Friday, September 20, 2013

Author Carl Brookins
Mystery author Carl Brookins has had a long and diverse career, and he spoke on many topics at the Augusta Public Library’s Booktoberfest celebration.

Born in River Falls, he spent several years of his childhood in Oklahoma, a nice place to live unless one happens to be there at the height of the Dust Bowl, as he was. Fortunately, although he remembers his father having to get up early to clean dust out of their house each morning, he never developed the dust-induced respiratory ailments that afflicted so many other Oklahoma residents at the time.

After 1939, Brookins spent a great deal of his life in Minnesota. He spent the rest of his childhood in St. Paul and he was a very early employee of Metropolitan State University there. His work with the university was groundbreaking; it was one of the first institutions of higher learning to target adult students and include experiential learning in the curriculum. Over the years, the university has grown from about 300 students near the beginning to over 10,000 students today.

Brookins also did groundbreaking work with North Dakota’s public television system. He was there from the moment it first went on the air, and his dedication helped North Dakota become the only state with complete public television coverage. “I’m very proud of that,” he said.

Although Brookins had already accomplished so much with his life, he wasn’t content to rest on his laurels, and he found himself looking for another project to undertake. He had an epiphany when, after complaining to his wife about the poor quality of writing in one of the many books he read, she told him to write his own book. “So I did.”

Brookins and his wife are both skilled recreational sailors, and his experience on the water provided him with the idea for his first book, Inner Passages. The couple sailed into an ideal setting—literally—and he quickly developed the plotline for the first half of his book after being inspired on the water. However, he was unsure of how to end it until he realized that all of his major characters were men. He decided to add a wealthy heiress to provide key help to his protagonist, Michael Tanner. “My plan was that she would exit stage right,” Brookins remembered, “but she wouldn’t go. Over time, she developed into a full character.”

Since then, Mary Whitney—who later became Mary Tanner after marrying Michael Tanner—has been a regular character in his Sailor series.

Another of Brookins’s favorite characters is short, feisty detective Sean Sean. “I wanted to create a detective who is the antithesis of typical detectives,” Brookins explained.

As a result, Sean Sean is short—only five feet, two inches—but his quirky character makes him larger than life, and he’s not afraid to date a woman who’s a foot taller than he is. Sean is based on a real co-worker Brookins once had, and Brookins added even more authenticity to his character by rolling around a mall on a wheeled chair in order to see the world from a short person’s perspective. He’s become so real that Brookins has to “keep remembering this is a fictional character.”

Unlike many other mystery novelists, who create outlines for their books before writing them, Brookins describes himself as “an organic writer. I start at the beginning and I write until I get to the end and then I stop. That means an awful lot of revising.”

Even so, having to make so many changes isn’t as onerous a burden as it would seem. “I love revising,” said Brookins. “For me that’s what makes a book come alive. To get a paragraph to do exactly what you want it to do—that’s a high no drug can reach.”

Brookins is a successful writer now, but attaining his status as the author of multiple novels wasn’t easy. He considered getting an agent after he finished Inner Passages, but “getting an agent can be very tricky and very time-consuming,” he explained. “Agents reject 98% of the books they get. Writing’s very rewarding, but it’s a hard business to get into.” He added that finding an agent and finally getting the book published by a major publishing house is usually a multi-year process.

To save time, he published Inner Passages with a small publishing firm. Since then, he’s published many more books, the last one in e-book form. His upcoming novel, The Case of the Purloined Painting, is set in World War Two and features a little-known American program to save important European cultural icons from being destroyed by bombs; it will be released in e-book form on Tuesday, September 17.

Brookins has some advice for aspiring writers: “There’s no right way or wrong way to write a book. The difference between wannabe writers and professionals is perseverance.”

Anyone who would like more information about Carl Brookins and his books can go to his website at


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