Q&A: Brett Battles

August 20th, 2011

Brett Battles is one of my favorite writers.  There, I’ve said it.  And he’s just done something I don’t think anybody expected.

After establishing two successful  thriller series (featuring Jonathan Quinn and Logan Harper) and the first book in a three-book PROJECT EDEN trilogy, about a bunch of very powerful, very ruthless people seeking to reestablish Eden on earth by, well, unorthodox means, Brett has just released a new ebook, THE PULL OF GRAVITY, that’s not a thriller, not a — oh, well, let’s not talk about what it’s not. Let’s talk about what it is.

TH: THE PULL OF GRAVITY isn’t exactly what people expect from Brett Battles, except that it’s a terrific book. How would you characterize it, and how is it different from the Jonathan Quinn, Logan Harper, and Project Eden books?

BB: It is definitely different. First off, it’s not a thriller, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s more of a, well, story. At the heart, there’s a mystery surrounding the death of the main character’s friend…but along the way there’s love and hate and redemption and tragedy all mixed in—all things that are heightened by the backdrop of the go-go bar scene in the Philippines. So, yeah, it’s very different from my other books, but is also among my favorites.

TH: I had the pleasure of writing a short introduction to the book, and as I wrote it I realized how layered the novel is.  There was almost nothing I could say about it that I didn’t have to qualify.  I think that’s one of the marks of really good work.

You’ve gone in a relatively short time from writing one series of thrillers to three (or maybe four, since we haven’t talked in a week or two), a Young Adults book, and THE PULL OF GRAVITY.  When you were writing only the Quinns did you feel constrained, and if so, how? And now that you’ve branched out, like this, what other directions would you like to explore?

BB: I love writing the Quinn books, and will continued to do so. (THE RETURNED should be out next spring!) But constrained? In a way, but it had nothing to do with the Quinn books per se. What constrained me was the amount of books I was able to release in a given year. The publisher of my Quinn books wanted a book a year, a common practice. The problem was I’m what I guess you could call prolific. I can write more than one book a year. In fact, I can write three to four, maybe even five in a pinch. And that is, hopefully, maintaining a constant level of quality. Now, with the opportunity to be an independent writer and release ebooks successfully, I’m no longer constrained by time. And that. Is. AWESOME!

As for branching out, absolutely. While I will always keep my hand in thrillers, I can definitely see writing more lit novels, some sci-fi, and even urban fantasy. Who knows what else? If I get the idea for, say a historical romance, I’ll go for it. Do I think that will happen? Probably not.

TH: So will you give me the title you were thinking about? THE LOVES OF LUCRETIA?

BB: No.

TH: Okay.  Some people, by whom I mean critics and the literary establishment, generally feel that thrillers, mysteries and other genre books are lesser accomplishments than non-genre novels. How do you feel about that distinction, and what three or four things do you think every novel – genre or non-genre – owes its reader?

BB: I think it’s bullshit. Some might say my opinion’s compromised because I’m one of those thriller/mystery writers. I don’t care. From a strictly logical point of view, it’s still bullshit. Just like a good lit novel, a good thriller or mystery or story in another categorized genre tells a good story. Period. You can have just as nuanced characters, and situations that are just as poignant and moments that are just as tragic, in these novels as in any other. Are there successful thriller and mystery novels that don’t achieve this? Sure. There are also non-genre novels that are successful that suck, too. Welcome to the real world.

TH: What does every story owe its readers?

BB: 1) A good, believable story…by believable, I mean within the framework the author sets up, whether that’s present day New York, or a moon of Saturn. 2) Real characters…not stereotypes or cardboard cut outs that do something stupid or out of character to advance the story. 3) Intelligent dialogue…I don’t mean dialogue between geniuses, but conversations that sound genuine and don’t make us shout, “No one talks that way!”

I’m sure I could go on, and on, and on…but I won’t.

TH: Give us a list of three or four thrillers and/or mysteries that everyone who reads  this will thank you for recommending, and please tell us why each book belongs on the list. Then, if you don’t mind, please share with us two “literary” novels that mean something special to you, and why.

BB: Well, Tim, on any other blog, right at the top of my list would be your latest, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, but I’m guessing most people here have read it already. (If any of you haven’t, what’s wrong with you? It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years, thriller or otherwise!) Okay, moving on. Thriller/mysteries in no particular order:

COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron. I could pick any of Bill’s books. He’s an exceptional writer, and one I think deserves a huge following. Read him, read him, read him.

JADE LADY BURNING by Martin Limón. This is just one of Limón’s series set in South Korean featuring a couple of U.S. Army investigators, and wow, it’s a great one! I felt transported to Seoul, sitting beside Sueno and Bascom as they worked.

THE BLONDE by Duane Swierczynski. It’s a good thing Duane doesn’t write Stephen King size tomes, because his books are non-stop action, and you don’t want to put them down until your through. THE BLONDE is a great example of this.

Y: THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and José Marzán, Jr. Okay, this is actually a 10 volume graphic novel about a world where a virus has killed off all the men…except one. If you’re looking for a gateway into graphic novels, this is at the top of my suggestion list!

Lit novels:

A WILD SHEEP CHASE by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and, honestly, I wasn’t sure which one to choose. I love them all. And, you should know this ahead of time, I don’t think I understand any of them completely (except maybe NORWEGIAN WOOD), but that doesn’t matter. I just get lost in these books, and I love every minute of them.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene. An oldy but a greaty. Graham Greene was a writer who knew his way around a story, and this one is probably my favorite (tied for close second would be THE QUIET AMERICAN and A BURNT OUT CASE.) If you haven’t read any Greene, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

TH: That’s an amazing list, in that I love every book on it.  They would all (except for the 10-volume graphic novel, which I haven’t read) be at the top of any list I made, too.

Your creative furnace operates at pretty high temperature for extended periods of time. How do you feed it, considering the amount of story you create, and what do you do to keep that creativity flowing?

BB: Honestly, it’s sticking to a daily schedule that really does it. Some days are more creative than others, but I can always come back and fix what doesn’t work later. Outside of that, I like to feed my mind with travel, movies, great television, and plays. I get inspired by others’ creativity. One of my favorite things to do is attend a monthly reading of work-in-progress plays at the theater group I’m a board member of. I try never to miss it. It’s a completely different medium with stories almost always unlike the ones I write, but I truly enjoy the experience and always feel creatively energized after

TH: If you had to sit next to one of your characters on an 18-hour flight, who would it be, and why?

BB: Orlando. Beautiful, smart, funny…did I mention beautiful?

TH: And finally, what’s next for Brett Battles?

BB: I’m working on the second Logan Harper novel right now, and hope to have it out end of September/early October. After that, it’s EXIT NINE, book two of the Project Eden series, hopefully out early December. In 2012…a standalone in January, a new Quinn in the spring, and…others to be determined.

TH:  In closing (I can say this because Brett’s left the room), if you haven’t read Brett already and you like truly thrilling thrillers with standout characters, books that play by the rules and push the genre to be better, read Brett Battles.

21 Responses to “Q&A: Brett Battles”

  1. Tom Logan Says:

    Tim, I will miss breakfast, the mail, my retirement check (not hardly), and most anything else. But not your blog. Long out of school, it is my daily dose of post-education education. And, oh yes, it is so much more than just about books. Thank you.

  2. Skip Says:

    Tim, thanks for this blog entry on Brett Battles. Really appreciated and enjoyed it. Excellent recommendation list.

  3. EverettK Says:

    Thanks for the interview, Brett and Tim! I really liked Brett’s contribution to SHAKEN, and will now have to look up some of his novels (assuming Tim let’s me out of the dungeon long enough to refill my reader). Thanks also for the recommendations!

  4. Brett Battles Says:

    Tom, thanks for coming by!

    Skip, you definitely can’t go wrong with anything on that list!

    Everett, you’re welcome! And thanks for the comment about my story in SHAKEN. I’ll make sure Time let’s you out!

  5. Anne K. Albert Says:

    The war between literary and genre or popular fiction will continue, and like Brett, I think it’s BS. Readers read for specific reasons. Each have their likes and dislikes, and they put their money down on what grabs them.

    That’s what excites me about authors releasing their own titles – no more gatekeepers and a world of opportunities for both readers and authors alike.

  6. Laren Bright Says:

    Definitely appreciated this interview –especially the comments on genre fiction being considered lesser than any other “literary” fiction. Good writing, good story, good dialog is good no matter the genre (r not).

    Thanks.

  7. Bonnie Says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your introducing us to these new (to me) authors, Tim. I read A LOT and some days it’s hard to stock the TBR pile, particularly as I’m too cheap to pay $10 for a Kindle book. This is a reminder that I meant to check up on other Shaken authors, too, but this is a double-whammy with Brett providing a list of folks I’ve never even heard of, in addition to his own books. Whoopee! (Oh, but I’m not reading now, I’m working on your web site. 😉 Really. Just dropped in here to check a link address!)

  8. Brett Battles Says:

    Exactly right, Anne and Laren!

    Bonnie, another bright spot about the indie author movement is pricing. All my self released novel are on $2.99, great for readers, great for authors.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    There’s an interesting discussion going on at Dearauthor.com (devoted mainly to reviews of romance novels) about ebook pricing. I have been lucky, or maybe smart, since I subscribe to DorothyL and get recommendations from other mystery readers that enable me to discover authors I like who are, like Tim, publishing their backlists and maybe, like you and Tim, writing original works for e-only publishing. Without such a recommendation (or the knowledge the author has at least been traditionally published in the past), I’d be very reluctant to spend even $2.99 on a book; as it is, I was able to discover Margaret Koch, who though never published on paper has written a very good series featuring Barb Stark.

    There is one major exception to my nothing-over-$9.99 rule, and you might be surprised to know what it is: every new J.D. Robb (pseudonym for Nora Roberts) is an auto-preorder for me, and I’ve been known to get up at 3 a.m. to inhale the latest adventures of Eve, Roarke & Co. The story of this pseudonym came into my mind when you were writing about how prolific you are: Nora is the same (even now, when she would never have to work another day in her life), churning out at least four novels and two novellas annually. When her publisher suggested she use a different name for her new futuristic police procedural, she didn’t see the point, but eventually it made sense to her and she saw it as a branding issue: Diet Coke versus Coke Classic, so to speak.

    This is sort of a guilty pleasure, along with my beloved Georgette Heyers, as the romance genre is probably the lowest of the low in the hierarchy of lit snobs (though what were Austen and Trollope writing, really?). How can I explain this need to have the new book at any price ASAP? Other mystery authors are superior in many ways: Reginald Hill, Deborah Crombie, Kate Atkinson, Jo Bannister, present company, no doubt, and the list goes on. I can’t explain it, but it’s like potato chips (another guilty vice). Of course the morels on toast I had at a casino restaurant in Lausanne, or the fish quenelles in Nantua sauce I had somewhere in the French countryside are “better” than potato chips, but I don’t really ever get a craving for them.

    Anyway, I am looking forward to reading some more of your work, as well as those authors you recommended. Thanks again!

  10. Usman Says:

    Thanks for the interview, Tim and Brett.
    Brett, how do you think a mainstream novel shall effect your loyal readers of thrillers. This ties in with the comments about pseudonyms and branding.
    Graham Greene is absolutely one of the greatest. Finished his novel, Stamboul Train, last month.

  11. Brett Battles Says:

    Usman…interesting question. I went back and forth for a while on whether I should release under a pseudonym, but decided in the end that would probably cause it to die on the vine. Some of my readers won’t pick it up, which is fine. But already I’ve had several who’ve told me they don’t usually read those kind of books, but read GRAVITY and loved it. I find that extra satisfying.

  12. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I’ve been out of commission for a few days, so I’m exceedingly late. My kindle has a fair amount of Brett’s books on it, and I’m about to get more. I enjoy your writing very much so I better get on with my reading. Nice to see you here.

  13. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Brett and Tim

    Enjoyed the interview, thanks so much!

    By the way your list of what every story owes its readers is exactly right. I pray for those three things every time I open a book, or get in line for a movie. I haven’t read your work yet but since you’re a member of this school of thought I’m eager to check out your books.

    Hope we see you again on Tim’s Blog Cabin!

  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Gang! (He claps his hands together and grins with manic energy.) I’ve been laying out of this discussion because (a) I figured it’s between you and Brett, and (b) I can NOT learn to manage my time and I’m going 18 hours a day, strsight through, right now.

    I mainly want to say that I’m glad you all enjoyed Brett and that it’s a shame you don’t get to hang with him in person as I do, because he’s one of the best and nicest people going.

    He’s also a wonderful writer and has GREAT tasts — those recommendations are sensational. All I really have to say is, read him, and come back and tell me what you think.

    And thanks for playing so nicely, Brett.

  15. Brett Battles Says:

    Thanks, Suzanna!

    And, Tim, always a pleasure to spend time with you. Thanks so much for having me here.

  16. John Lindquist Says:

    I have just read some favorable reviews on Amazon of the first Project Eden thriller (“Sick”) and I cannot wait to get my Kindle within range of our Peoples Wireless up here in N. Wisconsin to download it. Sounds like my kind of book.

    Tim, thank you for providing another great interview. I must echo Tom Logan’s response (#1, above) about your site. I hope I have characterized it correctly on my breadsite.

  17. EverettK Says:

    Brett: I just finished “Becoming Quinn” and quite enjoyed it, thanks! (Yes, Tim, he jumped in line in front of Queen again. I’m savoring the anticipation, stretching it out. Be patient.)

    The text was very clean (unlike Tim’s usual 1.5 gazillion typo drek), and I only noticed two things.

    At location 1978 (according to my Kindle for PC program), about 69% of the way through, it says, “In the days leading up to this one, Durrie had arraigned for movers from two separate companies…” Since this isn’t a legal thriller, that should probably be ‘arranged.’

    At location 2234, about 78% of the way through, there’s a blank line, as if for a scene change, after, “Are you trying to tell me he’s coming after me?” It’s in the middle of a continuing conversation, so the blank line is probably not needed or wanted.

    Again, a great story, and I’ll definitely be looking up some more of your work! (I have to read something while I’m waiting for Tim to squeeze out his next masterwork…)

  18. Brett Battles Says:

    John, thanks! I’m sure you’ll enjoy SICK. I had a great time writing it!

    Thanks, Everett. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  19. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Brett, now you know what I put up with from Everett almost every day. He has never spotted a nit he would not pick, and my books have benefited from it. (In fact. he’s credited in LITTLE ELVISES, and, in a great piece of unintentional irony, there’s a wrong word in the acknowledgment. Heee heeee heeee. But I’m fixing it, Everett, I’m fixing it.)

    I also loved SICK — read it in about four hours during which the sun did not move in the sky. I also loved HERE COMES MR, TROUBLE, which I recommend to anyone with kids. It’s terrific.

    Thanks again to Brett and all of you guys for keeping the lights on.

  20. EverettK Says:

    I’m just a humble agricultural worker, Tim, just pickin’ those nits. Someone has to get them picked and off to market.

    Or, is that, “Off the market?” 🙂

  21. Fay Moore Says:

    Hi, Tim. Thanks again for inspiration for my blog Dream Station: I Want To Be a Writer. The interview with Brett gave me fodder for 3 days’ worth of posts (Sept. 7-9, afternoons).

    Conversely, just when I thought I was writing at a respectable pace, Brett, the classic overachiever, makes me feel like a slug! HaHa.

    Anyway, stop by http://www.fay-moore.blogspot.com to check out the nice things I say about you guys. And thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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