Graham Brown is a former pilot, lawyer, and ditch digger. Graham clearly couldn’t figure out what to do with his life until he began writing. According to Steve Berry, bestselling author of The Paris Vendetta, Graham’s novel Black Rain “sizzles with tension and twists”. His action packed sequel, Black Sun, is out now. Brown shares what he believes makes a good story, what messages he he weaves in his novels and provides and in-depth look into the life of a book. Graham will be attending Killer Nashville 2010 this weekend.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
GB: I wanted to be a pilot. I loved flying and I loved all the technology and the equipment and the sense of adventure that came with it. I think that feeling still bleeds over into everything I do today.
PC: What do you think makes a good story?
GB: Anything that takes you away from the real world. It can be as surreal and Sci-Fi as the Matrix or as down to earth and simple as Huckleberry Finn. And almost always there has to be change, change in the characters is the journey – it’s the story. When I first started this, I was all about plot – I thought story was what happened, but now I realize its a blend of what happens and how it effects the characters. Its more of a background or catalyst for the characters and their personal journeys.
PC: Are your characters real to you?
GB: They get that way. At first you’re creating them but then they take on a life of their own. They even start doing things you don’t want them to do. At this point – with the recurring characters – I don’t have to think when I write them. I just know what they’re going to do in any given situation. On the other hand – I don’t go have drinks with them. At least not yet.
PC: Is there a message in Black Sun, and Black Rain, that you want readers to grasp?
GB: Life is about choices. Some we regret, some were proud of. Some will haunt us forever. Black Rain was very much about choices. The message – we are what we chose to be.
Black Sun is more about belief. It’s one step up the chain. We make our choices based on our beliefs. Is man inherently good or inherently evil? We are obviously capable of both. The characters have to answer this question for themselves, even about themselves. That’s what the story tick because they (my characters) are all very flawed, and they know it.
PC: What drew you to the genre of thriller/suspense/mystery?
GB: It’s a simple answer, but that’s what I like to read.
PC: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
GB: All over the place. Huge influence from Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler. Loved the adventure and technology in their stories. But also other media, music with deep lyrics like those from U2, also TV and movies. I’m a huge fan of Lost. Cannot believe its over.
PC: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
GB: I have to have a kernel of an idea and then I have to know the end. Can’t even start writing till I know the end. I try to avoid formulas. Although one that comes in handy is – when you feel like you are doing something similar to others – do the opposite – turn everything on its head. It’s almost an anti-formula.
PC: What were your feelings when your first novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
GB: I always felt that I would get there – and I don’t even mean in a conscious way. I just started writing one day and didn’t consider that it might not happen. But the day my agent told me we had a done deal was an incredible relief. Whatever else happened after that, I’d crossed a finish line of sorts. Jimmy Conners once said “he hated losing more than he liked winning” – I think I kind of felt like that at that moment. Thank God this wasn’t all for nothing.
PC: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
GB: Writing itself is a dream. There are days of self doubt and deadlines and wondering how you’re going to pay the bills until you write that bestseller. But it’s still the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve also been able to help a lot of people and even inspire a few and that feels great.
As far as the future – I just want each book to be bigger than the last. I’m also doing some screenwriting – it’d be nice to see a story or two on the silver screen.
PC: Can you take us through the steps for one of your books getting published?
GB: Hopefully it all starts with a big contract. >laughs< After that, once you have a relationship with a publishing house, it usually begins with a proposal.
Here’s how it went for Black Sun:
December 2008 – Random House looks over my first 50 pages and a synopsis and my editor asks a few questions and then says – you’re on the right path – get going we need this thing ASAP.
From December 2008 –May 2009 I write several drafts and revisions and then when I think the book is ready (or the deadline starts looming), I send my latest, best version to my editor. She reviews it and I wait. And wait…and then I start bugging them and they remind me that they’ve only had the book for two days. Several months later – in this case November 2009 – they get back to me. (Note: the production work on Black Rain overlapped a lot of this time so we were often doing two things at once.)
November 2009: I have several long discussions with my editors about character, plot, pacing and — since this is a techno-thriller in part – we talk extensively about the science behind the climax of the book. (They wanted to be certain I didn’t just make this stuff up.) We come to some conclusions – one of which requires some extensive re-writing but I’m excited about it because it makes the book much better. (Remember when they said writing was re-writing? I can’t believe it but THEY were actually right.)
From November 2009 – February 2010 I re-write a couple more drafts and then send it back to RH. My editors are thrilled, I’m thrilled, everyone’s thrilled – can I get some more money? Not yet. Bummer – but they do send the manuscript off to copy editing.
April of 2010 – I get proofs – which are basically layouts of how the book is going to look, page by page. I go through them and so does a professional proofreader (Thank God). And they make one more round of revisions and then the book goes into production next to be seen on: August 31st, 2010 when it hits the stores.
PC: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
GB: I talk with a lot of readers through my website. www.authorgrahambrown.com . They log in and contact me through it and I write back. Usually they tell me positive things, which characters they liked the most, what plot twists go them. You also meet them at conferences and signings – and I like to ask them questions, who’s their favorite writer – besides me of course. What did they like about “X” book and why? I try to pick their brains – metaphorically speaking. No readers were injured in this process.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
GB: We all know about living the dream. I tell everyone to “live the delusion”. Stay in the mind set where you just absolutely believe it’s a given that you will succeed and soon. For years I thought success was literally right around the corner – just a few months away. This business is too hard to be realistic about. As Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish novelist, once said: “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” But who would try the absurd unless deluded into believing they will succeed.
As far as tools – the only tools you need are determination and imagination. Look at me, I’m a published writer and I barely even know how to spell.
PC: What cautionary advice do you have for writers?
GB: None – make your mistakes, you’ll learn from them.
PC: What are you reading now?
GB: Milton’s Paradise lost – because it figures into the third book in the Hawker/Laidlaw series that I’m working on now.
PC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
GB: Can’t I take the fifth or something here? I’ll give you one thing. There are times, no matter how many drafts or sets of eyes have gone over a book – when you accidentally use the same word, three or four times in successive sentences. For some reason authors can only recognize that error in the finished version resulting in great anguish and gnashing of teeth.
PC: You’re attending Killer Nashville this year, what do you believe sets it apart from other conferences?
GB: I haven’t been to Killer Nashville before but so far it seems incredibly organized and well thought out. I’m looking forward to it – I guess I’ll let you know what I liked best about it next year.
To learn more about Graham Brown visit: http://www.authorgrahambrown.com/Home_Page.html