Monday, March 03, 2008

Q&A: BRANDT DODSON

This week we check in with novelist Brandt Dodson. Descended from a long line of police officers, he was formerly employed by the Indianapolis office of the FBI and was a United States Naval Reserve officer. Brandt is the author of the Colton Parker mystery series, and resides in southern Indiana with his wife and their two sons. His latest novel is White Soul (Harvest House). Buy Brandt Dodson's books

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HOW DID YOU GET YOUR BIG BREAK?
That's exactly what I got -- a big break. I wrote for 12 years, off and on, and like a lot of would-be authors, I collected a lot of rejection slips. As anyone who writes knows, that can be more than a little discouraging. But I recognize all of that now as an apprenticeship and so should anyone at that stage in their career.

I attended the Write To Publish conference in Wheaton, Ill., in 2004 and brought my first completed novel manuscript. Attendees of the conference were given appointments with editors and agents; I pitched my book to an editor who just happened to have grown up less than 40 miles from where I now live. To make a long story short, we hit it off and he took the book back to his publisher's committee. It's the committee who has the final word, and they said -- no.

So it was back to the writing board -- so to speak. I rewrote the book and took it back to the same conference the following year and pitched to another editor. Again, to make a long story short, that editor took it back to his committee and the result was a three-book contract. That original contract has now been extended twice. Consequently, I'm a BIG FAN of writer's conferences.

WHAT SORT OF EDUCATION/TRAINING/SCHOOLING HAVE YOU HAD IN WRITING?
I had a decent creative writing class in college and a WONDERFUL professor who was very encouraging. But beyond that, I'm self-taught. I read a lot, I read widely (outside my genre) and I read deeply (lots of different authors in all genres). I read virtually any writing book I can find, including all the Writer's Digest books. I read grammar books, I listen to Self-Help tapes geared toward improving writing/vocabulary, and I attend at least two writer's conferences per year.

I am a physician. In that area of my life I've learned that the learning never stops. That is also true in writing.

WHAT ARE SOME TIPS TO IMPROVE UPON WRITING SKILLS?
The best way I know to improve is to write. Write and then have someone (who is not your: wife, mother, dad, brother, sister, pastor, neighbor, or friend) critique your work. Better yet, ask other writers to critique you when possible.

Beyond that, you've got to read. Read for fun, but then go back and analyze the book. Learn how your favorite authors construct sentences that flow well and fall on the ear pleasantly. Learn how they develop character, plot, and build suspense. Compare one author to another and see why one works and another doesn't.

There is no easy way to get better. Just a surefire way: Study.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE ANYONE HAS GIVEN YOU?
My father always taught me to never, ever, give up. Never. And that's pretty solid advice for anyone -- especially would-be writers. But Dr. Noble, my creative writing professor, said, "You can do this if you're willing to work. It would be to your loss if you didn't."

While this isn't advice, per se, it is definitely a compliment as well as a source of motivation. If his advice applies to anyone reading this interview -- and you know who you are -- it will be to your loss if you don't pursue your gifts.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
Because I had a busy practice, teaching residents, lecturing at the hospitals, and teaching a Sunday school class, my writing time was initially limited. I've begun to cut back on some of that so I can do what I believe God created me to do. Nevertheless, I begin writing in the evening, around 8 or 9, and write until 11 pm. I write on weekends as much as possible, lunch hours, and an occasional day off. I tend to write the first draft quickly, then rewrite several times before I get the copy I want.

THEN, the real work begins and I start "butcherin' my darlins" until I get the manuscript as good as I can get it. Then it goes to my first readers who tear it apart like a pack of wild Baboons on a poodle. Then the whole rewrite process starts again before the manuscript is polished enough to go to my editor.

I never miss deadline. I consider myself a professional and I work very hard to be sure I don't drop the ball by letting my publisher, editor, agent, or anyone else, down.

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING FOR YOU?
Character. No question about it. I have to be involved in the character to be involved in the story. Plot is good and suspense is a given. But if I don't like the characters, I don't read the book. Not for very long, anyway.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I wish they could understand this is WORK. Enjoyable work, exciting work, but work nonetheless. Too many people think a writer just "punches it out" and "waits for the buck to roll in." If it were that easy, believe me, everyone would be doing it.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
My biggest pet peeve is those who write primarily for the monetary rewards they think they'll receive.

I write because I love to write. I am one of the odd otters who actually LIKES to write more than I like "having written."

Now that's not to say that money isn't a factor. To keep doing this, you must make a living. But if there isn't something about the process that makes your heart sing and your daily burdens lighter, you'd probably be better off doing something else. Because eventually, the money, if it comes, will not satisfy you, nor will the public recognition. Writing is primarily a solitary undertaking and should be first enjoyed on that level.

SINCE YOU STARTED WRITING, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING?
Two things. First, I've learned that editors are great people. Mine is, anyway. The image of a burnt out, old husk sitting behind a desk with arms folded and a look of chagrin on his face as you pitch your work is not true. Editors want to find good writers. In fact, they need to find writers. But unfortunately, too many people submit work that isn't ready.

The second thing I've learned is that you must find a house and an editor who shares your vision. Without that, you will have an uphill struggle. I've been fortunate on both counts.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
I've getting better at ending my work. I want my novels to remain with my readers for a long time after they've finished the book. To do that, I need to write my endings in such a way that it will resonate with the reader on some personal level. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting better.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
I wanted to write when I was a child. But I pursued another career for all the wrong reasons. I've learned to know myself. I am a writer. It's all I've ever wanted to be. Fortunately, I re-discovered that passion early enough in life to do something with it.

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Thanks to our guest, Brandt Dodson. Find him online at brandtdodson.com and Keep Me In Suspense. Visit his ShoutLife profile at ShoutLife.com/BrandtDodson.

Buy Brandt Dodson's books

More author Q&As:
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Q&A: SUSAN PAGE DAVIS (Homicide at Blue Heron Lake)
Q&A: LISA HARRIS (Recipe For Murder)
Q&A: Mystery / Suspense / Thriller authors
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