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ALLISON BRENNAN

 

February 2006

WG:  Welcome Allison.  Congratulations on the success of your debut book, The Prey.  To get started, please tell us about yourself. 

AB:   Where to start? Might as well start at the beginning . . . I was born in San Carlos, California (on the San Francisco Peninsula) and raised by a single mom who showed me the world in books. She read every night, so I read every night. I fell in love with books, and my tastes are similar to my mothers--we both love mysteries and suspense. But I tend to move a little toward the dark side in my tastes. I dropped out of the University of California at Santa Cruz after two years in order to run a political campaign. At one time, I thought I could change the world. But I was nineteen. Still, I pursued a career in government and ended up working for the California State Legislature for thirteen years. During that time, I met and married my husband and we had five children. The oldest was born in 1994, and the youngest in 2004. We have a dog and a cat and a house that's too small for seven people and two pets, but we get by.

Last year, I quit my "day job" in the Legislature and committed myself to my writing career. It was a leap of faith. I am fortunately that I have a husband with a steady income and full benefits, but still, we can't survive on his income alone. Having the opportunity to live my dream--as a full-time writer and full-time mother--was too good to pass up. I knew then that if my books didn't do well, I would be crawling back to my former employer. Or we'd sell the house so I could stay home. Neither idea sounded good, but I also wanted time with my kids and time to hone my craft. I could only do that if I quit my day job. So we've been VERY frugal with my advance!

WG:  Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication:

Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer?  Explain.

AB:   Event: Birth
Individual: My mom
Group: Romance Writers of America
Okay, this is going to sound trite. But I believe that most writers develop a desire to write at a very young age. Why? Because of genes? Environment? Reading? I don't know. But I do know that ever since I could remember, I've wanted to write stories. But my catalyst was a birth of a different sort: my son. My third child was born in 2001. There's a five year break between my first two and my son. I'd also turned thirty in 1999 and was evaluating my life: had I achieved what I wanted to achieve? Was I doing what I wanted to do? Did I like my career? Was I happy? All these things were happening at about the same time, but I realized that what truly made me happiest was when I was fiddling around with my stories. Mind you, I never finished anything, but I constantly wrote different scenes, created characters, thought up plot ideas. When my son was eight months old, his child care provider was sued for child abuse. It was a wake up call. I wanted to stay home with him, but we couldn't afford to lose my salary. I felt trapped. That was the impetus I needed to start writing seriously. By seriously, I mean finish what I start and get published. I thought being published meant that I could quit my day job. I'm glad I was naïve, because if I knew the truth--that it's not easy--I might not have written with such determination and vigor. My mom had the most individual influence over me because never once in my entire life did she ever doubt I could do what I set my mind on. That undying faith fueled me, and I will forever be grateful to her.

But even with my support structure an the strong motivation I had to stay home with my kids, it wasn't until I joined Romance Writers of America that I started to learn about the business of publication. I learned more about agents, editors, queries, the market, synopses, everything because I had joined an organization full of generous writers, both published and unpublished.

WG:  Tell us some more about your journey to publication, such as some of the milestones you hit along the way.

AB:   I made the personal, internal commitment to pursue my writing seriously in March of 2002. I sold in March of 2004. I had well over forty rejections on each of my first two novels; I never queried my third. My fourth I queried two agents at the same time I queried twelve on my fifth. The agent with my fifth book ended up signing me, so I pulled the other book from consideration. But still, seven of the twelve agents I submitted my book to rejected it.

I did the contest circuit in 2003 and I learned a lot--I recommend contests as a way to testing the waters, trying out new material, honing your craft. At the same time, when you reach a certain level I think contests are primarily to get in front of an editor you want--and unfortunately, sometimes that's hard even if you have a good entry.  I didn't sell through a contest, but it was overall a very valuable experience in helping me become a better writer and to discern good advice from bad.

WG:  How many books did you complete before you sold your first?  Have all/any of them sold since?

AB:   I sold my fifth completed manuscript. Some day, #4 might be resurrected and revised, but it's in another genre. The first three I chalk up to learning.

WG:  What changed most about your life as a direct result of joining the ranks of published authors?

AB:   I honestly don't know. Personally, it was changing careers that affected my life the most. I'm a stay-at-home-mom--and I'm more tired now than when I worked full-time out of the house!

WG:  I’d like to ask a few questions about your writing process:

Do you maintain a set schedule?  Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

AB:   I have five kids. I don't have any typical days, LOL.

When I was still working outside the house, I wrote in the evenings after the kids went to bed. I still do the bulk of my writing at night. So I suppose that is a schedule of some sort. I'm hoping to change it, however--my mom is going to come over and baby sit a couple mornings a week so I can try to write while the sun is up.

WG:  Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start a new work or do you just dive in?

AB:   I pretty much dive in. I do a little thinking beforehand, and I generally know at least one of the characters well before I start, but everything else comes out as I write it.

WG:  Do you normally start with storyline or with character? or with some combination of the two?

AB:  I believe that "story is character" so I have to know at least one of the characters to start. Usually I have a premise of some sort. In The Prey, my heroine came to me almost fully formed. I could see her, hear her, think like her. I knew the premise--she was a writer and someone was using her books as guidelines for murder. But it wasn't until I was done with chapter one that I knew she had been an FBI agent before she was a writer; yet, I didn't know why she'd left until I was well into the book. I did know some of her backstory, but not all of it.

Anyway, I think storyline and character are inseparable.

WG:  Has anything about the way you work changed since you became a published author?

AB:   I'm more worried that what I'm writing is crap. I used to be able to write and write and not stress over the quality. Now, I tend to edit as I go because I feel that being a "published" author means I should have a better manuscript when I hit the end. I'm working on overcoming this problem. I wrote my first two books trusting my instincts, I need to trust my instincts again.

WG:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your process?

AB:   Essentially, when I'm "in the zone," I become the character. Whatever POV I'm in, I can see, think, taste, feel, hear what they do. I'm there, in the story, reacting. It's those scenes that tend to have the most emotional impact when I'm done. There might be a lot of typos or grammatical problems in the first draft, but the heart is there.

WG:  Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

AB:   Read. Write. Research. There's no easy path to publication. It might seem easy for someone, but they worked hard for it. You just might not see that struggle on the surface. Virtually every writer I know is also an avid reader. Virtually every writer I know had the drive to write from an early age. Discovering your voice is harder than people think. It took me time to discover mine. Once you find it, you'll know it. It'll feel real, and natural, and it won't seem like such a struggle anymore--even thought writing the book might be difficult.

But once you find your true voice, you'll be halfway there. Then it's just a matter of honing your craft, learning about the market, and persevering.

WG:   What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer?  What do you struggle the most with?

AB:   Rewarding: doing what I love. Getting into the minds of fictional characters and making them real. If I can convince a reader that my characters could walk off the page, I've done my job and that is satisfying.

Struggling: Right now, at this point in my early career, I'm having a harder time trusting my instincts. I know they led me down the right path before, but I feel that I should somehow know more now than I did before I was published, that I should be able to map out my path, articulate my plans. But I can't. And I'm doubting myself. Those doubt demons can be powerful.

WG:  I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc.  Do you have a personal favorite you’d like to share?

AB:    I love quotes, too. Some of my favorites:

”Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” --Vince Lombardi

This reminds me to reach for the stars, that I can become a better storyteller--or better at anything I do--if I try hard enough.

”If I hadn't kept writing, all I'd have would be the same blank page." --Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts motivates me to keep my butt in the chair and write, even when I'm tired, depressed, or scared. Because if I don't write something there's nothing to work with.

”Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” --Stephen King

WG:  Please tell us about your current project.

AB:  The Prey is available now, and The Hunt will be available January 31, and The Kill on February 28, 2006. I have excerpts and blurbs on my website. All three are romantic suspense, heavy on the suspense (but with a happily ever after.) They are loosely connected--the three heroines all went to the FBI Academy ten years ago and became friends. Each book follows them at a pivotal point in their life. Ironically, none of the three are FBI agents! Rowan quit after six years; Miranda never graduated; and Olivia became a scientist in the FBI Laboratory in Virginia after a year in the field. I never intended to write FBI stories, but these sort of came out that way. Inspiration hits at the oddest times. I've never lacked ideas, and sometimes they come at me at the worst time--which is usually when I'm in the middle of another book. I had thirteen completely different ideas that formed while I was working on this trilogy. Most of the time, I mull them over, but sometimes I'll jot down a sentence or two so I don't lose the thought. Sometimes it's a character that intrigues me; other times it's a premise. Sometimes I read an article and it fits with an article I read weeks before and all of the sudden I can picture a scene. This is one of the reasons it took me years of "playing" before I could focus on being a professional writer. I would dump whatever I was writing for the new idea. Now, I can't do that, but I still get the ideas and I don't want to tell them to stop because my worst fear is that someday they WILL stop. Often, I take several seemingly disparate ideas, put them together, and I find myself with a compelling story or intriguing character. This happened with all three of my books, and it appears to be working on the same way with my option book. I had a separate "character" idea and a plot point (i.e. type of murder) and an issue (safety on-line) and they were originally three "book" ideas. But they fit together so well that they became a cohesive storyline.

I never know what pieces fit, so my mind is constantly churning over different ideas until I see the big picture.

WG:  Any other books in the works?

AB:   I just turned in my option proposal, so I'd rather not say anything about it until negotiations are over and they accept it. I am planning another trilogy in a similar tone as the first.

WG:  Thanks for all the wonderful responses.  Before we close, please tell us how your fans can get in touch with you.

AB:  Through my website, www.allisonbrennan.com.   I answer all my email.

 

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