Last week we took the time to look at an amazing debut science fiction novel by Brittany Ziegler. Make Me Exist, the first book in her Lost in Time series, takes readers for a ride with characters who are out of this world and at times out of their element. Ziegler delivers strong character development, very interesting world-building, and the promise of more to come. Today we get a chance to see what makes the author tick. Read on to find out more about Brittany Ziegler.
Tellest: Hello to Brittany Ziegler—a photographer, friend to sharks and whales, poet, mother and wife, and now, a published novelist! With all the fun distractions that Hawaii has to offer, it’s a wonder I’ll be able to get her insights on her book and her adventurers in writing. To that point, I’m grateful to have the opportunity, Brittany!
Brittany Ziegler: Thank you! Really excited for this interview!
T: So, one of the first things that I like to ask is what got storytellers started. Were there any other talespinners in your family? Was there a specific book or adventure that struck a spark and sent you off on your own journey?
BZ: As far as ‘talespinning’ goes, that’s pretty much just me when it comes to my house. Growing up, my mother, sister and I were avid readers though, and I started reading more mature books at a very young age. I know when I was around nine years old, I read Michael Crichton’s ‘Jurassic Park,’ and that really opened the doors for how immense the written world really is. I didn’t understand most of what his novel was about (all full of science jargon), but I certainly understood dinosaurs and the emotions he was able to convey across his hundreds of pages. I was captivated, and that definitely sent me on a journey to devour any and all books I could get my hands on at a very young age, igniting my spark for pen to paper.
T: Are there any other books that you would say inspired you or that you have used for influence in your own stories?
BZ: Oh my gosh so many! What originally started me on Make Me Exist is that I love young adult novels-but as an adult, there is always something ‘missing,’ when I read them. I was really into Stephanie Myers, I loved her ‘The Host.’ Twilight, The Hunger Games. All the huge hit YA novels were so fun for me. I was also really into more detailed adult books like Outlander, and the Clan of the Cave Bears (even named my daughter Ayla after the main protagonist). I wanted to write a book that had the YA feel, but I also wanted an adult book that tackled issues like race, gender roles, rape, and even LGBT issues. So, I ended up with Make Me Exist.
T: On your blog, you mention that you didn’t see the characters of Cyran, Rogue or Adriem coming. So that begs the question: are you a pantser or a plotter?
BZ: I am 100% a plotter, as far as storyline goes. Make Me Exist is the first book in a series, and I know every single piece to this puzzle I’ve created down to the exact scene/chapter for all future books. Most every chapter in book one is important and leads into the future scenes, no matter how small the scene seems or insignificant the dialogue. That being said, the characters themselves kind of ‘created themselves.’ Each character is so unique, down to their body language and how they talk during dialogue, that even I don’t know quite how that happened. I feel like they already existed, and my job was to simply get their true essence onto paper for them.
T: Steven King said that writing a book was a bit like excavating a fossil with a toothbrush. It isn’t our job to know the story, it’s our job to discover it. Do you ever have those “aha” moments, even when you’re plotting, when something just falls into place, almost outside of your actions?
BZ: This happens every single time I sit down to write a scene. I am such a plotter, so I spend so much time imagining the scene, the dialogue, the setting and interactions. I then sit and write out an outline. When I write the scene out and add it to the book I am always blown away by what happens. So much manages to come to life and what’s written is always so much more then what I outlined, it’s truly incredible. Just as Steven King said, the outline is the found fossil and I just get so excited to dig it up and discover what’s truly there.
T: What was your biggest challenge when it came to writing or publishing Make Me Exist? Was it difficult shifting your thinking from poetry to prose?
BZ: Gosh the whole process has been challenging, right down to sitting down and writing an actual novel. I think the best choice was choosing a subject so far away from poetry, like sci-fi/fantasy and finding a way to integrate poetry into descriptions, whether it be character or setting. As a poet I did have the added advantage of being overly conscious of characters emotions, and that plays a huge role in the making of this series. Every character has a distinctly different feel, and in turn, has opinions and a voice-it’s truly amazing.
T: National Novel Writing Month is coming up. Are you a participant?
BZ: Honestly, I’m not—but now that I know about it, I’ll try to be! Make Me Exist is my first novel, I’m generally a writer of poetry and have been much more active in the poetic world.
T: If anyone could write 50,000 words in a month, I’m betting it would be you! And I don’t think anyone would stick up their nose at 50,000 words of poetry!
BZ: Your bet would be spot on, I’m a fast typer and there is way too much in this head of mine to stay stuck up there. Writing is an amazing outlet!
T: What were the most difficult things you experienced when beginning to write your debut story?
BZ: As mentioned earlier, I am a poet, and I love my beautifully crafted and structured prose. I love detailed description and utilizing emotion into physical objects. This sci-fi/fantasy novel wasn’t always the place for that. Especially with Cyran as the main protagonist and her internal monologue full of copious amounts of swearing and ‘what the hell’ moments. I feel like after over 100k words I got the hang of it though. I was able to find a nice blend of poetic description and melded it wonderfully with Cyran’s direct and strong character.
T: When it came to Cyran, you mentioned that she created herself. Those that read the book might wonder just how much that rings true. Did you know she was going to have the dynamic she does, where she discovers more about herself that was hidden from her?
BZ: Cyran’s character is so strong and sassy. She also has so many downsides to her, like getting extremely angry very quickly. Her bravery almost gets in the way at time, being so fearless and selfless gets her in some sticky spots. She is also not a very curious character, she tends to ‘not want to know.’ For some reason as a reader I always thought an author would relate heavily with their main protagonist, especially when writing from their point of view-but I couldn’t find myself any more different from Cyran. It’s quite interesting, to be writing her story and feel almost amazed in all that she does.
T: Among your writing circle, have you noticed others with favorite characters of their own? Or is Cyran a pretty much top-tier, butt-kicking hero that nobody can pass up on?
BZ: Cyran is pretty hard to not love. She has a nice mix of bravery, authenticity, and flaws. There is something to love in each character though, especially Rogue, who is just so perfectly imperfect he’s hard to not want to protect. My personal favorite is definitely Gin, as far as side characters go and that shines through in my writing with him.
T: You’re spending a lot of time in and around the water in Hawaii. Do any of your experiences there inform scenes or settings in your writing?
BZ: I spend almost ALL of my time kayaking with humpback whales miles from shore or scuba diving with sharks out here in Hawaii. I don’t think my personal experiences play an important role in the settings of my writing, but my experiences are certainly critical in my writing. The silence of the ocean really gives me time and space to find peace and let my creative side show.
The bravery it takes and the enthusiasm I need to ‘get the shot’ of a swimming shark or breaching 40-ton humpback certainly put me in a better mindset to write a fearless character like Cyran. You can’t be brave without being scared, and that gave me so much inspiration for this series.
T: Is there anything you want to let readers know about the second book in the Lost in Time series?
BZ: The second book is well under way, and—not trying to brag—it is amazing. The first book was really just scene setting and getting the amazing characters on paper, while the second book really has room to delve into each character and broaden the scope. There is so much more emotion, so much more shock factor, so much more heartbreak, and just…more. I’m absolutely in love and can’t wait to share it with the world at the beginning of 2021!
T: What’s your favorite part about the new story? Do you have new favorite locations, characters, secrets that are beginning to unravel?
BZ: The first book is really centered in just two locations. Where the second book, although still heavily set at the main house, has a lot more to it as far as settings. I’ve gotten to create spaceships in book two and have the plot centered in space for a while. Characters are in Australia and even Europe at points. It’s been so fun traveling in memory and physically with each character, visiting places I’ve never gotten to actually go to. I think my favorite part of book two is the internal dialogue. Without giving too much away about book one or two, Cyran ends up sharing her thoughts and mind with another character. It has been really interesting creating an internal monologue between two characters shared thoughts and emotions, I have had so much fun with it.
T: Beyond the Lost in Time series and your poetry, do you have any plans for other books you’d like to write? Anything in another genre, perhaps?
BZ: This is a resounding YES. As an ocean photographer and marine studies major, I can’t wait to write fiction novels about the ocean, and just let my poetic side loose as I write about the life of a whale or shark. Most of my friends and family were actually quite shocked that I chose my debut novel to be a fantasy sci-fi—the response I got from those closest to me was surprise that I hadn’t written a historical fiction. I’m much more knowledgeable on history versus science–but when I look back on ‘Make Me Exist,’ it took more magic then anything to get this story on paper.
T: What was it like preparing for the audiobook version of Make Me Exist? Are you the narrator for it, or did you pick someone else to produce?
BZ: The audiobook is AMAZING. I am obsessed and find myself listening to the chapters I have repeatedly. An extremely talented voice actress from South Africa is Cyran’s voice for book one, and man, does she get the tone across perfectly. I applaud Claire (voice actress) for managing to speak so beautifully during the poetic scenes, get the profanity filled sarcasm on point, voice the many men so well, and be so devastating when needed. The audiobook should be completed and ready for purchase in November of this year!
T: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting off with their storytelling journey?
BZ: Just sit down and do it. Get started on it and don’t put it off, like I did for all too long. Writing is such a rewarding adventure and it’s truly a magical experience to have the ability to create and be so imaginative. Sit down where you think best and let your mind wander, let worlds and people come to life!
T: And finally, where can readers find you if they want to learn more about you and your worlds?
BZ: I’m fairly new to this whole ‘author’ thing, as far as updating the public on future novels and news. I did start a blog where I’ll be posting updates on the audiobook, thoughts on book one, and excerpts for future books! That can be easily found at www.MakeMeExist.blog
I also have an author page on amazon which pulls my blog posts for easier access!
T: Brittany, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Best of luck with your further writing. Don’t make us wait too long for the follow-up!
BZ: You’ve been absolutely amazing Mike! Looking forward to future interviews and projects together!!
Now is a perfect time to pick up Brittany’s awesome debut. Make Me Exist, the first book in her Lost in Time series, is available on Amazon. With the second book on the way, it’s a great chance to get caught up!
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