MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Stephen L. Brayton today! He has written numerous short stories and books, mostly horror and mystery. His website is here.
Stephen, tell us about your latest work.
STPEHEN L. BRAYTON: I’m working on a book trying resolve some of the imponderable questions of life. Why do all boats have right hand drive? Why is there braille on the keys of drive through ATM machines? Does anybody really know the rules of cricket? Why do females always go to the restroom in groups?
Huh? Oh, you want to know about my latest writing project. Well, it’s called ALPHA, but don’t get the idea that it’s the first book. The first book of mine to be published was called NIGHT SHADOWS, about a homicide detective and an FBI agent out to solve some supernatural murders in Des Moines.
BETA was the first book in the Mallory Petersen series. Mallory is a Fourth Degree Black Belt and private investigator in Des Moines. Most of her cases are a little odd, but every now and then she accepts something serious. In this book, she is hot on the trail of a kidnapped eight year old girl and tangles with members of a child pornography ring.
In ALPHA, published this last August, Mallory becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of her boyfriend. This time around she has to deal with crooked cops, illegal narcotics and gangs.
VENTRELLA: What is your next project?
BRAYTON: I’m working on an entirely new type of vampire story. I want these vamps to sparkle when they appear. I think it would make a great series of movies… What? Already done? Oh well.
Actually, I have three projects on my desk that I would like to finish. I’m 2/3 completed with DELTA, the next Mallory Petersen mystery. I’m also reworking the sequel to NIGHT SHADOWS. I also have another private investigator mystery’s first draft finished. It just needs hours and hours of editing and rewrites.
VENTRELLA: You’ve had more than one publisher for your works. How did you choose which publisher to use?
BRAYTON: Whichever one would succumb to blackmail first. See, I have video of…well, let’s save that for another day, shall we?
A couple years later, I met Sunny Frazier, acquisition editor for Oak Tree Press and became a member of her Posse email group. In 2011, I had finished with ALPHA and queried her to see if Oak Tree would be interested in this book. She accepted and ALPHA was published as a trade paperback. The first two are currently only available as eBooks.
VENTRELLA: What advice would you give a starting author about finding a publisher?
BRAYTON: I think writers need to start promoting early. How early? Well, when did you first conceive of your idea for a story? Yes, that early. Get yourself a website, a blog, and join some of the social network sites. Attend conferences and critique groups and make contacts? How does this aid you in finding a publisher? Well, if you’re already promoting and becoming serious about writing, then it’ll be that much easier to find someone who is interested in you.
Two examples of how this can work. First, when Sunny receives a query, she doesn’t begin with the manuscript. She puts the writer’s name into an Internet search engine and sees how many times that person is listed? If the person isn’t already a presence, Sunny will be less inclined to accept the manuscript no matter how good the story is. She’s looking for marketers first, then she’ll consider the quality of the story.
A second example is, Kat, an author friend who attended a seminar in Minneapolis a couple months ago. During the two days, she attracted the attention of the presenter who became interested in Kat’s story and and asked her to finish it and submit it.
These are two of the ways to find a publisher. Then, it’s up to the writer to do some homework. Check into the publisher and find out how they operate. Do authors have multiple books with the same publisher? How do they operate? How much work are they going to put in to promote your book and how much are you going to have to do? What promotional ideas do they have?
VENTRELLA: What are the disadvantages and advantages of using a small publisher?
BRAYTON: Disadvantages: they don’t have the financial means to give you a splashy promotion. Of course, nowadays, neither do the big guys. All publishers are expecting the author to do the lion’s share of promoting. Most small publishers have a small staff who are very busy, so don’t expect things to move quickly.
Advantages: I think in some ways, the smaller presses can be more personable. Plus, they’re more willing to accept new authors because they’re looking for business. They can’t afford the well established names but there are some popular writers who have had a fair amount of success with the indies.
VENTRELLA: Do you believe that anyone can be a fiction writer or is the ability to tell a story more of an innate thing?
BRAYTON: I think everybody tells stories. Just eavesdrop on a conversation at a restaurant or a bar or when friends gather. Everybody is telling stories. Sometimes the stories relate a true incident and sometimes the person will, uh, stretch the truth to sensationalize the story.
It’s a different matter if the person can take pen to paper to tell the story in a way that is concise, has a beginning, middle, and ending. Does the person know how to follow simple grammar/punctuation/spelling rules and know when to break them? Is the story worth telling or is the person just trying to tell what happened at work today?
Serious writers will take the time to learn the craft, learn from others, and constantly work to improve.
VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what process do you use?
BRAYTON: I remember when I created Mallory Petersen. Nobody told me to build a character profile, I just did it. It made sense to figure out all I could about the character. Likes and dislikes, personality, quirks, favorite color and flower. The car she drives, whether she rents or owns a residence. Her friends and enemies. I don’t do this with every character (although I should), but I know enough about my characters, right now, to make them vivid and memorable. When some secondary character needs more attention, then I’ll go back to the profile and fill in a bit more.
Because I write about a woman as my main character, I am constantly asking women if I’ve stayed true to the gender. Do I understand how women act and react? Is the personality too rough or too feminine? Do I understand how a woman feels when attracted to a man? This is my challenge, to keep Mallory’s character real in each book.
Most of the time when I research a story, I’ll visit the locations for each scene and try to envision how the character will behave during the scene. I’ll try to get into the character’s head and figure out what she’s thinking and if it seems reasonable, then I’ll go with it.
VENTRELLA: What is the best way for an author to use the services of an editor?
BRAYTON: I have discovered many ways to edit a manuscript. Unfortunately, I am unable to find the time to incorporate most of them. I’d love to have a three other people to run through the story. One reads it aloud, one reads along silently, and the third one listens. Then they switch roles. This way, everybody has a different perspective and a viewpoint I might not have considered.
Of course, there are critique groups which are invaluable. You can also pay for editing, although be careful because if you get someone who doesn’t know what he/she is doing, then you’ve wasted your money. I wouldn’t waste time and money on a professional editor unless you can afford it.
Besides, once your publisher’s editor gets it, that person is going to find mistakes and make suggestions. So clean it up the best you can before it’s submitted. You’ll save everybody a lot of time.
VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?
BRAYTON: I’ve been learning that part of my problem is I don’t outline enough. I’m so eager to get to writing, I don’t think through a lot of the potential problems and pitfalls of the story and end up wasting some time having to research and possibly rewriting sections. This is what I’m currently experiencing with DELTA. I wrote a chapter and now I’m going to rewrite it because I talked with another author about how to strengthen the scene. If I would have researched the issue a little more in depth beforehand, I might have saved some time.
Yes, I outline. Then I write linearly, that is, from Chapter One onward. Normally, I write at work (after all my duties are done, of course) because it’s quiet with few distractions. I usually have NPR classical music on for background noise. I write longhand and my first edit is inputting the longhand onto the computer. Then I’ll read chapters to a critique group and jot down their advice.
VENTRELLA: What have you done to promote your work?
BRAYTON: Social networking. Blogtalkradio. Guest posts on other blogs. Internet interviews. Radio interviews. I was featured in a local television newscast. Library and bookstore appearances. I leave business cards wherever I go and put them in the mail when sending bill payments. I have family and friends who talk me up to others.
I’m open to discussing any other venues. I think authors need to look at non-traditional ways and places to promote. I know a couple of authors who co-write a series about animals. They attended the local Pet Exposition to sell their books. This is the type of thing authors need to look at when marketing.
VENTRELLA: What general advice do you have for the aspiring author that you wish someone had given you when you began writing?
BRAYTON: Do your homework! I think I covered a lot of it above when I discussed promoting early. Learn the craft of writing.
Figure out what you want to accomplish with your writing. Do you want to make money? Be famous? Be on the New York Times bestseller list? Entertain local folks? Do you want to write just for your family and small group of friends? Whichever you decide, invest some time to research the best method of accomplishing it.
If you’re going to be serious about writing, be serious. I’m get tired of hearing authors who are still outlining after several years or still developing characters or constantly rewrite the first chapter or switch stories because one isn’t working out. Come on! Knock it off and write! Stop the excuses and write. Sure, there are ‘life’ matters to attend to, but serious writers will make time to write. Nobody had to tell me to write, I wanted to write. I still want to write. I get antsy if I don’t. I feel as if I’m letting others and myself down by not finishing that next chapter.
Learn from others and find your way of creating and writing a story.