Friday, January 22, 2010

Graham's Army of Musii

Today's guest is our friend Graham Brown, who we met because one of us shares his marrrrvelous agent. Graham's the kind of friend you always hope you'll find among your fellow writers - easygoing, funny, enthusiastic, pretty much up for anything and always has a smile on his face. You also get the feeling that even when he gets famous (and trust us Pens on this one, because we've read BLACK RAIN, the man is going to be freakin' huge) he'll be the same laid-back character he was before. (Although we are totally convinced that the character Hawker in BLACK RAIN is Graham....)

Graham was born in Chicago and went to college in Arizona, earning a degree in Aeronautical Science and learning how to fly.
He later attended law school, where he spent many lectures pretending to listen while scribbling down notes for what he hoped would be a great novel. After working as an attorney for a couple of years, he decided to see if there were any good ideas in those notes. Apparently there were, because Random House bought the rights to his first book, BLACK RAIN, which comes out next week. Graham is currently working on the sequel, BLACK SUN. Latest news on that and anything else he’s doing can be found at:

The Muse

First off, let me say thank you to Pens Fatales for having me on as a guest blogger. There's nothing better than being surrounded by gorgeous and talented women. Seriously , can I photo-shop my picture into your group – it will look something like a bad Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien skit, but it will be worth it...

So, the Muse. Inspirations comes from so many places; can there really be just one? Maybe there’s a whole army of muses (musii?) out there.

I know that for me, each character seems to have his or her own inspiration, and when I get into trouble with the character I go back to those original inspirations, to try and figure out where I went wrong.

A perfect example: in my novel Black Rain—which comes out on January 26th, by the way—the heroine, Danielle, is a type-A leader who takes a government expedition on a dangerous trek into the Amazon. My inspiration for her came from the strong women I know, and from day one I was damn certain that she wasn’t going to trip and fall in the climactic moment and need to be rescued. I also knew she had a difficult road to travel, juggling the lies she’s been ordered to tell, with her ambition and her own sense of humanity.

I’m happy to say that most early readers have found her to be a winning, realistic character, one who acts true to her basic traits and faults. I was even proud when the father of someone close to me read an early copy and said “I love the book, but why was Danielle such a bitch ?”

I guess it’s a generational type thing. The only answer I could come up with was to paraphrase Tina Fey’s famous SNL statement: “She’s got a lot to accomplish,” I said, “and bitches get things done.”

If there are multiple muses, I’m thinking one type works on character and another concentrates on helping us connect with place. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many parts of the world, but not usually the places my intrepid characters have been to.

In BLACK RAIN, there is a second hero, an ex-patriot American mercenary, who goes by the name of Hawker. I had a good idea of how I wanted this character to be. Instead of the classic “rogue cop who plays by his own rules,” I wanted a guy who thought he could play by his own rules and got burned. He needed to be a guy whose sense of duty, habit of questioning authority and his own inherent arrogance combined to ruin his life. No accident made him a pariah, he’d done it to himself, bathed in the bright light of knowing exactly where it was headed. Now, he’s willing to do anything to find his way back. Honor? Forget that, he just wants out.

But where had he been in the mean time? Parts of the world I haven’t seen. So I went online and looked at photos of distant lands, places where I thought a mercenary might travel and fight. I scanned hundreds of JPEGs, not really sure what I was looking for, but thinking I’d know when I found it.

And I did. Pictures of lost places, where stories were cut short and forgotten; remote places; haunted places. Here are some of the pictures I used when thinking about where this character had been:

Lucapa Airport - Angola

Antov crash

Ruined bridge in Cazombo, Angola

These locations don’t occur in the story - they aren’t even mentioned - but I knew Hawker had been there or somewhere similar. It gave me the sense of darkness that surrounded him, one which I needed to make him real.

So there is no shortage of muses as far as I can tell: a conversation you overhear in a crowded restaurant, the sound of an airliner taking off for a distant land, friends, family, the boss who kept you down, the mentor who helped you up.
They’re everywhere - we just have to open our eyes and find them.


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Black Rain sounds awesome. I totally agree with you on the character and place musii (music is also big for me) The internet has been such a game changer in terms easy access to info for research and inspiration, especially for settings. You are fortunate to have a good novel, and (machismo being supressed)good looks. Best of luck, and great post.

Martha Flynn said...

We bitches do get things done! We're high functioning individuals. I gotta ask - given the obvious that you're endowed with male traits - what mused you make your MC a female?

Bpoelle said...

My muse carries a shotgun and a fifth of Jack. GO BUY BLACK RAIN ON TUESDAY OR MY MUSE WILL GET VEEEEERY ANGRY.

Rachael Herron said...

I LOVE that the MC is a get-it-right gal. Can't wait to read it!

Mysti Lou said...

I always do what Barbara says, life is just easier that way ;)

Looking forward to reading Black Rain!

I think the only truly tricky part of writing the other gender is scenes of two or more alone together. In my case, I couldn't write guys hanging with guys (though two guys in love with each other was convincing, I guess relationships can be the same kind of tough for all?), and would imagine most guys having trouble getting girls hanging with girls right.

but now I'll just shut up and read the book to find out!

Thanks for dropping in!!!

Graham said...

Sean - I'm glad you mentioned music - absolutely! Music, especially soundtracks or new age or anything without lyrics can do wonders for me. Damn good point. (And thanks for the compliment - the picture is better than the reality but I'll take it anyday.)

Brad Parks said...

Graham -- Looking forward to BLACK RAIN.

Since I've posted a comment, am I now entered in the contest where the winner gets that squinty eyed stare-down you used in that author photo? Cuz that'd be totally awesome.

(Just kidding. Good luck with everything).

Graham said...

Hey Martha, good question. The funny thing is; I didn't really know she was the MC until an editor I met at a conference started talking about "why" she was in fact the hero. My initial thought was this would be a group effort - several MC's - kind of like the TV show Lost. Who's the MC there? Jack? Sawyer? Kate? But as it turned out in Black Rain, Danielle had the longest journey to make, so she did become the (Main) MC.

Graham said...

Hey Mysti - Great Point.

I never thought about it before but there is not one scene in Black Rain where Danielle is hanging out with another female. In the sequel that I'm working on there's a great scene where she is arguing with a female doctor in an ER in Mexico, but it is all confrontation, no bonding. Hmmm... you must be on to something.

Graham said...

Hey Brad - how's it going?

You know, that stare is easy to recreate, just be kind of tired and aggravated and make the sun is in your eyes.

Hope all is well.

Graham said...

Hi Rachel - I hope you like it. Your profile said you answer 911 calls as a part time thing. That sounds so cool, you must be pretty calm in a crisis. I'm guessing you could also weave some of the craziness you've heard into your books.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Hi Graham, thanks for stopping by with the Pens! I'll never forget sitting around a table in Indianapolis with all of the men trying to strike a pose that rivals your book-jacket photo...for which there is no rival, of course. I think Steve Hockensmith tried to get it just right, but it didn't quite work...
Um, I'll do what Ms. Poelle says, too, and buy the darned book. Looking forward to it!

Gigi Pandian said...

I remember hearing about this book in Indianapolis -- so glad I'll finally be able to read it now!

Graham said...

Hi Juliette, Hi Gigi:

Thanks for having me on. Indianapolis was a fun conference, I cannot believe it was three months ago. One more training session and I think Steve would have had it. :)

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Let me get this straight, Graham: You studied aeronautics, fly planes, practiced law and now write books? I'm pushing you down the stairs and then dragging you back up to do it again. (It's a compliment; ask Sophie).

Congrats on Black Rain. I'll read it because it sounds good and I don't want to be shot by Barbara.

Sophie Littlefield said...

PCN's not kidding G - that's the highest compliment she gives. I've never heard of her wanting to push someone down the stairs twice!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for visiting the Pens. Loved the broken bridge...I could spend hours thinking about the people who can longer cross it. I was planning on buying your book before Barbara *encouraged* us to do so (thanks to Sophie for the rec!) Can't wait to read it. :)

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Graham, great tip about those photos for settings and back stories. I use photos for my characters and take photos of potential settings I've been to, but this just opens up all kinds of possibilities. Seems obvious too. I'm just slow catching on...