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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Interview with Brandt Dodson

Today we welcome author Brandt Dodson. He’ll talk about his Colton Parker series, his new book The Lost Sheep, and other writing projects.

1. What was your initial reaction to finding out you sold your first book?

I was attending the Write To Publish Conference at Wheaton college and was walking across the campus at nine o’clock in the evening when my wife phoned. She said that I had an email from Harvest House and asked if I wanted to know what it said. Without hesitation I said ‘yes’. It had been a year (almost to the day) since my editor had asked for the manuscript and I wanted to know. I wanted the pressure off. Well, she read the message which said that HH was offering a 3 book contract. Now as I said, it was nine p.m. and there was no one to tell. So I got in my car and drove around Wheaton for an hour or so, and finally ended up at a McDonald’s where I bought a Happy Meal and ate in my car. I still have the toy.

2. Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your stories (Colton Parker series) and about the story of The Lost Sheep.

I am a big fan of crime fiction and large-scale thrillers. In the former, I am particularly fond of Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Mickey Spillane, Ross MacDonald and Robert B. Parker. When I add this to my extensive family history in law enforcement, the PI novel seemed like a logical choice for me.

When I created Colton, I knew I would need a name that would convey someone who is dangerous yet sympathetic. I also wanted the name to roll off the tongue. In the seventies and early eighties, there were a couple of TV shows which featured characters like this, and which used the names of guns to convey their dangerous side. Thomas Magnum and Tony Beretta are the two characters. So, I opted for “Colt” and “Parker” because it rolled off the tongue and because Robert Parker had recently been name a “Grand Master” by the Mystery Writer’s of America.

The plot for Original Sin came about as the result of a story I saw on the WGN Chicago news. An elderly woman who had no apparent enemies had been brutally murdered and no one could come up with a reason why anyone would do such a thing. But being a writer, I began to ask, “but what if she wasn’t so innocent. What if she was involved in some very dark stuff”? So Original Sin was born and the other novels have flowed off of that first one.

3. Do you relate to your main character, Colton Parker, and does he influence your life?

Only in some minor ways. I can understand his frustrations over the struggle he has with God, because I came to Christ late in life, too. But beyond that, no. He doesn’t influence me. At least, not as much as I influence him.

4. What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

That God is firmly in control. There is no way that I could have scripted such an unlikely plot as the story of my writing life. I had been writing for over twelve years to no avail. Then, after writing an article on God’s faithfulness, I paused at the mailbox and asked God to either let the “right” editor find this manuscript, or relieve me of the burden of the desire to write. I had it. I couldn’t go on. Well, to make a long story short, the manuscript was accepted for publication in six days.

When I went to the Write To Publish conference, I went to meet with a specific editor with a publisher that I thought would be more open to my book than Harvest House. However, I signed up to meet with an editor at HH “just in case” I was wrong. The editor from the first house didn’t show and the editor from Harvest House had to cancel but was replaced by Nick Harrison. Nick liked the book and the contract came out of that.

So God has opened doors – and closed a few – and I’ve reached the point that I now write without fear or anxiety. He put me here, and He’ll see me through to the purpose for which he has called me. Knowing that God has me in the palm of His hand is very liberating.

5. You’re starting a new series to appear in 2008. Tell us a little bit about that.

Harvest House will be releasing “White Soul” my first, non-Colton Parker novel, in March of 2008. It is about an undercover DEA agent who infiltrates the Cuban “mafia.” The idea came about as the result of a news article that told the story of The Corporation, a Cuban-run crime syndicate in Miami, that was running amuck, much like Al Capone had done in Chicago almost eighty years before. The power of this group extended along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. The “don,” (which is a term that applies to Italian bosses, not Cuban bosses) was Jose Battles. His son was second in command and both were convicted on racketeering charges earlier this year.

This novel is a stand-alone, as written, but is also designed to be the first in a series to be written about Cops and the job they do.

Joseph Wambaugh once said that he doesn’t write about “Cops on the job” as much as he writes about “how the job works on cops.” I liked that and wanted to do it from a Christian perspective.

6. Do you have any specific dreams that you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Quite a few. I’d like to do this full-time. I think most writers would like to do that. But I also want to write a novel that will last. One that addresses the human needs that we all feel and that could be read across time and be just as relevant then as it would be now.

I’d like to write a novel that ends in a way that resonates with most of its readers long after the book is finished. I’d like to write a novel that points the lost to Christ and the saved to a deeper commitment.

So, as I said, I have a lot of dreams for my writing. They are what make this exciting. You can never get good enough or hit every target. There is always something to aim toward.

7. Can you share any tips for aspiring writers – wisdom on getting published, especially for someone who is just breaking in?

My best advice to anyone (and which worked for me) is to first read everything you can get your hands on in the specific genre in which you want to write. And read widely.

Second, write all the time. Then submit. Get it critiqued, but take the critique with a grain of salt. If you hear the same criticism over and over, though, listen.

Third, attend a good conference, especially one that is geared for beginning writers. The Write To Publish Conference in Wheaton is an excellent one. You can meet editors, agents, and others just like yourself.

Fourth, and this is perhaps the hardest, develop a thick skin. See this as a business and learn to roll with the punches. The editor/agent who rejects you today, may be your biggest advocate tomorrow.

Fifth, is to network. Reach out to others in your position and work together. I was part of a group that formed at the WTP conference and we still email each other. Of the four of us, two are now published and one is getting very close.

8. Any writer’s resources you’d like to recommend?

Absolutely. In books, I’d recommend: “How To Write Best Selling Fiction” by Dean Koontz (out of print but widely available), “On Writing” by Stephen King, “Writing the Modern Mystery” by Barbara Norville, “Between The Lines” by Jessica Morrell, “How To Write Killer Fiction” by Carolyn Wheat, “You Can Write a Mystery” by Gillian Roberts, and virtually any of the books by Writer’s Digest. I’d also add any book by Donald Maas as well as “Simple and Direct” by Jacques Barzun.

In terms of conferences, the Write To Publish conference is great, but so is the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference (this year it is in September and is being held in Dallas. I have the privilege of teaching).

I’d also recommend subscribing to “Writer’s Digest”. This is the premiere writing magazine, although there are many others that are also good.

9. What process do you use when writing a mystery/suspense novel.

The first thing I do is to be sure that the story is interesting to me. In fact, I need to be excited about it. If I’m not, then my readers won’t be either.

Then I begin with a theme. (Yes, that’s right, A theme.) It helps me to tie all the story elements together. Then I develop the “hook”. The thing that will pull you in. (Remember now, I already have my characters set. If you haven’t done this, go back and do this first)

From the hook, I wing it. I’ve never been an outliner. I’ve tried. God knows that I’ve tried. But I think pulling my toenails off with a pair of rusty pliers would be more fun. No, I prefer to wing it. Just let it go. But … and this is a big but, I also have to do a lot of re-writing. It’s in the re-writing that my true story takes shape. (Tony Hillerman is a wing-it man too, and has said in his autobiography that he has had to learn to live with multiple re-writes.)

I try to make sure that I end each chapter with a hook, and that each chapter has it’s own, inherent conflict and resolution. I also try to let the reader off the hook with my last sentence, just as my first sentence got them on the hook.

I will use magazine photos to guide me in trying to “picture” my characters, and I’m not above suggesting a celebrity in my story to guide the reader in doing the same. But I keep my descriptions to a minimum. After all, if I write about a three-bedroom ranch-style home, that’s all I need to say. Your mind will fill in the details and make the story more “alive” for you , than if I describe every tree and flower n the yard.

10. Tell us about your background?

I grew up in a family of police officers, on both sides of my family, so law enforcement was our family business. My father, uncles, and cousins were all cops, going back as far as the early 1930’s. After High School, I went to work, clerking for the FBI. My intention was to from graduate college and apply for a position as a Special Agent. But somewhere along the line my career goals changed and I became a Podiatrist.

11. What is your system to keep the story and clues organized?

System? What a novel idea. I don’t have a system, so I make up for it with a lot of blood and tooth enamel. (I don’t recommend it). The best way, and one that I’ve only read about, is to decide early on who the bad guy is (or bad woman is) and work backward from their. Several mystery writers I know, keep track of the clues on 3X5 cards, along with their red herrings. That’s probably the best way.

However, you can also walk on the wild side and do it the Dodson way. I tend to be a fast writer. I can often write ten thousand words as a single setting, after dinner, and after a ten hour day in the office. Now some of that writing has to be deleted, but a lot of it is useable. The point I’m trying to make is to write every night. That keeps the story fresh in your mind. As far as the clues go, I wait until the end of the book, when I find out for myself who did it, and then go back and plant the clues needed. But to be fair, as I go along I begin to develop ideas for the guilty party and start planting clues and foreshadows so that I can make my job easier, later. Be sure to learn how to hide clues. This is an art in itself and is one of the things that made Agatha Christie great.

12. Well us about the research you had to do for this story?

Wow, now there’s a whole can of clams. “The Lost Sheep” is set in Las Vegas because I knew where I was going with this novel from the outset of the series. I knew that I would need a place of “sin”, so why not “Sin City”?

I had never been to LV so I visited for three days in February of 2006 with a friend of mine who once lived there. I told him that I needed to see a casino or two, but that most of my stories tend to occur in dark alleys, bars, and under every dirty bridge the town had to offer.

As we slinked around Vegas, we managed to get tossed out of a casino and a hotel because we were “loitering”. In one incident, I drove to the back of the LVPD’s Central Division Headquarters to see how many squad cars they had so that I could get an estimate of their manpower numbers.

I climbed up a ten foot high, chain link fence and was counting the cars when an officer pulled up and wanted to know what I’m doing. I told him that he would never believe me, but he said ‘try me’.

So I climbed down and told him everything. He was very gracious and proceeded to answer every question I had. Unfortunately, I forgot to get his name and hence he remains unknown to my readers.

13. Any closing thoughts?

If you want to write, don’t let anyone tell you ‘no’. If you feel the desire gnawing away at you, you need to know that it won’t go away until you sit down and get it done. Do it. Learn it. And submit it. Write as though it were impossible for you to fail. And then, learn the business. Read, ask questions, and network. Above all, never quit.

Thanks so much, Brandt! Readers, you can visit Brandt’s website at: http://www.brandtdodson.com/ . Don’t forget to visit out contest page to enter a drawing for a copy of The Lost Sheep.


Blogger Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Great Interview.

my thanks to Mr. Dodson and the KMIS team.

12:20 PM  

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