Saturday, April 21, 2012

A conversation with Brett Battles

This is neat!  This is good!  I get to talk shop with a writer who is a skilled artisan in the fine art of writing the spy genre.  His Jonathan Quinn character is a knock down, kick-you-in-the-teeth kind of critter that just makes you grin from ear to ear whenever one of his books comes along.
Of course I'm talking about the writing, and the person, who calls himself Brett Battles.

Okay . . . okay, so I really don't 'know' Brett.  He's another one of my contact/friends found on Facebook. (Jesus, that invention . . . Facebook . . . really has reshaped the social/literary world in so many ways, hasn't it!).  Still, the idea that (A) I like his books, and (B) the man was gracious enough to allow me to bug him with a lot of questions, really made my day.

If you don't know Brett's work, you need to discover it.  He writes the spy genre.  He has an on-going character by the name of Johnathan Quinn who is, some believe, a little bit meaner than, say, a Jason Bourne.  An unusual character whose main occupation is to go in and 'clean up' someone else's messes.  Those messes being, you know,  dead bodies . . . lots of blood . . . incriminating evidence . . . getting rid of witnesses.

Enough of this prologue.  Let's get down to the interview.  I think you're going to enjoy it.

1. You've mention on several occasions that it was your parents who instilled in you the love of reading. Tell us, which parent was the most influential. You've mentioned your father and his love for science-fiction. Anything from your mother? Finally, when and how did you branch off in your own reading preferences?

They were both influential in their own way, both very encouraging of my reading habit. Both read to me when I was young, and almost everyday before I went to sleep until I was old enough to do it on my own. That, probably more than any other one thing, instilled the love of a good story. I remember them reading me Swiss Family Robinson, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Treasure Island in particular…all thrillers/adventures. I also remember my father would come home from work every day and sit in the living room reading for about 30 minutes or so before we even ate dinner. My mom would also read, but more during the day when we were all at school and work. I think she thought I was reading too much science fiction at one point, and bought me the novel about Jerimiah Johnson to give me something else to think about. Of course I had zero interest in westerns at that time so put it on the shelf and didn’t read it. Could kick myself now.

Not sure when or why I augmented my sci-fi love with more intrigue/adventure stories, but at some point I found myself adding Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins to my regular rotation of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Later, sci-fi took more of a back seat as I found Robert Ludlum and eventually one of my all time favorites to this day Stephen King. Whenever a new King book comes out I automatically move it to the top of my reading pile.

The Cleaner
2. Genre writing; how easy, or how difficult, is it? In genre just about every plot/character/situation has not only been thought up, but written and rewritten countless times. So how do you in particular find success, and how would any novice find success?I guess I don’t think about it in terms of easy/not easy. Writing adventure stories and thrillers just comes naturally to me. I think this is largely due to those early reading habits. And sure, most plots have been written a million times, but each author comes at it from his or her own perspective. To me, it’s the characters that drive a story. If you have interesting, three dimensional characters, you should be able to retell just about any basic plot and still engage your readership. That said, I always try to be as original as possible and not go with the easy angle on any story. I’m like a reader when I write. I want to enjoy the story, too.

3. I have to admit I am fascinated by your Jonathan Quinn character. You describe him as a 'cleaner.' For the audience, describe for us what is a cleaner--and tell us how this specific character came to mind.

A cleaner, in Quinn’s case anyway, is a person who works in the world of espionage with the very specific task of making bodies disappear. I don’t mean killing the target, but coming in after the target is dead, removing the body, and either making it look like nothing ever happened or confusing the crime scene so no one will realize the truth. A successful job is one where no one ever discovers the body again. Of course things don’t always go as planned, and while the majority of Quinn’s jobs come off without a hitch, it’s those wayward ones I write about in the novels.

Quinn’s origin with me is a bit murky in the scene I can’t point at an exact moment. I knew I wanted to write an international based thriller, and I had always been drawn to the spy world (thank you Mr. Ludlum), but I didn’t just want to create another James Bond or Jason Bourne. I was looking for something different. Eventually, over the course of probably a couple of years, Quinn developed in my mind to the point where I was finally ready to sit down and write the story.

4. You are doing several series/character-driven novels at the same time. Come on, tell us . . . which one is your favorite. And why so?

HA! No way. Love them all for different reasons. Quinn I love because a) he’s my first, b) the international aspect appeals to me, and c) I love the continuing storyline between my main characters. The Logan Harper books I love because a) though Logan has training, he’s more of a regular guy who gets pulled into things, b) there’s a bit more mystery/solving a case involved, and c) I love writing about the relationship between Logan and his 80 year old father Harp. The Project Eden Thrillers are a blast because a) when you’re writing about an organization bent on wiping out 99% of mankind to give humanity a reboot, you can really stretch your creativity, b) I love the relentless pace of these books and telling the story through multiple points of view scattered around the global, and c) I’m able to create a level of suspense that even makes me nervous.

5. What's your take on this conflict between epublishing and traditional publishing. Will one destroy the other? Will they eventually find a happy eq uilibrium between themselves? More importantly, do you think one will become, for the writer, more financially viable over the other?

Hmmm, this is a tough subject. I really don’t know if an equilibrium will be reached or not. It is definitely a changing world. The thing about ebooks is that because places like Amazon and have allowed the uploading of books by anyone, authors now have something we have never had before…direct access to distribution. This is a fantastic development as it allows authors to be in full control of their careers if they want. Many mid-list writers now have a second chance at the writing world. It used to be if a publisher dumped you and you didn’t immediately get picked up by another publisher, the reading world never heard from you again. It didn’t matter if a series was in the middle or not, you were done. That is no longer the case. And while this opening of the gates to anyone who wants to publish means a lot of crap is getting up there, readers aren’t stupid. They can sample a book and immediately see if it is any good or not. Good books will always rise to the top and I think those write those books will be able to make a decent, if not excellent, living from this new direct to reader method. I know I’m writing full time, and pretty much most of my income (minus some royalties from my earlier books I get twice a year) is from my ebook sales. The other thing about ebooks is that I can write whatever I want and not be concerned that it will never see the light of day. For instance, my novel SICK was twice rejected in proposal form by traditional publishing, and it is my best reviewed book and has sold very well. So much so I wrote a sequel and am now working on the third book in the series.

6. In this struggle between epublishing and traditional publishing, what influence does the writer have in this struggle. Do publishers, in your opinion, consider the ideas and reactions of their writers? Or are writers nothing but pawns to be moved in a gigantic chess game?

I guess the influence would be that many writers who go the independent publishing route, writers who were once under contract by traditional publishers, are making very good money now, more than publishers probably realize. I’m sure as that message sinks in more, it’ll have some kind of effect. What? I don’t know. As far as the other two questions, I don’t have any idea what they are thinking, and, honestly, don’t worry about it at this point. I’m very focused on writing the absolute best books I can, and getting the word out about them. In essence I’m Brett Battles Publishing House now, so that’s where all my energies need to be focused.

The Deceived
7. Coming back to genre writing, and especially writing a series. Question; for a writer, how long does a series . . . an on-going character . . . live? What are the signs that indicate to a writer their creations are still viable and healthy or in need for some kind of respectful conclusion.
Good questions, but ones that I think can only be answered on a series by series basis. I’m sure I’ll know with Quinn, though I’ve already put some things in place that could see the series continue even if he starts to take a back seat at some point. I like series where characters grow, whether in a good way or bad, and that’s what I’ve been doing with Quinn, and to a lesser degree at this point with Logan. So, naturally, they’ll come a point where it’s time to draw it to a close. Or, perhaps, just take a lengthy break. We’ll see.

8. Finally, tell us about your latest efforts. What's next for a book? Any nibbles for something of your creation perhaps becoming a movie(s)? And who, in your opinion, will play the Jonathan Quinn character?

The next book is book three in my Project Eden Series. I’m hoping to have it out in early June. I left book two, EXIT 9, off on a pretty big cliff hanger (and that’s actually an understatement), so I have several readers who will be pounding on my door if I don’t get the next one out soon!

Have had several nibbles on the Quinn series but no full on bites yet. Fingers crossed! I think Nathan Fillion would be a great Quinn, or Jeremy Renner would also do a fantastic job. Honestly, think I’d like to see Quinn as a TV series on one of the innovative cable networks, though I’d take a movie if someone wanted to do that!

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