Brandilyn Collins is a
best-selling novelist known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense™. These
harrowing crime thrillers have earned her the tagline
“Don’t forget to b r e a t
h e …®”. She writes for Zondervan, the Christian
division of HarperCollins Publishers, and is currently at work on her
19th book. Her first, A Question of Innocence, was a true crime
published by Avon in 1995 and landed her on local and national TV and
radio, including the Phil Donahue and Leeza talk shows. She’s also
known for her distinctive book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting
Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors (John
Wiley & Sons), and often teaches at writers conferences.
Staring Evil In The Face
There are no atheists in foxholes...
I’m jogging—and see the door of a house hanging open. No one in sight. Where does my mind go? Break-in, body in bedroom. I walk to my car in a parking garage. My keys are in hand, eyes alert. What am I thinking? Probable mugging area. On a rural road I pass a leaf-covered, dusty car. What if I saw a dead body slumped behind the wheel?
That last one made it into Coral Moon.
Suspense has taken over my life. So why in the world do I write it? Then there are all those self-proclaimed Big Honkin’ Chickens Club members. “Eeek, I’m too scared to read your stuff!”
Until they try it … and find there’s much more to my suspense than scariness.
That “much more” is why I write my stories.
What genre can better portray God’s power and grace than suspense, in which characters are dragged to the brink of their endurance and stare evil in the face? The saying “There are no atheists in foxholes” rings true. When my characters face death, questions about God and eternity naturally arise. All humans understand this, including my nonbeliever readers. They may be reading for sheer suspense, but truth is woven through that tension. Some of the truth is on the surface. Other truth flows beneath the surface plot, where discerning readers love to swim.
I realize most novels contain a surface plot as well as underlying themes. I’m not saying this is unique to suspense. I am saying that as I write in this genre, in which I push my characters into a dark place I’d never want to go, every time I end up before the face of God. By the end of the book my characters, and therefore I and my readers, have learned truths that can hit that strongly only after looking evil in the eye—and realizing where ultimate power lies.
Violet Dawn (first in the Kanner Lake series) begins with the infamous “hot tub” chapter. Hot tub sellers may have a few choice words for me after such negative publicity. But the letters I’ve received about that story! From those with abusive backgrounds
who connected with the supporting character of Rachel. From those who carry their own private scars. For in the end, Violet Dawn is not about a body in a hot tub. It’s about the scars we carry—those we show and those we don’t. Through the various characters’ ordeals runs that theme of scars, emotional and physical. Paige hides her emotional scars while ol’ codger Wilbur proudly shows off his heart surgery scar to everyone. The final scene between those two characters is Wilbur’s way of telling Paige it’s all right; your scars are safe here.
Dark Pursuit, releasing this month, is a fast-paced, twisting story, but underneath runs the theme of man’s fall and redemption. Readers can enjoy the book merely for the tension and surprises of its surface story. But those who want more need only keep alert. Why are the fabric colors black and green? Who does the killer symbolize? Why is that Paradise Lost excerpt in the beginning? Why are certain metaphors used, certain verbs? What is that ending all about?
In short, suspense allows me to explore the depths—and possible heights, thanks be to God’s provision—of mankind.