Message From The Author
Allison Brennan tackles more stories and a new genre
By Brenda Novak
Allison Brennan and I are living parallel lives. We both reside in the Sacramento, Calif., area. We both have five children. We both left academic scholarships to marry and start a family. We both worked in politics before turning to writing (for the same political party). And we both write romantic suspense. We even have the same literary agent. So I feel especially qualified to introduce you to the latest and greatest from this talented romantic thriller author.
With two books from her 2009 FBI trilogy already out -- Sudden Death (Apr., Ballantine) and Fatal Secrets (Jun.) -- Allison is awaiting the August release of the finale, Cutting Edge, in which an FBI domestic terrorism agent needs the help of a security specialist to stop an anarchist cell targeting biotechnology research companies.
As someone who has always wanted to be a writer but was, for a short time, tempted to become a forensic pathologist, Allison has found the perfect way to merge her love of books and her fascination with the criminal mind.
"For all my characters, I have a sense of their personality -- almost like when you meet a stranger at a cocktail party. But as we all know, who we see is not necessarily who the person is," says Allison. "We're all formed through both nature and nurture, and one of the questions I ask myself constantly is why? The real why, not the surface why.
"One morning I was struggling with the 'why' of my villain in Fatal Secrets and listening to FBI agent George Piro discuss his interrogation of Saddam Hussein. He asked how the man could kill so many people, including women and children. Saddam said, 'It's business.' He had no thought about the individuals that the victims were, only how his actions affected him and his power. That was when I knew I had Xavier Jones. He sees the women he trades in as merchandise, not human beings. From then, it was easy to get in his head."
To add texture to her FBI series, Allison attended the FBI Citizens' Academy, an eight-week course about the bureau. There, she learned about the evidence response teams, legal and criminal justice issues and the priorities of the FBI in the wake of 9/11. She also won the "My Characters Shoot Better Than I Do" award from a SWAT commander after her less-than-stellar performance at the gun range. But because his wife is a fan of Allison's books, the commander let her blow up stuff in the backlot of FBI headquarters.
Allison will be spending a week this fall at Quantico, the FBI training academy, where she'll get a hands-on experience about what it takes to be a special agent.
"I had several ideas while at the FBI Citizens' Academy. One night the domestic terrorism squad leader told us of a case where someone on the inside of an anarchist movement contacted the FBI and became an informant. For over a year she 'worked,' without pay or reward, to stop an anarchist cell from bombing several undisclosed locations in California. They were ultimately caught. I was fascinated by this person, who we were told little about to protect her identity. My imagination took over and she became my heroine in Cutting Edge."
Asked whether studying crime makes her less trusting of others, Allison says, "I've always been a people watcher, and I read so many mysteries and police procedurals growing up that I think I've always been a bit on the jaded side. At the same time, I see so many heroes who, while not perfect, strive to protect the innocent, their families and our country. I don't immediately think the worst of everyone, but I do tend to be a couch psychiatrist and analyze human behavior. Whenever I get frustrated with the state of crime or violence, I look at those who stand against evil and admire those heroes even more."
Allison's 2010 book list is already shaping up, but with a twist. She's launchings a supernatural thriller series based on the seven deadly sins in March. In the books, three strangers -- a former seminarian haunted by a massacre, a determined woman once possessed by a demon and a cynical true-crime writer -- join forces to stop the evil occultist who released the seven deadly sins from hell. With seven main characters and a multibook romance arc between the hero and heroine, Allison's goal is to write books that readers think could really happen -- if the seven deadly sins were fallen angels released from hell.
"Since these are spirits (fallen angels) and not souls," Allison says, "I'm freed from the constraints of traditional stories of possession and exorcism. My demons don't need a human body to survive. They have other challenges, but free movement isn't one of them." In the series, the seven deadly sins will be explored from a psychological standpoint of extremes. We all experience envy and lust and anger and pride, but what makes these emotions dangerous? The demons draw out their victims' most negative emotions to deadly results.
You'd think a seven-book series would be overwhelming enough, especially for a mother of five, but Allison has even more in store. In October 2010, she'll launch the Lucy Kincaid series. (A teenage Lucy Kincaid played a supporting role in Allison's No Evil trilogy.) Allison promises this series will be edgy and will tackle ethical and philosophical criminal justice issues. "Sometimes crime is not black and white -- the series will explore the shades of gray."
There was never a gray area when it came to Allison's passion for books. As soon as she could print her name, she got her first library card and checked out at least three books a week.
"My mom is a big reader, and I'm
a big reader. I was an only child, and sometimes the only way I had to entertain myself was a book. And sometimes, the only entertainment I wanted was a book. When I was 13, I read The Stand. This was my first 'big' book, my first 'grown-up' book outside of Agatha Christie and some police procedurals my mom had laying around. I wrote Stephen King and told him I wanted
to be a writer when I grew up. He responded with a postcard that said,
in part, 'Writers write.' It wasn't until I turned 30 that I truly understood what he meant. That he responded to me, even just two sentences, meant the world to a teenager. It's largely why
I respond to all fan mail. If I don't respond, cyberspace ate the message."
Allison began spinning stories on paper at age 7 or 8 but never finished them, unless it was for a school project. She wrote more than a hundred story beginnings with no endings. As soon
as another idea popped into her head, she'd abandon her current project and jump on the new, more exciting project. It wasn't until after she got married, had children and a career that she had a minor midlife crisis. She asked herself if she was really doing what she wanted with her life, and she realized the answer to that was no. She'd gotten so absorbed in her career and her family that she'd forgotten about herself. So she made the commitment to return to writing, finish one of her many stories and seek publication.
That pledge has paid off. With 12 books and three short stories to her credit, Allison is a publishing phenomenon. "I took a huge leap of faith when I quit my day job after I got my first publishing contract," she says. "I knew that if my books bombed, I would have to crawl back to my boss and beg for my old job back. We tightened our belts and pulled the kids from day care. It was a time of stress, but I was living my dream -- writing full time. I wanted to focus on my writing and my family, not a job I didn't want to be at, where after 13 years I was totally burned out."
When I asked her about her most touching moment, Allison said, "Even amidst all the turmoil and hectic scheduling, my oldest daughter came up to me about a month after I quit and said, 'Mom, I've never seen you so happy.' " And that happiness about being writers is something else Allison and I share.
Excerpt from Fatal Secrets
Sonia said, "Jones's car turned off the highway. ETA four minutes."
"You really do have a -- " Dean stopped. An idea occurred to him. "Jones knows who you are." He said it matter-of-factly.
"Of course he does, I've been in his face enough."
"Right now I'm serving a limited warrant for specific financial documentation."
"Why would -- "
"I don't have time to explain, but I'm asking you to trust
me. Take your partner and go back to your surveillance post. You're entrenched right now; we didn't make your team anywhere on the property."
A hint of a cocky smile emerged on her lips. "Of course you didn't."
He gave her an appreciative nod. "You train your people well. I'm asking you to let me serve the subpoena and shake Jones's confidence. Then we'll leave, and you monitor comings and goings, see who Jones taps when he's on the hot seat. Do you have a wiretap?"
"Dean," Sam Callahan interrupted. "Three minutes."
"We'll meet at the FBI office at noon," Dean said. "Okay?"
"We'll meet at my office at one," Sonia said. "Full
He extended his hand to seal the agreement and smiled. "My office. One is fine with me. I have too much paper and equipment to transport downtown, and believe me, you're going to want to take a look at it." Her hand was soft and cold, but her grip strong.
"Don't disappoint me." She reached into her pocket and dropped an extra-strong magnet into his hand, then gestured toward the security cameras around the house. "The security office is in a room off the kitchen. The door is unmarked. If you don't have a warrant for the tapes, you might want to erase them -- though I don't really care one bit if Jones knows I'm on his ass."
Dean Hooper. She hadn't made the connection when he had first introduced himself as Hooper. Agent? An understatement if she'd ever heard one.
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