Monday, July 19, 2010

RUN, a thriller by Michaelbrent Collings

Available at Amazon

I'd like to welcome back Michaelbrent Collings, author of Billy: Messenger of Powers.  Michaelbrent has a new thriller out and I'm delighted he's agreed to talk about it today.

You’ve previously written about your experience writing a YA fantasy called Billy: Messenger of Powers.  Your current book, RUN, is quite a shift, isn’t it?
Definitely. Billy, as you pointed out is a YA fantasy. It’s fun, it’s got dragons, mermaids, space scorpions (my heroes know how to get around!). It even has monsters and high school crushes and other challenges for the titular hero. All in all, I would describe Billy as a romp: lots of fun, a good ride. 

RUN is a completely different kind of beastie. In Billy, the central story is about this kid who discovers that Powers – people who can do magic – live among us, and that he may be the key to winning a war between the evil Darksiders and the more beneficent Dawnwalkers. In RUN the central story is much darker: the main character basically wakes up one morning and by the end of the day everyone – friends, neighbors, coworkers, everyone – he knows is trying to kill him. He has to stay alive long enough to figure out why, and how to get out of this situation. So while Billy definitely careens along like a fun amusement ride, RUN is more of a straight drop into a black tunnel with scary things jumping out at you every couple of pages.

Which of the two books did you find more enjoyable?  Which was harder to write?
As to which was more enjoyable, I liked them both equally. Whenever I write it tends to be because I’ve got some kind of story bottled up inside that needs to be set free. Like magma oozing up through the earth’s crust: I have to either let it out in a controlled fashion, or else there will be an explosion. So though they were both very different stories, I enjoyed them both very much.

As to which was harder…I guess I’d have to wimp out on that one, too, and say they were both tough in different respects. Billy was very simple in terms of plotting, and the fact that it operates in a realm of magic (albeit one that overlaps our "real" world) gave me a certain amount of freedom. Stuck somewhere? Call a Pegasus! Can’t remember something? There’s gotta be a spell for that! 

But at the same time, I was always keenly aware that I was writing a YA book. So while I wanted it to be a book that was fun for all age groups, and I knew that it was going to be a book that kicked off a series that is ultimately about a war to rule all humanity, I had to be very careful in how I depicted certain things – fighting and death, for example.

With RUN, because it was a thriller for “adults,” I knew I didn’t have to worry as much about whether or not someone dies (or if they died in a particularly unpleasant way), but the plotting was much harder. RUN is ultimately a mystery, and so I had to begin with the end in mind, and figure out how to get there. It was like traveling from here to Bermuda without more than a beginning and an ending coordinate. 

So, long story short, both Billy and RUN were great fun, and both presented specific challenges.

RUN is a very thrilling book with an apt title.  What do you think it takes to make a good thriller?
With thrillers, the concept is the first key. There has to be something to hook the reader immediately. It can either be some extremely suspenseful action scene, or some kind of mystery. In RUN, there’s a bit of both: it starts out with the assassination of a character in the Old West, and the audience is left (hopefully) having enjoyed the thrills, and also left with a few questions that will make it impossible to put the book down. I’m not going to ruin it, but I WILL say that not everyone who dies in the beginning of RUN dies exactly the way you would expect them to. (Oooooh! The suspense!)

Then, on top of the premise, the “hook,” you also have to have believable and relatable characters. People that you genuinely want to spend time with. This includes both the protagonists and the antagonists – you have to be interested in both the good guys and the bad guys for the story to work. I mean, tell a story about someone who is killing everyone he comes across who is wearing red shoes, and you don’t have much of a story: even if the people wearing the shoes are fascinating, a hatred of colorful footwear just isn’t interesting enough a motivation to care about over several hundred pages of wordplay. 

What about a twist?  Since The Sixth Sense came out, it seems like most thrillers have a mandatory twist at the end.  Does RUN have such a twist?
I actually began writing RUN long before The Sixth Sense came out.  But in spite of that, yes, RUN does have a twist. Actually, it has numerous. That’s one of the fun things about this book, and one of the things I most like to do when writing a thriller. I love taking a situation and turning it on its head every few pages. You have to be careful, because it’s a fine line between revealing something that makes the audience re-think everything that’s gone before…and just confusing people. But if you can do it, it’s totally gratifying to lay the clues for what’s going to happen in such a way that when the twist(s) do(es) occur(s), people whack themselves on the forehead and say “Why didn’t I see that coming????”

One of the most gratifying experiences with RUN actually came when I got a phone call from someone I had sent it to as an early reader. I picked up the phone and this person actually started SCREAMING at me. There was no, “Hi, Michaelbrent, how are you?” or anything like that, just an immediate rant.  I finally got her calmed down enough to figure out what was wrong, and it turned out that the final twist in RUN had caught her so off-guard that she a) was totally floored and b) knew she’d have to go back through the book immediately and re-read it for all the clues to what she now knew was going to happen.

Twists are great when they’re earned. For me, they have to be things that have a carefully-laid foundation throughout the course of the book (or screenplay, or whatever), so that they’re not some kind of dues ex crapina (that’s an ancient Greek practice of trying to tack a crappy “surprise” ending on an otherwise mediocre piece of work). The clues have to be there. They have to be subtle. And you have to time it so that when the final clue is revealed, the clue that pulls it all together, your audience is both in shell shock about how perfect that ending is, and also totally shocked that they missed all those clues in the first place.

What do you prefer?  Thrillers or fantasy?
Gosh, that’s like asking whether I prefer breathing or drinking. I’m not one of those folks who likes to be pigeonholed. I think stories are stories, and they are the key thing. Genre is secondary: the most efficient mode to tell a particular story is cloaked within the rules of some genre or other. But I can’t say which particular type of story is my favorite. Or rather, the closest I can come is to say that whichever kind of story I’m writing now is probably my favorite. 

Where can we get RUN?
RUN is available for kindle at, and for various other e-readers at Likewise for Billy.  Both are doing good sales, so be sure to check them out! And if you like them, be sure to tell your friends.  If not...well...I guess tell your enemies. ;o)

Anything else you want to add?
Two things: 1) anyone interested in my daily goings-on can sign up for my Facebook page at which is where the most up-to-the-minute info about what I’m doing can be found; and 2) thanks so much for having me stop by again! Hopefully it won’t be the last time!

Thanks again Michaelbrent for stopping by and you can be assured, there will be more invitations in the future.