Friday, March 27, 2009
Allison obtained her first library card at the age of four when she could print her full name, and thus began her love affair with books. It’s no surprise that her first job was as a clerk in a bookstore in her hometown of San Carlos.
In March of 2002, near the end of her thirteen year career in the California State Legislature, Allison seriously started writing—after hundreds of beginnings and no endings. She wrote five manuscripts before she found an agent who sold her book to Ballantine. Her debut novel, THE PREY, sneaked onto the New York Times extended list at #33. As nothing worth having is easily achieved, Allison worked all day, mothered five children, and wrote every night after they went to bed. Ironically, though she no longer works outside the home, Allison finds herself still writing into the wee hours of the night.
Allison belongs to several professional writers organizations . . . all the usual suspects. Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Novelists, Inc. She also is a regular contributor at Murder She Writes, Murderati,and Romancing the Blog.
For fun, Allison enjoys wine tasting, traveling to writer’s conferences, playing video games with the kids (and by herself!), reading (of course!), watching old movies (and new), and catching up on her favorite television shows through her AppleTV. She cheers on her kids at a variety of sporting events from soccer to basketball to volleyball, and finds herself driving almost as much as sleeping.
With ten New York Times bestselling romantic thrillers and a handful of short stories, Allison is taking a temporary detour into the realm of the supernatural with her Seven Deadly Sins series which launches in Spring 2010. But there are more romantic thrillers in the works: after the Sacramento FBI trilogy in 2009, look for the Rogan-Caruso series in late 2010/2011. Visit her at www.allisonbrennan.com
Readers, be sure to read to the end for Allison's extremely generous giveaway!
Allison, first tell us about your new release, SUDDEN DEATH, that hit shelves on Tuesday. I understand that it is the first of a new trilogy.
Yes, SUDDEN DEATH is the first book of my new Sacramento-set FBI trilogy. I really love this book—it’s one of my favorites. My one-liner is: “Burn-the-book mercenary Jack Kincaid is forced to team with by-the-book FBI Agent Megan Elliott to stop a homicidal duo who are torturing soldiers with ties to Jack’s mysterious past.”
The trilogy itself is not connected except that they all connect to Sacramento, California—where I live. I really loved writing about my area in PLAYING DEAD, so when I needed a connecting theme for the FBI Trilogy, I thought, why not Sacramento? It might also have something to do with the fact that when I wrote the proposal, I was in the FBI Citizens Academy here, and I really think the world of those men and women. Also, there’s so much here—rivers, mountains, farmland, business—and I love intimately knowing my setting.
The other two books, while they have some recurring secondary characters, are distinctly different in story.
Your first trilogy came out in 2006 and you’ve had one every year since. Tell us why you’ve chosen the pattern of trilogies and how you keep a writing schedule that allows you to do this.
It wasn’t really my idea. When my publisher bought THE PREY, they thought it would work well as the first of a trilogy so I came up with the connecting theme of three women with violent pasts who become friends at the FBI Academy at Quantico. I’ve always loved loosely connected books—Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Kay Hooper, Mariah Stewart and many others—often brought back secondary characters into leading roles. It felt natural to do this. Now, I find it hard to conceive of a stand-alone book. I always want to bring in a minor character who grabbed me, and give him or her a story.
As far as my writing schedule, the most important thing is that I keep my writing time sacred. This is not always easy with five kids! But I write while they’re in school. I tackle emails and the internet in the morning after I drop them off, spending about 90 minutes on answering fan mail, blogging, going to loops, chatting. By 10:30 in the morning I need to go off-line in order to get my work done. Because I am a huge procrastinator, when I’m on deadline I’ve found the best way to do this is take my laptop and go to Starbucks or outside the house so I’m not tempting to jump online. I pick the kids up between 3:30 and 5 (depending on sports practices) and we do kid stuff, homework, dinner, etc., and most nights I’m back at the computer by 9 p.m. I find that I’m most productive in 4-5 hour chunks of time, twice a day.
Sometimes, I just have to kick myself in the butt to focus. That’s usually at the beginning of a book. Once I hit about pave 150, I’m usually eager and excited about the story. The first act is the hardest for me.
Allison, your books have recurring characters that may play minor roles in your stories and then take center stage in their own story. With the complexity of the stories and the cast of characters, how do you manage the information necessary to keep them all straight?
Good question. When I can’t remember, I skim my books. Like I couldn’t remember if I mentioned anything about Nick Thomas’s parents in THE HUNT when I was writing his book (SPEAK NO EVIL.) I had to skim every scene that he was in.
It wasn’t hard when I only had three or six books out, but I did have some problems writing the Prison Break Trilogy. I hired an indexer who has indexed all my books. It’s been a huge relief for me.
Any advice for writers who want to tackle trilogies for the first time?
Actually, not really! I think everyone should write what they are most comfortable writing and what is natural for their voice. If you’re not published, I always suggest that your first book is pitched as a stand alone with the possibility of becoming a trilogy. Publishers like choices :))
There are so many different ways to write a trilogy. Brenda Novak has her Last Stand series which centers around a victims rights group. Roxanne St. Claire has her fabulous Bulletcatcher series. Karen Rose’s last trilogy had a connecting theme through the villain(s). (And all of us are up against each other for Best Romantic Suspense in the RITAs!)
Even my trilogies have different connections:
The Predator Trilogy (2006): The heroines of all three books were roommates at Quantico and remained friends; each had violence in their past.
The No Evil Trilogy (2007): The Kincaid Family played a major role in each book, and each story related in some way to the Internet.
The Prison Break Trilogy (2008): Each book stands alone, but revolve around an earthquake under San Quentin that frees several death row inmates, and there is one connecting mystery regarding one inmate who claims he’s innocent.
The FBI Trilogy (2009): Each book stands alone, but take place in or around Sacramento, CA and at least one of the main characters is a Sacramento FBI agent.
One thing I’ve done (not really consciously!) is to bring in a major secondary character into the next trilogy. For example, in SPEAK NO EVIL, Sheriff Nick Thomas from the first trilogy is the hero; in KILLING FEAR, Detective Will Hooper from the second trilogy is the hero; in SUDDEN DEATH, Jack Kincaid from the second trilogy is the hero. It brings continuity through all my books, though readers should be able to pick up any book and not feel lost or that they missed something.
Oh, there is one thing I’ve noticed that can be a huge stumbling block for readers. When creating a trilogy or series, I’ve always believed that a reader should be able to pick up any book and not get lost. It’s sometimes difficult to balance what the reader needs to know to enjoy THAT story and not bore current readers with too many details from past books. I, personally, like books within trilogies that stand alone, but are loosely connected to others, which is why I write what I do!
When you talk about your writing, you mention a 20 year period in which you started many, many stories, but didn’t finish. What finally made the difference for you?
I realized that if I wanted to be published, I needed to finish a book. I know it sounds dumb, but I was dense . . . also, I had it in my head that I needed to work, get married, raise a family, and it wasn’t until I turned thirty that I reflected that I wasn’t completely happy. I missed writing—it had become something I fiddled with, something that I’d do “later.” Once I acknowledged that writing was important to me, and that no one was going to just give me my dream, I was determined to prove that I could do it.
There were some external things going on—I couldn’t afford to quit my job, which I no longer liked; my babysitter was accused of child abuse (and she pled no contest) and I couldn’t afford to take time off to be with my baby (Brennan #3 was 8 months old at the time); and I turned thirty and hadn’t done half the things I’d wanted to do by the time I turned thirty. But ultimately, it was an internal switch, and I can’t honestly say what did it. Only, after I mentally committed to finish a book, and write another, and another until I sold, I was able to do it.
Once you shifted gears and began to get serious, what was your road to publication like?
I’ve been told my path was smooth. Maybe it was, but the writing itself is hard word. I also still had a day job and five kids by the time I sold.
Essentially, in March of 2002 I made the personal commitment. I wrote five books in two years, found an agent in February of 2004, and she sold my book in March of 2004, five days after it went wide. The trilogy didn’t hit the shelves until January, February and March of 2006, but that gave me the time to write books two and three while still working. I quit my day job shortly before the first book debuted, which enabled me to write three books for 2007.
Can you give us an idea of what your average writing day looks like and how you manage your busy family life?
Basically, I wake up between 6 and 7 in the morning. I get the kids to school—often late (and I have to meet with the vice principal about this, so I feel like a total failure as a mom.) I swing by Starbucks for my coffee (I used to write at Starbucks every day), go back home to my office, check email, answer fan mail, blog, whatever, and start writing by 10:30. There are times, when I’m on deadline, that I take my laptop with me and just stay at Starbucks—I write faster when I have nothing to distract me.
I pick the kids up between 3-5, depending on various schedules. When I’m REALLY close to deadline, my mom pitches in and gets the kids for me. Often there are doctors appointments, ortho appointments, grocery store runs, etc. Homework, school projects, baths, dinner (and no, I don’t cook extravagant meals—everything is very, very simple!) games, and reading. When the little kids go to bed, between 8-9, I’m back at my computer. I try not to write on Sundays so we can do family excursions. But often, when my oldest, who is an athlete, is at a sporting event I’ll have my laptop with me.
Do you have any writing rituals such as music, candles, certain foods, etc.?
Coffee in the morning, coffee in the afternoon, margaritas at night ;)
And loud rock music on my iPod.
What’s on your “to be read” list right now?
SALVATION IN DEATH by JD Robb
PROMISES IN DEATH by JD Robb
CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith
HUNT HER DOWN by Roxanne St. Claire (an arc!)
WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON by Toni McGee Causey (an arc!)
THE BRASS VERDICT by Michael Connelly
HOLD TIGHT by Harlan Coben
DOGS AND GODDESSES by Jennifer Crusi, etc.
JUST AFTER SUNSET by Stephen King
DEVIL MAY RIDE by Wendy Roberts
. . . and that’s just at the top! I also have a dozen galleys for quotes to read, and I’m trying to get to most of them, but time is crunched.
What can readers expect from you next?
http://www.allisonbrennan.com/images/covers/playingdead100.jpgAfter the FBI Trilogy, I launch my Seven Deadly Sins supernatural thriller series, the first two books coming out in 2010. I’m also currently negotiating my next romantic thriller series—this one four books centered around Rogan-Caruso Protective Services, also based in Sacramento, that was introduced in PLAYING DEAD. The hero of book three of the FBI Trilogy is Duke Rogan, one of the principles, so it was a natural to write stories related to their work.
Allison, thank you so much for being our guest today. We really appreciate the fact you took the time from that obviously busy schedule you described to share with us today.
Okay, Okay, now you guys have learned all about Allison and her writing, you want to know about the contest, right? I've got to tell you the prizes are great today. Allison is giving away all three of her trilogies, one trilogy to each of three winners. That's the Predator Trilogy, the No Evil Trilogy, and the Prison Break Trilogy. AND, if that isn't enough for you, she is also giving away a copy of her newest release, SUDDEN DEATH! WOO HOO! So we will have four lucky winners today.
So, here's the deal: Leave a comment or question for Allison and you're entered. Easy, right? Here's more: Get a friend to leave a comment, with your name as a referral in their comment and we'll enter you again and your friend once. Hey, if your friend wins, you can always borrow :))
Look for winners to be posted Saturday morning. Enter until midnight tonight. Good Luck.