Author Q&A For Lindsay Francis Brambles

Lindsay Francis BramblesHello everyone! So today I am finally back with an extra post and it is an awesome interview with Lindsay Francis Brambles, author of Becoming Darkness! I actually just got a signed copy of it last week from winning a giveaway so I’m pretty excited to read it! In the meantime though, I was lucky enough to catch an interview with the author. Hope you enjoy this wonderfully long interview with Lindsay Francis Brambles.

1) To start off with our first question, tell us a little about yourself.

The basics: I was born in Canada, the fourth of six kids, and spent the first few years of my life in my native land. When I was nine my father, an electrical engineer by trade, got a job with a company contracted to finish up work on a thermal power plant in Pakistan. So just like that we were uprooted and ended up living on a walled-in colony in the heart of a city called Sukkur. It was an eye-opening experience, and drew for me a picture of the world I’d never truly been conscious of before. This was, after all, in the days before 24 hour news channels and the Internet. The globe, metaphorically-speaking, was a much bigger and more mysterious place back then. People didn’t travel as much, and what we knew of events occurring in countries half a world away was generally little or nothing.

Living in places like Pakistan, Iran, and Tanzania (and traveling to many others) was an education in itself, and one for which I’m truly grateful. I’m not sure what sort of person I’d be had I not experienced all that, but I think it fair to say my experiences living amidst cultures distinct from my own helped shaped the outlook I have on life. I suspect I’m a much more liberal and tolerant person because of it. Of course, I’d not have had those opportunities were it not for my parents, who were themselves remarkably open-minded people.

After we returned home from overseas and I finished my education, I moved through a series of different jobs while maintaining a passion for writing and fine art.

When I’m not writing I still like to do art projects, and of course I read a lot. I’m also a fitness buff, so I run, cycle, and lift weights. I love movies and I collect old Gold Key comics (which are hard to come by these days). I can’t say I’m a particularly exciting person; I leave that for my characters, who have much more interesting lives. That’s one of the great things about writing: When you’re immersed in your character and the world you’ve created, you can be anyone you want and do anything you can imagine. It’s very liberating, and often quite cathartic.

2) So I saw on your bio that you’ve traveled a lot throughout your life. Other than indirectly starting your writing career, how have those experiences affected your writing? Which of your experiences affected it the most?

There’s no question that living overseas has had a profound effect on my writing. I don’t see how it could be otherwise, because as I pointed out before, those experiences shaped the sort of person I am. In the case of Becoming Darkness, many of Sophie’s sensibilities stem from my own. For example, she doesn’t see all vampires as being evil just because of the acts of a few (the Nazi ones). I think that arises from my own belief that we shouldn’t condemn an entire group of people for the actions taken by a handful– rather in the way too many people in the West are quick to blame all Muslims for the horrors perpetrated by ISIS. Having lived in Muslim countries, I know this is ludicrous, and in that way I use a story like Becoming Darkness as an analog for real-world events.

The sense of isolation and enclosure the people of Haven feel in Becoming Darkness definitely evolved from what I experienced living on a colony in Pakistan. It’s hard for people who have never lived that way to understand how claustrophobic it can be – even though, of course, we ventured out of the colony all the time. But when we lived there we had no TV and our only connection with the world we were more familiar with was a shortwave radio with which we listened to the BBC.

When Sophie goes to New York City, her feelings of alienation, of being the outsider, are unquestionably drawn from how I felt being part of a very distinct minority while in Pakistan, Iran, and Tanzania. There were very few expatriates in Sukkur, Isfahan, or Moshi during the times when I lived in those places, and it was impossible not to be conscious that one was “different.” That can be both exciting and frightening, and I think that comes out somewhat in Sophie’s reactions.

Even the moments when Isabelle is essentially guiding Sophie through New York City (both literally and figuratively) is rooted in my own experiences. When I moved to Isfahan my best friend was a British boy who’d been there half his life. He spoke Farsi fluently and knew every nook and cranny of the city, and through him I got to see the city and the people in a way I might otherwise not have, had I not had that connection.

3) What was first running through your mind right after you thought of the idea for Becoming Darkness?

(Insert laugh) Honestly? EUREKA! I was reading Dracula and around the same time I happened to see a documentary about WWII that featured a clip from a British wartime information film that was meant to prepare the citizens of the island for a possible successful invasion by the Nazis. Somehow the two just came together in my head and I sat up and thought, “Hey! This would make a great story.”  In that moment I believed I had something special. I felt it was different and not really like anything else out there, and I saw it as the sort of tale that could speak to some of the issues we face today, while still being an entertaining romp.  Of course, I suspect most writers think exactly the same thing when they come up with their ideas.

Still, Becoming Darkness was one of those books where the entire story just seemed to blossom, full blown, inside my head. I knew what the ending was before I even knew the beginning. And while I won’t say it was easy to write, I never experienced any of those moment where I drew a blank and didn’t know what direction to go – even though as it unfolded on the page, the plot developed so many twists and turns that it often required me to pause and take stock of what I’d written and then go back over it all and tweak it again and again. I did this constantly, by the way, and it’s a practice I continue with my other works. I’m not one of those writers who rushes through the first draft as quickly as possible and then revises. I like to edit and rewrite as I go along (and then do many edits of the completed manuscript after that).

4) Are any of your characters based on you or anyone you know in real life?

There are definitely aspects of my own personality that filter into my characters. I tend to be a bit of an idealist and don’t have a lot of patience for when things like politics get in the way of doing what’s right. You see some of that in Sophie – especially toward the end of the book, when she’s faced with the big moral issue that’s at the core of the story. She wants to do the right thing, no matter what the cost, and I confess that I’m often the same. The problem with that is that in the real world things are a lot more complicated, and doing what on the surface seems obviously right doesn’t always serve the greater good in the long run.

I would imagine most writers draw at least a little on people they know or have encountered in life in order to add a veneer of verisimilitude to their characters – even if it’s just in mannerisms or patterns of speech. But there are those characters in a story that are sometimes so expansive that they really only have a foundation in the imagination. Sometimes they`re caricatures that have no parallel in reality – as in the case of the Old One Sophie meets. I wanted him to be a bit evocative of the Dracula of Bram Stoker’s book, dark and sinister, but also somewhat like those over-the-top maniacal bad guys you sometimes see in cheesy B-movies – the ones who find it necessary to expound to all and sundry the details of their evil plans.

In the YA contemporary I’m working on right now, there’s a lot of me in the main character because I’m drawing upon my own experiences of watching my mother die from Alzheimer’s. Although the central figure in the story is female (and I’m obviously not), a lot of the feelings she has about her mother and what the disease is doing to her family are definitely echoes of what I went through. I think that lends the story an air of authenticity it might not otherwise have, had I not lived much of that myself.

There’s an axiom in writing that says you should write what you know. That said, I suspect most writers would be somewhat circumspect when it comes to writing characters that are thinly-veiled representations of people they know – especially if those people were made to be particularly heinous in the book.

5) If you weren’t a writer, what do you think your job would be?

I’ve always been passionate about science, and for the longest time when I was young I wanted to be either an astronomer or an oceanographer. Unfortunately, fate didn’t steer me in that direction. These days, I’d really like to be making movies. I’ve always been fascinated with film and would love to have got into directing. Dan, one of my nephews, is in college learning to be a filmmaker, and I often joke with him that once he’s a director, maybe we can turn something I’ve written into a film – although it’s only half-joking, since I have high hopes for him.

For the longest time I really wanted to be an artist, and I did some commissioned works over the years, so if the whole writing thing doesn’t pan out – and in this business it is a struggle these days – then maybe I’ll try my hand at painting again. Whatever I do, I want it to be something creative, because that’s when I’m happiest. I’ve never been a nine-to-five kind of person.

6) What is your favorite thing about writing and what is your least favorite thing?

I love the whole creative process writing affords me. Whether its fantasy or contemporary, I get to fashion entire worlds populated by characters I’ve concocted, and there’s just something truly magical about that. It can be so much fun when you get so completely immersed in writing a scene that it takes on a life of its own, until you feel as if you’re a part of it, living and breathing every detail.

For me, writing has always been very much visually-oriented. I tend to see the scenes in my books play out in my mind like a movie, and then I write what I see. I love to tinker with the words, and often I’ll write and rewrite sentences and paragraphs over and over until I’ve got the rhythm I want. It’s important to me to have that, to have a certain lyrical quality to what I write as often as is feasible, because I want readers to enjoy my prose as much as the characters and plot.

Without doubt my least favorite aspect of the craft is the self-doubt that often seems to accompany it. It plagues me constantly, and there are times when I’ll look at what I’ve written and think to myself that it’s utter garbage and that I’m fooling myself if I believe for a moment anyone will ever think otherwise.

Writing is a very solitary experience, and I actually don’t mind that part of it. But at some point you have to release what you’ve written to the world, and that’s when it can become unnerving. Every writer wants every reader to like what he/she has written, but that’s just not going to happen. We’re all different, with different tastes, and what someone may see as a beautiful novel, another will regard as a piece of crap. That’s just the way it is. That’s why it’s probably not wise to read reviews of your work; for while they can be wonderful and uplift you, they can also be harsh (even nasty) and drag you down and make you wish you’d never taken up writing in the first place.

7) Which writer(s) of your genre do you admire most?

I have great admiration and respect for all the writers in the YA field (actually, for writers in general), because I understand how challenging it is to write a book and get it published. These days, unless you self-publish, it can be exceedingly difficult to acquire an agent and get a publishing deal. So anyone who succeeds has to be admired for that.

As for whose work I admire the most, I’m not really sure I can say. On the fantasy/SF side of things, I have enjoyed a lot of Kenneth Oppel’s material – particularly the Matt Cruse/Kate de Vries trilogy (Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber). He’s consistently good and I always find his books entertaining. I also rather like Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.

When it comes to contemporary YA, I have a lot of admiration for John Green. A Fault in Our Stars is a great novel and one I’m sure is going to be around for many years.

8) When do you usually write?

I try to keep a routine, but I’m not religious about it. I don’t worry about starting late or finishing early and I don’t set a daily word count. There’s no question that you have to be disciplined, but I think if you’re too rigid about it, you invariably end up wasting time. Either you’ll be sitting at your desk drumming your fingers and thinking about what to write and not getting anywhere, or you’ll be putting down almost anything just so you can reach your daily 2000 words (or whatever goal it is you’ve set for yourself).

I’ve always found that holding myself to arbitrary targets usually produces poor writing. No doubt it works for some people, but it doesn’t for me. I write when I feel the words coming, and fortunately for me that usually happens each morning of the week when I sit down to type. Generally that’s after I’ve worked out, either running or lifting weights. I find the time I spend exercising allows me to gather my thoughts and gird myself for the work ahead, so that when I do start writing, I’ve got the basics of the scene already sketched out.

My writing day is broken up into two separate sessions – morning and evening – so that if I’m on a roll, I’ll often work until nine at night (or at least until I’ve finished the scene I’m working on). However, I never really stop writing when I’m in the midst of a project; and I’ve been known to wake up in the middle of the night to scribble out a scene in a notebook.

Most of the time, I don’t write on the weekends. I find I need regular time away from work, and attending to the other aspects of my life (such as house cleaning) allows me to clear my head and start the next week of writing refreshed and raring to go. When Monday arrives, I start my “routine” all over again – after first reading through, editing, and tweaking what I wrote the week before.

Once I get past a certain point in writing a novel, I have the sense that I’m going to be able to finish it and that makes the daily routine that much easier to adhere to. For me, however, it’s getting the first twenty thousand or so words written that is the most difficult part, and that’s when my routine is probably its most uneven. It’s also the period when I’ll find myself easily distracted. Funnily enough, the distractions in my room actually aid in the creative process, and after I’ve played around with some old toy, thumbed through a favorite book, or done some drawing, the ideas will start flowing. I don’t think I could be anywhere near as creative in an empty room.

9) What drew you to this genre of writing?

If you mean what drew me to YA, then initially that was probably my nephew, Nick, who at that time was reading copious amounts of the stuff. I was frustrated with what had happened to an adult SF novel I’d written, and he suggested I try my hand at YA. I started off by writing a trilogy that ended up in my junk drawer, then the idea for Becoming Darkness came along. At first I wrote that for a more general audience, and the main character was a bit older, but the agent who took an interest in the book suggested I rewrite it as YA, and so I did. It meant going right back to the beginning and starting all over again, but in the end it resulted in a much better novel.

What I like about YA is that it’s one of the most exciting areas of literature at the moment, with a broad spectrum of stories spawning from the fertile minds of a host of talented writers.  There’s an energy level in the field that I don’t think is currently matched by any other category in the publishing industry, and that’s being driven by passionate young readers who are not only eager to devour good stories, but are also keen to share their thoughts about them in a host of creative ways – i.e. blogs, YouTube videos, social media, podcasts, etc. It’s little wonder that a lot of writers of adult fiction are now entering the YA market.

Readers are the lifeblood of writers, and YA readers are possibly the most devoted and enthusiastic of all readers. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

10) And for the final question, is there any advice you have for aspiring writers?

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but just from my own experience I can tell you that one of the most important things is to have patience. Lots of it. For most young writers, success isn’t going to happen overnight. They’re going to find the road to getting traditionally published is often a long and rocky one, filled with all sorts of obstacles they’ll have to overcome. Sometimes there’ll be frustration and a sense that it’s never going to happen, and on those occasions they’ll probably want to give up. They shouldn’t. There are no guarantees they’ll make it, but I can promise that if they don’t try, they certainly never will.

There’s a tendency these days to rush things. Time and time again I see aspiring writers proudly trumpeting the number of words they wrote that day, or the fact that they’ve written the book in a month.  But it took me nearly a year to write Becoming Darkness, putting in six to eight hours a day, five days a week. It took several more months to polish the script to the point where I was comfortable submitting to an agent. And that was only the beginning.

So if you’re an aspiring writer looking to be published, I’d recommend you start by NOT rushing to get your book done as fast as you possibly can. Care more about the quality, and if it takes you a week to hone a really good page, then so be it. Better to have one well-crafted page than ten indifferent ones.

Assuming you finish your book, then if at all possible, get someone to edit it – and I don’t mean a family member or friend. They care about you, and they’re not going to want to break your heart by telling you what you need to know. Get input from people who will give you a brutally honest assessment of your writing and point out flaws, inconsistencies, areas where the story is weak, etc. Get them to be ruthless about it, because while the criticism at this point can be demoralizing, it’s a necessary part of the process. You have to realize that these days you’re in competition with hundreds of thousands (possibly even millions) of other writers seeking representation, so your work has to be as polished as you can possibly make it. When you query an agent, you want to put your best foot forward.

Don’t give up if you get rejected. Keep on trying, and if agents give you feedback in the rejection letters, consider it carefully and adjust your manuscript accordingly. It can take years to get published traditionally, but it’s a better option than self-publishing. To be a success in self-publishing you have to be much more than a writer. You have to be skilled at marketing – or have a lot of money to hire people to do marketing for you – and you have to do all sorts of other things, or pay for them to be done (like cover design, interior design, editing, copy-editing, proofreading, etc.). And at the end of all that, the chances of selling more than a couple of hundred copies of a book by self-publishing are slim.

Dare to dream big, because great things are only achieved by those who have the courage to pursue them.

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