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Woodbury resident Brian Freeman received a top industry award this month for his 2012 novel "Spilled Blood." Submitted photo

The thrill of victory

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Brian Freeman has made a career out of raising pulses.

On July 13, the Woodbury writer got a thrill of his own when he received the Best Hardcover Novel award from the International Thriller Writers organization for his book "Spilled Blood.."

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"I was utterly overwhelmed," Freeman said, recalling the moment his name was read during the event in New York City.

The award goes out to the top hardcover thriller, as judged by a panel of fellow writers. For authors in the thriller-suspense genre, it's tantamount to winning the Super Bowl. To wit: Last year's winner for the same award was Stephen King.

"It's just a tremendous affirmation," Freeman said. "It truly makes you feel like you've arrived in the suspense world. To be up there with some of the biggest names in the business is just an extraordinary honor."

Carla Buckley, vice president of awards for the International Thriller Writers Board of Directors, said competition among the nearly 300 hardcover entries was "fierce."

"It is a testimony to Brian's talent and ability that 'Spilled Blood' won Best Hardcover," she said.

This year marked the 50-year-old author's third nomination as a finalist for the award, the previous most recent of which came in 2011, when fellow Minnesota author John Sandford won the award.

The 2013 award went for Freeman's 2012 novel "Spilled Blood," which follows Twin Cities lawyer Christopher Hawk into western Minnesota, where he must defend his daughter against murder charges. As the plot unfurls, the seamy underbelly of two small communities is revealed, along with a deepening mystery for Hawk to solve.

Though the book is a dyed-in-the-wool thriller, Freeman said readers are drawn to the flawed protagonist in Hawk and the emotional journey he takes throughout the book.

"It's very much a story of redemption," he said. "I'd hope it connects with a reader on a very personal level."

Freeman said the creation of "Spilled Blood" followed an average gestation period for him -- about a year. He said about six months of that is devoted to writing, with the other six months spent organizing the material and, later, undergoing the editorial process.

The novel, which was published in 46 countries and translated into 20 languages, is Freeman's seventh.

He said he concentrates on thrillers because of what what can be explored.

"What you can do with thrillers is put ordinary people in extreme situations and you can learn a lot about them," Freeman said.

He likes writing about characters like Hawk -- or his primary protagonist, Jonathan Stride -- who are flawed people and rich in character. Freeman said Stride will be returning to the page in April 2014 in the novel "Cold Nowhere," set in Duluth.

When it comes to developing characters, Freeman said he's just as passionate about crafting the bad guys as he is with his heroes.

"I like characters that are honest and make mistakes," he said, adding that he takes amusement in creating "characters that are deliciously evil."

Indeed, Freeman admits that he sees the world a little differently than most folks. When driving through Duluth -- the setting of "Cold Nowhere" -- he said most people seeing the iconic Enger Tower might remark on its stoic presence.

Freeman sees a murder site.

"I'm looking at things through the lens of suspense and excitement," he said.

Freeman's writing process means jotting down ideas as they occur to him, then reviewing his notes when it comes time to pull together a story.

That means that though it may not appear so to the casual observer, his imagination is always at work, like many of his peers in the genre.

"We tend to be kind of boring people," Freeman said. "We live our lives with all these dark things in our imagination."

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Mike Longaecker
Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker
(715) 426-1072
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