MA: Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.
He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.
He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.
Thanks, Carl, for being my guest today. You have had a varied career that I’d like you to describe for my readers. I know writing has featured in your professional life at several points. Tell us about that.
CB: I have had a number of –to me—interesting careers, or jobs, if you will. My interest in photography as a youngster led to work on high school annuals and several years of active and active duty in the US Navy as a photographer’s mate. Most of that work was in film and I was stationed in Washington D.C., when television first came onto the commercial scene. After college, I interned and then was hired as a TV producer-director and advanced to programming and management. After that, I found myself returning to an interest in adult education at a time when an experimental college for working adults was being established in St. Paul, Minnesota. I then worked as a counselor and faculty member for 25 years. During all that time I never lost my interest in photography and television which led to several opportunities along the way. As you can see, all of my working life I have held positions that required a strong writing component.
MA: How did you wind up writing novels?
CB: From the above it’s easy to see that words and literature of all kinds have been an important part of my life. Reading western and crime fiction novels as well as other kinds of literature have also been important. Consequently, writing crime novels seemed a natural progression as I neared retirement. What cemented my choice happened when my wife said bluntly that if I was going to continue to complain about some of the books I was reading, I should take a course in how to write a mystery. So I did that.
MA: So have you written a mystery?
CB: The longer answer is: I wrote three series. The first is an adventure series based on my love of sailing. My wife and I have sailed all over the world and we love it, although age is catching up with us. So my first book, INNER PASSAGES, was conceived while we were sailing the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and British Columbia. There are five novels in that series, the latest being an E-novel, RED SKY, set in the Caribbean.
My first-person detective series is about a short private eye named Sean NMI Sean. It’s set in Minneapolis. The series is meant to be an homage to the detective series I read as a randy teen. My detective doesn’t shoot people very often, bullets are too expensive. He’s very self-effacing, being only 5’2” on a good day. He has excellent relations with local police and he doesn’t sleep around. His lover is a wealthy massage therapist who stands 6’3” in her stocking feet. They are committed to each other, although she doesn’t like his weaponry. Attitude: when Sean learned Converse was stopping production of a certain tennis shoe, he ran out and bought 700 pairs of red Keds with white soles so he’d have enough pairs for the rest of his life. He deals with some real nasty folks. There are three novels in that series, the first is “The case of the Greedy Lawyers.” The most recent is “The Case of the Great Train Robbery.”
Finally there is my three-book series based on my experiences at Metropolitan State University, the first is titled “Bloody Halls,” and the most recent, “Reunion.” Jack Marston is my protagonist, a mid-level administrator for student services at a college in Minneapolis.
A few of the more important characters in these series occasionally appear in my short stories, which are contained in anthologies and as separate e-books.
MA: It sounds like you have crafted some fiction based upon real people you have known.
CB: All my characters come from life. From my observations of the people I work and live with. For example, my mother was an accomplished musician and I lived for many years with three successful professional women, my wife and my two daughters. Their lives are in my books.
MA: I take it your heroes have a few fatal flaws?
CB: All my characters suffer from the same strengths and weaknesses as I and my friends and family do. Occasional depression, bewilderment at what some people will do to others for greed or opportunity, love of nature and other humans, and the willingness to put themselves on the line when necessary to do good. None of my protagonists are super-heroes, they are ordinary individuals who sometimes respond to a call above and beyond. They are people with specific talents, inherent or learned. Although I will say that my detective Sean has been known to admit that he’s “damn good at his job.”
MA: What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
CB: No. My books often reflect my anger or disgust at some current events, but there are no consistent messages. I am writing books for entertainment (hopefully) and my characters may and do express views on things but they are not necessarily my views. My antagonists, greedy, nasty, self-absorbed, murderers though they often are, do not have the extra burden of a political, religious, economic or other bias or “message.”
MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
CB: My principal characters may interact with each other in future stories, but I expect, as in the past that new characters will enter my writing world, often unexpectedly. An example. In my first sailing story, I needed a character to make a boat available to Michael Tanner. I thought it appropriate that it be a woman, and Mary Whitney came to life. I expected her to appear in two brief scenes and then disappear. But she wouldn’t leave and suggested many ways she could improve my novel. Now, several adventures later, she is the principal character in “Devils Island” and must fight for her very life, alone, without any help from her husband.
MA: Thank you, Carl, for taking some time to tell us about your stories and what appears to be a prolific writing career! My readers can learn more about Carl and his writing by visiting his website: http://www.carlbrookins.com/