Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meet Stephen L. Brayton, author of BETA

This is a special weekend for author Stephen L. Brayton. Yesterday, October 1, 2011, was the official publication date of his new novel, Beta, featuring a remarkable female PI sleuth, Mallory Peterson, who is a Fourth Degree Black Belt and has her own martial arts studio. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like a winner.

Stephen owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association.

He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project.

In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper. During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, he wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. He has also written a paranormal mystery, entitled Night Shadows, and sequels to Nights Shadows and Beta are in rewrite/revision stages.

I sent Stephen a list of suggested questions for him to ponder and respond to. He did his homework in spades and answered them all! Here’s what Stephen L. Brayton has to say about the craft of fiction:

John: What is the relationship between fiction and truth?

Stephen: The answer depends on whether or not you’re asking a news reporter. Lol. Actually, there is a lot of truth in fiction. Many writers bring in actual events, real locations, or people into their stories. In my action mystery, Beta, I use actual locations (changing business names to protect my butt from lawsuits). I also use personalities and attitudes from the people I’ve met during my research. So, when you read my story, know that I met the rude receptionist and the flustered secretary. I loved talking with the trucking company office manager.

The point is, be aware how you speak to authors who are doing research, because you might end up in a story.

John: We’re often advised to write about what we know about. How does this work for the mild-mannered mystery writer who never saw a corpse or has never been hassled by the cops?

Stephen: As writers, we read. So we’ve read books containing corpses or problems with cops. We have friends and neighbors who have been problems with the law. (If you don’t, come visit me and let me tell you about the current and past tenants in my apartment house. You’ll have ideas coming out your ears.)

Also, contact authors who do know about these matters. Current or ex-cops who write novels love to tell of their adventures.

John: Are you proud of your style? If so (and let’s hope so!), why? What’s special about the way you use language?

Stephen: One of the areas I on which I contemplated was the use of profanity in my stories. The novels I enjoy most (Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and others in the same era), didn’t use profanity. Times have changed, I know, movies and books and television have all included copious amounts of foul language. I try to limit the amount I use. For instance, my heroine, Mallory Petersen, doesn’t use the F word but once in this story and only because the scene warranted it. Otherwise, she does use profanity often, but not excessively.

John: Can you name six essential ingredients of mystery plot that begin with C? (Extra credit for more C’s.)

Stephen: Please don’t make me think today. My Creativity doesn’t get started until after noon. I have a real Conflict with waking up, especially when the quirky Characters outside my window are acting up. Plus, later, I may not remember what I did in the morning, which fouls up my Continuity. Also, I before I give you the answer, I have to Check my facts. And when I do finally get around to it, I have to make sure I Clearly Communicate what I want you to know. Plus, at the end of the day, I may not have the Concatenation of everything I’ve told you throughout the day.

John: Which is more important to you as you write: memory, research, or imagination?

Stephen. Research spurs imagination. In the case of Beta I used real people, changed around some scenes to make them more interesting and or funny based on what I saw during the research.

For instance, I changed a scene in Beta’s sequel after I came upon a birthday party for a Mexican teenage girl. I was checking out the location to get a description of the place so I could accurately portray it in the book. My idea had been to have my protagonist chase her quarry inside the building. However, when I witnessed the party I didn’t mean to crash, I had to put this gala affair into the scene.

John: What makes your protagonist unique? What are his or her passions? Does she or he have flaws?

Stephen: Mallory Petersen is a Fourth Degree Black Belt who owns her own martial arts studio. She’s a six foot blonde who wears Bogart’s Sam Spade trench coat and hat. Her cases and clients come from the nutty side of life through no fault of her own.

She gets very emotional about the case in Beta. It concerns the kidnapping of an eight-year-old girl and her discovery of a child pornography ring. She fights with her emotions, her morals, and with breaking the law trying to find the girl.

John: What are your feelings about love and sex in fiction? Are they essential to plot and character development?

Stephen: I think writers have to determine where the story is going, if the characters are going to be in future stories, and what any relationship will mean to the story’s future, their future, and future adventures. One of my author friends said, once you cross the line, you can’t go back.

Mallory Petersen, at the end of Beta, begins a relationship with a police officer from East Moline. I have them kiss but in the sequel will explain her hesitancy to commit herself to deepening the relationship.

John: Are there accepted rules of good writing that you enjoy breaking?

Stephen: No, instead I struggle to stay on course with putting in aspects of good writing. If I don’t, people will let me know about it. If I deviated, it wouldn’t be good anymore. I want good writing. I want my writing to be appreciated for its depth, its humor, its flow, and for people to refer to parts of the narrative when showing others what good writing can be.

John: Who is your favorite writer? What book made you want to be a reader? What writer made you want to be a writer?

Stephen: I’ve enjoyed H.P. Lovecraft for decades and really jumped into Ellery Queen.

Every book has made me want to be a writer. The good ones I want to emulate. With the bad ones, I know I can do better.

Thanks for spending time with us, Stephen. And huge congratulations on the publication of Beta! Here’s wishing the book much success, and much success to your career, too.

To learn more about Stephen L. Brayton and his books, check out the following links:



Book Review: 


  1. I enjoyed this interview, John. I was especially interested in Stephen's reply to your question about the use of language. I liked what he said about profanity, that Mallory, "doesn't use the F word but once in this story and only because the scene warranted it."
    So many authors either abuse profanity or refuse to use it at all. I agree with Stephen in that, in order to make a character or a scene believable, sometimes you need to incorporate some of "those words" - but only when it contributes to your novel.

  2. I'm with you, Patricia. Some characters and some situations cry out for explosive language, and it's honest to use the strong words bravely. But there's no sense in peppering a whole book with profanity; it only weakens the power of those words.

  3. Great interview. I grew up on martial arts movies but know nothing about it myself. It's great to get the insight of an expert on that.

    --John Brantingham

  4. Thanks, John. I don't know a thing about martial arts myself, but reading about Mallory Peterson would be a good way to learn, I bet.

  5. John, what an astounding interview with Stephen. I have followed all of his interviews, but this one stands out. Stephen, you are so quirky with words, and John you brought that forward. I love your 6 ingredients of mystery plot that begins with the letter C, and Stephan's answers were cunning as always. Thanks guys...charismatic

  6. Ha ha! I laughed at Stephen's use of the "C" words. I was in ATA too, although I only made first degree black belt. It's a great organization and I'm glad Stephen has his own martial arts school. Good luck with Beta!
    Sally Carpenter
    "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"

  7. Thanks, Augie, and thanks, Sally. Glad you enjoyed the interview with Stephen. He's quite a character.

  8. I have to chime in. When I get a manuscript, the first thing I do is a search for how many times the author uses the "F" bomb and in what context. I'm not a prude, but I know what I can pitch to my publisher and what we can sell. Profanity is for other houses.
    John, your questions go a lot deeper than I am used to. I quake a bit wondering what you'd throw at me in an interview!

  9. Writing and martial arts seem to take similar amounts of discipline. Stick to it, practice and you get better, no surprise. The interview process seems to be the same. Enjoyed this one, thanks, John.

  10. Thanks, Sunny and Theresa. Stephen supplied good answers—witty, but full of good ideas, too.

  11. Thanks for a great interview John and Stephen. I guess profanity in fiction is a hot button and I appreciated your answers. Some people tend to talk a certain way and if they are to appear in a book, then they have to talk that way. But we might consider kicking them out if they don't watch their mouth a bit. We are in control, after all, aren't we?
    Your book sounds like a winner, Stephen. Hope you have mega sales with it.

  12. Thanks, Velda. I guess it's time for me to chime in on this issue of profanity. I agree that overuse of profanity is invasive and offensive. But there are people, especially people in mysteries of the noir variety, who talk in a language that wouldn't do at a polite tea party. My fiction is mostly polite, but the hero must deal with rough-talking low-lifes, and I don't try to rein them in. If that offends some readers, I can live with that. I guess I would rate my novels R, but I stand behind the message.

  13. A well-plotted romantic complication can make any story better, and provide a much-needed lightening of tension in very suspenseful novels.