learning is the day I start dying.

Your favorite novel of all time and why:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. No novel better expresses the feelings I experienced while growing up.

What’s next for you in the book department?

I’m writing a sequel to The Firstborn. Then hopefully something a bit inane before the next thriller.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

The big shocker for most people is my age. I’m 25 now, but was 23 when I finished writing Firstborn. The second is that I’m not a fiction reader. The last novels I read were Next by Michael Crichton and Bridget Jones’ Diary, both were more than a year ago. I’m a non-fiction guy.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love video production and editing. What an amazing art. Blending motion, sound and picture all together into one medium? Amazing.

I am also a fan of video games. They are a form of participatory storytelling that fascinates me. Some of my best ideas come from devising a unique or unconventional solution to a problem in a virtual world.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

I don’t eat much and I haven’t had breakfast on a regular basis since high school. Today I’ve mostly just had diet soda.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Three different kinds of frozen pizza.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

I do most of my writing at a coffee shop up the street. All the baristas know me. They know if I’m next in line they might as well get some cleaning done because I have no idea what I’m going to order, and it will probably take about ten minutes to decide. I let a lot of people go ahead of me while I’m trying to decide.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Get married. Have kids. Visit Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Write and direct a movie. Get a PhD. Learn French. Learn how to compose music. Make life better for at least one plant, animal and mineral. Experience a natural disaster as its happening. Read to my own children. Turn 26.

I’m young. I’ve still got a lot I want to do. The greatest tragedy would be if I were peaking right now. Even if writing a book is the most public thing I ever do I certainly hope it isn’t the most important—and I’ve still got a lot of that ahead of me.

When was the last time you cried?

Pretty recently. My uncle Carl died unexpectedly at the age of 43, leaving a wife and four daughters. He was a missionary and a good man.

Three words that best describe you:


What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

I’m a soundtrack junkie. Right now I’m listening to the original motion picture soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back. I think my mp3 player is set to the score for Quantum of Solace. I love film music. Always have.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

I know how blessed I am, and that no matter how bleak things might seem at the moment, dreams can and do come true.


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.