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Our Interview with Don Brown

Don Brown
Favorite Bible Verse: 2 Timothy 4:7 "I fought the good fight, Iíve finished the race, Iíve kept the faith."

Is Treason the beginning of a series?

Yes. Zondervan, my publisher, is calling it the Naval Justice Series. The second book, entitled, Hostage, is due out in November 2005.

How many books will be in the series?

Itís really going to be up to Zondervan. We have a contract on two with hopefully more to come. Thereís enough material to write at least five to seven books in the Naval Justice Series, depending on what Zondervan decides to do.

I saw that you are friends with Robert Whitlow. Do you practice law together?

Thatís correct. Robert lives here in Charlotte, not far from me, as a matter of fact. Weíre in separate firms and Robert practices in the areas of social security and workmanís compensation. Weíre not opponents; we're not even in the same realm. I do estate planning and family practice. I donít run across him in court very often, but we do chat from time to time.

Al Gansky, a Christian author from California, has really served as a mentor for me. Al introduced me to Zondervan. Iím extremely indebted to him as well.

Diane Noble is my principal editor. She is also very, very helpful when weíre talking about romantic elements. The courtroom scenes and the military aspects tend to flow because thatís my background. Sheís really helped in sprucing up some of the subtle romantic interplay thatís involved in Treason.

How did you get started as a writer?

Iíve done legal writing for years but never had much desire to write a novel until the beginning of 2001. Iíd written a thank-you note to a friend who hosted us at a party. It was an Epiphany party and after I wrote the note, the hostess wrote back and said, ďthe way you write, you should write a novel.Ē Then I just started writing.I sat down on my old, antiquated, dilapidated laptop and wrote an historical fiction novel which hasnít been placed yet. I took that book, as I was writing it, to the Blue Ridge Christianís Writerís Conference, and met Chip McGregor, an agent with Alive Communications.

He gave me valuable advice, ďThis is a great story line. Finish writing it; go get it professionally edited, and come back.Ē So I finished the book and got it professionally edited, then brought it back to the writerís conference. That's when I met Al Gansky who liked the book very much. I told him I was thinking about writing a JAG series, since Iím an ex-US Navy JAG officer. He said that was a great idea and I should pitch that to the publisher.

Do you practice law full or part time?

I still practice full time. We have a small firm here in Charlotte with two attorneys and seven support staff. In fact, for the last year, I had two full-time jobs when you factor in the writing .

What is your backround?

I was a political finance major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then I went to law school at Campbell, a great Baptist law school, located just outside of Raleigh. Campbell is known for having perhaps the most intense trial advocacy program of any law school in the nation. While I was in law school, I accepted a commission in the Navy, my first year of law school. I was then committed to the Navy to become a JAG officer.

I spent time in Charleston, SC, Newport, RI and 3Ĺ years in San Diego. My last tour was at the Pentagon before leaving active duty.

What made you leave the Navy?

I had just been picked up for augmentation whcich means itís time to make a commitment to become a twenty-year guy. In the early nineties, we had won the Persian Gulf War and there were massive personnel cutbacks underway. The Soviet Union had fallen, Congress was under pressure for cutbacks. At the same time, I found out about an opening at a law firm in the Charlotte area. Iím licensed in North and South Carolina and they were looking for someone who was dually-licensed. I wanted to continue to litigate. In the JAG corps, after your first tour, you donít go to court much anymore unless under exceptional circumstances. The opportunity came up to leave, but I love the Navy and miss it.

What are some of the challenges you face being an author?

Someone in my position who already has a full-time job, when you're a writer, means essentially you have two full-time jobs. So you must balance your time. You have to be disciplined about writing everyday. The first year at the writerís conference I attended, Davis Bunn made a comment, ďYouíre not a writer unless you write everyday.Ē You have to be disciplined in carving out the time that makes most sense to you and write, when your mind is most creative.

How long did Treason take you to complete?

It took about nine months to write the draft.

The second book, Hostage, took six months to write.

How much research did Treason take?

Some of the areas I knew well, such as court-martial procedure, the geography of San Diego, how the the military works, so I didnít have to do much research.

When I was in the service, terrorism was not the problem it is now. I prosecuted many high-profile rape cases. None, however, where the victim is the senatorís niece. At the naval station, we did prosecute some national security cases.

Did you ever have a court room trial in front of the press?

Iíve had several since Iíve been out of the Navy. When I was in the Navy, my last tour in San Diego was as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the civil division. We were dealing with cases under the Soldiers and Sailors' Civil Relief Act because weíd deployed all of our forces at the time in the Persuian Gulf War. So the press came around for some interviews. We had an F-14 go down at Brown Field, just north of the Mexican border. The Navy was sued, and I defended that case. That got a little snippet of news here and there, but nothing like Zack Brewer got. Seems like Zack lives in front of the cameras.

Is there a real-life Diane Cocernian?

I suppose that question could be a bit incriminating. Iím kind of a nice guy so I never really had a real hard-core professional rivalry like Zack vs. Diane. Although, like Zack, I did win the trial advocacy competiton at the Naval Justice School. Nobody was mad about it, but if Diane had been around, I'll bet she would have been ticked off.

Did you have any Amys working with you?

Amy started out as a paralegal in Treason. In the Navy, military paralegals are called legalmen . We had many very sharp legalmen at the Naval Legal Services Office in San Diego.

Will Amy be reintroduced in other books?

I certainly do want to bring her back. One of the things that excites me about doing a series is that we have a number of potential protagonists, like Amy, who could appear again later.

How did you think up your characters?

Al Gansky mentored me in the procedure of attacking the book proposal. I remember Davis Bunn talking about how he outlines everything. I outlined the first book. Many of the characters were included in the outline, but some just appeared as I was writing. I knew that I wanted to pit Brewer against Colcerian initially to create tension. I wanted to try that in the context of a rape trial. But some characters like Senator Roberson Fowler, a large-jowled U.S. Senator, and Rev. James Barber, a sort of bumbling, foot-in-the-mouth civil rights activist type, mysteriously appeared out of nowhere as I was writing the draft.

Did you ever come across a Harry Kilnap in your life?

Most agents are extremely professional, but some cut corners a bit. Harry Kilnap is just a combination of people doing what I want them to do to move the plot forward. But, I see Harry's actions as something that could actually happen out in the fleet.

Do you know a Wells Levinson type?

A number of civilian defense attorneys showed up when we did court-martials in San Diego to defend Navy Marine Corps personnel. Active-duty personnel have a right to either a military or a civilian defense counsel, or both in some instances. Certainly none of the defense attorneys I tried cases against were of the national stature of Mr. Levinson, although some probably thought they were.

Most people donít know that much about the military justice system. Maybe you've seen the TV series, one of the most popular series on television in the last ten years or so. People ask me about that show all the time. Is that realistic? Iíve watched that show a few times and sometimes they get it on the right mark but often they don't.

A more realistic Hollywood production would be A Few Good Men. That was based upon an actual court martial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I donít know how far they varied from the script but I did know the defense attorney in that case. When they were filming, Demi Moore was down in our spaces, at the Pentagon. The Navy co-operated with the producer of that movie. I donít think that the Navy gives any assistance, technical or otherwise, to the JAG show.

Do you have a favorite character?

I really like Zack and I really like Diane, so I go back and forth.

How did you choose the settings?

I spent time in San Diego and I love it. Iíd still love to live there, maybe up on Mount Helix if I had my druthers. One of the reasons why I chose that setting is because Iím familiar with the base and familiar with the courtroom there. Itís our second largest naval base and thereís more courts-martial tried there than any other base in the world other than Norfolk, at least within the Navy.

How personal are your novels?

I can see the characters. Al Gansky talked to me about his philosophy on Christian fiction. "You place a believer within the context of high melodrama and see how they react." These characters are personal in their reaction. I could see if there was an experienced Navy prosecutor, three or four years out of law school, pitted against someone like Levinson, the Navy JAG officer would hold his own.

Have you ever been a situation of not having full disclosure?

I donít remember as a prosecutor, if Iíve ever had to disclose any belatedly-discovered information. But Iíve seen prosecutors do it. Thatís what youíve got to do if youíre going to play by the rules. My position as a Navy prosecutor in San Diego, was full disclosure. Hereís the file, take it, do what you want to do with it. Build your case; build your defense if you can, and take it from there. Thatís the only way you can play ball.

Do you prefer to write suspense or historical fiction?

I love history. I love WWII genre and Iíve traveled to Europe and the former Soviet Union. I love writing both genres. The suspense thriller genre flows a little more quickly because thereís not as much research involved as there would be in a historical novel. I did much more research for the historical novel and it took me a lot longer to write. Itís longer as well.

Probably Iíll continue writing suspense as long as they'll allow me to continue to write the Naval Justice Series. I may go back to another historical one day, who knows. Iíve got some ideas about other things as well.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

I started the third Naval Justice Series book. And the historical is still there. Iíve got some ideas bouncing around.

Who most influenced your writing?

In terms of getting this novel to fruition, Al Gansky. He showed me some basic things like how to put together a book proposal that I had no way to know. Iíve done a lot of reading on the subject of writing in the last three to four years. But thereís so much that you still donít know unless you have somebody to mentor you through the business. He was highly involved in the early days and I still call and bounce things off on him.

Chip MacGregor helped with good advice early on. Robert Whitlow was available any time I needed anything. And then Diane Noble is fabulous. You can't ask for a better editor. I donít know what I'd do if she wasnít around.

What were your favorite books as a child?

I grew up on The Hardy Boys. My Aunt Margaret gave me the whole set when I was a kid, which helped get me interested in reading. I also liked reading Mark Twain.

What message would you like your readers to take from the Treason?

Treason is a modern day David and Goliath story set in the context of high courtroom drama, with a smidgen of romantic tension, played out on a stage pitting the truths of Christianity against the tenets of Islam. The overall message is that with God, all things are possible. Just like David had to rely on Him to slay Goliath.

What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?

What Iíd like to do is engage in sublime writing that glorifies God and points to a higher purpose. Great literature, great filmmaking, great art, great music, doesn't have to contain smut.

What is favorite verse from the Bible?

2 Timothy 4:7 "I fought the good fight, Iíve finished the race, Iíve kept the faith."

Those words of inspiration were written by the apostle Paul to his adopted son Timothy. It's one of my favorite verses for everyday living, it gives me strength as I carry through with my life from day-to-day. There are a great many other verses that I love too.

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