Guest Blogger: Stephen Brayton

I’m pleased to bring you guest blogger, Stephen Brayton, whose second book, BETA, will be released on October 1, 2011. In addition to being an author, Stephen is a Fifth Degree Black Belt instructor, business owner, and graphic designer. 

A Study in Character

Many things I’ve learned over the years are self-taught. When I worked as a graphic designer at a local newspaper, I was unfamiliar about the software being used to create advertising. Slowly, through the months, I discovered new things to be done with the program others hadn’t.

So it was with writing. I didn’t know anything about outlining, or formatting, or even too much editing, but throughout the years, I developed a system that worked for me. When I started writing my first action mystery, I knew what type of character I wanted as my protagonist. Since, she has developed into a deeper character with more flaws and more personality. At the time, though, I sat with pen in hand and wrote a very basic character outline. Along with her general description, I listed her favorite color, flower, food/drink, car, clothing, music, books. Nobody told me to do this and I didn’t read any guidelines out of a how-to book. This just made sense to me to do this to better understand about whom I was writing.

Years later, I read about a more in-depth character outline. This included background information, childhood memories, past employment, etc. Also included was a guideline to understand the character in that particular story. I liken it to actors preparing for a scene. What’s their motivation? What’s their goal? What are their obstacles? How are the obstacles overcome? These series of questions can be used for every character in every scene and for the story as a whole. However, the trap into which some writer may fall is taking this too far. I know a writer whose character description included almost soap opera like dimensions. While this may be fine to jot down, do those miscellaneous factoids have any bearing on the present story? If not, I think time has been wasted when actual writing could have been done.

One of the difficulties I encountered was in the physical description of the characters. Brown eyes, dark brown hair, and medium build are so common, and I get bored reading about the same person in many books. For me, I had to develop a mental image of each character and I based the looks on various people I knew whether they be friends, classmates, or people in the public eye such as movie or television actresses.

Mallory Petersen, in Beta (release date October 1), was an easy character to develop. Basically, she is me as a female, with a little more flair, better looks, and better martial arts skills. I just took many of my traits, likes and dislikes, and improved them to create Mallory. The drug lord has the suave looks of Powers Booth while one of the cops takes his attractiveness from Nicholas Cage. One of the bad guys has an avian visage. Many characters were drawn from actual people I encountered while doing research. The stern secretary. The flustered receptionist.

For my first book, Night Shadows, background plays a large role for each of the two protagonists. Harry Reznik is married to an attractive woman and feels lucky to have her for a wife. He attended almost three years at the university unable to decide upon a career choice…until he met his future wife. So she, in essence, helps to develop his character throughout their marriage. For Lori Campisi, her background is mystery, and her struggle against amnesia and the revelations are part of the story. I knew the personality I wanted to portray and had a mental image of her features. The medical examiner has, “Tom Brokaw handsomeness.” The Lieutenant is drawn from a model in a magazine. Reznik compares FBI Agent Campisi to Spock because of her control over exhibiting emotions.

Good authors will bring their characters off the pages and put them into the reader’s mind’s eye. Of course, every person’s conception of a particular character may be different from another’s, but differing views are the beauty of imagination and what make the books enjoyable.

Learn more about Stephen at his website:

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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Mystery, New Release, Writing


Sunday Morning Perspective

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on our country, I didn’t suffer the anguish of losing a loved one in the tragedy. In fact, if I know someone who suffered a direct loss from the attacks, I’m not aware of it.

But, like every other human being, I’ve suffered loss and survived tragedy. I’m haunted. I don’t have dreams but my fears occasionally nibble at my sanity. I grieve.

And as I lay on my living room floor early this morning, breathing in the crisp, clear untainted air through the open sliding glass door, I was grateful I never had to inhale the stench of fire, smoke, and burning flesh. I closed my eyes and sucked that fresh air into my lungs, savoring it. A wildfire had once burned half a mile from my mountain home in western Montana and, although that experience certainly couldn’t compare to 9/11, it allowed me a brief glimpse at it.

My dog and cat–both elderly, with more and more white fur encroaching on their black velvet coats–lay across the room during these moments of introspection, hogging the sunspots on the floor in blissful oblivion. I’m a creature of the light, as my furry companions are, yet I know from personal experience how debilitating it is to live in darkness. How it drags you down, how it pours gasoline on the fire of your fears, how it threatens to eat you alive.

I thanked God for blessing me with a positive personality and giving birth to me in this country–where we have the freedom to lie on our living room floors on a Sunday morning, taking pleasure in the late summer sunshine, and doing nothing but giving thanks to our Higher Power, whoever He or She might be, without having to be constantly afraid.

Most of the things that happen to us are beyond our control: the sun rising and setting, the plots crazy madmen in other countries are intent on hatching, whether a genetic malfunction will manifest itself in our yet-to-be-born son, how one in four of the women we know and love (including our sisters and daughters) will be sexually assaulted.

We can’t control these events.  Most of the time, we can’t even prevent them. What we can control, however, is how we respond to these horrific experiences. We can do our part, however small, in attempting to prevent them.

We can take something positive from crippling, mind-boggling acts of violence and calamity. We have to take something positive from them. Otherwise, the senselessness of it all will drive us insane.

Let’s share the positive today, appreciate our freedoms, and count our blessings. Together, we can make the world a better place.

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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Just Saying...


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Jambalaya Justice by Holli Castillo

Jambalaya Justice, the second in the Crescent City Mystery series and follow-up to Gumbo Justice, was released on July 7, 2011. It is now available at and, as well as  your independent book dealers and all other online markets.


 Holli’s website:

Find the book on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.


Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Mystery, Writing


The winner of the book giveaway for NO REST FOR THE WICKED is…

Patrick Hannigan!


Sorry for the delay with my announcement. We had a hurricane here earlier in the week and I was without power for several days. Playing catch-up and replacing the contents of my fridge and freezer took some doing!

Patrick, please email me ( with your postal mail address so Liz can send you your book.


Posted by on September 3, 2011 in Book Giveaway, Mystery, Writing


Love this picture…

(Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

and just had to share!

(Dog walker in New York City. Yes, they are 4 English Bulldogs.)




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Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Animals, Inspiration


Book Review: IRON HOUSE by John Hart

Even if I have the time, I seldom have the inclination to sit down and read a book from cover to cover these days. But that’s exactly what I did with John Hart’s Iron House.

I got up from my chair only to fortify myself with endless cups of tea (and to make room for more of the same!) throughout the 400-plus pages of absolute magic.

Brothers Michael and Julian spent their early childhood at Iron House, an orphanage in the mountains of North Carolina. Abuse and neglect made Michael stronger and had the opposite effect on Julian. Twenty years later, Michael attempts to trade his existence as a Mob enforcer for the opportunity to have a real life, with a real family. But criminals intent on revenge, and the twisted secrets of people linked to Iron House, toss Michael into a gripping and torturous series of events.

None of the main characters in Iron House is perfect. In fact, each of them is seriously flawed. Hart, however, painted their portraits in such a way you couldn’t help identifying with them and cheering them on–even when their goals and methods weren’t conventional. Hart also used his characters to delve into the subjects of evil, survival, and triumph.

Hart’s characterization  is subtle. In a big sense, I realized where the characters were going and why. This ability to predict the overall plot would have spoiled the reading if it were another book or writer. Hart’s characters, however, contain infinite layers of motivation; nothing in this story about how two men survived childhood abuse and neglect was simple and straightforward. Although, I realized where the plot was going, the highway Hart drove me down took sideroads and detours that were entirely unpredictable. On one page I knew what would happen next … and it didn’t. If I suspected what a villain woud do, he did … only in a more horrific way than I could have imagined.

If you’re looking for a read that combines roller-coaster action with heart-stopping characters, pick up Iron Horse. And then, like me, go out and buy one (or all) of Hart’s other books!

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Book Review, Mystery, Thriller, Writing


BOOK GIVEAWAY: No Rest for the Wicked by Elizabeth C. Main

No Rest for the Wicked, a mystery written by Elizabeth C. Main, is being released today.  In honor of the occasion, which happens to fall on my wedding anniversary, Elizabeth and I are teaming up for this book giveaway.

NO REST FOR THE WICKED (Five Star, August 2011) – “In Main’s winning second Jane Serrano mystery . . . Jane adds some intelligent sleuthing . . . to unmask the murderer in this fun, spotlessly clean cozy.” Publishers Weekly

MURDER OF THE MONTH (Five Star, 2005; Lava River Press, 2011) – “…entertaining and enjoyable.” Mystery Scene Magazine

To find out more about the author and her books, visit Elizabeth’s website at:

To enter the book giveaway:

  • Leave a comment here;
  • And be sure to check back by 09/01/2011, when I’ll announce the winner.



Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Book Giveaway, Mystery, Writing

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