By Stacy Mantle
When your life centers around words, there are few things you can do other than teach and write. Author Kym Brunner has managed to integrate both careers into a very busy life with the release of WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, the first of two young adult books.
WANTED is about a teen girl who, after cutting herself on a spent bullet extracted from Bonnie Parker’s dead body, becomes obsessed with the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. When the notorious outlaw begins communicating with her through thought, she realizes she’s in over her head.
We caught up with Brunner to discuss how she manages to consolidate historical fact with modern characters to create a wonderfully entertaining story.
Most of your books are set in or around Chicago. What is it that fascinates you most about the region?
What doesn’t fascinate me about the region would be an easier question, because I LOVE my hometown! I grew up in Chicago and lived there until my mid-twenties, moved to the suburbs after I got married, but I still visit the city frequently. The downtown region is gorgeous; the people that live in the Midwest are friendly and thus, love to talk (which is a fabulous benefit to observant writers like us). Besides, the weather is great three months a year. (Okay, so that part’s not so great—but it certainly gives us something to talk about.)
You are also a seventh grade teacher (I was also a teacher for several years!). How has that experience impacted your writing?
Authenticity in dialogue for starters, but teens are so genuine in their questions and comments about life that it definitely impacts my writing. I share ideas with them about a story I’m working on and they will certainly let me know if I’m off track. I’ve occasionally read chapters of my books aloud and can tell when a scene isn’t working. But most importantly, all day long I have a nice mix of personalities, each with unique likes and dislikes, personality quirks and nervous habits. If I want my characters to come alive, I need to breathe some believable traits into them. To quote that famous bit of advice given to friends of writers: “Be nice to me or you’ll appear in my next novel,” it’s seriously true. Of course, most of my students beg me to use their names and/or personalities in my books, so it’s not much of a problem.
What type of research do you engage in prior to beginning a novel?
Each book takes on its own unique research path based on the plot. For WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, I started out reading several non-fiction works about Bonnie and Clyde, then took to the Internet to scour the FBI pictures and the jillions of newspaper articles about them. I intended to infuse the true personalities of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow into the two teens in my story, so I had to get to know the legendary outlaws on a deep, personal level (as personal as one can get with dead gangsters). Naturally, authors need to tweak some things for the sake of story, but I’m pretty sure that history and thriller buffs alike won’t be disappointed in the facts I’ve weaved into my story.
You’re one of the few writers who can seamlessly intersperse nonfiction with fiction. How do you find the two worlds colliding?
Aw…thanks! (blushes) I had to find ways to include the details about Bonnie & Clyde without creating massive info dumps or long passages of backstory. When I decided to write a dual-POV, one from Clyde’s perspective, the answer became clear. Everything he saw would be colored through his 1930’s lens, and thus, when he compared things to now, he’d only be able to describe through what he knew then. Thus I was able to meld the two worlds (Jazz Age and present), which combined a lot of historical facts in a fictional world.
How did you know that you were meant to be an author?
Hmm…good question! I guess since I have an undying passion for reading and writing, I was a good candidate. But it wasn’t until I shared my work with others and they commented about how much they enjoyed the story, characters, or premise I created, that I thought, “I want this.” If I hadn’t gotten a lot of encouragement, along with a ton of helpful advice, from my wonderful critique group (*waves hi to my Wednesday night SCBWI group and the Writing Buds), I might have questioned my decision to write novels a bit more. But early on, I read somewhere that you know you are meant to be a writer when you can’t NOT write, I knew for sure. I so look forward to my daily writing time, that I feel sad and a little “off” if I don’t do something associated with writing every day. I think it’s kind of like dating––you know you were meant to be if you can’t stop thinking about that other person, or in the case of writers, can’t stop dreaming about your stories.
What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
Make sure you start with a kick-ass premise, write daily, and find a critique group that you connect with! And I don’t mean your mom and your friends, but other writers with the same level of passion (and critiquing style) as you. Authors who spend a lot of time reading and writing often have a keen sense of what’s working and what isn’t. BE OPEN TO SUGGESTIONS! I can’t tell you how many fledgling writers come to our critique groups and want to argue with me about why my suggestion is wrong. The teacher at the first writing class I took (author E.E. Knight) told me, “If only one person mentions a particular kink in your pages and you, the author, disagree, you win the tie and should keep it the way it is. But if two people are in agreement over a particular point not working for them, well then you’d better seriously consider the suggestion.” I’ve pretty much stuck with that, silently nodding and jotting things down that my group tells me to reconsider at home. And they haven’t steered me wrong yet.
Tell us what a typical day is like for you—when do you find time to write?
I usually get up around 5:15, write for two hours until I have to get ready for work, work from 8-3, and then come home and write some more until dinner time. In the evenings, I usually am perusing my social media, commenting on Facebook as well as tweeting about my other author friends’ books, while I have one eye on some reality TV show on in the background. But I love to get up early on weekends and write for half the day, or until the housework calls my name. (Although I must say, I’m pretty good at giving housework the cold shoulder.) Once in a while, I’ll go to a coffee shop to write, but I’m usually easily distracted there, as it’s not part of my main routine.
Tell us a little about WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE. Is it part of a series? Recurring characters? Based on a true story? (We hope not!)
Rest assured, Bonnie Parker has never inhabited my body. Not yet anyway, but I’ll keep you posted! So far, all the books I’ve written are intended as stand-alones. Naturally there are ways I could expand the world of my characters into a second book, but never at the sake of the story I’m writing. WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE has a definitive ending that will leave the reader satisfied (or so I hope), but if my editor asked me to write a sequel, I’m sure I could envision a way to do that. The underlying premise of having famous but dead individuals arise in the bodies of present-day characters could be fun to explore. Lizzie Borden anyone?
You’re an active member of the ITW as well as the SCBWI. How has being involved in these groups impacted your writing?
Any writer who thinks they can produce their best work alone isn’t a writer I’d like to read. ITW and SCBWI provide writers a safe haven in which to ask questions, seek opinions, and make friendships. SCBWI claims that it’s a bunny-eat-bunny world out there.
Kym Brunner has been writing action-packed novels for young adults for ten years. An active member of International Thriller Writers (ITW) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), she spearheads two writing groups. When she’s not writing, Kym teaches reading and language arts for seventh graders––which is an action-packed thriller all on its own. She’s repped by Eric Myers of the Spieler Agency and resides in the Chicago area. WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE (Merit Press, June 30, 2014) is her debut novel.
To learn more about Kym, please visit her website.