I want to welcome Brian Braden to the blog today. Now retired from the military, he served as an officer in intelligence and as a combat helicopter pilot. In addition, he’s been a corporate executive and a freelance columnist featured in defense publications including Military Times and Air Power Journal. Brian and I know each other in our work at Author Salon where we support and critique each other’s work. So I speak from experience — the man can write. Brian also writes regularly for Underground Book Reviews. He is the author of CARSON’S LOVE, a novelette about a family’s struggle with childhood cancer. His current project, BLACK SEA GODS is an epic fantasy, the first in a series and a novel I can’t wait to read.
Brian, thanks again for joining me. From the perspective of someone who flies aircraft with actual wings, my discovery of your helicopter experience leaves me a bit humbled. It certainly takes a level of courage to fly what is essentially a controlled crashed landing called a helicopter. But to fly one in combat, well, thank you for your service.
How does your military and flying background influence your writing?
First, thanks for inviting me to your blog. Many years ago, as a young man in high school and college, I had the writing itch. But when I reached deep inside for inspiration my bag was empty. I hadn’t experienced enough of life’s ups and downs. I wanted ups and downs. I craved ups and downs. I wanted to look back and be able to say “I did that.” Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t looking for thrills. I was looking for meaning, an uncompromised life. The military exposed me to undiluted people. It allowed me to experience places as they are, not as they appear from a tour bus.
I’m not sure I lived an uncompromised life, but I sure met a lot of undiluted people, saw interesting places, and had enough ups and downs to keep me writing for another fifty years. I feel more comfortable writing now than I did in my early twenties
Flying, especially military flying, taught me life and actions have consequences. Everything has a cost, and those costs must be factored. Ignoring facts can have instant and devastating consequences. I think it brings realism, an immediacy and leanness to my writing I don’t think I’d otherwise possess.
I’m always curious about what jazzes creative artists. Where do you find the inspiration for your writing?
I find my inspiration in unexpected moments, whether it’s a word, a scene, or a phrase that grabs my imagination and won’t let go. They are like grains of sand caught in my mind. I worry them, rub them and start to lay down layers over them. Soon, in my mind I build entire stories around that flash of inspiration until I finally commit them to paper.
Most of these unexpected moments concern people. When I meet a new person or see a stranger with a unique personality trait, I commit them to paper, like a catalog. This isn’t just a catalog of characters, it’s a catalog of story ideas. A story may be built around an idea, but in the end it’s the person, the character, that sells the story to the reader.
On Underground Book Reviews you constantly scour the 99 cent digital shelves. Have you found any gems in the process?
Three indie authors instantly pop into my mind: Michael Manning, author of the Mageborn fantasy series; Bryan R. Dennis, author of the sci-fi book The Uncanny Valley; and Michelle Isenhoff and her YA novel, The Quill Pen. These self-published authors created books that, in my opinion, stand equal to anything generated by the traditional publishing industry. I’m stunned how any agent or editor could read their work and pass it up. There is some seriously good stuff lost in the background noise on Amazon that deserves our attention. If I were an agent I would bypass the query process and just surf the self-published authors to find projects to represent.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the Big Six publishers don’t use the self-published treasure trove the way Major League Baseball uses the farm teams.
What do you find to be the most challenging thing about being a writer? And how do you cope with that challenge?
That goes back to your last question – the most difficult thing about being a writer is trying to make sense out of this industry, trying to figure out what is fact, what is myth and who you can trust. This particularly applies to the traditional publishing side.
In fact, trust is the key issue that bugs me the most. I’m slowly coming to grips that publishing is really show business. That concept is somewhat daunting, because much of your success is out of your hands. It brings to mind when I once had a beer with legendary ace Chuck Yeager. I asked him why he was so successful in his career. He replied it wasn’t so much having the Right Stuff, it was a lot of luck and being at the right place at the right time. I think getting traditionally published is a lot like that, even if you do have the Write Stuff.
How do I deal with it? Research, prayer, coffee, perseverance and occasionally walking away from the laptop. I won’t quit and I won’t compromise my values. Eventually, good things will happen, maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it will happen.
What do like the most about being a writer?
Other writers. Writers are like cats. We’re not herd animals, but we do occasionally congregate at midnight and swap stories. And what stories! We military personalities usually run only one standard deviation either side of the Army…Marines on one side and Air Force on the other. To say writers are a bit more diverse is an understatement. At the Algonkian Conference in New York in December I was thrust into the company of dozens of writers for the first time in my life. And we had beer. I was in culture shock and I loved it. The creative energy was phenomenal, overwhelming. It felt like a drug. I want more.
Specifically, I think my fellow writers at Underground Book Reviews are absolutely the best thing that’s happened to me since I started writing. If my writing never pans out I will still have UBR.
Having read your writing, Brian, I don’t think you need to worry about the writing thing not panning out. So, tell us about your current project, BLACK SEA GODS.
Black Sea Gods is an epic fantasy based on a very ancient mythology from the Caucus region of Asia. This mythology is probably the foundation of the more familiar Greek and Scandinavian myths. The mythology provides the foundation and binding for the story, but what it’s really about is two men. It tells the story of a fisherman and a demi-god, two men trying to save the people they cherish from an enemy, a force, they don’t understand and they can’t fight.
In BSG I wanted to write a different kind of fantasy, a genre I think has grown somewhat stale in the past ten years. First, I didn’t want a dark book. I’m tired of dark. Second, I didn’t want to write a YA novel. I love YA, but I wanted a book that adults, especially parents and spouses, can relate to.
You have two protagonists, one, a human named Aizarg and the other, the demi-god Fu Xi. Tell us a little about Aizarg. In the excerpts I’ve read, I found Aizarg to be a compelling character facing extreme adversity. What drives Aizarg on against all odds?
Aizarg is a father, a husband, and chief of primitive tribe called the Lo. Aizarg is loving and flawed, but no worse than any other family man. My inspiration for Aizarg came in 2008 during the beginning of the global financial crisis. I wanted to capture that kind of fear and put it in a fantasy/mythological setting. It’s a slow-roll terror. He knows something bad is coming but he doesn’t know how to stop it. He feels powerless, even as everything around him seems okay for the moment. The sky is blue and the world looks like it should, yet everyone knows something wrong, something broken, something very bad is about to happen, but when and how is still a mystery. He looks at his wife, children and people and wonders how he can protect them.
Fu Xi is an actual figure from Chinese mythology. How did you come across this mythology and how do you make the translation to a western audience?
I found Fu Xi accidentally when researching Black Sea myths. He is purely a Chinese myth and plays a role in the founding of ancient China. China has amazing mythology which has directly influenced western thought, mythology and history since the dawn of civilization. I can’t really say too much on this without giving the series away, but when I read about him I instantly latched on to the Fu Xi myth as a way to glue my story together.
We think of China as an ancient culture, but it was once young. Fu Xi represents that youth, even though he is a god. Fu Xi and Aizarg will eventually develop a bond, a brotherhood. Perhaps it more accurate to say it is more like father and son. In the course of extraordinary events and drama, both will have important lessons to teach one another.
Brian, you have a novelette entitled Carson’s love, which is the first in a series. Tell us about Carson’s Love and the series you have planned.
Carson’s Love started as a writing exercise. I wanted a piece of flash fiction that was first person, present tense. I’d been seeing a lot of that in my writing circles, so I decided to give it a try. I developed into two separate short stories about a family dealing with both marital problems and a child with cancer. One short story is from the husband’s perspective, the other short story is from the wife’s. I fused them into a novelette. I got the idea when my own child was fighting cancer and I read a pamphlet in the hospital about dealing with a child’s cancer while undergoing a divorce. I said to myself, “How can someone undergo a divorce while their kid is fighting for their life?” What a great idea for a story, I thought.
I never originally intended to publish Carson as a novelette, but I needed to stick my nose into the self-publishing business to understand how it works. I wanted to make my mistakes on a small project, like a novelette, instead of a big project like a novel. Carson was like my Voyager space probe, launched into the abyss that is self-publishing. Through it, I learned how to edit, find an artists to do the cover, submit, etc. The real hard nut to crack is marketing. That’s why I’m writing a sequel, as an attempt to understand the ins and outs of marketing. I plan to release several sequels to the Carson saga over the next few years, not unlike how King originally released his Green Mile series.
A part of the proceeds from sale of this book goes to Cure Search. Can you tell us a little about Curesearch and why you wanted to direct a percentage of the profits to that organization?
What few people know is organizations like the American Cancer Society do very little for children’s cancer. No drugs have been developed specifically to fight children’s cancer. Their justification is the ratio of adult versus children’s cancer doesn’t justify the dedicated resources. Most pediatric cancer treatments are “hand-me-down” drugs, adult chemotherapies and such adapted to children. CureSearch aims to change that.
CureSearch for Children’s Cancer is a national non-profit foundation that supports clinical trials and research in hospitals across the United States, funds research, and conducts fundraising. To findout more, go to http://www.curesearch.org/.
Due to my family’s experience with childhood cancer, this is a cause near and dear to our hearts.
I hope readers will go check Carson’s Love out. Thanks for sharing with us today. Is there anything you’d like to add?
I greatly appreciate you inviting me onto your blog. If your readers want to read more of my stuff, they can read my review column, Brian’s 99 Cents, on Undergroundbookreviews.com, stop by my personal blog at brianbraden.weebly.com, or buy my novelette, CARSON’S LOVE. CARSON’S LOVE is the first installment of a novelette series, with the second installment, CARSON’S LINE, coming out later this year.