|Welcome to our New Faces column, where readers can meet debut authors and discover their books. This time we've visiting with A. J. Brower, whose first mystery is A Family to Die For from Wild Rose Press.
Welcome, A.J.! Tell us about yourself.
I wanted to be an astronaut. But in my first aerospace engineering class I discovered I didn't care about changing the gear ratio of an ultralight aircraft. (Duh.) So, naturally, I became a journalist. Well, sort of. I joined the Air Force and became a public affairs officer. Twenty-five years later, I'm a USAF reservist, have unused certifications to teach high school social studies and journalism, and most recently became a published author.
Are you coming to writing from another job?
I do a lot of non-fiction writing as a public relations specialist. There are those that would argue PR writing is fictional too, since we only report on the good stuff. So, except for getting to murder people, I might simply be writing a new genre of fiction.
What led you to write romantic suspense?
Chance. I used to read historical romance by the boatload. (Remember Barbara Cartland? Guaranteed quick read. I swear she wrote books by the week to produce as many as she did.) I still love the historical aspect, but I like the problems of contemporary characters. The only way I could tie a romance today to the past was to create a historical crime that remained unsolved. Thus, my characters get to confront the ultimate cold case files.
Tell us about your road to publication.
Publication took longer than it should, yet less than it should have. Let me explain. I initially wrote A Family to Die For in first person. Any hardcore suspense reader will tell you only the experts can get away with that, and I'm far from being an expert. So my lovely and very helpful critique partners, Sloan McBride and Melanie Carroll, told me I couldn't do that and I spent the next year rewriting in third person while learning the rules of fiction writing. It took about two years to complete the manuscript. In summary, if I hadn't written the book in first person it would have taken a year less time to write, but since I had my Sassy Scribes critique partners, getting my first manuscript published took much less time than it normally would have.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
I took a creative writing course years ago where the instructor said "Write what you know." I thought he meant to stick to my point of view of things. But I eventually figured out that he meant we should draw on our experiences to create a world of characters that feel real. So, what did I have that would lend itself to a romantic suspense novel?
I knew I'd never use a cop, FBI or CIA agent, or PI for my books, because I don't know a darn thing about those careers and I wasn't interested in doing the background research. But I have a hobby that lends itself well to suspense. I'm a genealogist, have been since a fellow student at college showed me my grandfather in the 1910 Federal census. For the troubled family in my book, I started by creating an entire family tree dating to the latter half of the 19th century. My heroine would have to develop this family tree to determine what she might find to prove there was an imposter. For my "evidence," I used wills, World War I history, military service records and other documentation that I've dealt with in my pursuit of dead ancestors. The murders all happened out of sight of my characters, so there's no need to get into the medical or legal description of the crimes. And the main characters were teachers, of which I had plenty of experience to draw on through my education and real-world experiences as a substitute (the scariest low-paying job in history!).
Tell us about your debut book.
Here's the blurb on the back of the book:
When high school coach and chemistry teacher Mike Garretson learns one of his ancestral relatives was the victim of identity theft, he must prove it to get his inheritance-and before he ends up as dead as his murdered grandmother.
Mike's only hope of winning the family's Victorian mansion is to hire historian Dr. Jennie Foster. Jennie's happy to climb around in her mysterious and aloof co-worker's family tree. At least until she discovers Mike has a few secrets too. As the ancestral body count rises and a modern killer discovers what they're looking for, Jennie has to decide to lay her life-and her heart-on the line for a man who refuses to let her into his.
You can read the first chapter of A Family to Die For on my website.
Who are your influences as a writer?
I read all over the field, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Janet Evanovich, Fern Michaels, and of course, Nora Roberts. I can't say I'm influenced by any one author. I read while I do half-hour cardio workouts on an elliptical-not because I want to, but because the military has this ridiculous requirement that their members are actually physically fit. A good read stretches my workout into 40-plus minutes. If it's an over-the-top book, I'll actually look forward to working out!
What does your family think of having a published author in their midst?
Surprised. I spent hours dreaming up stories and writing them down as a kid. As an adult, we lived in Europe for six years and every castle we visited became the backdrop for a story. But I do have this tendency to start projects and then set them aside when I get bored of them. (You should see the piles of unfinished genealogy projects-no, you shouldn't, I'd be embarrassed.) So it's no surprise I wrote something; it's a surprise I finished it. And for the record, A Family to Die For wasn't a one-time effort. I've already completed another manuscript and expect to complete a third in the next couple of weeks!
Tell us about plans for future books.
I learned a lot about marketing and selling a novel off my first book. My goal with A Family to Die For was to see if I could get published. And I did. I love my publishing company, but they are first an e-publisher. I aspire to get with a major print publisher next time around, so I'm taking this one slower. I figure I can take rejection as good as J.K. Rowling. So bring it on!
Right now I'm working on Headless in Seattle. This will be the first in a loosely connected set of books I'm calling "Painted Ladies". These books will follow in the line of A Family to Die For, contemporary romantic suspense with a historical twist. You do not want to have ancestors in my books-they tend to get murdered! Each Painted Ladies book takes place in a different location. The first is in Seattle, of course. The characters will find themselves pulled into a mystery in the past, while the women in the books have a few skeletons of their own in their backgrounds.
In Headless, the characters find a skull with no body. They take to Seattle's Underground, dating to the 1890s, in the search for Klondike gold. Next will be Bury Me Back in Old Virginia, which follows the trail of a soldier who buried his secrets during the Civil War in Virginia. A deadly beating during the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 is the genesis for Beat Me in St. Louis.
In short, murder, mystery, history and romance under one cover.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Drop me a line through my website at ajbrower.com, or email me.
A.J., thanks for visiting with us, and best of luck! Readers, we have a review of A Family to Die For here at TRR.
March 14, 2010