Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Interview with Braden Bell

Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog.

From the back of the book:
“Brother Jenson, you’ve been called as the ward road show specialist. Would you accept that calling?”

What? The road show? The greatest fear of all Mormon theatre artists. The curse of anyone who does theatre. No, no, no! This isn’t happening. The road show! What can I do? I can’t do this! This is like asking Mack Wilberg to lead the ward choir or Danny Ainge to coach church basketball.

“Sure,” Scott answered quietly.

Scott Jenson hates everything he knows about road shows, especially the cheap costumes, silly songs, and bad acting. So when he finds himself agreeing to be the road show specialist, he wonders how he can do it without becoming the biggest fool in the ward. From miscues to missed practices, Scott directs his crew of amateur actors all while hoping that no one finds out about his secret.

Is there any way that this trivial road show could have a healing effect on those who participate? A pornography addict, a depressed young mother, a sick older sister, a lonely outcast, and a spiritually numb elder’s quorum president are about to find out.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wasn't prepared to get so connected to these characters and each of their stories. With an ensemble cast of characters it can be difficult to feel like you get enough background to invest in each of them, but Bell does a superb job of tapping into the emotional drive and situation of each character to the point where the reader is anxious to see how all the stories will tie together and how their lives will change once it does.

I enjoyed this story and felt it had a lot of insight into how people's lives can follow an unexpected path filled with obstacles and heartache, but also how that path can lead us to the Savior.

I hope you'll take time to read this book! I highly recommend it.

Here is my interview with Braden:

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Braden: Almost literally as long as I can remember. I have always read voraciously and so I think wanting to be an author grew naturally from that love. I remember in 5th grade, setting up an “office” in my room so I could write all summer long.

M.B.: What is your writing and educational background?

Braden: My degrees are in theatre, a BA and MA from BYU and a PhD from NYU. The most significant thing I’ve ever written was my dissertation. That was stressful, but it was also fulfilling and enjoyable and gave me the confidence that I could write for a wider audience than my children and wife. I have always written for fun—it’s what I do to unwind and relax.

M.B.: What makes you passionate about writing?

Braden: I’m not entirely sure. It is just something that is deeply satisfying to me, something that seems to be part of my soul. It’s what I would do if I had absolute freedom to do anything I wanted.

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Braden: Like most other people, it was challenging. There were rejections and rewrites and moments of despair along the way.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Braden: I was incredibly discouraged on many occasions! I just kept going, kept trying. I’m a big believer in persistence and endurance. The love and support of my wife was also a substantial part of how I coped with discouragement.

M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?

Braden: Since I work full-time and have kids and a church calling, my writing schedule is irregular. I mainly write late at night in bed, on my laptop. I try to write something every day but that is not always a possibility. I take my laptop everywhere I go, though, or a binder filled with pages I’m proofing or editing. I snatch every possible minute I can find.

M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?

Braden: I don’t have a lot of experience on this since The Road Show is my first published book. But ideas generally just pop into my mind. I start writing them down and ask a lot of “what if” questions. If story emerges, then I usually run with it.

M.B.: When did the idea for this book first come to you?

Braden: I directed a road show about ten years ago. During that time, my wife told me about a sister in our ward who was really struggling with depression. Somehow, that triggered a little storm of “what ifs” in my mind. I started asking “what if the leading lady in the road show had depression and this was some kind of lifeline?” “What if the director had a secret he was ashamed of?” “What if the leading man was a grumpy elder’s quorum president…” and so on. It all came together on the steps leading up to the stage right before our ward performed.

M.B.: What do you hope readers will get from this book?

Braden: I hope they will enjoy the story and the characters. I hope the characters will seem like real people. In addition to that, I hope readers will re-examine their assessments of others around them in their wards and look a little deeper. I also hope readers will have a renewed faith in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to heal and comfort.

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline

Braden: With this book, the prologue and last scene just flashed into my head. Once I had those written, like bookends, I tried to fill in the rest. That took me several years, much longer than I anticipated. I am very intuitive as a writer—I write to see what happens next. Once I have a rough draft, I go back and do a little more formal organizing.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's
block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Braden: Yes, I do. I usually go mow my lawn and work in the garden. I find if I don’t worry too much about it, the answer usually comes. Because of the spiritual nature of this book, I also did a lot of fasting and prayer.

M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when
you are writing?

Braden: I don’t need it silent, but I like it quiet. Since I write late at night, in bed, I generally don’t listen to music.

M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Braden: My problem has always been trying to control and corral my very active imagination. For me inspiration is the easy part, the hard part is the discipline of writing it, finishing it, editing it, etc. I have at least a dozen half-finished novels languishing in my computer.

M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Braden: I love to read and learn from everything I read. I love Charles Dickens. His characters have always been so real to me. Being in theatre, I love Shakespeare, of course. His facility with language is stunning. I also have really come to admire the spare, clean economy of Suzanne Collins. I am amazed at how much she can say very simply. Also, the woman who edited my dissertation, a wonderful person named Margaret Anzul. She taught me a great deal about writing, and also gave me confidence.

M.B.: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Braden: I hope I did make them come to life. They seemed so real to me. Since theatre is my background, I used a lot of theatrical techniques to create the characters. Defining objectives, using subtext, employing tactics, trying to create the emotional reality and then letting the actions follow.

M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

Braden: Because of where I was when I wrote this—working on my doctorate and serving as a bishop, I really didn’t have time for a critique group. I now have one, though, and love it. It has been a real help.

M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?

Braden: This is the only book I have published, so the list of candidates is small. But I’m working on a middle grade fantasy novel that takes place in a small private school. I have really enjoyed writing that since I teach at a small, private school.

M.B.: What is something about yourself people don’t know?

Braden: That’s tough. Most of what is interesting is widely known, and most of what isn’t widely known is not all that interesting. I teach middle school theatre and music. I played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

M.B.: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Braden: Ginger ale. Undoubtedly.

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?

Braden: I’m afraid I only have the old clichés—write as often as you can and then just keep submitting. Don’t stop when (not if) you are discouraged.

M.B.: What are you working on now?

Braden: I mentioned the middle grade fantasy novel. That’s what I’m working most actively on. I’ve also got a few starts for some other LDS novels—one about a young family that goes to do grad school in New York City, another about the funeral of a man who has lived a long and useful life, and another about a troubled marriage that is trying to heal. I’m really hoping to find an agent to represent me with the fantasy novel. We’ll see.

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Braden: Any bookstore ought to be able to order it. But I know for a fact the book can be found on Amazon.com. You can also get information from my website, http://www.bradenbell.com


Braden said...

Thanks, Michele! That was fun.

Braden said...

Thanks, Michele. I liked it even better the second time!

Haley Hatch Freeman said...

Hi Michele,
You do a great job with reviews and interviews!
Did you receive my book A Future for Tomorrow in the mail?

Congrats on Hometown girl! It sounds like a book I would love. =)