With a supreme vote of confidence for the future (mass market paperback and foreign rights), Harbor House publisher E. Randall Floyd flew movie producer Alan Brown (upcoming Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides with Brad Pitt) and the famous director Harry Thomason (Designing Women) to Sea Island, Georgia for a big media launch party at the Cloister…his cost for that alone must have been staggering.
One advantage of having your debut with a small publisher is that small publishers are in for the long haul. There are excellent small publishers in the South, including Harlan Publishing, Crane Hill and Pineapple to name a few.
While I have been fortunate to get great reviews like the Orlando Sentinel that went out nationally on the Knight Ridder wire, both Harbor House and I believe that with a movie upcoming and the mass market paperback rights still up for sale, the best days with this title are yet to come.
Rainy Days and Sundays has been optioned for a major feature film by producer Alan Brown (currently in pre-production of Pat Conroy’s Beach Music starring Brad Pitt). Your novel is extremely visual, but two hours causes limits in scriptwriting novels. What part/element of Rainy Days and Sundays must be captured in the film to do the novel justice?
I claim no expertise at writing for the big screen but both Alan Brown and Harry Thomason assure me that one of the big pluses for Rainy Days and Sundays is that the subplots unfold as short vignettes which will easily compress into a two-hour timeframe without sabotaging the suspense or sacrificing atmospherics or diminishing the fully-fleshed-out characters of the main plot line(s). Harry Thomason says that when they start casting, his phone will be ringing off the hook with calls from agents of every young female actor in Hollywood wanting to play the four strong women characters in the book.
Film producer Alan Brown, director Harry Thomason and author Brewster M. Robertson.
As a book reviewer for a national magazine and a member of the Southern Book Critics Circle, how important is it for writers to be well read? How are books with southern themes doing on a national market?
I’m convinced that most good writers are good readers. There is no substitute for reading. I am so lucky to have a day job that forces me to read over 50 of the leading novels each year.
My aunt Blanche Brewster Pedneau founded the county library system in Roanoke, Virginia. As a child, I read all of Tom Swift and Nancy Drew, but early on I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books and graduated to Hemingway when I was still in grammar school. Of the early novelists, Dickens was the great storyteller. Besides Papa Hemingway, of the pre- and post-Depression era novelists, modern writers owe a debt of gratitude to D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. American writers like Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Fitzgerald, O’Hara, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell and James M. Cain provide a great legacy. Of post-World War II novelists, I think Norman Mailer and James Jones were just as important as Lawrence and Miller in breaking down censorship. I am a great fan of the crisp prose of hardboiled suspense writers Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D.- and John Ross MacDonald and the newer generation Elmore Leonard, Les Standiford and James W. Hall. They get my juices flowing. A new writer that I much admire is John Miller (Causes of Action).
I’m flattered to have been compared to John Grisham, Nelson DeMille and Pat Conroy…but I hope my style is completely my own. I always thought that Robert Ruark must have hated it when critics called him the “…poor man’s Hemingway.” Secretly, I live for the day when someone writes that some fine new novelist writes like Brewster Milton Robertson.
Unfortunately, southern voices and southern themes do not dominate the national bestseller lists. With the publishing powerbrokers located mainly in New York and Boston, it is very difficult to find agents and editors who resonate with southern voices and themes. Southern publishers like Algonquin and Longstreet and small independent presses like Harbor House, Hill Street and Orloff represent a great new hope for today’s southern writer. At the moment, Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek is the only truly southern title on the bestseller list.
You teach a fiction writing workshop in various institutions in the Carolina Lowcountry. What are the most common problems for aspiring writers?
This year will mark my sixth appearance at FIU’s Conference (email@example.com) at Seaside, Florida. I think it is important that writers attend workshops and conferences. It is surprising how many successful writers still attend conferences. Most beginners have difficulty understanding the fiction voice. Fiction is told from the viewpoint of the characters—not reported like journalism. The easiest way for beginners to grasp this is to write in the first person. I also recommend that beginners consult a professional developmental editor. I am fortunate to use the services of Cheryl Lopanik (firstname.lastname@example.org) who brings over twenty years of experience editing fiction (novels and short stories) and non-fiction (biography, memoirs, etc.). She not only reads my work for content and structure but also edits for grammar/punctuation. It is very important that editors and agents see only work of professional quality. Modern day editors do not often waste time with amateurs.
In your novel, you give a line to a character that you original heard from Mickey Spillane – “The first line sales the book. The last line sales the next book.” What tips would you give for creating hooks?
“All morning long Norris Wrenn felt like he was being followed but it made no sense at all,” is the first line of my new novel Some Old Familiar Rain. I always try to begin with the promise of trouble or danger…also a hint of romantic complication is good. I believe you have to hook the reader with the first line. For fiction as well as non-fiction, I believe that the reader owes the writer nothing beyond the first line. The writer’s job is to seduce the reader line by line from the opening line to the final word. And, I believe that every line should be treated as the “opening line.”
Some memorable opening lines are: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens) and “Elmer Gantry was drunk.” (Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis). I also believe that titles should be enigmatic…rather than give the story away titles should entice the reader to take the book from the shelf and read the dust jacket synopsis. The dust jacket copy such be well calculated to make it impossible for the reader to leave the store without buying the book.
Tell us about your next novel.
Some Old Familiar Rain is a stand-alone novel, not a continuation of the Buchanan Forbes character. I just completed the manuscript and publishing plans are still up in the air. The dust jacket synopsis reads:
A sexy, suspenseful saga of the classic archetypal modern Southern agrarian power structure SOME OLD FAMILIAR RAIN examines the underseams of the Graham family dynasty. Thirteen on the Fortune-100 list, Graham/unLimited is more powerful than Phillip Morris/Nabisco. Like the turreted spire of a feudal castle, the forbidding G/uL Tower casts an ominous shadow of adultery, greed, lust for power, felony drug death, blackmail, and the threat of international political scandal over the steamy North Carolina river town of Colonial Hall.
Sexy young actress Emma Claire is found dead in a Greensboro motel and alcoholic playboy Trip Graham, the failed generation of the Graham dynasty, is having trouble remembering the events of his lost weekend in the Carolina mountains at Blowing Rock.
Both still in their thirties, Trip’s wife Marilee Bryant Graham, the famous rags-to-riches super model, and Trip’s former college roommate, charismatic wonderboy Norris Wrenn, have come to positions of power in Graham/unLimited by exercise of intellect and strength over the weakness of heir-apparent Trip Graham.
Amid all the awesome power, these two alone represent the only real vitality in this otherwise crumbling family system.
On the eve of being named corporate CEO, Norris, Time Magazine’s Man of Destiny—now G/uL’s charismatic wunderkind—is being courted by the scandal-beleaguered White House. Enamored of Marilee but shadowed by his failure to live up to his youthful ideals, Norris is struggling to rediscover that best part of himself and become his own man again.
Marilee, Town and Country’s “Mother of the Year,” realizes she married the wrong man. She means to have Norris for her own.
Despite sober misgivings and firm resolve, Norris is helpless to resist Marilee’s invitation to meet in New York, away from inquiring eyes. After one matchless night in her arms, Norris whisks her away to Sheepshead Light, his secret island hideaway off the coast of Maine.
Meanwhile back in Colonial Hall all manner of trouble is breaking loose. Unbeknownst to the star-crossed lovers, suddenly the whole world is trying desperately to find them.
Over the next five days—the Monday through Friday before Mother’s Day—the world will change forever for the opportunistic sensualists. They are about to be presented the opportunity to get away with a perfect murder!
- Brewster Milton Robertson’s Official Home Page
Rainy Days and Sundays, Harbor House, 2000.