Books Magazine

Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan

By Anovelsource @thenovellife

If you ever have the opportunity to meet Sandra Brannan, author of the Liv Bergen series, female miner (yup, that’s miner, not minor), and easily the most personable author ever, don’t walk, run…to wherever Brannan is appearing.  No joke my friends ~ this author can have you hiding under the bed with her scary, crazed bad guy and then have you laughing at Liv Bergen stumbling over a root in front of a guy she likes while impressing you with her mad writing AND people skills.  Perhaps its from growing up in such a large family but whatever it is, I’m so glad Brannan has graced us with her writing and charmed us with her presence.  Hope you enjoy these few moments with the lovely author ~

In each of your Liv Bergen novels the book titles reference some character or place in the Bible. Will you share with us how you came to choose the titles.

Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan
First, I mean no disrespect to the Bible with my twisted titles. In fact, like many, I have actually read the Bible cover to cover, admittedly speed reading through the many pages of begetting in the Old Testament since I’m no genealogist. The Bible shares some really scary stories, especially as a kid.  To say that my education at a Catholic school from K-8 had a profound impact on my life would be an understatement. I appreciate the faith required in Catholicism even though I chose to become a Protestant as an adult.  The stories of courage and sacrifice through the most brutal circumstances are unbelievably frightening. 
So my decision to use twisted biblical titles, although risky, was organic to the story and certainly hasn’t hurt for branding purposes, although I didn’t even know how important that would be.  Not to get preachy about these biblical stories I reference, I use elements of the biblical stories to tell my own modern thriller or mystery with a twist.  For instance, IN THE BELLY OF JONAH has Liv Bergen trapped for three days in the horrific world of a serial killer who carved a window in her employee’s torso – the belly and all –as Liv tries to find justice.  In the Bible, Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale for three days.  That’s pretty much where the similarities end, unless the POV from the slimy mind of a serial killer helps the reader imagine what it’s like to be in the intestines of a smelly whale.  The premise of LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM is that Lucifer’s Lot, a notorious motorcycle gang, returns annually to the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an event some people refer to as the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. The similarity in the stories ties to what happened with biblical Lot, where after his wife turns to a pillar of salt, he flees to the mountains and impregnates his daughter who tricks him into having sex with her.  Creepy, disgusting storyline, eh?  You’ll have to read how I worked that into the storyline, because I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending.   In WIDOW’S MIGHT, a recently widowed rancher woman is strangled in her sleep as she lay dying of cancer in hospice. Surviving, her resolve is steeled to live long enough – and strong enough – to avenge her husband’s murder, relying on Liv Bergen and her sister to help her.  The similarities with the biblical widow who gave all she had, two tiny mites which wasn’t much, for her beliefs and my modern day widow, having given up her two mites, her son to SIDS decades ago and her husband days ago, fight to the end for her belief in justice.  I love Helma Hanson and believe the spirit of Dakota – survival instincts, strength, and perseverance – runs through this octogenarian’s blood as sure as Rapid Creek by Helma’s house.  

Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan
Hey Sandra, you should be writing books, that succinct summary of all three titles was just enough to whet my appetite all over again
  And for those of you who are curious about what a Widow’s Mite looks like, Sandra was kind enough to send along this picture.

The book covers are so unique and creepy (in just the right serial-killer-kind-of-way). What is the process in selecting just the right cover – especially when you know it’s a series and the covers will need to remain similar.
Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan
You’ve hit on a subject that simply fascinated me.  I had very little to do with the cover design, other than to freak out the design artist at the publishing house with the first chapter of IN THE BELLY OF JONAH.  Curious and totally oblivious of the publishing process, I asked a lot of questions for my first book and am so glad I trusted the experts.  I write.  They do everything else.  I trusted the process, and in hindsight, am thrilled I did because my input would have been off the mark.  So when it came time for the cover design, I simply asked the designer at the publishing house how she would go about the process.  She said that she would read the first chapter and the last, get a sense of the book, and design the cover.  During the production schedule, the only step that didn’t happen on time was the cover design.  I received six very different covers and was asked to choose my favorite.  The book cover you see creeped me out and I told my husband I didn’t know if I’d read a book that looked so graphic, so scary.  But I held fast to my decision to trust the process and asked if I could talk to the designer.  The designer said she was late with the designs because she had read the first chapter, got caught up in the story, and in the end, couldn’t shake the images from the very first pages.  I asked her which of the six designs was her favorite and she chose the cover.  Her book cover design for IN THE BELLY OF JONAH won the best book cover in Southwest Print Magazine for 2010.  Subsequent designs suggest a strong branding to Sandra Brannan.  Whether readers hate the covers or love them, people around the country can’t stop talking about them and the emotional controversy they seem to stir.   All I can say is I’m grateful to the designer and lucky that I trusted the process, because people do judge a book by its cover and my books seem to incite strong emotion, stand out from the rest.

Liv Bergen is quite the unique amateur sleuth who has progressed and grown in the three books published so far. What do you have in store for our favorite miner/sleuth/heroine?
Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan
Liv is just out of Quantico, a first office agent in the Denver FBI Bureau, in NOAH’S RAINY DAY.  Christmas Eve, a child is abducted from DIA and Liv spends her holidays working the crime scene, wishing she was back at her sister Frances’ home, watching her niece and nephew opening gifts.  Noah, her nephew with severe cerebral palsy, knows where the abducted boy is, but can’t communicate what he knows.   I love Noah as much as I loved Helma Hanson, in WIDOW’S MIGHT, since they are both unlikely heroes and as strong as the hubs of hell.  And please do feel free to share your thoughts, posts, and emails about Team Streeter Pierce or Team Jack Linwood.  Liv can take all the advice she can get. 
I really appreciate the groundswell of support from readers across this country, thanks to the word being spread by bloggers like you, Stacy, back in 2010.  So for me, I want my readers to be part of the writing experience.   Every book I write in the Liv Bergen Mystery Series I share with a book club somewhere in the country before I send the manuscript to my publisher.  Right now, a book club in Chicago is reading NOAH’S RAINY DAY, the fourth in the series.  I don’t write the last chapter so I can seek input from the book club on whether or not they enjoyed the book, what they’d recommend I do to improve the storyline, the characters, or anything about the book, and hopefully identify “ugh” moments along the way for me to fix.  The Rapid City book club who helped me with WIDOW’S MIGHT were so good at their task, the book won ABA NextList award for August 2012.  So thank you to the book clubs for being so honest!  Oh and the chosen book club tells me how to write that final chapter.  How fun is that?   For NOAH’S RAINY DAY, I had more than three dozen requests by book clubs across this country to be my beta readers.  Anyone interested in book five, please email me at [email protected].
Author Spotlight: Sandra Brannan

and to finish up, with Thanksgiving last week, Christmas only weeks away, and knowing that you are one of 9 children…what does your family do for the holidays? And do your siblings ask you a bunch of questions about what is happening next for Liv Bergen?
Holidays are a big deal with my family.  All eight of my siblings have eventually moved back to Rapid City over the years from all parts of this country and others to be with our dad and mom, living testimonies to why they are known as the greatest generation.  My octogenarian mother still invites all of us over for a sit down turkey dinner for all us kids, grandkids, and great grandkids for Thanksgiving.  Fifty-five of us immediate family members at last count.  Once we are done with the hand-holding prayer before our feast led by my dad, we eat and drink and laugh and eat and eat while catching up with what everyone is doing.  As children, we used to have evening meals every night and dad would go around the table with each one of us and ask what we learned that day.  Today, it’s less formal than literally going from chair to chair, table to table, and asking what everyone learned, but certainly we all love to hear what the others are doing.   
As far as my sibling asking me a bunch of questions about my writing or what’s next for Liv Bergen, I’ll share a funny story about my life as an author as it relates to my big family.  I never told anyone that I had secured a contract to publish my book.  In fact, most never even knew I wrote.  I’m an engineer with an MBA working in a mining company.  A left-brained sort of girl.  My other siblings are quite talented– dancers, artists, healers, musicians, poets, song writers, opera singers – with the right brain.  Me, not so much.  So when my publisher told me that I might have to consider quitting my day job as this series took off, they were stunned to hear I hadn’t told anyone in my family but my husband about my books.  When ABA announced IN THE BELLY OF JONAH won the Indie NextList for September 2010, my publisher called and said, “I think you need to tell your family because you’re not going to keep a lid on this a secret any longer.”  Of course, when I did tell them just before the first book launch, my family was extremely supportive, sharing the news with friends, buying my books as gifts.  Their support is probably the reason my first book went into second print within the first month of release.  Anyway, some of my siblings and sons have read my books, some haven’t, but they all support my efforts through thick and thin.  I don’t fault anyone who refuses to read my book, especially kin.  Murder mysteries aren’t for everyone.  My goal is to write ‘I-Never-Saw-That-Coming’ mysteries or ‘Unputdownable’ thrillers that readers who regularly choose this genre enjoy.  I hope readers continue to let me know if I hit or miss my goal.  It makes me improve my writing for the next book.
  Happy holidays to you, Stacy, and all The Novel Life blog fans!  With gratitude, hold your friends close and your family even closer this holiday season.
Thank YOU Sandra for giving us a glimpse into your life, Liv Bergen and writing.  I learned so much, especially about the process with selecting the book cover.  Kudos to the designer for such perfect branding covers!  And Sandra, I can honestly say, you do write some “unputdownable” thrillers that keeps me anxious for the next one.  Thank you for taking the time to visit The Novel Life….and for the series you’ve created that keeps me up into the wee hours reading.

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