Author Interview: J.E. Brand
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About J.E. Brand
J.E. Brand spends far too much time in other worlds, with her nose in a book and tea within arm’s reach. However, the real world is a place where she’s a recent college graduate who now works full-time as a Financial Consultant to help fund her writing.
She’s ridiculously pale, despite all of her time spent on hiking trails and the beach shore, and reality is a cold shower that she reserves only for very special occasions. She published her first book, The Freedom Game, this year, and it can be purchased in either paperback or eBook format on Amazon!
She also maintains a writer’s blog at www.je-brand.com, where you can subscribe to find out more about her upcoming projects.
Where and when did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?
Since I was very little! My sister Kristen is older than me by eight years, so by the time I was old enough to know how to write she was already deep into it as a hobby. As most younger siblings are (especially at that age), I wanted to be just like her, and so took up writing creatively myself. However, I quickly learned that I loved it itself and not just because of my sister. Then, several years ago, Kristen published her first book. That was the wake-up call that my passion didn’t just have to be a hobby, but that I could actually one day be able to call myself a published author.
Two years ago, I finished my first novel-length book, but upon reflection I decided that it wasn’t up to the standard that I wanted to represent myself. I kept writing and finally I finished one I would be proud to stamp my name to. That book, The Freedom Game, was finally published this past May! Holding a book that I wrote—that I PUBLISHED—for the first time immediately brought tears to my eyes. I might’ve been embarrassed for crying so hysterically if I wasn’t so happy.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
It took me nine months, which is ironically accurate since that book is my baby. The Freedom Game came to me first in a dream, where I was able to meet my protagonist, Ethlynn for the very first time. She’s a slave who was freed due to her strong magical powers, but now must try to gain power with the person she used to call ‘master’ in order to free the rest of her family. This dynamic proved to have its challenges because, as someone who was whipped or worse for so long if she ever spoke out against anyone in power, I knew that she would be timid and have certain fears and restraints against many of the people she was now surrounded by. The more I got to know her, though, the more I saw her strength. It was subtle, but undeniably there. I realized that just because she wouldn’t speak up for herself didn’t mean that she wouldn’t fight back in her own way. In the words of my sister, she is a “precious cinnamon roll too good for the brutal fantasy world she was born into”.
Do you plan out your novels or just start writing?
I have a very specific process for planning out my novels, most of which was sprung from Structuring Your Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Building Strong and Successful Stories by K.M. Weiland. After developing my characters and determining their goals, I write out each scene in a brief paragraph describing what needs to be accomplished in that scene. If any strong dialogue comes to mind, I also write it down then. This helps me with pacing and making sure that I don’t overload my readers with action without letting them get to know my characters more personally. For example, Ethlynn has only one friend, and damn, is he a good one: Wystan. A little dorky with a heart of gold, I needed my readers to appreciate the friendship between the duo as much as I do. I knew that I wanted to dedicate an entire scene to just the two of them, and so I took advantage of a new city from the main plot and gave them a little side adventure. It was so fun for me to write, and I even hit two birds with one stone because the adventure ends with Ethlynn learning more about the history of her people before they were enslaved. You get to see how pure and fun the two are together, and I just fall in love with them all over again reading the scene. After I finish that brief outline, I write out my first draft. For The Freedom Game it was about 50,000 words, and at that point I don’t worry too much about description or the like. Total, the book took me eight drafts to get to where I wanted it (and nearly 30,000 words more). Despite how long it actually took me, I know that I would’ve finished it in a month if given the opportunity to. Sadly, at the time, I was still a full-time student with a part-time job and sadly that left me very little time each day to write down as much as I wanted.
Description or dialogue?
Seeing as up until recently description was one of my weaknesses, I’m surprised to be admitting that I now prefer to write it over dialogue. It’s said that 80% or even 90% of communication is through body language. Being ever helpful, for Christmas one year, my sister bought me The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. It’s a book filled with a variety of different emotions and then giving you ways to describe said emotion: internal, external, slow-building, restrained, etc. Then, there’s the ever-present problem of writing an epic fantasy: creating a world that your readers know nothing about besides what you tell them. If I say ‘Miami’, for example, immediately something pops into your head: palm trees, beaches, a never-ending party, various Spanish-speaking cultures, etc. If the reader’s been there, they can think of personal experiences and reimagine themselves there while reading. If I say ‘Mereau’, however, nothing comes to your mind. Why? Because it’s a city in Esper, the country that my epic fantasy novel, The Freedom Game, takes place in. Nothing comes to your mind. You have no past knowledge or experience to help you relate to the place that my characters are journeying through. There’s the general rule to describe all of the five senses, and I really enjoy immersing myself in these fictional places and doing my very best to make the reader see, hear, smell, feel, and taste anything that my characters do.
Are you working on a novel right now? If yes, can you tell us a little about it?
I’m so happy to say that I’m actually working on two! The first is the sequel to The Freedom Game: Rebellion’s Song. It will be released next month on August 22nd. I have absolutely loved writing it because all of my characters have grown up a bit since the first novel, and I get to show that. Writing about mythical creatures is one of my favorite parts of writing fantasy, and I also get to introduce more of those such as a werewolf, mermaids, a hippocerf, and more. As an avid mermaid fan, it was so unbelievably fun to write about them and was a nice break from writing about deadly, ‘evil’ creatures like death worms and wendigos that I introduce my readers to in The Freedom Game. Sadly, I can’t say too much more without spoiling The Freedom Game's crazy climax twist, so you’ll just have to read to find out. The second is a standalone: Runaway. Set in England in 1887, its protagonist, Dorothy Glass, is the heir to her family’s business: morally independent witch and wizard assassins whose overpriced kills go to the highest bidder. She goes through a bit of an identity crisis and runs away from her lethal responsibilities, but instead of finding a peaceful life, she’s only met with more violence. Men, women, and even children are disappearing at an alarming rate. Rumors vary from a serial killer to vampires to animalistic beasts. Dot only knows one thing: she’s better at killing than anyone else willing to offer their help, and saving these people from this evil might help her to balance out the scale of all the death she’s given the world. Runaway will be available for purchase on November 28th.
Has a reader’s opinion ever impacted on your plans for a novel/series?
It has not! I think one of the most important thing to remember as a writer is that your story is 100% yours, even though you’ve chosen to share it. Of course, I love hearing feedback and what my readers want out of my characters, but if it doesn’t align with my vision, I just tuck the idea neatly under a rug and continue writing what my characters want to do. For example, Ethlynn has a gentle heart and will choose self-sacrifice over sacrificing others (even those she doesn’t know) every single time. With that said, she lives in the midst of a brutal world filled with war and tough decisions. Her experiences harden her, and her loyalty sparks a lethal fierceness in her when any of her loved ones are involved. When I’ve hinted towards this toughening of her character, I’ve received backlash. “No, leave her pure!” and etc. Quite frankly, Ethlynn wouldn’t survive if she stayed the same as she was when the readers first meet her. It’s slow and completely derived from her experiences, but Ethlynn learns what she has to do to keep the people she cares about alive.
Is there any part of the writing process that you really hate?
Basically everything past the ‘writing’ stage… I graduated from college with a BS in Finance, and that background has given me a better understanding of the business world. This means that when it comes to marketing, I have a step ahead from many other writers that come from solely creative backgrounds. Trying to go the traditional route is a game of patience, which is a virtue that I definitely don’t have. You wait months to hear back from agents or publishers—the majority of the time only to hear that it’s a rejection, or possibly upon talking you see that they have a completely different vision for your book/series than you do. That’s the reason I eventually chose to publish independently; it comes with total creative independence. That choice left a lot on my shoulders, though. It was up to me to find a freelance book cover artist (I highly suggest Y. Nikolova at Ammonia Book Covers) and editor, pick a marketing strategy, self-promote, etc. If I could write the exact books that I wanted without having to do any of that, I would be one happy author.
Do you need to feel emotions strongly to become a good writer?
I think more so than ‘feel emotions strongly’, it’s important for a good writer to have the ability to step into another’s shoes. If all your characters think like you do, you have the making for a very bland read. Characters should be as diverse as the real world, and for that to happen, you have to be able to understand different cultures, the other gender, age gaps, and various personality types. Ethlynn has a good handle on her emotions and thinks through what she says and does; she had to be that way growing up, otherwise, as stated earlier, she would be violently punished. She also doesn’t particularly care about how anyone around her feels about her other than her prior master, Professor Maithe, since he still owns her family, or Wystan, because she cares about him. Her love interest, Nash, on the other hand, is completely opposite. He acts with his heart rather than his head, and his tongue works much faster than his brain. He says what he feels despite the consequences, but at the same time goes out of his way to make a good name for himself. He wants his superiors to love him and his peers to idolize him. This of course comes from his background as the High Chancellor’s son and being surrounded by nobles his whole life. He knows the power of important people’s opinions. These drastic differences in background and personality are what makes their romantic tension so fun to write.
Do you prefer to write series or standalone novels?
Most definitely series. The thing about writing a book is that you’re creating a world and people that fill your imagination, heart, and head. You invest so much time in getting to know your characters, and you want to do anything you can to make your readers love them as much as you do. Quite frankly, one book hardly ever seems like enough. As soon as I met Ethlynn, I knew she deserved at least a trilogy. The more I got to know her, the more I realized even that wasn’t enough to tell her story. Right now, it looks like The Freedom Game series is going to be six books, and I already have plan for another series later in the same world (think of Episodes I-III vs. Episodes IV-VI for Star Wars).
Who is your inspiration?
The easiest question so far: my sister Kristen. Or, as her readers know her, Kristen Brand. I touched on this briefly in a prior question, but she’s literally the reason I became an author. More so than just my inspiration, she’s been a helping hand throughout the entire publishing process. She beta read The Freedom Game twice before I furthered it in the progression, and I can’t even begin to describe how helpful her comments were in getting my book to where I wanted it. In honor of her, I included little things throughout the book as tribute to her. For example, Kristen is beyond terrified of heights (which sometimes becomes a problem for her on our family hikes, but she does her best to brave through it!). In the scene I mentioned earlier with Ethlynn and Wystan running off on their own side adventure, it includes the need to endure a nasty height drop. Just like my sister, Ethlynn is terrified of heights. Little bits like that are sprinkled throughout the novel as a ‘thank you’ to my sister for all she’s done.
When you were 10 years old, did you enjoy writing?
Did I enjoy it? Yes. Was I good at it? Heck no. I would write several short stories any time I had the chance, going so far as to print them out in a format so that I could fold them up and staple them into mini books. Occasionally, I would give them to Kristen to read, but most of the time I would just keep them for myself. What can I say? Even then, the thought of holding my own story made me happy.
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