Thursday, November 4, 2010

Louisiana Saturday Night with Brandon Hebert

It has been awhile since I've introduced a Louisiana author to you. Meet Brandon Hebert. Brandon came to my attention via the Acadiana Book Festival in Lafayette. He sat on a mystery panel with authors June Shaw, D.B. Grady and Barbara Colley. Brandon is the author of My Own Worst Enemy published by Five Star Mystery Series. I hope you'll read his answers to my questions. I particularly like his philosophy that "writing is more of an intuition, a natural knack for the pace of a good story." And yes, I agree. Brandon will be signing his book at our Bayou Writers' Conference Nov. 13th so if you're there, you'll definitely meet him.

1. So, Brandon, have you been writing since you could hold a pen--like all other writers?

I've written since I was a kid, like many others who have come before me. Started out writing adventure stories about secret agents, astronauts, fighter pilots, all things I wanted to be at some point or another. Life eventually got into the way and I ended up in none of those glamorous occupations (although I was in Naval Intelligence for four-plus years, but there were no martinis and I never wore a tuxedo in the line of duty).

Still, I always had a glimmer of hope that I might one day try my hand at writing professionally. I didn’t have any formal training and I don’t know that you can, actually. I mean, I’d be willing to bet Elmore Leonard or James Ellroy never read “How To Write The Blockbuster Novel.” Their work is based on life experience. That said, writing is more of an intuition, a natural knack for the pace of a good story.

2. Tell us about your path to publication.

Long and arduous. Writing is the easy part, the enjoyable part. Getting agents and editors to notice is the rub. I had no credentials to start (as no one does). So, I started writing short stories in crime fiction magazines. There are a handful of them out there, but they die out fast and it’s hard to keep up with the current crop (although I believe the fantastic Plots With Guns is making a comeback). The pulp/mystery/thriller magazine market is not what it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Still, you have to query an agent with something in your back pocket, right?

I could wallpaper my entire house with the rejection letters I’ve amassed over the years. And it’s all so subjective. If you catch the wrong agent on the wrong day (maybe the subway was crowded, maybe their Starbucks was cold, who knows?), your lone shot to grab them may be down the drain. If you’re lucky, you get a personalized note as to why yours is not the next Great American Novel or “doesn’t fit our list.”

Keep plugging away, because eventually every dog has his or her day.

…And then your agent has to deal with acquisition editors. Oh, and you must have an agent.

3. What are some of your writing credits? And we want to know all about your book.

Like I said earlier, I had next to no credentials before my fits book. Fortunately, some kind souls saw fit to publish some short fiction of mine. At least I had something to put in a query letter. Outside of that, the work had to stand on its own. Fortunately, it did.

Making personal connections are important and if I would have won the lottery, I probably would have still traveled around to writer’s conferences all over the country trying to glad-hand as many agents and editors as I could. Alas, I didn’t win the lottery and had to settle for querying.

The title of my novel is My Own Worst Enemy. It's a classic boy-meets-girl-who-helps-him-leave-his-life-of-crime tale.

The hero, Jack Murray, is at a crossroads in his life – he’s decided he wants to leave his old life behind. When he meets federal agent Miranda Mendoza, he’s not sure if anything will come of the relationship. He’s just looking for moments in his life to point to and remember fondly. The only problem, the stakes become high when Miranda risks her reputation and career while his life and newfound freedom are on the line.

At the exact moment he’s going to start over, he gets tempted. Against her better judgment, Miranda finds herself strangely attracted to Jack. The suspense comes from outside forces – both friendly and unfriendly – that don’t want Jack to leave his life. The romance comes from two people risking everything for someone they’d like to spend time with outside of their chosen life paths.

4. Share your writing process: did you plot meticulously or just sit down and begin writing?

I devote two-plus hours a day to writing. I’m not easily distracted and like some white noise going on in the background. Now, if football is on, I may glance at the TV in my home office. Writing is solitary enough, no need to pile on. What I do enjoy is turning on the iTunes and putting some mood music on. I call it “singing to your muse.” Life has a soundtrack and so do characters’ lives. I like obscure 70’s R&B music, none of which I’ll name here for fear of embarrassment.

I write in the evenings, usually 7:30/8 – 10 pm (unfortunately, I still have a day job). I write longhand on legal pads. When I have a dozen or so pages written, I’ll sit down and type it out and, usually, change some things as I go. I never outline anything and don’t know how the story will end when I begin it. The characters take over and tell me where to go. I have an idea of what is supposed to happen but that can – and often does - change. For instance, if a particular character is not working, it’s easy to kill them off.

After I’m done, I’ve been known to read the finished product in character…which has gotten me many a sideways glance over the years.

5. What is your typical day? Do you have a real job?

Is there a typical day? I get real work out of the way as quickly as possible. All I’ll say about my real job is that is has absolutely nothing to do with my night job, which is writing.

Write in the evenings, as mentioned before. Between that, life takes over. I don’t have any children but do have a couple of dogs that think they are children and demand to be treated as such, with the appropriate amount of attention.

Built into that writing time is time spent on social networking sites, returning emails, etc. This is very important and always time well spent. My marketing budget is limited (read: nonexistent), so using resources available to me to promote my book and future endeavors in extremely important. After all, without readers where would writers be?

6. What’s your favorite marketing tip?

Personalize. I was very late to the social networking party. While I won’t say I paid dearly for it in earnings, there has been a bump in sales since I showed up. The idea that a reader has a connection to you is powerful. You can do the conventional bookstore signings (and I recommend them unabashedly) but there are other venues that are even more interactive. For instance, libraries and their associated book clubs have invited me on several occasions for speaking engagements. There’s a reading from the book and a nice Q&A where people get to know you and vice versa. I see the promotional stuff for my appearances in the library lobbies and it says “An Evening With…”. I want to turn around and look for Frank Sinatra in a smoky lounge in Las Vegas. It’s just more intimate.

7. Share a piece of writing advice you’ve been given that you think has really helped you.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it – Elmore Leonard. Words to live by.

8. Many writers describe themselves as “character” or “plot” writers. Which are you? What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

Definitely a “character” writer. I don’t usually know what the plot will end up being before I write. As mentioned earlier, I have an idea and I know it will be crime fiction. But, if it ends up being a military thriller with guys stationed on a submarine, who knows? Seriously, the characters are the key. Good books, and hopefully mine qualifies, are about relationships. Relationships with real emotions, real pitfalls and all the foibles of the human experience. For me in particular, crime is just the backdrop.

9. What kind of research, if any, went into writing the book? Is the title yours or did it come from your publisher?

Research is an important part of the process and I did mine. Mostly for geography, anyway. I’ve been fortunate to visit Miami and its South Florida environs (where the novel takes place) on several occasions and I took copious notes. When I got a compliment from my agent on my Miami geography (who used to live there), I figured I did something right. And reviews have called the book a “fast-paced South Florida crime caper,” so that was some extra validation. You get a lot of stares when you’re sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© and taking notes on what’s on the menu or your surroundings (but details like that are important). Additionally, I do all kinds of research on the internet for this and that. Typing a word or phrase into a search engine can lead to all sorts of different places. I’m sure my search habits have landed me on a government watch list somewhere.

My Own Worst Enemy was my title choice as submitted and was never changed, although I know that happens - even to the best of them. I was just lucky, I guess. It’s supposed to allude to Jack Murray’s predilection for sabotaging his own good fortune at a critical juncture in his life. Some things are just too good to pass up.

10. If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would offer and what changes would you make?
Good question. I would tell myself to start writing seriously earlier in my life. Everything in this business moves at a glacial pace. The return times on submittals to agents and editors are so long because they are inundated with submissions. You need to be patient. I think more than any other endeavor in the arts, writing takes a certain maturity, discipline and degree of life experiences to fully blossom. That said, if you have the maturity, discipline and degree of life experience at an early age, start putting pen to paper because, eventually, you’ll get old playing the waiting game.

I wouldn’t change anything because I wholeheartedly believe I’ve taken the correct path. I’ve done my research to avoid the agent and vanity press scams that are out there. It’s a lot of work, a lot of waiting, and a lot of wanting, but I don’t regret the way I’ve done things.

11. What has surprised you the most about being an author? What has disappointed you?

The most surprising thing has been the amount of support I’ve received from complete strangers. To come to an event on, say, a Tuesday night and listen to a novice author who may or may not know more than you about the writing and publishing process has been nothing short of astounding to me. I’m forever in readers’ debt because of it.

What has disappointed me? The easy answer would be: the money. But, I knew that going in. I had no delusions of grandeur. Disappoint may be too strong a word but what discourages me the most is the completely subjective nature of the business. Like I said earlier, you almost have to catch the right person on the right day in the right mood. And then you might have a chance at not ending up in the slush pile. Then again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s maddening at times.

12. What do you like to do when you’re not writing – just for fun?

What, writing’s not fun? Seriously, I love to fish. Just spending time on the water with loved ones is special to me. I’m an avid golfer and like to play as long as I can sink putts. I’m a football junkie and that’s where much of my time goes in the fall, especially on college football Saturdays. I squirrel myself away and eat gummi bears while watching all day. My mid-section is being to show for it.

13. Wrap it up. Let us know where we can find you.

Jess, I’m truly honored that you’ve spent time with me today. For those interested, the title of my novel is My Own Worst Enemy. It can be found in your local bookstore (ask them to order you a copy if not in stock!) or any number of online outlets, most notably or Additionally, a Kindle edition is available at for those who prefer the burgeoning electronic book format.

You can visit me at You can get reviews, read about any upcoming appearances I might be making, and use the email feature at the Contact page to get in touch. Please do, I love to get fan mail and make it a point to personally return every one I receive. Any beginning writers out there that have questions, I’m always available to answer. Who knows, we might learn something together.

I’m always looking for new friends on Facebook. Search for me or follow the Facebook icon on my website that links to my profile. Hope to hear from everybody soon!

Thank you, Brandon! We look forward to seeing you in Lake Charles, Louisiana on November 13th at the BWG Conference--A Bridge To Publication. ~jess


Charles Gramlich said...

Great interview. Good words of advice. I'm down with most all of this.

Jan Rider Newman said...

Brandon sounds nice, and focused. You asked good questions. I look forward to meeting him Saturday.

Jess said...

Hey you two! why didn't you tell me I'd screwed up the answer to Brandon's #10 question? Now ya'll go back and read it again. :) It's fixed.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Very nice to meet you Brandon! I have a book coming out in Nov 2011 from Five Star Expressions - hopefully we'll get to talk at the conference.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Peggy Clement said...

I really enjoyed reading the interview. You asked good questions and he explained them well.

Carole said...

I agree with Charles. Excellent interview. I enjoyed it very much.