Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Conversation with Novelist Jay Brandon

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Jay Brandon
with Jay Brandon

We are delighted to welcome author Jay Brandon to Omnimystery News today.

Jay's new political thriller is Shadow Knight's Mate (Wings Press; September 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him to talk more about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters of Shadow Knight's Mate. What is it about them that appeals to you as an author?

Jay Brandon
Photo provided courtesy of
Jay Brandon

Jay Brandon: The main characters in Shadow Knight's Mate were plucked out of their schools because they seemed they could develop the traits members of The Circle use to influence American and world events the way they should go: intelligence, subtlety, insight, persuasiveness. Jack Driscoll has been working on both his own projects and sometimes helping out The Circle as well, for ten years. He doesn't do well with authority, but luckily for him The Circle is a very loose-knit band. His best friend from school is Rachel Greene, now working as an advisor for the Israeli army. Rachel is intense, smart, very loyal, a great judge of character, and intuitive. She is a great friend; only she and Jack know if that is the extent of their relationship.

Then there's Arden, who stands out even in this group of social genius. She's so good at spotting tics and tells she seems like a mind-reader. But she has her own insecurities as well. She accompanies Jack when he takes off on his own path, maybe because she's attracted to him, maybe because she wants to watch his every move.

OMN: Did you have any trouble finding the right voice for your characters?

JB: No. That seems to come naturally. I usually have pages and pages of notes before I start writing, but none of those notes concerns the character's voices. Those emerge in the writing. For example, Shadow Knight's Mate is an international conspiracy thriller, but oddly light in tone. That was deliberate on my part. That coupled with the fact that Jack and Arden and Rachel are twenty-somethings gave them the matter-of-fact, yes-I'm-a-genius-but-so-are-all-my-friends tones.

OMN: You've written both stand-alones and series novels. When starting a new book, how do you choose which format it will be?

JB: I haven't written a novel featuring my series characters in several years because I wanted to try other things, but I haven't forgotten Chris Sinclair and Anne Greenwald. That five-novel series were legal thrillers and I've wanted to write other types of novels. So I guess the plot comes first.

OMN: How do you categorize your novels?

JB: I've never liked labels, and I've found my novels all over the place in bookstores and libraries. They're all suspense novels, but any good novel has suspense. Pride and Prejudice is suspenseful if you care about what happens to the characters.

OMN: Give us a summary of Shadow Knight's Mate in a tweet.

JB: A very secret society protecting American interests for 200 years finds itself outed and attacked by an unknown, highly skilled antagonist.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

JB: I never base characters on real people, because I enjoy creating characters so much. I do try to use real setting, preferably places I've been, and learn as much about them as possible. Shadow Knight's Mate describes pretty over-the-top plot events, so it isn't based on any real-life events I know (although some world events, such as in the Middle East, seem to be catching up to my world).

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

JB: I used to write very detailed outlines before starting writing; the longest was 30 pages. But gradually I felt confident enough not to do that. Even when I wrote outlines, I found that I never followed them completely because the characters developed as I wrote, and sometimes they just wouldn't do what I'd planned for them to do.

I never write character bios. They grow as I write, often surprising me.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

JB: I do Internet research, it's unavoidable. But I do try to go to the actual place if I can, because the people there will always tell you something there's no other way to know. They will give you their best stories from twenty or thirty years on the job for free. Years ago I visited a morgue to watch an autopsy (and not only wrote about it but got an idea for another novel). There was an assistant there, just a guy with a high school diploma, who actually manipulated the bodies and cut them open. When someone in our group asked how he could do that job, he said, "I like working with people."

OMN: How true are you to the settings of your books?

JB: Settings are of varying importance in my books. I try to be as accurate as possible.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

JB: Paris for the food? Ireland for the walking and the scenery? Italy for the food and the walking and the scenery? You're right, I need to do that.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And do any of these find their way into your books?

JB: I read a lot, obviously. What writer doesn't? I also walk a lot, which is when I do some of my best thinking. But my characters never sit around reading and they seldom walk very far. (They may run, while being chased.) I like seeing new places, and that sometimes gives me ideas for stories.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

JB: The advice I give when I teach writing is to have a day job. When I started writing I had a good style but not much experience, and didn't know anything in any great depth (except what it was like to go to a particular high school, then college, maybe). Becoming a lawyer not only gave me a living, it gave me a subject for years. Within the confines of a legal thriller I can write about all sorts of other issues, and have — love, death, sex, race, family — but it helps for the stories to be grounded in some particular field of knowledge.

The best piece of advice I ever got was from my graduate school professor John Barth. He told us that in describing a room or a place or a person, we could never get it so detailed that a reader would see the same thing we were imagining. Instead we should look for the "poignant detail," the one feature that brings the room or the face alive, such as an ancient rocking chair in an otherwise modern room, or a cocked eyebrow. I've never stopped trying to find the poignant detail.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a thriller writer and thus I am also …".

JB: "… observant." I once read that great writers are great noticers. I thought, that's not true of me. But after that I began to notice that I do catch a lot of details others miss. Maybe I look for them more. Of course, sometimes while studying the pattern of a walkway I walk into the column right in front of me, so there are disadvantages to paying attention to what everybody else ignores — and vice versa.

OMN: Tell us know Shadow Knight's Mate came to be titled.

JB: This novel was called The Real History for a long time in the works, because Jack and his friends who were taught at Bruton Academy know the real history of America, not just the official version — why things happened that no one else knows. But the title itself was kind of bland, so when publication date neared I cast around for something more exciting. Jack moves through the shadows, and the plot involves chess, in fact some of it is like a chess game. So it became Shadow Knight's Mate. The last word refers to both an endgame move in chess and a romantic companion.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

JB: Of course I like compliments, and feedback that makes me think the reader really got what I was trying to do. On the other hand, a reader can tell me something about a book I didn't even know. One of my favorite responses is from a reader who obviously really liked my main character in Milagro Lane. The unknown emailer called her "Estela Valenzuela, mythic warrior princess." A cooler description than almost anything in the novel.

OMN: If Shadow Knight's Mate were to be adapted for television or film, who do you see playing the key roles?

JB: Jack is deliberately nondescript, so it's hard to say. I have a mental image of him, but no actor fits it. For Arden, I pictured a sort of younger (Arden is only in her early 20s) Anne Hathaway. Rachel is harder. She's very wiry, intense, short dark hair, hyper-smart with a subtle, wicked sense of humor. Does anyone have Emma Watson's phone number?

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

JB: I love Mark Twain, he is my God of writing. I supposed his use of vernacular has affected my writing. I also loved the mystery novels of Donald Westlake, who has probably most influenced my plotting. Reading John Updike's short stories always makes me want to write the perfect, beautiful sentence.

OMN: What do you read now for pleasure?

JB: I cast around a lot. This summer I had close at hand War and Peace, Plato, a collection of essays by the Transcendentalists, and a lot of comic books. I also recently read the first of Jeff Abbott's Sam Capra series, and I'll definitely return to that. It's always that characters who bring you back.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

JB: Top 5 favorite movies (subject to variation):

The Prisoner of Zenda (1938, Ronald Colman, the perfect sappy blend of romance and adventure);
Shakespeare in Love (the only move I know in which a woman falls in love with a man for his writing — which makes perfect sense to me);
The Maltese Falcon (perfect tight little play, brilliantly played);
• "The Godfather" movies, if I can have parts 1 and 2; and probably
Casablanca (yes, a sucker for old movies).

The most recent movies vying to make the list are Up in the Air with George Clooney, and Zombieland (Rule No. 1: Cardio).

OMN: What's next for you?

JB: After several years away from the form, I'm writing another legal thriller. But this one's set in Houston, and new setting for me, which is making it fresh for me. Its subject is also family, which always interests me. I'm over 400 pages into it and really enjoying it.

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With a Master's Degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University and experience as an attorney with the District Attorney's office in Bexar County and with the Fourth Court of Appeals, Jay Brandon knows his settings.

Each of his novels takes aspects of people, places and happenings in the world of law and adds Jay's own brand of gripping suspense and excellent writing.

A native Texan, he now devotes his time to writing and his law practice in San Antonio.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook.

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Shadow Knight's Mate by Jay Brandon

Shadow Knight's Mate
Jay Brandon
A Novel of International Intrigue

A bizarre terrorist attack means to discredit a secret society that has been attempting to steer historical events for more than a century. Jack Driscoll, a member of the society, and Israeli security specialist Rachel Green partner up with a sexy but mysterious woman in order to prevent a second attack, this one intended to disrupt a global economic summit in Europe. Together they must make sure the president of the United States attends the summit while keeping him safe from assassins who would like nothing more than to start a world war by killing the leader of the free world while he is on foreign soil.

As the trio attempt to prevent a global catastrophe, readers will discover some of the "real history" of America, including why Lee chose Gettysburg, why Franklin Roosevelt had to run for a third and fourth term in office, and why Tom Hanks' becoming a movie star was one of secret society's greatest failures. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)  iTunes iBook Format  Kobo eBook Format


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