By Mark McNease
Fans of mysteries and fine writing will be familiar with the name R.E. Bradshaw. Her Rainey Bell series is a four-time Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the mystery category, including last year’s Relatively Rainey. She’s an example of a writer taking her dreams seriously and pursuing them, with great success. I was delighted to have the chance to ask her ‘6 Questions,’ and even more delighted with her answers. Enjoy them for yourself, and read more about her following the questions. – Mark McNease/Editor
MM: I understand you started publishing in 2010. What prompted that, and had you been writing before then?
REB: In December of 2009, I wrote my first complete novel over winter break. I was teaching school, designing and building scenery, directing dramas and musicals, and generally exhausted. My favorite shirt said, “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got rehearsal.” I had wanted to write for a living since childhood, but was advised, as we all were, “You can’t make a living doing that.” Whenever asked what I would do if I could do anything, my response was always, “I want to sit in front of a big picture window and write novels. One day, on a whim, that wish came true.
I wrote bits and pieces of novels over time, but had not completed one. I did manage to write a one-act play and see it staged. Genealogy kept me busy during my infrequent down time, but then I ran out of family to research. To occupy my ADHD brain while on that fated winter break, I wrote the first complete novel in fourteen days. Energized by the experience, I spent the next eight months writing when I wasn’t working my “real” job. In the end, I had four completed novels.
On the way to that real job one morning in August of 2010, NPR was interviewing an author who had submitted manuscripts and been turned down so many times that he chose the self-publishing route. He was wildly successful. That night, I looked into Amazon’s Kindle Publishing platform, read the directions, and threw those regretfully unedited gems of mine up on the Internet. What could it hurt to give it a try, right?
Even with the obvious flaws in the texts, the novels started selling. In September, due to mold-induced illness, I walked off my teaching job, sick and wearied from years of working in a compromised environment. By December 2010, I had four books sitting at the top of the Lesbian Fiction Best Sellers list on Amazon.com. Luckily the readers gave me a chance to hire an editor and clean up my act a bit. The readers turned a lifelong desire into a reality. I am forever grateful for their patience.
MM: Your novels span romance, mystery/thrillers, and “a little historic fiction.” I know you from for your Rainey Bell series. Why did you decide to write mysteries?
REB: I love mysteries. I am a devotee of the crime novel. I wanted to be Jupiter Jones and run about with the Three Investigators as a child. From the time I could sneak into my mother’s room to steal her true crime novels, I’ve been hooked. She even had those detective mags that were absolutely scandalous in my youthful eyes. I’m sure my bad guys have roots in those pages. Cornwell, Sandford, Patterson, Rule, and Castillo sit alongside the classics of Doyle, Christie, Gardner, and Poe on my shelves. It truly is my favorite genre.
Rainey Bell comes from my plans as a college freshman to eventually work for the FBI Behavioral Science Unit (its designation at the time.) I read everything I could find on the unit, which was new and groundbreaking back in the late seventies. Over the years, after switching career choices to the performing arts from law (much to my parents’ chagrin,) I continued to develop a library of books written by members of the unit and the crimes they solved. I met former FBI Behavioral Analyst Rainey Bell in a long involved dream. I guess all that reading finally granted me my high school senior wishes—“while you could only dream of getting out… getting anywhere… getting all the way to the FBI.”
MM: A writer’s question: do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it, and can you talk about the process that gets you from an idea to a manuscript?
REB: I don’t really have a writing routine. I should. I’m sure I’d be far more productive if I did. As far as process, I catch an idea on a breeze and go with it. Most authors’ heads are filled with stories constantly circulating. I think one of the toughest parts of writing is finding the story one wants to tell amid all that noise. Eventually an idea will rise above the others, its voice stronger and louder than the rest.
I have to sit and listen to the scenes in my head, forming the bones of the story before I start, and then I just go for it. With the Rainey Bell Thrillers, I have to really plan those out, place the clues as I go, do the research. With other genres, after all the research is done, I will begin with a premise and I know where I’m headed in the end, but the middle is very organic. I get my best stuff when I just write what comes next. Spontaneous ideas have changed the direction of a story more times than I can count, but if I’ve laid good research bones and a strong foundation, I’m comfortable with letting a story simply become.
MM: What got you from North Carolina to Oklahoma? I’m curious, too, about the differences you find between the two.
REB: To make a very long story short…I met and fell in love with a woman twenty-eight years ago. My family took the news rather poorly. After two and a half years of constant harassment, threats to take my son, and in an effort to preserve some sort of normalcy for our family, Deb and I left North Carolina in the middle of the night with only what we could pack in a Trans-Am, along with a five-year-old and three cats. Deb is from Oklahoma, so we came out here to be with family that was accepting and welcoming. I had been offered a scholarship to work on my Masters in Performing Arts at Oklahoma City University, so I accepted and the rest is history.
I still miss North Carolina. Growing up on the Outer Banks and then moving to the middle of the country was a bit shell-shocking. I miss the pine forests. I miss the ocean and the pace of island life. I miss being surrounded by all that history on the east coast. I have been disappointed in my home state’s politics as of late. I considered NC more progressive than Oklahoma. Now, not so much.
Oklahoma, despite its politics, has a hometown feel to it. People are generally nice and I am awed each time they come together in a disaster. The “Oklahoma standard” set during the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing is a wonder to behold. The same person that will vote me out of existence because of who I love will reach out a hand to help me if a tornado takes my home. It’s a weird dynamic, this willingness to help a neighbor conflated with fundamentalist religious values sending “kill the gays” messages from the pulpit. When asked why we stay in a state that is so vehemently anti-LGBTQ, we answer that someone must. The youth of this state need us here to ensure their voices will be heard. The community just defeated all 26 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the state legislature this round. So, there is hope for Oklahoma.
MM: Not very many writers can say they make a living at it. Did that come as a surprise, and what advice would you give others who think it’s possible?
REB: First and foremost, writing is not publishing. I have two jobs. I am an author. I am a publisher. I take both of my jobs very seriously. I never dreamed I could make a living writing books. When it started happening, I knew I had to treat it like a business to continue the early success. I am fortunate to have been able to immediately begin hiring professionals to make the process simpler. I handle a book the same way a traditional publisher would. I formed a company and utilize editors, formatters, a lawyer, an accountant, a financial officer, web designer, and the other essential cogs in the publishing machine. While I was lucky to have survived the first unedited novels, I knew I would not be given a pass in the future. I set about surrounding myself with professionals who could help me put out a marketable product.
I’m not sure what the percentage is of traditionally published authors making a living from book sales. I know that the contracts I’ve been offered would make no business sense to sign. I’m not going to trade the freedom and control I have concerning my publishing schedule and the books I choose to write for less money and a spot in line, simply to be able to say I’ve signed with a house. If a house could offer me something I can’t provide for myself as a publisher, without gouging my paycheck, I’d consider signing.
I’d consider signing because of the downside of self-publishing. If you’re going to be offended when people look down on you for self-publishing, then you’re going to be offended a lot. Get a thick skin before you jump in with the sharks. Although, that monthly royalty check takes the sting out of the belittling most of the time. <grin> If I signed, I could concentrate on writing and marketing and leave all the day-to-day managerial stuff to someone else. If I signed, I’d have a built in support system, fellow authors to group market, and people to sit with at author gatherings. None of that, so far, is worth giving up my independent status. If one’s need of belonging is really important, then sign a contract and hope you have enough success to overshadow the low percentage royalty. If, as many say, “Money is not important,” sign and be done with the headaches, but don’t expect to quit your day job. Like I used to tell my theatre students with dreams of stardom—only 10% of the people that list actor as a profession make more than $100,000 a year. Less than 1% make the big bucks. I’d venture to guess publishing income is not much different.
Bottom line: Out here in self-published land, it’s all on you, the good and the bad. I wouldn’t change a thing.
MM: What’s in the future for R.E. Bradshaw? Plans, books, retirement?
REB: Fortunately, writing can be a lifetime activity, so there is no retirement in the future. I have a folder full of ideas, a couple of series to continue, and characters’ lives that need attending, so I don’t think I’ll run out of material. My production slowed down in the last two years because of house renovations, a pretty severe concussion, and a few tragic personal losses along the way. I’m finally moving forward at a quicker pace. I felt like I was swimming in molasses for so long, it’s good to have my brain back.
I’m currently finishing the sixth Rainey Bell Thriller, Rainey with a Chance of Hale. I hope to have it completed for publishing in the next month. I’m also in the middle of a three-book tale that I’ve been working on for two years. I was almost finished with book two, when I realized I needed a book one and three, so a rewrite and a new manuscript were needed. The first of the Mardi-Jean Payne trilogy should be out in summer and is titled Tambourines and Elephants. (Side note about this project: I almost published this book, but pulled it back to take a hard look at it. It was completed while mourning a dear friend and the manuscript took a turn I wasn’t expecting. I became less and less sure of the decisions I’d made. This is where the publisher overruled the author and said set it aside and come back. Once it is out there, I can’t change the story. I need to be sure I love it before I send it out on its own.)
I hope to continue to improve as a writer and one day pen that masterpiece, but until then, I’m happy with the way things are going. I’m thankful for the support of family and friends, and especially grateful to the loyal readers who’ve made this wonderful life possible. Life is good.
About R.E. Bradshaw
Four-time Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Mystery —Rainey Nights (2012), Molly: House on Fire (2013), The Rainey Season (2014), and Relatively Rainey (2016)—as well as and 2013 Rainbow Awards First Runner-up for Best Lesbian Novel, Out on the Panhandle, author R. E. Bradshaw began publishing in August of 2010. Before beginning a full-time writing career, she worked in professional theatre and also taught at both university and high school levels. A native of North Carolina, the setting for the majority of her novels, Bradshaw now makes her home in Oklahoma. Writing in many genres, from the fun southern romantic romps of the Adventures of Decky and Charlie series to the intensely bone-chilling Rainey Bell Thrillers, R. E. Bradshaw’s books offer