Recently, I (Jake Chism) had a chance to catch up with suspense author Brandilyn Collins and her daughter, Amberly, who has recently released her first title with her her mother, Always Watching.
A little about both authors.
Brandilyn Collins is a bestselling author known for her fast-paced and twisting Seatbelt Suspense®. Her novels include the Kanner Lake series, Hidden Faces series, Chelsea Adams series, Dark Pursuit, and others. She is currently working on her 20th book.
Amberly Collins is a college sophomore, majoring in marketing. She is active in the Alphi Phi sorority and is doting “mama” to Bear, her adorable Yorkshire Terrier puppy.
TCM: First, we’d like to thank you both for taking the time to answer some of our questions.
Brandilyn Collins: Great to be here. We appreciate the opportunity.
TCM: Let’s get right to The Rayne Tour series. The first book, Always Watching, is slated to release in April. Tell us a little about this series and the first book.
BC: Amberly and I thought it would be exciting to write about the teenage daughter of a rock star. What would this girl’s life be like? Even as the world looks upon her as having everything, what might her private hurts and dreams be? We’ve blended that personal empathy with the rush of a tour—and thrown in murder on top. The result is a face-paced suspense with much at stake, both for the band and for our protagonist herself.
Amberly Collins: The first book, Always Watching, opens up with Shaley, the protagonist, right in the midst of chaos that comes with her mom’s band, Rayne, being on tour. In the first chapters a close friend of Shaley’s is murdered backstage, sending the story into a whirlwind of suspense and suspicion. Shaley, who has come to accept the crazy life of being the daughter of a celebrity, faces new challenges as the paparazzi begin breathing down her neck more than ever. She becomes determined to find who the murderer is—before he kills again.
TCM: Where did the idea for the story come from and the idea for this mother/daughter writing team?
BC: An editor from Zondervan came to me with the idea of co-writing with Amberly. Zondervan was just starting a young adult line and was choosing authors to fill various genres. Since I was already a suspense author on the Z adult side, they thought I would be a good fit for their young adult suspense. And Z saw the creative and marketing value of having a mother/daughter team create a series.
AC: The idea for the series to be based around a big rock band stemmed from Mom’s and my love for rock concerts. We’d been going to them together since I was in middle school. We thought, “What would it be like to be on the other side? Be in the band, or crew that makes it all happen?” Since the book is intended for young adults it seemed like a perfect setting to grab readers’ attention.
TCM: Brandilyn, you’ve had a successful career thus far as a suspense novelist. What’s it been like to not only collaborate, but collaborate with your daughter?
BC: It’s a treat! I would not have taken the young adult suspense on my own. Frankly, I had enough contracts to fulfill already on the adult side. But when the mother/daughter idea was presented, I couldn’t say no.
TCM: Amberly, I can imagine it must be pretty cool to have a mom who is a successful novelist. Have you always been drawn to writing as well? What’s it like to actually write a book with her?
AC: Yeah, it is pretty cool. Growing up watching her write hasn’t really drawn me to writing as a profession, however. Before this experience I had seen many times how hard it can be (especially when writer’s block kicks in!) and now I know firsthand! I would say writing has always been my strong point academically, which is one of the ways my mom has rubbed off on me. And it definitely came in handy when this project first presented itself. Writing with her has been fun and as expected, a challenge. I never would have guessed how much work it takes, from character building to plot structure and marketing plans for the book. Mom has been really helpful, though, and has taught me so much about the business. I’m just thankful she took the time to teach me and do the series with me.
TCM: I’m curious as to how the collaboration process works with you both. Do you each take a certain part of the story or does it change from day to day? How do you decide who is going to write what?
BC: From the outset we knew our individual jobs. I would do the writing, since I’m trained in the craft and have written quite a few suspense novels already. Amberly and I created the series together, including the characters and their names. And we’ve plotted the stories together. Then I sit down to write. Amberly edits before I send a manuscript into our editor. I’ve been impressed with Amberly’s insights, and she also brings that fresh teenage point of view. And now that the series is launching, we’re both involved in the marketing.
TCM: Always Watching was obviously not written for my demographic, but I really enjoyed this story. Not only is it suspenseful, but there are some great messages for teen girls in our culture. What messages do you hope readers will take away from this story?
AC: In the first book, Shaley begins to move toward God and learns to walk with Him. I hope that young adults, Christian or not, see how God is always there to rely on in times of need and when things get hard. We purposely made the aspect of God in the book subtle so the reader wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, in hopes that they would be drawn to Him through reading about Shaley’s struggles.
BC: The issues that Shaley faces don’t all revolve around murder and danger. She also struggles in her relationship with her mom. And as a fatherless child, she carries a hole in her heart for her lost father. Shaley’s best friend, Brittany, is a strong supporting character in Always Watching. Their relationship shows how friends can help each other in hard times. These issues are so prevalent in the lives of many teenage girls today. After all the excitement of the fast-paced story is done, we want readers to come away from Always Watching with the understanding that God cares about such hurts in our lives.
TCM: Brandilyn, one thing I’ve always loved about your writing is your ability to effectively mix suspense and mystery with strong spiritual truth. You never come across as preachy, but the spiritual elements always resonate throughout the story. As a writer how difficult or challenging is it to balance those elements in your novels?
BC: That part is not difficult for me. The spiritual elements arise from who I am, and my personal experience and deep faith in God’s power over evil. I never sit down to write a “Christian” novel. I sit down to write a rollicking good suspense. And through my protagonist’s unique fears and issues and weaknesses, the Christian message naturally weaves itself into the story.
TCM: Amberly, in Always Watching the story is told through the first person narrative of Shaley O’Connor. I love first person, especially first person done right, and you both really nailed it here. I especially felt that this writing style gave us a lot of insights into Shaley’s struggles not just as a teenager, but as the daughter of a celebrity. How challenging was it to get into Shaley’s head and then transfer those thoughts, struggles, and emotions onto paper?
AC: When we first started this project my mom taught me about character development and how to create all aspects of a character’s personality and traits. (She had me read her book, Getting Into Character, as well as other writing books.) So by the time we started plotting the actual story we had a layout of what Shaley was like. When plotting started I had to think in terms of her personality and how she would think based on her experiences and life. It’s challenging to think in terms of someone else’s mind, but as the story progressed Shaley really emerged as a strong character, and it became easier to think like her.
TCM: Brandilyn, while your adult fans will certainly enjoy Always Watching¸ they don’t have long to wait until your next suspense novel, Exposure. What can you tell us about that story?
BC: Exposure starts shipping May 7. It is a topsy-turvy, twisting tale of psychological suspense. It features Kaycee Raye, a nationally syndicated columnist who writes about her multiple fears. Her biggest fear, a burden since childhood, is her paranoia of being watched. What happens when her worst fear comes true…? You can read the first chapter here.
TCM: Amberly, how many books are planned for The Rayne Tour series and when can we expect the next installment? Any hints about what is in store for Shaley next? Do you have any plans of your own for solo writing projects?
AC: At this time we’ve planned three books for the series. The second book, Last Breath, will be released in October. All I can tell you now is this: after reading the first book you will really be anticipating the second one because of how Always Watching ends! And, no I don’t anticipate any solo writing projects, unless that’s where God leads me in the long run.
TCM: Tell us a little bit about The Rayne Tour sweepstakes and where we can find more information.
BC: Today, April 20, we are launching the nationwide “Live Like a Rock Star” sweepstakes for 13- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of Always Watching. The Grand Prize is something all teenage girls would love to win: an $850 night out on the town, including dinner for six at a fancy restaurant of their choice, and limousine service for the evening. Even better, by telling others about Always Watching in certain ways, a participant’s name can be entered up to ten times, giving that person a greater chance to win. Go here to enter today.
TCM: Any final thoughts?
BC: Always Watching is a great book to discuss in teenage and mother/daughter book clubs. In fact, Library Journal, in its review, calls it a “solid choice” for mother/daughter groups. Discussion questions can be found on my Web site here. Finally, thank you again, Jake, for the opportunity to be with you today.
AC: Make sure you join the Rayne Tour Series Fan Group on Facebook! You’ll see readers’ posts there about entering the contest and all the latest information. And you’ll be able to chat with us there. And don’t miss the book trailer. Watch it here. Thanks again for the interview!
VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS INTERVIEW DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS AND BELIEFS OF THECHRISTIANMANIFESTO.COM. QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERS PROVIDED SHOULD NOT ASSUME A POSITIONAL STATEMENT OR THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENT ON THE PART OF THIS WEBSITE, ITS WRITERS, OR ITS ADMINISTRATORS.