interviewed by Aunty Cindy
Today the Banditas are pleased and excited to welcome New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Allison Brennan to the Lair!
In case you are one of the few who have not heard of her, Allison writes edge-of-your-seat, leave-the-light-on romantic thrillers with plots that seem ripped from current headlines! Her first book, The Prey hit bookshelves at the end of Dec. 2005. The Hunt and The Kill (for which she received a Rita nomination) followed in Jan. and Feb. 06 to complete her first trilogy. Her second trilogy, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, and Fear No Evil came out in Jan., Feb. and March 07. The first book in her newest trilogy, Killing Fear just landed in bookstores last week, and this series will undoubtedly hit the best-seller lists as well!
Cindy: Welcome, Allison! Thank you for taking time from your hectic schedule to visit us today. Please tell us a bit about your latest release Killing Fear.
Allison: Seven years ago, Theodore Glenn vowed to kill everyone involved with his conviction for murdering four strippers. Now, he escaped after an earthquake hit San Quentin. He's returning to San Diego to take care of everyone who slighted him--including the cop who put him in prison, and the stripper who testified against him.
Cindy: You are an amazingly prolific writer, especially given all the other things you do including being the mother of five. Obviously you are a master at multi-tasking. Please give us some insight into your writing process.
Allison:(laughs) What process? LOL. Okay, I am the world's biggest procrastinator which is why I write up until my deadline. You'd think after eight books I'd learn, but this seems to be my process.
I write daily while the kids are in school. I edit as I go, meaning, I'll re-read and edit what I wrote the day before to get me into the story, then I'll write fresh. I want at least ten new pages a day, but prefer 12-15. When I hit about page 150 everything stops. I have no idea what I'm doing, what's happening, and I realize that nothing is going to work. Or, I have a major revelation and realize I need to go through every scene and tweak it. Or completely rewrite it. Sometimes two or three times. This process takes over half my writing time. Once I get over that hump, the rest of the book flows relatively easily. I say relatively. The ending for Killing Fear was came easier than the ending for Tempting Evil.
The balancing act can be hard. I usually only write from 9-3 and then after that it's kid time and all the kid activities that go with it. When I'm close to deadline, I write at night after dinner--escape to the local Starbucks until they close at 10 (11 on the weekends!) Illness--mine or a child--always throws a wrench in the process. But like every working mother, we make it work somehow!
Cindy: Where do you get ideas?
Allison: Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere. I usually pull together three or four seemingly unrelated ideas and come up with a premise. For example, in the Prison Break Trilogy I had to come up with an idea that would cross over all three books. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to write Will Hooper’s story. I had no idea about the heroine, the villain, or crime. Then I listened to a news story about the first airlift of prisoners from California to other states to alleviate prison overcrowding. I flirted with the idea of a downed plane of prisoners, but that was overdone and a bit contrived for my purposes. Then I read a news story about some legislators discussing selling San Quentin because it’s falling apart and is on over 400 acres of prime, waterfront, California real estate. I did a quick search on San Quentin only because I wanted to know what year it had been built, and read a great history about the prison. One article that popped up was a seismic report done for the state on the threat to San Quentin from an earthquake. They concluded that it would have to be larger than any known earthquake and didn’t feel there was a threat based on known fault lines. Well! After living in California my entire life, I know that there are earthquakes all the time on previously “undiscovered” fault lines. Earthquake. San Quentin.
I still didn’t quite know how Will would fit in, then I remembered that in Speak No Evil, I needed to get Will out of town (so Carina and Nick, the heroine and hero, could investigate without a third wheel.) So I sent him to testify at an appeal for Theodore Glenn, convicted of killing four strippers. It was athrow-away line, something I never intended to use, but now . . . Glenn ended up escaping during the San Quentin Earthquake.
Cindy: How do you develop your trilogies? Does the entire series come to you or is it one book at a time?
Allison: My trilogies are loosely connected because I want to make sure that each one stands alone as a full and complete story—with a unique hero, heroine and villain. At the same time, I like to bring back recurring characters. In the No Evil trilogy, I focused on a family—the Kincaid’s—who all had jobs related to law enforcement. There was also a common theme—each crime was related to the Internet in some way. When I think of them, I usually have the connecting theme, but each book comes on its own.
Cindy: Plotter or Pantser?
Allison: I don’t plot. Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me queasy. In fact, whenever I even have an idea of what’s going to happen and think about it too much, I lose track of the story in my effort to force that idea to happen when I think it should happen. In writing PLAYING DEAD, I came up with a great plot twist before I even started writing the book. I loved it. But as I got into the story, I couldn’t force it to work toward that twist. I kept pushing and pushing and then realized that I had subconsciously been working toward that twist and it wasn’t going to work in the story. I wasted a lot of time. I’m not going to do THAT again!
But, I do think a lot and play what if as I’m writing. I’m not afraid of back-tracking if something’s not working.
Cindy: And which comes first, the story or the characters? Or is every book different?
Allison: Which came first? The chicken or the egg? I firmly believe that story IS character and character IS the story. You can’t have one without the other. My good friend Toni McGee Causey says that “story is character in conflict.” I might have a general sense of the story and a sense of character, but I don’t know either until I start writing, and they develop together simultaneously. I think this is why I edit as I go--I layer in what I've learned about my characters and the story!
I often think up the very basic crime before anything else. Like in FEAR NO EVIL I knew it was going to be a live Internet murder. That was all I *knew* of the story when I sold it. In fact, I originally envisioned a different hero for that book, but they (the characters) didn’t agree with me.
Cindy: We love “Call Stories” here in the lair, care to share yours?
Allison: It was a Tuesday morning and I was driving to work. My agent calls. I hadn't expected to hear from her because she only sent out my book the Thursday before. She said that Ballantine had offered a pre-empt (she had to explain what that was) and if we were going to accept, they had to do better. She gave me the terms and I was floored. I sat in my car for so long I was late to work. Shock that it was happening so fast. I expected weeks or months, not a couple days.
On Thursday afternoon, my agent called and said that we had an offer she thought we should accept, went through the terms and (of course) I agreed. I was standing on the corner of 11th and O Streets after going to La Bou to get my favorite iced coffee drink (the Capital Mocha--the one thing I miss about working at the capital!) It was windy but a bright sunny day. People I knew passed me and waved or nodded, but I don't remember who or if I even acknowledged them. I just wanted to enjoy the moment by myself. Then I called my husband.
Cindy: Any advice to the As Yet Unpublished or the About To Be Published? What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first book came out?
Allison: That's a hard question. If I knew everything I know now about the publishing business, I might have gotten discouraged before I even tried. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Too much information can stifle creativity. But at the same time, a basic understanding of the process and how to query is important.
What I wish I had truly known was that it doesn't get easier. That being published doesn't mean the stories magically write themselves, or that I have somehow become a better writer who doesn't have to labor over each story. In fact, every book is harder because I'm trying to not only match the last, but improve on it. That pressure can get very intense, especially when you're in the middle of a book.
I also wish I'd known that it's okay to ask your agent stupid questions. I would have saved myself a lot of anguish early on if I had just picked up the phone and asked questions. Fortunately, I had a great mentor who helped get me over this insecure hurdle.
Cindy: What is next on the publishing horizon for you?
Allison: The manuscript for Playing Dead (9.30.08) is due to my editor Wednesday night, so I'm finishing it. I still don't know exactly what's going to happen . . . which is a little scary at this point! Then I start the first book of my FBI series which will be out in early 2009. We'll also probably be going back to contract in the next couple weeks so I have to put together a proposal.
Cindy: WOW! My head's spinning just thinking about all those deadlines! Allison, thank you again for visiting us today and for sharing some GREAT info and insights!
Critics have praised Allison’s portrayal of her villains as well as her heroes and heroines. Who are some chilling villains you’ve encountered lately?
Allison has agreed to give one lucky commenter the complete signed No Evil trilogy and a second commenter will receive a signed copy of her supernatural romantic suspense anthology, What You Can't See, with stories also by Roxanne St. Claire and Karin Tabke. And if you have any questions, ask away!