Woodbury author Brian Freeman, whose latest book, “The Bone House,” will hit stores on March 29, recently sat down with Woodbury Patch for a wide-ranging interview about his novels, the writing process and the book business in general.
A Chicago native who moved to California at age 10, Freeman, 47, will also have “The Burying Place” offered in paperback starting March 1. He has lived in Woodbury, where his wife’s family is from, for more than 25 years.
Freeman, who graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., with a degree in English, said an eighth-grade teacher encouraged him to become an author.
“I’ve had the novel bug pretty much my whole life,” said Freeman, known for his psychological thrillers, many of which are set in the Duluth area.
He wrote his first full-length novel at 13. It was about the kidnapping of the president.
“Lots of sex and violence—exactly what you’d expect from a 13-year-old,” Freeman said. “I guess not much has changed.”
Getting a book published is a difficult process, Freeman said. He wrote five books before his breakthrough novel, “Immoral,” was published.
“You have to keep having faith and keep at it,” he said. As for those five early books: “Currently they all reside in my nightstand drawer.”
While working at a Minneapolis law firm translating legalese into business prose, Freeman learned that a lawyer had a connection with a book agent in London. He asked for an introduction, sent her a manuscript and later got a call from her saying she couldn’t put the book down and wanted to offer him a book deal.
“I kind of pulled myself off the ceiling,” he said.
Freeman said he’s often asked what it’s like to be an overnight success.
“Sure,” he said. “If you count those years of being an abject failure and those five books in the nightstand.”
Style and Substance
The first five of Freeman’s published novels feature a detective from Duluth. While they include the obvious crime themes, he said the books are more character-driven: “Their emotions and secrets and backgrounds.”
He gets his ideas for his psychological thrillers from true crime or things that happen to people, and he tries “to connect the web.”
For Freeman, characters and plot development occur simultaneously.
“Writers say characters can take control of a book as you write it, and that’s absolutely true,” he said. “Most of the time you have to run with it because it feels right. You have to trust the characters.”
He recalled one book in which he laid out exactly how it would end for one character, but he knew the audience wouldn’t accept the end result and had to rework the entire novel.
“That’s hard to do,” he said.
The Life of a Writer
Having been employed in the traditional workforce for several years, Freeman said he sticks to a fairly regular schedule when he writes. But being self-employed means he’s running a “mini-multinational business” and he has to keep up with publishers, fans and editors. “Immoral” was published in 17 languages.
And he uses the time when he’s facing writer’s block to take care of the business side of the job. “Figuring out things to do besides staring at that empty screen,” he said with a laugh.
Book publishers typically ask thriller writers to produce one book a year, Freeman said, but he isn’t overly tied to deadlines. He’s always looking ahead anyway. “The Bone House,” which comes out in late March, has been done for 14 months and he recently submitted his next book, which will be out next year.
One might expect that Freeman is a voracious reader, but he said he finds it difficult to separate his work from his down time.
“Curling up with a suspense novel feels suspiciously like work,” he said. “I just can’t lose myself in a book like I used to.”
Freeman said his favorite part of the writing process is getting that first shipment of books. Though getting “Immoral” was somewhat anticlimactic.
“The Dutch, for some reason, were way ahead of everybody else. So I got my hands on my first book and I couldn't read it,” he said.
While “Bone House” will be Freeman’s sixth book under his name, he did pen “The Agency” under the pseudonym Ally O’Brien. It’s a comic thriller set in the publishing industry that Freeman described as “Sex and the City meets The Devil Wears Prada.”
It’s a more fun novel than his usual work and served as “almost a vacation from my usual stuff,” Freeman said, adding that he’s working on a second title as Ally O’Brien.
Meanwhile, “The Bone House” is also a departure from his earlier work. The book is set in Door County, Wis., and involves entirely new characters.
“If (readers) love my style, they’ll love this book,” he said.
“The Bone House” has a detective character, but the book primarily revolves around a married couple and how they deal with themes of trust and judgment, he said.
Freeman said he always tells his readers to go back through each book a second time. The first time people often read to find out what’s going to happen next and miss out on the subtleties of the characters, he said.
The Business of the Business
The book business has gone through a substantial change over the past few years, Freeman said, with the advent of ebooks and Kindles, coupled with the recession and more people checking out books at libraries.
There are fewer channels for authors to find readers than other media, Freeman said. Most people find out about authors through word of mouth or browsing the bookstore, a market that is experiencing its own problems, he said.
Freeman said he enjoys interacting with fans through his website and Facebook page.
“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
Freeman said he plans to continue writing into the foreseeable future.
“It’s a hugely satisfying type of work, but it’s also the hardest work I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s a very stressful, intense way to make a living.”
For more information about Freeman visit his Web site, www.bfreemanbooks.com.