Andrew C Branham - When the Sun Shines Too Brightly
After winning several awards for his memoir, Anything for Amelia, Andrew C Branham decided to try his hand at fiction. Readers were thrilled, as this resulted in Parched, a riveting book set in a dystopian world where nothing is as it seems. As our author of the day, we chat with Branham about why he used a family unit to tell his story, whether or not he works with a plot and how he deals with writer's block.
Please give us a short introduction to what Parched is about
Parched is a dystopian novel set in a world where the sun has become a 'red giant' and the earth has become hot, dry, and desolate. When their home is abruptly robbed and burned to the ground, the Deforio family is forced to pack up all their belongings in their car and embark on a journey to find food, water, shelter and safety. Not knowing what lies ahead, they set their sites on reaching Ohio and the Great Lakes in hope that there is still fresh water. As they continue eastward, they face ruthless bandits, thieves, and extreme weather conditions. The further they go, the more they worry if they will ever make it to Ohio alive.
Why did you decide to make your protagonists an entire family instead of a single person?
In my opinion - all too often a story revolves around a family with one main protagonist. Usually that person is the father. I wanted to share a realistic story that illustrates that all members of a family play a critical role. Like a normal American family, all of the characters in my story play a pivotal role - even Brownie the dog :-) It shows the power of family unity - specifically when dealing with adversity.
What inspired you to set your story in a world that is hot and parched?
At the time I wrote this story, I was living in Northern California during a very severe drought. In fact, a city nearby us came within one day of completely running out of fresh water. Along with the drought, this particular summer was extremely hot and temperatures were often in the 100s. I began to imagine what life would be like in a 'parched' world and the story just came together.
Parched deals a lot with how morals become blurred in survival situations. Why was this theme important to you?
Well I am very happy to hear you got that message because that was the theme I was trying to achieve. Frankly not all readers pick up on that. In fact, I sometimes get comments that my book was 'religious' and that's not my intent. While I did have a message of embracing all beliefs, the overall message was how would a normal person/family react in grave situations. Would you turn your back on your values? I tried to imagine myself in this situation and I realized I would probably do anything to save my daughter. For most, I believe we would do almost anything in the name of love and family. I was raised to put family before anything else and I live by that every day of my life.
Does your book have an underlying message? What do you hope will readers take away from it?
The underlying message was about keeping an open mind to all beliefs and religions. It was about not drawing conclusions and keeping your mind open to other beliefs. There are thousands of religions on the planet and neither science or man can prove one right and another wrong. I think the message is to be a good person and allow the rest to fall into place. It illustrates the power of family and the deep unity that we have. On a side-note, I also purposefully set aside 'nuclear family' norms for many reasons. At the beginning, it appears James is going to be the sole protagonist like so many other stories. It also appears to be the normal family - Dad, Mom, Son and daughter. I enjoyed mixing things up and making Lexie the hero alongside her gay son. It is easy to fall in to the trap of having a strong father, a stay-at-home mother, a cheerleader daughter and football star son. But that isn't close to reality. Reality is that every family is different in their own unique way and every family has their own unique problems.
Do you think that the world of Parched could become a reality for humans in the future? Do you think climate changes would affect earth this drastically?
Anything is possible - including my scenario where the sun becomes a red giant (although that won't likely happen for millions of years). I do believe mankind is heading toward disaster with global warming. If something does not change, we will likely be facing very grave situations in the future.
Parched contains quite a lot of plot twists. Did you plan them all out ahead of time or did some of them just happen as you were writing?
Parched was just one of those books that simply came to me and flowed very naturally. I did not plan anything in advance other than the story I had in my mind. I am not sure why, but it all just came together as my plot developed.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Where do you like write, how do you stay productive?
I think my writing style is very unique and fairly unconventional. I do not write outlines, I do not pre-plan plots, and I am most effective working in 'grooves'. There are times where I simply cannot write and there is really nothing I can do to change that. I have to be in a rhythm. However, once I find that rhythm I cannot stop :-) For my memoir, Anything for Amelia, I wrote the book as the events unfolded in my life. Each night, I would write and it just flowed naturally. I also found that being in nature often opened my mind up to creative writing. Any time I hit a writer's block, I would take a walk in the woods or do something outdoors.
Do you ever struggle with the decision to have a character in your book die?
Of course it is always difficult to kill a main character - especially a protagonist. But writing has to be like real life and that includes death and dying. In a real scenario, it would have been nearly impossible for the family to make it to Ohio unharmed.
Most readers believed the baby would not make it - so having James die was a nice twist that also changed the dynamic of the plot. I felt James death was inevitable and it helped the rest of the family to learn to be strong leaders.
Your descriptions of the locations are very vivid. How did you pull that off?
For many of them, they were places I had visited or lived. For example - the house where James died was the house where I grew up. The condo in the beginning was my condo that I owned in Livermore, CA. Lorain, Ohio was the town where I grew up and felt it would be great to incorporate my hometown. For the rest, I did a ton of research. I read about them, researched them online, studied pictures, and visited some of the places live. The most interesting part to me was the Lake Erie salt mines which really do exist. In order to put myself in that environment, I called friends that worked there and even watched video tours of the place.
You write about some heavy themes—things that many of your readers have probably never experienced—yet it's very easy to identify with your characters. How do you make them so relatable?
As a writer, I have always had to tackle difficult topics. Early in my career I wrote a lot of political columns that were very unpopular with the people of my very liberal hometown of Lorain, OH. After enduring what was called, 'the most difficult adoption in U.S.history' - I published a memoir that tackled some very taboo subjects. So for Parched, it was just second nature to me to include some underlying themes. My hope was that the readers could relate since the Deforio family was like any family that may be next door. The average reader could relate to them because they were all flawed and far from perfect.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on Parched - Part 2 (the first chapter is on my webpage) and a new science fiction book. I have also been asked by many to write a follow-up to my memoir, Anything for Amelia. I am considering that as a project as well. The problem is that I find I have less time to write as I am the father of a 2 year old.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
One area that I always like to call out is that most of the profits from my book, Anything for Amelia, are being donated to the foster care system in the United States. My hope is that people can learn from our experience while also helping thousands of kids in need. I hope you will have the opportunity to read our story. It is a story written from my heart.