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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Interview with Brandt Dodson

1. Before we jump into your newest release, tell us a bit about your Colton Parker series with Harvest.

Most Christians, me included, tend to look for miracles from God. And indeed, we often see those in our lives. But I’m learning more and more to recognize the hand of divine providence as God engineers circumstances in our lives. Such was the case with the Colton Parker series.

I attended the Write To Publish conference and pitched a novel I had titled: “Sins of the Father”, to an editor from Kregel Publishing. He liked it and took it with him to pitch to the publisher’s committee, but they ultimately turned it down. The editor then suggested some revisions, and urged me to rewrite it before trying again with another publisher.

I spent the next year rewriting the book before going back to the same conference again. I had in mind to meet with an editor from Harvest House (to this day I’m not sure why I selected them. At the time, they weren’t publishing anything that was even close to what I was writing) but he ended up canceling. In his place, Harvest House sent Nick Harrison.

Now I pitched the novel to Nick who seemed lukewarm, but agreed to consider it if I sent it to him. Later that evening, Nick was facilitating a critique session that I had not planned to attend, but – and here is the neat part – I felt this overwhelming sense of foreboding. I knew that if I didn’t go to the session, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

I ran across campus, retrieved my manuscript, and ran back to the group. I got there late, but was allowed to read the first chapter. After the session was over, Nick approached and asked me to send the manuscript to him. We had a good talk about mystery fiction on our way back to the dorm, and I discovered that he had read as much mystery and hardboiled fiction as I had. A year later, Harvest House offered a three book contract which they have extended a couple of times since then.

The series is on hold, for the moment, as I take a break and write some stand-alone suspense.

2. Colton is a unique character. Can you give us some insight into how you made him come alive, and what it’s like saying good-bye to him? (Or will there be more Colton Parker releases?)

I worked for the FBI and grew up in a family of police officers. Making Colton come alive was simply a matter of having listened to my father, cousins, uncles, co-workers, etc... There is a strong thread that runs through all police officers and it was simply a matter of pulling on that thread to reach a believable character.

I like Colton. He’s as flawed as I am but seems to be able to learn from his mistakes. I think people can identify with that.

3. Now on to your February release. Tell us some of the background behind the idea for White Soul and about the story itself.

I’ve always been a fan of Mario Puzo and I wanted to do something that dealt with a large criminal syndicate. Something so big and so powerful that the law was incapable of stopping them.

During my research, I came across a group known as The Corporation. This group was located in Miami and was largely comprised of Cuban-Americans. During its peak, it had grown to an estimated 10,000 members as it exported murder-for-hire along the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S., extending as far north as New York. It hired its services out, and was linking up with the Italian groups (mafia) as it sought to extend its power and reach. The group was run by a father and son, but was recently busted in a combined federal-state sting.

I’m a fan of Joseph Wambaugh. He was the first writer to take “procedural” out of “police procedural” and simply write stories about how the job works on cops rather than how cops work on the job. I wanted to take the same approach so after I finished my research, I began playing the what-if game.

What if the group fragmented, but like the Soviet Union, began to reform in a multitude of smaller, but no less deadly groups? And what if an undercover DEA agent was able to penetrate one of these groups? And what if he was a Christian? Could he hold the line and not fall into the lifestyle as so many undercover cops do?

The book is about temptation and the power it can have over every one of us. It’s about how a lone cop struggles with the temptation that surrounds him. This temptation is challenging for any undercover officer, but being a Christian, I think, raises the stakes.

4. I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. In your latest book, is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

Absolutely. Ron Ortega, the protagonist in White Soul, is a Cuban-American undercover DEA agent who is also a believer. But he hasn’t grown in his faith, so when temptation comes subtly knocking – as it often does – he is ill-equipped to handle it.

I can identify. Like Ron, I can also yield to temptation if I don’t have my guard up, and if I’m not working to build my relationship with Jesus. As I wrote the story, I began to relive moments in my own life when I’ve fallen, or gotten ahead of God on some matter or other.
Writing White Soul, I’ve learned how to avoid this trap. It’s no secret. Stay connected to the vine.

5. I read in one of your interviews that you don’t write from an outline. As an author who can’t move on to to another chapter (or write a book for that matter) without knowing exactly where I’m going, I’d love some insight into the process, especially in the suspense/mystery genre.

I tried for years to outline in advance and I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons I quit writing so often.

Tony Hillerman, a great mystery writer, has said in his autobiography that he experienced much of the same thing and so began to write without outlining.

I often begin with a premise, then think it through before I begin to put pen to paper. During the process, I MUST get the first chapter right before I can move forward. After getting the beginning where I want it, I can generally move forward as I discover the novel – much like the reader. I love the writing process now since I have no idea what’s going to happen until I write (read) it. It keeps the process organic for me and maintains my enthusiasm during the dreaded middle part of the book. Of course, writing without an outline also means doing a lot of re-writing, and that often means a willingness to kill your darlings. In my writing career, I’ve slaughtered some really good stuff because it didn’t support the story. And, as Stephen King said in “On Writing,” the story is everything.

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

On a spiritual level, I’ve learned that God is totally in control. There was little chance that I would succeed in publishing with Harvest House. First of all, they are a great publisher who has their pick of writers, and generally don’t take many first-time authors. Second, they didn’t publish what I was writing. I was a bit of a “first” for them. And third, I didn’t have an agent. The odds were stacked against me.

But God lead me to Kregel, who turned me down, but who also helped me to improve the manuscript. I am convinced that Nick would not have been successful in his approach to the Harvest House committee if I hadn’t first met with the editor from Kregel. Although Kregel rejected the work, God had a plan and turned a negative into a positive. Read Romans 8:28.
Another thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to have fun with this. If there isn’t something about the writing process that makes your heart sing, then you should probably be doing something else.

It may come down to rewriting, self-editing, or generating story ideas, but regardless, there ought to be something that drives you to write whether you get published or not.

7. Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

I have several Colton Parker novels in my head. I like political thrillers, and suspense. I even have a historical novel that is burning a hole in my heart. I’m blessed. I’m getting an opportunity to write all of those.

I’m an eclectic reader; therefore I tend to be an eclectic writer. Unfortunately there is a trend (as understandable as it is) to “brand” writers. Actors have faced type-casting for years, but the fact is, I can write a lot of different novels in different styles and genres. Who would have guessed that I have a “gothic” romance in me?

8. Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

I love writing and I know that there are many talented writers who are reading this interview who are struggling to break through. I understand their frustration. So the first thing I would say to them is to persist.

It took me twelve years to get that first acceptance letter, and it was for an essay that was published in The Christian Standard. But that acceptance meant the world to me and it made the years of rejection seem like a distant nightmare.

Second, I would say READ. Read everything in your genre, and even outside your genre. Read widely and read deeply. For example, if you want to write mysteries, read them. But read a lot of them. Robert B. Parker and Agatha Christie are mystery writers, but they are as different as guns and butter. Read both of them. You can learn technique from everyone.

Read romances, read westerns, and read suspense regardless of what you want to write. By reading, you learn technique, and by learning technique, your writing will look effortless and your readers will one day say; “Well, this doesn’t look too hard. I can do this.”

A good musician, magician, or acrobat can make the things they do look easy. But don’t be fooled. Palming a card, playing a cello, or doing a back-flip is far more difficult than it looks. These performers have reached their peak because they know their craft. That should be your goal also.

But learning your craft by reading the work of others is only half of the equation. If the equation is to balance, you must also write. And you must have it critiqued by knowledgeable people who won’t spare your feelings.

Take classes at a community college, join a writer’s group, or if one doesn’t exist, start one. I work on craft nearly everyday. I read the writing of others and I read the Writer’s Digest books. I even read grammar books (I’m currently reading “Painless Grammar” by Rebecca Elliot, Ph.D.) The bottom line is, it is impossible to be good enough. That’s one of the things I love most about writing; the never ending opportunity to reach a new height.

Lastly, attend a writer’s conference. Even if you haven’t written a thing, go and learn. Make friends and build networks. Not only do you gain a partner who understands the difficult process of getting published - and staying published - but you will have gained a friend along the way. And after all, who has too many friends?

Thanks for the interview Brandt!

Visit him at: http://www.brandtdodson.com/

Don't forget to post a comment on the contest page.


Blogger Ed J. Horton said...

I AM going to get a hold of one of Brandt's books and read it. This interview, along with another of his I read recently, was encouraging. It's particularly good to hear another male writer talking about their experiences with rejection, being persistent, letting God lead, and building their relationship with Jesus.

I'm a struggling writer and have no intention of giving up. The Holy Spirit uses the words of others to encourage and remind me that the roller coaster ride is intended to be fun...even when my eyes are squeezed shut and my tongue is flapping in the wind!


11:49 AM  
Blogger Cara Putman said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Colton Parker series and can't wait to get ahold of this new one. I love the concept! And the spiritual arc is huge!

10:38 PM  

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