Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Allison Brennan

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Allison Brennan is the author of thirteen novels and three short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband Dan and their five children. Besides that, she's a really nice person. Please welcome, Allison Brennan as she answers The Get Lost Crew's fun questions.

Donnell: Which of your characters would you most/least want to invite to dinner, and why?

Allison: I would love to have dinner will Dillon Kincaid and Kate Donovan because they are both the most interesting characters to me. I also would love to have dinner with secondary character Hans Vigo who has been in many of my books.

I wouldn't like to dine with any of my villains! Especially Trask from Fear No Evil. He creeps me out. Or the killing pair in Sudden Death. Out of the other characters, I think I'd have nothing to talk about with Nelia Kincaid. I'd be nervous about her, but I need to get over that because I may have a story idea for Lucy, Carina and Nelia.

Donnell: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?

Allison: Yes, I read them, I can't help it. I'm a glutton for punishment. They don't influence me, however, 99% of the time. I can't please all readers. I write for myself, then my editor, then my readers--those who enjoy my voice and stories. There are some people who'll never like my books, and that's OK. If I tried to please everyone, my books would be a mess. And if everyone liked the same types of stories, the world would be a boring place. The only time something might inluence me is if several people made a similar comment, especially about something my gut told me was a problem. But the only time I can think of where I did pay attention, it was something very specific to one book. It wouldn't influence me in future books because it's irrelevant now.

The International Thriller Writers Worst Book Review Award has really helped me put reviews in perspective. When some of the bestselling, and some of my favorite authors, like Lee Child and James Rollins get awful reviews--and these guys share them for everyone at the banquet to laugh at--it makes me not take most reviews too seriously.

Donnell: (Good to know, A. thanks.) Have you ever written a character who wasn't meant to be a hero/heroine but he/she wouldn't go away?

Allison: Hans Vigo was supposed to die in one of my books, but I couldn't do it. He grew on me. I've kept him around. I won't say he'll never die, but it would be extremely difficult if someone killed him. On me, and my characters who all love him too! He isn't going to be a hero, however. He might have a secondary romance.

I usually know when I meet a character that they'll be a hero or heroine someday, even if I don't plant it. When Jack showed up in Fear No Evil, he almost took over. I didn't have a story idea for him at the time, and he was very mysterious. But I knew he'd be back even though I didn't plan it, and I didn't know who his heroine would be.

Donnell: What name have you been dying to use as a lead character, but haven't found the right fit yet?

Allison: None. Characters come to me first. Sometimes, they come fully developed and named (Sean Rogan, Nora English, Sonia Knight, Miranda Moore, Nick Thomas) and other times they are more elusive and I go through multiple possible names (Robin McKenna, JoAnna Sutton, Moira O'Donnell.) I've never had a name before a character.

Donnell: What's in your refrigerator right now.

Allison: This blog isn't big enough for me to list everything! Remember, I have five kids. Milk, chocolate milk, ham, salami, cheese, apples, lettuce, oranges, homemade salsa that my friend brought over Saturday for a party, leftover cheesecake. Though by the time you read this, the cheesecake will be gone. Probably the most interesting item is a large Costco size jar of marinated artichoke hearts. I love them in salads and pasta!

Donnell: What is something that not a lot of people know about you but you WISH more people COULD know?

Allison: I don't know. I'm pretty open and straightforward. Maybe that I'm really not organized, that I procrastinate worse than most people, and writing is hard work. That no matter how easy it looks like, there is no easy road in this business--not mine, and not anyone else's.

Donnell:
Is Elvis really dead.

Allison: Yes.

Donnell: (spoken like a pragmatic thriller writer). What is your favorite tradition from your childhood that you would love to pass on, or did pass on to your children?

Allison: Big, family Christmases. Decorating the tree with a variety of ornaments, especially homemade ornaments.

Donnell: What does it mean to love somebody?

Allison: To trust them with everything you think, feel and desire.

Donnell:
What color would you make the sky if it weren't going to be blue anymore?

Allison: Purple.

Donnell: What do you do to unwind and relax?

Allison:
Play video games and watch old movies. Or, take a long, hot bubble bath. With a glass of wine.

Donnell: Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

Allison: I don't let writer's block stop me from writing. I can't. Some days it's harder to write than others, but I sit down and write, even if I know it's crap and I'm going to delete it the next day. If I'm really struggling, I usually reread what I've already written and see if I know where the story derailed. Every time I'm stuck it's either stress from the business part of writing that I can't push aside during my writing time, or it's because I'm forcing the story down a path that's wrong.

Donnell: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?

Allison: That I am happiest as a writer. Being published and writing full-time was my dream, but I didn't realize how much writing was such a part of me, deep down in my core, until I quit my day job and my daughter told me she'd never seen me happier.

Donnell: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Allison: I don't know about interesting...I have lots of oddities. I write to loud rock music most of the time. I write faster when I'm not at my desk, but edit better in my office. I don't like anyone asking me if I'm almost done, or really anything about my work-in-progress, as if talking about it will jinx me, but the weirdest thing? I tend to talk to myself, especially in the car. Thank God for hands free cell phones! Now other drivers don't think I'm crazy!

Donnell:
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing/researching a book?

Allison: There are many. One tidbit was that none of the guys caught by Dateline's Predator show were prosecuted. (I learned that during my FBI class in 2008.) Maybe now, but I haven't heard anything.

Donnell: What is your favorite kid joke?

Allison: What's black and white and read all over? A newspaper. Except my kids don't get it.

Donnell (I wonder why? :)) Which era would you least have liked to live in, fashion-wise?

Allison: The seventies. Yuck.

Donnell: Tell me how many hats do you have in your home?

Allison: For me? Two...My FBI cap and my Mickey Mouse Santa hat. My boys have lots of ball caps.

Donnell: Dog or cat person?

Allison: Cat person.

Donnell: Which is your favorite language other than your native language?

Allison:
Latin.

Donnell: If you were given a chance to travel to the past, where would you go and specifically why?

Allison: The American Revolution. It's my favorite historical time period and I'd love to meet those who started the Revolution, specifically Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Sam Adams. To be a fly on the wall during both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the first congress!

Donnell: How much money does it take to make you happy?

Allison: Money doesn't make people happy. You can be happy and dirt poor, and happy and rich; likewise, you can be miserable and broke, and miserable and rich. Happiness truly only comes from within. If people are dependent on people or things for their happiness, they'll never be happy.

Donnell: If you couldn't be a writer anymore, what profession would you choose?

Allison: I don't even want to go there! I'm too old to join the FBI.

Donnell: What's the first thing you do when you finish a book?

Allison:
Type THE END.

Donnell: And finally, if you could interview one person (and it doesn't have to be a writer), who would it be?

Allison: Another hard question! Probably Joss Whedon or Eric Kripke.

Allison, thanks for joining us today. Questions or Comments for Allison? We'll be giving away a $10.00 gift certificate to B&N for one commenter and a copy of LOVE ME TO DEATH for another!

Please join GLIAS tomorrow as Cat Schield hosts Romantic Comedy Author, Barbara Dunlop.


Congratulations to Gillian Layne. You have won LOVE ME TO DEATH by Allison Brennan & to Jill James. Y ou have won the $10 B&N gift certificate!

28 comments:

  1. Allison, I am a huge fan of your "Sin" books. I read Original Sin more than once, and have Carnal Sin waiting for me to enjoy this weekend. (I always read Christmas stories in December, but now that January's here, I'm ready for suspense again.)

    Did you approach this paranormal work differently than your other books? I must admit, I'm a bit of a coward, so I haven't made it through some of your other works, but the other-worldliness in the Sin series lets me sleep at night. :)

    I also want to thank you so much for your participation on the RWA craft loop (I think that's the one.) You are so generous with your advice.

    Did you always write suspense?

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  2. Gillian, I'm a huge fan also. Allison has been having Internet problems for days. I'm hoping she'll be popping in to talk with us today. Looking forward to hearing her answer on this. I know before she started writing she read everything known to man ;) Welcome, A.

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  3. DO NOT ENTER ME IN GIVEAWAY

    Just wanted to say thank you for the fun interview. And thanks to Allison for taking the time to share here.
    All the best,
    RKCharron

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  4. Welsomce to GLIAS Allison -- keeping my fingers crossed the Internet problems disappear (or you can get WiFi at a Starbucks). Loved your answers today.

    Just wondering -- What triggers your plotting? Situations, characters, standing in the TSA security check line at an airport? (LOL--I thought of three different ways to sneak something on a plane while waiting to travel yesterday.)

    ~~Angi

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  5. Thanks Donnell for having me here! And yes, I have Internet problems. My husband set me up with his cell phone through his mobile hotspot, though I can't use it all day :/ I'm hoping the repair guys get here today--I've been without my office computer since Friday!

    Gillian: I've always written suspense. Whenever I've tried something different, it's never turned out well. I think my voice is naturally geared to dark suspense!

    I wrote the paranormals in the same way I tackle my romantic suspense--everything has to make sense. I set up my world with rules (and even in supernatural stories, there has to be a logic behind the events, so I based the world in what I know of Judeo-Christian believes of demons and exorcisms . . . taking many liberties!) and then have to adhere to them. In CARNAL SIN (I won't give away any spoilers!) they are looking for the cause--how are the demons affecting people? I wanted a scientific answer, did some research, and ran my idea by a doctor friend of mine who said everything made sense. Their discovery will be instrumental to the resolution of the series (though they don't know it yet!)

    The only difference with the paranormal series is that I loosely have a seven-book story arc. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know the order of the demons and I know (generally) how they can be stopped. Not sure how it's all going to come together, but that's the fun part of writing! In my romantic suspense, I don't know much of anything and often don't know how my hero and heroine are going to survive or stay together, in a believable and organic way to the story. I love find out how!

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  6. Angi, great question! I can't say exactly what triggers ideas--they come from everywhere. And it's never just one thing. It's usually a series of things that seem disconnected and then my mind puts them together and I have a story. Sometimes I don't even know it at the time.

    For example, in my first book THE PREY I had read an article about a man who killed his family, then himself. His neighbors said they didn't see it coming, he was such a nice man with a nice family. Then I saw a television show (can't remember which one) where a toddler was running down the street, partly naked, and her family had been killed, but she survived. I wondered what would happen if someone older survived domestic violence. What would happen if her father killed everyone, but the police came in time to stop her murder? She became my heroine in THE PREY. . . . though the story has a different twist that traditional domestic violence. The fact that she writes crime fiction stemmed from my love of books about fictional writers (Stephen King uses writers a lot as characters, and I am heavily influenced by his writing. I didn't see it at the time, but I'm sure that had something to do with it!)

    On my James Ellroy bus tour the other night (which I blogged about at Murder She Writes today) I had a lot of great information and stories, but the one thing that struck me was crimes that go unsolved because of world events, or another, more high-profile crime. He illustrated some examples of crimes he felt should have--and would have--been solved if not for national events that the country mourned. He specifically mentioned the Watts Riots and the assassination of JFK. This, right after I watched an episode of DETROIT 187 which involved a cold case coming out of the Detroit riots in the late 1960s. I haven't stopped thinking about that, and suspect the idea will find itself into one of my books. I've noticed that when my subconscious is interested in something, I *see* it everywhere!

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  7. Allison, geeze, we really come to rely on our Internet, don't we? It's our lifeline at times. I check it more than voice mail. Thanks for sharing your percolating process. You are a fearless writer. Is there any subject you consider taboo to write about relating to suspense?

    And do you consider yourself more of a thriller writer these days as compared to suspense -- not sure I know the difference ;)

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  8. Allison, I'm sitting here shaking my head in agreement. I've told this story before...but we went to the State Fair of Texas and grabbed some foot-long corndogs. The fair was packed with rival college teams after a very close game (with some bad calls--I don't care which team you were on). Anyhoo...When I finished the corndog, I realized it would be very easy for someone to accidently bump me and send it down my throat... Well, that murder is perculating...just gotta find the right story to go with it. LOL

    On a personal note...does your family recognize anything about their lives in your books?

    ~~Angi

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  9. Thanks so much for coming to the blog, Allison. I've had internet/computer issues on and off over the past while and it's amazing how quickly you feel cut off.

    I love that they do a worst review award at Thrillerfest! Fabulous. I've always wanted to go, and now I REALLY do.

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  10. Donnell, you don't know the HALF of relying on the internet. The other night I was writing a blog for the blog tour that Ballantine set up for me and I needed to look up something quick--I couldn't remember a name or something. I had to go through my iPad because I couldn't just jump on google. Well, I live in the country and cell reception is awful, and the connection was slow, and it took me five minutes to find the answer that would have taken 30 seconds if my Internet was up. I am SOOOO spoiled.

    re: taboo subjects. I don't consider anything taboo, but there are scenes I won't describe. I will write about child murder or child pornography, but I will not describe the crime. I won't go into the head of a child who will die (and I don't kill children in my books--the crimes happen before the start of the story.) The subject matter needs to be discussed because it's real, but the details don't need to be there. Taboo? For me. I think a lot of taboo subjects can be written about if done with grace, compassion, and respect. In THE KILL, which did address a serial killer targeting 10-12 year old girls, my hero was at the crime scene where they found a body, but the murder happened off the page and before the start of the book. I had an autopsy in the book, but it was also off-the-page.

    re: suspense/thriller . . . I don't think there is a big distinction. Mystery and thriller, yes. All thrillers usually have a mystery in them, but not all mysteries are thrillers. Mysteries are puzzles to be solved, whereas thrillers are about pacing and stakes. Both mysteries and thrillers are suspense novels. Suspense that isn't a thriller per se might simply have a different focus or a less frenetic pace.

    ANGI: I don't write about anyone I know, though I'll use little tidbits--like my brother in law is a wildlife biologist and I've used some of his characteristics and experiences in my books (specifically THE HUNT and CUTTING EDGE.) But he knew that before I published them! LOL

    MAUREEN: I hope you get to go someday! Next year RWA is the week before thrillerfest in NYC and I'll be at both.

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  11. Allison, how many publishers are you writing for now? And thanks for the distinctions I agree with Maureen about Thrillerfest. Some of the best conferences are so close together. I believe Kim Howe is the director of Thrillerfest now, correct? Not only is she a fabulous writer, she'll be an asset to have at that helm.

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  12. I don't remember who's in charge of Thrillerfest--just that it's not me! LOL.

    I only write for Ballantine. I don't count the short stories, because with those, I've been published by Pocket, St. Martin's, and HarperCollins. And the romantic thriller anthology for MIRA. But I'm not under contract with them--those were stories for one anthology.

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  13. Allison, welcome to GLIAS. What an awesome interview (kudos Donnell). You mentioned that you writing faster away from your desk but edit better in your office and as I read that I realized that's true for me as well.

    I love how you write organically, although I will admit I shudder to think how challenging that must be to go back and thread things through once you figure out what happens. Or maybe you're the sort of person who can keep track of all those details?

    I love your books. Whenever I need something intense, I pick one up.

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  14. LOL. Cat. Just have to reiterate, these are the GLIAS "fun" questions. I'm on deadline and these are perfect to let readers get a glimpse inside an author's head.

    Cat raises a great question about threads, since that is what I'm primarily working on. My editor wanted me to pull threads through, and now, I'm finding it's enriching this story. Will you talk about your revision process? Also, do you have any say about your cover art, titles, etc. --because it's gorgeous!

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  15. A wonderful interview. Allison, reading Love Me To Death right now. Loving every page. So glad Lucy got her own story.

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  16. Great interview. I like the idea of a purple sky. And I'm glad that Allison answered correctly on wether she was a dog person or cat person.

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  17. Allison: I'm even more keen to go now that buddy Kim Howe is the ED... :)

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  18. Besides the Lucy Kincaid series, will there be any more books featuring the Kincaid family? I know we'll be seeing Patrick and Dillon in Lucy's series.

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  19. Allison -- ha! I have the Costco jar of marinated artichoke hearts, too! Love them.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us today at GLIAS. I just bought one of your series for my mom for Christmas...I converted her to a romance reader last year and she's just got into romantic suspense and thrillers, so I know she'll love yours!

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  20. Revisions! I love revisions.

    My process is weird and I've realized that everyone has their own process, and that's just the way it is. I would love to adopt someone else's process, but the grass is always greener, right?

    I'm resigned to the fact that I have to write each book twice. My first draft isn't total complete crap (just partly crap) -- usually the story is all there, the characters, the basic stuff -- but my editor will ask me pointed questions, and that gets me thinking, and I usually rewrite the entire thing. And these aren't questions that would have helped if I had outlined the book--they're deeper than that. So I dig deeper and rework each scene--often cutting huge chunks from the book and writing fresh.

    One of the coolest things is that even when I don't know what the heck is going on in my book and the characters just take over, I find that all the hints were at the beginning, and I just need to maybe smooth them out or draw the hints to the forefront. Sometimes, I go off in a completely different direction and need to rewrite the beginning. Or the middle. Or the ending!

    So to summarize: I write a rough draft. I edit as I go, so it's fairly clean. I send to my editor (my first reader) and she gives me notes. I then revise the book, usually taking 3-4 weeks. Send it back. She then sometimes sends me clean-up notes, and sometimes it just goes to production. I like the second clean-up round because I find it makes the whole book tighter. If I do a second round, it's usually light, takes about a week, and then the book goes to production.

    As far as my covers . . . yes, Ballantine did an amazing job with the Lucy Kincaid series! I love both covers, and can't wait to see what they do with my September book. I'm hoping for green and gold, or royal blue and gold. It's set in the Adirondacks.

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  21. Thanks Heather for converting your mother!

    Jane, I plan on writing the Lucy Kincaid series over several books. Eventually, we'll probably see all the Kincaid's again--and Patrick will most likely get his own book within Lucy's series, or have a major sub-plot going on. I have a story idea for him, I just have to work it right to incorporate in Lucy's series. And I need a heroine--she has been elusive. Dillon and Kate will be characters in the series mostly because Lucy lives with them, but once she's in the FBI I don't know where she'll be living. I also have a story idea for Lucy, Carina and Nelia together, but that would be down the road. Other than Patrick, everyone has had their own book (not Nelia, but she was a secondary character in PLAYING DEAD, and she's not getting her own book.)

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  22. The most amazing thing I learned here is that you have 5 kids, Allison! I'm in awe that you're able to write at all. I wrote a little when mine lived at home (but only 3!), and only got serious when they were all grown up. Kudos!

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  23. Great interview! Your series sounds really good!

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  24. Sounds like you have a great process, A. So your editor is the only person who reads your work? Wow!

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  25. Thanks for sharing, Allison! I LOVE the American Revolution. The first romance novel I read took place during that time frame. And I'm from Boston, so I come by it naturally. *laugh*

    -Abigail, but not Adams

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  26. Hi Allison!!

    Great interview! I agree with you - 70s fashion was awful. And guess what's coming back for 2011- wide pant legs and slightly padded shoulders...

    Writers need to loan the fashion industry a bit of their imaginations :) Keep writing great stories!

    Jean

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  27. Excellent interview, Allison (and Donnell)!

    But am I the only one who had heart palpitations over the "often cutting huge chunks" comment? LOL Do you have an internal gauge for knowing when to stop before you cut too deep?

    And since I'm also from the edit-as-you-go school, I always worry about editing the life out of a draft -- what's your secret for keeping the editing seamless and the final manuscript so sharp?

    Cee~

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  28. Donnell, my editor is now the first person who reads. My first few books I had my agent read first (and I had a critique group at the very beginning). But I've been with the same editor for 16 books, so we have a very good working relationship. I trust her as my first reader.

    Cee, I write, and edit, on instinct. I wish there was a cheat sheet!

    I like editing as I go because that way I avoid editing the life out of the story. I use a process I adapted from James Rollins. He writes 10 pages a day, then prints them out and edits on hard copy. The next morning, he makes the changes, gets back into the story, and writes 10 more pages. He then prints out those ten, and so on. I don't print out, and I edit the next morning (because I often write at night.) So I write during the day (and night) and the next morning edit what I wrote the day before in order to get back into the story, then continue.

    As far as cutting huge chunks . . . we do what we have to do to get the best story possible. If I over think when I'm writing, I'm paralyzed. So I write and write and if I go in the wrong direction, I backtrack, delete, and go off in (what I hope!) is the right direction.

    Everyone has a different process. I don't fear revisions and rewrites and deleting . . . as long as the end story is the best it can be.

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