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Interview With Brandt Dodson

Welcome to a sizzling summer edition of the ACFW Featured Author. This month, Brandt Dodson is here to tell us about his latest book, The Lost Sheep, the fourth installment of the Colton Parker Mystery series. These “hard-bioled PI” mysteries break the mold of whodunit with true to life characters and spiritual themes reaching deep into the heart.

Your latest book, The Lost Sheep, releases this month. What adventure is Colton Parker embarking on this time?

Throughout the series we have followed Colton’s struggles as he tries to develop a relationship with his daughter, Callie. The Lost Sheep brings his efforts to a head, when it opens with the sudden disappearance of his daughter and a cryptic message from her that says, “Daddy, please don’t try to find me.”

His pursuit of Callie takes Colton to places he never knew existed and into a confrontation with evil that he is not equipped to handle. The story is set in Las Vegas and brings Colton to a place in his life where he will have to make decisions that will affect him and his daughter for all eternity. The Lost Sheep was by far the most fun to write and deals with some of the darker issues in the series.

Tell us a little about your publication journey and how your series concept was originally received.

I’ve always been a fan of the PI genre, especially authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane. So it seemed natural for me to write in the genre I loved the most. I’d like to tell you that when I pitched the concept, it was warmly received. It wasn’t.

But I did find an editor at Harvest House who was familiar with the genre and who understood what I was trying to do. When I pitched the concept for the series to him, along with the first book (Original Sin), he was very receptive. Ultimately, Harvest House offered a three-book contract for the series and eventually expanded that by two more.

How do you balance your writing time with your other responsibilities?

I absolutely love the writing process. I love developing the ideas, the writing, the re-writing, the editorial process … all of it. But time is always a factor, especially if you have a full-time occupation. Thankfully, I’m a fast writer and that helps.

I practice podiatry, teach residents, teach a Sunday school class, and lecture to the medical staffs of several hospitals in my area. So when I get time to write, I need to make the most of it.

I write every evening, beginning at 8 or 9 p.m. and will write to 11 or sometimes later, if I have a deadline. On weekends, I write all day Saturday and Sunday when I can, and often on my lunch hours during the week. If I didn’t like it, I don’t know if I could follow that kind of schedule for very long. Still, it’s enabled me to turn out two novels per year, market them, and develop ideas for more.

Still, I don’t let writing interfere with my family. If my kids are involved in something, I go and let the writing wait. Family before writing.

And how does your faith and spiritual life play into the picture?

I am a Bible teacher at heart. I love to take biblical truths to as many people as possible and to get down to where the rubber meets the road. Writing gives me that opportunity. I can literally reach thousands of people with stories that illustrate the bible as being trustworthy and true.

For example, when I write about a wealthy family that loves money more than they love each other (The Root of All Evil), I can show that the consequences of that type of misplaced value system will be devastating. This supports the Bible’s contention that those who love money will pierce themselves with many sorrows. The trap in all of this is to not preach.

What is your biggest challenge in writing and how do you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges confronting me, and most other writers I know, is to not become too comfortable; too complacent. It’s easy for a writer to find their “niche” and remain there, writing different shades of the same basic story. Sometimes this can be viewed as market driven, but it nearly always comes from fear.

Dean Koontz has transcended all of that by expanding himself as a writer and turning out novels in a wide variety of genres. His belief that readers will follow a writer they love has been proven. Unfortunately, we see writers who all too often remain pinned in one small area.

I have approached Harvest House for novels outside the PI and crime genres. While I love the form, I am writing other types of fiction too. Readers love a good story and that’s what I want to write.

What has been the highlight of your publishing career so far?

The fans. No question. I have yet to receive a negative letter or email, and every time I’ve been at a signing, I have received nothing but affirmation for the work. I’ve even had readers line up to have their picture taken with me. That’s pretty amazing, and it’s sometimes difficult to not float out of bookstore after a day like that.

But when I get home and my wife tells me to take out the garbage, I come back to earth.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

I like a lot of different authors, mostly in the PI genre, but not exclusively. I am a big fan of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ken Follett, Tom Clancy and Jack Higgins. I also read Eric Wilson, Alton Gansky, and James Scott Bell.

But my inspirations almost always comes from news stories, filtered through the prism of faith. For example, a few years ago I was watching a news story out of Chicago (I used to live there) about a nice, elderly lady who was found murdered in her home. According to the neighbors, she didn’t have an enemy in the world. (Except, of course, for her murderer.)

So I began playing the what-if game. What if she did have something to hide? What if she was involved in some very evil activity? What if …? That idea became Original Sin.

As far as characters, I tend to be a people watcher. And the fact that I see 40 patients per day and work in a large multi-specialty clinic, provides a lot of grist for the mill.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

I use minimal description and rely heavily on dialogue. The term “minimalist” has been used to describe my writing on several occasions.

I tend to write on the philosophy that minimal description allows the reader the opportunity to fill in the gaps with their imagination, which engages them in the story and makes it more real for them.

My heavy reliance on dialogue plays to my strengths, but is also a requirement for the PI genre. Some projects I’m developing now will be less dialogue and more narrative.

Finish this question. When I think of marketing, I...

...think of a plan. I do quite a bit of marketing. It's become the 800lb gorilla, and in the competitive world of publishing, it isn't going to go away anytime soon. Even the "name" authors, are now doing things they've never done before. We're seeing more of them at book signings, blogging, TV interviews, and just about anything else that will keep their already high visibility up to where it needs to be.

Anyone who writes must accept a certain amount of marketing as part of the process. But that's not to say it can't be fun. Before I begin a marketing strategy, I try hard to devise a plan that will give me the most bang for my time and limited resources. I target the audience I want to reach, find out where they are, and reach out to them with as many venues as they are likely to find. I do print ads, mail post cards, do radio and TV interviews (these are not hard to secure and don't cost a dime), book signings, and talks.

Marketing works best with a plan, rather than throwing a bunch of ads against the wall and waiting to see what sticks. If I buy a print ad, for example, I look for publications that reach my intended audience. If I do a radio interview, I try to secure a talk with a radio station that plays to my readership.

You can also find a lot of free advice from college marketing majors and sometimes they can even help as part of a class project. Like I said, marketing doesn't have to be a chore or cost a lot of money. But it is a part of the writing life and will serve you better if you approach it from a focused viewpoint.

Any parting words for up-and-coming writers?

If you feel a deep-seated need to write, don’t let anyone tell you no. True, talent is required, but there are a lot of talented writers who aren’t published.
Nothing replaces persistence. Be determined to succeed, take the criticism in the spirit it is offered, learn from it, read a lot, and write. Learn your craft with an artist’s passion. But approach publishing as a business.

Thanks for sharing with us, Brandt!

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