Please welcome our September featured author, creator of the thrilling Jonathan Stride series!
Welcome Brian, weíre thrilled to have this opportunity to chat with you about your writing, your excellent Jonathan Stride series, and how you keep it going so successfully!
NMR: After reading your bio on your killer (no pun intended) website, I was surprised to learn that your publishing career didnít begin until you were in your 40s. Tell us a bit about what you were doing up until that point.
BF: Yes, my writing career began when I was a teenager, but my publishing career didnít begin until I was after forty. Big difference! Iíve been writing all my life, but I had a lot of different jobs to pay the bills, from managing database systems to running a marketing and public relations department at a large law firm. All those jobs helped me become a better writer, though. I met a lot of people, and I lived through the joys and tragedies we all face in life. That experience flows into what you write and makes it sharper and more compelling. I think it was James Michener who said you shouldnít get published until youíve written a million words. I must have been pretty darn close by the time I broke through!
NMR: It seems that going from the corporate world to writing suspense novels would be a time full of its own unexpected twists and turns, so what were the biggest surprises for you during this transition?
BF: There are lots of books that offer advice on how to get published but not many on what to do once you get there. If youíre a full-time writer, youíre self-employed, and anyone whoís done that knows how difficult it is. Plus, the writing career offers its own psychological, emotional, and creative challenges. Iíd always thought I had some difficult, stressful jobs in life, but being a writer is far more intense and demanding than anything else Iíve done. Not that I want to give it up, mind you!
NMR: Your bio does share that youíve always been interested in writing fiction, and that youíve created more than one story before being published. Are there any particular stories from that period that you would like to pick up again and consider publishing?
BF: Someday I might pick up a theme or character from some of my old stories, but Iím much more interested in the work Iím doing now. Iíd rather devote my energy to new work that reflects all of my life experience than go back and revive stories from ten or twenty years ago.
NMR: Youíve had some wonderfully inspirational people in your past that encouraged your creativity; in particular, an English teacher who supported you wholeheartedly. What advice would you give to adults now who might come across a young and imaginative youngster with similar inventive ambitions that might help the dream move forward?
BF: I canít say enough about the adults who shaped me, from my parents to my teachers. My eighth grade composition teacher encouraged me to come to her class and write my stories, and it was shortly after her class that I began my first novel. When I finally broke through with IMMORAL almost thirty years later Ė no, thatís not the same one I wrote way back then! -- I credited her in the acknowledgments for setting me on the path to becoming a writer. I was able to track her down, too, and I got to thank her publicly at the very first book signing I did.
I hope adults will feed the imagination of kids, whether theyíre interested in writing, art, music, science, or anything else. Give them all the source materials and experience you can. Let them dream. Maybe it will be a passing interest, and maybe it will shape their whole lives. They wonít know until they explore it.
NMR: With your first novel being an instant achievement, followed by the others that even furthered your stature as a successful author, what have you found to be most enjoyable about the experience? Is there a part that you perhaps have found not quite as enjoyable as you hoped?
BF: Readers ask me how long Iíve wanted to be an author, and the honest truth is that Iíve never wanted to be anything else. So to have a chance now, in my forties, to live that dream is hugely satisfying. There have been so many authors who have given me wonderful entertainment over the years. For me, the opportunity to provide that same kind of experience for readers around the world is definitely the highlight of my work as a writer.
As for whatís not so enjoyable, I guess itís that I canít really read and enjoy the genre the way I used to. When you write suspense all day, reading someone elseís suspense novel at night feels suspiciously like work. I also canít lose myself in other peopleís stories the way I once did. So I feel as if Iíve lost something as a result.
NMR: One thing Iíd like to commend you for, in addition of course to your excellent novels, is your availability and openness with your fans. Your humble appreciation is a delightful exception to the rule that seems to guide some successful novelists. How have you managed to keep things ďrealĒ while your novels continue to garner ever-increasing accomplishment, not just nationally, but globally?
BF: I really enjoy chatting with readers. Theyíre the reason I do this. I learn a lot from them, too, about the qualities that they look for in suspense fiction. I encourage all of my readers to write to me or find me on Facebook, and I write back to everyone. I think readers are sometimes a little surprised that I do that. Some people ask if itís really me, or whether I hire someone to handle the mail! No, itís all me!
I donít think itís been too hard to ďstay real,Ē because becoming a full-time writer hasnít changed me much. Maybe itís because I broke through later in life. By the time IMMORAL was published, I knew who I was. My wife and I had built a strong relationship over twenty years of marriage, and weíd created the kind of life we wanted for ourselves. None of that has changed, and we wouldnít want it to change. Weíre still the same people we were before this all started.
NMR: Now letís talk about your thrilling suspense series featuring Jonathan Stride, and somewhat recently, Serena Dial. Back in April, you treated readers with the 4th in the series, with many readers agreeing that you only get better with each new outing. Tell us a bit about where this series started and who these characters are.
BF: I call my books psychological suspense. For me, that means the drama emerges out of the secrets and emotions of the characters. I try to get inside the heads not just of the investigators, but the other characters involved in the story, too.
I donít write forensic thrillers like Patricia Cornwell, and even though my books feature police investigations, I donít consider them to be police procedurals like, say, Michael Connellyís books. Instead, I try to write thrillers that are not only intricate and suspensful, but also emotionally gripping. Every now and then, you might find yourself brushing away a tear in my books.
The books are mostly set in the cold northern wilderness of Duluth, and the hero is Jonathan Stride, whoís very much a product of that climate. When I was creating Stride, I didnít want a stereotypical, grizzled, emotionless detective. I wanted someone whoís passionate, who struggles with his feelings, who makes mistakes. Heís not a super-hero who always knows the right thing to say.
NMR: Many readers might agree that a hero with faults is far preferable to a hero without; is this a difficult line to balance?
BF: I think itís a balancing act with all of the characters. I donít like heroes who are all good or villains who are all bad. I want my characters to live in the gray world of morals and ethics that we all inhabit, trying to make the right choices, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. I hope readers put themselves in the shoes of my characters and ask themselves: what would I have done in that situation? What I like about Stride is that he works hard to understand the motivations that draw people across some terrible lines. Those are the secrets he tries to expose.
NMR: An aspect Iíve personally enjoyed in the series is the cautiously growing relationship between PI Serena Dial and Stride. But as it seems that long-lasting romances in a suspense series also come with the possible risk of growing stale after while; is this something that you thought might be a gamble, but then again, even more so without?
BF: Stride and Serena both have a lot of baggage in their pasts. Stride lost his first wife before the series began in IMMORAL, and Serena dealt with some horrible abuse and betrayal in her life. So they are slow to trust, and they are quick to close themselves off. On the other hand, they also seem to complete each other. Will their relationship survive? I really donít know. I think thatís one element that keeps the books fresh Ė not knowing whether the heroes will thrive or founder emotionally. It wonít be easy for Stride and Serena, but I donít think itís easy for any of us.
NMR: Another aspect that I appreciate is how your characters continue to evolve with each story, the events they get caught up in changing them in several ways. In between writing each book, how do you stay in touch with them in order to keep in mind these changes so that theyíre still fresh on your mind when youíre ready to continue?
BF: They really never leave. Theyíre always with me. Honestly, there are days when Iíd like them to give me a little space, but it doesnít work that way! Even when Iím working on something different, Stride and Serena are always right there, trying to get on the pages. If theyíre real to me, then I hope theyíll be real to my readers, too.
NMR: How much interest would you have in writing a stand-alone mystery, and how easy do you think it would be to leave the characters you created behind for good? Also, I see on your website that you have finished the 5th in the series and are now already working on the 6th, how is that one going so far? And what can you share with us regarding those two upcoming novels?
BF: Well, I have something totally different available right now. My pseudonymous book THE AGENCY by ďAlly OíBrienĒ came out in February. Itís nothing at all like my dark, intense Stride novels. This one is sassy and funny Ė sort of Janet Evanovich meets Sex and the City. Really. It felt like kind of a vacation to write it.
My fifth book, THE BURYING PLACE, is the next Stride novel, and itís due out in April. Iím very proud of it. I think it may be the most shocking, intense book so far. As for the sixth book, which Iím working on now, thatís actually a stand-alone Ė or perhaps the first in a new series. Weíll see. Itís in the same vein as my Stride novels Ė dark psychological suspense Ė but with new characters.
Donít worry, though, Iím already anxious to dive back into Strideís life with book seven. There are lots of different books I want to create in the years to come, but Iím not sure I can ever imagine leaving Stride behind for good.
NMR: And finally, Brian, whenís the best time of year to visit Minnesota, and whatís the worst?
BF: Hmm, Iím not sure Iím the best person to ask, because I seem to thrive on awful weather. Youíll find in my books that the cold, brutal Minnesota winter is often a character in and of itself. I will say that I donít like it very hot, so I think autumn is the best time to experience Minnesota, when the leaves are changing and the nights are crisp.
The worst time? Definitely January. We Minnesotans always claim the winters arenít as bad as everyone thinks, but weíre a little nuts. Itís beautiful here when it snows, but temperatures that get down to ten or twenty below zero are bitter, no matter how you look at it. Stay at home in January, and read about Minnesota instead. Let Stride go outside for you.
NMR: Well, thank you Brian! We canít wait to read whatís next in this wonderful series, and we wish you continuing success Ė you definitely deserve it!
Brian Freeman is an international bestselling author of Minnesota-based psychological suspense novels. His books have been sold in 46 countries and 18 languages and have appeared as Main Selections in the Literary Guild and the Book of the Month Club.
His debut thriller, IMMORAL, won the Macavity Award and was a nominee for the Edgarģ, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry awards for best first novel. IMMORAL was chosen as International Book of the Month by book clubs around the world, a distinction shared by bestselling authors such as Harlan Coben and Karin Slaughter. He published his second novel STRIPPED to widespread critical acclaim in 2006. STRIPPED hit the Globe and Mail bestseller list in Canada and was named one of the top 10 mysteries of the year by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The novel was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award.
The Library Journal review of his third novel, STALKED, noted that ďFreeman just keeps outdoing himself with each book.Ē The Chicago Tribune called STALKED ďa perfect blend of psychological suspense and crime fiction.Ē His newest book, IN THE DARK, was released in March of 2009. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it Freemanís best book yet, ďharrowing and heartrending.Ē
In addition to his suspense novels, Freeman is co-author of the chick lit book THE AGENCY under the pseudonym Ally OíBrien. The book was published in 2009 to favorable national reviews in publications such as People, Entertainment Weekly, and OK! Magazine.
Prior to going out on his own as an author, Freeman established a reputation among the most respected writers and communication strategists in his home state of Minnesota. He served as director of marketing and public relations at the international law firm of Faegre & Benson, where he conceived and led a multiple-award-winning communications and marketing program.
Freeman is a 1984 alumnus of Carleton College, where he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with distinction in the department of English. He was born in Chicago and grew up in San Mateo, California, before moving to Minnesota. He and his wife, Marcia, have now lived in Minnesota for more than 20 years.
For more information on Brian and his books, visit his Web site at www.bfreemanbooks.com.