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Please welcome Kathy Brandt today!

June 5, 2013

Today I am honored to have a special guest on my blog. Kathy Brandt is a new friend who has an important story to share. Her book is Walks on the Margins, A Story of Bipolar Illness, a mental illness that touches so many of our lives. Please read what she has to say. Thank you for joining me today, Kathy!

Kathy Brandt Photo

What makes you different from other writers?

I’m determined and persistent which has helped me get published. The minute I got a rejection after sending out agent queries for my first book, I was putting another in the mail. (I have a file drawer filled with rejections!) I think that’s what sets most published authors apart from those that aren’t. On a more personal note, I tend to put my head down, forge ahead, and get through hard times. That’s what got me through the trauma, fear, and despair of my son’s illness.

What is your most recent release?

The most recent book is Walks on the Margins, A Story of Bipolar Illness, co-written with my son, in which we write about what it means to suffer from mental illness. Though reliving the years of confusion and fear was difficult, the writing helped us make sense of the chaos. We’ve tried to tell an honest though often painful story that ends with the understanding that mental illness is for life but that redemption and recovery are possible. We hope that others with mental illness and their families will find comfort in the book and will realize they aren’t as alone as they may think. We also hope that by putting a face on mental illness, we have succeeded in breaking down the barriers of stigma and made human and understandable an illness that so many fear.

Walks on the Margins isn’t just our story. It’s the story of thousands of others who have mental illness and of the families who love them. It was a finalist for the Iowa Review Award in Nonfiction.

Walks on the Margins cover (large)

What is your genre(s) and why did you choose it?

My most recent book is the memoir; however, I also write the Hannah Sampson Underwater Investigation Series (Under Pressure, Dangerous Depths, Dark Water Dive, and Swimming with the Dead). They are set in the Caribbean and feature a female underwater investigator. Writing mysteries was inevitable for me. I’d read every Nancy Drew book ever published by the time I was ten.

I read all the Nancy Drew books, too! I loved them. Would you give me a one or two sentence synopsis of you latest work.

In Walks on the Margins a mother and son weave two narratives into a single powerful story of mental illness. Max takes us into the abyss of mania, psychosis, and depression as Kathy narrates her struggle to save her son in a world beset by institutional failure. Each day they confront the unknowns of their lives as they maneuver a twisted path to recovery. Walks on the Margins is a fiercely candid story about the emotional turmoil and confusion of those who struggle with bipolar disorder.

Do you plan your writing with outlines, character sketches, and the like, or do you just write?

When my son and I decided to write Walks on the Margins, I’d been keeping a journal of our struggles with mental illness for years so the material was at my fingertips. The challenge was to turn it into a memoir, know what to include, what to leave out, and to make the narrative come alive. We knew the material and how the book would proceed, so we didn’t outline before drafting. However, we did outline the book afterwards to get a complete picture of what we’d done. Then we did a lot of restructuring and rewriting, cutting material, and working on the story arc.

When I write my Hannah Sampson Underwater Investigation mysteries, I start by doing some general research and plotting. I simply can’t outline my fiction because about a quarter of the way through, I don’t know what happens next. Instead, I do time lines and character descriptions and diagrams of the story arc. Then I write the entire book.

Who is your favorite character in any of your writing? Why?

It’s Hannah Sampson, the heroine of my mysteries. She’s gutsy, stubborn, determined, characteristics that often get her into trouble, and yet she’s vulnerable.

As authors, we are frequently asked about writing. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

You need to write, write, write. You need to sit down and do it. The more you write, the better you become. People talk about waiting for the muse. That just doesn’t happen for me, and I don’t think it happens for very many other writers either. Inspiration comes when you write and if it doesn’t, well you have to write anyway. You need to start and finish. If you wait, it never happens. Sometimes you’ll look at your work and think “What junk,” but that’s okay. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just keep at it.

What advice do you have about the editing process?

I find comfort in Anne Lamont’s statement that everyone deserves the luxury of writing “shitty first drafts.” Mine definitely fit that category. But it happens that I love the rewriting process. My first draft is my chance to discover meaning—what it is that I really want this book to be about. When I have a story—a beginning, middle, and end—I revise and revise. I move scenes, drop characters, cut, paste, add, subtract and then I toy with prose.

If one doesn’t rewrite and edit, he/she is going to end up trying (and failing) to publish a “shitty first draft” rather than a polished manuscript. And at some point you need to hire a professional editor.

Do you write from your own experiences or from people you know?

Much comes from experience. Of course that was true of the memoir. My husband and I scuba dive and sail. That’s where a lot of the material for my diving mysteries comes from. We’ve done a lot of sailing and diving in the British Virgin Islands and Caribbean, which is where the mysteries are set. I love the ocean and the people who live in the islands and being able to incorporate that love into my writing is wonderful for me.

Beautiful places! Are your characters based on people you know? How do you choose your characters?

Many of my characters are based on real people–sailors, divers, and the islanders I’ve met. And many are completely fictitious, though of course everyone I meet has some influence on how I end up portraying the characters that people my novels.

When did you start writing seriously?

I have always been a writer, probably since I could hold a pencil. As a kid, I would write in notebooks, toy with poetry. I’ve kept a journal on and off for years. I turn to it especially when things are interesting, or when life gets tough or confusing. It allows me to remember, clarify, and get through hard times.

When my mother died around the time I turned fifty, I realized that life is short and I’d better start fulfilling some dreams. That’s when I decided to start writing novels. After the last of our kids left for college, I started the first book of my Underwater Investigation Series.

Who is/are your best supporter(s)?

My husband, my kids, and my sisters.

Do you have any special writing rituals you need to write? Do you play music while you write?

When I’m creating a story, I write in bed–buried under a down comforter, laptop perched on my knees. Sometimes in the summer I take my laptop to the deck. When I’ve completed a draft, I head to my office–a small room downstairs, with two glass filled walls. I go there for the desk–a place to spread out, shelves where my research is piled, a place to perch my storyboard, a place to rewrite. I love the light, but often I’m too intent to notice what’s outside. Sometimes I look up, surprised to see a mule deer or an elk pulling leaves off an aspen.

That would be a nice surprise! Would you share a favorite childhood memory?

Sitting on the back stoop with my sister in the heat of the summer complaining about how bored we were. I miss those slow summer days that crept by like turtles. Now the day is gone before it has hardly begun.

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

I’d like to fly because it would bring a sense of complete freedom. I would soar over trees, skim fields, and touch down where ever I wanted.

Please share your bio and links to your writing so readers can connect with you and your books!

Kathy Brandt is the co-author with her son, Max, of Walks on the Margins: A Story of Bipolar Illness. She also writes the Underwater Investigation Series. Kathy was on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Colorado Springs (NAMI) for six years and is the past President. She is currently the NAMI-CS liaison to the Mental Health Court in Colorado Springs. She received the 2012 National Member of the Year Award for her outstanding service to NAMI. Kathy has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric and taught writing at the University of Colorado for ten years.

Her co-author and son, Max Maddox, has a BA and an MFA. He teaches art and has exhibited his work in galleries in Philadelphia and Denver. Walks on the Margins is his first book. You can see his work at www. maxmaddox.net

Author website: www.KathyBrandtAuthor.com

Books are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Walks-Margins-Bipolar-Illness-ebook/dp/B00C8WLXMW/

Thank you for sharing so much with us, Kathy! It has been a pleasure having you here!

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