Today I have Fred Brooke as my guest.
Born and raised in the Chicago area, Frederick Lee Brooke
graduated from Amherst College and studied writing at the
University of Montana. He has worked as an English teacher,
language school manager and small business owner. Having lived
in Germany, France and Switzerland, he has also travelled
extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. The
first book in the Annie Ogden series, Doing Max Vinyl, appeared in
2011 to wide acclaim.
- When and why did you decide to become an Indie writer?
It was the day a friend of mine gave me an article out of a magazine describing how Amanda Hocking had become a bestseller novelist by publishing her books on Kindle. I had been trying to get an agent interested in my manuscript, any agent, even a bad or dishonest or lazy agent, for the better part of one year. When I learned I could bypass all the gatekeepers, I jumped. Suddenly, knowing this other way existed, I didn’t feel like waiting years for an agent to discover my qualities, such as they are, and then wait again for the agent to convince some publisher to take a chance on me. The system seems pretty random, to tell the truth. Especially when you read some of the books that get published by the traditionals. I am still a believer in the traditional publishing system, and I do love printed books. But I am sure we could agree that traditional publishers do not have a lock on quality any more than that Indie writers all deserve to have their books published.
- What genre do you write in and what genre do you prefer to read?
I read all genres, from romance to YA and historical fiction. My books are mysteries with elements of humour and romance thrown in. I’m comfortable straddling several genres at once, even if this makes it more difficult for the reading public to find me. Maybe that’s why I read in all genres. I am a fan of Carl Hiassen, whose books are very funny while also absurd and often with an undercurrent of violence, and also Monika Lewyzcka, who wrote Two Caravans and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. What genre do those books fall in? At a certain point, I think you have to do what comes naturally and what you do best, even if it doesn’t suit Amazon’s check-boxes. They definitely need more check-boxes.
- Where do you sell most books, USA or UK, Amazon or Barnes and Noble?
My books are set in Chicago, so it’s no surprise to me that most of my sales go to US readers. And most are being bought on the Amazon website, either electronically or in paperback. I’m always very pleased when UK readers get interested in my books. Of course, they have to put up with my US idiom, but I haven’t had any complaints. Since I’ve lived in Switzerland for more than 20 years, I also get quite a few sales from Switzerland and Germany.
- During your childhood who was your biggest influence?
You’re going to laugh, but the first thing that occurred to me when I saw this question was: Elton John. I love all his records, especially Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It was a double album set, with probably 30 songs. Remember those old songs? Songs like Benny and the Jets, Funeral for a Friend, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Candle in the Wind. My parents worried about me because I idolized a gay pop singer. But I didn’t care about his sexual orientation. I just thought the words and music were so brilliant. I loved the colour illustrations on the album cover, and I would stare at them in a dreamy mood, and listen to that music for hours at a time. Now, I don’t think I became a writer because of Elton John, but at that time in my early teenage life, his music put me in a kind of nirvana, and I think that’s one of the things we’re always aiming for as writers, to help our readers find an escape, to help them imagine another world, a higher plane. And I knew already back then, as a 13 year old, that I wanted to help people reach that state of nirvana or escape as a writer.
- Are you fortunate enough to write full-time?
Yes, a little over a year ago I quit my day job. With three kids in the house and their education to pay for, this was no insignificant decision. You could safely conclude that I have a very high tolerance for risk. I also feel very stubborn about pursuing my dream of writing. I wrote my first book, Doing Max Vinyl, while still working full time. When I actually managed to finish that book, and realized that my dream of being a writer had actually come true, I was so excited that I decided I wasn’t going to attempt to write another book while working full-time. I know some people can do it. I still don’t know how I managed to do it with Doing Max Vinyl. I just know I wouldn’t be able to do it again. Writing a book puts such an incredible strain on the author’s brain, it consumes so much raw energy and requires so much thinking, just to get it halfway the way you want it to be, I just couldn’t imagine going on like that. Luckily, I have a very understanding and tolerant wife.
- If Hollywood came knocking who would you want to play your main character?
Do you think they would really ask me? Well, just in case they did, I could definitely see Reese Witherspoon playing Annie Ogden. Not just because she’s blond, of course. Reese has played such a range of roles ranging from June Carter in Walk the Line to those romantic comedies, the Legally Blonde movies. If Reese were fully booked, I would also be happy with Amy Adams, who starred with Meryl Streep in that quirky movie, Julie and Julia, about a woman cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. I’m sure Amy Adams would have the stuff to play Annie Ogden.
- Name 6 people, dead or alive, you’d love to have as guests seated around your dinner-table.
I could imagine trying to coax a few stories out of Samuel Beckett over a glass of Rioja, and if Albert Camus and Marcel Proust were there it would be even more interesting. I would probably have to brush up my French before the dinner. I would not invite James Joyce, because he’s such a downer, don’t you think? But I’d definitely have Albert Einstein along, as well as Stephen Hawking. They’d get along, wouldn’t they? The party would get awfully stuffy with all these men, so I would also like to have Reese Witherspoon there, just to liven things up for Einstein (and me). And if I could invite a couple more women, why not add Virginia Woolf and Grace Kelly? I see Grace hitting it off with Reese, and it might be entertaining to watch the sparks fly between Virginia Woolf and Camus.
- What one piece of advice have you found the most important in your writing career?
Attach butt securely to chair. Oft-quoted, but no less true for that. I cry for all the great books that never got written because writers got distracted by alcohol, or the good life, or whatever. Writing is hard work, and there is no substitute for the endless revising that we do.
- What are your plans for the coming year?
I’m working on the third and last book in the Annie Ogden series of mysteries, following on Doing Max Vinyl and Zombie Candy. Some time in 2013 it’ll be done, I’m thinking more likely in the fall than any earlier. It’s my life’s work right now.
- And finally, if you were stranded on a desert island what 3 books would you choose to have with you?
Can’t I just sneak my Kindle into the bag with me? Oops, how would I charge it up on a desert island? Right, so maybe the Bible, since quite honestly it’s still on my to-read list. Then I think I would include A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, just because it’s so big and rich and wonderful. And finally I would want to have the Oxford English dictionary with me, because it tells the stories of all the words in the English language, and where they were first coined. Sort of like bringing 300’000 books in one. Take your time, rescuers, I’m actually looking forward to being marooned!