Three-Dimensional Characters

You typically see the plot of my books through the eyes of several different characters. Stride, Serena, and Maggie are always there – but so are victims, perpetrators, and innocent bystanders. Their stories intensify the emotion of the thriller, because every crime has ripple effects that change lives in unexpected ways.

I want these characters to feel “three-dimensional” on the page, but I’m often writing about people with very different experiences from my own. To bring them to life, I need help.

For example, the characters in MARATHON include an ordinary Muslim family – husband, wife, and child – whose world is turned upside down by a violent attack and its aftermath. This family should feel as genuine and sympathetic to the reader as next-door neighbors. However, my own experience has given me little interaction with Islamic life or culture from which to build realistic Muslim characters.

Online resources are always valuable when doing character research, but I wanted something more personal – so I reached out to members of the Muslim community in the Twin Cities. There was initially some wariness in their response. Too many popular thrillers deal with Muslims only through the lens of Islamic extremism, and I had to persuade them that I wanted to write a story with greater depth and nuance. When they understood what I was trying to do, they were very gracious in sharing personal stories with me.

In the end, I had the opportunity to talk about day-to-day life, culture, and religion with several members of the Muslim community and to observe one of their Friday prayer services. Their generosity in sharing their values, beliefs, and fears was essential to my research. I hope I’ve lived up to their trust by creating Muslim characters in MARATHON who are sincere, flawed, heroic, and misguided in equal parts – in other words, people who are exactly like all of the other three-dimensional characters I try to bring to my novels.

MARATHON Book Tour

The book tour for MARATHON is set!

Join me in May at events in Duluth, the Twin Cities, St. Louis, Denver, Phoenix, Houston, and Vero Beach. I’ll be talking about the “ripped from the headlines” themes in MARATHON, reading from the book, answering all your questions — and, of course, signing copies for you.

If I’m coming to your area, I hope you’ll stop by and meet me.

Click here to visit my website for all the details on dates, times, and locations.

 

MARATHON: The Echo Chamber

Are we more divided than ever before?

Sometimes it seems that way.  Tragedy doesn’t bring us together the way it once did.  Too often, rather than turning to each other for support, we retreat to separate corners and to our own political philosophies.

The rise of social media seems to have accelerated this divisiveness.  If you agree with someone, social media is an echo chamber reinforcing what you think.  If you disagree, it’s an information superhighway crowded with road rage.  That’s why I chose to make social media an important theme in MARATHON – because sites like Twitter and Facebook have become players in shaping how we react to the world.

Look at Twitter, for example.  There’s something about that 140-character limit on Twitter posts that washes away restraint and encourages people to hurl spicy little fireballs at one another.  As one of my characters in MARATHON complains to her husband, “I always know when you’re looking at Twitter.  Your face gets so angry.”  She’s right.  Twitter can be a perfect little outrage factory.

Social media not only makes us angrier, it also makes it easier for us to leap to the wrong conclusions.  That’s especially true in the aftermath of tragic events.  Information spreads lightning fast – but so does misinformation.  What starts out as news quickly becomes an online breeding-ground for rumor and speculation, and the results can easily spiral out of control.

Stride doesn’t just have to solve a murder in MARATHON.  He also has to deal with a powder keg of online paranoia that threatens to burst from the virtual world into the real world of Duluth.

MARATHON: A Tale of Two Cities

On April 15, 2013, two pressure-cooker bombs detonated in the crowd during the Boston Marathon.  Three spectators died in the explosions, and hundreds were injured.

Every terrorist attack horrifies us with its senseless violence and loss of life – but I think the Boston bombing prompted a special outrage, because it violated an event that represents the best of what people can strive for and achieve, and because the marathon itself is so much a part of the identity of the city of Boston.

It’s not often that I create a plot that is directly “ripped from the headlines,” but no one will miss the fact that the real-life events of the Boston bombing inspired MARATHON.  Duluth, like many cities, offers an annual race that plays host to tens of thousands of runners and spectators from around the world.  As a result, I wanted my Duluth-based police lieutenant, Jonathan Stride, to deal with all of the challenges and raw emotions of a similar tragedy.

However, the explosion in MARATHON, with its unsettling parallels to what happened in Boston, is only the beginning.  The story of this novel is really a story of how hatred in all its forms becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of violence, loss, and revenge.

My books often deal with sensitive themes, and I try to deal with these issues in shades of gray, not just black or white.  That’s especially true of MARATHON.  I wanted to write a lightning-paced thriller that also deals openly and honestly with issues of anger, prejudice, and extremism, especially when amplified by the echo chamber of social media.

There are no super-heroes or super-villains here, just ordinary people.  Some struggle to do the right thing; some do evil things.  Most have good intentions – but we know where good intensions can lead.  In the middle is Stride, trying to find the truth and bring people together despite their bitter divisions.

MARATHON is available for pre-order now online and through your local bookseller.

The Huffington Post

Go behind the scenes on GOODBYE TO THE DEAD and 10 years of my Jonathan Stride thrillers in this great interview from The Huffington Post.

Columnist-author Mark Rubinstein delves into the inspirations behind the book, the series, and my writing career. If you want to know how I approach my thrillers, this is a terrific place to start.

Do you have your copy yet of GOODBYE TO THE DEAD? Fresh Fiction says: “Master storyteller Brian Freeman knocks it out of the park with his latest Jonathan Stride crime thriller…hugely addictive with each unexpected twist and turn in the investigation….This compelling police crime thriller should be on everyone’s must-read list.”

Click here to read the HuffPo interview!

Available Now

The wait is over! Jonathan Stride is back…and GOODBYE TO THE DEAD is available right now.

I think this is one of those books you will want to add to your permanent collection. It’s a story that brings the past and present of Stride’s life together once and for all. I hope you enjoy it — and that you’ll help me spread the word to your reader friends.

goodbye-final-coverHere’s what Fresh Fiction had to say about the new book in their review:

“Master storyteller Brian Freeman knocks it out of the park with his latest Jonathan Stride crime thriller…hugely addictive with each unexpected twist and turn in the investigation….This compelling police crime thriller should be on everyone’s must-read list.”

I’ve got book tour events coming up in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina. If I’ll be in your area, please stop by my event and pick up a signed copy! I’d love to meet you.

Happy reading!

Ten Years: A Pioneer Press Retrospective

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PIONEER PRESS ARTICLE.

With the release of my latest Jonathan Stride thriller GOODBYE TO THE DEAD just days away, Mary Ann Grossman of the Pioneer Press has written a wonderful retrospective on my ten years in the book business. It’s a great way to get to know me and my novels.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve spent a decade writing and publishing thrillers around the world — about a third of my working life. As someone who dreamed of writing books from a young age (I was working on a mystery novel in sixth grade!), this really has been the achievement of a life-long goal. The publishing business is one of the toughest ways to make a living, but it also offers rewards that you can’t get anywhere else.

More than anything, as you’ll see in Mary Ann’s article, I’ve been fortunate to run this business as a partnership with my wife, Marcia. (She gets the first two words in every book!) We do this all together — editing, marketing, hitting the road, doing events — and that’s the best part of this new life we created ten years ago.

I hope you enjoy getting to know us in this article — and I hope you buy a copy of GOODBYE TO THE DEAD and fall in love with it. It’s one of my own personal favorites among my novels.

Stride and Cab

Readers first met Cab Bolton in my sixth novel THE BONE HOUSE — which was also my first novel not to feature Duluth police lieutenant Jonathan Stride. I originally envisioned THE BONE HOUSE as a stand-alone, but readers soon demanded to see more of this quirky Florida detective.

Well, after the pure stand-alone SPILLED BLOOD (which won the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel) and the new Stride novel THE COLD NOWHERE, Cab Bolton is finally back in my all-new thriller SEASON OF FEAR.

So how does Cab Bolton differ from the intense, introspective Jonathan Stride?

season-of-fear-usa-1“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you,” Cab Bolton’s mother tells him.

“And yet I stick with it,” he replies.

Cab isn’t your typical cop.  For one thing, he doesn’t look much like a cop.  Imagine a young Peter O’Toole…absolutely amazing blue eyes, spiky blonde hair, skin so perfect you want to know what moisturizer he uses.  He’s crazy-tall and wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but an expensive suit.  He’s got money, thanks to his Hollywood mother, so he’s a cop not because he HAS to be but because he WANTS to be.  He enjoys the game. The challenge.  He’s clever, and he’s good at it.

However, Cab may as well wear a sign that says:  Does not play well with others.  He hates authority.  He doesn’t like rules. He’s still figuring out what he wants to do with his life. And for most of his 35 years, he’s been playing a game of hopscotch, jumping from place to place.  Other cops call him Catch-a-Cab Bolton, because he always has one foot out of town.

He loves women (okay, he has that in common with Stride), but he doesn’t trust them.  He’s been betrayed by women before, and he grew up with a mother who didn’t know the meaning of commitment herself.  So his relationship with his girlfriend Lala is on-again, off-again. There are fireworks in bed and fireworks when they argue. Don’t make bets on a long-term affair for them.His other relationship — with his actress mother Tarla — is just as problematic. He lived on the other side of the world from her for years, but now she’s back in his life and trying to control it. Tarla made Cab who he is, and he’s not entirely sure he likes that. She also keeps secrets from him — like not telling him who his father was or why he has the odd name Cab. So when people ask, he just makes up stories.

One thing about Cab…he’s genuinely charming.  Handsome. Funny.  Sharp.  He banters with friends and enemies alike. He’s secure about who he is and who he’s not.  He takes life seriously — but he doesn’t take himself seriously.  Which makes him impossible not to like.SEASON OF FEAR also takes me to a new setting in hot, humid central Florida. Most of my earlier books (except the Vegas-based STRIPPED) have taken place in the American Midwest, with its dirt roads, bitter winters, and dark forests. I love the drama of those settings, and I like to give readers a “you are there” feel, where they are dropped into the middle of every scene and can taste, touch, feel, and smell it happening all around them.

However, Florida weather is typically so darn nice that writers just seem to have fun with it. Many of the great Florida writers are satirists (think Hiaasen) who deliciously profile the offbeat, Jimmy Buffett-meets-Lindsay Lohan attitude of Miami and the Keys. Me, I wanted to see if I could export my love of dark settings to a place called the Sunshine State. Needless to say, some really bad weather is headed for the coast.

Cab is a Florida detective, but will he stay that way? Don’t count on it. You can’t separate Jonathan Stride from his hometown of Duluth, but Cab doesn’t have the same roots. He doesn’t have a hometown at all, and chances are, he’ll show up in other settings going forward.

Some readers are already asking: Will Jonathan Stride ever meet Cab Bolton? Will they — like Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller — turn out to have some secret family connection that bridges my two series?

No, I don’t think so.

Cab and Stride are opposites of each other in many ways. Stride is the emotional hero — driven by his relationships, passionate (sometimes too passionate) about the victims he’s trying to help. Cab isn’t comfortable with emotions. He doesn’t like to go there, because usually, he doesn’t like what he sees. And if Stride always seems tangled in a web of women, Cab is a loner at heart. I think Cab and Stride would be oil and water if I put them together in a book.

Then again, I’ve learned to never say never.

Brian on Psychological Thrillers

I’ve never been a fan of putting novels in boxes.

To me, each novel should stand on its own based on its plot and characters, because the styles of all good authors are necessarily different. You may find echoes from author to author, or even book to book, but each novel (even among a series from the same writer) should rise or fall on its unique merits.

Here’s an example. The Chicago Tribune review of STALKED said that my books should be on the to-read list for anyone who enjoys books by Harlan Coben and David Baldacci. I’m not complaining! That’s high praise to be put in the company of two very successful writers. But my style really isn’t much like either Coben’s or Baldacci’s. Yes, my books are fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns, like their novels, but I don’t do suburban suspense like Harlan or political thrillers like David.

stalkedOn the other hand, I know it’s a useful shortcut for readers. If you like Coben, or Baldacci, or Connelly, or Cornwell, will you like my books? I think you will. But the reading experience will be as different as it is for each of those authors.

If I have to build a box, I want it to be my own box. So when readers ask me to give my books a label, here’s what I say: If I had to carve out my specific niche in the big, wide genre of mysteries and suspense, I’d call my novels psychological thrillers.

The drama isn’t about how the crime was committed (as in a literary game of Clue) or even really about how the crime is solved (such as in the forensic novels of Patricia Cornwell or Kathy Reichs or the police procedurals of Michael Connelly). Instead, the focus is really on why a crime took place to begin with. What was it about the backgrounds of the characters that drew them across a terrible line?

The result is that, chapter by chapter, the story peels back the emotions, secrets, and sexuality of the characters. Yes, there are police investigating crimes, but their voices are not the only ones in the novel. We are also pulled inside the heads of other characters, and we get to know them as complex, multi-dimensional individuals, not all good, not all bad. The suspense and drama are driven by their actions and motives. As a result, the ending should not only be shocking and unexpected; it also should feel like the last piece in the emotional puzzle and the right psychological resolution.

I actually have a specific goal for people reading my books. I want you to read them twice. The pace should be so fast that you have to keep turning the pages to get to the breathtaking climax and find out what happens and why. But when you’re done, I want you to feel compelled to go back and read parts of the novel again, to pick up the nuances of the characters you may have missed the first time. The beauty of psychological thrillers is that, once you know the secrets, the drama of the interactions changes and becomes something completely different. Suddenly, you know the back story; you know what’s in the back of the characters’ minds. It gives you a whole new perspective on the novel.

That’s my box.