An Interview with Brendan Dubois

Brendan DuBois is the award winning author of twenty-two novels and more than 160 short stories. His short stories have three times won him the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and have also earned him three Edgar Award nominations. He is the author of the Lewis Cole mystery series, including Fatal Harbor, Blood Foam, and Storm Cell, which are all available from Pegasus Crime. Brendan lives in New Hampshire. Visit his website at www.BrendanDuBois.com.

James:                          When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Brendan:                     “When I was 12 or so.  I don’t know, but all I knew is that I wanted to tell stories and have my name in print.  Even at that age I was writing science fiction stories — bad science fiction stories — and submitting them to magazines.”

James:                          What motivated you to become a writer?

Brendan:                     “Just the bone-deep feeling that I would never be happy doing anything else.”

James:                          How many hours a week do you commit to your craft?

Brendan:                     “I’m not really sure.  I’m in my office and at my desk for six or seven hours a day, but some of that is research, answering email, and doing all the random tasks that come from being a writer.  I also write in the evening while on the couch watching TV, and also write on weekends.”

James:                          What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Brendan:                     “Read.  Nap.  Go out to eat with my wife, see movies.  Walk and play with the dog.  Walk and play with the wife.  Spend time with my elderly parents.”             

James:                          What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

Brendan:                     “So in my four years of high school, I worked several jobs to pay for my Catholic school education, and to save money for college. Those jobs included paperboy, restaurant dishwasher, and bank teller. There were lots of after school work hours and weekend work… I think I attended one (1) school dance during my entire four years of high school.

The work continued in college, from bank teller work to various jobs at a local chain supermarket… most evenings and long weekends, saving money and paying for tuition. I wasn’t eligible for school loans, and to save money, I lived at home and was a commuter student.

While I was in college I worked on the student newspaper and eventually became its editor, and after graduation, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a couple of years.  Following that, I worked as a technical writer for a utility in New Hampshire, and upon selling my third novel in 1998, became a full-time author.”                        

James:                          Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

Brendan:                     “Actually, the genre chose me.   I grew up loving and devouring science fiction and some fantasy.  That’s about 99 percent of all I read, and I wanted to become a science fiction author.  But since I was 12, scores of submitted science fiction short stories were roundly rejected.  Back in 1985 one short story that I thought was particularly fine also had a mysterious bent to it.  So I submitted it to ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’ and much to my surprise, they bought it.  And they bought the second one.  And then the third one.  Thus I became a mystery/thriller author.

“But I still have a love for science fiction, and in 2014, I sold my first SF novel, ‘Dark Victory,’ to Baen Books, who then published two more.  And I fulfilled a life-long dream in 2015 when Analog Science Fiction magazine published my first SF short story, “The Master’s Voice.”

James:                          Congratulations, Brendan, on attaining your life-long dream. Most of us never quite realize our dreams.

When did you start collaborating with James Patterson and how did your collaboration begin?

Brendan:                     “A few years ago a publishing friend of mine in New York City called me and said that James Patterson was seeking co-authors to work with him on a new publishing line called Bookshots.  Most novels run about 75,000 words and higher.  In Bookshots, the works were going to be novellas of 40,000 words.  I contacted Mister Patterson’s business partner — who was handling the arrangements — and after auditioning with samples of my work, I was asked to write a Bookshots.  That project, called “The End,” went well, and I wrote two more with Mister Patterson, “The Witnesses” and “After the End.”

“Mister Patterson then asked me to outline a fourth Bookshots, and once the outline was completed, he said it was good enough a story to become a novel.  That work became THE FIRST LADY, released this past March 12th.   A second novel co-authored with Patterson, THE CORNWALLS ARE GONE, is coming out on March 25th.  I’m currently working on another novel with Patterson, and consider myself the luckiest author on the planet.”

James:                          Your facebook masthead photo shows you with Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek when did you meet?

Brendan:                     I only know Alex via my two appearances as a contestant on “Jeopardy!’ in 2012.  He was charming, polite, and very nice to be around with, but “Jeopardy!’ pretty much keeps us separated through the entire taping.  So the only times I talked to him were during the brief contestant chats at the beginning and end of the show.

James:                          Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Brendan:                     “All the time.  There are many in-jokes and cases where I name characters after friends and family.”

James:                          What is the source of your inspiration?

Brendan:                     “Paying bills… hah-hah.  No, there’s some odd quirk in my character that propels me to write and tell stories.  Not sure if it’s genetic or environmental.”

James:                          Where do your characters come from?

Brendan:                     “It’s a Doctor Frankenstein method.  People I know or met, you take a characteristic from one person, add it to one from another, and continue that way.  The only thing required is to make the character believable.”

James:                          What advice would you give to a writer whose manuscript has been rejected several times and told he or she will never make it as a writer?

Brendan:                     “Go back to work.  Apply butt to chair.  Keep on working.  Don’t believe the naysayers, and don’t give up.  My first published novel was actually the fourth one I had written.”

James:                          What is the most important tip you can share with other writers?

Brendan:                     “Write every day.  Discipline and tenacity are much more important than talent.  I know a lot of talented writers who gave up when things went south or they got bored.  As I’ve said many times before, the only moment I’ll stop writing is when I hear the dirt hitting my coffin lid.”

James:                          What was one challenge you had to overcome to become an author?

Brendan:                     “Just overcoming the sheer challenge and apparent lunacy to go forward, knowing that at some point, you’re going to ask people to pay you money for stuff you made up.”              

James:                          How did you overcome that challenge?

Brendan:                     “See above.  Apply butt to chair, fingers to keyboard, and get to work.”

James:                          What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? What is your response to that question?

Brendan:                     “Good question.  I think I’ve been asked about every question about my books and writing under the sun.”

James:                          You mention your furry companion “Spencer the Wonder Dog” quite often, was he named after “Spenser for Hire”?

Brendan:Actually Spencer doesn’t come from “Spenser”. Many people think so, but nope

James:                          Pick one excerpt from one of your books you would like to share with readers.

Brendan:                     “This is from latest novel, TERMINAL SURF, the 12th novel in my Lewis Cole mystery series.  The book was submitted a few days ago to my publisher.   My main character and investigator, Lewis Cole, lives on Tyler Beach in New Hampshire.  One cold October morning, he looks out to the near waters and sees a woman’s body washing ashore.  At the time this novel is set, refugees and migrants have been coming ashore in New England at night, seeking safety.   Lewis then goes outside and into the Atlantic, to retrieve the woman’s body.  After bringing it to shore, he calls two women:  Paula Quinn, a newspaper reporter he’s dating, and Diane Woods, a Detective Sergeant in the Tyler Police Department:

“Another helicopter swirled around, headed back to Tyler Beach.  This one seemed to be from one of the Boston television channels, coming up here to this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean to report on the second time a newsworthy event like this had happened, namely, a boat of desperate migrants sinking off the coast of New Hampshire, with scores of dead bodies washing ashore.

This had happened three weeks ago, right after the famed end of summer at Tyler Beach — Labor Day — and the bodies had floated in at North Tyler and its northern neighbor, Wallis.

The dead refugees last time around were Syrians.

At some point this woman the others would be identified, for whatever good it would do.

I checked my cellphone’s little display.

Nine minutes had passed since my call to Paula Quinn.  That meant in another minute or so, Paula would come trotting down my dirt driveway to get to work.

But it was also time for someone else to come visit me.

I opened up the cover to my phone, dialed yet another number from memory, and yet another woman answered, this one older and more seasoned than Paula

“Lewis,” she started right off, “I’m so busy and pissed off now that I don’t have time.”

“Detective Sergeant Woods,” I replied, “I’d like to report a drowning victim at my home.”

A second passed.  “I usually like your jokes, so this better not be one.”

“I wouldn’t joke about something like this.  Where are you?”

“Getting my fat butt pulled away from a crime scene.”

“The bodies at the beach?”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Homeland Security and ICE have rolled in, taking control.  There was a jurisdictional dispute that we lost.  But tell me again what you have.”

“What I have is an apparently middle-aged woman, drowned, wearing an old-fashioned life jacket.  She washed up about ten minutes ago.”

“Damn it,” she said.  “Okay, I’m off.  See you soon.”

“You bet.”

I signed off, turned and heard a car pull in up by the near parking lot of the Lafayette House, one of the few surviving Victorian-age hotels still surviving in this part of New England.  It’s white with turrets and steep roofs and a wide front porch, and its parking area is across the street, and from there, you can gain access to my property.

I checked the cellphone clock once more.

Ten minutes had passed.

That had to be Paula Quinn arriving.

I looked at the drowning victim and saw I had misjudged the incoming tide.  Water was washing off her feet and I couldn’t stand the thought of having her tugged out again to the cold and unforgiving ocean.

I got up and went to the dead woman, and grasping the straps of her lifejacket and the shoulders of her sodden jacket, I got her up a few more feet, and as chance would have it, I rolled her over and found out why her shape had been canted and odd.

An infant was strapped to her chest.”