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Q&A: Allison Brennan

A chat with thriller author Allison Brennan obliterates writers’ excuses about not having time to exercise their craft. The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 40 novels, as well as 15 novellas, and 11 short stories, is also a wife and the mother of five children. The former consultant to the California State Legislature, writes three novels a year, and has garnered many awards including: the Daphne du Maurier for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, International Thriller Writers Award, Romance Writers of America, and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She writes numerous series and trilogies, including her popular series featuring FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid. This fall, she launches a new series with the debut of Third to Die. Brennan, like her character Lucy Kincaid, takes on challenges with great tenacity.

Currents: No Way Out, a new Lucy Kincaid novella was published June 2, in which Lucy’s husband disappears before his brother’s wedding. You’ve published four novellas in the series, as well as novellas in other series. How do these come about? Do you start them as novels or intend them as shorter stories?

Allison: I always know when I’m writing a novella or full novel. For my traditionally published series, my publisher will ask for a novella at different points in the series, usually because they are a good way to bring in new readers. As such, I always make sure my novellas can stand alone. I don’t want long-time readers who don’t read digital books to feel like they’re missing out on something. At the same time, I have a lot of fun coming up with the stories. My novellas tend to be pretty-meaty—30,000-40,000 words—but they differ from novels, because I try to focus on one linear plot that takes place in a short period of time. No Way Out takes place over 12 hours, for example. Any subplot is going to be much smaller than the subplots in my full-length novels. Sometimes I have an idea that I know wouldn’t fill 100,000-plus words, so I reserve it for a novella.

Currents: In your 2017 novel, Shattered, you melded your Lucy Kincaid and Max Revere series for the first time. In Cut and Run, which came out this March, you rejoined the characters. What led you to unite the series the first time, and now?

Allison: For Shattered Max was investigating the cold case murder of Lucy’s nephew, Justin Stanton. I didn’t plan it initially, but when I thought of the idea of Max investigating the suspicious death of a child taken from his bedroom, I remembered that Justin had been kidnapped from his bedroom and his crime was unsolved. It was a lightbulb moment for me! Because Max investigates cold cases, I thought it would be interesting to bring these two characters together to solve Justin’s murder, along with the murder that Max initially started investigating. They are both strong, independent women who are very different. They look at cases through a different lens, so-to-speak. As I wrote the book, I knew I wanted to write them together again, I was just waiting for the right story idea. In Cut and Run, I loved the concept of Lucy investigating a cold case, and Max coming to town to investigate a current murder, that end up connected.

Currents: Will there be more joining of these series? If so, any idea yet what we can expect?

Allison: I don’t know right now. I don’t have anything planned. I need to have the right idea and be excited about writing the story.

Currents: You debuted a new series in February with Third to Die. In this novel, the discovery of the body of a young nurse–and suspicion of a compulsive serial killer­–brings together an LAPD detective and the head of the FBI’s new Mobile Response Team. Please tell us about this new series and this duo.

Allison: Years ago, I had the idea of an FBI mobile response team modeled in part after the FBI’s real-life evidence response team merged with their critical response team. It took a few years to stew, but when it all came together, I decided to focus on crimes in rural and underserved communities that the local authorities might not be able to handle themselves. Originally, LAPD Detective Kara Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a series regular, but I liked her from the minute I started writing about her, so it was a no-brainer to find a way to incorporate her into the series. She’s complex, smart, dedicated, and unpredictable. FBI Agent Matt Costa is a terrific team leader—he knows when to take charge and when to delegate. He’s sharp and knows how to get the most out of his team and the people around him. Even though Matt and Kara are distinctly different in how they approach a case, they are both workaholics. But the fun part about this series is the ensemble cast—I’ve always liked shows like Bones and Criminal Minds and Blue Bloods because they have a strong cast of characters, more than the one or two that most crime fiction centers around. I kept that in mind as I developed the series. Book two, Tell No Lies, will be out next March, and Michael Harris—former Navy SEAL—has a much larger role.

Currents: Lucy is back with a new case in Cold as Ice, which debuts this November. You’ve raised the stakes considerably for the FBI agent with this installment. After a psychopath Lucy put in juvenile detention is released with a clean slate and the future ahead of her, Elise Hansen Hunt decides her future will be making Lucy’s life a living hell. With so many novels and novellas, 23, in this series, how do you keep it fresh and keep yourself challenged by your protagonist?

Allison: I like my characters, so they’re easy to write about. I think the important thing is to make sure that you’re challenging them professionally and personally, without constantly keeping them in a state of turmoil. I think that J.D. Robb’s In Death series is one of the best at balancing that directive. The stories should be compelling and interesting, and the characters should grow, but not so fast that if people jump from book one to book ten, they have no idea who they’re reading about. I also think that a long-running series should have a strong cast of secondary characters. Because both Lucy and her husband Sean Rogan come from large families, building on those relationships benefited the series.

Currents: You’re the author of 40 novels and 15 novellas, as well as bonus stories and contributions to 11 anthologies. That kind of accomplishment, in addition to being a wife and raising a family, takes some serious time management. What advice can you give beginning authors about how you’ve learned this important life and career skill?

Allison: Believe it or not, I’m the worlds worst procrastinator. I am very deadline driven, because having a deadline helps me focus. I think this question actually has two answers. First, before I sold a book: I worked full-time and had three kids when I started seriously writing. I gave up television and wrote every night after the kids went to bed–from 9:00 to midnight, seven days a week. It wasn’t easy. My husband was generally supportive, but sometimes he felt neglected because I didn’t want to watch television or go out. (Sometimes, I would watch TV with him until he fell asleep, then went to my computer to write!) We also made a point to go on a “date night” at least once a month, without the kids. I wrote five manuscripts in two years and sold the fifth one. So, I would suggest to aspiring writers: you have to make the time to write. There are no excuses. Look at how you spend your time. If you can’t write after work or after the kids go to bed, make a point of going to Starbucks every Saturday afternoon and write six hours straight. Or write one hour in the morning before anyone gets up.

Now that I’m published and write full time–no “day” job–I treat my writing as a job. Just because I love it doesn’t mean it’s not work. I start writing when my kids go to school and other than a lunch break and business break (responding to email, social media, etc.) I’m working at least until my kids get home. Often later. If we have something to do (my daughter plays softball, so there’s often games!) then I’ll write in the evenings. I often write on the weekends as well, though it’s not really scheduled. Meaning, if we don’t have a family thing we’re doing, or a softball game or going to the movies, I’ll sit down and write for a few hours. The key point is that writing is work, no matter how much you love it. You have to treat it as work.

Currents: I’m almost embarrassed to ask, but what are you writing now?

Allison: Last month I turned in revisions for Tell No Lies, so should be seeing copyedits on that book in a month or so. I’m awaiting revisions for Cold as Ice from my editor. I just finished writing a Lucy novella (currently untitled) that’ll be out in January, and I’ve been working on and off on a stand-alone psychological thriller (between each of the aforementioned projects!) Plus, I’ve started the next Quinn & Costa Thriller that will be out in 2022–it’s not due to my editor until the end of the year, so I’m mostly researching the area where it’s set (the San Juan Islands) but I wrote the opening, and I’m excited to dive back into it. I don’t generally work on two books at once. When I get revisions for Ice, I’ll put the others aside until I finish that, then go back to writing the next Quinn & Costa book.

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