Six questions with Brian Braden

Brian BradenBrian Braden is a retired military officer and has been a corporate executive, an intelligence officer, a combat helicopter pilot, and a freelance columnist. His articles have been featured in a variety of defense magazines and websites. He is also a founder, editor and writer for Underground Book Reviews. His debut novel, Black Sea Gods, is the first installment of an epic fantasy series.

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Brian!  I’m so happy to have you here to celebrate the launch your new book, Black Sea Gods: Chronicle of Fu Xi on February 18, 2013.

We first met on Author Salon just over a year ago, in the then-beginning Epic Fantasy group. Since then, your work has changed and grown, and I feel privileged to have been one of your beta-readers.

Congratulations on sharing BSG with the world 🙂

WG: How long have you been writing, Brian?  When did the bug first bite, and when did you know that writing was what you wanted to do?

BLB: First, thanks for inviting me to Writerly Goodness.  Back in 2008 I wrote a letter to a major US defense magazine on a military topic.  The editor actually called me and asked me to turn the letter into a column and he’d pay me. Paid for my opinion? I was in heaven. Then I did another column and then another. Well, one day editors changed and my columnist days were over. But I was fully bit by the writing bug by then. I wanted to write, so I switched to fiction.  I published a little novelette called Carson’s Love to test the self-publishing waters and never looked back

WG: I know you’ve written about this many times, but what was the idea that became BSG and where did it come from?

BLB: It came from several inspirations, but primarily from a photo of an ancient mummy dug-up in a faraway land. The man’s face was amazingly preserved, as was his clothing. I wanted to know more about this person, but archeologist knew very little about him. I imagined who he was and what his life was like. After a while I decided to write his story, but I needed a cultural mythology to build upon. That’s when I stumbled upon Dr. John Colarusso’s book Nart Sagas From the Caucasus, a compilation of myths almost lost to history. I put the myths to the man and combined it with some related Chinese mythology and BLACK SEA GODS was born.

WG: I love process!  Can you give my readers any insight into yours over the course of writing BSG?

BLB: The short answer: My core process is I start with a climax and a character and build the rest of the story around those two elements. My long answer: I started out on a website called Review Fuse, where other writers could read my chapters as I posted them. Not long after I started posting chapters I began collaborating with Amy Biddle, who was working on her first novel The Atheist Prayer (due out soon by Perfect Edge Books).  We joined forces and started critiquing each other’s books one chapter at a time. We soon expanded our circle to two other talented writers – Katie French (The Breeders) and Kimberly Shurshen (Itsy Bitsy Spider and Hush). Over a year, one chapter at a time, we dissected each other work until we had complete novels. I liked this approach because it made each chapter a tighter package. That was phase one. Then I spent another year or so with writers at Author Salon doing deep edits, mostly involving shortening the book and reworking it using a six-act/two goal writing template. Then I sent it to an editor, who was a tremendous help. Finally, I involved beta-readers, most of who came to me from fantasy author Michael Manning’s pool of devoted fans.  So, it was a four-stage process spanning almost  three years: one-at-a time chapter builds with  external critiques from trusted colleagues, deep “whole manuscript” edits from other writers, a professional editor, and finally, beta-readers.

WG: What have you learned from writing BSG, and how has it changed you as a writer?

BLB: It taught me I can write a novel. Hey, that’s something, right? It taught me to trust my gut and don’t let the idea of become a writer get in the way of being a writer. This past year taught me how to organize my manuscript and how to structure it.

WG: When you started writing BSG, you had your eyes on traditional publishing.  When did that change and why did you opt for Amazon?

BLB:  My decision didn’t come all at once, but was influenced by several factors. First, as a writer for Underground Book Reviews I’ve read amazing indie books and saw indie authors build huge readerships.  I kept seeing friends, talented authors, succeed in the wild west of indie publication.  If they can do it, I can do it.  Second, as I’ve learned more about the traditional publishing industry the more I realized how highly unlikely Black Sea Gods was going to be picked up. It’s too far out of what industry professionals are looking for, what they consider “hot,” or “marketable.” The feedback I received from several agents and publishers was they liked the story but didn’t know where BSG would fit in their line. My only real hope would be to warp the story into something more compatible with the current market, and therefore make it something unrecognizable. I wanted to tell the story my way. I’m comfortable with that.

I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct exclusively for the first 90 days to initially keep things simple, take advantage of their marketing leverage, and incorporate a “rolling debut.”  In three months I’ll debut on Nook, and then Smashswords, etc. Each debut is a marketing opportunity, a chance to burst fresh on the scene and carry the accolades/reviews from the previous tier forward.

WG: I know you started your personal blog in the last year as well.  What has your experience in blogging been like and how do you think it will contribute to your success as an author?

BLB: Blogging … I haven’t cracked that nut yet. As it stands now, I have very little faith in my personal blog to sustain or launch my writing career. Blogs are jealous creatures, they demand gobs of time and attention in order to love you back just a little bit. I’m afraid I haven’t given my blog enough of that TLC;  however, I’ve developed a small, but loyal following and, over the next 90 days, I’ll be offering  free copies of BSG from time to timeBlack Sea Gods: Chronicle of  Fu Xi as part of my marketing campaign.  The first promotion started yesterday and ran for 24 hours.

If there has been one platform that has been good to me it’s Underground Book Reviews. The response to the indie book e-zine has been overwhelming. I would not have been as well positioned as I am now to launch an indie writing career without it.

Thanks for a great interview Brian!

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 2

Last week: An early encounter with death.

The year I had my tonsils out

Tonsillitis is hell.  The true infection, the one that leaves your four-year-old self screaming, the monster pain in your ears reaching back into your brain, your throat, latching on with needle-like claws, and shredding.

I remember that.

I remember trying to lie still on my side on the couch while Mom administered oil-based ear medication into my ears, one after the other.  This would hopefully happen before the screaming started, was intended to pre-empt it.   I’d squirm and whine while the medication slowly dripped into my ears, swallowed doses of liquid antibiotics and Tempra (a liquid painkiller for children).

I remember once heading out in the car with my parents and maternal grandparents.  I’m not sure whether it was just for a picnic, or if it was a day trip to a camp site, but it was a ways out of town.  Mom hadn’t thought to bring my medication and just to spite her, my tonsillitis decided to act up.  Big time.

Mom and Nanny (I had to have a different name for this other older lady who wasn’t the same as Grandma, my paternal grandmother) tried to calm me down in the back seat, but I was howling by the time we reached our destination and we couldn’t stay.  I had to be returned home and dosed.

It quickly became apparent that surgery was in order.  Though this was the time during which doctors tried not to perform tonsillectomies, my situation was serious enough that everyone felt there was no other choice.

I don’t remember anything about the surgery itself.  I believe it went off without a hitch.  After the operation, all seemed well, and I returned home enjoying ice cream, popsicles, and TLC.

In the middle of the night, I woke, coughing, had trouble breathing, the air moving in and out of me with a rattling slurp, the sound of milk bubbling through a straw.  The next cough shot a black spatter onto my pyjamas and sheets.  I couldn’t summon the breath to call for my mom right away, my first attempt emerged a thready burble.

Each stuttering breath and cough produced a little more noise, until I was shouting, “Mom!

The light switch flicked on, momentarily blinding me, but one look at the blood and I yelled again, despite the jagged burning in my throat, tried to crawl back from it, but it followed.  I was covered in blood.

My stitches had burst.

A frantic ride to the hospital and the doctor ordered me back into surgery and my parents were ordered out of the examination room, the male nurse assuring them that he could handle getting the intravenous inserted.

He sent Mom away.  It was abandonment, pure and simple.  A four-year old doesn’t distinguish between her parents leaving her and her parents being forced to leave her.

Worse, the nurse tried to stab me.  I showed him.

Mom and Dad were brought back in, allowed to hold my hand, held my legs down, while the newly bandaged nurse taped my arm to a block of wood and did his worst.  In the moment, I hated my parents for that, for letting the nurse hurt me.

I didn’t die, but I came close.

I don’t remember any of the iconic images typical of near-death experiences (NDEs).  No long tunnels.  No doorways of brilliant light.  No voices of lost loved ones calling to me.  No angels; no voice of God.

The road back from that second surgery was a long one.  I’d ingested so much blood, I became incontinent in the most embarrassing way, my family doctor plucked clots of blood out of my ears, and nothing, not even ice cream, tasted good for weeks.  More courses of liquid antibiotics followed, which stained my teeth indelibly and made me self-conscious for years.

I have a picture of myself right after the surgery, pale, skinny.  It was Christmas, but I couldn’t smile.

Mellie after the operation

Mellie after the operation

What’s stayed with me the most was the dream.

My first night home after the second surgery, I dreamed of my bed, empty.  The cheery yellow and white striped flannel sheets, the blue wool blanket turned down, the dark wood frame with the toy cupboard built in.  Just the bed in a kind of spot light, the rest of the room dark.  The image of the bed receded into the darkness and finally disappeared.

The feeling that I woke up with was that I had died, not that I really understood what that meant, but that I had ceased to exist and that the world I woke up in was a new one.  I had a new life, too.  A second chance.

Now, I’d say that I dreamed of one of those moments at which the infinite iterations of parallel universes converge.  I turned left.  The sensation was profound.

I started to have nightmares about falling, or being abandoned, that troubled me for years,

Deutsch: Engel holt die Seele eines Sterbenden

Deutsch: Engel holt die Seele eines Sterbenden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and am firmly convinced that I had spontaneous out-of-body experiences (OBEs) at night.  During the latter, I felt like a helium balloon in a wind storm, flung, sometimes painfully, to the furthest reaches of my tether but always yanked back.  The ‘string’ was attached to my navel.

Try an experiment for me.  Poke your finger into your belly-button.  Press in hard and wriggle it around.  That will give you some idea what having a string attached to it and being hauled around by it feels like.

I’ve heard that the navel is supposed to be an erogenous zone (thanks for that one, Dr. Oz).  Sadly, I’ve never found that to be true.  It’s always been a slightly disturbing feeling for me.  I figure that’s just me.  My wiring isn’t quite what other people might feel is normal.  I’m cool with that.

I’ve written a short story about this experience for my thesis called “Tonsillitis Blues.”  I’ve written short fiction and poetry about it.

This experience is still in me and claws its way out from time to time, like it has today.

Next week, I’ll be delving into the period of my life that I refer to as ‘friend wars.’  These were my first experiences of bullying.  I think I did pretty well, even though I had no idea what it was I was dealing with.  This was also the period when I developed my first defenses against bullying, several of which resulted in my further isolation, and one of which meant that I became a bully myself.

I see the ‘friend war’ years as the time when my predisposition to depression was first anchored in my psyche.  It destroyed my self-confidence.

Have any of you had a non-traditional near-death experience?  A youthful trauma that resulted in years of nightmares?  How about out-of-body experiences?  When were you able to understand what happened to you and how it affected you?  What creativity has emerged from these experiences?

I’ll be posting my interview with Brian Braden shortly.

Talk to you soon!