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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Writing Political Intrigue: Author Interview with Brad Keena

The title of your book, Volcano Dancer is intriguing. What drew you to writing this thriller?
I have a friend who runs a production company in California. We've often talked about the state of our country and about runaway big government. We began to project what the country would look like after six or seven years of the so-called Great Recession. He challenged me to write a novel depicting the near future. I ended up writing about things that have already begun to happen, so the book is based on actual events.

You have a political background that includes working in two presidential administrations and with members of Congress. How much of your personal experiences worked into this book?

Nearly everything in the book is based on things that either have happened or are happening right now. Most of the characters are real people (with names changed). The events are real. The federal government is as the book depicts -- an enormous collection of bureaus, agencies, offices, and departments that Congress has no realistic way of keeping track of.

As a result, there are agencies that exist that few are aware of, offices with a lot of power that operate with very little or no Congressional oversight. Allowing powerful people to spend government money and conduct official business without accountability, which is what happens, greatly increases the risk of abuse. Combine power and human nature and then subtract accountability and you'll end up with a formula for disaster every time.

After working in Washington were you more encouraged or discouraged in the political process?
I realized both parties have good people and bad people. The good people are there for altruist reasons. Over time, however, the allure of power and the need to raise money to keep that power tends to erode that initial altruism. It's easy for legislators and bureaucrats and lobbyists to forget why they came to Washington in the first place.

What do you hope readers will learn/take away from reading your book?
It's designed to encourage people. I want readers to realize life is bigger than the trials all around us. The lead character is a regular guy who was just minding his own business. Suddenly, a small, corrupt group of government officials turn his world upside down. It's not fair. It's unjust. But it happens. In his search for justice, he discovers all is not lost. There is justice. He learns to laugh again. He grows spiritually. In the end, he is able to turn tragedy into a triumph. He discovers happiness in life that he never thought existed.

How long did it take you to write that book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
When I really started going at it, I wrote the book over a six-month period. When I finished it, I read it and hated it. What I had was just dull. So I went back and did some soul-searching -- it's something I think writers have to do every now and then. I prayed for better words, for a better way of seeing the work and what it could be, what it needed to be.

Over the next three weeks, I tore into it. I think I must have thrown out a hundred pages that didn't need to be in there. I swapped the beginning, moving an important passage up to the front. Then I went over the dialogue. I wanted the three main characters to sound different from each other. They had to use words and phrases unique to themselves. After I finished the rewrite, I read it and to this day I cannot recall how some of those changes got there. I figure that's where the prayers were answered. There are certain passages in the book that I cannot account for. I know I wrote them, but I don't know where in my brain they came from.

This is not your first book. You also published a short story, Majestic 43 which is twenty-nine pages and Departure a short book of fifty-nine pages. Tell me about them.

Majestic 43 was a spin-off of the novel, The Volcano Dancer. It was its largest chapter and it was met with such positive reviews, that I felt it could serve as a teaser for the larger novel.

It's about a plane trip the lead character takes. The lead character is an unemployed corporate co-pilot. He's sitting in the back of the plane alone, trying to sleep away his troubles. Suddenly a flight attendant discretely escorts him to the front of the plane. She and an FBI agent traveling on the flight inform him the pilots have become incapacitated. He's now the only pilot on board. He has to land the plane. 

Majestic 43 turned out to be the most heavily researched piece I've ever written -- something like a day of research for every page written. I wanted everything about it to be factual and plausible. I guarantee it is exactly that.

Departure was a short memoir that arose from my last days with a friend who died of cancer. I decided to journal our conversations and was able to capture his wit and honesty in what later became the book.

Your book is published with Tate Publishing which offers some marketing assistance but is still mostly indie publishing. What made you choose them?

I had this idea that the polite thing to do would be to send out one pitch at a time. Crazy as it may seem, Tate Publishing was the first publisher I contacted. It's a love-hate relationship.

Since that time I've learned a lot about the industry. You're right, of course, they fit the description of indie publishing. But they have what most indies lack, and that is established distribution channels. The Volcano Dancer is available everywhere, thanks to those distribution connection. But I've also learned from other authors who have had huge traditional publishing contracts that the publishing landscape has completely changed. Print-on-demand technology and e-publishing have combined to make book sales an entirely different business than it was ten years ago.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I start with the ending. So many books and screenplays suffer from underwhelming endings. If I can't get the ending right, I don't want to write it, so that's where I begin. From there I envision how things got to the ending. Character development is crucial to the outline of the story that leads to that ending.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I had great initial success with Facebook. It was crucial to the book's launch. Since that time, I've learned the value of blogging and I've come to appreciate the need for book giveaways. In addition, I have author pages on Amazon, Good Reads, and several other sites that attract readers.

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
At the time, I thought traditional publishing was the only legitimate means of producing a book. I now realize the world of publishing has changed to the point that traditionally-published authors have begun to make the switch independent publishing. The key is distribution. Baker and Taylor and Ingram Content are two of the better-known book distributors through which bookstores can offer your book.

What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
Read to become a better writer. I am continually pouring over books by authors who are truly gifted writers.

What other works do you have in the process?
I am having a terrific time right now writing a young adult novel about a couple of students who find clues that lead them to believe a school shooting is immenent. I'm also wrapping up a memoir that spans a couple of generations of fathers and sons with dysfunctional relationships. How does a son grow up to be that father who stops the cycle of dysfunctionality? I hope to present the answer to that question in Fathers and Sons.

Are there any other points you’d like to cover?If you're writing your fist book, make yourself write every day. Writing is a discipline. Don't give up. Stay the course. Finish that book!

Thanks for your insights. All the best with your books.

If you would like to learn more about Brad's writing and his books, here's a couple of options.


Amazon Author Page:

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