HALLIE EPHRON: Allison Brennan writes about something much scarier than serial killers and stalkers -- her suspense thrillers are also about romance. As in: there's s-e-x. The result is to humanize her tough-as-nails female characters.
In her newest, "Stalked," FBI trainee Lucy Kincaid gets drawn into an investigation that she'd just as soon stay out of -- the murder of a writer who was researching a serial killer whom Lucy had a hand in taking down. The case cuts too close to Lucy's own past trauma, and besides, Lucy would much rather keep her head down and survive her training at Quantico. But then... not to give anything away, but soon there doesn't seem to be anywhere that she's truly safe.
I personally find it so tricky to blend romance with hard-edged suspense. How DO you do it?
AND... Kimberley Titlebaum! You are yesterday's winner for your thoughtful post from the heart. To
claim your copy of "The Twelve Clues of Christmas" contact Rhys off list at
authorrhysbowen "at" gmail dot com. She's looking forward to hearing
ALLISON BRNNAN: Any romance has to be organic to the characters and the story. If you force it, it doesn’t work.
Some of my books have more romance than others. I don’t plan it out—it comes naturally from the characters. I’ve actually found it easier to blend in a realistic romantic relationship in the Lucy Kincaid series because I can build her relationship with PI Sean Rogan over time.
In the romantic thrillers I wrote for Ballantine, I had to create a relationship AND a full suspense plot and wrap everything up in a neat bow by the end of the book. With Lucy, her relationship with Sean fits her character—both how they interact, the pace, and the place it has in her life. I don’t write prolonged love scenes. While they’re explicit, they focus on emotion and how the challenges and changes in the relationship affect the suspense storyline.
In a nutshell? The story comes first. Always.
HALLIE: I completely agree!
Of course I've never been inside Quantico, but your setting feels so real. How did you achieve that authenticity?
ALLISON BRENNAN: I went to Quantico.
I love research. In 2009, I had sold the Lucy Kincaid series and then took my first trip to the FBI Academy. I went with the FBI Citizen’s Academy from Sacramento – great program and opportunity for me.
As it turned out, it wasn’t until the fifth Lucy story (Stalked) that I actually set the book at Quantico. So I went back in early 2012 as I was writing Stalked for a private tour with the media representative, who also answered all my arcane questions. While not everything is 100% accurate, I tried to keep all the major facts true-to-life. (Writers sometimes have to take minor liberties for the sake of the story), I hope I captured the basic feeling of being a new agent at the FBI Academy. For example, I used a construction site in one of the scenes—when I was there in March, there was a lot of construction going on, and they assured me it would take them several years to complete all the projects.
I’m also lucky in that I’ve made a lot of friends who are in the FBI and they help me with some of the details. For example, while writing the next Lucy book ("Stolen") I thought I’d written myself into a corner in a previous book. Sean, Lucy’s boyfriend, has a statute of limitations hanging over his head for a crime nearly ten years old. I did some research and couldn’t find a crime that had a ten year statute of limitations. I lamented this fact to my FBI contact and another agent I was interviewing (a recent graduate) and they said simultaneously, “Bank fraud.” Ironically, it fit Sean’s character and the storyline. Needless to say, I was thrilled I didn’t have to fudge on this detail.
HALLIE: I've heard writers advised to get in touch with their own greatest fear, and channel that into their own writing. Would you agree, or do you have some other advice for writers trying to write your kind of suspense-filled page turners?
ALLISON: Yes and no. My greatest fear is that one of my kids will be in danger and I will be able to do nothing to stop it. For example, I had a recurring nightmare after my second child was born that I drove off a bridge and had to choose between saving my newborn or my toddler as the car was sinking.
I haven’t written that scene yet, but I do write about loss, grief, and the frustration of many (particularly in law enforcement) that they can’t stop all the bad guys. I also recognize that there are split decisions that must be made during action scenes and like us, characters may question whether they made the right choice. I also touch on the universal themes of good versus evil, as many of us do who write crime fiction, and have been digging more into the gray areas of the law, when the lines become blurred. I’m having a lot more fun with that!
I also take to heart the advice of Elmore Leonard. “Don’t be boring.” If I’m bored with what I’m writing, my readers will be bored. I’m a ruthless self-editor.
HALLIE: This is your nineteenth suspense thriller published since 2006. Wow! Any tips on how to be that productive?
ALLISON: Write every day. Even if it’s crap, write every day. I can count on my fingers the number of days I’ve completely taken off in the last ten years. This isn’t to say I write 12 hours a day every day, but I write 8-12 hours a day 5 days a week, and 3-4 hours over the weekend.
But I think people shouldn’t focus on what other writers do. They should find a system that works for them. Maybe it’s writing one day a week, but all day long. Or one hour every morning before work. Or not setting a time limit, but writing 2,000 words a day.
When I had a full-time day job, before I was published, I wrote only at night after the kids went to bed—I had to give up television. (Believe me, this was a huge sacrifice for me because I love TV!) I wrote 3 hours every night, 7 days a week, and wrote 5 books in 2 years. Four of the books were garbage. The fifth sold.
HALLIE: What are you working on now?
ALLISON: I’m very excited to start a new series in early 2014. Maxine Revere, an investigative crime reporter, is unlike any of my other heroines and I’m working on her first book, which will be out in hardcover (my first!) She has been so much fun to write because she is different. First, she’s not a cop or in law enforcement and tends to butt heads with those who are, especially if she thinks they’re not doing their job.
As soon as I finished Lucy #6 Stolen (June 2013), I dove into Max’s story. There will still be more Lucy Kincaid books, but I like to stretch and challenge myself and I think Max and Lucy will both be better series because I can alternate between them. I think many authors struggle with boredom, especially if they have a long-running series, and I never want to get to that point.
Thank you Reds for hosting me today! I am seriously thrilled to be here, as I am a huge fan of your blog and your books. You could give a master class in mysteries and suspense!
I’m happy to answer any questions or just chat. I love talking. In fact, I was voted Most Talkative in both middle school and high school, LOL.