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Chelsea Adams has visions. But they have no place in a courtroom. As a juror for a murder trial, Chelsea must rely only on the evidence. And this circumstantial evidence is strong--Darren Welk killed his wife. Or did he?
The trial is a nightmare for Chelsea. The other jurors belittle her Christian faith. As testimony unfolds, truth and secrets blur. Chelsea's visiting niece stumbles into peril surrounding the case, and Chelsea cannot protect her. God sends visions--frightening, vivid. But what do they mean? Even as Chelsea finds out, what can she do? She is helpless, and danger is closing in . . .
Brandilyn Collins is the author of A Question of Innocence, a true crime story whose promotion landed her on the Phil Donahue Show and the Leeza Gibbons Show. She also founded Vantage Point in 1982 which specializes in promotional materials such as brochures, annual reports, and articles for newspapers and professional magazines. Besides writing, Brandilyn enjoys jogging, singing, and reading.
You were born in India. Did you spend any of your growing up years there?
My parents were missionaries there, but we came back when I was three. We came back on a regular furlough, but one of my older sisters became severely sick, which forced us to stay in the States. We settled in Wilmore, Kentucky, home of Asbury College and Seminary. My father became a missions professor at the seminary.
How did you get started writing?
I have a lot of writers in my family. My mom and dad, Ruth and J.T. Seamands, have written many books. Mom has written books about our life in India and some fiction. Missionary Mama remains her best-loved book. Daddy’s books are nonfiction – all centered around the Christian life. On Tiptoe with Joy, his book about the Holy Spirit, was his most popular. My uncle, David Seamands, is a well-known author in the Christian market. At least one of his books – Healing for Damaged Emotions -- has gone platinum, meaning it has sold over 1 million copies. Of the four girls in our family, three of us write and/or edit. As you can see, I grew up in a literary kind of climate. "Scrabble" is our game of choice. If you value your life – don’t get involved in one of our "Scrabble" games.
Your first book, A Question of Innocence, was written about a famous murder trial in the Bay Area of California. Can you share what that was about?
A four-year-old girl died inexplicably in her sleep, and about three months later her fifteen-year-old half-sister wrote in her diary that she had killed her little sister. She left the diary out, and her mom found it and turned it over to the police. The famous Melvin Belli stepped in as defense attorney. It was his last large criminal case before he died.
Finally the case was over in 1994 and the book came out in '95. It was quite an experience. I would go to the trial every day and watch everything, and because I was in the "inner circle" I knew exactly what was going on with the attorneys. I knew the inside scoop. Then I'd come home and watch myself and others on TV and watch the media's spin on it. Ooh, it taught me a few things about the media. Those sound bites can really tweak meaning in quite a few different directions. It was very interesting.
Were you in the "inner circle" because you were writing about it?
|Well, the family agreed to cooperate with my writing of the book. Frankly, I wouldn’t have written it if they hadn't wanted to cooperate. First of all, they were going through such tragedy, and I was not going to be a reporter dogging their heels. I can't do that; I was too concerned about them as a family. Secondly, the defendant was a minor, which meant that all of her past police records were closed to me and not part of the public forum. So unless the family cooperated by giving me past records and all of that, and unless they told their friends that they could talk to me, I wouldn't have gotten information. They totally opened their lives to me and because of that, I was able to get incredible information that I never could have gotten otherwise.
It was a very convoluted, tough, complex case. It taught me a lot. You know the reason I wrote that book? I was researching my suspense novel, which is now Eyes of Elisha. I went to that murder trial to do research for the murder trial that I was going to write about in my book. I ended up writing about the true case and got sort of sidetracked.
When and why did you make the switch to the Christian market?
It was almost three years ago now. I had been a Christian for a long time and I grew up in a very strong Christian home, but the best way I can say it is the way that Francine Rivers says it. Jesus can be your Savior or Jesus can be your Lord. Jesus was my Savior, but He was not my Lord. Three years ago in a prayer meeting God really got hold of me and just poured out his Holy Spirit. I walked out of that room and the world looked different. I was a completely different person. My life became totally His at that point. He really used that infilling of the Spirit to begin talking to me and one of the first things He talked to me about was my writing. He began to impress upon me that He wanted it. I had written the suspense novel (Eyes of Elisha), I had written two women's fiction novels, and A Question of Innocence had already been published, but it had all been for me. I wanted to be famous; I wanted to be rich. I'd never sat down with the Lord and said, "Well, Lord, you gave me this talent for writing. What would You like me to do with it?" He impressed upon me that He wanted my novels. They were His, they’d always been His; I just didn’t know it. So I took those novels back from my agent and He showed me the themes to weave into them. I redid both Cast a Road Before Me and Color the Sidewalk For Me, which is the second book in the Bradleyville series, as well as Eyes of Elisha.
Eyes of Elisha is an absolutely dynamite story, but I didn't know how God could redeem it because it had been written about a psychic. In searching the Scriptures I realized that a Christian "doesn’t go there" -- you don't mess with psychics. Supernatural power either comes from God or it doesn't. So I shelved the book. Then I went to a writer's conference where my agent had set up some meetings for me with some major editors. We were supposed to talk about Cast a Road Before Me, which was on these editor's desks, but when I met with the first one, the first thing she asked me was, "Do you have any suspense?" So I came home from that conference and it was like the Lord just showed me, "Here's how you write this story, here's what I want to do with it, here's the theme I want in it." In six weeks that book was totally rewritten. Every one of my books are absolutely His. I thought of the stories, but then, who gave me the stories in the first place? Who gave me the talent to write? He's the author of my books from beginning to end.
Where did the inspiration for Cast a Road Before Me come from?
Truth be told, I wrote Color the Sidewalk for Me first. That's the second book in the Bradleyville series. When I wrote that book, I saw that the character of Jessie had her own story. Color the Sidewalk for Me focuses on Celia, the little six-year-old girl that you meet in Cast a Road Before Me. Sidewalk follows her life till she's about thirty-five. I wrote that book first and then I realized this whole story of how Jessie came to Bradleyville was a story in itself. So then I wrote Road. That story centers around the town’s sawmill strike and a girl trying to find herself after her mother's death. When it became a Christian novel, God showed me that the theme of the book was to be based around Ephesians 2: 8-10: For by grace you are saved through faith. The whole idea of "casting a road before me" is the sense that God casts a road before each of us. It's kind of what Ephesians 2:10 talks about. God casts a road before each of us that is His own unique road for us, and we can go down that road or not. It's our choice. So that's how that book came about. It was kind of through the back door.
Talk a bit about Jessie's struggles with finding her "road to God."
The struggles revolve around her late mother whom Jessie has put on such a pedestal. Her mother believed that "being good enough" – doing good works, serving the poor – was the way to heaven. In fact, her mother is killed in a car accident when she’s on her way to serve in a soup kitchen. And Jessie wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps. So to embrace the saving grace of Jesus Christ is, in Jessie’s eyes, to betray her mother. To embrace Jesus is to negate her mother's life, what her mother lived – and died -- for.
I know you have several books in the works right now. Would you tell me a little bit about them?
They are coming fast and furious—a pace that I'm not going to keep up! Some of these books were already written and only had to be rewritten. When I came to the Christian market, it was like God said, "Here's where I wanted you all the time, so now that you're here, I'll allow everything to sell at once." It was so incredible! Cast a Road Before Me (Broadman & Holman) came out in March. From here on, my novels will be published by Zondervan. Eyes of Elisha comes out in October, Color the Sidewalk for Me comes out next March. Also around next March my nonfiction releases – Getting Into Character. GIC is a how-to book on writing fiction with an unusual slant. I’ve taken characterization techniques from the art of method acting and adapted them for novelist’s use. Most of these techniques, novelists have never heard of, and they can really be eye-opening. Then in October of 2002 Dread Champion releases -- the second in my suspense series. The following March (2003) the third book in the Bradleyville series comes out. So basically every March and October I come out with either a women's fiction or suspense.
Do you prefer one to the other?
No, I like them both. They're very different genres. My suspense is not romantic suspense; it's pure suspense. I find that writing suspense helps me put more action in my women's fiction, and writing women's fiction helps me put more characterization in my suspense. Because they're so different I find them very complementary in the writing skills they force me to embrace.
Do you have any favorite authors?
Because I write in two different genres, I read authors in the different genres. When I was learning to write women's fiction I read everything written by Anne Rivers Siddons. She's so good. I have every one of her books lined up on my shelves.
I like authors who have a very distinctive voice, who tell a great story and choose interesting ways to say things. I like to write metaphorically, sort of poetically sometimes, even in my prose, so I tend to go toward authors who write like that.
In learning suspense and courtroom drama I read Richard North Patterson. He taught me a lot about point of view and that sort of thing. Steve Martini has a great writer’s voice. He' writes courtroom drama as well.
I've found that in my own learning to write fiction, I'd say my studies were fifty percent actual writing and fifty percent reading—reading other people's novels with a real eye toward study and reading how-to books on writing. Also going to movies is great because in two hours you can cover a whole story. They're great to learn about story structure, image systems, that kind of thing.
Now I read lots of fiction in the Christian market. CBA has some marvelously talented authors, and new ones are being added all the time.
What about learning to put spiritual content in? Is that something that God just showed you?
He really did. I was also blessed with a great agent. When I signed up with my agent, Jane Jordan Brown, I didn't even care that she was in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Assoc.). I never even thought about writing for the CBA and never read CBA fiction. But it's interesting that God sent me to her because there were numerous agents that wanted to sign me. It was just a real "God thing." When God told me to rewrite these books for him, I had an agent already in place who knew the CBA market and who could help me with the rewrite. I rewrote Cast a Road Before me first and the first time I rewrote it she sent it back and said, "It's not ready yet. You've got to not just layer Christianity on, but you've got to weave it into the very center of the story." And so I kept praying and I rewrote it again and that's when the Lord really showed me his theme and how to do it.
What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
I have a three-part mission statement which is on my web site (www.brandilyncollins.com), and that statement is what I hope to accomplish. To edify believers in their walk with Christ, to exhort non-believers to embrace the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and to entertain while upholding biblical principles.
I want to tell a story as best as I possibly can, to grab that reader and make him or her ride the wind with me as we pursue the story. But within that story, I want to present the message of Christ and whatever theme God has given me for that book.