Monday, October 3, 2011

Interview with author Stephen L. Brayton

© Stephen L. Brayton 2011 all rights reserved

Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.
I spent most of my youth in the Quad Cities and in a southeast Iowa dot-on-the-map town. I’m not averse to the big metropolises but I prefer a small town atmosphere. Better school, longer lasting friendships.

Currently, I live in Oskaloosa, Iowa, another small town. I’ve an established taekwondo club where I’ve instructed for over eight years. I began training in martial arts in 1990 and earned my Fifth Degree Black Belt back in ’07.

I started writing as a youth and completed a novel length story while working for a radio station in Illinois. When I moved back to Iowa, and after starting martial arts, I wrote a 40,000 word story featuring Mallory Petersen, a private investigator, who also owned a taekwondo club in Des Moines. Later, the idea for Beta came to me and I dropped the original story in favor of this more exciting one. Plus, I was improving my craft, in part, by reading short stories to critique groups. While polishing up Beta I completed Night Shadows, a supernatural mystery also set in Des Moines. Both stories were accepted by Echelon Press in ’09. Night Shadows was published in February of this year with Beta released the first of October.

Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?
It may sound clich√©, but I don’t care. My parents. I’d written a few short stories years ago and I’ll always remember Dad saying he and mom thought I should do something with writing. For many years, he’s talked about looking forward to my being famous for my books.

I also have to give a salute to Katherine Hinkson, a writer friend I met in my first critique group. We’ve supported and encouraged and pushed each other over the years to get something completed and submitted.

Please describe the greatest difficulty you have faced in your writing career, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.
I think I’ve answered ‘getting published’ to this question at other times, and that is certainly true. I think however, I need to also bring up a challenge all writers face and that is ‘finding time to write.’ I’ve found myself very busy with taekwondo and book reviews and family activities. When I get a free moment, I think about writing, but part of me just wants to relax and do nothing. Go fishing, go explore the countryside, and do nothing. My regular overnight job is usually quiet, so I find time to write at work.

What prompted you to write Beta and what do you hope your readers will get from of it?
I had written a first Petersen mystery, I entitled Alpha. After reading a couple chapters, I knew I had some work to do on it. So, for awhile, I wrote short stories to present to the critique group while I learned from my mistakes.

I wish I had some awesomely cool anecdote to relate about the origins of Beta, but I don’t. However, I managed to insert the phrase ‘awesomely cool’ into an interview and I think that should count for something. What, I don’t know.

Actually, I have no idea what sparked the plot for Beta. Maybe I had an idea while writing the first story, already thinking series. Since I already had a character profile, some supporting characters, and the setting, things fell into place rather quickly.

I’m not sure what readers will get from this “I have no idea” answer, but sometimes you have to develop a character and make some mistakes in your writing before something clicks. If you have a strong enough character, he/she will survive the learning process.

Who or what influenced you in the development of this character?
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to say Mallory Petersen is me…well, except for being female and a private investigator. However, she shares my likes and dislikes, possesses a witty sense of humor, and is what I aspire to be as a taekwondo student and instructor.

Many moons ago, the detective was named Sam P. Peterson who lived, as I did, in the Quad Cities. Sam showed up in a failed comic book venture, becoming a superhero. When I moved to Oskaloosa and started martial arts, I briefly considered resurrecting Sam, but thought it would be better to have a female investigator who could kick butt. Plus, there are many women in my organization I really wouldn’t want mad at me, so this story is partially a salute to them.

Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, and the setting, of this novel.
Mallory Petersen is a Fourth Degree Black Belt and private investigator When not instructing her martial arts students she finds herself taking on cases and clients coming from the nuttier side of life. However, when she is hired to find kidnapped eight year old Cindy McGee, Mallory uncovers participants in the dark underworld of child pornography. She follows a trail leading her around the capital city of Des Moines, to south central Iowa, and onto the Quad Cities. With a handsome detective as her temporary partner, they continue the search. Mallory puts her emotions, her morals, and her life on the line her quest to save an innocent. The serious nature of the subject matter is tempered by humorous scenes showing off Mallory’s various talents and skills.

What impact would you say completing Beta has had on you personally and on your writing?
I knew I had written something worthy of publication. I just needed to convince a publisher it was good enough for them to take a chance on me. Even though I’ve read the story scores of times, I can still go back to certain parts, and feel the emotion of the scenes whether heartrending or humorous. If writers can do that with their own work, they’ve created something special. I seek those moments in all my projects.

Please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the novel chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?
Last year at a conference in Nashville, I had the pleasure of listening to Jeffrey Deaver speak about his writing process. The first thing he said was it was HIS process. He didn’t want to be the authority on how to write; he just discussed what worked for him. So, I’d like to point out to writers, this is what works for me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t improve it.

An idea comes to mind. I’ll mull it over for awhile, then write it down so I don’t forget it and can come back to later. If the idea won’t leave me alone, I’ll contemplate a possible plot, scribble some scenes, maybe a few characters I could include. If I think it’s viable, I’ll start with a rough outline, noting problem areas, places for research, and adding in more characters.

I may have to do some research before I start with the first sentence, but usually, I can begin right away. As I said, I do outline, but I’m not bound by it, because invariably, I’ll encounter various problems, see the story heading in another direction, or having to add or delete certain scenes. Once the first draft is completed, I’ll go back and start fixing problem areas, smoothing out narration and dialogue, and fill in gaps I’ve left where I needed to do some research. After the second draft, I start the process over again. Then again, and again…you get the point, right?

How much and/or what kind of research do you do prior to writing?
Normally, my outline will tell me where I need the research, usually in the form of visiting the locations I’ll use in the scenes. I want to look at the areas to get a feel for them, to have proper descriptions. Since Beta and Night Shadows are set in Des Moines, I spent hours driving to different businesses and locales. Of course, in the years since I wrote Beta, the landscape of downtown has changed dramatically, so some of the places I used in the story no longer exist. However, I couldn’t keep changing things every time some new construction project got underway.

I don’t like to create buildings and the like out of thin air. I’d much rather take an actual place, then change it to fit the scene. For instance, I use several real places in Beta, but I changed the names of the businesses because I didn’t want to imply the actual places had any involvement in the crimes I describe. Basically, I changed the names to protect not just the innocent, but me, too.

What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?
I’ve advised other writers that if you are serious about writing and are serious about wanting to be published, you will find time to write. You will make time to write. You have to. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time. I’ve seen so many writers start a project and never get past chapter one. “Life gets in the way” is a valid excuse at times, but if you want to write, then it has to be a part of your life.

How do you balance your time to make time for writing?
Again, I have plenty of time at work to write so it’s a matter of just booting up the laptop or grabbing a pen and notepad and continue with whatever project I have in front of me. I have to plan for it. If I don’t write for a few days, I start feeling the urge, sort of like a withdrawal symptom. The urge tells me I need to get back to the story.

What are you working on now?
I resurrected Alpha, took the basic plot, added a sub-plot, a few more characters and scenes, and rewrote it from chapter one. I’m also working on completing the sequel to Night Shadows as well as a new private investigator mystery. In this one, tentatively entitled New Year Gone, I give a nod to the writing style of the Lew Archer mysteries. 

Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?
At the conference in Nashville, I attended a seminar where the panel discussed the future of publishing. It’s a fine seminar, and I hate to say it, but I could summarize the hour’s worth of talk in five words. After all the back and forth on what agents and publishers want, the future of eBooks, how physical books sales might be affected, and the rest of it, basically they were saying to every writer – “Do your best. Good luck.”

I can only add, “Have fun.” It if isn’t fun, don’t do it. If writing becomes just too frustrating and nonsensical and gives you headaches, then maybe you really shouldn’t write. You can’t force the words.

Have fun. Join critique groups, go to conferences, make contacts. During my years as a writer, I’ve met some wonderful people. I’ve picked up anecdotes to put into future stories. I’ve traveled to some great places and seen some, well, awesomely cool stuff. My research has taken me to places I never knew existed and shown me a few surprises. A different world exists for writers, so go discover it.

About the author
Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa , Iowa . He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association. He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper. During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, he wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. He has also written a paranormal mystery, entitled Night Shadows, sequels to Nights Shadows and Beta are in rewrite/revision stages.


paula said...

Great interview, Stephen. I agree. The best advice is to write the best book we can. Congratulations, on your book.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I agree, Stephen; the most important thing is to have fun with your writing, to enjoy it.
They say that, in life, you need three things in order to be happy: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.
For me, when I'm working on a novel, the alarm clock never goes off too early in the morning!

Sunny Frazier said...

I like your down-to-earth approach to publishing and a realistic writing career. It mirrors my own. I felt lucky to meet you at Killer Nashville, almost as big a thrill as meeting Jeffrey Deaver. Like you, I've met too many writers who start one chapter and throw in the towel. Everyone can write; not everyone is cut out to be a writer. You made the cut.

Marja said...

Good interview, and I can definitely relate to sometimes having trouble finding writing time. It seems like there aren't enough hours in the day.

I enjoyed getting to know more about you, too. And I like the credit you gave your parents.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Stephen. Thanks for being here today on MB4. I related to many of your observations - the ache to write if I'd gone too long without it, getting emotional over stuff I wrote (and sometimes forgot about!), and the fact that your folks were very influential re. your writing career. This was most enjoyable, and I'll check out your books!

Marta Stephens said...

I always enjoy reading about the various paths that authors take on their way to publication. All the best, Stephen and best wishes for success with Beta!

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. I do wish I had a book for everyone to check out, but it's been delayed and I haven't received word when it'll be released. Please keep checking Amazon, Omnilit or my my website for updates.