Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Can you spell d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e? Kylie Brant can
By day Kim Bahnsen is a [ahem] meek and mild-mannered special education teacher, devoted wife and mother of five mostly grown children, four boys and a girl, the youngest a set of twins. Put this empty nester into fiction mode, however, and she turns into Kylie Brant, a whirling dervish who spins one heart-stopping series romance after another for Silhouette Romantic Suspense. Now Berkley Sensation has recognized this talent and created a maelstrom for its single-title line. I've always wanted to know how she does it. It's our lucky day to find out. Please welcome Kylie Brant to the Five Scribes ~ Donnell
D.B. Kylie, I am so delighted you've joined us today. Before we get started, I have a confession. I became familiar with your work when you won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense for the published contest, which means your book Entrapment took home the greatest honor, beating out some of the highest caliber mystery and romantic suspense authors in the industry. I wanted to see what was so special about this author that made this book rise to such estimable ranks. I soon knew and have been a fan ever since. You've also been nominated for two Ritas and four Romantic Times awards. So now that I have you completely at ease, let's pull out all the stops: How do you do it?
K.B. Well, I think being completely insane to begin with helps ;). Then I don't miss those brain cells so much when they leak out at a rate in direct proportion to the number of balls I'm juggling at any one time!
D.B. As I look at all the books you had/have on the shelf, Terms of Surrender out now, Terms of Engagement , coming January 2009, Terms of Attraction coming in August 2009 all from Silhouette Romantic Suspense, and then see Waking Nightmare, Berkley Sensation, September 2009, Waking Evil, October 2009 and Waking the Dead due for release in November 2009, I have in mind either to lie down with a cold compress, or write my own book entitled, Terms of Living in a Waking Nightmare. What do you think? Has it been done? Possibly by you?
K.B. Have you been talking to my husband ;) I think he feels he's trapped in that nightmare as a result of all my deadlines!
I usually don't have this much craziness going at once. But I had written a single title and was shopping it around. Then while I waited, I shot Silhouette another proposal. I signed the contract with Silhouette for the TERMS trilogy four months before I sold The MINDHUNTERS trilogy to Berkley. Things started piling up in a hurry because Berkley wanted to release the books back to back, which I'm thrilled about naturally.
D.B. Before I lead the reader to think fate and luck just landed on your doorstep, and that hard work and talent had nothing to do with it, how many books have you written?
K.B. I've written twenty-five for Silhouette, two of which haven't been released yet. And the first two MINDHUNTERS books are done for Berkley so that's twenty-seven altogether.
D.B. Did writing always come naturally, or was it a process you had to learn and adapt?
K.B. I was a reader first, as most of us are. We learn so much about writing just by immersing ourselves in books. But, yes, writing came easily to me in school, although I never considered doing it professionally.
Since I started out in a state of total ignorance, I still had to learn! Still do, actually. I hope to be still honing my craft as long as I continue writing. But I started in the time of pre-Internet, pre- e-mail, pre-me knowing anything about the industry. I belonged to no writing organizations; knew no one else who was writing. Compared to some savvy aspiring authors I've met, I may as well have been living in a cave (and with four boys there were similarities)!
D.B. I love your pre- comments, especially that you were a pre-me :) Okay, see if anyone besides me gets that joke. Would you share your call story with us, Kylie?
K.B. Actually the day I got the call, I was home from work, sick in bed with laryngitis. Leslie Wainger's assistant called. She was really just checking my contact information because I'd neglected to include my phone number with the manuscript. Remember that ignorance I was telling you about? Anyway, she was just thrilled because Leslie was reading my manuscript as we spoke, and the assistant was the one who'd found me in the slush pile.
I didn't know what a slush pile was, but I thought she'd said flush pile, and that didn't sound promising. She told me Leslie would be calling later. After we hung up I started to wonder if I'd dreamed it. Had the conversation been a Vicks VapoRub hallucination? I could only lie there wondering. Fortunately, a couple hours later Leslie did call and offer for the manuscript. I could barely talk, but I managed to croak out a "Yes!"
That was actually the second manuscript I'd written. A couple months later Leslie bought my first attempt, too.
D.B. [note to self and readers -- always include phone numbers] Kylie's call story sounds like a chapter straight out of Sandra Brown's Envy in which the heroine/editor hunts down the protagonist/writer. I WISH all of us would be so lucky :) Include those phone numbers! But I digress ;). Kylie, please describe for us a day in the life of Kylie Brant.
K.B. It depends on whether it's a school day or not. If so, I'm up at six, on the treadmill, then at work by eight. After school I exercise or run errands and then if the evening is free (and when I'm under deadline I try to keep them free!) I sit down at the laptop. On weekends and summers, there's not much difference except I waste more time :). I'm up at seven, exercise, read the paper and then to the computer. When I have a full day to devote to writing I try to write at least ten pages. Then it's dinner and spending the evening with my husband.
D.B. Very nice! What is a perfect day for Kylie Brant, and then reverse it. What makes you wonder why you ever sat down at a keyboard?
K.B. A perfect day for me is one spent with my family. Just hanging out tailgating or going somewhere together. I need to intersperse my writing time with times like these to keep me fresh. A perfect day writing is when everything flows, and I start writing things I never knew were going to happen and they dovetail perfectly with what came earlier. Dialogue flows and the plot flawlessly unfolds -- that's a golden day.
A less shiny day, shall we say ;) is one like the last two I just spent. I had a book due and the darn thing wouldn't end. Went on nearly sixty pages past the time I thought it would be over. It's like running a marathon only to discover someone lied to you about the length. The pages get written extremely fast, but there's a point where I feel I'm never going to finish.
D.B. I know you wrote for Silhouette for many years before breaking into Single Title. Is that what we should call it -- breaking in? Or would you describe it differently?
K.B. I'm not one of those who feel there's something inherently superior about writing single titles rather than category. But yes, your description is somewhat accurate because some agents and editors have a preconceived notion of a writer's ability based on the fact she came from category. So sometimes there's a sense we have to prove ourselves. And when it comes to plotting, the two entities (category and single title) are very different beasts, each with its own challenges. Probably the biggest difficulty breaking into single title for me was coming up with a high concept, complex enough to sustain a trilogy in the longer length and unique enough to capture an agent and editor's interest. I'm having a ball with the longer format, because I do a lot of layering with characterization along with the suspense, and I love having the length to do justice to the story.
D.B. You gave me a sneak peak at Waking Nightmare, the first of the MINDHUNTERS books. Wait until readers get a load of Forensic Psychologist Abbie Phillips as she teams with Savannah-Chatham lead detective Ryne Robel. They work to bring down a serial rapist who uses a designer drug to make his victims live through their deepest, darkest fears. This book is edgy, scary and had me not wanting to turn off the lights. At the same time you had me caring for your characters and rooting for them to end a psychopath's madness.
I envision your office as one plotting board after another, Kylie. True?False? How do you as you're writing these books keep the inherent structures, plots and characters apart? And a personal question if I may -- do you write when you're alone? Sometimes as I write I scare myself and I had to ask;)?
K.B. LOL. Okay, I've never been able to keep my family out of my office, so I wouldn't say it's completely my own space. And I do my share of piling but my husband sees any flat surface as a challenge, and is compelled to cover it as soon as possible. So my desk is usually a disaster. I used to clean it between books but now I clean before tax appointments. It's interesting, but I'm a totally different sort of person writing than I am in my 'real' life. Usually, I'm very organized. Still a procrastinator [grin] but always writing lists and checking things off as they're accomplished. With writing ... not so much. I have a few tools/charts I have used, but frankly don't use anything consistently. The thought of plot boards make me smile ;). I'm an organic writer and I enjoy letting the story unfold on its own. But my new goal is to start using character lists just to keep track of people's names. I had to go back and check minor characters' names a million times in this book! The major characters are very real to me and there's no chance of inconsistencies in their development. I do catch minor plot inconsistencies as I edit.
D.B. When you're plotting a book, will you describe your process and then detail for us how long it takes you to write the book afterward? Do you ever have writer's block, and how do you free it?
K.B. All I can say is it's in my head first. This nebulous idea of people and places and conflicts. It starts taking shape while I'm finishing one book. I like to start writing the first couple chpaters to get a clearer picture before I stop to write a synopsis.
I sort of have an overall idea of the story. The main characters and overall plot are clear first. How I'm going to get from point A to point B is a bit fuzzy as I start;). I'm not a good synopsis writer, but force myself to do a short one simply because the plot starts to unfold as I write things down. But I've never been able to stick to what I say is going to happen in a synopsis.
For instance, I sent in a book today. I'll start the next book tomorrow. And I'll start by writing the first two or three chapters before I start wondering what's going to happen in the middle. Organic writer. I like that term so much better than 'panster'!
I don't do drafts, per se. Usually one time through the book is it. But each time I begin writing again, I read the last couple chapters to get back into the book, and do light editing at the time. When it's done I like to read through the entire thing, keep a running list of things that need clarifying or changing, keeping an eye out for inconsistencies (especially in timelines) and then go back through and fix those. I might rewrite a few pages as I go. But then it pretty much goes in.
Writing alone is my favorite because my husband is distracting! He also offers 'helpful' little pieces of advice, like 'just end it!' that really offers no assistance when I'm stressed and on page 550 for a book I thought would be over by 500!
As for how long it takes me to write the book -- as long as they give me;). I'm a pretty fast writer, though. This last book took four-and-half months. Keep in mind during that time I was also working on another book (due Aug. 1), two sons got married, I took two trips, school started up again and I had surgery. So I'm pretty pleased it got done as fast as it did. But if I were to take what I consider a comfortable amount of time, I'd like four months for a category and five months for a single title. I just don't always get it!
I've found writer's block, for me, often is overcome by just getting outside and walking four miles or so. Working through the plot problems as I move almost always helps. Otherwise, if I'm still stuck, I'll do a stream of consciousness thing where I write down all the possible solutions to the problem, no matter how nonsensical.
D.B. Okay, now my tummy hurts! :) Let's talk research. I know you do it. Lots of it. What are your favorite sources? Do you travel or do you learn mostly by reading?
K.B. Mostly I research books. I'll read six or seven while researching a story. which I do as I'm writing. I have a rather extensive library that would give some pause when they read the titles ;). I almost always talk to or e-mail experts and get realistic facts that way. I've rarely traveled to research, but did go to Oregon last summer to plot my next book. I needed to find a cave in the forest to hide bodies [grin]. It was wonderful. I just stood there sometimes as we were hiking, and scenes would unfold in my head. The entire ending scene of the book played out the way we were walking through the forest. Actually visiting the place is a great way to get a sense of the setting, making the mood and details so much more vivid.
D.B. Agreed about setting, and as soon as I locate those pennies under my cushions, I'm there ;) Which of your books is/are your favorite(s)? What are the benefits of writing series over single title and if you could change one thing about writing for either line, what would it be?
K.B. My favorite book is the one I just finished ;). If I had to choose some, a few that come to mind are Entrapment, The Business of Strangers, Terms of Surrender and this last one, Waking Evil. But I've learned my favorites are rarely the favorites of others' so it's all about individual preferences in a book.
The benefit of writing for category is there is no worry about marketing or distribution because all the books in the line are handled the same way by the company. You know they are going to be on the shelves in xxx places, and don't have to worry about distributors selecting your individual book for their clients. Sales are important, but they don't make and break careers as much as they do in single title. There's more of a comfort level, because it doesn't all boil down to an individual author.
I'm looking forward to working with Berkley to build my single title brand, but it's like working without a net ;). If the books don't sell it's all on me.
I love SRS. Started reading the line with the very first Intimate Moments book. I love the emotion and suspense. But I'm a writer who wants to put the suspense first, with a satisfying relationship in the background. In category, the reader's expectation is romance first, which means I can't write as complex a suspense plot as I want. I find it increasingly challenging to do justice to the story with the decreased word count in the series. But I still love the line, its promise and the satisfying love story that can be found in each book. I'm just more comfortable writing longer.
D.B. A personal observation of mine as I've been reading and judging contests is that authors (I hope unintentionally) imitate well-known and best-selling authors. What do you do in your writing to keep your work your own, e.g. fresh, unique and to keep the reader coming back?
K.B. I think it's exceedingly difficult to imitate another author's style or voice. That's just something that's so unique to the individual that I rarely see it. But as far as chasing trends...yeah, that's prevalent in the industry. Something gets hot and other authors play off that. It works somewhat because say big selling author X is being published well by house A, and House B also has a big selling author selling very similar types of books. A savvy author looks at the other houses and notices they have no one writing the same thing. Publishing houses are often looking for their own answer to author X, who is selling buckets, so writers can find niches following trends and landing in different houses.
Then there are 'hot' sub-genres and publishers will grab up all the stories they can because they're selling like hotcakes, so authors will write those kinds of stories because, again, they are finding a niche. So there's a reason for it. It pays off for both authors and publishers.
People talk about writing the book of their heart, but the book of my heart is the one that will pay off some college loans ;).
As far as keeping my writing fresh [shrug]. My voice is what it is. I doesn't change. I've been told forever that I have a very mainstream voice, even when I was writing only categories. But I always want to offer the reader something they can't find anywhere else, so I try to find a twist in a plot that's unique. And I get a lot of comments about the depth of my characterization. That's a particular interest of mine, as I'm fascinated by what makes people tick! So I think something special can be found in my story people.
I think what makes the Berkley single titles different is the stories are very dark thrillers, with an intricate complex suspense, but they still have a realistic and satisfying romance. Finding the right balance in RS can sometimes be difficult.
D.B. I fully concur. What is the nicest thing a reader has ever said about your writing? What is the most uncomplimentary, and how did you handle it? What advice would you give aspiring authors as far as accepting praise and negativity as well.
K.B. :) I once had a fan meet me for the first time who was shocked because she thought I was a man. ;) She told me no woman could write that way! I had to laugh. I'm most thrilled when readers tell me they were touched by the story and how invested they got in the characters. That's really why I write.
I once had a blowhard here in town (who would never deign to read any of my books!) ask me how I could ever hope to write anything original with all the books already out there. I was absolutely stunned. I don't think he realized how offensive that was. I asked sweetly, "Well, all the words in the human language have been uttered millions of times. How do you hope to ever 'say' anything original?" My husband dragged me away [grin].
The best advice I ever had was don't believe your own press. Weigh the positive and negative equally. But remember, you learn more from the negative stuff (unless it's an attack) then the positive. The good is fun, but if the negative feedback has a valid point, I'll keep that in mind as I write other books. So I learn from valid negative feedback where I just enjoy the strokes of the positive. So my advice would be to leave your ego at the door when it comes to feedback. A writer needs a thick skin! The trick in weighing feedback, especially in a contest, is to look for judges who are mentioning the same things and offering the same sort of comments. When there is a trend, that's when you should give it more weight, whether it be negative or positive. If one judge hates something about your story and another praises it, you've just hit something that reveals individual tastes. And the thing to remember is you can hit those same yes/no responses about the story with an editor. It's all very subjective.
D.B. I would have paid money to watch that blowhard's face ;). On a final note, what advice do you have for aspiring authors who also want to learn to spell d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e?
K.B. Finish the book. It's that simple. I know so many terrifically talented writers who go to editor appointments every year and get an invitation to submit, then don't complete the book. You can't sell what you don't finish. And once you do sell, the name of the game is discipline. Stick to daily/weekly writing goals to get the book done on time.
D.B. Kylie, this has been such an honor. Thank you so much for your sound, inspiring and detailed advice. I wish you awesome success with your books!
K.B. Thanks for inviting me, Donnell :). It was a blast. I invite readers to check out my website at kyliebrant.com to see complete information regarding upcoming books, including excerpts and to sign up for my quarterly newsletter if they wish. Starting in December, there also will be quarterly contests posted, so be sure to check back in!
And speaking of contests, for our readers today, and for those who leave a question or comment, we will be drawing for one person to receive a copy of Kylie Brant's most recent release,Terms of Surrender.