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And what do YOU have to say? – J. M. BREWER – interview no.20

on 02/03/2015


Joseph Mark Brewer, the author of The Gangster’s Son, is here to talk about his writing method, combining the work of journalist and writer, and the challenges an author faces when planning an intricate plot of an exotic thriller. He will also announce the upcoming adventure of his signature detective Sato.


1. You write crime mysteries, involving plenty of plots and subplots. How much pre-planning do they require and is it difficult for you to balance plotted plans and creative freedom?

The mysteries require lots of planning for story structure and the whodunit aspect, but I don’t find it difficult to balance plot against creative freedom. I find creativity in dreaming up the crimes, the culprits, the scenarios, the dialogue – creativity within a structure, so to speak. I find thinking about what a character might say or do, what comes next, all of that to be very fulfilling. That’s true in  mystery or any other type of story.

2. Your work combines journalism and navy. How much has being in the navy influenced your work?

I served in the Navy when I was in my 20s and that experience was useful in learning my craft, both as a fiction writer and a journalist. I went to the military’s journalism school, then lived aboard ships and traveled to dozens of cities and countries in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. That was invaluable in developing understanding of different cultures, empathy, and expanding a world view other than the one I might have had if I remained in the Midwestern U.S.  I think all of this helps when creating worlds for fiction readers to enjoy. And, this has helped me become a better journalist, both as a reporter and editor. 

3. ​How different is your writing process as a mystery author from that of a journalist? Word limit and deadlines only or much more?

I find a lot of similarities. My work as a journalist these days involves editing stories, writing headlines, selecting the photos, writing the captions and putting it all together on the page. It’s helpful to think of the deadline first, then plan your workday backwards, a reverse progression. This type of planning is good training for a mystery writer. Can you present the reader with everything they need when they need it in order to keep them interested in the story? Can you present  events without giving anything away but keep the reader interested and turning the page? Can you as the writer go backwards through the series of events and fine the holes in the plot and the unnecessary detours? 

4. Your main character Sato seems quite charismatic. What do you see as his best quality and his worst flaw and why?

Sato is blessed with a natural commanding presence and sense authority. People see him as competent and able. His best quality is that he is thoughtful and cares deeply about solving crimes and helping people. His worst flaw is that he does not know how to say no to people asking for help, especially when he thinks he is in the person’s debt. This seldom works out well for him.

5. Describe your writing process, please. Allow us to picture it. Is there a special kind of pen & paper you use? Do you only type your books? How do you go about editing? Where do you like to write most?

All of my stories begin as thoughts written onto legal pads with a regular ballpoint pen, as random as random can be, while sitting somewhere and doing little else but brainstorming. When I start crafting the story I usually have a sequence of events in mind, and so assemble the events into an outline and begin writing out scenes and dialogue. It’s at this point I begin entering it all into my computer, usually scene by scene, typically divided into three parts.

When the time comes to get serious about completing the first draft, I get through it rather quickly, usually 10,000 words or more a week. It’s the editing that slows everything down. I print out the first draft for an edit, send the second draft to two people for a beta read and get lots of feedback and lots of corrections, and typically overhaul the outline. I write the log line, the synopsis, really try to get the crux of the story committed to paper. This is usually when things fall apart. So the third and subsequent drafts amount to the rewrite and sharpening and tightening, and then I give it to my editor to comb through. Finally, I read the manuscript aloud for flow and continuity, and invariably catch little things then as well.

I do most of my writing by hand, though, listening to music (jazz or classical – rock doesn’t seem to work for me in this case), sitting on the couch, in front of the television, watching a movie. I find that this somehow frees a creative channel in my brain, and the ideas pour out. Over the years I have found that I can write anywhere – home, work, driving, you name it. I find it hard to stop thinking about the story and I find I’m ‘writing’ it in my mind until I get a chance to write it all down. And thanks to my undisciplined mind, I think of different parts of different stories one after another. I never know when one idea triggers another.

6. If you could have any famous book character do a ‘cameo’ appearance in your book, who would be your guest and why?

Tony Hillerman’s Lt. Joe Leaphorn. I think Leaphorn and Sato would hit it off without saying much of anything. Both would function well in the other’s world. And I think Leaphorn would appreciate the talents of Sato’s sidekick, Ken Abe. 

7. Do you see yourself writing in any other genre? Which and why?​ 

I have written or am writing three novels in other genres, one a thriller, one contemporary adult fiction, another a historical novel with a small mystery/crime element. I love writing stories and creating new worlds. I have no talent for science fiction or fantasy, but I enjoy reading it. For me it all comes down to telling a good story.

8. What did you want to be when you were a little boy? And are you that now?

Way back when I wanted to become a teacher. I sometimes view journalism and communication as a way of educating and informing. To me, it’s all about being curious and learning. That’s one of the reasons I’m tackling indie publishing. I’m a lifelong learner and hope that never stops.

9. Who is your most trusted reader and critic?

My son. I tell him all my plots and schemes and he gives very honest feedback. And he’s a terrific editor.

10. Which author made a great impact on your writing and why?

Patrick O’Brian, who wrote the Aubrey-Maturin ‘Master and Commander’ series. He created a world that is easy to gets lost in and sustained a narrative through 20 volumes, each story fresh despite repeating characters. It’s a master class on historic fiction, adventure, romance, some mystery and it’s all a great read. Very daunting and inspiring.

11. Would you like to add anything about your current work or send a message to the readers?

Book 2 in the Shig Sato Mystery series, The Thief’s Mistake, to be released in April 2015. Book 3, The Traitor’s Alibi, will be available for preorder this autumn. For more details, visit J. M. Brewer fb , J. M. Brewer website, or J. M. Brewer twitter .


Joseph’s book

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One response to “And what do YOU have to say? – J. M. BREWER – interview no.20

  1. Reblogged this on Brave New Deadline and commented:
    My friend Anita was kind enough to interview me. Have a look.


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