My wife and I were at a dinner party with a very dear friend of ours, and her husband. She is probably the most devoted fan to my writing of anybody that I know. I know there are other people that really enjoy, but not only has she purchased every one of my books, she has also purchased many and given them away as gifts.
She really talks me up. Sales are doing great. I’ve sold, I don’t know, probably 20, 30,000 books so far since I started writing, which wasn’t that long ago, it seems like. But anyway, she’s been very supportive and just absolutely the truest friend and the most committed fan that I have. Anyway, at this dinner party we were talking. I’m in the process of writing the third novel in the Carson Brand series – Reasonable Sin. I mentioned it to her and she said, “How’s that going?” I said, “I’m about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through. I figure probably by the spring I’ll be done with this one – published and through post production and everything else.
She replied, “I thought it was going to be done this summer.” With work and COVID and lockdowns, and like all of us, trying to get my life back to normal, the writing has been put on the back burner a little. Of course I’ve kicked back in. I started writing again. In fact, I wrote a little bit today, so things are going again. I feel the creative juices going and everything’s going to work. But anyway, because she’s been such a dear friend and such a great fan, I said, “When I’m finished with this book, I’d like for you to be able to read it before anybody else does.
She said, “That’d be great. I’ll proofread it. I’ll make some notes. I’ll make sure that there are no typos.”That kinda gave me a pause for a second. I said, “I guess you can do that but I won’t read the notes. I’m just gonna throw them away.” As you might guess, she gave me a really strange look. It’s funny because that was a knee jerk reaction. Ladies and gentlemen, I, I didn’t do it to be mean spirited. I didn’t do it to make a point because I’ll tell you this. I have a saying, and it is this: Everything I know I have learned from someone else. I don’t have an original thought in my head. And that’s the truth.
Speaker 2: I think, to be successful at anything, you must first be a student. To be a good leader, you must first be a follower. I firmly believe that. Even at my age, 59 years old, I am still a student. I learn everyday. I love the fact that I learn everyday. Whenever I do I brag about it. “Hey, I learned something today.” I think it happens all the time.I know a lot of people that don’t, I know a lot of people that think, “At my age, I think I know it all, and I’m really not going to listen.” That’s a dead end. Now that’s something that we should never embrace in life.
I would advise anyone who feels that way, just listen to the people around you love on them a little bit, let them know that you’re listening to them. Like I said, I’m a student. I don’t have an original thought in my head. So when she made this comment, it wasn’t for me to say, “You can’t teach me anything. I’m an author. Look how many books I’ve written. How many have you? It’s not like that. That wasn’t what it was. And I knew it wasn’t. So I became a little introspective about it: Why did I react that way? I think that the subconscious sometimes just leaps out every now and then and says, “Hey, you know, this is something that you might want to pay attention to and note.”
So I did. And after some consideration, I know what it was. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and believe me, the stuff that I first wrote, it was not fit for print. It was not fit to be read: poorly conceived prose; my characters were completely unbelievable; their motivation were unclear; the ,usings of an adolescent child. What I learned, because in those days, I focused a whole lot on sentence structure, grammar, or spelling. That’s the Cardinal sin, the misspelled words, syntax, making sure the sentence wasn’t a run-on or a fragmented sentence, don’t end a sentence with, a preposition.
But as I began writing seriously, and was published, and put some money behind this thing, and I was taken seriously by my reading audience and by my peers – then the market, I found that the direction that I went in was not the direction that I had gone before. I was going in more of a direction of, “How do I create a story?” Is it believable? Suspension of disbelief is something I don’t rely too much on, although we have to in our craft. But the biggest thing, Is this a plot that somebody would be interested in? Is this a character that somebody will relate to? Will the reader say, “There’s something wrong with this guy in places, but overall, I kind of like what he’s doing?” – a big thing is writing from a woman’s point of view.
It is tough. On one of my other podcasts I talk about this. I did a lot of research and I spent a lot of time really listening when women speak to me or when they’re speaking to each other. I’ll listen to a conversation, and occasional ask, what do you think about this or what do you think about that? Not to be critical and not to be inquisitive, but to see how they react, because women think differently. Their minds work differently than men’s do. The way they process things, and by the way, that’s the beauty of a woman. That’s what makes them so unique. Women are on such an island because few men try to understand not what a woman says, but why she says it and where she comes from.
I think the reason my wife and I have such a great relationship is because I actually listen to her. I’m interested in what she has to say. Of course, she’s fascinating, funny, brilliant – much smarter than I am. But I digress. What I found is in writing the most important part was the authoring part, not the writing part: putting the story together, the story structure. I’ve really studied a lot of this – on what formula works. I try to make sure that I stick with that by, developing characters that are believable, but at the same time, interesting. Not only coming up with a plot, but a subplot, because a plot is key to making sure your story’s not linear.
I’ve spoken to many people. When they find out I’m a writer. Many say, “My life’s been really interesting. I was thinking about writing a book about my life. I always caution them. I said, “Well, keep in mind that when you write a story about your life, it’s going to be linear. People don’t enjoy reading linear. When was the last time you read a history textbook you enjoyed? Write about a time in your life; what you did at this point, and what was going on in the background to it, you know, the subplot. My character, Carson Brand: he’s going through this really important, crazy time in his life. But at the same time, he’s a little insecure about his girlfriend and he thinks she might be cheating on him. There’s this dynamic going on with his girlfriend and her friends: of course they hate him, because that’s what happens when when a man and a woman are having an argument or fight or disagreement. The women always side with her and the men always side with the man. You need to leave her, this kind of thing. So the subplot is key. And that’s why I caution people. If you’re going to do a story about your life, make sure that you find a particular place in your life and develop a plot. Don’t be too linear. Make sure that you’ve got subplot: I was born in 1962 and then I grew up in San Angelo, Texas, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
They fight a little bit, and he’s really concerned about that.
Later, I moved to this place. I moved to that place. No, no, no, no. It’s really not interesting. It’ll make your reader’s and your audience’s eyes glaze over. So the point I’m making is that as an author your trade craft is to create stories and to create characters, and put them in situations that people are interested in. You can’t make them, but try to get your audience to care about your characters and what their plight is, what their journey is. When that happened for me, I found that the writing, the syntax, the punctuation, became very secondary. The written word is strictly a vehicle. It’s a medium upon which the story travels out to the audience. That’s all it is.
It’s the most laborious part of the job. That’s why editing is key, because you really don’t want anything to distract from it. But at the same time, there are a lot of things that most readers aren’t going to see. I don’t know if y’all have ever seen this, but I saw at one point on the internet, there was this page. It was talking about how people don’t really pay attention to misspellings that the mind will fill it in. So this whole page was built, and there wasn’t a single word that was spelled correctly. There were missing letters. I read it perfectly. I never even noticed anything was missing, because our mind will input those pieces, or those incorrectly arranged pieces.
For anybody to think that a writer, and a lot of times it’s people who aren’t writers, they look at the author as an essayist at school. You’re writing. You gotta make sure that you get everything spelled correctly, but that’s not. It, the Tradecraft is being able to produce a story and a structure to create something that’s unique and interesting and fun. That’s what it is. So that’s why I responded that way. In my younger days I was a writer. Now that I’m getting some experience, and I’ve got a few books under my belt, and I’ve sold many thousands of copies, well, I’m more of an author now. James J. Kilpatrick said, the difference between an author and a writer is an author wrote one book and a writer writes all the time.
I think in some contexts, that may be true, but I also think in a different context. It’s also true that you move from being a writer to an author as you publish more. it isn’t always wonderfully edited, but the books are there. Take content creators: Don’t get me started. Anytime somebody talks about, yeah, I’m creating content. Well, do you really want to read or watch content? I mean, I’m just filling a glass full of dirty water here, have a drink. I want Clearwater. I want something that tastes good, something that’s interesting. That’s what I want. I don’t want content. I want a story. I want some prose. I want something that makes sense. I’m not a real fan of these – call it reality shows. Now they’re called unscripted dramas, and you know, it’s just a bunch of beeps because they’re cutting cuss words out. These are frustrated actors that are cast, by the way.
I have an agent, I still get casting calls, and about a third of what I get is reality show stuff. Most of it comes this way. “We’re looking for anybody who has a wife and a girlfriend, and they’re both pregnant at the same time, and you’re having trouble coping with it because you have a methamphetamine addiction. This is what they look for. And so you go, Hey, that’s me. I’m your guy. Sorry about that. The writing part is only the vehicle. The author part is the art that we focus on. I mentioned all that to say something else. Because I’ve listened to people, as I mentioned, and a lot of the comments I’m getting when people find out that I’m an author – let’s use that term.
They ask, “What have you written?” I am not a Stephen King. I’m not Patterson. I’m not those guys. So a whole lot of people don’t know who I am. I’ve written a few books. I’ve written five so far. The first one was a Western because I grew up cowboying for a living. I’m from San Angelo, Texas. I really love the cowboy stuff and I grew up reading westerns. So Massacre at Agua Caliente was my first book that I wrote. And I purposely wrote it in the vein of the turn of the century writers. So it’s a little thick at times.
I also explain that I consider myself more of a Crime Thriller Novelist in the vein of Jason Bourne, jack Reacher or Jack Ryan. I don’t go as far as James Bond, Ian Fleming was the master of that kind of thing. I say, It’s a series and it’s based on an everyman. I used a lot of my own experiences in the book because, some of them are interesting. Again, don’t write your life, write about some of your experiences. Carson Brand and the experiences he gets, for instance in the first book, when it opens he gets in a bar fight with a really big guy – about 6’5″. Well, that really happened to me. And it happened the way that it shows in the book.
I also wrote a nonfiction book. I was a sales trainer and, motivational speaker years and years ago. This one is a sales training book, I think sales is a lost art, and that’s what it is – The Art of Professional S. in this Carson brand series. And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. the Carson brand series is, it’s sometimes tough to tough to explain what it is. And I found that when people ask me, I, their eyes glaze over before I ever get to the story of what it’s about, you know, in, in Hollywood, it’s called a log line. you had your elevator pitch, well, this is what it’s about. That’s what it’s about, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I’ve got media kits for all these. And they, they say cool things on it.
I’ve got the Dark Motive promo kit here in front of me and it says, in this action, thriller Carson Brand, is hired by a congressional candidate to work in his election campaign. As he gets deeper inside the organization Brand learns that there is a side to the political process that voters never see. anyway, that’s the kind of things that make up a log line, or your elevator speech for a book. I just wanted to share with y’all real quick, what the books are about. Carson Brand is an everyman. I have a construction background, so he does too. They always say write what you know. He’s kind of just a half-ass successful business guy. He’s really not that good at running his business. His best friend is a guy by the name of Bert, and Bert is a Philanderer.
What’s interesting is Bert is a big bearded guy, but he’s super successful with women. He’s just one of those guys and Brand spends some time being very critical of Bert for his, Philandrous ways. A lot of people ask me, “Is Brand you? Brand is early thirties, late twenties. Obviously I’m not. I’m almost 60 years old. So, we are different. When I was his age. I processed things differently than he does. I don’t think that I would be that interesting as a character. Brand is not the quintessential tough guy, but he can take care of himself in a fight.
He’s that kind of an average built guy. He comes from a blue collar background, really nothing too crazy, but he was in the national guard. He was not in the army, Jack Reacher, for instance, has an MP background. Jason Bourne was a former army sniper. Jack Ryan was a Marine. I didn’t want to do that. That’s been retreaded too many times. I wanted a regular everyman that finds himself in a remarkable situation and is able to get out of it because he’s a tough guy. Now, he learns along the way. There has to be an arc to every character. They’ve got to grow, and he does, but Stolen Valor is the first book. And that’s the pilot book in the series.
It talks about him in his regular life. He’s a guy that is insecure in some ways. I think that your heroes always have to be flawed. I think it’s important that they are. Just like with your bad guys. I remember I was in a movie – one of the leads in a movie called a Portrait and Sepia Tone. It won some awards. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was a decent movie. I was cast as the main bad guy in it. I talked to the director – the writer director. I told her this guy was written as a really bad guy. He’s just completely evil. He’s like Snidely Whiplash. I said, we need to make him more likable because people want some redeeming qualities in their villains.
In this case, this character has no good points. They’re not going to be interested in somebody you can’t relate to at all. So I think that we need to soften his character and make him more likable. Well, we worked on that. I don’t know if we accomplished it. She was really, really specific about: you have to do your lines this way. So I tried to, I tried to move without the ball when I was on camera and not having lines, I was trying to be a bit more likable, do what you can, you know, I’m not a great actor, but I did what I could. But anyway, in this case, Brand does have some flaws and he’s a likable guy. As it goes, he becomes a bit of a sociopath, but not a sociopath where he just doesn’t care about things he still does, but the way he processes things, he’s a little more calloused and he’s a little more protective of himself.
So in the book he’s going about his life, and he and his friend, Bert go into Mexico. I used to go into Mexico quite a bit when I was younger. By the way, the, the Bert character is loosely based on a friend of mine that I knew since I was in the national guard. So it was this friend of mine. Some of that comes from that anyway. They go into Mexico. I’ve been there. The description, of the town in Mexico comes directly from my memory. They go to this bar where they’re attacked by a group of locals and chased through the city. They try to escape over the border and Brand’s friend, Bert is captured and killed. Because of the murder of his best friend, he is drawn into this dark world where he has to depend on an innate toughness and a certain amount of luck to get through it.
So that’s Stolen Valor, The title – a lot of people think it’s a military based book because the definition of Stolen Valor, as most of you know, is somebody who misrepresents their military record. Either they said they were in a battle or they belonged to a unit they weren’t in. Some people said they were in the military and they weren’t. It used to be against the law, but it is no longer a law. It’s still frowned upon. But it’s not about that. the payoff on the Stolen Valor novel title comes towards the end and you’ll go, oh, okay, I get it.
The second book is Dark Motive. It picks up where Stolen, Valor left off. I had to make a decision. Let me put it this way. Some of these books, what they do is they just make each one an individual story and they reintroduce and they rebuild the character and everything else. I had decided that I wanted to make these books more connected. I wanted to make sure that Stolen Valor went to Dark Motive – and there’s a cliffhanger at the end. The only way to figure out what happens to Carson Brand is to read the next book. I’m fair to my readers. The next book gives that information.
In Dark Motive, Carson, Brand has gone through some changes. That’s one thing we’ll talk about in a later podcast – getting your characters to arc.Arc has to do, for those of you who don’t know, with all characters have to arc. We all, as human beings, grow. We change based on the stimulus that’s around us and, based on our experiences and what we learn and everything from what we eat and drink and drive and do for a living – everything. It changes us as basic people. We stay the same, but our experience base changes as it makes us grow. I’ve done some things that were pretty stupid. Didn’t see much growth involved in that. Over a series, it’s kind of hard. It’s more difficult to arc a character over several books rather than through 1 book..
It goes at a different level. So anyway, so in Dark Motive you see a slightly changed Carson Brand. It’s not a big change, but you’re thinking, okay, well, this is a different guy. This is no longer a construction worker going to Mexico to party with his friend. This is a different guy. This is somebody who is affected by what happened to him in Stolen Valor. And then some questions are answered. What happened to these characters? What happened to that? The next book is called Reasonable Sin. I’m writing it now. You’ll notice all my titles are Stolen, Valor, Dark Motive, Reasonable Sin. I try to create titles that reflect the speed and the tempo with which I try to keep the reading of my books. And I think I do that.
I think my books are quick read. They average about 330 to 370 pages. I try to keep it going. If it’s not germane to the plot, I don’t do it. I don’t bring my soap box out and beat the drum and say, well, this is how I feel about it. I’ve worked with some directors and writers that do that. It’s like, oh man, please. I don’t care how you feel about politics. I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. I don’t care. Just get on with the story. Okay. It’s not about you. It’s about these characters. It’s about what they’re doing on their journey. In Reasonable Sin, which I am almost three quarters of the way through, it’s, it’s going well.
Arcing a Character in a Series is more Difficult than in a single Book
As I mentioned, I wrote on that some today, but that one picks up where Dark Motive left off. And again, there are some changes that Carson Brand is still going through. He’s still changing. I think this book is showing a little more of the darkness that comes from what he’s been through. I believe that a lot of times, authors tend to just discard the scar tissue with their heroes and other protagonists. I think that it’s important that those things leave a mark. I think it’s important that as an author, I remember that, and I apply that to my character. I think I’m doing that with Carson brand. So, the upshot of this whole thing is this. The series is about an everyman who becomes an uncommon man and faces some extraordinary situations. Because of his background and where he came from, he processes these things differently than most heroes would.
He reacts in a way that most heroes would not react. This third book is one that delves into more of his motivation, more of his psyche. Why is he this way? He becomes a bit more personal than he’s been in some of the other books. My father passed away a couple of months ago. With the distance of time you get a certain amount of perspective. You see things differently. You start to process. Okay, I see this and I see that. The characters in my books, I think, as they get distanced from this and they see others going through the same thing they’re going through,
they apply that information a different way. I think that’s where we’re going with this. But, the whole point of the podcast was just to share with you my belief, and the difference between writers and authors and why I reacted to this sweet dear friend of mine the way I did. It wasn’t in anger at all.Once I had a chance to look at it, what I do for a living as an author is not what an English teacher does. You won’t find many English teachers who are writers – who are authors. Those aren’t the people that do it. Those are the people that become editors and proofreaders, and they correct this stuff.
So, I take great pride in the fact that I’m not an English teacher, even though I considered doing it at one point, I was going to go to school to become an English teacher but I realized early that, that wasn’t the path that was going to get me where I wanted to go. So anyway, I really appreciate you all taking time. Again, hit that like button. Come on, let me know you’re here. I get telemetry from spreaker who does my podcast, and I see that people listen to it, download, everything else, but give me some feedback. Contact me on, Facebook and Twitter. I thank you for your time. And I appreciate you spending this 30 minutes with me. Thanks.