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A prim bookseller and her hardboiled ghost team up to catch a cunning killer in

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Welcome to Bushwhack, New Mexico: home to tourists, the great outdoors, and murder

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Friendship. Second chances. Lots of dogs!

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A secret no one dared whisper...

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In service to His Majesty, one must be prepared for Hell.

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Books to enjoy in May! Let your reading blosson!

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Jen's Jewels
Get the lowdown on your favorite authors with Jennifer Vido.

Interveiw with Allison Brennan

I’ve always thought that the most fascinating job would be working for the F.B.I. Think about it. You would be able to visit exotic places under the guise of being just a normal Joe (or Josephine). And, of course the best part would be packing heat under your exquisite designer gown just like Sandra Bullock does in the movies. Imagine my surprise when moving to Maryland I happened to meet someone who has done just that! Sorry, I can’t divulge her identity or else she’d have to kill me!

So naturally, when the chance to read about my "favorite job" came across my desk, I was tickled pink. I am so pleased to be bringing to you this month’s sparkling gem, Allison Brennan. Best known for her New York Times Bestselling romantic suspense novels, Allison incorporates her myriad of professional experience into what I would call a page-turning jewel. Expertly written based upon authentic research coupled with passion and drama, Allison has conjured up one of the best action-packed novels on the market today...PLAYING DEAD. From start to finish, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat.

As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has graciously donated five copies of PLAYING DEAD for you, my readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. Go ahead and grab something warm to drink and get to know the sensational Allison Brennan.

Jen: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background that helped pave the way for your career as a writer.

Allison: You start with the hard questions! To be honest, I don’t think either my education or former career had much to do with the actual storytelling. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve always written stories. If anyone had anything to do with my love of reading, that would be my mom.

However, I’d say that the variety of jobs I had before working in the Legislature, and then working in a business that deals with very complex and sometimes difficult people helped give me a depth of understanding human beings, human nature, and human interaction. I think that most writers are people watchers and it gives us insights that show up in our writing—whether we intend for them to or not!

Jen: What was the driving force that led to your decision to leave behind a thirteen-year career in the California State Legislature to pursue your dream of becoming an author? What has been the most rewarding part of this journey to date?

Allison: A signed contract? Seriously, I wrote five books while working full-time and raising five kids. I didn’t quit until I had my first signed contract in hand—then I took a huge leap of faith that I would be able to sustain a writing career to make up for the lost income. That’s the practical decision. The primary reason was because I have always wanted to be a writer—since I was barely old enough to write my name. But I doubted myself for years and never took my writing seriously. I played around. It was a hobby, something I did for fun, and nothing I tried to get published. The decision to get serious was after my third child was born. A lot of things happened that year. I turned 30. I had become disillusioned in my job. I wanted to stay home with the new baby, but we couldn’t afford to lose my salary. I looked at where I was and what I wanted to do and realized that I hadn’t truly pursued my writing dream. I started reading some of the beginnings of stories and finally told myself I would finish something and start submitting. Five books and two years later, I sold.

Jen: With your extensive political science background, one might assume that your forte would be political thrillers, yet you write romantic suspense. What makes this particular genre so appealing to you? Are you a true romantic at heart?

Allison: I love romantic suspense because it’s the best of both worlds— scary, page-turning suspense coupled with the hope that two deserving people will find each other, overcome evil, and live happily ever after. In the real world, justice and love don’t always win: in my fictional world, they do.

To be honest, I’m not really that romantic, much to my husband’s chagrin. I think that shows in my writing—my characters don’t give presents or say sweet nothings, but they are there for their partner when it counts. To me, trustworthiness, honor and dependability are required for a life-long marriage to work. All the other things are icing.

Jen: I often equate a career in publishing to that of a high-wire balancing act. Trying to find your equilibrium while incorporating each necessary aspect of the process can be quite a feat. What has been the most difficult component in relation to the overall process? How do you manage to write, edit, and promote your work with five children and a husband under the same roof?

Allison: Crisis control. That’s my life.

I can juggle family and writing fairly well. It’s a matter of keeping my writing time (while the kids are at school) sacred and making sure the afternoons and evenings I focus on the family. When I’m on deadline, I also write at night—usually when the kids go to bed, but sometimes I have to leave the bedtime duties to my oldest daughter or husband (I pay my daughter) and go to Starbucks.

The most difficult thing is when something else that must be dealt with comes up. A sick child is not a problem, because I know that it’s a day or two and I’ll be back to my schedule. It’s when something urgent and time-consuming intrudes. Most recently it was buying a new house. With the poor housing market, the mortgage failures, and moving a house of seven people . . . it was about four months that really impinged on my writing time and stressed me out. I’m not moving again. At least for 14 years when my youngest graduates from high school . . .

Jen: Research on any level brings authenticity to the plot while supporting a writer’s vision to convey her central theme. Approximately how much research was required for your latest release, PLAYING DEAD? How closely have you worked with the F.B.I. in order to have your story ring true? And what has been the most fascinating revelation along the way?

Allison: When I was writing TEMPTING EVIL, I made a contact in the Sacramento FBI office. He invited me to participate in the FBI’s Citizens Academy, which I did last spring. I learned so much just listening, but I was also allowed to ask questions and I email my guy at least once a month with additional questions. He talks to the in-house expert and either gets back to me, or the expert. I got to blow up stuff and shoot guns that are illegal for private citizens to own in California. But it’s not just the FBI—I wrote about FBI agents before I ever had an “in.” I’m an avid reader of true crime, forensics, and criminal psychology—and have been since long before I became a writer.

My primary "rule" of research is to understand what’s happening and what should happen based on my research, but never give my readers a lesson. Any research should be so well integrated into the story that the reader can’t separate the story from the “research.” My second rule is that story comes first. While I won’t flat out write falsehoods, as long as it’s not a plot critical point, I’ll stretch plausibility. As long as it COULD happen even if it probably wouldn’t happen, I can go with it. Story is king :-)

I can’t really quantify my research because it’s a collection of research over time, for multiple books. I also read "research" material when I don’t really have a story idea for the subject matter. I’ve had so many fascinating revelations that I don’t know how I can pick just one. I think if I had to, it would be my tour of the morgue. Way back when, I used to want to be a forensic pathologist, but I didn’t know if I could stomach the gruesome tasks—autopsies, moving dead bodies, weighing organs, etc. Then I observed an autopsy on a murder victim and I had this disconnect—I could follow the procedure, ask questions, and left with added knowledge not only about forensic pathology, but with the knowledge that spiders creep me out a lot more than dead bodies.

Jen: Without a doubt, weaponry could very well be the third main character in your story. How much experience do you have with handguns? Have you fired each weapon that is included in your novels?

Allison: I’m a gun owner and have experience with handguns, though I haven’t used every gun I’ve written about. My favorite personal handgun is a .357, but most law enforcement have a semi-auto .45 or similar as their sidearm. I did have a lot of fun at the gun range with the FBI instructors and got to shoot a bunch of guns I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to use! However, I’m not as good as I used to be (having five kids doesn’t leave a lot of time for practice!) I won the “My Characters Shoot Better than I Do” award during my FBI "graduation."

I think the key to any weapon—whether you’re using guns, knives, poison, or hands—is to understand how the weapon will be used to kill, if the character has experience with the weapon and why, and any research should be "unseen"— meaning, you the author needs to understand everything that goes into the skill, but the knowledge should be integral to the story and "disappear" on the page so that the reader believes your character has the knowledge and skill, without having to tell the reader. For example, by the fact that a character is a cop a reader would assume they had firearms training. I don’t have to say it. But in KILLING FEAR, my heroine is a night club owner. I made a point of mentioning that she went through gun safety courses and jumped through hoops to get a CCW permit. Otherwise, the reader wouldn’t assume she knew how to use a gun.

Jen: How did you arrive at the premise for PLAYING DEAD? And, from conception to completion, about how long does it take for you to write a novel?

Allison: I came up with the prison break trilogy idea after reading a seismic report for San Quentin. Earthquake? Prison? Death Row? Great! PLAYING DEAD is the third book in the trilogy, and I knew I wanted one of my escapees to be innocent. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with him, but as I wrote KILLING FEAR and TEMPTING EVIL, I realized that the innocent fugitive was the father of the heroine, and the hero was the FBI Agent tasked with finding him. That was all I knew until I started writing the book. I had an idea that Tom O’Brien was framed, but I didn’t know why . . . and I didn’t know how he could be innocent, yet his daughter was convinced of his guilt so deeply that she testified against him. The story revealed itself chapter by chapter.

It’s very hard for me to quantify how long it takes me to write a novel. Some books take longer than others. I also think my stories to death—my kids often tell me to stop talking to myself in the car. I’d say it takes me 4-6 weeks to write the first draft and 2-4 weeks to edit. Then there’s 2 weeks for copyedits and a week for page proofs. But the book I just finished took me three weeks to write the first draft and six weeks to revise and edit.

Jen: In relation to your craft, what part of a book is the most challenging and/or nerve-wracking for you to write? The most rewarding? And, in what aspect of your writing have you experienced the most growth?

Allison: Hands down, I always get stuck at the same place in every book. It’s between pages 125-165 and it’s always the beginning of the second act. I don’t consciously write in a three act structure, but I can usually get my characters over that first threshold, and then I’m stuck. I go back and write and rewrite that beginning multiple times. Once I get unstuck, the story usually flows much easier to the end. I’ve often said that it takes me twice as long to write the first third of the book than the last two-thirds. Case in point: in PLAYING DEAD it took me 8 weeks to write the first 150 or so pages; the last 350 pages took 2 weeks.

The most rewarding for me is when I first get over than hump; the second is when I type THE END. I always feel elated and giddy when I finish a book. Even if I know it needs major clean up, I still get a huge sense of accomplishment.

I’ve grown tremendously under the tutelage of my editors. My writing is tighter and cleaner when I turn it in. I’m always happy to do revisions (and I’ve done them on every book—a story can always be made better,) but I also know that the story itself is at least laid out well, the characters real and believable, and the overall structure present. I’ve also written a novella and two short stories and those have taught me to tighten my prose. When you’re limited in the number of words you can use, you definitely learn to edit better!

Jen: Your lead character, Claire O’Brien, has many crosses to bear. As she races against the clock in hopes of clearing her father’s name, what is the biggest obstacle standing in her way? What advantages does she have that help her get the job done? What makes her so appealing to the readers?

Allison: When Claire O’Brien walked onto the page, I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. She has a chip on her shoulder—who wouldn’t? After all, her father was convicted of murdering her mother while her mother was in bed with another man. Claire’s life was turned upside down when she was fourteen, but still she went on. She has a lot of friends, but she keeps them at arms length. After a couple chapters in her head, I found myself rooting for her. She’s not perfect—and I think that’s why I like her so much. She’s smart, feisty, and brave—but she’s also vulnerable and lonely. The biggest obstacle in her way is internal—she has always believed her father was guilty. She testified against him. She saw him at the house immediately after her mother was killed. She’s the one who called him, furious that her mother was having an affair—she’d walked into the house when they were in bed, left and c called her father. So she blames herself, and she blames him. She has to retrace the steps of a missing law student who may have had proof of her father’s innocence—but first she has to learn to trust her father, and then FBI Agent Mitch Bianchi. Trust doesn’t come easy to her.

She has many advantages, including working as an insurance fraud investigator, having her P.I. license, and a concealed carry weapons permit. She’s confident in her physical and intellectual abilities and she has the skills necessary to research the truth.

I think Claire is an appealing character because she’s flawed—she is impulsive, for example. But the truth means everything to her, and when she’s wrong she’s the first to admit it. She’s also willing to confront her own personal demons and confront others if and when she believes they’re being dishonest. But mostly, I like her because she feels real to me, warts and all.

Jen: As is with any romance novel, the sexual tension between the two lead characters is what keeps the reader turning the pages. What makes Claire and Mitch so good together? Why does someone as sharp as Claire not realize that he’s lying to her? What prohibits her “sixth sense” as a private investigator from coming into play?

Allison: I love Claire and Mitch. They’re actually very similar— impulsive truth-seekers. Claire met Mitch in the neighborhood. By the way he dressed and acted, she didn’t suspect he was anything but who he said he was. She did call him on a couple of things, and Mitch told her the truth—up to a point. For example she did think he acted like a cop because he always sat with his back to the wall and tended to watch people. Mitch confessed that he’d been in the military. He had been—so he could talk truthfully about his experiences. The best lies are those based on truth, and Mitch used that to his advantage. Once they started dating, Claire was a bit blind—she wanted to trust him and at that point he hadn’t given her any reason to doubt him. Remember, Claire is lonely—she is closer to her cat and dogs than any person. Mitch is also lonely, and they connected. So when she learns the truth it’s far more devastating because the one time she did trust, it blows up in her face.

Jen: Without giving away too much of the storyline, which scene is your favorite and why?

Allison: That’s a hard question! There’s several scenes that stick out. The prologue, which sets up the back story of the villain; when Mitch and Claire first make love is very passionate; but I think the scene that sticks with me is when Claire first learns that Mitch lied to her. I totally felt her pain, and his. It’s a pivotal scene on many different levels, but the emotion in it really hit me. It was one of those scenes that, when I re-read it, I was surprised I wrote it—it didn’t need any heavy editing.

Jen: Please take us on a tour of your website. (By the way, it’s so user friendly. I love the graphics, too.) Do you have e-mail notification of upcoming releases? Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about arranging one? Do you blog?

Allison: Thank you! I love my website. I told my designer to create someone that said “professional” and “suspense.” I think he did a great job.

I have my bio, a Q&A, and recently I added a section about where I got my ideas for each of my books. I have excerpts from my books, book trailers, and I just launched a new intro page and book trailer for PLAYING DEAD.

I also have a list of my books in order, recurring characters, foreign covers and reviews. I update the site monthly. I wish I had time to update it more often, but it’s a chore because I always want to make major text changes.

I have a blog on my site, but it’s pretty stagnant. I try to keep it up-to-date with at least events and news. I blog every other Thursday at Murder She Writes and recently joined Murderati where I blog every other Sunday.

I’ve done phone chats and online chats. Just email me! My contact form is on my website, but my email is easy: Allison @

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Allison: Last month I finished SUDDEN DEATH my April 09 release. This is Jack Kincaid’s book—he’s Dillon Kincaid’s twin brother and was introduced in FEAR NO EVIL (4/07.) This book was the hardest to start but the easiest to write. It took me two months to research and think about the story and write the first hundred pages—which I deleted. I had it stuck in my head and Jack and Megan (who is a secondary character in PLAYING DEAD) had a past. But every time I put them on the page together, they didn’t know each other. It was very problematic. Once I realized that they never met, I deleted everything but the opening chapter and wrote parallel storylines until they meet up during the course of investigating the brutal murders of former Special Forces soldiers. It clicked.

The story opens with FBI Agent Megan Elliott investigating the brutal murder of a homeless veteran. The FBI was called because the M.O. matches two other murders in different states—the victims were single males over forty, hamstrung, tortured, then shot in the back of the head execution style. But when the military police seize Megan’s evidence because the victim was AWOL and wanted for attempted murder of his commanding officer, Megan joins forces with Hans Vigo—a character who has been in many of my books—to investigate the other crime scenes, talk to witnesses, and figure out the connection between the victims. Jack Kincaid, a mercenary, loses one of his closest friends to the Hamstring Killer, and he’ll do anything and everything to avenge his friend’s death.

Now, I’m working on the second book of my 2009 FBI Trilogy. FATAL SECRETS (6/09) has ICE Agent Sonia Knight, a naturalized citizen who had been sold in Central America after her father, a missionary, was murdered. She was rescued when she was smuggled into America and adopted by a cop. She is obsessed with proving that uber-rich businessman Xavier Jones is the ringleader of a human trafficking/prostitution ring, but every time she gets close, Jones stymies the investigation. FBI Agent Dean Hooper, the head of the white collar crimes unit in Sacramento, has been investigating Jones for money laundering and tax evasion. The two investigations collide in a big way, and Dean and Sonia are forced to work together.

Jen: Looking back, what has surprised you most about the publishing business? And, knowing what you do now, would you have done anything differently in respect to your career?

Allison: My biggest surprise was that it doesn’t get easier. I thought that once I’d written a half dozen books that each story would come much easier, smoother, and I wouldn’t struggle! Surprise, surprise . . . while my stories are cleaner and tighter, it’s not easier and, in fact, each story is harder than the last because I’m constantly trying to do better. I don’t know if I would have done anything differently . . . I don’t like looking behind me. It’s like the choice I had when I graduated from high school—which college to attend. I’d been accepted at two of the three I applied at. I ended up going to UC Santa Cruz, and dropped out two years later to take a job in the Capitol. I could wonder if I’d have graduated if I went to the University of Redlands . . . but then what other changes would have happened, good and bad? Would I have met my husband and had my kids? Would I have started writing? I don’t know. I don’t like to play the wonder-if-I’d-done-that games. If I make a mistake, I try to learn from it and move on.

Jen: Once again, I have taken a step out of my comfort zone and have hit the jackpot. I truly enjoyed your novel and look forward to reading your next release. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with my readers. It’s been such a pleasure having you here. Best of luck in the future!

Allison: I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Jen, and thank you so much for having me here! Great, thought-provoking questions that made me think.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Allison. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library and pick up a copy of PLAYING DEAD today.

Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Answer the following trivia contest and be one of five lucky winners.

Name the title of Allison’s April 2009 release.

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Katherine Neville, author on the International Bestseller EIGHT. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…Jen

When a twist of fate landed Jennifer at the "Reading with Ripa" roundtable discussion with Kelly Ripa and Meg Cabot, she knew that her career as a French teacher would essentially be over. Instead, she figured out a clever way to combine her love for reading and writing and "voilà" She became a book reviewer and columnist with On the sidelines, her parents secretly hoped that her French degree from Vanderbilt would one day come in handy and Jennifer is happy to report that the phrases ‘Je ne sais pas' and ‘C'est incroyable!' have been quite useful when reviewing certain selections! As is typical in her whirlwind life, one thing led to another and soon she found herself facilitating a popular moms' book club and writing a column she cleverly named Jen's Jewels. (Jewelry is one of her many addictions, as is the color pink and Lilly Pulitzer, which when you think about it, would probably make for a good story! Hint! Hint! ) To keep herself away from her favorite retailer, Ann Taylor, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Harford County Public Library in Maryland. As a national trainer for The Arthritis Foundation's Aquatic and Land Exercise Classes, she is an advocate for those like herself who suffer from arthritis, the nation's #1 cause of disability. When asked how she manages to do all of these things and actually get some sleep at night, she simply replied, "It's just Par for the Course." Hmm! Now where have we heard that before?




1 comment posted.

Re: Interveiw with Allison Brennan

Allison and Jennifer, thanks for such an interesting interview! I am already a fan of Allison's books, but if not, I would have picked one after reading the interview.
(Julia Blanco 3:34pm October 23, 2008)

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