Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview with Stephen L. Brayton

Please welcome Stephen to my Travels! It seems we have a connection, other than writing. (This is such a small world.) He lives and writes in the area where I grew up, Iowa and Illinois, bordering my beloved Mississippi River. Oh, how I miss the river.

KAYE: I haven't ever seen crime fiction feature Des Moines or the Quad Cities. I see a passing reference to Moline or Davenport every once in awhile, but that's about it. Do you know of any others using that setting.

STEPHEN: I’m sure there are a few others, but I haven’t run across them. Most of the time I read about Des Moines in passing in other books. John Sandford’s books are set in the Minneapolis area and sometimes he’ll mention Iowa. Usually, you see on television shows based in New York or Los Angeles victims or their families being from Des Moines. I chose Des Moines and the Quad Cities because I’m familiar with both areas. I lived for a few years in the QC and still have family residing there. I live about an hour away from Des Moines and am up there at least once a month. I used to drive up there weekly for a writers’ critique group, but taekwondo has recently filled my weeknights.

KAYE: You say you've written stories for many years, but your path to publication seems pretty quick. Your first mystery conference was in 2007, and here you are with two books! Is this speed an illusion?

STEPHEN: Yes. I don’t think the path has been quick. Frustrating, yes. I have a four inch stack of rejection notices, so the road hasn’t been easy or quick. Love Is Murder in 2007 was the first conference I attended and the main reason our writers’ group traveled to Chicago was because we could pitch ideas to agents and editors. Unfortunately, each either rejected me or never contacted me afterward, which is a rejection in itself. It was a learning experience, though. Every new writing group or conference or meeting I attend is a learning experience. Sometimes I learn that I don’t want to go again (lol), but I love meeting people and making friends and contacts. When a friend and I went to Killer Nashville in 2009, I met so many great people who helped me and guided me to better my writing and my marketing skills. Yes, we went, again, to pitch ideas to the attending editors and agents, but the seminars we took were so informative and friendly and fun. Many times we had to choose between two or three good seminars going on at the same time. I met Mary Welk from Echelon Press and she was a bonus because she hadn’t originally scheduled herself to accept pitches. She was there to speak to authors of short stories. After getting the information on the shorts, I told her about the novels and she said for me to submit. Less than two months later I had two novels accepted. Just this last January four of my short stories also were accepted.

KAYE: On the surface, your book, NIGHT SHADOWS, published in February of this year, seems like a police procedural, featuring a Des Moines homicide detective and an FBI agent. But then it veers into alien territory. Have you been interested in detective fiction for awhile, Stephen?

STEPHEN: Most of the books I own are murder mysteries and I started writing mysteries long ago. I’ve always enjoyed the 87th Precinct detectives from Ed McBain, Archer Mayor, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner. These guys, and others, really open up the imagination and bring the reader into their worlds. I thought if they could do it, I’d give it a try.

KAYE: What made you bring the aliens into the mix?

STEPHEN: I wouldn’t necessarily call them aliens in the sense most people think of aliens as in little green men or monsters from Mars. These are more elusive creatures because they are something you see everyday and don’t even realize are there. The detectives in the book comment how shadows are everywhere. So what happens when these shadows move on their own and start attacking people? I had listened to a radio show about shadow beings and my mind started working and characters and plot lines fell into place. I had a lot of fun writing the story and conducting research. I struggled for some time trying to find a particular location in Des Moines to use as the dimensional portal. This bothered me because I couldn’t seem to find the spot that worked. Then a friend suggested a particular art exhibit. I managed to secure a tour and as soon as I saw the room, I knew I had found the last element of the story. The place is real and people can actually visit it.

KAYE: What can you tell us about your publisher, Echelon Press?

STEPHEN: It’s a small press with a staff of freelance editors. Last year I hired on as an editor but recently have dropped back to focus on my writing. I think small presses are an excellent way for new authors to break into the business. Plus, they’re actively seeking new talent. With small presses, you’re not forced to desperately hope for the big boys to notice you. You still have to follow the guidelines for submission, and with Echelon, you have to prepare a marketing plan. However, I think this is a good thing because authors need to know how to promote their product. The publisher doesn’t have enough time or money to do this. With Echelon, new authors are published in e-format, so the Internet is where you have to go to market your books since you have nothing ‘tangible’ to present. It’s a challenge, but it’s been fun.

KAYE: From your webpage ( it looks like you're combining a longtime interest with your next book. How long have you been practicing taekwondo? And is it proper to call it Tae Kwon Do also? The pictures of your school bring back memories of when my daughter studied this.

STEPHEN: I’ve seen the term spelled different ways, but usually taekwondo is used. However, you have to watch your spell-check. Until you add the word to the dictionary it wants to change taekwondo to teakwood. Lol.
Yes, I started martial arts in 1991, earned my black belt in 1993, started a club in 1996, in 2003 took over the Oskaloosa club. In 2007, I earned my Fifth Degree Black Belt. I’ve attended many tournaments and camps and seminars. I love the people in my organization and I enjoy martial arts because unlike some other sports, you advance and improve at your own pace. If you play basketball and you have problems shooting the ball, you may end up sitting on the bench. With taekwondo if you can’t kick head high, that’s okay. You kick knee level at first, then slowly improve. As my organization’s founder once said, “Today not possible, tomorrow possible.”

KAYE: What's BETA about? And who is Mallory Petersen?

STEPHEN: Years ago, I created a private detective was named Sam P. Peterson and he lived in East Moline. When I moved to Oskaloosa I changed the character to a woman named Mallory Petersen who, along with investigating cases also has her own martial arts club in Des Moines. A lot of the skills, self defense techniques and sparring tips I’ve learned go into the story. Mallory is a young, six foot blonde, whose cases seem to be on the nuttier side of life. However, she is hired to find a kidnapped eight year old girl and things quickly turn serious.
I had written a previous story with Mallory but this one hit me hard and felt right. It deals with a serious subject matter, child pornography, so it is definitely not for kids. However, I also don’t turn away adults with graphic detail and I temper the seriousness with several humorous scenes. Mallory can’t keep away from the goofy bad guys. Martial artists will like it because you don’t see a lot of stories where the detective isn’t using just punches or a weapon.

KAYE: Good luck with the books. I'm looking forward to reading about my old stomping grounds. Thanks for bringing this area into the mystery world.

Look in on Stephen's blog when you're finished here:
And no guest interview would be complete without a purchasing link!

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