We’re back with my friend C Bryan Brown today! His post on writing prompts was so well received that I thought I’d bring back the author interview to see what he had to say about the writing process, genre fiction, and the industry in general. I was not disappointed…
A note about this whole interviewing thing. I love giving authors a chance to showcase their work and for readers to get to know them, plus learn about all the different viewpoints and takes on genre fiction. That doesn’t mean all interviews are created equal, though, let’s be honest. There’s a fine line between being confidently informative and showcasing ego or being so modest that you might as well not bother promoting your work.There’s acting like you’re giving info and actually diving into your experiences so readers learn something besides the title of your work. I love having C Bryan Brown on here because he hits the perfect line: he says things that are very true in a way that’s easy for people to get, he’s easy to relate to as a person and as an artist, plus he says things that even I need to be reminded of at times. I’m always willing to give people a chance, but when you’re as good at presenting yourself as this guy is, you definitely get more of them from me. Read and learn, kids, read and learn.
This is a face you should listen to
SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?
CBB: The process, it burns and it hurts, but only because it’s always changing, which I don’t see as a bad thing. I like to think I’m always growing as a writer and it’s normal for processes to be reevaluated and updated as… holy fuck. I went into corporate mode there for a minute. Sorry about that. Let me start over…
I have many processes. I’m an outliner, for sure, but only for novels. And I deviate from my outline. A lot. I don’t outline my short stories, those are written off the cuff, then edited with a much sharper eye than they were written with. I have an office, and I write in it frequently, but only for convenience. I mean, it’s in my house, and it has a bed in it, so when I get too drunk to walk upstairs, I can pass out.
I write on paper, type into my phone or my laptop, or doodle on napkins, which isn’t uncommon. When ideas hit, you put them down or lose them, in my experience. None of this “if it was good, you’d remember it” shit for me. Seriously? I have a wife who wants things, kids who want things, pets who demand things, and a bevy of inappropriate thoughts running through my head at any given moment, so things get written down and saved.
I have written for anthology calls before, but usually only when I have a story idea already in my head. I’ll bump the idea up on the food chain and bang it out. Sometimes it’s a home run, other times it’s not.
SJ: *Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?
CBB: No capes involved in what I do, but there is sometimes a chant that goes like this: “Sit your ass down and work. Sit your ass down and work. Sit your ass down and work.” Writing is work and we’ll get more into that in your next question. My quirkiest habit is probably just that I write with music, which I’m not really listening to, but using to drown out all background noise, like my kids going, “Dad… dad… the house is on fire!”
SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?
CBB: I don’t believe in the muse, at least not in the way most people do.
I believe most people try to first create art when caught in the thrall of a strong emotion: love, hate, loss, whatever. It’s that passion which feeds their creativity, and when that ardor dies, so does their inspiration and that’s when you start hearing writers talk about the muse being gone. Mostly, it’s bullshit, but only mostly. Great art can come from great passion, that’s no secret, but it more often comes from perseverance.
Writing is work and you only do it by sitting down and putting your hands on the keyboard and typing or a pen on some paper and scratching out words. This is done daily, rain or shine, in love or not, sick or healthy, happy or sad.
If I waited on a muse to do anything for me, nothing would ever get done.
My ideas do come from everywhere. Certainly dreams, from the news, from other books, song lyrics, titles, watching my kids play, even driving down the road. True story, my wife and I were driving to one of the Carolinas (can’t remember which at the moment) and on some rural ass road in West Virginia we passed an abandoned, run down bar. There was nothing on this stretch of road for miles in either direction except this dilapidated building, and almost all at once a story came to me about that building, and why it’s a shell of its former self.
I wouldn’t call any time inopportune, but let’s face it, there are certain times when story ideas can chill out for a couple or five minutes, you know what I mean?
SJ: bonus question – If your muse had a physical manifestation, what would he or she look like and how would she or he act? Is it a sexy superhero version of Callisto? A sharp-tongued rogue? A reptilian alien? Do they have a catch phrase?
CBB: My muse is 5’6” slave driver, with reddish blonde hair, and a charming smile. Her tongue is pretty sharp, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. She acts like my wife and her catch phrase is, “Shut up and go write.” She has a wicked right foot, which is why my newest novel was dedicated to that particular part of her body.
SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?
CBB: There are three stories that I feel particularly close to, and they are all parts of me in pretty much the same way.
In publication order they are: “Pale Deaths,” written in 2007, published February 2010 in cc&d magazine; “Cruel and Unusual,” written in 2010, published January 2011 by Post Mortem Press in their anthology A Means to an End; lastly, “An Unfettered Life” which was first drafted in 2006, and is slated to be published in the upcoming Hydra dystopian anthology. I don’t have a release date, but I believe it’s sometime later this year.
Those three stories all project my fears about failing my boys, and other than my own death, failing to protect my children is what scares me the most. A lot of my stories feature children in some capacity, and bad things usually happen to them, but those three involve adults failing kids they care deeply for. Point in fact, “Pale Deaths” and “Cruel and Unusual” are mirror stories… the former written when my eldest son was five and the latter when my youngest son was almost a year. I call them mirrors because they deal with the same subject of murdered children, but in vastly different, yet the same, way.
I don’t know if I’d call those my favorite stories, though. I prefer when I’m able to inject some humor into the writing. It’s rare for me to pull that off, so when I do, I cherish those stories.
SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?
CBB: I’m going to cheat, in a way, and choose urban fantasy. So much of what I write falls into that catch-all genre, it’s a safe bet for me.
They Are Among Us is about vampires… synonymous with urban fantasy anymore, even though I don’t really consider the book urban fantasy. It’s more horror, but it can be painted in broad strokes. I feel Necromancer is full on urban fantasy, though I’ve heard it described as supernatural thriller, fantasy noir, and even straight low fantasy.
Now that my skin is saved from the Great Old One, urban fantasy gives me access to a wide variety of the tools I like to use when I writer, namely the fantastical and supernatural. Both fit easily into the genre and allow me to tell a wide variety of stories.
SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?
CBB: My biggest frustration is marketing a book after it’s published. To me, that’s really the only downside of the “business” as I don’t see a downside to writing in general. The act of writing, of putting those words on paper, is cathartic in many ways and what’s not to like about that? Not to mention, if you do happen to get your work published and out to the public, then whatever your characters go through may mirror a reader’s situation and they can see things from a different angle and it may help them deal with whatever it is.
Not to mention, writing is just fun, isn’t it? Making shit up all the time… new worlds, new people, new technology, magic.
There are many clichés that make me want to strangle people, and some of them even apply to being a writer, though not too many overall. The biggest one, in regards to writing, is that it’s not a real “job” and I really have all the free time in the world.
Seriously, people, if it wasn’t a job, people wouldn’t pay me to do it. So, no, I’m not going to give up my writing time to go to the park, play Xbox, or have a chat about your cat’s disgusting habit of puking up the bugs it eats.
SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?
CBB: You’re an evil, evil interviewer.
(note from SJ: Yes, yes I am)
If I absolutely had to be stuck in any novel, it’d be They Are Among Us. I have an unparalleled fear of death, and if someone offered me the chance to become vampire and possibly live forever, I wouldn’t hesitate. There’d be a downside to that, which is having to kill people more often than not, but the lives of those people are a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
I’d stick my loved ones in the same book. I’d turn them and we’d be a much more vicious and far cooler version of the Cullens. We’d not sparkle, for starters, and teen angst wouldn’t be a thing. I’d almost put us on par with The Lost Boys, but I’ll never have David’s hair and my wife will never have Star’s ass. But even vampires can dream, right?
(note from SJ – This is why we are friends).
Enemies would go into the black hole of the apocalypse created in my short story “The Nightly Bite” and already be dead. Too bad, so sad.
SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?
CBB: A warning before I answer: everyone’s definition of success is different, so take my answer with a grain of salt and apply it to your own definition.
As far as a sure-fire recipe/formula, no, but I think there are certain formulas that work better than others. If not, we wouldn’t have the Hero’s Journey, character archetypes, the three act play, or anything that can be contained and defined. You still have to write well and have to get your book in front of enough people to qualify as successful, at least commercially.
The only other recipe I know for success is to never quit. If you never quit, you never fail, and by definition alone you’re a success.
I’d certainly take the commercial success to afford me the ability (read: quit my corporate job) to write full time. I don’t think it necessarily has to compromise the art or the fun of writing at all, but just like everyone’s definition of success is different, how they define compromise will be different, too.
SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?
CBB: I don’t think you can give those people words of wisdom, at least not in the traditional sense, because they’re not looking for success; they’re seeking fame. I might advise them to try making a YouTube video of mash potatoes streaming out of their nose instead, as it seems getting a video to go viral is a lot easier than selling a million books.
I’d probably also tell them to check the details on each of these success stories. Find out how long each writer actually spent trying to get a book published before it happened. Was it really overnight? Usually it’s not. If possible, Google the financial details that are public knowledge to see if the monetary value is as high you think it is, and always remember that even if someone pays you a million bucks, you’re giving a good chunk of it to Uncle Sam. Writing is still a business, and the laws of finance do not cease to exist because you got lucky with a one-hit wonder.
SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.
CBB: I think it’s a pretty simple case to make – the speculative genres allow far more story opportunities for authors, and the ones who benefit from that are the readers.
(Note from SJ: This is also why we are friends)
Put in plainer words, a writer is a craftsman. If you stick to more literary work, keep your stories planted firmly on terra firma and stuck in the “what has been and always shall be,” you limit your toolbox. It’s my opinion that you turn yourself into a journeyman, you know, a craftsman of skill, but always limited to some degree. If you’re willing to use the supernatural, or the science, or the fantastical, you’re expanding your toolbox to include objects the others won’t use. At that point you elevate yourself above journeyman status and start entering into the master craftsman arena.
Everyone who writes horror and science fiction and fantasy knows they’re excellent genres. Readers know it, too, even if the critics and academics don’t.
SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?
CBB: “That C. Bryan Brown, he’s a swell guy.”
I like the conventions, I like to meet people, and whether they like my work or not, if they’ve met me, then I want them to come away feeling enriched for what little time we had together.
I’d like that from both readers and writers, and people in general. I don’t hold much faith in the human race right now, and I don’t want to be the biggest cock of them all. A leader sets an example. An asshole tells people to be better.
We have enough assholes running around right now.
SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!
CBB: My latest work is the novel They Are Among Us, which is the first book in what I’m calling The Blood War Trilogy. I’ve always wondered why, in series such as the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood for you TV people) and Anita Blake books, vampires would make themselves known to humans. I’d think they’d need a damn good reason to risk extinction, and the books above never really satisfied that for me. Plus, I love vampires and want to do my part in rekindling vampires that don’t go to high school, sparkle, fuck, and otherwise act like pansies with a life problem.
They Are Among Us details first contact between humans and vampires using a split narrative. The first half is from the human point of view and the second half from the vampire point of view. I’m not sure if all the novels will utilize the split narrative format in the end, but that’s what I’m shooting for.
The second novel, At Dawn They Sleep, digs in its heels as the Blood War ramps up, and the final book, tentatively titled The World With Fangs, resolves the Blood War and outlines the future between the two species.
I also have a YA fantasy novel and a new urban fantasy novel nearing completion as well. Keep an eye out, folks, I’m just getting started. If you’d like to keep up, stalk me at my website, http://cbryanbrown.net. You can get to my Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads pages from there.
Special Agent Alexandria Maxell believes in human monsters, those whose soul is tainted by the desire for torture, rape, and murder. However, the discovery of a burned body may change her mind as all the evidence indicates the victim and the killer are creatures that exist on human blood. As the body count rises, Alexandria and her team initiate a desperate manhunt to bring the killer to justice, only to uncover a plot to decimate mankind and enslave the survivors.
Jack Damage has hunted humans for centuries, preying on them at will. Now, twice betrayed by his own kind, Jack is conscripted into the impending human genocide, and he must fight the war on two fronts if he hopes to preserve anything from his old way of life. When the return of a vicious, unrelenting enemy threatens the future of both races, Jack must shift his focus from preservation to survival.
Out of time and options, Alexandria and Jack both realize that truth and salvation will only exist when they are among us.
The buy link for They Are Among Us is http://www.amazon.com/They-Are-Among-Bryan-Brown/dp/0692427457
C Bryan Brown will also be appearing with me and other members of the Midest Authors Syndicate at the Grove City Wine Festival Saturday, June 20.