Allison Brennan on Writing & The Lucy Kincaid series

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Allison Brennan discusses writing and her new books in the Lucy Kincaid series, STORM WARNING and NOTHING TO HIDE.

 

 

How do you determine if your idea is viable enough for a complete novel?

Because I don’t plot, every book idea evolves as I’m writing. Usually, I have a spark of an idea — a premise, a set-up, a character conflict — something that interests me. If the idea isn’t working, I tweak it as I write. Sometimes, a story just flows and the idea was better than I thought. Other times, the initial idea isn’t strong enough to carry a novel — I’ve actually written a couple short stories/novellas on ideas that were good but not “big” enough for 100,000 words. But after three dozen books, I usually know based on the initial story concept whether the idea is viable.

 

 

 

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Do you approach writing every book the same or does it vary?

Yes. I start with an idea and a character and go from there. I don’t plot. I start at the beginning and write (mostly) linearly. At about the end of the first act (roughly page 100-150) I almost always get stuck and go back to the beginning. I add/cut/edit extensively. Then I finish the book. The first 150 pages usually takes me twice as long to write as the last 300 pages. And, ironically, it’s usually the first act that has more editorial notes than the last act. Go figure! But I can’t seem to do it any other way.

 

 

What are the bare essentials of your writing process? 

A computer and caffeine. LOL. Seriously, I write every day. I start in the morning and write until the kids come home from school—and often later. I wish I could say I write XXX number of words a day then shut it off, but no. I write anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 a day. Some days—especially in the last act as I’m nearing the end of the book and am really excited about what’s happening, I can write up to 10,000 words in a day. It’s rare, and they need a lot of editing! (For example, once I wrote an entire chapter with no dialogue tags because I was typing so fast!) 

 

 

 

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How would you say your writing process has changed over the years?

Mostly, no. But I have noticed one fundamental change. My first five or six books I wrote from beginning to end, a “sloppy copy” and when back to edit. I wrote fast, a lot of it was a mess, but I had the confidence that I could clean it up in edits. Now, I can’t seem to do that. I edit as I go. About book seven, I realized that if I think I’m writing something that isn’t working, I can’t continue. I have to go back and fix it. This isn’t about the word choices or grammar, it’s about story. If the story isn’t working quite right, I can’t continue without fixing it. The good news is that my first draft is usually really clean and tight. The bad news is that it takes me a lot longer to write that first draft. Now, and for about the last 10-15 books, at the beginning of the writing day, I re-read the last scene or chapter I wrote to get me back into the story (editing as necessary) then write the next scene or chapter. 

 

How do you break down your story into scenes?

Instinct. 

 

 

 

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Did you enjoy writing the next Lucy Kincaid books, Storm Warning and Nothing to Hide?

I always love writing. I’m doing what I love. Even when I’m struggling with a story or a scene, I love it. Storm Warning was particularly fun because I knew it was going to be a novella and I could focus on one linear story. The benefit is that I don’t worry about sub-plots, and the story itself tends to be more fast-paced. This has been true for all the novellas I’ve written, so they’re a lot of fun to write. Nothing to Hide started with a solid premise — I wanted to call the book Two Lies and a Truth because each of the widows lied to Lucy about something and Sean’s son Jesse lied to him about something. The book is really about the lies we tell to protect others, and the lies we tell to protect ourselves. 

Anyway, by the end of the book I loved the way it turned out, though I’ll admit at the beginning of the third act I had no idea how I was going to catch the killer (though by that point I knew who it was. And no, I didn’t know when I first started writing who was guilty!)

 

 

 

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How are these two stories related to one another?

They really aren’t, other than sharing the main characters. In fact, Storm Warning more directly relates to the upcoming Lucy Kincaid book Cut and Run. The novella was set against the backdrop of a storm and flooding outside San Antonio. In the beginning of Cut and Run which takes place two months later, Lucy’s team identifies four bodies that had been uncovered in a mass grave after the flood waters passed. Nothing to Hide takes place between those two stories.

 

 

 

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How does Lucy’s background in psychology help her solve cases?

Criminal psychology has always fascinated me, and I’ve read a lot of books about the subject, as well as true crime. Psychology is a tool that can be learned, but mostly it’s a tool that many cops use based solely on experience. So to me, Lucy has the best of both worlds—she’s been trained in criminal psychology, and she has a lot of experience both before and after she became an FBI agent. Now that she has nearly two years under her belt as an agent, she has more confidence in her abilities, but she still calls in those who have more experience to help—as any good investigator will do. 

 

 

 

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What dilemma is she facing trying to solve the crimes in Nothing to Hide?

The biggest problem with this case is that there is no apparent motive. The victims are very loosely connected (all married men under forty, all driving home alone at night, all killed by the side of the road when they exited their vehicle for no known reason.) But the men didn’t know each other; no one in their circles knew each other. They were of different races and socio-economic status. They had different family structures. The attack itself was quick but not painless, and as Lucy and her partner quickly learn, each injury was specific. The lack of motive for these crimes is what is keeping Lucy from solving it quickly—plus, there is little forensic evidence. If the crimes are truly random, Lucy recognizes that they won’t be able to solve the murders until the killer slips up and there’s a witness or physical evidence left behind. And so far, nothing. 

As an aside, I wrote the killer so smart that even I had a hard time figuring out how to solve the crimes! I went back to a statement made by retired cop Lee Lofland in one of his blogs: every contact leaves a trace. That means that the killer had to have left something behind, even if they don’t know what it is. So they go back and look more carefully at each crime scene. And while the evidence they do find doesn’t give them enough to find the killer, it does give them a direction to pursue.

 

 

 

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan believes that life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year.

Allison has penned more than two dozen thrillers and many short stories. RT Book Reviews calls Allison “a master of suspense” and her books “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” “pulse-pounding” and “emotionally complex.” RT also said that “The Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan books are getting better and better!”

COLD SNAP, was a finalist for Best Thriller in the Thriller Awards (ITW) and FEAR NO EVIL (2007) and COMPULSION (2015) won the Daphne du Maurier award. Allison has been nominated multiple times for RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense award, and the Kiss of Death’s Daphne award.

Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five children, and assorted pets. Her current release is STORM WARNING: A Lucy Kincaid Novella, and NOTHING TO HIDE Lucy Kincaid #14 Available now.

 

www.allisonbrennan.com

 

 

 

 

How Honey Became a Character by LC Hayden

 

 

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How Honey Became a Character

By L.C. Hayden

 

 

In order to understand how Honey, the dog, came to be a character in my latest thriller When Memory Fails, one must first know a bit about the story’s basic plot.

Sandy Sechrest, her boyfriend Daniel, and retired Detective Harry Bronson head for Sechrest Falls, a ghost town in Colorado, which houses an alluring ledger that the three seek. The sole resident in this ghost town is a character simply known as The Hermit.

In order for this story to work, I knew that the Hermit needed to be a strong character, one that the readers would identify with. However, when I read the first draft of When Memory Fails, the Hermit was definitely not memorable. The story needed something that would give the Hermit a boost.  I considered adding another character. I quickly eliminated that idea as it would only detract from the story.

What then? I thought and thought. Then it hit me.

The Hermit would have a dog. Yes, the right type of dog would be ideal.

Once I had decided this, my next step was to create such a dog. That meant first finding the right kind of breed. I felt overwhelmed when I realized that a lot of types of breeds exist, not to mention the sub-breeds. Which one should I choose? And how could I narrow this list down?

As I’m brooding over this, my dog, a Basenji named Honey, nudged me.

I looked at her.

She nudged me again. Feed me.

“Later,” I told her. I wanted to finish my research.

She gently hit my hand with her nose. No, now.

I glared at her. She nudged me again. I sighed and stood up. “Okay, dog, you win.” I went to the kitchen and prepared her food. For any other dog, this would be the end of the task. But not for Honey. She insists on me being present when she eats. If I simply put her food down and walk away, she will follow me and not eat. She’d rather starve. Consequently, I crossed my arms and waited until she finished eating.

Once she did, I quickly headed for my computer to finish my work. Honey ran in front of me, blocking my way. I stopped and looked at her.

Aren’t you forgetting something? her eyes seemed to ask.

I gave myself a mental tap on my forehead. Oh, yeah. Her after-dinner treat: a dental chew stick we call Greenie. Thank God she is willing to eat this by herself without me being present. I gave it to her and made a mad dash for my computer.

Minutes later, she stood by me and yelped. Basenji’s don’t bark as their ancestors used to live with the Egyptian pharaohs in their castles. Therefore, the dogs were not allowed to bark. To guarantee that there would be no barking in the castle, the king ordered the dogs’ vocal chords removed. Through generations, this breed of dogs lost their ability to bark, but they are definitely not one-hundred percent quiet. They learned to yodel and make all kinds of other noises. Thus the reason Honey yelped instead of barked.

I knew what she wanted. “Let me finish this first, and then we’ll take you for your walk,” I told her.

She let out another high pitch yelp.

I ignored her.

She yelped again.

I did my darnest to ignore her.

She yelped.

I stood up. “Okay, okay, you win. I get it. You want your walk now.”

Rich, my husband, put her harness on and the three of us went for the walk. Half-an-hour later, as we headed home, I treasured the idea that Honey likes to take a nap after her walk. Good. Finally, I’ll find the time to continue editing my novel.

We reached our house, and Rich said that he was a bit tired and was also going to take a nap. Great! A picture of a quiet house danced in my head. I could finally focus on my research.

That lasted a whole five minutes.

Honey let out a loud whining, not once, but a constant sound that sent a chill running down my back. I bolted out of my chair, nearly knocking it down, and ran down the hallway and into our bedroom.

Thankfully, being hard of hearing, my husband remained sound asleep. Honey stood beside the bed by his head, looking up at him, whining.

“Honey, what’s wrong? You’re going to wake Daddy up. Hush.” I pulled her toward me.

She worked her way free and resumed her stance by Rich’s head. Once again, she whined. I grabbed her again and the entire incident repeated itself.

In spite of my efforts to keep the dog quiet, my husband woke up. He opened his eyes and looked at her. “What’s wrong, Honey? You ate, you got your treat, and your walk. What do you want?”

Honey whined.

Rich sat up on the bed.

“Honey?”

She continued to whine.

“Do you want to play? Is that it?”

Her answer came in the form of another whine.

“Okay, okay. We’ll play.” Rich got up and reached for his shoes.

Soon as he was out of bed, the dog jumped up and occupied the same spot Rich had just vacated. She curled up and went to sleep.

Rich and I stood looking at her. She wanted his spot, and she got the spot.

I shook my head. “What a dog,” I told my husband.

Rich agreed.

I went back to work on my computer.

Now, let’s see, where was I? Oh yeah, I was about to decide on what kind of a breed the dog in my story should be. I considered the qualifications I needed for my fictional dog to have.

First of all, the dog shouldn’t be too big or too small. It had to be just the right size. An image of Honey popped in my head. I nodded. Yeah, a dog about her size would be ideal.

Second, I needed basically a quiet dog, like a Basenji.

Same image popped up. Honey.

I needed a dog that had a cute personality.

Honey.

I needed a dog that had a strong personality that always found a way to communicate with the humans in the story.

Honey.

I shook off the images and began the research. I typed in on the Google bar dog breeds. I heard Honey gently snoring, happy that everything had gone according to her schedule.

Honey.

I closed the search bar. I didn’t need to do any research. I had everything I needed here at home.

And that’s how Honey became a character in my book—and will continue to be a character in future Bronson books.

Honey. What a dog.

Read Honey’s first adventure in When Memory Fails at www.tinyurl.com/LCHaydenMemory .

 

 

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What happens when you lose your memory and others are depending on you?

When Sandra Sechrest discovers the terrible secret about her family’s ancestors, she’s determined to right the wrongs. She seeks Bronson, a retired detective’s help. They along with Bronson’s nephew travel to a ghost town in Colorado to unearth the secrets buried there.

But Sandra’s family led by the evil Bobbi Lazzarone will do anything to guarantee that Sandra fails—anything, including murder.

Suddenly Sandra, Daniel, and Bronson are thrown into a world filled with deception and danger. Bronson swears to protect the young couple at all costs, but when the house he’s at explodes, Bronson is left for dead, and Daniel and Sandra are forced to fend for themselves.

When Bronson regains consciousness, he can’t remember who he is, where he’s at, and why he’s there. Will he regain his memory in time to save Daniel and Sandra? Or has he finally met his match When Memory Fails?

 

Amazon |Goodreads

 

 

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About L.C. Hayden

 

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L. C. Hayden is known for her adventures and for her travels. When her fans ask her why she does this, she answers, “Take Aimee Brent, my character in the Aimee Brent Mystery Series. She learned how to scuba dive. Do you really think I’m going to let her have more fun than me? No way! She had to learn how to scuba dive, so I learned how to scuba dive.
“Harry Bronson, my character in the Harry Bronson Thriller Series, has a motor home and travels all over. Well, guess what? I have a motor home and I travel all over.”

Hayden considers herself very lucky. She has been touched many times by miracles and angels. That led her to write her series based on hers and others’ angel and miracle experiences. “These books are very well received, both nationally and internationally.”

One of Hayden’s greatest joy is being a grandmother. “That’s the reason I wrote the children’s picture books. Don’t be surprised if the age level for my children’s books increases as my grandkids grow up.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview with Crime Writer Leigh Russell

 

 

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About Leigh Russell

After many years teaching English in secondary school, internationally bestselling author Leigh Russell now writes crime fiction full time. Published in English and in translation in Europe, her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson titles have appeared on many bestseller lists, including #1 on kindle. Leigh’s work has been nominated for several major awards, including the CWA New Blood Dagger and CWA Dagger in the Library, and her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson series are in development for television with Avalon Television Ltd. Journey to Death is the first title in her Lucy Hall series published by Thomas and Mercer.

 

 

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Your new book Suspicion, is out April 22. What do you enjoy about writing psychological thrillers?

What I enjoy most about writing, is the freedom to explore how other people might respond when they encounter difficulties and challenges. All of my books begin with a “What if” question. In the case of Suspicion, the question was: ‘What might a woman do to preserve her marriage, if she discovered her husband was having an affair?’ Writing psychological thrillers allows me to live someone else’s fictitious life for a while, and experience their story vicariously.

 

 

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How does your approach to writing differ between a psychological thriller versus a police procedural?

My police procedurals are written mainly from my detective’s point of view, but they also include chapters that take readers inside the mind of my killer and other characters. This adds tension for readers, who often know more than the police investigating the murder. My stand alone psychological thrillers are written in the first person. Although readers only know what the narrator knows, they can still deduce information for themselves. Writing in the first person focuses more closely on the character of the narrator, and his or her private thoughts and feelings, which affects the readers’ engagement with the narrative, but writing from different points of view can be more dramatic. Both types of story are fun to write, and I enjoy the challenge of switching between third person and first person narratives.

 

What motivated you to write psychological thrillers?

As a writer, I don’t believe we choose our stories. Rather, our stories find us. So when the idea for this book occurred to me one day, complete with the voice of the protagonist, all I had to do was write the story in her words – although they are my words really, because she is my creation.

 

 

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What’s a typical writing day like for you?

There is no ‘typical’ day for me. Every day is different. I wake up as late as possible, and most days my husband brings me a cup of tea in bed, by which time I’m usually already working. I write on an ipad with goes with me everywhere, so I can work anywhere. Once I am up and about, if I’m not otherwise occupied my day will be spent writing, but it is extremely rare for me to have a completely free day. Life often gets in the way of my writing, but I consider myself fortunate to have a family who place so many demands on my time. I wouldn’t change anything about my life,       except to have more hours in the day.

 

 

Tell us about the investigation that Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel is working on in Rogue Killer.

In Rogue Killer, a rough sleeper is killed in a seemingly random attack. The killer is careful to leave no clue to his identity, and the police are stumped. Then a second body is discovered. Geraldine is worried some of her colleagues might not investigate these murders as thoroughly as they should, because the victims were homeless. Meanwhile, a young girl has run away from home and witnessed a murder at night on the streets of York. Her eye witness account  could help the police to track down the killer, but she is too frightened to come forward.

 

 

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Who is the man killed in the attack?

The man killed in the first attack is a rough sleeper who is known to the local homeless shelters, but has no family who would miss him or mourn for him. Sharing news of a murder with the victim’s family is the part of her job Geraldine usually finds the hardest, but she is desperately sad about the solitude this victim endured in his life.  

 

 

Name some of your favourite books of 2019.

I haven’t read many books published in 2019 but books I have read so far this year include the weighty Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a tour de force which he wrote at the age of twenty-eight. Unusually, most of my reading this year has been non-fiction as I am writing a trilogy set in Renaissance Italy. Historical fiction is a completely new departure for me and it has required a lot of research into a fascinating period in history.

In terms of books actually published in 2019, I’m looking forward to reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood which is published in September, as I enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale .

 

 

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