(This interview originally appeared in the debut issue of Conversations Magazine in April 2006. It is being reprinted in the April/May 2011 issue of the magazine to celebrate the 5th anniversary.) It's had been two years since our last conversation with Brandon Massey, and in that two years he has been busy honing his skills, finishing new thrillers and added the title of "husband" to the many slashes that are developing behind his name.
I have the pleasure to talk with Massey on my radio and television shows by in March 2004. At that time he was promoting his book DARK CORNER, a spine-tingling vampire novel that was set in Mississippi.
• Brandon, for those who might not be familiar with you or your work, why don't we start there. Talk about yourself, where you're from and when you knew you wanted to be a writer.
I was born in Zion, Illinois an hour north of Chicago. I was raised by a single mom who passed on her love for reading. At the age of 15 I became interested in writing, finding that it came naturally to me. My family thought I should try to pursue something that would get me a real job, but I can be stubborn if it was something I wanted to do. My journey as a published author began with my book THUNDERLAND. I was able to sell about 5000 copies myself, and then my present publisher Kensington heard about me and they released my first novel and has published every one since. That first book won the Gold Pen Award for Best Thriller.
• Brandon, we talk to creatives all the time about their inspiration or those who encouraged them along their journey. Who has that been for you?
It has been my English teachers. They told me that I was good and that was a huge boost of confidence for me. I even had the pleasure to sign a copy of one of my books for an old English teacher at a book signing. A surreal moment for me was the opportunity to go to the elementary school that I had attended and speak to a group of students. I hadn't been in that school since leaving, and I was surprised that some of the same teachers were still there.
• You have three novels under your belt right now, Brandon. Thunderland, Dark Corner and Within the Shadows and you have edited other volumes in your Dark Dreams series of African American authors. When did it set in for you that people were taking you seriously as an author?
It's gratifying to see your name in print. I have spent 10 years writing without any recognition, but I can still remember going to the bookstores and imagining my book being on the shelf. Now that I can do just that, I consider it a blessing to be a published author.
• IS THERE PRESSURE FOR YOU WITH EACH BOOK AT THIS POINT?
Definitely. I put more pressure on myself than others do. People read each book and want it to be better than the last one and I know that. For that reason I know I have to keep trying to raise the bar. And then I have the publisher to consider. They want your sales to go up with each release as well. It's important to stay consistent. People tend to make assumptions about authors that are not necessarily true when it comes to them personally such as we are automatically wealthy because we are in print, etc.; those things are not always true .
• WITHIN THE SHADOWS FOR ME WAS A DIFFERENT READ THAN YOUR PREVIOUS WORK, DARK CORNER. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT STOOD OUT TO ME WAS THAT YOUR LEAD CHARACTER HAD A MORE DEFINED LOVE INTEREST IN THE NEW BOOK.
Yes, there were difference. I wanted something more contemporary this time. Within the Shadows takes place in Atlanta and deals with a different type of situations to deal with. And since I had entered the dating scene myself, I could draw on my own experiences in developing the characters.
• DO YOU FIND THAT PEOPLE COMPARE YOU TO YOUR CHARACTERS? TAKE ANDREW WILSON FROM WITHIN THE SHADOWS: ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES?
I'm decently organized, not as compulsive as Andrew. And, unlike Andrew who asks himself what his penname would do in situations, I don't ask myself what I would do if I was this character or that character.
• DO YOU THINK PEOPLE HAVE A LARGER PERCEPTION OF YOU THAN YOU DO?
It gets hard sometime, especially when I am approached by aspiring authors. They want me to give them all the answers to being successful. I try to help people who have a genuine desire for writing. People don't understand that you have to strive a balance and take care of your own responsibilities as well. I would like to help everyone, but that is not always possible.
• TELL US ABOUT THE BRAINSTORMING PROCESS FOR YOU.
It is really easy to come up with ideas. No real ritual for getting motivated, but I do have to start off every day with my coffee. Another thing that is important for me is to read good writing. I try to read a book a week, though with my schedule it's not always possible. I have found that it's easy to write well yourself if I am reading books that are well-written.
• AS YOUR CAREER HAS DEVELOPED AND YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED CHANGES IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE, HAVE YOU MADE ANY CHANGES?
I realize it's important to have a life outside of writing. I try to stay in tune with the regular world. I write Monday through Fridays now, and try not to work on weekends. If an idea comes to me on either a Saturday or Sunday I just make a note of it and go on enjoying my time off. I am married now, and being in a relationship was an adjustment for me as well, but not a difficult one. I had gotten used to being alone, because I was alone and I focused my energy on my writing. Now I am splitting my time between all the things that are important to me. I can write about relationships now because I am experiencing that.
• DO YOU THINK THE CHANGE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP STATUS WILL CONTINUE TO CHANGE YOUR STYLE OF WRITING?
It will change the things I write about. I had never really developed characters that were married. Now that is something I will probably try.
• I KNOW YOU HAVE MENTIONED THAT OCTAVIA BUTLER IS ONE OF THE WRITERS THAT YOU READ AND WAS INSPIRED BY. WE LOST HER RECENTLY. WOULD YOU MIND SHARING SOME OF YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HER LIFE?
She was an inspiration to me in so many ways. She was writing science fiction when other black writers were doing politics and relationship books. She blazed her own path.
• BRANDON, THAT'S TRUE, BUT YOU ARE A TRENDSETTER IN YOUR OWN RIGHT. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
I try to be conscious of that, because it's true not just among blacks but all in my genre. That is why I try to get as many new writers exposure as I can. I know there is nothing like having that validation of seeing your words in print. The Dark Dreams anthologies accomplish that.
• AFTER READING DARK CORNER AND WITHIN THE SHADOWS, I AS A READER FINISH IT THINKING THAT YOU HAVE SET US UP FOR A SECOND BOOK. WHAT ABOUT THAT?
To be honest with you, none of the books were written with a second book to mind.
• WHAT ABOUT IF THEY WERE BROUGHT TO LIFE ON THE BIG SCREEN?
There have been offers to do just that, but I am not ready to do it myself. I would consider a partnership with others who are more knowledgeable about the film industry.
• YOU HAVE HAD SO MANY SUCCESES IN YOUR SHORT SPAN AS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR. WHAT WOULD BE A CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT FOR YOU?
I think it would be making he New York Times Bestsellers list. It would give me a great deal of pleasure to know that my work had won favor with a large group of people, getting the acclaim of the masses.
• WHAT WOULD BE A CAREER DISAPPOINTMENT?
I think it would be putting out a book that everyone hates, and I'm not talking about something that first-time readers disapproved of. I'm speaking more of those who have been with me throughout my journey.
• WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR UP AND COMING AUTHORS?
It would be for them to write regularly and finish what they are writing. And always keep your plan moving. Once you have completed a work then start thinking about revising it to prepare for publishing. Get feedback from those outside your circle. Attend writer's conferences, develop a process that works for you and learn from trial and error. For me in self-publishing I knew that I had to work as not just the writer but the promoter of my book. You have to take advantage of any opportunity to get your name out there through interviews, promotional materials and through other authors. There are a lot of books out there so you have to stay polished and produce something that will stand out from the masses. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, so I grew up around small businesses. As a self-published author you are a business, and you have to always be stepping up your game.
You can learn more about Brandon Massey and his work by visiting www.brandonmassey.com.