Hello Brett, nice to meet you!
Tell us a bit about you where are you from and other than writing what else do you enjoy?
Well, I’m a Christian, which is probably the most defining trait about me. For some, I’m sure that’s off-putting, but I’m open to having a dialogue to discuss why it needn’t be.
Past that, I’m thirty and told I look fifteen on occasion. I’m told it’s a good thing, but it really makes it awkward when I go to vote, and they ask if I’m there to watch my sister (who is really my wife) or when I’m trying to seem like a very-on-top-of-my-game author.
I’m from a small town in West Virginia and grew up an only child, so I’m pretty adept at being alone and am pretty much socially incompetent. But it has led to me loving reading, writing, and art. I mainly sketch and do a little clay sculpting when needed for my wife’s projects (https://epic-yarns.com/). Sorry had to do a shout-out, because she is amazing. We also have a little boy who I think is both half-crazy and absolutely incredible. My family has three generations of gardeners at work (my dad, me, and the little guy) and I work as a programmer for the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in my state.
How did you start writing? What was your inspiration to create?
Those are two really big questions, and I’m sure the latter will get touched on later, so I’ll try to cover the first. I got my start as a writer by being a little boy reading in the local library. My mom was a pre-school teacher, so some days we would go and spend two-three hours at the library, and she would look over the children’s section for good books to share with her students. Meanwhile, I would sit over at a table by myself reading whatever caught my eye. Usually, it was history books or Arthur legends. After reading a really catchy, kid-friendly book about the Aztecs, I felt like writing my own story about them. So, at nine years old I wrote my first original story. It was about a slave from a rival tribe who was captured in battle and was slated to be offered as a sacrifice. He escapes, blends into Aztec society and rises through the ranks until he can get revenge. It was only five pages, and I haven’t the faintest how it occurred to me that I could write something myself, but thereafter, writing was always a part of me.
Who is your favorite author, is there anyone out there that inspires you?
This is a tough question. When I was younger, I would have said HG Wells and Shakespeare. I still really enjoy both, but I’d say CS Lewis just blows me away with his ease in discussing complex theology and philosophy. I really like Timothy Zahn as well for the way he creates some complex characters without ever losing sight of the action of a story.
What genre do you enjoy reading? What’s your favorite book and why?
I tend to read eclectically of late, but often it is speculative fiction of some sort. Which makes sense as my favorite book, as of about a year ago, is “Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair”. Which as an amusing anecdote, I refused to read for years because I thought having a chair as the centerpiece for a book seemed silly. The only thing silly turned out to be me for thinking ill of CS Lewis’s work.
I’m also a big fan, like a lot of people, of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and my favorite recent read is “Exo” by Fonda Lee.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I wouldn’t say the first book getting published changed things for my writing as much as my second one did. There was still so much I hadn’t learned yet about the author side of being a writer that I had to make a major adjustment from purely writing to writing and “author activities”. I’m still trying to learn how to strike a balance, though I will say I don’t write with quite such a literary style now. Whenever you go from writing purely as art to writing for art/entertainment to be shared with others you have to make adjustments and its been a big learning experience for me.
Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre? If you could, what genre would you like to dabble in?
It’s not advised by most marketing gurus, but I tend to write a variety of genres. My first book was historical fiction, my second sci-fi/dystopian, and my upcoming third book is epic fantasy. Among my works-in-progress are the subsequent entries in the two series I’ve started and another historical fiction novel, along with pure sci-fi, a speculative/historical novel, a contemporary romance (really out of my element there probably), and a horror book. At one time I was a bit of a genre elitest, but over time my philosophy has shifted. I feel strongly that I would follow a good story into whatever genre it needs.
Am I the only one who gets hung up on commas? Do they make you go blah! when you’re writing?
Oddly enough, I’m coming to enjoy punctuation and correcting it. Ever since working with the editor on my second book, I’ve really enjoyed revising things, and part of that is the commas and other elements of punctuation (yay for EM dashes!). It’s not unlike the relationship between histones and DNA. Histones (punctuation) affect how the DNA (words) are read, and that changes what the overall outcome is immense. So any time I can use simple punctuation to do profound things to the way a sentence is read, I kind of get excited.
What three tips would you give any aspiring writer?
- Don’t be afraid of planning, in both your writing and marketing, but don’t obsess over it. Some structure is good, a lot can just be stressful and frustrating.
- Know your book. Challenge yourself to express its plot and most intrinsic and valuable qualities and contributions to literature in the simplest, sparest language possible. It will really help in pitching your book to just about everyone.
- Never forget why you write. This is especially important for Christian writers, who often draw the potency for their purpose from the impact their works have on the faith of others.
What are you working on now? What will you release next?
I’m working on the follow up to Day Moon right now. It’s so close to being done, I just have to set aside some time and complete it. I’m also rewriting a historical/speculative novel that’s been dear to me for years. But the big news is, I have the first book in an epic fantasy series coming out June of this year! Quest of Fire: The Gathering Dark is kind of an intersection of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Star Wars. I’m ridiculously excited about it coming out, because ever since I was a kid I’ve been imagining these other worlds, but they’ve usually been very small, very focused, but “Quest of Fire” is a big world. A big story with so many smaller stories, so many possibilities inside it. It’s more adventurous than my past books, but still has a lot of heart and depth to it. Here’s a little more about it:
The harshest reality Anargen ever faced in his tiny village is one day having to work in the regional mines—and finding a way to talk to the girl of his dreams, Seren. After Anargen pledges his loyalty to the ancient High King, strange things begin happening and Anargen finds himself torn from his home and loved ones on a journey north with three other young knights chosen for a special quest. Their mentor, Sir Cinaed, has been asked to arbitrate a centuries-old dispute between the men of Ecthelowall and the dwarves of Ordumair. Cinaed neglects to mention that the dwarves loath the knight order to which Anargen and his friends belong. Worse still, an arcane evil known as the Grey Scourge begins stalking them and it becomes obvious there is more at stake than a petty rivalry. The Grey Scourge is determined to ruin the peace talks and ensure a lost treasure held by the dwarves is never found by the four youths for whom it was meant. As the negotiations degenerate into open conflict and Ordumair’s fortress is besieged, Anargen and his friends fight not just for the survival of the dwarves, but the fate of their world.
So… where can we get your books?
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Kobo, Audible, and a whole host of diverse places including Walmart.com. If you’re local to West Virginia, you can even swing by Empire Books & News in Huntington to snag signed copies they have on their shelves.
How would you define what being a successful writer means?
Research has shown reading has a very potent impact on the mind of the reader. The brain processes things almost the same way as it does actual actions taken by the reader. For me, fiction should be entertaining and escapist, but it also needs to better prepare a reader to face the realities of the world the reader wouldn’t be as readily able to as in the world of a book. I consider one of my most successful moments as a writer to be when someone read my first book and let me know that she was giving a copy to a loved one because she thought it might help him through a hard time in his life. That is beyond encouraging and success as I see it.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I would say it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can’t help but have some sort of ego as a writer to think anyone would want to read what you write. But at the same time, there is incredible humility too in putting something out for readers and allowing them to participate in the creative process. Because writers ultimately adjust based on their readers’ comments. I would say an ego might help you push past bad reviews and self-doubt, but to an extent, those things also help fuel the desire to improve. Whether improve is more specifically to write in a way that contemporary readership enjoys most or to improve at the craft itself.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I’m going to sound like I’m digressing, but bear with me.
I liken writing to being a tour guide. A writer has explored his or her novel’s fictional landscape and you want to take readers through it as well. As the guide you owe it to the reader to make it the most enjoyable trip you can, even if it is ultimately your tour and your prerogative to choose the route.
Book reviews are the reader’s way of telling the writer what he or she felt about the tour. They can discuss the landscape itself, the tour route, and the guide. Good or bad, I try to take those comments in stride. Having been through a number of college writing workshops I know from the outset I’m going to get a diverse reaction. One person will love the pace and characters, another won’t. Like those critiques, I read all the reviews my books get (and usually take them personally) and then when a sufficient number of them complain about an aspect of the book, then I try to pay attention to that in my subsequent writing.
More than anything though, I try to remember the advice from before and focus on why I write. If I can find examples of the book doing the things it needs to, then even if only a sampling of people like it, then at least there are some people being impacted by it. And conversely, even if people lavish it with praise, I can keep my head down and moving forward.
How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
So this is picking up on the idea from earlier, but just about every story I write begins in one of two ways. The first, is rarer, but yielded my first novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio. I started with an idea, what does real forgiveness look like? What does “forgiving as Christ forgave” from Colossians 3:13 look like? Then the protagonist, Marcus, formed from that. His personality developed along with the shortcomings and character flaws that would have to exist at the start of the story in order for him to have sufficient growth to highlight the underlying theme. Since I feel like all storytelling is like pathfinding, I liken it to looking for someone’s home who you know, but having to navigate some really interesting terrain to find your way there.
The second is my usual and led to my second novel, Day Moon. I got caught up in imagining a scene. Day Moon’s first chapter opens with the scene that got me asking all the questions needed for a novel to come out of it. This is more often how I do it, because for me to actually get a story to a finished novel I have to be hooked on it. Kind of swept up into the world and determined to see where the paths lead me. That early scene and the questions it generates having to keep building new questions and new scenes with captivating themes around them and meaningful interactions between characters. Most importantly though, I have to feel like there is a reason to tell the story. I like entertaining readers, but it can’t just be about that. There has to be something more, a feeling, an experience, a meditation, etc. but there has to be something the reader can carry with him or her after finishing the last page.
Since I really have to be ensnared by a story to tell it, the time it takes to write one varies wildly. Especially now that my son is in charge of so much of my time. But really, if I’m honest, I have to admit stories will only come together in their own time. I believe God really shapes our creative processes, and there are times I say a novel is done but then six months, a year later, something out of nowhere will hit me and I’ll realize, “Oh, no. I never really got it. THIS is what it’s about. THIS is what needs to happen.” And then I go and rewrite significant portions. Or the entire thing. My upcoming epic fantasy novel has been with me for ten years and has been rewritten completely twice, but pretty much three times. No one should read that initial draft, but what it has become, what I couldn’t see for so long, is worth reading. It’s like going back to the same spot year after year and thinking you’ve seen it all and then, no, there’s something more, something that makes that last trip back special. So, to finally give a direct answer, it may take six months to complete an initial draft, but it may take years to refine a story to the point that it is ready to share and represent everything the story needed to from the beginning.
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