Friday, December 10, 2010

Spotlight on: Sandra Brannan

Q&A with Sandra Brannan 
author of In the Belly of Jonah 

***

1) Tell us about In the Belly of Jonah and the other books in the series. 

My novel In the Belly of Jonah is a fast-paced mystery with what I hope readers will find to be a likable protagonist and an intricately woven narrative brimming with bizarre yet believable twists. The first in a series, the book lays the groundwork for Liv Bergen, amateur sleuth, and her budding romantic interest in FBI Agent Streeter Pierce. Set in the mountain states, the Liv Bergen and Streeter Pierce adventures are oddly successful as a team and the attraction between them, titillating.

I developed the series around morphed biblical titles to highlight the dichotomic nature of Liv Bergen’s structured mind to her elusive faith, often underscoring this concept by selecting unexpected heroes to help solve crimes of unsuspected villains. For example, when a woman who was destined to be Liv’s future sister-in-law is murdered in Lot’s Return to Sodom, a family friend casts a light in deeper corners than the FBI’s singular focus on a motorcycle gang member as the suspect. In Noah’s Rainy Day, Liv’s nephew Noah witnesses a crime yet struggles to communicate what he saw because of his limitations with severe cerebral palsy.


2) You come from a large family, what was that like? 

My parents had nine children – I was the seventh. Living in the woods, far into the outskirts of town, our house was built by my dad, uncle and grandpa. My parents had their own room. The oldest three girls shared a room. My two brothers had their own bedroom, but shared a bathroom with the four youngest girls. I shared a room with three other sisters and LOTS of dolls. Home cooked meals, a milk machine, the smell of pine trees and cigars, hand-me-downs, Tonka trucks, fights over pantyhose, long lines for the bathroom, bike rides, military marches through the quarry, and lots and lots of memories, love and laughter. Lucky me! And what great fodder for my hunger to create memorable characters.

After our own adventures, we’ve all chosen to move back to Rapid City as adults and remain best friends. Today I am married to the love of my life, a Vietnam Veteran with a Purple Heart of gold. We’re a blended family with four sons ranging in ages of twenty years. We also have three adorable grandbabies (so far).


3) Why have you chosen to write a mystery series set in the mining industry? 

I grew up in the world of mining. Literally. My childhood home was nestled amongst three limestone quarries, a stone’s throw from each. I never understood stereotypes of our industry because most miners I know are incredibly concerned for the environment and the communities where they operate. By choosing a setting to my mysteries that I know and love so well, I hope to shed a little light on my world.


4) You have been a top executive in your family business working your way up from day laborer to running one of the divisions of the mining company. Can you tell use about your company and your experience? 

The family company that I work for, a mining, mineral processing, ready mix and concrete block company, was founded by my grandpa, dad and uncle in 1944. My dad and uncle sent home their earnings from WWII and subsequently the Korean War to help Grandpa Pete, a WWI veteran, build the company while they served our country.

Through high school, college and graduate school, I worked for the mine in the summers. I went on to work for Boeing for a few years, then started and sold my own company selling computer software. At the age of 28 and eight-months pregnant, I took over a Colorado division of our mining company that was struggling. Ten mines and 50 workers with families depending on them to make a living, I had to perform. It was a scary, but rewarding 10 years spent turning that division around to fit our company’s culture.

Today, I am Vice President Corporate Development for the company, but have carved out some time to write my novels, which is a passion of mine.


5) You’re pretty tough like Liv Bergen, the protagonist in your series. What are some of the things that have happened to you over the years that could easily be part of a mystery-thriller? 

I don’t know if I’m tough, but I sure have found myself in some tough situations. The first week into my new job, 28 and pregnant, taking over the Colorado division riddled with problems, I was served with a citizen lawsuit that drew national attention and was later dismissed. With Colorado being one of the most beautiful states in the nation, mining is far from being the easiest business to operate, particularly when it comes to permitting. As the manager, I received numerous threats, including letters and phone calls. Eventually as I met with neighbors and invited those individuals to our operations, I realized most of the animosity toward mining was founded on misinformation, old ideologies, or broad brushed generalizations of operators because of one player taking short cuts. Once we have a chance to welcome people into our world, clearer heads and more positive attitudes about mining prevail.

After Colorado, my success with sticktoitivity led me to spearhead two more business turnarounds in steel related divisions and eventually earned me a spot on the senior manager team as the Vice President of Corporate Development. My job is to train our management team and to replenish reserves that supply our operations for the coming generations of at least a hundred years, a gift our parents and grandparents gave to our generation.


6) What advice would you give aspiring authors? 

I’m no expert, but I can tell you three things made a HUGE difference for me:

1) Be a bumblebee. Our mom used to tell us that the bumblebee was not aerodynamically designed to fly, but no one ever told the bee. No matter what people tell you or how much they try to convince you otherwise, continue to pursue your dream. If you love to write, then write! Even if you weren’t trained as a writer (which I wasn’t), write anyway.

2) Sticktoitivity! If you haven’t seen Walt Disney’s So Dear To My Heart, go rent or buy it and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve been writing since my youngest son was a baby, burning the midnight oils in a therapy I never knew existed. I didn’t let rejections from potential agents deter my enthusiasm or whittle away at my persistence to improve my writing.

3) Write, write, write and read, read, read! Regardless of whether or not you find an agent or a publisher right away, keep writing and learn by reading the books by authors in the genre you most want to emulate in your writing.

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