Brandt: I hope so. That was certainly my intent. The books in the Colton Parker Mystery series (“Original Sin”, “Seventy Times Seven” and “The Root of All Evil” – Harvest House Publishers) were written in a style that is very consistent with the noirish feel that was established by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. In that sense, the subtle yet very real sense of impending danger was a necessary element. I’ve tried very hard to put the reader in Colton ’s shoes and let them feel what he feels. Wondering – as he does – where the next shot will come from. Or if the next face will be a friendly one.
2. Tricia: You come from a long line of police officers and you were employed by the FBI. What is one mistake writers often make in books concerning law enforcement?
Brandt: I think Joseph Wambaugh said it best when he was talking about his own writing. He said that he wanted to write books that were less about how “cops work on the job” and more about how “the job works on cops”.
I think the greatest problem with most detective/police procedural fiction today, is the trap of writing a two-dimensional character. What I call the “Dick Tracy” syndrome. Now Dick Tracy (of comic-strip fame) was very entertaining. And, in fact, Chester Gould did give Tracy a life outside the job. But only minimally. Unfortunately, this has carried been carried forward and the police are often portrayed as “men on the job” with no realistic sense of how that job affects their daily lives. After all, what other type of fiction is followed by “procedural” as part of the name of its genre?
The good news, however, is that writers like the late Ed McBain/Evan Hunter, Joseph Wambaugh, the late William Caunitz, and others, have made great strides in breaking this
“stereo-typical” type of writing.
3. Tricia: When do you write?
Brandt: To be perfectly honest – all the time.
I “write” in the shower, in the car on the way to my “real” job, and on the way back home.
I’m constantly trying to solve a tricky plot problem, character issue or structural matter. But like most writers, I do have another occupation, so my actual time at the keyboard is usually limited to evenings after work. I’ll start at nine and write until about eleven. On weekends, I usually have more time. I’m a fast writer, though, so that has been a blessing.
4. Tricia: If your books became a mini-series, who would you pick to play Colton Parker?
Brandt: I tend to see faces when I develop a character, but oddly enough, I haven’t with Colton . I think if I had to pick someone, it would probably be Stephen Baldwin. He’s about the same age as Colton, and projects the edginess that is central to Colton ’s character. At the same time, there is an underlying feeling that this guy has a good heart.
5. Tricia: If you had to give a talk titled, “The Three Keys to Great Writing,” what would those keys be?
Brandt: I think that any good writing is going to require that the author invest him or herself in their work. So I would begin with “passion”. Dean Koontz once said, “you’ve got to write for yourself. Write the kind of book you’d like to find in a bookstore. Write what your passionate about.” I agree.
I also believe the old axiom that “Character is story”. Without a believable character, who’s going to care about what happens to him/her? People read for character.
And finally, suspense. Now mind you, it doesn’t have to be the nail-biting, on the edge-of-your-seat type of stuff. But there should be suspense in every story. Enough to keep the reader motivated to turn those pages.
The three keys to “Great Writing”? Passion, Character, Suspense.
6. Tricia: Speed boat or row boat?
Brandt: Row boat.
Speed boats run out of gas and begin to drift. Or wreck and die young.
But the row boat … just keeps on keeping on.
7. Tricia: All writers want to believe that they’ve changed their readers in some way. What would you hope that change would be?
Brandt: This is the area where Christian fiction can shine. All writers write to impart a view point, whether it’s Jack London, Mark Twain or Tom Clancy. But what viewpoint could be better to impart, than the one that has the very thing that all the others are looking for?
I don’t preach in my writing. Now some characters might, and that serves a purpose. But I, as the writer, can never afford to “preach”.
But I do want to impart my viewpoint. The Christian world-view. In that sense, I want to raise questions in the readers mind. Then I want them to seek the answers in God’s book.
8. Tricia: Where would you like to see yourself ten years from now as a writer?
Brandt: Doing this full-time. Doing it better. Still learning. And writing with a loyal and growing readership.
9. Tricia: Tell me about when you first heard you were getting a three book contract.
Brandt: I had written “Original Sin” and decided that it made a lot of sense to attend a writer’s conference where I could make contacts, build a network, and maybe – just maybe – meet an editor face to face.
I attended the Write To Publish conference in Wheaton , Illinois and made contact with
Nick Harrison, Senior Editor at Harvest House. Nick was leading a critique session late one evening, and I had a chance to read the first chapter of “Original Sin”. He liked it and took it back to the committee. Almost a year to the day later, I was attending the conference again, and my wife called saying that Nick had sent an email. She read it to me and I learned that I had a three-book contract offer.
It was very late in the evening and everyone had gone home. I had no one to tell and I wasn’t about to sit in my room alone, so I drove around and around and finally ended up at a McDonald’s where I bought a Happy Meal and ate in my car.
10. Tricia: What is one Scripture verse that’s spoken to you lately? Why?
Brandt: Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (NIV)
I truly am writing for God. But it is hard, sometimes, to filter out the other voices. I have a great editor. The best in the business. And I don’t want to let him down. I don’t want to let my publisher down. And I don’t want to let my family down. But ultimately, it is God I serve.
When times get dark, I rely on this scripture to know that He will guide me in each step. I don’t need to know where I’m going. I simply need to trust Him.