Q&A with Brian Briscoe, author of Juke.
Brian Briscoe has written an interesting and engaging tale of two men, both very different, but alike in that their lives have been hard enough to make them sing the blues. Set in the Texas Gulf Coast region, it's an intriguing tale that has music woven through its pages as two very different men find solace in their music.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I usually only read in the early morning and right before bed, but I found myself reading this book as often as I could during the day until I finished it. Briscoe's writing is smooth and evocative, and I found myself rooting for both of the main characters. It's a great read!
Here's a Q&A Interview with the author.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in the coastal town of Freeport, Texas, and grew up just a little farther inland in Angleton. I ran away from home when I was 22.
Besides writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I’ve played guitar for 35 years, and for much of my adult life I’ve been a baseball enthusiast. I’m also a music fan and a recovering music critic. I like to have fantastic conversations with my creatively brilliant children and wife.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
John Steinbeck. I revisit his work frequently. He may be the best gift high school gave me. Larry Brown wrote in a Southern voice I hear but don’t have. Sherman Alexie is the greatest living American author if you ask me. Drop what you’re doing and read Flight, which is beautiful and horrifying and brilliant and nonsensical and perfect. Alexie is an author to watch for the rest of his days.
Do you listen to music when you write?
That’s an interesting question. I need to re-read Oliver Sachs, who wrote Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. I don’t ever NOT hear music. Maybe something’s wrong with me. It’s an undercurrent all the time. If I get up at night for a brief moment, there’s a song in my head even then. So the music is there when it’s on or off. Most of the time, I make a point to have it on.
Who or what inspired you to begin writing?
In second grade, I got it. GOT it. Words were my code, my medium. This thing the other kids struggled with was easy and liberating to me. At that time, a teacher from another class pulled me aside rather randomly in the hall and told me I was extraordinarily good. Not sure how she was aware of my writing. And my journalism instructor in high school drove that message home to me for years. God bless Linda Winder.
Have you ever written or do you plan to write in other genres?
One of the gifts of have some natural inclination or talent for this is that it’s not intimidating. I can still hear the sighs of classmates through the years as we were assigned papers, even while inside my head I was pumping my fist. I’m a counselor/therapist by trade, and am polishing the rough draft of my first self-help book. I have a plan to write a series of such short books, including some for children. The first of those books, tentatively titled The Conflict Etiquette Handbook, will probably come out in January or February of 2016.
Please tell our listeners about a typical day of writing for you.
I sneak it, like I’ve squirreled away some horrible candy bar and don’t want anyone else to see it. Ten minutes here, an hour there. When you’ve got the material, it very much writes itself once you’ve got your organization laid out.
What made you decide to write Juke? How long did it take?
It’s a complicated answer. As a lifelong blues fan, I know quite a bit about what some of the hardships my favorite musicians endured during their lifetimes. I reached a point in my late 20s where I looked back and could see that I’d endured a lot of very different hardships as well. I felt like I saw a lot of blues pretenders who simply got into the music to demonstrate guitar prowess, and lacked genuineness. Mitch Casey’s story has a lot of my autobiography in it. Juke was largely written for self-serving interests; I wanted to try to find a place of comfort with the blues, as I bear a lot of resemblance to the pretenders I felt like were taking over the blues. And I did find my place of comfort. I had also just quit drinking, and the book was very therapeutic for me in that regard. I really wrote and edited the book in earnest from about 1995 until 2005. I was working full-time and raising a family, and grad school came along too.
Would you describe the path to publication for Juke?
We live in a terrific era for self-publishing. I worked in television for many years, and I know a bit about the need for an audience. When you write a book like Juke, which is difficult to categorize, major publishers will pay attention due to the quality of the story, but ultimately pass due to the lack of genre. Some of the publishers directed me to movie producers, who reacted similarly, though they did suggest that this sort of material might lend itself to an HBO or AMC mini-series, but I didn’t pursue that. If it came up again, I’d revisit it.
So the technology allows writers like me to still have an avenue to put it out there. There is a sizeable audience for the blues, though isn’t much history of blues fiction/literature. I believe there’s an audience, and now Juke will be available for people with tastes like mine.
Would you please tell our readers about the story of Juke?
It’s two stories that intertwine. There’s Mitch, whom I mentioned earlier. He stumbles across Juke Mills, a blues legend living rather unnoticed in his own hometown. The book tells their stories for comparison and contrast, and explores the notion of what a blues man is. Juke taught Mitch a lot. He taught me a lot too.
I also took the opportunity to use Juke as a platform to share some of what’s magical about my beloved home state of Texas. Mythology, Mexican culture, folklore, vernacular, commonalities between music genres, influences from elsewhere… all of this is sacred to me, and deeply fascinating. I wanted to include that amateur cultural anthropology as well. And there’s so much history to use. For example, there was an explosion in a shipyard in Texas City in 1947 that plays a prominent part in the book. To this day I don’t think they even know for certain how many people died. Several hundred for sure. The area was full of merchant seaman, locals and who knows who else?
Are there any characters who are your favorites in your book? Please tell us why.
I’m very fond of Juke’s parents, Freddy and Martha Mills. I learned a lot while creating those characters, and shed a few tears.
I like Mitch a lot, as he gave me the chance to fictionalize some of my own story. I love Juke, and see him quite clearly in my mind.
The funny thing is, when I created the character Kim, who is Mitch’s love interest, I wanted to make her an atypical beauty. I patterned her after Renee’, a woman I knew. As it turns out, I actually later married Renee’. Imagine her surprise when she read the book and found Kim, a character who looks like her, on the pages! I will say that Kim wasn’t based on Renee’s behavior or personality though.
Were parts of the book difficult to write? Why?
The parts about the explosion in Texas City were gut-wrenching to write. One of the hardest things to pull out of myself. And Juke’s romantic struggles felt very real as I wrote them.
The parts that are autobiographical were difficult, as it forced me to shine a light one some of the painful incidents, as some of my own shortcomings.
How are you promoting Juke? Are there any events that you have planned?
Those discussions are occurring right now. I’m likely to hire a publicist, but honestly I’ve got a lot left to figure out. Promoting this is what made major publishers and movie producers pass, so I can honestly say I’m not sure.
What advice would you give to new writers?
The key to all of this is really simple. If you’re a writer, it’s what you do. Either you’re a writer or you’re not. I am. Whit McClendon is a writer. Do what you love. Let it pour out of you. Whether you do it for your own fulfillment or choose to share it is up to you. Richard Paul Evans, who wrote The Christmas Box, told me once that if you keep your writing to yourself, you’re not doing anyone any favors. If you’re a writer, what you produce will find its audience.
Where can readers find your books?
Online retailers such as Amazon for sure, though they’ll be available in a variety of places. It won’t take much Googling to find them. Some independent stores will likely end up selling them as well.
You can pick up a copy of Juke on Kindle at Amazon: