Best-selling author and Sarasota resident Don Bruns writes incredibly fast-paced thrillers full of plot twists and turns. But even he was taken by the velocity and timing of his newly published mystery anthology collection, “Hotel California.”
He got the idea for the book, which features eight brand-new short stories penned by some of the biggest names, and most evilly talented, mystery writers working today, while on the phone with his agent. It was late 2020, and the two were talking about Bruns’ contribution to an upcoming crime fiction anthology that gleaned its story titles from the names of Jimmy Buffet albums.
Don Bruns: Author finds inspiration in murder
With 35 years in the advertising biz under his belt, Bruns knows a great idea when he hears it. “After I told her about the Buffet thing I said, ‘I wish we’d thought of that.’ Then I suggested there were other things we could do.”
When his agent asked for an example, the first thing out of his mouth was “Hotel California,” the title of a now-classic album by The Eagles. Each story would be inspired by the title of one of the songs on the album. When she inquired about who he could get to author the stories, he replied, “Give me a week.” It came together nearly that fast.
“I immediately contacted the authors I had in mind, told them about the concept, and within a week and a half, I had agreements from eight writers. We got a commitment from Blackstone Publishing less than two weeks later,” he said.
Reaching out for Reacher
“I’ve been going to mystery writer conferences for years, networking and hanging out with all these people. We know each other really well,” Bruns explained. His first call was to the British author Lee Child, best known for the Jack Reacher novel series.
Turns out Child was retiring, but his brother Andrew was taking over writing the series. “I got ahold of Andrew, and he agreed to do ‘New Kid in Town.’ In the story, which is exclusive to “Hotel California,” Jack Reacher thwarts a nasty, unsavory criminal who’s been hiding out in a sleepy backwater town.
Bruns’ excitement and incredulity showed when he explained that he had no idea that a Reacher original TV series was already in the works at Amazon Prime. Debuting in February, that version of “Reacher” was wildly successful – setting records for viewership and renewed for a second season. Similarly, no one could have possibly predicted that the actual band, The Eagles, would launch a 2022 “Hotel California” tour.
After Child, seven more award-winning authors agreed to contribute, including New York Times bestselling authors John Gilstrap and Heather Graham. Gilstrap said “no problem” to writing “Wasted Time,” and Graham set “Pretty Maids all in a Row” in a New Orleans cemetery.
Bruns’ contribution to the anthology is “Life in the Fast Lane,” which features a “stone-cold killer,” a hitman who, ultimately, reveals an inner morality.
As someone who has written 16 novels, edited four other anthologies, and contributed stories to many more – all after the age of 50 – Bruns is eminently qualified to talk about the differences among them all. He admitted he likes the simplicity of the short story form.
“Most criticism of novels is that the middle sags, and it is the hardest part to write. You can open with a bang, close with a bang, but there are a lot of pages in between,” said Bruns. “Short stories have no sag. They are all action and suspense and excitement.”
When talking about his experience as an anthology editor, Bruns noted that putting “Hotel California” together was a remarkably smooth ride, both in working with contributors and the publisher. For the former, “getting eight seasoned authors to all hit the deadline turned out to be a piece of cake. It’s great working with professionals,” he said.
And about the latter, it’s important to know that “anthologies don’t really have a shorter or longer gestation period (than novels). Publishers have a calendar. They have committed projects and possible projects and room for some new projects,” he explained.
Blackstone Publishing made room for “Hotel California,” and it has committed to at least two more in what it calls “The Music and Murder Mystery Series.”
Bruns explained that shortly after Blackstone green-lit “Hotel California,” “They turned around and asked me, “What’s next?”
Being an idea man to the core, Bruns didn’t hesitate. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is next up. After that, it’s AC/DC. When Bruns told Andrew Child he could have any of the classic heavy metal band’s titles he wanted, he didn’t hesitate. So, down the line, Jack Reacher fans can look forward to another exclusive: “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: New Jack Reacher story included in Sarasota author’s new anthology