Today we sit down for a chat with historical fiction, mystery, and suspense author Bradley Harper. Learn more about Brad and his books at his website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Four years ago. I helped the author Mary Roach begin her research on a book on Human Research in the Dept. of Defense (called Grunt). She showed me how she gathered the information and made it into a book. I decided to give it a go, figuring the worst that could happen would be an improvement of my grammar.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Well, from sitting down to start my story until I had a contract took three years, then a year more before it got published.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
Traditionally published by Seventh Street Books, the Mystery imprint of Prometheus Books, a house within Penguin Random House.
Where do you write?
My wife calls it the Writer's Lair but it's actually a den/study in our house. It is the one corner of the house over which I have domain. (Muah ha ha!)
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Music helps me a lot. I have tinnitus from my Army service, so silence is filled with ringing. The music drowns it out. I like jazz and new age. I often listen to Radio Monte Carlo 2 as it features a lot of European jazz, which I find darker and more contemplative than American Jazz. Also, the DJ's speak in Italian, and as I lived there a little over two years (in Vicenza), it helps keep me in practice.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
The plots are drawn from historical events, with my own particular twist of "what if?" The characters are a mixture of real people, and people I've encountered. I've worked in inner-city Emergency Rooms, volunteered in homeless shelters, cared for Pilgrims walking the Camino in Spain, and served thirty-seven years all over the world in the Army. I have a deep well to draw from.
Describe your process for naming your character?
I often use the names of people I know, though their personality is their own. It helps me remember them. I also read the names out loud. If they're hard to speak fluently, they will jar in the reader's mind. I don't want a name that draws attention to itself.
Real settings or fictional towns?
I set my stories in real places with as many real (historical) characters as possible. Real people are so fascinating. In my second book I discovered the Police Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee had one arm, after an encounter with a tigress in India as a young Army officer. I couldn't make that sort of thing up!
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
The first book is played pretty straight, but in book two I give my heroine a strong fear of heights. One of my favorite scenes is when she encounters an elevator for the first time, the old kind with a cage but through which you can see.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I hate the number thirteen. I don't fear it, it just feels like a stone in my boot, it doesn't belong anywhere. My mother was a mathematician and I grew up with numbers, so perhaps my "feel" for numbers is more right-brained than left.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I love this book, how it explores the totality of mind and the essence of what makes a person, well, human. I would love to have written that book, because of the self-awareness required to have authored it.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
In life? I've hurt people, and disappointed others, but now I see how those scars formed me. Others paid for my lessons, but I'm grateful to them, and for the wisdom I acquired because of them.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Thoughtless, aggressive drivers. These people are willing to place the lives of others at risk to save thirty seconds. Chill. Listen to your tunes. A car is a tool, and not an extension of yourself. I drive a Smart Car with 120,000 miles. Obviously, my ego isn't tied to my wheels. Of course, I've also done autopsies on victims of Motor Vehicle Accidents, so I may have a longer view than most.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
1. A hammock. If I'm stranded, I might as well sleep well at night, in the afternoon, whenever.
2. A good knife so I can craft things and clean fish. I had survival training in Panama with the Ranger unit out of Fort Lewis, so I'd do all right.
3. Something to write with. I have enough story ideas in my head to keep me busy the rest of my life.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
While I was an Army Pathologist, I twice had to take wives down to the morgue to identify the body of their husbands who had died outside the hospital, one in a training accident, and the other in a motor vehicle accident (see rant above).
There I was, in a situation I had no training for. How does one train for something like that? I knew I was about to change a person's life forever. They woke up that morning, the world was one way and I was about to pull the cruelest magic trick imaginable.
So, I pulled the body out of the morgue and placed it in a less sterile environment - a hallway with soft lighting, where we wouldn't be disturbed (both times it was a Saturday). I cleaned the face and placed a chair beside the head of the gurney. I met each widow at the admin office and escorted her down. Then just before we turned the corner to where the body lay, I stopped and described to them what they would see when we turned the corner. We both took a deep breath, and went on. I walked them to the chair, asked them to verify the identity, then said I'd wait down the hall, and they could take all the time they needed.
I don't know if my approach was the right one or not, but I did the best I knew how.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
That changes with time. When I was younger I would have said The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now I think it's King Lear. Like all great works of art, it can be interpreted many ways. I see it as a parable for growing old.
Ocean or mountains?
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
We live just outside Williamsburg, Virginia, where William and Mary College resides. I like small college towns. So, a small town with an edge. I lived in Heidelberg, Germany, for six years, and it felt like I was meant to live there. I never wanted to leave.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Book two, Queen's Gambit, is nearly ready for the publisher. Margaret Harkness, my heroine from book one, A Knife in the Fog, is in it. I am trying to follow her real life as much as possible, so am researching Western Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for book three. I was in Sydney two years ago and two research librarians helped me find out three things about her: She advertised for a typing service she ran for a while, caught a man trying to burn down his house for insurance fraud, and a horse named in her honor won the largest race for two-year-olds in 1902.
I may have to go to Coolgardie, where she lived, to get the feel of the place. I want to have a couple of aboriginal characters, so need to tread respectfully there. I'm part Cherokee myself (spoke it before English which is probably why I soak up languages, I speak five languages other than English), so I want to make sure I do right by their culture.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
If someone wants to write a book, find a mentor. I found mine, John DeDakis, an editor and author, who probably got me where I am now at least two years sooner than I would have otherwise. Be grateful for the chance to share your dreams and thoughts. If even one person tells you sincerely that your words touched them, you've succeeded. And write with your heart. If you don't care, your reader certainly won't.
A Knife in the Fog
Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.
September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another "crime story." Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.
Once there, he is offered one month's employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a "consultant" in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell--Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock Holmes--agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.
Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.