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An Interview with Don Bruns

Don Bruns
Don Bruns on Grand Cayman.
Photo courtesy Don Bruns.

Don Bruns' Mick Sever mysteries explore the seamy side of the music business, flipping the industry on it's back and looking at the underbelly of power and corruption. Protagonist Mick Sever is a journalist who chronicles the history of rock and roll, and uncovers murder. Bruns himself is a road weary musician who made a meager living traveling and performing throughout the United States, working with acts like Ricky Nelson, the Platters, Ray Charles and Eric Carmen. Recently, he's released a CD of original songs called Last Flight Out. Two of the songs have been recorded by other artists.

We had a chance recently to talk to Don about his books and his music.

Mysterious Reviews: Your series character Mick Sever is an entertainment journalist. Is there a real-life inspiration for him? Or is he possibly something of an alter-ego?

Don Bruns: I wanted to set the mysteries in a rock and roll genre, but the idea of a musician who solved crime didn't seem to be believable. A journalist who writes about the entertainment industry seemed to be the perfect protagonist. And yes, I would like to be Mick Sever. Lots of money, tropical islands, paid travel, and beautiful women. I can dream..

You're a musician yourself. In which category would you place your music?

I lean toward ballads and just about anything you can play with three chords. I made a living doing music and stand-up comedy on the road for about 7 years, and got away with three chords for a long time. I've got an album out called Last Flight Out, and again three chords can go a long way!

The Mick Sever
Mystery Series
Don Bruns: Jamaica Blue
Don Bruns: Barbados Heat
Don Bruns: South Beach Shakedown
Don Bruns: St. Barts Breakdown
The "Stuff"
Mystery Series
Don Bruns: Stuff to Die For

Sue Grafton played a role early in your writing career. How did that come about?

Sue read my first manuscript told me to throw it away and start over. I did, and she loved it. In front of about 1500 people in Washington D.C. she introduced me and told the publishers there someone needed to buy my book. That took me totally by surprise. Within two weeks I had a contract with St. Martin's Press.

For the Mick Sever series, the books are each set in different locales. How much does the location of your books affect how you develop the plot? In other words, do you come up with a plot and then decide where to set it, or do you develop a plot around a setting?

I've got an idea for the plot, but the location dictates the story. I pick an island and go. No rhyme or reason. In St. Barts Breakdown, I found that there have never been any murders on the island. That point became important to the story. In the March 2009 book, Bahama Burnout, I found that the penalty for murder is hanging. That becomes an important part of the plot.

After you have an idea for a book, do you write from an outline, or do you simply start and let the story evolve as you write?

When it comes to organization, I'm terrible. There are people who outline for six months and then write the book in 20 days. I don't outline at all and it takes me seven months to complete the story. To each their own.

For the audio versions of Jamaica Blue and Barbados Heat, your read your own books. Was that the publisher’s idea? Why didn't you continue with the subsequent books?

I wanted to do the read. I begged Blackstone Audio to let me do them, since I make a living doing voiceovers for commercials. After reading two of them, I realized the difference between 30 second radio spots and 300 page novels. Talk about work.

On your website you say, "There's enough crime, corruption, drugs, and slimy people in the music business to keep Mick Sever busy for a long time." Yet you published the first book in a new series with Stuff to Die For last year. What prompted you to start a new mystery series?

I grew up with the Hardy Boys, and I wanted to try a series based on two young men who are just starting out in life. My two kids were freshly out of college, and I picked up on the innocence, the verbal jabs that young people take at each other, the bravado that masks insecurity and built all of that into the characters. It was a great experience and the reviews regarding the two slacker guys have been even better than I dreamed.

An impressive video trailer was produced for Stuff to Die For. Did you have any input into how your characters or the plot were portrayed in the video?

I turned the manuscript over to the producers. They asked for a personality sheet on each of the boys, so I did that. Favorite music, food, likes and dislikes. I felt like I was doing an article for Tiger Beat Magazine back in the sixties and we were profiling David Cassidy. The two guys in the movie couldn't be more perfect! [MR note: See an updated video preview of the book below.]

St. Barts Breakdown, the 4th book in the Mick Sever series, is being published this spring. When is the next book in the “Stuff” series coming out? And is there another island setting in the future for Mick?

Stuff Dreams Are Made Of comes out this September. The two boys turn their boxtruck into a traveling kitchen/restaurant and set up at a revival tent in Miami. Dead bodies, unscrupulous characters and a chance for the boys to make some fast money all play a part in the story. I think these two grown-up Hardy Boys have a future! And Mick is in the Bahamas in March, 2009. Ghostly things are happening at a recording studio and he's sent to investigate. One of the central "characters" in the Bahamas book is an old rusted out Cadillac that sits up on blocks. The Caddy is rumored to be one of Elvis Presley's vehicles.

We'd like to offer our special thanks to Don for taking the time to visit with us. For more information about Don, visit his website at DonBrunBooks.com.

Date of Interview: March 2008