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Brandt Dodson Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"Crime fiction gives me the unbridled opportunity to show society at its’ worst, and illustrate the fact that Jesus is the only way out."
-- Brandt Dodson

Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated from Ben Davis High School and, later, Indiana Central University (now known as The University of Indianapolis). A committed Christian, Brandt combined his love for the work of writers like Chandler and Hammett, with his love for God’s word. The result, was Colton Parker.

Brandt comes from a long line of police officers, spanning several generations, and was employed by the FBI before leaving to pursue his education. A former United States Naval Reserve officer, Brandt is a board Certified Podiatrist and past President of the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association. He is a recipient of the association’s highest honor, “The Theodore H. Clark Award.” He currently resides in southwestern Indiana with his wife and two sons and is at work on his next novel.

C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

BRANDT: I was in grade school. In the fifth grade we had to write several short stories, and it was the one thing that seemed to come easy. I remember our teacher passing out photographs, and then asking each of us to write a story that would go with the picture we had been given.

My picture was a photo of some men playing handball. I wrote a story about the ball containing a bomb that was set to go off after a prescribed number of bounces. I can’t remember who, exactly, would do such a thing – or why – but I had such a good time with it that I knew, even then, I wanted to write.

Along the way, high school teachers and college professors were very encouraging. One college professor in particular, was adamant that I write.

You originally wrote for the secular market. What made you switch to writing inspirational fiction?

Nearly all of my writing for the secular market was confined to short stories, and nearly all of that was centered around the horror market. I began writing earnestly in the eighties, and it’s important to remember that Stephen King was very hot at the time. He had almost single-handedly revived what was thought to be a dead genre. Everybody was writing horror. Most of mine was simply not horrible enough. It wasn't my genre, and I wouldn’t write the type of thing that the editors wanted. At that time, the CBA market was severely limited in terms of its fiction, so I continued to pound away on my word processor hoping that someone – somewhere – would see value in what I was writing.

But the time wasn’t wasted. I learned two things.
1. Write true to yourself. Be who you are.
2. Don’t try to time the market. What’s hot now, may not be hot later.

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?

Books were a major part of my life while I was growing up, as I suspect they were for most writers. In my early reading years I leaned heavily toward the work of Beverly Cleary. I read all of the Henry Huggins books, The Mouse and the Motorcycle - all of those. And comic books, of course. As I grew up, I read the King Arthur tales, Robin Hood, and even Nancy Drew.

My parents read to me as a child, and it seemed natural to pick up on that and continue on.

Original Sin by Brandt DodsonTell us about your time in the Navy Reserves. Have your Navy experiences affected your writing in any way?

I went into the Naval Reserve during the very outset of Desert Storm. I had always wanted a naval career and even seriously considered applying to the US Naval Academy when I was in high school. But Desert Storm ended before the Navy completed my paper work, so my career consisted of serving as the training officer for my unit - a Fleet Hospital - which is the Navy’s version of a MASH unit. I was commissioned as a Lieutenant, equivalent to an Army Captain.

As far as my writing is concerned, the Navy has had little affect other than to round out my life experience.

You’re an accomplished Podiatrist and surgeon. What originally drew you to pursue podiatry?

If you had told me while I was in high school that I would be involved in the Health Care industry in any fashion, I would have laughed until I was sick. But circumstances can change. I suddenly had this urge to become a doctor and I wanted to operate on bone. I can’t explain it. An orthopedic surgeon that I knew said, “Kid if you’re smart, you’ll go into Podiatry. There are no weekends.”

Well, he was wrong. There are weekends, and there is night call, and there are serious issues which can arise. But for the most part, it’s a specialty which allows for family time and some time to write.

I heard that you’re one of 100 surgeons nationwide to perform “peripheral nerve decompression” surgery. What is peripheral nerve decompression?

I think that there are more surgeons who are performing this work now, but the list is nowhere near as long as it should be. It currently includes Podiatrists, Orthopedic surgeons, Plastic surgeons, and Neurosurgeons.

I was trained by Lee Dellon, MD, a Johns Hopkins plastic surgeon who originated the procedure. It was developed to help relieve the life-altering pain that many diabetics experience, as well as restore normal protective sensation which can prevent many of the amputations that diabetic patients undergo.

The peripheral nerves (nerves in the legs, hands, and feet) will often swell within tight anatomical areas, and as a result, will lose their blood supply. In essence, I operate on the peripheral nerves involved (under magnification) and free the nerves from this entrapment. The procedure has been extremely beneficial for an overwhelming number of patients, and I have also found it to be beneficial for other types of neuropathy as well.

In one case, I had a patient who was told she had no hope. She was in braces because of the muscle wasting that had occurred, and was taking narcotic pain medicine in order to sleep. Two months after surgery, she was out of the braces. We eventually weaned her off the narcotics.Seventy Times Seven by Brandt Dodson

What’s the best part about being a surgeon?

Helping people. Sounds trite, but it’s true.

The worst?

Insurance companies and all the shenanigans they pull. And the government’s regulation, which drives the cost of providing health care through the roof.

Do you ever struggle with balancing you medical and writing careers? Any Specific steps you take to keep the balance?

I think most writers can relate to the fact that “you keep your day job”. It’s always a struggle to find the time to write. I often begin the day at 6:30 am at the hospital for rounds, in the office by 8:00, see 40-45 patients and back at the hospital after five (or meetings, or a late surgery) and home by 6:30 or 7. On the other hand, if I’m in surgery all day, I can sometimes get home before 5.

I don’t really have any specific steps that I take. I just try to compartmentalize my day, and when it’s time to write – it’s time to write.

There have been a lot of doctors who chose to write, not the least of which is probably the most famous mystery writer of all. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was an Ophthalmologist.

I’m sure your books required a lot of research. Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments while performing research?

Oh sure. I’m a master at getting myself into embarrassing situations. For example, my fourth book in the Colton Parker series will be set in Las Vegas. While I was there, researching all of the back alleys and the other seedy parts of town (hey, these are crime novels. It’s what I do), I knew that I would need to make contact with the Las Vegas PD. So I drove to the Central Station which is located on the strip, and drove to the rear of the building. The back lot was fenced off and contained all of their squad cars, storage buildings etc.

Now as I said, I’m the master at getting myself in trouble, so I got out of my car and climbed the fence in order to get a better look. As I was hanging on the fence (in a restricted area of a police station – post nine-eleven) an officer pulls up and wants to know what I’m doing “hanging onto our fence”.

I told him that he was never going to believe me, but he said, “try me”. Thankfully, we hit it off just fine, and he did believe me.

The Root of All Evil by Brandt DodsonIs Christian crime fiction an oxymoron?

When I attend secular mystery conferences, or meet secular authors, and they find out that I am currently writing a hardboiled PI series that is being published by one of the country’s leading Christian publishing houses, they look at me as though I said I am writing Christian pornography. I think the whole idea intrigues them. Yet nearly everyone who has read the books has been very supportive and very kind.

Mystery fiction – and by extension – crime fiction – has gone hand in hand with Christianity for a long time. Dorothy Sayers, a major figure in mystery writing, was also a renowned theologian. GK Chesterton, a theologian in his own right, was also a highly respected - and widely read - mystery author.

Crime fiction gives me the unbridled opportunity to show society at its’ worst, and illustrate the fact that Jesus is the only way out.

Christian fiction has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. What are your thoughts on the future of Christian fiction, especially crime fiction?

The fiction that is being produced by Christian authors and publishing houses, has not only grown in volume, it has also grown in quality. And ultimately, that’s what readers want. A good story, written in a competent manner.

I think that all of us (Christians in general) have surrendered the popular culture to writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers, who clearly do not share our world view, and who have no more talent or ability than their Christian counterparts.

All of us who write, paint, compose, or act, do so to impart a view. What better view than the truth? And if Christians don’t produce these things, with the truth in mind, who will?

My personal view, is that Christian fiction will continue to grow, as it continues to find its market. And to do that, the quality of the writing, editing, publishing, and marketing, as well as the scope of the fiction that is offered, will need to continue to grow as well. I am very proud to be part of the CBA.

You’ve thrust your characters into many harrowing experiences. Where do you draw the line in portraying violence/adult situations in your novels?

Violence is a part of life. Remember David? A young shepherd boy kills a man, then cuts off his head and brings it back to the king.

I don’t think that shunning the portrayal of violence, or other life issues, will serve our ministry or our readers. However, the portrayal of violence can be done in a way that communicates effectively without driving the reader to close the book. James Scott Bell once told me that his standard is to take the view that anything which was acceptable in a 1940’s movie is acceptable to him. It’s a standard that I try to follow.

In my first novel, Original Sin, I dealt with internet pornography and the devastating consequences it has on everyone it touches. But it wasn’t necessary for me to describe every act that these characters witness. Readers can fill in the blanks.

Many, many of my readers (particularly those who I meet at secular conferences and bookstore signings) tell me they appreciated the fact that I “avoided the language”. I have yet to meet a reader who has asked me to lower the bar.

Is it ever a challenge to share your faith in your stories?

Not really. My goal is to tell a story and then let my convictions come out of that. Like all writers, I have a view of things that I am trying to communicate. Now that doesn’t mean I preach. I think that is one of the cardinal sins of any novelist, although I see it done in the CBA and ABA alike. That doesn’t mean that my characters are above preaching, though. Having them take a stand, whether it be a righteous one – or self-righteous one, can serve the needs of the plot.

I let the characters, and the issues they confront, reveal enough of the truth to lead the reader to ask questions of themselves. (Am I like that? Do I harbor ill feeling toward someone? Is there someone that I’ve wronged?)

What would you say has been the hardest part about writing the Colton Parker mystery series.

Now here’s another one of those answers that’s going to sound a bit trite, but it’s the truth. I haven’t really found anything that I would classify as hard. I’ve been writing for so long to get to this point, that I’m literally enjoying ALL of it. The writing, rewriting, editing, marketing – ALL of it.

That doesn’t mean it’s all easy. Far from it. With every book I write, I try to push the envelope. I try to grow my skill. And that means that every book is harder to write than the one before it.

Brandt DodsonCan you tell us about your law enforcement roots and how you came to work for the FBI?

My family has been involved in law enforcement going back as far as the 1930’s. My mother’s aunt and uncle were officers with the Indianapolis Police Department throughout the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s. All but one of their sons were police officers, and some of their sons were police officers (and one still is). I have a cousin who just retired from IPD after 44 years, all of it on patrol, and my father retired 12 years ago after 39 years.

When it came time for me to begin my career, law enforcement seemed the natural choice. So I applied to the FBI and was hired. After serving four years, I left to go to school so that (as I alluded to already) I could learn how to operate on bone.

What would you love to write someday but haven’t?

In the dark, musty recesses of my mind, I have a novel that would run along lines that are more literary than anything I’ve done so far. I have a working title, and almost all of it is outlined in my head. But I have such a love of crime fiction, I suppose it will just have to wait. Maybe someday.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

Wow! Now we’re laying it on the line for all to see, aren’t we?

Okay. Here it is. One of my favorite movies is a chick flick - Untamed Heart.

The second, is that I still can’t watch Old Yeller.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my family, watching old movies, and reading. My boys and I are big fans of magic, so if we get a chance to catch a good magician, whether in person or on TV, we seldom miss it. We especially like Criss Angel. That guy has taken the performance of magic to a new height.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Spanish Olives, Pepper Jack Cheese and Sharp Cheddar

Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat the stress and keep in shape?

Absolutely. I lift weights and work out on a heavy bag and a speed bag, several times per week.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?The Lost Sheep by Brandt Dodson

I’m a pretty basic guy. Just a regular cup of black coffee. Nothing fancy. No lattes or cappuccinos for me.

I was in a coffee shop in an Indianapolis mall once, and tried to order coffee. Just plain old coffee. The clerk leaned across the counter and whispered, “We’ve got that in the back.” And she did. She went into the back room and brought me a cup.

What’s currently in your iPod?

The Gaithers. I like southern gospel, jazz, big band and soft rock.

What’s next for you, novel-wise?

I’m currently writing book four in the Colton Parker series (book three, The Root of All Evil will be released in January of ’07), and a novel which will be a Police Procedural and not part of the Parker series.

The intention is to continue the Colton Parker novels for as long as readers want them, and to do other novels that will, by there very nature, be more complex in characterization and plot.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

I’d like for all of your readers, those who are Christian and those who aren’t, to take a look at Christian fiction. There’s a lot of new authors who are writing some really good stuff, that will entertain, challenge and uplift you. And, if any of your readers are artists themselves, whether writers, musicians, painters or whatever, keep in mind for whom you do your art. Not everyone will like what you do. But God will always appreciate it. Do it for Him.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.