Crime/fighting writer Jeremy Brown joins us this month to discuss his Woodshed Wallace thriller series, including Suckerpunch, Hook and Shoot, and the newest release, Anaconda Choke, which hits shelves May 12. The series follows heavyweight mixed martial artist Aaron Wallace into no-holds-barred fights in and out of the cage. “There is plenty of action here for MMA fans, but Brown’s fast-paced and engaging style also lends itself to anyone who enjoys a raucous thriller fraught with eccentric characters and formidable enemies” (Booklist). We love Jeremy’s terse writing style and his impressive grasp on natural dialogue—and we can’t get enough of the Arcoverde brothers’ kickass cousin Marcela. Get to know Jeremy here.
Who are some of your writing influences?
Elmore Leonard first and foremost. As soon as I started reading his stuff, I thought, “It’s okay to write like this? Well, hot damn.” Raymond Chandler was the breakthrough I needed to find Woody’s point of view in the narrative. I horrifyingly just discovered Lawrence Block, and the fact that he has over 100 novels makes me giddy with anticipation. John Sandford, Steven Pressfield, Bernard Cornwell, and Martin Cruz Smith are all writers I turn to when I need to hear a pure, clean voice. Andrew Vachss informed my early ideas of what the crime thriller could be, but his writing is too important and too dark for me to stand beside. Savages by Don Winslow is a masterpiece in minimal prose, and I still can’t figure out how the hell he did it.
What inspired you to write the Woodshed Wallace series?
I wanted to write something in the crime thriller genre, but I didn’t want to use an ex-cop, PI, alcoholic, etc. I wanted a hero whose first choice was violence, who had to constantly restrain himself from knocking heads together and stomping throats. MMA and the UFC were rocketing in popularity in the mid-’00s, and I figured a cage fighter who was even more dangerous outside of the cage would make a very popular and exciting character.
Which secondary characters were the most fun to write?
I loved writing all of the villains in the series—particularly Carrasco—and Burch in Hook and Shoot and Rubin in Anaconda Choke. Burch had such a simple, refined mind-set: his job was to protect Vanessa and Eddie, and he didn’t care who he insulted, hurt, or killed to do that job. Rubin was fun because he had such a wealth of experience with the favelas and crime in Rio before Woody met him, so what seemed to Woody like complete insanity was just another day for Rubin. It’s always fun to write dialogue for characters who need to accomplish something without revealing too much about why.
Which antagonist was the most challenging to write?
Kendall was fun to write, but it was challenging to establish his motives. I don’t think I did a good enough job of that in Suckerpunch. Hook and Shoot did a better job of explaining why he did what he did, so if anyone is left wondering why he snatched Marcela and carried on the way he did, read Hook and Shoot.
What is your basic writing process, from idea to final draft?
First is coming up with an idea or a premise. Sometimes this includes a character like Woody or Darwin (from Find > Fix > Finish), sometimes it’s just a scenario with blank faces. I mess around with it for a while to see if I keep coming back to it, if it haunts me before I fall asleep and creeps in while I’m driving or have to sit through a meeting. If it’s sticky, I’ll find the major beats to the narrative. What’s the opening hook, the inciting incident, the first plot point? What happens at the midpoint? What propels the story into the climax? What terrible situations can the protagonist(s) face? How does it end? After all of that (and I don’t need to know the answers to all of the questions), if I can’t wait to get started, then I know it’s something I need to write. I figure out about how long the story should be, then I dig in and break the story down using a spreadsheet I made that includes the part, scene, word count, percentage of total part word count, and percentage of total story word count. The percentages make sure the beats are hitting at the right point of the narrative. These beats create dots that need to be connected. Then I connect the dots. I’m very picky as I write, which might be detrimental to my process. I make sure all the punctuation is in place and rarely leave anything unfinished or unanswered before I move on to the next scene. This is because I’m lazy. I don’t want to keep track of what needs attention, and I don’t want to go back and fix things if I don’t have to. Sometimes the characters take the story in a different direction and I’ll adjust accordingly if it’s a better path. When I’m done connecting the dots, I have something pretty close to a final draft, pre-editorial input. I do my best to make sure there aren’t any typos and the story is as good as I can make it, then I ship it off. If the book is being traditionally published, it’s a collaboration with my fantastic editors to refine and polish the story as much as possible. If I am self-publishing, I send it to a freelance editor who checks for consistency, clarity, and mistakes.
How do you push through writer’s block?
I don’t believe in it. If I’m stuck, it’s because I’m afraid to keep going or I took the story somewhere the characters don’t agree with. They’ll just stand around waiting for me to figure it out, so I’ll go back to where things were flowing and pick it up there.
What’s one of your own tried-and-true writing rules?
Whenever possible, tell the story through action and dialogue. And it’s pretty much always possible. When I get caught up in exposition, I try to stop and realize I’m just figuring out what happens for myself. Then I turn it into dialogue between characters. If there aren’t any other characters around, I try to scrap it—if it isn’t necessary, it doesn’t belong anywhere. If it is necessary, I find somewhere else to put it.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing and publishing chapters on my website, jeremybrown.com , for The Race. It’s a fun horror thriller about a team of coed adventure racers who stumble upon a terrifying group of people in the middle of the woods. I’m also brainstorming the follow-ups to Akon’s Mission and Find > Fix > Finish, and I’m always looking for a story idea that grabs me and won’t let go. The best way to stay current with my projects is to sign up for exclusive updates on my site—doing so also grants access to all sorts of cool stuff, like Woodshed Wallpapers!