Once again, it’s fall, which means it’s only a few weeks until Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee. For all of those of you who can’t attend or those who want a fun preview, the Word Nerds again have a great series of Q&As with some of the authors who will be in attendance at that event.
We’re pleased to kick off this year’s interviews with a Murder and Mayhem (and Word Nerds) freshman — Cara Brookins!
WN: What kind of reader is going to be drawn to “Little Boy Blu?”
BROOKINS: This was my first psychological thriller and I initially imagined a very specific of suspense readers and even those attracted to a touch of supernatural. To my surprise, the true audience is a lot more varied. The story is about a genetic abnormality, so medical thrillers readers are also pulled in. And most surprisingly, mystery and drama readers have had a great reaction. I never imagined I was writing a drama, but Blu’s family experiences a lot of trauma in almost complete isolation so the story naturally evolved into the exploration of human nature and prejudice
WN: You’ve written for adults, young adults and middle grade readers. Which is hardest and why?
BROOKINS: I loved writing each of my stories when I was in the middle of them and only feel the weight of what’s required for different age ranges when I first begin. Once I’m in the groove, it’s easy for me to stick there. It’s a bit of a marketing nightmare to write for multiple genres and age groups though, so I wouldn’t recommend it! I love writing for adults the most, but it’s also the most challenging for me—and knowing myself well, that’s probably exactly why I love it. I expect most of my novels moving forward will be for the adult market.
WN: You’re also in the middle having a memoir published. What’s different in that process about writing about yourself versus writing about killers or time travel?
BROOKINS: Writing about my own life is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The story is about leaving extreme domestic violence and building a house from the ground up with my kids. I’m a person who always looks forward and doesn’t dwell on the past, an extreme optimist. So spending years dipping deep with all my senses into the darkest times of my life was truly awful. I tried to write the memoir countless times over a six year period and quit three times as many times as I began. Writing it was never optional though. It was something I knew I had to do and I was never going to give up until it was complete. Ultimately, writing the entire story as fiction is what freed me to tell the entire truth in nonfiction form. I needed that extreme separation in order to gain perspective on my own life. I’m working on a second nonfiction now about the process of writing a memoir, so I’m still struggling through the difficulties of revealing personal things about myself. It’s absolutely worth every minute of difficulty for the way it forces me to own my history without shame and hopefully for the impact it will have on others as well.
WN: There’s a photo on your website of your phenomenal home library. How many books do you have and do you have a favorite (or two?)
BROOKINS: You mean we’re supposed to count books? It was my understanding that they were exempt from inventory! Some of my shelves are double stacked, and in addition to the library I decorate every room of my house with books. Ebooks and digital audiobooks saved my foundation from collapse, but I still occasionally sneak in a traditional book. My kids are horrified if they see me bring them in so I have to sneak them in like crack cocaine. My favorites are generally whatever I’m reading at the moment, but when I’m struggling I always return to E.B. White for inspiration. I figure writing for the New Yorker for six decades makes him a guru, and in both fiction and nonfiction I aspire to master his brilliant, (seemingly effortless) conversational tone.
WN: Since Murder and Mayhem is in Wisconsin… how do your Wisconsin roots influence you as a writer?
BROOKINS: I grew up in Tomah, a small farming community in central Wisconsin. My parents weren’t especially social and we lived ten miles from town, which means I spent a lot of time alone and playing outside with my brother. During the long winter months that meant piles of library books because we never owned books. The rest of the year my brother and I imagined enormous sagas in the fields and pines. We were Native Americans, Tarzan and Jane, Luke and Vader, or the Wonder Twins. The isolation and freedoms of my childhood in such a beautiful state were definitely the roots of my inspiration.
WN: What’s great to you about events like Murder and Mayhem where you get to connect to writers and readers?
BROOKINS: I didn’t know about author gatherings until after my first novel was published. Being a little bit of a recluse at the time, I couldn’t imagine ever enjoying them. But at the very first conference, I felt at home. Writers and readers understand that reading is as essential as breathing, and after we’ve discovered our tribe of like-thinking humans we tend to start viewing life in terms of the year’s scheduled conferences. Writers are our coworkers and readers are why we write. In a profession that relies on isolation, spending time with both is essential. The most important thing I’ve learned from book events (and now pay forward) is that writers help writers. It’s a beautiful mechanism to foster the creation of great books.
WN: What question didn’t the Word Nerds ask that we should have and what’s the answer to it? What are your greatest challenges as an author?
BROOKINS: Since most writers dream of supporting themselves with full time writing, I think a lot about the challenges that keep us from that goal. In many cases the thing we have to arm wrestle the most is our own lack of confidence, because when we doubt our talent or odds of success we put in a lot less effort than we would if victory was absolute. We can do anything for a period of time if we’re confident the outcome will be in our favor. But giving up most of our sleeping hours, our entire social life, career opportunities, family time, and dozens of other pursuits for writing becomes very discouraging if we aren’t confident in our success. I love to see authors encouraging one another online and at book events. Family support is great too, but few family members really understand a writer’s life choices. I believe that maintaining these groups through social media is the best way for each individual writer to meet their dreams. Encouragement from idea spark to editing and all the way to working on joint marketing plans is how we’ll overcome this challenge and reach our enormous goals together.