Saturday, June 4, 2016

Interview With Author Philip Brown

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview author Philip Brown. In this interview he talks about Light Runner, the first book in his YA fantasy trilogy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Author Philip Brown
I’m a high school English teacher, writer, husband, father, frozen yogurt enthusiast, book lover, Leo, rock ‘n’ roll fan for life.

What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My book is titled Light Runner, and the book was inspired by the many strong, resilient young people I have known, kids who’ve had to dig down deep to overcome long odds. I’ve also been inspired by lots of women—including my own sisters—who’ve succeeded.

How would you categorize your book?
Light Runner is a young adult contemporary fantasy, but it’s also received glowing reviews from adult readers. It is the first book in a three book series.

Introduce us to the main character of your series.  What is it about this character that appeals to you as a writer?

The main character in Light Runner is 16 year-old Dara, a skateboarding, manga-reading, green hair-streaked teenager whose mother was recently murdered. When a powerful healing armband falls into her hands and her father disappears, she has to run for her life. I wanted to create a female protagonist who is an underdog and does not realize her own power because she’s never had to tap it. But when events propel her into action, she is forced to call upon her own hidden resources to survive. I loved writing about Dara because I got to dig down deep to uncover hidden layers of her character that were a surprise to both of us.
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How did the book come to be titled and how does it relate to the story?

The publisher and I selected the title Light Runner from a list I came up with. The armband in the story—called a Jyotisha—radiates light when it heals wounds. The main character, Dara, is on the run, trying to protect this armband from others who want to take it from her. “Runner” also has a double meaning of messenger.

How involved were you with creating the cover?
The publisher has their own in-house design artist, and she created the cover, for which I also had approval.

Tell us something about your book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

Dara has to fly beneath the radar, and she hides out by becoming part of the burgeoning homeless population in Los Angeles. Surviving on the streets—with a magic bracelet—is a big part of the story. In writing the book, I researched homelessness and teen runaways—an eye-opening experience.

Give us a summary of your book in a tweet.
A teenage girl…a powerful healing armband…a man who won’t stop until it’s his. #Light Runner

How much of your experience is in your book?
Lots. I drew upon my experience as a teenager and also as someone who’s lived close to the streets for a time in my life. I drove a taxicab, and that gave me a feel for the streets and street life. Mainly, though, I drew upon my own experience of being a survivor, knowing first-hand what it takes to pull through adversity.

Describe your writing process.
I get up at 4:00 every morning to write for a couple of hours. I’m a slow, pain-staking writer—but I stick with it. I’m learning to do more outlining, but my natural tendency is to do “headlight writing,” meaning I look as far ahead in the story as a pair of headlights on a dark highway. I do know where it’s going, how it will end, have different scenes and characters mapped out. But I find that the act of writing is where much of the story is created. Also, feedback is very important for me, and I have a regular critique group of beta readers who look at everything I write and give me strong feedback—not always positive and sometimes pointing me in plot directions I could not see myself.

Describe your writing environment.
Total quiet in the early morning darkness. A small desk with a computer and a bulletin board stuck with a bunch of 3 x 5 cards that lay out scenes and story connections. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

How much research did you put into your book?
A lot of the research came out of my own life. In a previous incarnation, I drove a taxicab (pre-Uber) on the streets of L.A. and Hollywood, which gave me a feel for street life at night. I also lived close to that side of life myself. But when it came to other things, I had to do a lot of research on skateboarding, homelessness, homeless shelters, and how to to do a remote TV broadcast. In Book 2, there’s a scene where Dara and Diego ride the L.A. Metro. I went downtown and rode the same route so I could describe it. There’s nothing better for a writer than being there and experiencing it.

What are your interests outside of writing? Do any of these activities find their way into your

I love astrology and have written a couple of astrology books. Cosmic Trends was published by Llewellyn Worldwide, and was a finalist for the Coalition of Visionary Resources award. It's about the astrology of cultural trends - music, fashion, movies, science. I've also studied Vedic astrology and Tarot, and some find their way into Light Runner.

What is the best advice received as an author?

The best writing advice I ever received is to read a lot of good books, and that is the advice I would pass on to any aspiring writers. Absorb good writing. Make it part of your bloodstream. Read lots of books in a wide variety of genres, not just the one in which you want to write.

What is the harshest criticism you have received?

Like a lot of writers and artists, I am thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism—so, to me, all criticism seems harsh. Perhaps the harshest criticism is silence, someone who reads my work and says nothing. That’s especially hard because then I don’t know if the story worked—or not. And if not, what missed the mark. If I want to grow and develop as a writer, I feel it is important for me to learn, and in order to do that I have to take in criticism and use it to improve my writing. I try to be teachable. I’ve seen writers flee from any suggestions for improvement because they just want their work to be admired and nothing more. If I want to be a good writer, I need to learn the craft of writing. That takes a lot of hard work and listening to the suggestions of others.

What kinds of books did you read as a child and did they influence the kind of books you write today?
I read everything: fantasy, mystery, biography, sports bios. I especially loved The Wizard of Oz series—not just the first book that was the basis for the movie, although that’s a great story. I loved the Nancy Drew series, and my original concept when I started writing a book was “Nancy Drew on a skateboard” which evolved into something quite different. I also loved stores about underdogs. A writer named Howard Fast wrote a lot of this type of story, and I enjoyed his books. I didn’t really have a favorite genre, although for quite some time I was obsessed with sci-fi. I think a lot of those genres worked their way into the type of writing I do today.

What specific authors or books influenced what you write today?
Mythology is a big influence, and in Light Runner, I drew upon the myth of the wounded healer. I’ve been influenced by so many writers, both old and new. I love Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and dystopian lit like The Hunger Games (but also Brave New World and 1984). I actually love the thriller genre and try to learn about intense plotting from those books. Charles Dickens’ original characters and Jane Austen’s masking of character—not that I’m in their league, or even close—have been influential. I read a lot of books and find myself influenced to some degree by everything I read. Some TV shows have very good writing. They have to hook the viewer fast and keep your attention.

What types of books or genres do you read now for pleasure?
For pleasure I like thrillers, spies, private eyes, Dan Brown. I like to read books where the story carries me along and I don’t have to do too much heavy lifting.  It takes a lot of skill to write a believable plot that moves. I also like books that bring to life a real world I know nothing about. The Boys in the Boat did that, as did Michael Lewis’ The Big Short.

What is next for you?
I’m finishing the sequel to Light Runner—and then I’ll start on Book 3.

You can connect with Philip at the following places:

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