Posts Tagged ‘Richard Hacker’

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.

Cathy Coburn tagged me for a little thing called the 777 challenge.  I will post seven lines from page seven of a work in progress and then tag seven other writers. Because I’ve never been good at coloring inside the lines, I’m changing this up a bit.  How about the first seven lines of the work or seven lines from page seven.  I want to introduce you to some great writers, so I’m tagging them and I’ll leave it up to them if they want to post some lines.  But do follow the links to their blogs or websites.

Brian Braden

Rachel Walsch

Kati Thomson

Melanie Martilla

Tara Sheets

Nikki Andrews

Julie Eberhart Painter

Here are the first 7 lines from a YA fantasy I’m currently writing called INKER WAR: THE FIVE PENS OF JOHANNE

Sure, we die; we always die, but this time something’s gone wrong. Our algorithms pointed to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria in 642 AD. Ryan and I Inked into the consciousness of the right people 1369 years in ancient Egypt’s past. We stole the Al Chemeia papyrus scrolls for their alchemical formulas. Our plan should be working without a hitch. Instead I’ve got a very large Islamic warrior in a fighting tunic covered in blood and dirt, yelling at me in a voice, oddly reminiscent of 20th century New Jersey.

“Stop, Inkah’s.”

I have my dad’s 1911 Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol, the very one he wore in a leather shoulder harness as a B-17 bombardier in the Pacific doing low level bombing of Emperial Japanese warships. I’ll bypass the whole “low level bombing in a B-17” thing for another time. The last and only time I ever saw my dad fire his pistol was with me in 1966. He decided to use up his remaining ammunition from the 1940’s and give his son a chance to fire a real .45. We trudged into a wooded area in Alabama, outside of Birmingham where we were living at the time, until we found a nice spot with a high embankment and a stump just begging to be shot multiple times. I still remember the combination of excitement, adrenaline and being inside “the man club.” My dad was about to hand me a man tool, used in a man war, with real man bullets. I could hardly breathe.

Dad fired the first few shots, explaining how to hold and sight the gun. I recall him warning me about how a .45 kicks and not to let that bother me. “Don’t anticipate the kick, just slowly squeeze the trigger.” In deference to my dad, remember the year, 1966. No seat belts, no rubberized deck for playscapes, no “playscapes” for that matter, no bicycle helmets, nothing. And so without eye or ear protection. (trust me, only bad guys, law enforcement officers in the field, characters in novels and stupid people shoot a .45 without eye and ear protection these days) I stood on a hot, humid day in some Alabama woods, a nine year old holding what felt like 20 pounds of steel. My hands quickly fatigued with the gun’s weight, but I gamely did my best to aim at the condemned tree stump, squeezing the trigger as coached. BAM!!!! The chunk of iron bucked back, beyond my control, the noise louder than any clap of thunder I had ever heard. I’m fighting to keep from peeing myself, watching, in terrified wonder, a tracer bullet etch a phosphoric trail right into my enemy tree stump. I don’t recall what passed through my mind as a child, but the adult translation is something close to HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, JESUS CHRIST AND ALL THE ANGELS!!!!!!!!!! I stood there, my dad having the prescience to take the loaded weapon from my trembling hand. He chuckled. “Pretty loud, eh? Told you about the kick. Wanna go again?”

Yes. No. Yes, but I don’t know. Here’s the thing. My dad let me sneak into the “Man Club.” The idea of gently closing my finger around something capable of such earth shattering mayhem, noise and violence left me hesitant. But when you’re in the “Man Club” turning away from man stuff, well, even at the age of nine I knew it just wasn’t done. If I turned my back on that pistol because it scared me, I would live with my shame the rest of my life. Dad handed me his gun, I took my stance, took aim, my heart pounding in my throat. I squeezed the trigger, only this time anticipating an explosive kick. BLAM!!! Missed. I shot out the magazine, missing every single time, all the while my dad encouraging me not to jerk my hand or shut my eyes in anticipation.

When our last bullet went down range, my eyes burning and ears ringing, we walked back to our car. Dad put his large hand on my shoulder as we walked. I may have only hit our stump once, but I stood in the woods with my dad shooting the biggest gun I had ever seen. The gun he had in The War.  And so, for a few brief hours, we shared an unspoken truth about the strange twisted joy of destruction, the horrifying violence of war and the love between a father and his boy.

When writing a scene I also work to bring the tension up.  Falling off a curb and spraining an ankle?  How about falling off a cliff and breaking your back? You get the idea.  But I’ve also found that I have to use some judgement about how far I take things or they begin to shift from suspense to comedy.  A case in point is a scene from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol I watched over the weekend.  If you’ve never seen the movie and plan on catching it one of these days, stop reading NOW.

As the story unfolds we find our gallant IMF team in a Dubai hotel.  They need to get to the servers in order to gain control of the building security systems, but the security is so “military grade” they cannot quickly hack it.  What to do?  The only path is to climb outside of their hotel to the server room several floors above them.  Where is this room?  On floor 130.  So they cut out the glass, but how to scale a glass building?  With electronic sticky gloves, of course.  So Tom goes out at least 1000 feet above an unforgiving desert floor to scale the wall.  But wait. There’s an approaching dust storm.  Better hurry.  But wait. The gloves begin to malfunction.  He muscles it along, breaking through a window and getting the job done.  Now he has to get back, but the gloves have gone completely kaput, so he grabs some nylon strapping, racing down the outside of the building. But wait. The strapping isn’t sufficiently long to get him to his room.  So with the dust storm coming, he does a little swinging then flies toward the opening where his colleague hope to catch him.  But wait.  He slams into the wall below the window which should lead to certain death. But wait. One of his colleagues grabs him by the ankle and the team pulls him to safety.

I like the forward momentum of this scene, but I have to say, about halfway through, I felt like I had landed in the middle of Ginsu Knife commercial.  “But wait! There’s more!”  And each time the suspense artificially cranked up, the scene lost some of the power it could have retained by staying with its key elements.  Climbing outside a glass tower over 1000 feet in the air has all the makings of a terrifying activity.  Why not explore that terror more fully, the distance to the ground, the wind knocking him around, his struggle to gain a foothold.  Instead, by adding more elements, we lost the moment.

My take aways from the scene?

  1. Be sure I’ve taken full advantage of a scenes key elements before I start adding more complications
  2. Don’t get carried away with the complications, unless I’m shooting for comedy, rather than suspense.

I love a good adventure. Doesn’t have to be too crazy, just something out of the usual day to day.  Last weekend my bride Sidney and I hopped on the Vespa and went to Tacoma.  We couldn’t take I5, since the 150 will only do 50 or 55.  So we had to get a little creative.  We drove through the city to West Seattle, taking a ferry across Elliott Bay to Vashon Island.  This lush, green 5 X 15 mile island has a nice, laid back vibe.  We stopped at a little cafe then rode to the south of the island, taking another ferry to Tacoma, then drove along the shore to downtown.

Our quest?  The  newly opened LeMay Museum — what has got to be one of the premier automotive museums in the country now.  I’ll plop a pic or two down in the blog, but believe me, my photos can’t do the place justice.  If you’re a gear head, drive, walk or crawl in the direction of this place.  Favorite?  A ’32 Ford like the one my dad drove as a teen in the late 30’s, a Jaguar E Type — probably the closest thing to sex in car design, and the Tucker from the 1950’s.  The Jag to the right is a 1952 XK120.  I could go on and on.

Sunday morning, we took the return trip, this time stopping at the birthplace of the coffee craze in Seattle, which oddly enough is on Vashon Island.  After a second ferry over to West Seattle, we stopped for pizza and beer by the beach.  While couples and families strolled the sidewalks, guys and girls in swimsuits played beach volley ball, boats with sails straining in the breeze and motorcycle drivers rumbling by, we drank cold ones, celebrating a great dayto be alive.

In order to fit in with the big Harley’s rumbling past, we discovered we could put out a Harley-like exhaust tone by doing raspberries in unison.  Well, it sounded good inside the helmet anyway…

Read a story today about the author of Ready Player One, Arthur Cline, is giving a prize away for any reader who can find a clue in his novel, then successfully navigate three challenges in an online video game at a specific web address. The contest sounds kind of cool. Much more skill based than say Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. All you had to do to win that one was be either seriously lucky or a glutton. Cline’s contest involves some detective work to find the “Easter Egg” as he calls it, then be pretty decent at gaming.

Most authors give out copies of books and other low cost swag for a contest. But not Cline. He’s giving away a DeLorean. That’s right, an honest to god DeLorean he picked up on eBay. So you’re probably wondering if there’s a catch. How can this be? Find a hint, win a video game and get a car? The only catch I can see is that if you win, you’ve got a DeLorean. Not the most high performance car ever built — not even in its time. But at low speeds you could cruise downtown and I imagine, once parked, you’ll gather a crowd.

I appreciate Cline’s marketing initiative on this one. Every gamer into his book will want a piece of this action. USA Today, and I’m sure other news outlets, picked up the story. And people like me have just written blogs about it. My gull wing door tips in your direction Mr. Cline. Now that he’s raised the bar, I guess I’ll have to start buying cool stuff to give away as prizes.

What’s the best author contest you’ve ever seen? And if you received a prize from an author, what would you want it to be?

As I may have mentioned, I’ve got a novel coming out in August published by Champagne Books.  TOXIC RELATIONSHIP is a thriller with a humorous twist set in the Hill Country of Texas.  My protagonist, Nick Sibelius, moves to the small Texas town of Pflugerville, turned Austin suburb, to set up a private investigation business, find some peace and maybe, himself, after a murdered partner, a cheating wife and a lost job in Houston.  When a young couple disappears and a bass fisherman turns up dead, he finds himself drawn into a web of toxic relationships: MaryLou, a beautiful woman with a mysterious past, Junior, a failed farmer whose best intentions seem to always result in a dead body, and Barry, a sociopathic dentist turned illegal toxic waste and methamphetamine entrepreneur with visions of grandeur.  When the felon who killed his partner in Houston joins forces with Barry, Nick must not only stop the toxic waste dumping while finding his client’s missing daughter, but keep from being killed in the process. In the end, MaryLou’s dark secret will either help him or kill him — whichever comes first.

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I’ll be posting occassional stories about writing this novel, pics, backstory, character descriptions as the publishing date draws near.  My hope is that the novel is as fun to read as it was to write.