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In Which Karen Dionne Interviews Allison Brennan – Or Is It the Other Way Around?

TO: Allison Brennan
FROM: Karen Dionne
Subject: Big Thrill interview

Hey, Allison!  I see we both have books coming out in January – congrats! Boiling Point is my second, and Love Me to Death must be, what? Your 345th?

Anyway, since I’m the managing editor of The Big Thrill, and it’s my job to assign the feature stories for the authors who have new books coming out, and it feels a little odd to assign somebody to interview me, what do you say we interview each other?  Are you up for it?

I’ll start:

Besides being one of the most prolific authors I know, you also have kids, a husband — pets?  You’re also deeply involved with ITW — last year, you were in charge of the Thriller Awards, and this year, you’re the managing editor for ITW’s next big anthology, Thriller 3. How do you juggle your writing and your personal life? (IOW, what I’m really asking is, “How the heck do you get so much done, and how can I get me some of that?”)

TO: Karen Dionne
FROM: Allison Brennan
Subject: re: Big Thriller Interview

Congratulations on book two! I think the second book is the hardest. Until you get to the third book. Then the fourth book. Then . . . And no, I haven’t written 345 books! I might have started that many in my 40+ years, but Love Me to Death is #15. A funny little bit of trivia:

LMTD is being released on the fifth anniversary of my first book, The Prey. It’s kind of exciting and humbling.

People always ask me how I can do so much, but seriously, I’m just like any other working mother out there juggling family and career. I work more hours and harder than I ever did before, but I also spend more time with the kids because my hours are flexible. I can drive on a field trip, for example, and then make up the hours at night when the kids go to bed. I couldn’t do that when I worked a 9-to-5 job.

But that’s not the answer anyone ever wants! LOL. So here’s my schedule:

I get up around 7 am, get the kids off to school, check email and procrastinate and play on twitter and Facebook until 11, then have lunch, then write from about noon until anytime between 3 and 5, depending on the sports schedule and when I need to pick kids up. Then it’s dinner, homework, sports events, board games, whatever and then I’m back at the computer by 9 pm until 1 or 2 in the morning. (I write until 12:30 am or so and then unwind by watching television. When I was working full-time AND writing, I gave up television for three years in order to make the time to write.) When I’m on deadline, I’ll often go to Starbucks after dinner and on Sunday afternoon. I believe in daily writing, whether it’s one page or twenty. Every time I’ve taken more than a day off, it’s taken me days–and sometimes weeks–to get back into the writing habit.

Except for research! Research motivates me–I love it! And I heard you talking at Thrillerfest last year about your research trip to Chile!!! I am so jealous. I never get to do anything THAT fun. How’d you get to go? What’d you do? What’d you learn? How much fun did you have? And how did you put that all into a book?


P.S. Thriller 3, which is only our working title, focuses on romantic thrillers and is edited by the amazing Sandra Brown. I am thrilled to be able to work on this anthology which includes so many outstanding romantic suspense authors, including Carla Neggers, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mariah Stewart and others. And some men who create some great female characters, including Lee Child and Paul Levine.

TO: Allison Brennan
FROM: Karen Dionne
Subject: re: Big Thrill interview

Wow. Just. Wow. 15 books in 5 years is truly amazing. But thanks for sharing your secret.  “Write every day.”  You make it sound so easy!

As for how my research trip to Chile came about, back in December 2008 when I got the idea for Boiling Point, I chose Chaiten volcano as the location after I’d seen an amazing photograph of the initial eruption that was making the rounds of the Internet. I pitched the story idea to my editor, and she bought the book. Because the novel wasn’t yet written, I was able to travel to the location where the novel is set. At the time, I didn’t know anything about either Chile or volcanoes – I just had an idea for what promised to be a cool story.

Turns out, Chile is a very safe, tourist-friendly country, so that was good – especially since I don’t speak Spanish. The volcano, not so much. Chaiten volcano erupted on May 2, 2008 for the first time in 9,000 years in a major eruption. Scientists have since determined it was a rhyolitic eruption, which is the most dangerous kind because the volcano erupts without warning, and the magma travels to the surface very quickly. Fortunately, no one lost their life, but the town six miles away at the volcano’s base was destroyed ten days later by a lahar – a fast-moving flow of mud and ash that choked the river and buried the town.

When I was there in April 2009 a year after the initial blast, the volcano was still erupting, still on Red Alert, and the town was still evacuated, and thus without city services like electricity and running water. But I’d found an English-speaking guide by following a photo credit for a recent picture of the volcano, and he arranged lodging in Chaiten town for me and my son with a friend who rents cabins. The conditions turned out to be much more comfortable than I’d been prepared to accept. Cabanas Pudu has its own well, so we had cold running water and indoor toilets, and they generated electricity between 7 and 10 every evening, so I didn’t need the extra batteries I’d brought for my electronics. April is the beginning of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but my cabin was warm and cozy thanks to a fire Juan built in the woodstove every evening, and the meals his wife, Anita, cooked were fabulous. Even so, our first night, my guide made it very clear that we were not at all safe, and that he couldn’t be responsible if the volcano decided to let loose another blast and we were all turned to cinders in the morning. Sweet dreams!

But that was the only time I was even a little nervous. When my guide took us to within one mile of the new lava dome, where we saw steam vents, heard explosions coming from the caldera, and felt a small earthquake, I felt nothing but awe. It was a completely amazing trip that definitely informs the novel. And because my guide was there the day the volcano first erupted, I was able to weave much of what he told me into the book — along with my own experiences and observations.

I definitely recommend onsite research — it brings a level of authority to your writing that I think is otherwise difficult to achieve. My next “Point” book (should Boiling Point do well enough that my publisher wants another) will necessitate a research trip to Hawaii. The things we do for our art . . . .

BTW – Boiling Point is so named not only because the book takes place at an erupting volcano, but because it centers on geoengineering and a radical scheme to end global warming. Your title – Love Me to Death – is absolutely chilling. I assume the book is about a stalker? Is it the start of a new trilogy? What can readers expect from Book #15?

TO: Karen
FROM: Allison
Subject: re: Big Thrill interview

You are braver than I am! When I went through my FBI citizens academy classes and mock SWAT training exercises, the bullets weren’t real. Yeah, they hurt if you were hit, and they used real handcuffs, but I didn’t take my life into my hands! What an absolutely amazing experience! Do you have pictures posted somewhere? Send me the link.

You have me thinking . . . maybe I should change my focus and write international thrillers so I, too, can go to exotic locations and nearly get incinerated by an active volcano . . . not! But I wouldn’t mind setting a book in Hawaii. Or Australia. Or Ireland. And I’ve always wanted to go to Italy . . .

Okay, I’m forgetting where I am. You have me daydreaming! Love Me to Death . . . right. Your titles mean something, mine generally don’t. They just sound suspenseful! There is a stalker in Love Me to Death, but the story is primarily about Lucy Kincaid, my new series character, who’s volunteering at a victim rights group while waiting to hear whether she was accepted into the FBI. Her job is to identify paroled sex offenders online and set them up to be arrested for violating their parole. But when the parolees start turning up dead, the FBI has a whole new interest in Lucy Kincaid!

Lucy was a secondary character in one of my previous books, and I loved her the minute she walked on the page. She’s not perfect, she’s younger than most of my heroines (25) and I am following her from the very beginning of her career. I’ll be able to show how she grows and matures over multiple books because my publisher loved the idea of a series for Lucy, not a trilogy. I’m thrilled, because I have a lot of ideas for her. She has a love interest, but because it’s a series their relationship isn’t tied up in a nice bow by the end of book one–I can develop it over time, which I am excited about. While my trilogies really focused on the good guys vs. the bad guys, in Lucy’s series, I’m exploring the gray areas of criminal justice. A little edgier, a little less cut-and-dried right and wrong.

So if the first two books of the series do well, it looks like I’ll continue the Lucy Kincaid series. Book two, Kiss Me, Kill Me, will be out in March and it takes Lucy Kincaid and her boyfriend Sean Rogan to New York City where they are looking for a runaway teenager and find themselves in the middle of the joint FBI/NYPD hunt for a serial killer known as the Cinderella Strangler.

Before I forget–send me the link to pictures, and also, are you bringing back your fascinating characters from Freezing Point? I remember we were talking once ages ago about recurring characters and how to bring them back while keeping both new and current readers engaged. How’d you do this in Boiling Point?

LOL–it’s noon and I’m still in my pajamas! I love being a writer 🙂 I’ll be back in a flash for your response.

Your cowardly friend,
Allison (no way in hell going to visit an active volcano) Brennan

TO: Allison Brennan
FROM: Karen Dionne
Subject: re: Big Thrill interview

I do have pictures!  And video, both of the volcano, and of the destruction in Chaiten town. Very sobering, that. Both are on my website.  There’s also an article about my trip with photos in the January issue of RT Book Reviews.

Your Lucy sounds like she’s going to be a wonderful character, and what fun to take a younger character and grow them over the course of several books. Freezing Pointwas intended to be a standalone, so after I decided to write a follow-up book, I had to choose which characters I was going to use. Instead of revisiting one of the main characters, I thought it would be more interesting to take a couple of the secondary characters from the first book and give them a major role in the second.  I didn’t know them as well as I did the main characters, and I wanted to dig deeper, to figure out what they wanted, what drives them. Boiling Point takes place two years after the first book, and these two characters were deeply affected by Freezing Point’s traumatic events, which added another layer of discovery.

One of the characters I bring back gave into peer pressure from his fellow scientists in the first book and went along with a group decision that ultimately led to a horrendous loss of life. So in Boiling Point, he’s absolutely unyielding; if he believes something is right, he’s going to stick to it no matter what anyone says or does. “To thine own self be true,” right? Then because I write thrillers, and all thriller authors are diabolical at heart, I take that unassailable core belief and put him in a position where he has to choose between his principles, and the person he cares about most. Expanding on that theme, I then did the same with all of the other characters, so Boiling Point ended up being a very tightly interwoven story that pits brother against sister, step-daughter against step-father, and so on.

I’d like to continue giving the secondary characters from the current book a bigger role in the next book — the only problem is that in Boiling Point, well, let’s just say that by the end of the story, there aren’t many of them left! I’m going to have to build in a bigger cast of survivors if I want to continue the pattern beyond book three.

Yikes – just looked at the clock – is it really almost dinner time? One more question for you, and then I’ve got to run –

In the January issue of RT Book ReviewsLove Me to Death got 4 ½ stars – well done! The review says “Twist and turns in this dark drama make it creepy and compelling in the extreme!” Pretty good, when you can get a reviewer to use an exclamation point! (I, on the other hand, seem to use them all the time!)

The review also calls you a “suspense maven,” which means (I looked it up), “an expert or connoisseur.”  Clearly, after 15 books, you’re an expert at creating suspense. I’m curious about the connoisseur part. Who are your favorite authors? What is it that draws you to romantic suspense? And if you could claim one other author’s book as your own, which one would it be?

Yours in admiration,

TO: Karen
FROM: Allison
Subject: re: Big Thrill Interview

I just watched your videos. OMG, what an amazing research trip you had! And I love your tag line–“There’s going to be Hell on earth.” Fabulous! And with a quote from Steve Berry, another amazing international thriller writer. But I think what got me was your Publishers Weekly review where you were compared favorably to Michael Crichton (my husband’s favorite author.)

Some of my favorite authors . . . wow, that’s hard. Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, JD Robb, Ridley Pearson, James Swain, Mariah Stewart, JT Ellison, Roxanne St. Claire, Robert Crais, Laura Griffin . . . and of course, Stephen King. And I know that as soon as I send this off, I’m going to think of six more I love and am going to hit myself that I didn’t include them! I love thrillers, mysteries, and romantic suspense–but I’ll admit I gravitate more to the darker, edgier stories. I also greatly enjoy Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury.

I love writing romantic thrillers because they blend high stakes and fast pacing with a happily ever after. When someone you love is in danger, the risks are greater and everything matters more. And after I’m done torturing my characters, they deserve to go home to someone who loves them.

Good luck on Boiling Point! I just ordered my copy. 🙂

See you at Thrillerfest!

TO: Allison Brennan
FROM: Karen Dionne
Subject: re: Big Thrill interview

Thanks, Allison!  The Publishers Weekly review was especially sweet since Crichton was far and away my favorite author, too, and the reason I’m writing science thrillers today. His Jurassic Park – awesome. Just awesome.

I know the new Lucy Kincaid series is going to do fabulously for you, and wish her a long and crisis-filled life. 🙂  It was great chatting with you, and I’ll look forward to seeing you in the summer!



Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. A second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming, is forthcoming from Berkley in January 2011. Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She also serves on the International Thriller Writer’s board of directors as Vice President, Technology, and is managing editor of The Big Thrill.

Allison Brennan is the author of several romantic suspense novels including Cutting Edge, Fatal Secrets, Sudden Death,Tempting Evil, Killing Fear, Fear No Evil, The Kill, The Hunt, and The Prey. In addition to her romantic suspense novels, she has also recently written Original Sin and Carnal Sin for her Seven Deadly Sins paranormal romance series. She lives in Northern California with her husband Dan, their five children, two cats and dog.

Karen Dionne
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