Collin Kelley is the author of the mystery/suspense novels Conquering Venus and the newly released Remain In Light, which is a finalist for the prestigious 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction.
1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?
The characters in Conquering Venus and Remain In Light, the first two books in The Venus Trilogy, are either aspects of myself or amalgamations of people that I know or have met. Irène Laureaux, the Parisian widow searching for her husband’s killer, was created after watching all of the films starring Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve and creating a hybrid of the two women. Then I infused her with the sensibilities and tenacity of one of my best friends, Donna. I dedicated Remain In Light to her because I think Irène becomes a more fully rounded character by taking on some of Donna’s characteristics. Diane Jacobs, the pushy schoolteacher who sets a good majority of the action in motion, in both books was based on three of my best friends, including the schoolteacher who first took me to Paris in 1995. I’ve pretty much decided that Parker Posey is the only one who could play her if they ever make films from my books.
2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?
The main characters and plot sort of arrive together for me. Supporting and minor characters might be created later to help advance the plot, but The Venus Trilogy has been nearly fully formed in my head for a decade now. I wrote Conquering Venus with no outline, thinking I didn’t really need one. I thought I’d give an outline a whirl with Remain In Light and found that it kept me on track and gave me forward momentum. It also allowed me to write parts of the novel out of sequence without fear of getting lost in the plot or losing story threads I’d started earlier and needed to pick up later. I’ve been living with Irène, Martin and Diane for so many years that they almost write themselves. I can hear them talking in my head as I write, so when I write something totally out of character they always pipe up to correct me. Especially Diane.
3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?
I have a very strong general idea. I knew exactly how Conquering Venus and Remain In Light had to end, but I’m weighing a couple of ideas for the final book in the trilogy. I have an outline for the majority of the third book and two different scenarios for the ending. As the writing process continues, the appropriate ending will reveal itself.
4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?
The majority of The Venus Trilogy is set in Paris. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to go there three times and I actually wrote a good portion of the finale of Remain In Light there during the summer of 2010. The other main locations are Memphis, Tennessee and London, England. I’ve been to Memphis numerous times to London more times than I can count, so they are ingrained in my head. Irène’s pursuit of the man who killed her husband takes her to the Rhône-Alpes, but I’ve never been there. I did a lot of research, looked at photos and utilized Google street view to help give those locales authentic and specific details. I also like to create fictional places within real ones. Rue Rampon, the street where Irène lives and so much of the action in The Venus Trilogy takes place, is a real street in Paris and I’ve tried to make it authentic, but have taken liberties with building design, the businesses and denizens to suit my dramatic purposes.
5. Where do you do your research? Online or from books?
Online and in the field. To be honest, I’d be lost without my MacBook and an Internet connection. Having the answer to just about any question at your fingertips is amazing. I did all of my research for the 1968 scenes of the Paris student/worker riots in Conquering Venus and Remain In Light online, and then visited some of the flashpoints while I was in the city to pick up nuances and sense memories. The vast archive of online photos and maps has helped me create more authentic locations. I’m always pleased when a reader tells me that I captured a place so beautifully in my writing – that’s a great compliment for any writer.