Brian Freeman was probably Woodbury’s best-known author last week, but this week he’s reached new levels of fame. His latest book, “Spilled Blood” (SilverOak) has been named the Best Hardcover Novel of 2013 by the International Thriller Writers organization. He was doing quite nicely, with his 15 murderous books out in the world. But this new honor kicks him into the company of past winners like Stephen King, John Sandford, Lisa Gardner — a whole new level.
“This is a pretty big deal. I’m still sort coming down to earth,” he said. “The Thriller and the Edgar Awards are the two highest honors in this genre, and it’s really something to be in the company of writers like Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and R.L. Stine. It gives you affirmation about your work when you look at the roster of people who have won this award, not to mention all the great books you’re competing against.”
But here’s the part of the story that will give hope to all those writers who aren’t yet hanging out with the Stephen Kings of the world: Freeman didn’t finish a manuscript he could sell until he was 41. He’d been writing since he was a teenager, but the half-dozen unsold books in the closet apparently didn’t get him down him one bit. He just kept writing.
“I was learning my craft for 20 years. I was working in business and marketing communications, writing in hotels, on planes, and buses, whenever I could catch a spare few minutes,” he said. “Then I sold the manuscript that would eventually become “Immoral,” and it came out in 17 languages and was selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club. And suddenly everyone was calling me an overnight success. But I’d been doing this for decades.”
Set in fictional southwestern Minnesota towns
“Spilled Blood” is set in a fictional southwestern Minnesota landscape loosely based on the Montevideo and Granite Falls area. A river flows between two towns, one made wealthy by a secretive resident corporation, the other made sick by carcinogens the company’s plant washes down the river. When the daughter of the company’s president is murdered, the blame is placed on a girl from the wrong side of the river, stirring up more animosity between the towns. The accused girl’s father embarks on a search for the truth, sorting through secrecy and injustice to find out what really happened between the girls and between the two towns.
It’s a new set of characters for Freeman, who is best known for his Jonathan Stride series, set in Duluth. He deliberately chose that setting for its landscape of faded industrial glory and gorgeous, rugged wilderness. “People there sort of tuck their heads against the wind and run, and that was the kind of attitude that was perfect for Jonathan Stride [the homicide cop hero of six of his books). He’s not a superhero, he’s an ordinary, flawed, determined character. He doesn’t always get things right. I wanted a setting that reflected that kind of attitude.”
Police officer approached …
Freeman must have got it right; one day after a reading, an armed and uniformed Duluth police officer approached him. “I thought, ‘Uh oh, what did I do?’ He was coming to tell me I had a lot of fans on the Duluth police force, and invited me to go on a ride-along next time I was in town. Which I did, and it was a completely amazing experience, just fascinating.”
By writing about Midwestern places, Freeman is able to bring something intimate and emotional to the sometimes cold and edgy crime thriller genre. But each time out, he’s writing about murder — an obsession he thanks his mystery-reading grandmother for starting him on. His readers today range from young people to law enforcement to more than a few grandmotherly types. Memorably, one potential reader, a sweet older lady, asked him, “Are there a lot of dead bodies in your books? Because I’m not sure, if there a lot of dead bodies. Unless they are hookers. I don’t care about them.”
Sept. 14: Chaska Library, 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.