Allison Brennan on Writing & The Lucy Kincaid series

Allison Brennan image

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Viability Word Thermometer Potetential Success Business Measurem

 

 

 

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!) 

 

 

 

The effects of caffeine on the brain image from coffee beans

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Black luminous computer keyboard and edit key. Conceptual 3D rendering

 

 

 

 

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!)

 

 

 

Nothing to Hide image

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Storm Warning image

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Successful Investigation, File closed and Case Solved

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Motivating Factor By Daniella Bernett

Criminal Motive concept

 

 

The Motivating Factor

By Daniella Bernett

 

What is crime?

It begins as a kernel of an idea that metamorphoses itself into a series of thoughts that lead to a transgression against the law and, sometimes, the taking of a human life. It upsets the balance in a safe and ordered world. But this turmoil and chaos are precisely what an author craves and desperately needs when guiding the reader down the dark twists and turns—and dare I say dead ends?—of a mystery or thriller. But before an author can permit his or her imagination to completely unravel the tale one tantalizing layer at a time, there must be a reason, a motive. Without a motive, there would be no story because there would be no crime.

Motive is just as critical as character. A reader must suspend belief for a time and think, “This could happen.” “This person could be real.” For a story to have an air of authenticity, it is essential that an author thoroughly understand the criminal’s, and the sleuth’s, mindset before sitting down to write.

 

 

 

Criminal Mind sign blue sky image.jpeg

 

 

 

In life, each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with whom we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given or let slip through our fingers. It is this confluence of factors, combined with our inherent nature and temperament, which make us unique. So too must it be in a mystery. One character’s motives are different from another’s because of his or her reactions to a particular situation, whether it be a perceived slight, a kind gesture or downright duplicity.

Among the juicy plethora of motives for murder tucked in an author’s arsenal are love (both romantic and unrequited); jealousy; greed; revenge; blackmail; and insanity. I must admit I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting the killer could not help himself or herself. I believe it is much more fun coming up with a complex motive, or even better a melding of motives, and then leading the reader on a merry chase for the clues. It’s wicked, but quite necessary, to coax the dear reader down a few blind alleys. A red herring or two simply adds a smidgen of spice to the story and keeps it hurtling forward to a dramatic (and one hopes satisfying) denouement. On the same token, a sleuth’s motive is to seek justice—whether for the victim or society as a whole—to ensure that someone pays for the crime.

 

 

 

Stop Crime

 

 

 

My series features journalist Emmeline Kirby as the sleuth. The core fabric of her being is finding the truth and seeing that justice is served. For her, it is anathema to allow a murderer or any other criminal to go free. Although noble and admirable, these motives at times have so consumed her that it has made her heedless of danger and plunged her into some harrowing predicaments. This impetuous streak is aided and abetted by Emmeline’s short temper. I mention this to highlight the human foibles to which all characters must succumb to make the story plausible. If readers can recognize and immediately relate to a character’s motives, the author has succeeded in making a connection.

My other protagonist is Gregory Longdon, a dashing jewel thief who is a gentleman at heart. Where to begin with Gregory? Is he a criminal or a sleuth? Well, the answer is a bit of both. His past is steeped in so many secrets and he’s trying to keep them from seeing the light of day. As opposed to Emmeline, he is not above stretching the truth upon occasion. Meanwhile wielding a rapier wit and charm, he takes tremendous pleasure in needling long-suffering Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard. Poor Burnell knows, without any doubt whatsoever, that Gregory has been responsible for a string of notorious jewel robberies in the U.K. and across Europe, but he has never been able to catch him red-handed. Burnell will never give up, though. His mission in life is to make sure that Gregory winds up as a guest of Her Majesty’s prison system. However while Gregory enjoys the thrill of the chase, one thing he could never condone is murder. Therefore, he is more than willing to offer his criminal—skills shall we say?—to help Emmeline and Burnell search for the culprit. After all, who better than a criminal to instantly understand the devious workings of another criminal’s mind.

What the author must remember is that humans are curious creatures. Readers must know why. You have to play on this thirst for answers to conjure up a nuanced motive that is at once intriguing but grounded in reason. A reason that at least your criminal rationalizes as justification for taking that fatal next step. If done with loving care and attention to detail, the reader will eagerly follow the story into the world of lawlessness, mayhem and murder that has risen like the phoenix from the smoldering ashes of your imagination.

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett Author Photo

 

 

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave and A Checkered Past are the first four books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.

Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook or on Goodreads.

 

 

GUEST POST: WRITING LESSON 3 BY DAVID KUMMER

Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at davidkummer7@gmail.com. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst 😉 You won’t know until you try!

Character

When your character cries, the reader should weep. When your character hurts, the reader should feel like dying. When your character succeeds, the reader should celebrate. When your character is real, the reader will love them.

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Guest post: lesson 1 by David Kummer


Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at davidkummer7@gmail.com. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst 😉 You won’t know until you try!

Continue reading “Guest post: lesson 1 by David Kummer”

Historical Division: RAGING FALCON: Intrigue, terrorism, taboo romance, and CIA! by Stephen Perkins

Research for a fictional novel can be daunting. However, before I started writing my debut novel Raging Falcon, I was already intimately familiar with the subject matter. But, in the spirit of originality, I endeavored to create a twist on the traditional fictional tropes one encounters in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. Readers of this type of action adventure story are familiar with the dashing hero who saves the world, and at the end always gets the girl-all the while sipping martinis, ‘shaken not stirred’.

Continue reading “Historical Division: RAGING FALCON: Intrigue, terrorism, taboo romance, and CIA! by Stephen Perkins”