Interview with RITA Finalist Brynn Kelly

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Hi everyone! I'm so thrilled to have another talented author joining us on the Hustle this week. As a journalist, Brynn Kelly once spent her days chasing stranger-than-fiction news reports. Now she spends them writing larger-than-life novels, in a happy bubble of fiendish plots and delicious words. She’s a current RITA® finalist for FORBIDDEN RIVER and an RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards nominee for EDGE OF TRUTH. Brynn has a journalism degree and has won several prestigious writing and journalism awards, including the Koru, Valerie Parv and Pacific Hearts awards. Her debut novel, DECEPTION ISLAND, finaled in the Golden Heart. She’s also a bestselling non-fiction author, in her native New Zealand. Welcome Brynn!

Hi Brynn! Thanks so much for hanging out on the blog today, and huge congrats on your RITA nomination. Tell us all about the book! What's it about? What inspired you to write it?

Thank you! Such an honor to be on the list with you and so many other amazing writers!

My RITA book is a novella called Forbidden River. It’s a romantic suspense about a French Foreign Legionnaire and a helicopter pilot who are forced to kayak for their lives through a New Zealand primeval rainforest to escape a mass murderer. Their developing romance forces them to face up to heartbreaking truths about their own pasts, and questions about their futures.

As with all my books, Forbidden River evolved out of diverse influences. The setting was a key starting point. I’m a New Zealander and I’ve been lucky enough to visit and live in other corners of the world, so I love setting my books in places that have inspired me—Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, the UK… Given that, my heroes and heroines also tend to be a diverse mix, with the common thread that they’re often dislocated from their homes and pasts and cultures, out of choice or desperation.

So in many ways Forbidden River felt like a homecoming. Even so, I had to do some intense research on the setting. It turns out that seeing a place through a writer’s eyes is a lot different than through a local’s eyes.

You're a relatively new author. How did you get started writing?

I’ve loved writing since I was a kid, but even as a teenager I knew I’d never be a prodigy who writes a critically acclaimed bestseller by the age of 25. I couldn’t imagine I would have anything to say. I figured I’d become a novelist at 40. It seemed like a confident age.

Meanwhile, I did the next best thing: got a journalism degree and became a print journalist so I could be paid to write, with fiction as a hobby. But my career became all-consuming, and I discovered that the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a word-filled day was to write more words—or even read.

When I hit my early thirties, I thought, “What am I doing? I need to be writing.” So I started seriously playing with fiction. And then (doh!) I had children, while working as a freelance journalist and copywriter and manuscript editor, so it became even harder to squeeze out the energy and time for fiction. Somehow I managed to write a couple of starter manuscripts that caught the attention of my talented editor, Allison Carroll at HQN Books. And I landed an agent, Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill. They encouraged me to expand the first experimental chapters of Deception Island into a full-length novel. It was a long, torturous process but I sold my first novel at 40—just as I’d planned.

What's your favorite thing about Forbidden River, your RITA-nominated novella?

As well as exploring my own backyard through a writer’s eyes, I loved digging into the characters in this story. There are only three characters on the page—the hero, heroine and villain. From the earliest drafts, they all felt vividly real. I loved hanging out with them and excavating their strengths and flaws and quirks and heartbreaks.

The Maori heroine is oh-so kickass but also fragile, the soldier hero is an American running from a guilty conscience, and the villain is a salt-of-the-earth Kiwi bloke gone wrong. Because it’s a shorter story, I kept the focus narrow so it became an intense push-pull between the three of them.

Also, I’m a slow writer who tends to write long novels with twisting plots that take forever to write and edit, and do my head in, so I enjoyed the challenge of writing a complete story in a fast-paced smaller book.

I'm always fascinated to hear about how other writers write. What's your process like? Are you a plotter? Do you have daily word count goals?

I do plot my books first, but I only really begin to explore and dig into and shape my characters and stories after I begin writing. Sometimes characters pop up onto the page completely different from how I’d planned them to be and unexpected things happen, but I run with that. That’s when the magic happens. And I figure if the twists are a surprise to me, they’re likely to also be a surprise for the reader.

I know that we all have our reasons, but why do you write romance? What appeals to you about the genre?

Mostly, I simply love a happily-ever-after. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved that fluttery feeling you get in your belly when characters you adore finally get together, whether it’s in a book, TV show or a movie. The same goes for real life. I love it when my friends find their perfect matches, I love going to weddings, and I’m lucky enough to have fallen in love myself. (And, reader, I married him.) So my love of the genre comes out of my love of love.

Of course, in fiction, that fluttery feeling doesn’t happen if love comes too easily. And the challenges of the journey to finding love and fighting for it are what makes romance fun and rewarding to write.

I also love writing in action/thriller style, so romantic suspense is a great mix of challenges for me.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice?

I have a Neil Gaiman quote framed on the wall of my study: “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

What book influenced you the most and why?

Oh wow, that’s a tough question. There have been so many, but I’m going to say Catch-22, for its shades of light and dark, and its dark humor, and its ambition and characterization. It’s a novel that entertains but also shocks and haunts. To do all that in one book… Wow…

Lightning round: This or That

Print books or ebooks? Print, best served with sunshine and a pot of tea or a roaring fire and red wine, though ebooks help me survive the treadmill and stationary bike at the gym.

Beach or mountains? Beach. No, mountains. No, beach. No, mountains…

Coffee or tea? Tea. I can’t write without it.

Skydive or scuba dive? Scuba, definitely. I skydived from 15,000 feet and the one-minute freefall sent my body into a terrifying physical panic. But the first time I walked along the sea floor, looking way up at the surface of the water, I felt complete peace.

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate. No, vanilla. No, chocolate. No, vanilla…

Winter or summer? Winter. I have pale skin and freckles so I’m the person at the beach covered from head to toe, wearing a sombrero and 50+SPF, sitting in the shade, and still getting sunburnt.

Cake or pie? Pie, as long as it’s Key lime or lemon meringue.

Cats or dogs? I grew up with two fascinating cats but now I’m looking after the most adorable dog you could imagine. For me, it’s more about the personality than the species.

Truth or dare? Neither. I’m a wimp.

Quiet night in or night on the town? Just the thought of a night on the town makes me want to flop on the couch.

And finally, what are you working on now? What do readers have to look forward to?

The final book in my Legionnaires series, A Risk Worth Taking, will be out in late May in paperback and ebook. It’s a twisting plot set in Europe and the UK, with a brilliant hacker heroine and a Scottish medic hero who must scramble to expose a corrupt US senator before he kills them both. And, you know, love happens, whether they like it or not.

Thank you so much for being here today, Brynn, and good luck at the RITA ceremony! If you'd like to hear more from Brynn, you can follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.

For your chance to win a copy of Brynn's RITA nominated novella, Forbidden River, simply comment on this post. The winner will be chosen on Friday, April 13th. Good luck!

PS--Buy links are listed below the book cover, just in case you can't wait to get your hands on this one!