Q: Welcome back to my blog! I usually focus on steampunk and other sci-fi subgenres, but sometimes it’s nice to feature a variety of literature. Many of you know I’m a huge fan of mystery fiction. Today, I’m interviewing David Putnam. He’s a crime fiction author who created the Bruno Johnson thrillers. David had a long and successful career as a police officer and I’m sure his skills were very useful for penning an exciting book series. I actually met him briefly at a literary event called Mystery On the Menu. Thanks for joining us, Dave.
A: My pleasure, Stephanie.
Q: Modern authors have a variety of opportunities. Did you self-publish your work or did a traditional publisher pick up your ideas?
A: Believe it or not that’s not an easy question. Over the twenty-five years I tried to get published I had four agents. Two were great, but the other two not so great. One of the not so great ones talked me into going with Publish America when Publish America first came. The agent and the publisher assured me that PA was a traditional publisher. And as it turns out they were a POD (print on demand) after all. Otherwise I held out for a traditional publisher and was penning book number 38 when Oceanview picked up book number 34.
Q: I think we have something in common. Originally, I tried to be a mystery writer. My talents aren’t suited for the genre. Science fiction is a much better fit for me. I heard your first story was science fiction, but now you’re a mystery author. Why did you switch genres?
A: Ah, my very first story was when I was a teenager. It was a mash up of sci-fi and western. I didn’t write another one until I wrote a book called Dark Lady Laughed. It’s about a female SWAT officer who goes back in time and uses her weapons and tactical training to influence the battle of the Alamo. I loved the book and the story, but couldn’t interest anyone in New York to go for it. I am currently reworking the book with another author who is well known in the sci-fi field. I also wrote a crime novel that my agent tried to market in New York, which was rejected by all of the Big Five. It’s called Fire at Will and it's a story of a detective who responds to a hazardous waste spill, gets contaminated, and almost dies. When he recovers he thinks he can turn invisible, but he really can. New York said it was a mash-up of sc-fi and crime and couldn’t market it. I loved the book so much, I put it out as a self-pub just a couple of months ago. You can find it on Amazon.
Q: Would you mind telling us some details about your protagonist named Bruno Johnson?
A: Bruno is an African American Detective who when the story begins is now an excop/excon who rescues children from toxic homes in South Central Los Angeles. He couldn’t save the children when he was working because of all the policies and rules and laws. So now he doesn’t have to follow any rules and goes outside the law to rescue them. A Booklist review describes it best: "Bruno Johnson believes so passionately in justice that he'll lie, cheat, and steal to achieve it―and he'll pulverize anybody who gets in his way." ―Booklist
As for his name, my best friend who I have known since we were five years old had a girlfriend (they have since parted ways) and her dog’s name was Bruno. This was a wire-haired little mutt with more heart than I have ever seen in a dog. The girlfriends last name was Johnson, hence Bruno Johnson.
Q: It seems like male protagonists follow a formula in mystery novels. They’re often roguish antiheroes or “bad boys.” Why is this type of character the standard?
A: Now this answer comes under the heading of “Dave On Writing.” I believe readers read for the “fictive dream,” and that’s what holds the reader in the story. And if you break it down further, it’s the emotion displayed by the character that the reader can relate to and empathize with. Conflict is emotion ,so naturally a good story is going to have a great deal of conflict. By their very nature, Bad Boys create conflict.
Q: Most authors fit into one of these categories. They might write a plot with a lot of detail and create characters who suit the story. Others create interesting characters and write a plot that works for them. Which scenario is more accurate for you?
A: For many, many years I had a mentor, the creative writing professor from San Jose State. He drilled into me that story is not story; that character is story. And if you buy into the fictive dream and that conflict is emotion then character drives the narrative. This is what I firmly believe in. So say you have a maze, a really intricate maze that is interesting just to look at and follow the ins and outs of it. This would be a story driven book. Now if you have the same maze and you introduce a mouse who is creative and inventive, then you have a character driven story.
Q: Does your background in law enforcement give you an edge over the majority of mystery writers?
A: Yes and no. Believe it or not, writing a great book comes down to one thing and one thing only: Voice. A reader might say, “Man, that was the best book I ever read. I’m still thinking about the characters.” Then you ask the reader what was the book about and he/she thinks a moment and replies, “I don’t really know but it was a great book.” To me this describes a book with a great voice. And again with “Dave On Writing,” voice has three components and many authors miss the mark on the third one. The third component is really and truly the hidden secret that many writers strive to uncover. But I’ve gone off into the weeds here. So does my experience give me a leg up? Only to a minor degree if any. Because readers and viewers of movies and television have come to accept a perception of law enforcement that isn’t real. So I have to follow that same perception like everyone else or readers will come up to me and say, “that couldn’t happen,” or, “that isn’t the way it really is.” I’ve had that happen to me on several occasions and in each instance I had written the scene exactly the way it happened or was supposed to happen.
Q: My book series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. What type of settings do you usually choose?
A: I write in times and places where I actually stood with the gun in my hand pointing at the suspect.
Q: I conducted a lot of research for my steampunk anthologies. Is research a useful tool for your writing?
A: The only time I have done any research was on the time travel Alamo book. I had to do extensive research.
Q: Marketing is a challenging aspect for most authors. Do you recommend any marketing strategies for other writers?
A: I love writing. Marketing is difficult and takes away from writing. You can literally market your work 24/7. What I found most helpful came from the publisher’s publicist he said, “Do the type of marketing that you enjoy and let the others go.” Because if you don’t enjoy it you're going to be miserable.
Q: Many thrillers and mystery novels give inaccurate portrayals of police officers and law enforcement overall. Is this phenomenon a big issue for someone like you who has a very strong background in law enforcement?
A: I answered part of this in question six. It's all a matter of what the reader has come to accept. If I’m reading a police procedure and come across something egregious, I’ll put it down. I too let the accepted perceptions slide on by, but if it’s too whimsical or inaccurate and outside reader accepted perceptions, I put the book down.
Q: I want to end this interview with a whimsical question. Do you know anything about steampunk?
A: I have read and really enjoyed Steam Punk. I will read anything if it is well written and most always the well-written part comes back to that third component of voice. I’m sure you know the series I can’t think of the name, I’m getting old. I believe it was set in Washington State. There was this large hole that opened in the ground and emitting a toxic and fatal gas. The people put a wall up around the hole and restricted access but the hero of the story kept venturing in. It was a great story.
Q: I really enjoyed this interview. It was nice to have this interesting discussion. Best wishes for your writing. I’m really glad you took the time to entertain my viewers. Maybe we’ll meet again at another writing event.
A: Thank you for this opportunity.
Okay! That wraps up another fun interview! I hope you guys enjoyed it. You can learn a lot more about Dave on his author website. In fact, his website has a really interesting FAQ page that answers a lot questions that weren't covered in my interview. His website also includes an author bio, a list of upcoming events, reviews, and more. You can also become a subscriber to his website to receive news and updates. Don't forget that you can subscribe to my website too. Just click on the Contact page and fill out some basic info. I'm leaving a link to Dave's author website below. You can also follow him on Twitter; @daveputnam. For those of you who wondered about the steampunk books that Dave read, I'm pretty sure it was The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest. It's probably one of the better steampunk series on the market. Anyway, thanks for visiting and stay tuned for next week's post.