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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Author Interview with Stephen L. Brayton

I'm a Fifth Degree Black Belt instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. I started martial arts training in 1991, earned my black belt in 1993, and gained my instructor certification in 1995.

In 1996, I opened up my first taekwondo club in Grinnell, Iowa.

In 2003, I assumed ownership of the club in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

I've written stories for many years, but started seriously while working at a radio station in Kewanee, Illinois. After I moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, I started attending a writers' group in Des Moines.  So much knowledge about writing and critique came out of that group and the others I've enjoyed.

I attended my first conference in 2007, Love Is Murder, In Chicago. Mike Manno introduced me to 'pitches' and we discussed writing and history and law while sharing the drive.

In 2009, while attending the Killer Nashville conference I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Welk of Echelon Press. Subsequent to the conference I submitted two novels to Echelon and in October, they BOTH were accepted for E-publication in 2011.

I'm a reader; a writer; an instructor; a graphic designer; a lover of books, movies, wine, women, music, fine food, good humor, sunny summer days spent hiking or fishing; and I'm a catnip drug dealer to my fifteen pound cat, Thomas.

Tell us about “Beta” in a few sentences.

Mallory Petersen is a private investigator and martial artist. Her clients usually lean toward the nuttier side, however when she accepts a case to find a kidnapped eight year old, she steps into a dark world of unspeakable crimes. The trail leads her around Iowa’s capital city of Des Moines to the Quad Cities.

Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

I’ve based it out of Des Moines mainly because I’m familiar with the metropolitan area. I’ve never been to New York or Los Angeles and could get lost in Chicago quite easily. I don’t know of any book where Des Moines has been featured. It’s also set in present day, although I don’t say which present day (if that makes any sense). I started this over ten years ago and since then, the Des Moines downtown landscape has changed and technology has changed. I kept making changes in my story to fit the current scene. However, I finally had to stop and go with what I had. So, some of the places I mention in the book don’t exist any longer.

How can people buy your books?

You may purchase this and the previous book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and

How do you set about writing a piece?

Normally, an idea will come to me at any given moment. I may write it down or I may contemplate it for awhile. If it won’t leave me alone, I may start jotting notes, interesting scenes, maybe a few characters. If it bugs me enough I’ll work on an outline and write a few research questions I’ll need to check out later. Then I’ll develop a few characters (names, descriptions, etc.). Once I have a starting basis, then I can begin with the prologue or the first chapter.

Beginning writers make many mistakes; what do you think is the most harmful?

They stop writing. They don’t believe in themselves. I read a statistic that 80% of Americans would like to write a novel. Well, why don’t they? Many do not take the idea seriously. Many stop after receiving critiques. Most critiques are given by other struggling writers, those who are also learning the craft. However, beginners think their stuff is crap and do you want to know the truth? It probably is. Everybody writes crap. I’m sure Stephen King, Ernest Hemmingway, and Shakespeare all wrote crap when they first started writing. But they had a dream, they learned, they honed their talent, they persevered and they believed in themselves. Don’t stop writing.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?

What good are playing or singing the correct notes to a musician? What good is having good rhythm to a dancer? The right tools for a plumber or a carpenter? If a hockey player can’t skate, then he doesn’t play the sport. Spelling? Come on, every word processing software has a spell checker. Don’t tell me dictionaries suddenly have disappeared.  Grammar? Most of us do not write like we speak. Many Americans are lazy talkers. If you’re a writer, though, you’d better have learned something in those English classes because editors will nail you on the fundamentals.

How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?

When I write END, I stop writing the story. Then I celebrate that I’ve completed the task I had set before me. I may take a break, allow a few days to pass, then I will start at page one and read through the entire story, making corrections on dialogue, punctuation, grammar, continuity errors, etc. Then I’ll read through it again. And again. I don’t keep track of the number of times. After I get sick of looking at the manuscript, I’ll put it aside for awhile and work on another project. I may still be reading parts of it to a critique group, but I don’t actively work on it. Then after a period of time passes, I’ll pick it up with fresh, relaxed eyes and reread again. I know, though, no matter how many times I go through it, some editor will pick it apart and find those errors I still missed.

Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?

I have a couple of really close writer friends. We try to meet weekly although the plan doesn’t work out all of the time. We’re all working on getting published either again or for the first time. Critique groups are invaluable and if you’re not part of one, you are missing out on free but priceless advice. And a whole lot of fun. Family? Wow, my family has supported me and encouraged my writing for years. When I was accepted by Echelon Press for my first two books, I called my Dad before I even replied to Echelon’s email.

Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

The research. I envy those authors who can create entire cities or worlds or people from nothing more than their thoughts. If I’m writing about a building, or a park, or a cemetery, I have to see it. I want to talk to people, ask questions. It’s fun because I’ve discovered little things I may not have known about if I hadn’t traveled to those places or talk to those people. Often, the little things end up in the story. I turn real people into fictional characters and include minor tidbits about a particular neighborhood. For instance, while looking at spots around Des Moines for a future book, getting lost and confused on directions, a friend and I discovered a Buddhist temple right in the middle of a residential area. Neither of us knew the place existed. It was a beautiful site. You just know that building is going to end up in a story somehow.
What are you writing now?

I’ve completed the sequel to Beta and am working on the sequel to my first book, Night Shadows. I’m also writing another private detective story I plan to finish this year as well as a obtaining more research to continue on a thriller.

Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?

My website is My blog where I do author interviews and post writing related stuff is My book review blog is

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

Awesome question. I’d like to give you an exotic place I could be, like Fiji or France or Tibet, but I don’t think I’d end up writing there. I’d want to explore. Ideally, though I’d love to write where I could have no distractions from the Internet, email, phone, or people stopping by for a visit, with an ample supply of food, and a station playing continuous, no commercials classical, jazz, or light pop.

Where do you actually write?

Usually at work (don’t tell the boss, though, okay?). Sometimes in the park, maybe a coffee shop.
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