Interview with Barbara Braxton, Author of Pigeon Blood

Barbara

B. A. Braxton was born and raised in Bridgeton, New Jersey. She has been married for almost thirty years and has two children. B. A. Braxton has been known to write mysteries, human interest stories, westerns, and plays: she takes pride in her diversity and appreciates all feedback.

How did you become a writer?

When I was very young, probably around 9 or 10, I remember reading a book that I wasn’t very impressed with and saying to myself, “I can do better than that.” Well, at the time I couldn’t do any better writing-wise, of course, but I guess you could say that what really bothered me the most about the book was its plot. So, from that moment on, I started focussing on the craft of writing to prove that I could do a better job of telling a story. It literally became an obsession and by the time I was in middle school, I was writing stories using my friends as the characters. My friends couldn’t wait to read these stories, not because what I wrote was particularly good but because they knew that they’d be in all of them. (At the time I was using a manual typewriter and carbon paper, so the number of copies for each book was limited.) By junior high I was inspired to write my first novel, only this time I used characters that I had made up. And I’ve been doing that ever since.

How did you come up with your title?

“Pigeon-blood” red is the term used to describe the color of the most valuable rubies in the world, and this particular color resembles the arterial blood of freshly killed pigeons. Since the murder and mayhem in the book centers around three valuable stones of that color, I decided that a title reflecting the stars of the novel should be front and center.

Where is the setting for Pigeon Blood? Is it a place you are familiar with?

Pigeon Blood is set in Detroit, Michigan. I used the city of Detroit because some of the characters I write about are homeless. (I actually live in Bay County, about 125 miles from the heart of Detroit, where homeless people are few in number. So writing about the homeless of Bay City, Michigan wouldn’t have been as believable.) I’ve never lived in Detroit, but I’ve been there many, many times. As a matter of fact, my son graduated from Wayne State University in 2010 with a degree in journalism. And I have had personal experiences with homeless people, having lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for six years.

In addition, I did a lot of general research regarding the homeless, and the book that helped me out the most is one called Homeless: 30 Days Undercover in America’s Exploding Subculture by Curtis Jefferson Jenkins (1993). Mr. Jenkins is a private investigator licensed by the state of Michigan, and he’s also a Persian Gulf War veteran. His book is based on his living among the homeless in suburban Macomb County, which is located just north of Detroit (8 Mile Road separates the two). So I figured that his experiences and insights were close enough to where my story is set to lend it necessary authenticity. I have to admit, though, that most of the places and streets I have described in Pigeon Blood are fictitious.

They say you can judge a book by its cover.  Can you tell us a little about your cover and who designed it?

My daughter designed the cover. At first glance, it might seem plain, but there’s really a lot going on there. The ruby depicted in the word “Blood” is a real pigeon-blood ruby (it was my daughter’s idea to put it in the “o”). However, the ruby is synthetic, so it’s value at the time I purchased it was under thirty dollars. (It would probably be worth millions of dollars if it were natural.) Also, the crystalline structure of what is predominantly aluminum oxide depicted in the lower left and upper right-hand corners of the cover is that of corundum, the substance that makes up what we call rubies (the red version only) and sapphires (any color besides red). Having Aliya put the crystalline structure of corundum on the cover had been my idea, just to make the cover stand out more.

My daughter designs book covers as a hobby. She has designed the covers for all of my books, as a matter of fact. Aliya’s areas of expertise are actually electrical engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, and she will be graduating with a degree in both disciplines  from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this spring. Needless to say, I am very proud of her.

Why did you feel you had to write this book?

I graduated from dental school in 1987 and practiced dentistry for five years before deciding that perhaps it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Writing has always been my first love, but early on my mother discouraged me from trying to make a living at it. So I worked hard in school and became a dentist and when I stepped down from that, I came up with the premise for Pigeon Blood as a way of showcasing my dental knowledge and experience in a laboratory. To make the story more interesting, I centered it around a murder mystery, and hence Detective Rein Connery was born.

What are you hoping readers take from your book?

Simply this: to escape from their own realities for a few hours and be entertained by the trials and tribulations of fictional people. Reading other writers’ work has always been the great escape for me, and so I was hoping that my stories would return the favor for those who read my books.

Which one of the characters was the hardest to write?

Horace Long was probably the hardest character to write. I say this because I wanted to make him a real person who, although he’d suffered through many hardships in his life, was comfortable and content in his own skin and always took what life had to offer in stride. Horace doesn’t have much that he can call his own, but there isn’t a more loyal and trustworthy friend in any of my novels to date, and that’s exactly why I like him so much. Whenever I care a lot about how readers will perceive one of my characters, it inevitably makes it harder to write about them. That adage that you can’t please everyone comes to mind, so I know that everyone won’t like Horace as much as I do.

Which chapter was your favorite to write and why?

That’s easy. It’s the one where Blair discovers how the pigeon-blood rubies got in the flower vase. For me as a writer, scenes like that come about once in a thousand pages, and most of the time a story doesn’t come together with that kind of a twist. So when it happens, it feels really special.

What has been your biggest achievement as an author?

My biggest achievement has been to keep on working for decades as a writer with no promise of ever getting published. The writing alone has been enough to sustain me and to bring me the kind of satisfaction most people strive for in their lives. So when the publishing perspective changed and I was afforded the opportunity to get my writing into other people’s hands, it really felt like a gift from God.

Also, I think having the opportunity to become familiar with bloggers and to visit their websites is quite an achievement in itself. I’m a very shy individual, so branching out and meeting others hasn’t always been easy for me. But bloggers are special people, very relatable and friendly, especially the ones who try so hard to help indie writers.

What had been your biggest challenge as an author?

My biggest challenge is one that all writers can relate to: finding the time to write while managing life’s other responsibilities and chores, like raising children, taking care of the house, etc.

Are you an avid or occasional reader? If so, what is your favorite genre of books?

I am an avid reader of nonfiction titles. Whenever I’m not writing a story, I’m doing the research necessary for the next one. I admit that I am an occasional reader of fiction, mostly because of time restraints and also because I am so picky. I find it distracting to read something and stumble across grammatical mistakes, typos, plot and/or character development flaws, and the like. You could say that I am a slave to perfection, always trying to obtain it myself but never quite getting there.

Don’t laugh, but I am also a sucker for a good, traditional western novel, like The Virginian and Shane. I get my love for the western genre from my father, who could never seem to get enough of it. I even write western novels, and I use my maiden name B. A. Braxton to honor my father, whose name was William Hayes Braxton. He passed away in 2001.

If you could interview one of your favorite authors, who would it be? Why?

That would be George R. R. Martin of A Song of Ice and Fire fame. I would ask him how he makes plotting, character development, and writing look so easy. I don’t even like the fantasy genre, but I absolutely love Martin’s work.

What new projects are you working on?

I am currently working on two books. One is a fictionalized account of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, tentatively called When Blood Flowed as Water, and the second is the sixth book in my Detective Rein Connery series, which is currently untitled.

Where can readers find you and where can they purchase the book?

You can find Pigeon Blood and all the rest of my books in eBook form on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and all other retail outlets. By the end of 2015, these books will also be available in paperback through Create Space. I do have a website,http://babraxtonbooks.ucoz.com/, but I admit that I need to spend more time and attention to it. Perhaps in 2015 I’ll add free short stories there so that readers will be able to sample my work.

About Pigeon Blood
Pigeon
Washed-up, loser, no-account lush… that is how Dr. Blair Vaughn’s dental colleagues have described him for years. But when Blair witnesses a double murder during an alcoholic blackout and subsequently starts to piece together the reasons why those murders have come to pass, his colleagues begin to rethink their low opinion of him. Especially when his finger starts pointing at them.
Groping at the facts like a blind man, Blair stumbles across three pigeon-blood rubies that are worth millions of dollars. The reason people are dying is finally clear, but who is behind it all is still a mystery. Blair risks his life to discover the truth.
Pigeon Blood is the first installment in a series of novels centering around the career of Detective Rein Connery, a Detroit homicide detective, and his partner Maynard Slye. Book by book, Rein solves murders sometimes through the eyes of others and sometimes through his own. Each novel introduces a different and exciting cast of characters, pumping new blood into an old, beloved genre.
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