Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Holly Brandon, author of Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series, Book 1).
FQ: When you first began writing Life in the Chastity Zone (Book 1), did you always know it would be the start of a series, or did this project begin as a standalone novel? If the latter, can you tell readers when it changed for you and you decided there was more of a story to tell?
BRANDON: It began as a standalone novel. I realized 400 pages into it that there was so much more I wanted to share and so much more about Chastity that I wanted the readers to learn about her character. It was then that I realized one book would never do her justice.
FQ: There is so much emotion in this book told with the greatest wit and humor imaginable. Is it difficult to write irony/sarcasm and still keep characters so personable? Or is that a particular gift you happen to have?
BRANDON: Honestly, thank you. That’s a huge compliment. I see my characters as if they are sitting in the room with me. Since they’ve become part of my life, I get a kick out of writing what I think they would say. I try to visualize what would come out of their mouths with their quirky behaviors, and then work those elements into my story. It also helps to have gone through crazy situations and have lived to not only tell the tales but also pull from them into my book.
FQ: The “menfolk” in this book are all so unique. From Grant to Vincent to George – everybody Chastity knows and meets in her life is so different. Are these characters you’ve met along the way in your own life’s journey? If not, how difficult is it to make them all so diverse?
BRANDON: I’ve met them all. A few of the characters are a merger of two or more men that I’ve met in my past. I must say that I’ve definitely met unique men who left an unforgettable impression on me. I was a senior in high school when I encountered my first adventure with a man I secretly labeled as Montana Man. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and I was terrified of flying. It didn’t help that I was leaving on a Delta flight from one of the most dangerous airports because of its topography and weather conditions. I was scared to death. I can still picture him coming up to me in the airport, his smell, his aura, everything, and then those few little words that took me off guard, “I want to sit next to you on the plane.” He was, I’d say, “what dreams are made of,” except that he was a facade—the cover was beautiful but the inside was a seedy, tainted nightmare. And so began my adventures, which later I put to the paper.
FQ: Along those same lines, is Chastity based on you, or someone you know? And the lessons she learns throughout, do you hope that readers in this day and age will understand and perhaps learn to “stick to your guns” and take time to make decisions instead of rushing into things? What is the one “lesson” you hope readers will take from this?
BRANDON: Chastity is definitely based on my life. I learned a long time ago that it’s worth waiting and fighting for all good things. I wanted readers to see a character who has everything thrown at her—lack of success, inability to have children, loss of the things most cherished—but then decides to stick to her guns and fights. In the process, she may come out bruised, but she’s stronger, a survivor. The one lesson I hope everyone will see is that if you fight hard enough, you can overcome any obstacle thrown your way. And never, ever let anyone tell you that your ideas and beliefs are crazy and ridiculous because that’s what makes us all so unique and special. Marriage is special, and waiting for the right man is worth it, even if you’re a thirty-year-old virgin.
FQ: What is your personal favorite characteristic of Chastity, as well as Roxie’s greatest gift?
BRANDON: Her sense of humor; that she can roll with the punches and laugh about all these crazy men. Roxie’s greatest gift is her supportive nature. She pushes Chastity to find herself through these wild ideas as in the to-do list.
FQ: Roxie is a personal favorite because I love the fact that she and Chastity are polar opposites in many ways, but they play off each other so well. How did their relationship come about? Was it difficult to write their scenes? And, if you had to pick one, who do you feel you’re the most like out of the two?
BRANDON: I met my best friend in high school (aka Roxie) when I transferred to an all-girls school in my freshman year. It was honestly my worst nightmare. I had no friends, the girls were dreadfully snobby, and the teachers—all but one particular science teacher—were awful. She befriended me right away. She was different than the rest. It didn’t matter that she was 5’4” and drop-dead gorgeous. She was strong-willed, opinionated, and hysterical. She was a black belt in karate and a sharpshooter who later went into the Air Force Academy. I remember our first winter formal. We were juniors, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. She said to me, “I have it taken care of. I’ll find the guys. You drive, and if they misbehave, we can ditch them.” Misbehave was an understatement. The boys arrived at my house, completely stoned. It was easy to create Roxie’s character; it just came naturally! I love her both as a character and as a dear friend!
FQ: Was this title drawn up as an outline, or was this a project where you sat down and just started to type? If the latter, did the journey ever take a turn that surprised you while you were writing the novel?
BRANDON: Definitely, not an outline! I finished the first draft of my book and wasn’t happy at all. Something was missing. I loved the characters, the men were wacky as all get out, and Chase grew as the story unfolded, but it just wasn’t right. Then I thought about this psychic I grew up with and how he told us things that no one would ever know. From there, the little girl Daphne took shape and blossomed into the story. She brought a real understanding of Chase and her demons.
FQ: I find it amazing, considering your background (holding a PhD, M.S., and B.S. in Civil Engineering, and publishing works in the Journal of Earthquakes, Earthquake Engineering, and Engineering Vibrations and Earthquake Science) that this fiction work is so spot-on and so much fun to read. It is certainly a different path for you. Is romance your favorite genre? Are you or will you be looking at writing in other (fiction) genres one day?
BRANDON: I am a hopeless romantic to the core. I dream of forever with a man when I can look him in the eyes and say, “I do,” again and again. I will always write romance with a hint of comedy because I love it! Writing kept me going throughout my tedious studies. Don’t get me wrong, I love engineering. Still, I needed something to make me laugh, and I needed a way to turn the lemons into lemonade—meaning, the bad dates I was experiencing, and the pain I was having because of my levator-ani-syndrome. Plus, it helped me accomplish all of my degrees. Writing is my happy place. It truly helped me heal. That said, maybe one day, there will be an earthquake engineering book for the everyday person that doesn’t understand the engineering jargon—with family stories and, of course, romance intertwined!
FQ: What should readers expect in Book #2, and do you already know how many books will be in the series?
BRANDON: They should expect to find out what happened to Grant, Vincent, and Jacques-Pierre. They should also expect to see Chastity dive into the working force, and the struggles that come with being a woman in a man’s world. There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns in the next book. Spoiler alert: she does fall madly in love, and there is an unexpected wedding. The reader will have to wait to see how that all unfolds. As far as how many books are in the series, right now there are three, but who knows. Chastity has so much to share with the world.