ix one heartless, sociopathic killer, a strong, yet vulnerable heroine, one sexy love interest, and a gruesome crime. Stir together in close proximity for a few hundred pages. Keep the lights on while reading.
Allison Brennan is one of the top bestselling authors of Romantic Suspense today. Her first book, The Prey, was inspired by a true crime. It quickly shot to #33 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
After her novel The Prey was published in 2006, Allison published several more books in quick succession. Next came The Hunt, then The Kill. The year 2007 brought us Speak No Evil, Fear No Evil, and See No Evil.
In 2008, Tempting Evil and Playing Dead were published. The Romantic Times has called her novels haunting, thrilling, and dark, with cold-blooded villains and memorable heroines.
Allison has more books in the pipeline for 2009 and 2010 for the fans of her scary, yet romantic, novels. Her new book Sudden Death will be available March 24th, and she piques our interest for it in this interview.
Allison is a member of the Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Novelists, Inc.
She is also a wife and busy mother of five children, yet she always makes time for writing. She shares how she got started writing, her early successes, and how she keeps the motivation going. She shows that her recipe for success includes determination, a desire to write, and the self-discipline to follow through. Allison shares wonderful and inspiring advice for all women who love to write.
WOW: Thanks so much for making time to spend with WOW! readers today. Many people don’t realize the wide range of genres that romance writing encompasses. What kind of responses do you get when people find out that your books, which typically are very gruesome, are considered romance?
Allison: I get from readers all the time that my books are in the “wrong” section of the bookstore. Some readers have never stepped foot in the romance section. I write romantic suspense—I love romantic suspense. I fall more heavily on the suspense side, but there is always a happy ending and my hero and heroine deserve to have their own happily ever after—especially considering what they’ve gone through physically and emotionally just to survive the book! Some romance readers don’t like the violence, and some mystery/suspense readers don’t like the sex, but I write what I would want to read, and I love scary, violent books with a strong heroine and worthy hero who connect emotionally and physically, and a scary villain who is truly a threat.
WOW: You are from the San Francisco area originally, and now you live in Central California. Most of the settings for your books are in your local area. Are you ever frightened to go to those places after you’ve written about a crime there?
Allison: (Laughs) No, I’m not frightened of the places I write about. I’m more scared reading the news!
“Nothing worth having is easily achieved. We all make sacrifices every day for our careers, our families, our friends.”
WOW: The news can certainly be scary these days. Could you tell us what inspired you to write your first book?
Allison: That’s actually a hard question. I’ve always written stories, since I was little, but never finished anything. It wasn’t until after my third child was born, and I was over thirty, I thought if I ever wanted to be a published author, I needed to get serious and finish something. Once I committed to myself, I was able to finally write until I reached the end. The first story I wrote had everything, including the kitchen sink…two stalkers, mistaken identity, a rapist, a killer, a cop hero, a security consultant heroine, a former fiancé embezzling money, a violent ex-girlfriend, and more. Needless to say, it didn’t sell. But I learned a lot about writing and my own style, and when I started the second book I could already see the improvement.
I sold my fifth book, The Prey, and that story was inspired after reading an article about a man who killed his family then himself. All the neighbors were shocked, no one could believe that he could do something so horrific. I wondered, “What if one of his children survived?” She became my heroine, Rowan Smith.
WOW: How did you squeeze in your writing time while working full time? You’ve told readers that you worked full time in the California State Legislature and that you wrote early and late for three hours a day. How hard was that?
Allison: Nothing worth having is easily achieved. We all make sacrifices every day for our careers, our families, our friends. I made the sacrifices necessary to carve out writing time. It wasn’t easy, but once I committed myself to writing, it wasn’t difficult. I gave up television and a lot of extra-curricular activities. It was actually very good preparation for full-time writing—with deadlines. I don’t have much time for anything but the kids and writing!
WOW: With the number of books you’ve written, we can believe that! Did you take any formal training in writing?
Allison: No. Just writing, writing, writing. Practicing, being self-critical, and learning from my mistakes. I took creative writing in high school, but that mostly fed my love of stories and writing itself, rather than give me the skills to write a novel.
WOW: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Allison: When I finished my first book. Writer’s write. Authors are published.
“I signed with my agent the same day I had another request for a full and a rejection.”
WOW: That’s an excellent thing to remember for everyone who writes. How did you find your agent for your first published novel, The Prey?
Allison: I had signed with an agent with my second completed manuscript, before I joined Romance Writers of America. After joining RWA, I realized she wasn’t the best agent for me. She wasn’t a scam artist or anything, but she didn’t know my market well enough, and I realized that if I wanted to be published, well, I needed a top agent. I decided that I would keep writing until I had a book good enough to sign with a well-established agent.
I terminated my relationship with the first agent, finished writing The Prey. I sensed that this book had “it”—it was tighter, better, and more polished than anything I’d written before. I queried twelve agents who had excellent reputations and a solid client base. I had five requests for fulls and two partials. I signed with my agent the same day I had another request for a full and a rejection.
WOW: That’s an amazing success story! In past conferences, you’ve said you’re a pantser, meaning you write without plotting before you begin. Do you have to do much rewriting?
Allison: Writing is rewriting. I couldn’t plot anymore than I could do a backflip. But, because of my tight deadlines, I edit as I go so my manuscripts are clean—the story is all there. Then I go through and do a heavy edit, get editor comments/revisions, and do another major (or minor) revision. It works for me.
WOW: Your books seem well researched. How much of your books are realistic?
Allison: They’re all fiction—but there are some small elements I’ve taken from real-life cases. For example, Speak No Evil was inspired in part by the real-life tragedy of Taylor Biehl who had an anonymous, sexually explicit blog and died at the hands of her one-time, much older boyfriend.
I also research my procedures. I’ve taken some liberties with timelines and jurisdiction, but anything plot-critical—like whether a flashdrive would be readable after being swallowed by a victim—I’ve researched by reading extensively and interviewing experts. For example, I’ve taken part in the FBI’s citizen’s academy and I’ve toured the morgue. I want to make sure that the way my protagonists solve the crime is logical and accurate.
WOW: Your next book Sudden Death will be released March 24th. Can you tell us about it?
Allison: My quick line is Burn-the-book mercenary Jack Kincaid is forced to team with by-the-book FBI Agent Megan Elliott to catch a pair of killers targeting former special ops soldiers.
I have received a lot of reader mail about the Kincaids, and after meeting Jack in Fear No Evil, I knew I’d be writing his book someday. He almost stole the story from his twin, Dillon! Fortunately, Dillon is a strong character as well, and I was thrilled that I could bring him into Sudden Death in a supporting role.
When I originally wrote Sudden Death, I only went into the head of one of the killers, Karin. (I’m not giving anything away—the killers are named in the prologue.) Why? Because Ethan is losing his grasp on reality and I didn’t think I could get into an insane character’s head. My editor read the manuscript and said she thought it would be more powerful to go into Ethan’s head. It was a challenge, but I was glad I did.
WOW: It sounds like another exciting read. What book would you say has influenced your life most, and why?
Allison: Another hard question! I don’t know that there is any one book that had a great influence on me—it was more the access to lots of books that inspired me. The Stand by Stephen King was my first “big person’s” book and I read it when I was thirteen. I also read In Cold Blood as a young teen and became fascinated with true crime. Divine Evil by Nora Roberts was the first romantic suspense I read and I fell in love with the genre. When I was in high school, I read 1984 by George Orwell and that has impacted me ever since—I just reread it when my daughter was assigned it in class, and it reminded me how powerful it still is. I would say that authors are more an influence that any one book—Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Mary Higgins Clark were all hugely inspirational at a time when I needed a kick in the proverbial pants to get writing.
WOW: They are all tremendous authors. What book are you reading now?
Allison: I just finished JD Robb’s Strangers In Death and I’m just starting Stephen King’s short story collection, Just After Sunset. I’m also reading an advanced copy of Alexandra Sokoloff’s supernatural thriller, The Unseen.
WOW: What woman has influenced your life most, and why?
Allison: My mom, because she always believed in me and told me I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough.
WOW: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor, and why?
Allison: Mariah Stewart, who gave me my first blurb, has become my mentor in many ways. She listens, gives sound advice, and always has time for me even when she’s on her own deadlines. When I first sold to Ballantine, she was already an established New York Times bestselling author of twenty novels and I was nobody, yet she reached out to me and answered all my questions, even the really dumb ones. And Stephen King, because when I was thirteen and read The Stand, I wrote him a fan letter and told him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. He sent me back a postcard and said, “If you want to be a writer, write.” Common sense advice that I didn’t fully understand until I was ready to commit.
WOW: What a great story! What are your next projects after the FBI Trilogy?
Allison: I have a supernatural thriller series based on the Seven Deadly Sins that will launch in the Spring of 2010. I’m also in the middle of negotiating my next romantic thriller trilogy which will hopefully be published parallel to the Seven Deadly Sins—two supernaturals, then two romantic thrillers.
“I want to continually be writing sharper, tighter, better stories—and sometimes I freeze under the pressure.”
WOW: Do you have to travel much promoting your books?
Allison: No. I’m published in mass market and travel isn’t a big part of my responsibilities. My publisher has asked me to do a few things, such as the Levy Bus Tour, which I enjoy, and I go to conferences, but the conferences are more about networking and meeting with friends than it is about promotion. I sign books locally, but that’s about it.
WOW: What would you say is the hardest part of writing your books?
Allison: Trying to write a better book. I sometimes get stuck because I don’t know if I can improve. I want to continually be writing sharper, tighter, better stories—and sometimes I freeze under the pressure. But I have to write, so I do, just panicking the entire time that it’s crap.
WOW: You are a bestselling career novelist, a mother, daughter, and a wife. How do you balance it all and make time for yourself?
Allison: Balance is hard. Writing and family come first. For me, I’ll treat myself to television late at night, or a spontaneous shopping trip. Also, conferences are my time as well—no responsibilities from home; I can catch up with friends, have lots of fun, learn from other authors, and sometimes even see the sights! And two of my good writing friends and I, who live in different states, are planning a weekend retreat just to get away. It’s coordinating all our schedules that’s hard!
WOW: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your career path?
Allison: No. I don’t believe in looking back with regrets. It can drive you crazy. Even the bad stuff happens for a reason—maybe just to make us stronger women, or prove that we can survive the tough times.
“We are our own worst enemy when it comes to fulfilling our own personal needs.”
WOW: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to WOW! readers?
Allison: As Stephen King said, writers write. I believe that as women, we tend to put everyone’s needs before our own. And sometimes, that’s the right thing to do—our children need us, they depend on us. But, at the same time, we often seek out more responsibilities and obligations and commit to serving everyone but ourselves. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to fulfilling our own personal needs.
For me, it was writing. I love writing. Before I sold, I knew it would be a small battle to convince my husband that he didn’t need me to watch television with, especially since he fell asleep before the show was over. But, in the end, I had to take the step away from the living room and sit at the computer, knowing that if he couldn’t support me in something that I cared deeply about, there was something fundamentally wrong in our relationship. Fortunately, even though there were a few whines and complaints, he understood that writing was important to me.
There are many spouses, children, friends, and parents who don’t understand and will engage in passive-aggressive behavior that undermines our dreams. They may not even do it intentionally. But worse, we allow it, because deep down we don’t think that we’re worthy.
But, the truth is, kids need chores (I tell my kids it’ll make them better people.) and husbands need to allow us to be happy on our own, or we’ll never truly be happy married for fifty years. Parents need to respect our dreams, and friends need to put their jealousy aside—but ultimately, it’s fear that drives all the negativity. Fear of change—that you will change if you do something for you. Recognize that and deal with the root cause of the negativity, but don’t stop dreaming or doing what you love because you think that your happiness is not as important as everyone else’s.
When I quit my job in the legislature, we were broke. I had an advance, but I had to strictly budget it and we lived frugally. Very frugally. I had a great fear that if my books failed, I’d be crawling back to my old boss begging for my job back. Yet, I was doing what I loved: writing. And they paid me for it. It was my dream come true, warts and all. A month later, my oldest daughter came to me and said, “Mom, I’ve never seen you so happy.”
WOW: Your story is so inspiring, Allison. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
More information about Allison’s story and her books is available on her website, http://www.allisonbrennan.com, where you may also subscribe to her online newsletter and read her blog.
Check out this fun trailer from Allison’s book, Playing Dead.
Suzanne Pitner is a contributing writer at http://www.Suite101.com and has been published in many webzines, Cat Fancy Magazine, and a local newspaper, The Dixon Tribune. She writes adult fiction under the name Suzanne Lilly, children's fiction under the name of SariAnne Miller, and maintains a blog at http://www.teacherwriter.net.