Brandon Daily was born and raised in Southern California. In 2012, he and his wife moved to Central Georgia, where he now teaches high school English and Literature. He holds an M.A. in American Literature and has worked as an adjunct professor and freelance editor. Brandon’s short fiction has been published in several online and print magazines, including RiverLit, Prick of the Spindle, One Throne, Phoebe, and Birdville Magazine. His one act play “South of Salvation” won first prize in the CAST Players One Act Play Festival in 2012, where it was also performed. His first novel, A Murder Country, was published in September 2014 by Knox Robinson Publishing.
Geosi Gyasi: Could we start with your first novel, “A Murder Country”?
Brandon Daily: Absolutely. A Murder Country is my first novel, a literary thriller set in the Appalachian backcountry in the late nineteenth century. The story follows three characters: the first is a boy who comes home to find his parents murdered and their cabin burned to the ground, the second is the killer of the boy’s parents, and the third character is a man who is running from a violent past but is brought back into a world of bloodshed and vengeance. Really, the book tries to examine violence within our world, looking for some reason for man’s inherent and primal actions and reactions. The book was released in September 2014 by Knox Robinson Publishing.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you secure a publisher for “A Murder Country”?
Brandon Daily: A lot of self-determination and effort. I sent query letters to absolutely every publisher I could find that would take author-submissions. Nothing against self-publishing, but I knew that I did not want to go that route, and so I remained steadfast on my course. I received countless form-letter rejections and felt my hope dwindle several times, but then one day in April 2012 I received a letter from Knox Robinson Publishing telling me of their interest in the book. I can still remember that feeling of absolute clarity and bliss that I felt that day.
Geosi Gyasi: What was the most difficult aspect of writing “A Murder Country”?
Brandon Daily: I would say that staying focused on the novel was the greatest challenge. Though it is a rather short book, it took me a grand total of three-plus years to write. However, the reason it took that long was because I stopped writing it completely for about a year and a half. I went back to school to get my M.A. in Literature and just did not have the time to put toward the book. At least not enough time that I knew it deserved. However, during that hiatus, I had the characters trapped inside my head, wanting to become real. And, eventually, when I had the proper amount of time, I jumped at a chance to finish their story.
Geosi Gyasi: How would you define the term, “Novel”?
Brandon Daily: I classify a novel as being a fifty thousand plus word story. I tend to look at myself as a short story writer who, at times, writes longer stories. Though really, if you closely examine my novel(s), they are nothing but a grouping of short episodes that play themselves out in a sequential order. And I like that type of writing. There are some writers who are brilliant with taking a fluid approach to a novel so that the story comes off as one seamless thought leading to another. But I can’t do that. Instead, I just enjoy the many-linked vignette style of story-telling.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the major difference between a novel and play?
Brandon Daily: There is the obvious formatting difference when comparing novels and dramas. With novels, the writer is allowed to focus on descriptions, a type of writing that I love, where poetry is used to paint a clear picture of something mundane, something taken for granted. Though dialogue is important in novels, it is nowhere as important as in drama. For plays, a writer needs to paint pictures with words, color characters’ anguish or joy with what they say or what they are told. It is much more challenging, I believe, to do that: to rely so heavily on spoken words as form of characterization. To show, not to simply just tell.
Geosi Gyasi: What has been the reception to “A Murder Country”?
Brandon Daily: Surprisingly, for such a violent and serious story, the reception of A Murder Country has been extremely positive. I like to think that it’s because the themes within the book are so universal, because the questions raised in the novel are ones that we all ask ourselves but are sometimes too afraid to say aloud.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more novels?
Brandon Daily: Absolutely. I have just finished writing two other novels that I am in the process of getting ready to try to find a home for. The first is a ghost love story and the second is a Southern Gothic narrative that examines the need for love within a dark and violent world. I also have several more ideas floating around inside my head, though which one will come next is still a mystery to me.
Geosi Gyasi: Your play, “South of Salvation” won the 2012 National One-Act Playwriting Competition. What was the main reason why you wrote this play?
Brandon Daily: “South of Salvation” was originally written as a short story. I wanted to examine an impossible decision. Basically, I started with the question: How far would a person be willing to go for a chance at happiness? There are no guarantees in the story, just as there are no guarantees in life. A year or two after writing the story, my wife saw the competition and asked if I had anything I could submit. I immediately thought of this story, realizing that it could work wonderfully as a play. I rewrote it in maybe two or three days. Looking back now, I am blown away with the finished product. It actually became better in the transition, the characters more personable and the tension more real and desperate.
Geosi Gyasi: What is unique about your writing?
Brandon Daily: With each of my stories, I start with a question: How would a person handle this given situation? Then I go from there. It is all about characters being faced with terrible things in life, and they are faced with one choice: give in and be defeated or grow as a person. My writing is definitely not for the faint-of-heart, both subject-matter-wise and literarily. I do not hold back from showing characters down and out, and I do so in full-worded detail; however, I believe strongly that there is an absolute hope at the core of all my stories. Characters go through horrible events, people die, yes, but there is always a silver lining for these characters (sometimes even for the dead ones, too). They are all parts of me, and I want to believe in, maybe not a happy ending but, a chance for eventual contentedness, even if that is not explicit within the story itself. There is always a chance for hope in the world. It is what sustains us.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest play you’ve ever seen?
Brandon Daily: One of the greatest experiences I have ever had was seeing a production of Cormac McCarthy’s Sunset Limited in Los Angeles several years ago. I had read and loved the printed version of the play, but to be able to see the play with its sparse beauty, to hear the actors speak those challenging words, it was true magic. It reminded me of why I love narratives: it is the concept of losing yourself in the lives of fictitious individuals and coming out the better for having done so.
Geosi Gyasi: Your short story, “The Field” recently appeared in the winter edition of One Throne. Did you know the end of the story before you started to write?
Brandon Daily: I love what Edgar Allan Poe said of writing: it is “at the end . . . where all works of art should begin.” I take this seriously. When writing a story, be it novel or short story, I literally write the very last sentence first. I know that is the outcome. I know the way I want to leave the reader, with what feeling I want them to finish with. Then, it is all about getting to that end. “The Field” was no different.
Geosi Gyasi: Who is your favorite short story writer?
Brandon Daily: This would have been a very tough question a year ago, but recently (and I feel like someone late to a party with this realization) I have come across the genius of Stuart Dybek. A few months ago, I read his collection Paper Lanterns, and with each story I found myself more and more enmeshed within his strange and fantastical mind. His story “Tosca” literally made me reevaluate everything I have ever written.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the relationship between you and readers of your work?
Brandon Daily: I generally think that we are all of one collective subconscious. We all share emotions and desires, dreams and hopes. Because of this belief, I write stories that I find interesting, I create characters I think are real. And, if they are special to me, then I believe that they will be special to my readers. I want my readers to think outside the box that we are so accustomed to staying within. Those have always been the stories I love to read, and those are the stories I hope to share.
Geosi Gyasi: Does reading other novels have any influence on your writing?
Brandon Daily: Yes, it does. For sure. Stylistically and structurally, you can trace every author back to their influences. For me, I have my absolute favorites: John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though it might not be noticeable in just one or two stories, I think you can find traces of these four in everything I write.
Geosi Gyasi: What books are you currently reading?
Brandon Daily: I just finished Daniel Woodrell’s The Maid’s Version, an absolutely brilliant book. It is really one of those books where I sat back and thought, This is just poetry. I highly recommend this one. However, right now, as of this minute, I am reading Grant Jerkin’s A Very Simple Crime. Grant has become a friend of mine and a kind of mentor through the whole publishing and writing game, and though I tend to stay away from pure crime fiction, it is a very good read. And next on my to-be-read stack is Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted. I have heard great things about it, so I am excited to get to see what it’s all about.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reader in mind when you write?
Brandon Daily: As I mentioned earlier, I put myself in the reader’s position. If it is something that I am interested in, something I would want to read, then I write to that. There are certain clichés, certain genres that I don’t like, so I stay away from them, even though I know there are plenty of fans of those story aspects.
Geosi Gyasi: Which books did you read growing up as a child?
Brandon Daily: My grandmother was an English teacher, and when I went over to her house, I would spend hours looking at the books on her shelves. I would open the covers, smell that old and worn smell, and read the first few pages. Then I would do the same for another and another. All classics. To this day, I can’t walk into a used bookstore and not think of her. That was where my love of books came from; however, growing up, my parents bought me the entire collection of Goosebumps books—I loved the darker and creepier things of the world, so they were perfect reading for a kid like me. I devoured them all, falling in love with stories the whole while.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?
Brandon Daily: Stuart Dybek, for his mastery of weaving an intricate story in a short space. Phillip Meyer for writing stories that I wish I had written. And though not active, Michael Ondaatje for showing me that there is nothing more beautiful in the world than the correct placement of the right word in a perfect place, and Cormac McCarthy for showing us that evil does in fact exist in our world and that it is something we should be examining and seeking reasons for.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you take advice from anybody when you write?
Brandon Daily: The only person I listen to with my writing is my wife, Amanda. She is my first editor and my most trusted reader. If she doesn’t like something, she tells me, and though my pride may be hurt a bit I realize that she makes me a better writer as well as a better person.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer?
Brandon Daily: Yes. I am such a backspace and copy and paste heavy writer that to write on anything else would just be pointless. I write and then evaluate and then reevalute a sentence, always making changes as I go. I do have a notebook that I write thoughts and sentences down in, but the actual process of writing the story happens on my computer.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you enjoy reading your own work?
Brandon Daily: After I finish a piece, I read it over for editing two or three times, and then after that I can’t read it. I love the fact that it’s there, but once I get it published and out there to other readers, the story is no longer for me. It is then just for the readers.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything to say to end the interview?
Brandon Daily: I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. For anyone interested, I do have an author Facebook page at Facebook.com/BrandonDaily38, and my book A Murder Country is available now in hardcover and Kindle at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and any other book retailer. Thanks again.