A Conversation with Brandt Dodson, author of ‘The Sons of Jude’

Brandt DodsonBrandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, which he would later choose as the setting for his Colton Parker Mystery series. Although he discovered in grade school that he wanted to be a writer, it would be another twenty-one years before he would put pen to paper.“I knew in fifth grade that I wanted to be a writer. Our teacher had given each of us a photograph which we were to use as inspiration for a short story. The particular photo I was given was of several young men playing handball in New York City. I don’t remember all of the particulars of the story now, but I do remember the thrill that writing it gave me.”

Later, while in college, one of Brandt’s professors would echo that teacher’s comment.

“But life intervened and I found myself working at a variety of jobs. I worked in the toy department of a local department store and fried chicken for a local fast food outlet. Over the course of the next several years I finished my college degree and worked for the Indianapolis office of the FBI, and served for eight years as a Naval Officer in the United States Naval Reserve. I also obtained my doctorate in Podiatric Medicine, and after completion of my surgical residency, opened my own practice. But I never forgot my first love. I wanted to write.”

During his early years in practice, Brandt began reading the work of Dean Koontz.

“I discovered Dean’s book, The Bad Place, and was completely blown away by his craftsmanship. I read something like 13 or 14 of his back list over the following two weeks. It wasn’t long after that I began to write and submit in earnest.”

Still, it would be another twelve years before Brandt was able to secure the publishing contract he so desperately desired.

“I began by writing the type of fiction that I enjoyed; I wrote edgy crime thrillers that were laced with liberal amounts of suspense. Over the years, I’ve begun to write increasingly more complex work by using broader canvases and themes.

Since securing his first contract, Brandt has continued to pen the type of stories that inspired him to write when he was a boy, and that have entertained his legions of readers.

“I love to write, and as long as others love to read, I plan on being around for a long time to come.”

Brandt Dodson’s latest book is the crime thriller The Sons of Jude.

Visit Brandt Dodson’s website at www.brandtdodson.com.

Pick up your copy of The Sons of Jude at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sons-Jude-Series/dp/0857212052


B7C8YX Chiffon Scarf on white backgroundQ: Thank you for this interview, Brandt . Can you tell us what your latest book, The Sons of Jude, is all about? 

At its core, The Sons of Jude is about standing true in a corrosive environment. Having come from a long, multi-generational line of police officers on both side of my family, and having served with the FBI, I can tell you there are few environments more corrosive than law enforcement.

But the story is also about two people who must find common ground if they are to do the job required of them; if they are to serve the people of Chicago. Today, in a country that appears to be as deeply divided as ours is,and with a government that is as dysfunctional as ours is, the story is uniquely relevant.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

The great conflict of the novel comes from the gasoline and matches combination of detectives Frank Campello and Andy Polanski.

Campello has been with the Chicago Police department for the better part of 20 years and is engrained in the system. He is a cop’s cop. A man who sees things as they are and does what needs to be done. Sometimes he bends the rules. At other times, he breaks them. There is good and bad to his methods.

Polanski is Campello’s polar opposite. He isa man who believes in the rules and who lives fastidiously by them. He bends them for no one, even when the public’s greater good would best be served by doing it. Like Campello’s approach, there is good and bad to Polanski’s methods.

Addreporter Christy Lee, who has issues with Campello and Polanski, and we have a recipe for the kind of tension that’s needed to drive a story of this magnitude.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

A novelist has to be observant. After all, story is about character and a novel’s characters must be real to the people who read about them. I don’t write about anyone I know, but I do tend to draw on my experience and people I have either known or met. Few of us are the angels we think we are, but most of us are not possessed by the demons we sometimes display. The old adage that there is good and evil in all of us is very accurate. I try very hard to show both sides of the same coin.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Although I’ve tried to write by outlining in advance, I must admit it doesn’t work well for me. A great deal of the fire – the passion that comes with the birth of a new idea – tends to burn off when I make an effort to develop the story before I write it. I need the discovery process as much as the reader and have found that my best reviews tend to come with the novels on which I’ve done the least amount of pre-planning. Writers who do outline, and there are many, will often marvel at how the rest of us can write a story when we have no idea where it’s going. I’m not sure that criticism if fair. After all, even the most ardent outliner has no idea where the story is going until they begin writing, even if their writing is initially in outline form. I’m not alone when it comes to writing by the seat of my pants. Lee Child has said he’s a dedicated pantser too, so I figure I’m in good company.

Q: Your book is set in Chicago.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

I once lived in Chicago and know the city well. I used to take the train from Union Station to my apartment in Elk Grove, but often worked late and had to stay for the next commuter. One evening, in the fall of 1986, I missed my train and ended up staying late which gave me an opportunity to meet Kevin Costner. He was filming the climactic shootout scene for Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables and was very pleasant, indulging my many questions on the making of the film. Later, when the movie was released, I saw a scene where Sean Connery’s character refers to St. Jude as the patron saint of lost causes and policemen. Coming from a long, multi-generational line of police officers and having worked for the FBI, I tucked the tidbit away in the deep recesses of my brain. Later, when developing the idea for The Sons of Jude, I knew I wanted to tell the story of police officers who continue to go into the streets everyday knowing that while they may return from the battle victorious, the war is unwinnable. I recalled the line from The Untouchables and did some research. I learned that St. Jude is not only the patron saint of police officers, but of the Chicago Police department in particular. I knewimmediately I would have to set the book in Chicago and hence The Sons of Jude was born.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

To the uninitiated, Chicago means Al Capone, political corruption, and high-stakes crime. There is a great deal of that to be sure, but the Windy City has so much more to offer. Its neighborhoods, which play a large role in the book, are home to multiple generations of the same families who live, work, and worship there. I wanted to capture that sense of community and show how it drives people to stand up to corruption and take ownership of their own turf. Gangs and other forms of violent crime can’t stand against an engaged populace. There is no better place to see that kind of spirit than in Chicago. Despite the current upswing in violent crime, I’m confident that the people of Chicago will gain the upper hand. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again. I’m convinced their commitment comes from their sense of community.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Andy Polanski has arrived home to a late dinner with his wife. The children are already in bed and Andy tells his wife about the kind of day he’s had. Since he’s a by-the-book kind of cop, he’s become the victim of daily attacks – some vicious; some juvenile – and his wife is trying to get him to resign from the CPD so they can start over in another city.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

This excerpt occurs during the discussion between Andy Polanski and his wife, Jenny.

Her eyes searched his. “You’re a good man, Andy. Don’t let them use you.”

     “No one’s using me.” He pulled her arms from around his neck.

     “Ever since that kid was shot there’s been unrest and the department is letting you take the fall for it.”

     He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. It was a defensive posture; a position he was getting used to taking.

     “I know what I’m doing.”

     “Andy,” she said, her eyes searching his, “they moved you to the 28th to make themselves look good. They’re politicians, Andy. They’re politicians first and police officers second.”

     “But I’m not a politician, Jenny. I’m a cop. And a good one.”

     A wistful look crossed her face. “I know you are,” she said in a subdued voice. “But the good ones either leave or get changed. They don’t last.”

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

I think it was the late Robert B. Parker who once said that writer’s block was another term for laziness. I can’t recall a time when I’ve felt truly blocked, but there are times when I can’t seem to get the power to start the day. The words, if they come at all, come hard and the writing feels like an underwater game of basketball. When those times occur, I follow the lead of Dean Koontz. He once said that when he faced times of difficulty he’d pick up a favored book by an author he admired and read a few lines just to enjoy the use of the language. I’ve found that Dean’s method for starting the engine works well for me too.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

I’d spend more time with my family. Both of my boys are grown men now, and we have a great relationship, but I don’t get to spend as much time with them as I’d like. They’re working and leading their lives, and I’m doing the same. But I miss them nonetheless. Time is fleeting. There is nothing as important as family.

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

There are so many it’s difficult to choose. I truly enjoyed Koontz’ Watchers and Lightning. I love Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man and I’ve read Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle so much the cover is worn down. But I must admit I’m a big fan of Dickens. I would like to have written GreatExpectations. I thoroughly enjoyed that book. Dickens had a way of keeping us focused on the important things of life.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

I’ve been told that the great Sinclair Lewis once walked onto the stage of a writer’s conference to lecture to a room full of want-to-be writers. Allegedly, he said: “Why aren’t you home writing?” before strolling off.

Most people I meet who want to write never get past the wanting stage. The best advice I can offer to anyone who desires to write is to do it. Nothing gets written on its own. But I would also strongly suggest reading as well. Read widely and deeply. If someone wants to write mysteries, they should read Agatha Christie. But they should also read Robert Crais. Both are mystery writers in the larger sense, but they are very, very different. Learning what has been done, as well as learning the craft is important. But all of that is for naught if you don’t sit down to write.



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