Back in September 2011, I interviewed author Stephen Brayton for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and thirty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today's is with multi-genre author Stephen Brayton. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found at here.
Morgen: Hello, Stephen. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Stephen: I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes ... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.
What? Oh, sorry, my mind wanders a bit now and then.
Morgen: Hee hee… I can tell we’re going to get on. :)
Stephen: Actually, this opening to the old Whistler radio program is not a bad description of writers. It fits us all in one fashion or another. The shadows people have stepped into need not necessarily be bad (unless you’re reading my first book Night Shadows), but can be any area of life with which we become familiar. The nameless terrors can be the secrets we, as writers, use to create plots. Write what you know, or do research to learn about what interests you. For me, I instruct martial arts so my heroine in Beta is also a martial artist who uses her skills during her cases. I started writing as a child but during the free hours at an Illinois radio station where I worked right out of college, I became serious about completing a story and thinking about the possibility of one day being published.
Morgen: A martial arts instructor… I’d better be nice to you. :) What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Stephen: I’ve written action mysteries and horror / paranormal. Currently, I’m working on a thriller. I’ve thought about erotic science fiction, but then I’d have to research alien physiognomy and that seemed like too much work. Beside, do you really want to read about a starship captain making out with some strange looking alien? Oh, but if you’re James Kirk it’s all right, is that what you’re saying?
Morgen: It did sound familiar. :) What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Stephen: Do my name and picture on FBI wanted posters count as being published? Uh…let’s not get into details on this one, okay? Seriously, Night Shadows was released back in February and Beta is due out on October 1. I also have four short stories contracted but haven’t been given a release date. The book shelves are virtual. Night Shadows can be read on your Kindle or Nook or you can download it to your computer.
Morgen: Oh yay, that’s the route I’m going. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Stephen: I’ve won many taekwondo tournaments. I remember this one in Chicago where I accidentally punched this guy in the face…
Morgen: Er… I guess something not to put on your CV. :)
Stephen: Oh, you mean writing contests? I’ve entered several over the years. I’m still waiting to hear if I’ve won.
Morgen: I hate to be the bearer of bad news but…
Stephen: As for helping in a writer’s success, I think if you take the time to write something, polish it up, submit it for consideration, you’ve helped yourself. Whether you take home a tangible prize is another matter, but you’ve learned something and you’ve continued to practice your craft. So maybe in the long run you gain.
Morgen: And if you don’t win or get placed, you still have the story to send elsewhere. :) What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Stephen: After I read the email from the senior editor saying Echelon Press would like to publish my books, I was stunned. I had read three rejections in the previous three weeks and when I saw the email, I figured it was the fourth. I read it three times before it sank in they wanted to publish me. I called Dad to tell him even before I answered the email.
Morgen: Yay! :) Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Stephen: Do you remember the scene in The Godfather where the guy wakes up next to a horse’s head? Keep that in mind the next time anybody thinks about sending me a rejection. Oh, of course I’ve received rejections. Emails, cards, and form letters. I once received a rejection email thirty minutes after I sent the query letter. I print the emails and bundle them up with those I get through the mail and I keep them to remind me where I’ve been. The pile helps me persevere.
Morgen: Absolutely. It must feel more rewarding than having an easy ride. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Stephen: I’m trying to get my cat to roll over and play dead, but since he lies around most of the day anyway, it’s hard to tell if he’s actually doing the trick or just being lazy.
Morgen: You could write a book on that… 101 uses for a dead… oh no, it’s been done already. Bond, Simon Bond. :)
Stephen: What? Oh, you mean writing projects.
Morgen: Ah yes, if it’s not too much trouble, it is kind of what the good folks have come here for. :)
Stephen: Well, the sequel to Beta is completed and I’m in the middle of a thriller. I have a few more ideas for the characters in Night Shadows, but I’m having difficulty with the second book. I’ve also written down starter outlines for a few other ideas.
Morgen: You say you’re having difficulty… what’s your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Stephen: Sure I get writer’s block. I then proceed to the nearest bar, drink eight shots of the cheapest whiskey and pick a fight with the two toughest looking dudes in the place. Clears up the problem right quick. When I wake up, the writer’s block has magically disappeared… along with a couple teeth and… I didn’t know my leg bent that way. Actually, I think writer’s block shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing. For me, it tells me I need to think about the scene or chapter a bit more, let the ideas sift through my mind, coalesce into something good. Sometimes it lasts a few minutes or a few days. However, when I get back to writing, then the product is a lot better than it would have been it I’d have forced it.
Morgen: It does usually work that way. The bar scene by the way… ever written it down? :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Stephen: For me, not plotting stories is like spelunking a complex cave system with no map and only ten matches. I can’t do it. I have to have some idea where I’m going. However, I’m not bound by the outline. It changes as I write the story because as I’m moving along, the circumstances will bring up problems or challenges to work around so the outline may alter.
Morgen: Most authors say that it’s a bit of both; I guess that’s how our brains work (or something like that). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Stephen: I’ve discussed this with friends many times. From where do you get your characters? Look around you every day. There are characters walking the streets, sitting in your office, riding the elevator, or eating in your favourite restaurant.
Morgen: (in a bar) :)
Stephen: I work nights in a motel so can you imagine the types of people I see come through the door on occasion? During my research on Beta, I met all sorts of people, some by accident, or while walking along the sidewalk, and every single one of them, in one form or another, went into the story. I base all my characters on some actual person, or a combination of people.
Morgen: A combination of a person, now that I’d like to read. :) What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Stephen: First, I eat a steak and lobster dinner with a nice wine. Then an hour’s massage, followed by a bedtime story… well, that only happens on the weekends. Actually, I’ll tell you the truth about what happens before I write. I get this mental itch or urge that is very difficult to resist. It distracts me from anything else I’m doing. If you’re not a writer, you’re thinking, “This guy is losing his mind.” And you’d be right. It’s the unshakeable desire to fire up the laptop or grab a pen. A few nights ago I couldn’t get this idea out of my head so I went and did a little research to temporarily quell the itch.
Morgen: To accompany the steak and lobster dinner with nice wine, before the massage… or perhaps during, what sort of music do you listen to… when you write?
Stephen: Usually, NPR plays classical music late at night with a guy who sounds like he’s three blinks away from falling asleep. It’s good background noise but nothing too distracting.
Morgen: NPR does good podcasts too. :)
Stephen: I’ve tried Top 40 a few times but give me Bach or Beethoven or Rachmaninoff. I can’t tell the difference between their songs. They all sound the same to me anyway. (Yes, I know I’ve just offended the classical fans. Sorry.)
Morgen: I’m a classics fan but there aren’t many I can spot straight away. My mum’s a listener for longer than I’ve been alive and she can’t… I think it’s just like that… like wine drinker – can you really tell the label by smelling it? Ah, “nice wine”, maybe you can. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Stephen: I’ve never tried second person which I think would be difficult. I’d like to try fourth person, which to my best guess would be one of my multiple personalities taking over the writing. Actually, most of my projects are done in first person. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision about it, but just went with what seemed appropriate at the time.
Morgen: Fourth? Wow. You have me there. Second person is great… my favourite actually. It’s very direct to the reader so not for all tastes. Maybe take a look at my sentence starts page and try continuing one of the 2ppovs. :) Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Stephen: Yes, I do use them, although I try to buy the cheaper prescriptions from Canada. No, wait, that’s the medication I take for, uh… never mind.
Morgen: Ouch that sounds painful. :)
Stephen: I’ve always thought prologues shouldn’t be an alternate first chapter. A prologue shows us something that has happened or may happen later and should keep the reader interested enough to want to know more about what’s going on. Then later, the story ties into that prologue. Too many epilogues are just alternate final chapters, but they should connect to the plot, not just be the guy riding off into the sunset ending. An example would be a monster bug story where the epilogue shows a lone egg getting ready to hatch another bug.
Morgen: Which leads nicely into the sequel. :) In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Stephen: I’m based on this deserted island and the problem I have is the Professor can never find enough coconuts to build a powerful enough transceiver so I can talk to people. And the native chimps don’t quite comprehend the whole Kindle idea.
Morgen: I could so go to a deserted island… as long as I had broadband or an endless supply or pen / paper. I listen to Desert Island Discs and would love to be a subject one day… when I’m famous (old) enough. :) Ooh, sorry nodded off there for a minute… no reflection on this interview, just…
Stephen: No, I’m in the heartland of Iowa so I have to use a lot of Internet social networking and visit writers’ conferences. Des Moines is the closest metro area if you count metro as being where the traffic report commercials last longer than the actual traffic report.
Morgen: I walk to work so I tend not to pay much attention but we have too many incident, accidents, roadworks etc. I’ve heard of Des Moines, sounds nice. :) Where can we find out about you and your work?
Stephen: Ask the local judge and prosecutor; they have reams of stuff about me… wait, don’t do that, they’ll tell you skewed versions of what really happened.
Morgen: Your secret is safe with me.
Stephen: My website is http://www.stephenbrayton.com. Here you can find out about my books and the buy links. My writing blog is http://stephenbrayton.wordpress.com where I also post author interviews along with my cockeyed views on writing. If you’d like a book reviewed, my review blog is http://braytonsbookbuzz.blogspot.com. If you’re really nice to me I might be your friend on Facebook and Twitter.
Morgen: Ooh great, I know a couple of my interviewees would like their books reviewing (175. Gregory Allen and 194. Sarah Baethge)… and I’m sure there would be more. :) What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Stephen: Depression, despair, failed marriages, rotten kids, liver disease, heart palpitations, and finally a long, slow agonizing death due to endless blog, radio, and television interview questions.
Morgen: Rosy then. :)
Stephen: (Just joking here. I actually love answering questions.)
Morgen: Hoorah, I inflicted loads on you. :)
Stephen: Seriously, the eBook explosion and writing websites present more opportunities and more challenges. One of the biggest challenges for serious writers is nowadays any hack can splatter a bunch of words on a page, upload it onto the Internet and sell it for whatever a sucker will pay. New authors have to fight hard for their work to be recognized as quality, especially if they’re selling online. It’s like dating sites. The profile may have you thinking you’re going to meet Miss October but the reality could be you’re about to date Miss Troglodyte.
Morgen: Another story in the making… Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Stephen: Haven’t you learned enough already? Would you be interested in my shoe size? Boxers or briefs? Favourite sleeping position? I mean, aren’t you getting a little personal with these questions?
Morgen: There’s always the inside leg measurement. :)
Stephen: What? Oh, sorry, lost my focus for just a second. I really want to thank you for having on your show, I mean blog, and I hope your audience will take the time to check out my books (surely they can scrape up three dollars), and let me know what you think of them. (Be nice, my feelings get hurt easily.)
Morgen: Given the earlier Taekwondo reference I think they know better. :) You’re very welcome, by the way.
Stephen L. Brayton is a Fifth Degree Black Belt certified instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. He’s worked as a broadcaster, graphic designer, and motel night auditor. Other than writing and martial arts, he enjoys fishing, racquetball, and his three nieces, although not necessarily in that order.
Morgen: Black Belt… er, yes definitely be nice to him. :)
UPDATE JUNE 2012: Stephen's sequel to 'Beta' (Alpha) is due for release August 2012.
UPDATE JUNE 2012: Stephen's sequel to 'Beta' (Alpha) is due for release August 2012.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.