Skip to main content


August 20, 2012

Brian Freeman Shares His Experience Speaking to a Book Group at a Prison


A few weeks ago on Facebook, I saw author Brian Freeman mention that he was doing a book group event at a women’s prison, something he had done in the past. He mentioned that these readers asked some of the best questions that he has been asked when speaking with book groups.  Intrigued I asked this author of seven thrillers, the most recent of which is SPILLED BLOOD,  to share his thoughts on this experience with us.

Where is the prison where you spoke with a book club?
This is the women’s correctional facility in Shakopee, Minnesota. It’s the only women’s prison in the state. Regardless of the crime – from murder to identity theft – a woman sentenced to do time in Minnesota will go here. The facility doesn’t have the typical look of a prison; from the outside, it looks more like a collection of dormitories. There are no barbed wire fences, no guards patrolling the exterior. Make no mistake, though, this is a tightly controlled environment, and the lives of these women are micro-managed every minute of every day.

You shared that you first came to meet with this group a few years ago. How did you come in contact with this group?
I do book clubs and library events around the Midwest (and, by phone, around the U.S. and the world).  The woman who runs the library facility at Shakopee came to one of my Twin Cities events a few years ago.  Afterward, she approached me to tell me how popular I was with the women readers at the prison – interesting praise, to say the least!  She asked if I would ever consider visiting the facility and chatting with the readers there, and I said – absolutely.  So we set it up, and I did an event for about 30 inmates.  This spring, the librarian got in touch with me again after reading my newest book to ask if I’d make a return visit.

What book were you there to discuss on your first visit?
This was 2009, so I had four books available then:  Immoral, StrippedStalked, and In The Dark. We talked about all of my books, but we spent the most time on my debut novel,Immoral.

What book were you discussing this time?
I’m up to seven books now!  My fifth book, The Burying Place, was a finalist for Best Novel in the International Thriller Writer Awards, and The Bone House was a finalist for Best Audiobook of the year in Thriller/Suspense.  The club was reading my newest novel, Spilled Blood.

What were some of the topics that emerged from the conversation?
Most of the women had read all of my books, and they were interested in the differences between my Jonathan Stride series and my two newest stand-alones, The Bone House andSpilled Blood. We talked a lot about the heroes in all of the books. Some of the women were writers and poets themselves, and they had many questions about the creative process --- how I do what I do, where I get my ideas, what my writing schedule is like, how the publishing process works, how self-publishing and e-books have changed the industry, things like that. I was there for about two hours, so we had a wide-ranging conversation.

You mentioned that in the past they have had some of the most interesting questions of any book group that you have spoken with. What can you share about that?
Yes, it’s true, they had some of the most penetrating questions I’ve enjoyed from book clubs. The emotions and motivations of characters who make life-changing mistakes resonate with them in very special ways. We talked a lot about the perpetrators and why they did what they did. One of the hallmarks of my novels is that I don’t write about super-heroes or super-villains. My characters are ordinary people who often get drawn across terrible lines. My heroes aren’t perfect; they don’t always make the right choices. Similarly, the “villains” typically aren’t soulless predators. I want readers to feel an intense connection even to the characters who do bad things, because by the end of the book, you understand all the pieces in the psychological puzzle. I think that’s one of the reasons readers relate to my books, because they can put themselves in the shoes of all of the characters.

The women at Shakopee connected with the sense of place in my books, too. I write to give readers a “you are there” feel with the settings, so that you feel as if you’ve been dropped down in the middle of the action and can see, taste, smell, and hear everything happening around you. For women who are unable to travel freely, that’s a powerful sensation.

Are there any special precautions you need to take when visiting with this group?
The facility takes more special precautions with me! You have to provide information in advance so they can run a security check before you’re allowed inside. When you are within the walls, you’re certainly always conscious of the fact that you’re in a prison environment, even though it’s not the kind of Supermax facility used for violent male offenders. However, I never felt any safety concerns. I felt welcomed by the women there, because they appreciated my taking the time to come and talk to them. I think it’s easy to feel that the outside world has forgotten about you at a place like that. After my first visit, I received a hand-made card with notes and signatures from everyone who had visited the book club. It was one of the most touching gestures I’ve ever received.

Anything else that you would like to share?
Just that most prisons have libraries, and most libraries --- everywhere --- need books. When you have books you’d like to donate, don’t forget about correctional facilities.  Books can be life-changing for inmates. Several of the women mentioned that they’d never become readers until they were inside, and now they love books. That’s something we want to encourage.

You can read more about Brian Freeman and his books at