Thursday, May 23, 2013

Interview: John Brantingham

Today, John Brantingham is here telling us more about his new book, Mann of War

1.   What was your inspiration for this book?

 I’ve always liked crime fiction. I spent much childhood reading Elmore Leonard or watching terrible but wonderful movies like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that I could write that kind of fiction if I wanted to. I built a career writing poetry and literary fiction -- which I also love.

 I was halfway through a Dick Francis novel when I told my wife that being a crime writer would be about the best possible possibility in a universe of possibles, and she talked me into writing one.

 Of course, that’s the inspiration for the job, not really the book. The book came out of a few things. I’ve always been fascinated by evil. I don’t think that there are a lot of people who think of themselves as evil even when they are committing it. I wanted to get a likeable character, committing evil, but completely blind to the fact that he’s not good. 

 So he’s going around seeking vengeance on those people who have gotten away with crimes. Because the people who he is killing are terrible human beings, he can’t see that he’s become a serial killer, and I hope for now that the audience doesn’t see it so clearly either. It’s the first novel in a series that’s going to lead inevitably to him coming face to face with what he is.

2.   Would you classify your writing as plot driven or character driven?

 Definitely character driven. I like plot driven stories, but I love to explore people and their motivations in my stories. It’s so much fun.

3.   Can you tell us a little about your main character?

Robert Mann is a history professor and former Army Ranger. He finds out that one of his best friends -- a police officer -- has been killed and that the person who killed him made a deal to avoid jail time. So he goes on a quest for his own revenge with the help of his other friend Dean Cooley, an FBI agent. When they kill the man, Cooley tells Mann that there are many more people out there that need to be dealt with, who have gotten away with the same kind of thing, so Mann goes out on a series of mission with information given to him by Cooley.

 He’s based a little on my friend Mick, a former Navy Seal, who teaches college now, but Mick would never do this. He’s also based on me, and the questions I ask myself about what it would take for me to become a really dark person. Nothing is darker than revenge after all. It is premeditated and calculated.

 4.   Which of your supporting characters was the most challenging to write?

The bad guys were all terrible people, and I had a hard time getting into their heads. I had to get into the minds of con-men, rapists, killers, drug dealers, and treasonists. Talk about dark. I’m a pacifist by nature, but I found that by the end, I was buying into Mann’s philosophies to some extent.

 I can’t watch movies like The Sting any longer -- movies that celebrate con-men. Getting into their heads, I realized what kind of a craven mindset a person would have to have to do something like that. There are no loveable con-men as far as I’m concerned. It made me sick to do the research I had to do to get into them.  What I learned about them was that it’s not about the money they’re getting. They could make that more easily working anywhere. It’s that feeling that they’ve destroyed another human being that motivates them.

 5.   Without giving away too much, tell us a little about the main conflict in this book.

 The biggest conflict is that Mann has never killed anyone before, and he kind of bumbles through his murders. It would be easy just to shoot all his victims, but he wants to do each murder differently so the police will never catch on to what he’s doing. By the end, he realizes that he’s really not the right person for covert operations.

6.   Why did you choose this genre?

 I love the genre, love working in it. I love the mental challenge that it takes to at once identify with a character and dislike him. One of my favorite shows ever was The Shield, which followed a corrupt police officer. He commits a murder in the first episode -- he kills a police officer investigating him. In the second episode, you find yourself buying into his logic and justifications and at that moment, you realize how close to evil you are yourself and how seductive it can be. 

7.   What do you hope readers take away from this book?

 Murder is easy. Good is difficult. That’s the basis of the entire series.

8.   Who are your favorite authors?

I write in lots of genres and have many literary heroes: Dick Francis, Lawrence Block, Rex Stout, Graham Greene, Sue Grafton, Elmore Leonard, Julian Barnes, John Steinbeck, so many in fiction. These are just the start. I love all of the old crime and mystery writers too.

 9.   Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write?

I have to write in the morning, and I have to block out everything else, all my worries. I teach, so there are a lot of them, but for those two hours, that’s all I do. It becomes more like eight hours in the summer.

 I don’t suppose that’s all that different than anyone else’s rituals, but someone like me who’s a born worrier, that’s a hard thing to do. Also, generally drink tea by the gallon while I do it.

 10.   Can you tell us about any future projects?

 Yeah, I have a lot of poetry projects going a couple of collections that should be out next year. If you’d like to check out my latest poetry collection, East of Los Angeles it’s on amazon. I also am writing a sequel to Mann of War, Mann of Action. Finally, I’m writing a novel about a regular guy who just snaps and starts committing crimes for the thrill.

Mann of War is available now from Amazon

Connect with John online at his blogAmazon, and Goodreads