Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Interview with author Joe Bright
I'm very pleased to introduce friend and fellow author, Joe Bright to our Murder By 4 readers and to have the opportunity to announce the April 18, 2009, release of his latest novel, THE BLACK GARDEN by BeWrite Books. This has been a much anticipated read so imagine how thrilled I was to received word this past weekend of the release.
Joe will be visiting Murder By 4 again in the next few weeks, but for now, let's meet, Joe Bright.
Joe, it’s a pleasure to have you as a guest today on Murder By 4. I know how excited you are to share the news about THE BLACK GARDEN with our readers so let's start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
My life has always revolved around the arts. When I was young, I used to draw constantly. I went to college on a fine arts scholarship and spent a few years on a dance team touring Canada and Europe. I also won a music showdown, playing the guitar and singing songs I’d written. Yet my biggest passion has always been writing. I wrote short stories while in high school and college, but never embarked on the daunting task of writing a novel until I’d graduated and moved to Hawaii.
I’ve been writing for fifteen years now and have written five novels. THE BLACK GARDEN is the first one to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Three of the others were published on audio cassette, but have since been discontinued. I also self-published two of them on my own, but have now discontinued those as well, since I’m rewriting them and plan to submit them to publishers once they’re finished.
Most of my stories fall within the gothic suspense category. THE BLACK GARDEN, however, is more of a drama/mystery. With its rural setting and dark theme, it still fits in the American Gothic genre, but without the supernatural elements that are often associated with the genre.
Why this book? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?
One of the inspirations for THE BLACK GARDEN was a murder that took place in my hometown in Wyoming, when I was nineteen. I learned the details of the murder from my older brother’s best friend. He said the girl had been raped and strangled. She was eight-years-old.
A murder makes a large impact on a small town, mainly because it rarely happens there and because it tends to affect almost everyone. We know the victim. We know the killer. We know their families. When you come from a family of eight children, as I do, it increases the chances of there being a connection. In this case, the killer turned out to be my older brother’s best friend, the same one who had told us about the murder.
With the first suspect, I was willing to see the man hanged, even without seeing any of the evidence. When it turned out to be a friend of the family, I felt sick. I felt sorry for his family and for my brother. If he hadn’t confessed, I would have sworn they had the wrong guy. Why? Because I knew him and we often choose sides based on association rather than on the facts of the situation.
This murder is a very small part of THE BLACK GARDEN; however, the theme of judgment runs throughout the story. Who’s right, the Hatfields or McCoys? Depends if you’re a Hatfield or a McCoy. I hope the novel gives readers a different perspective on events, and entertains them at the same time.
Tell us a bit about your protagonist, Mitchell Sanders.
Mitchell is the outsider. He moves to the small town of Winter Haven for a summer job. He doesn’t care about his employers or the community. He’s a coward who has run away from his problems in Boston and then finds himself entrenched in even bigger problems. He’s not comfortable speaking his mind while in the company of people he knows will disagree with him. Yet as the conflict mounts, he’s forced to take a stand and to grow as a person.
The excerpt you have on your website, http://www.joebrightbooks.com/pages/excerpt_black_garden.html, certainly drew me in. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, etc.
Mitchell Sanders takes a summer job in Winter Haven, helping the O’Briens fix up their house. He moves into the studio at the back of the black garden, a bizarre assortment of items now overrun with weeds. Soon, Mitchell realizes there is something very peculiar about his employers and discovers that not all of their skeletons are in the closet where they belong.
The story revolves around three characters: Mitchell, George, and Candice. Mitchell Sanders, the main protagonist, starts out naïve and detached but gradually grows more and more intrigued by his quirky employers, mainly George. All of us know someone like George O’Brien, a crotchety old man who has nothing good to say about anything. Yet, within his orneriness, you can’t help but be entertained by him and ultimately care about him. George’s granddaughter, Candice has led a sheltered life. Mitchell’s arrival provides her first real glimpse into the outer world. I chose Vermont for the setting mainly because when I visited there I was taken by its beauty and felt it would make a great backdrop for the story. The town of Winter Haven is fictitious; however, I drew a lot on my hometown of Evanston, Wyoming, when describing the layout.
How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?
Since THE BLACK GARDEN takes place in 1958, I had to do a lot of research about the era to make the setting authentic. I wanted to make sure the dialog didn’t contain slang or technical terms that didn’t exist at the time. I also needed to know how the police investigated a crime prior to the advent of DNA testing. Fortunately, one of my older brothers works in law enforcement, and I was able to pick his brain on procedures and protocol.
What do you find the most difficult part of writing and what do you do to overcome it?
The hardest part about writing is the blank page. I often say that writing is a lot like creating a sculpture out of clay. In the first draft, you are creating the clay. That’s the hard part. Molding it is the fun part. To help me through this process, I first write an outline, plotting out the story. Through this, I come up with my characters, establishing their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Once I know my characters, it’s much easier to know how they will react in a given situation. Often I’ll just write anything that comes to mind, just to get the writing going and to fill up that daunting blank page. I also tend to keep other novels around so I can pick one up and read a little to get me in the right frame of mind.
I know you work full time. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?
I’m a graphic designer during the day and a writer in the evenings. Thus, I’m at the computer all day long. The tragic part of that is that I have very little social life. I can be quite obsessive and have to force myself to take a break and go do something fun. In other words, I’m still trying to find that balance.
What impact would you say completing THE BLACK GARDEN has had on you personally and on your writing?
It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a novel. I also write songs, and I remember how proud I was when I wrote my first song, which took a few days. A novel, on the other hand, takes months or years. Thus, the feeling of pride is that much greater. The most rewarding part of it is having other people read and enjoy it. It’s a nice boost of confidence and encourages me to continue fine tuning my writing skills and to work on the next novel.
Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and ultimately supporting your attempt to get THE BLACK GARDEN published?
My parents and brothers and sisters have always encouraged me. It’s nice to have someone believe in you, even when you’re having trouble getting agents and publishers to read your work. I’m very fortunate to have such a supporting family.
With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?
The first novel I ever wrote, I took the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. That is, I just delved in without really knowing where the story would take me. Many writers work that way and do a splendid job with it. Not me. I ended up doing a lot of editing that I could have avoided if I’d have thought things out better. Now I always outline. First, I write a brief synopsis of the story. Second, I figure out who my characters are. This often takes a month or more, because I really need to know who these people are so I can work with them. Third, I write an outline. My outlines include most of the dialogue and brief sketches of the action. Thus, they tend to be around a hundred pages long. Fourth, I start writing the novel. The novel never follows the outline completely, since I discover new things while writing and often encounter flaws that I’d overlooked before.
What are you working on now? What's next?
I’m doing a rewrite of my first novel, The Reflection. It’s a gothic suspense about a man who inherits an estate in England from someone he doesn’t know, and then discovers that he looks like the man who killed his benefactor. This is one of the novels that I self-published earlier. I’ve learned a lot since then and feel this new version is vastly superior to the last. I still have a few more months’ worth of work to go on it.
Any words of wisdom and advice to fledgling writers?
Never stop learning. There’s always more to learn about the art of writing that can help you perfect your novel. Besides reading novels and analyzing the authors’ techniques, it’s good to read books about writing, even if just to refresh your memory. I highly recommend Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. If I’d read these books years ago, I probably would have gotten published sooner.
About the author:
Joe Bright was raised in Wyoming and received his BA in English from Utah State University. Bright began his career as a technical writer for Thiokol, the manufacturer of space shuttle rocket boosters. He later taught English in Honolulu, Hawaii and Berkeley, California. He currently lives in Studio City , California , and works as a graphic designer.