By John Rabb
Lisa Brackmann is back with her second novel GETAWAY. After the success of her first novel ROCK PAPER TIGER, which made a number of year’s end “best” lists, including Amazon’s top one hundred novels and top ten in mystery/thrillers, Lisa brings us a new story with her latest character Michelle Mason.
Lisa is no stranger to the entertainment field—she worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Now, novel writing is another successful credit to add to her resume.
Lisa’s love for writing starts back when she was five-years-old, but in 2010 she received the wonderful news every aspiring author loves to hear, that her book ROCK PAPER TIGER was picked up by Soho Press for publication.
GETAWAY stars Michelle Mason and is set in Mexico. She is on vacation in Puerto Vallarta after the sudden death of her husband, which leaves Michelle to clean up a scandal and piles of debt. When she is approached by a good-looking man on the beach, all hell breaks loose. Michelle finds herself caught in a covert operation involving drug runners, thugs and venture capitalists—all the turmoil that makes for a great thriller.
We interviewed Lisa and asked her many different questions, so you will be able to learn a little bit more about the author and the stories she creates.
Can you give us a little more information about your latest book GETAWAY?
Official, blurb-type description: “Michelle Mason tells herself she’s on vacation. A brief stay in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a chance to figure out her next move after the unexpected death of her financier husband, who’s left behind a scandal and a pile of debt. When a good-looking man approaches her on the beach, she decides: why not? But the date doesn’t go as either of them planned, and Michelle is caught in a covert operation involving drug runners, thugs, and venture capitalists. One wrong move and she’ll end up buried in the town dump, with the rest of the trash.”
GETAWAY is a noir thriller set against the backdrop of the Drug War in Mexico and the recent economic crisis in the US – about corruption on both sides of the border. Michelle, the main character, has pretty much lost her old life—her husband is dead, she’s broke, she has no idea what she’s going to do. She’s basically a person who had put off making hard choices until the collapse of her old life leaves her with no choice but to change. She takes the trip to Vallarta because it was already paid for, and she figures she’ll use the time to get her head together. Then she meets Daniel – the good-looking man on the beach – and what she thinks is going to be a harmless holiday fling, a chance to feel alive and sexy and forget about her problems for a night – turns into something else entirely.
In your book GETAWAY you have some underlying political issues, was that by choice or did it fall in line with the story while writing it?
I come to my politics primarily by observing the world and trying to make some sense of things and understand why things are the way they are. If you go to Mexico, for example, it’s hard not to notice the huge gap between the rich and the poor. Puerto Vallarta has a major tourist industry, a large expat population and plenty of pretty wealthy people. There are beautiful resorts up and down the coast. I spent a lot of time sitting under a palapa on a Puerto Vallarta beach, being served margaritas by a waiter who I doubt was making much in the way of a salary, and more than that, being constantly solicited by beach vendors to buy stuff. A lot of them were indigenous people, Spanish wasn’t even their first language; there were a lot of little kids trying to sell you plastic magnets from China. Plus, I actually did visit the old municipal dump, where there were workers, most if not all of whom lived in shacks salvaged from scraps, living on top or around the dump, sorting through garbage by hand, in the horrible heat, literally surrounded by buzzards and rotting cow parts. So, start with that.
Then, the drug trade, the tremendous wealth that has generated the poverty that fuels it, the corruption the trade has created that is so pervasive it’s nearly inseparable from civic life. At the same time, I was watching the economic meltdown in the United States, the role that corruption played in that, the widening income disparity over the last few decades we’ve seen in the U.S., what’s caused that and what the implications for our society might be. How basically all this private corruption has become embedded in our political institutions and the question becomes: whose interests does our government serve? What is the line between “private” and “public”? Who wins and who loses?Who is responsible, and what responsibility does each of us have for the systems we live in? Michelle has to answer that last set of questions for herself: her husband was a corrupt real estate financier and even though she can tell herself that she didn’t know what he was up to, she comes to question how much her “not knowing” was avoiding an unpleasant truth and to what extent she enabled his behavior.
The drug war was specific to GETAWAY, but those other concerns are pretty much embedded in everything I write. I can’t see myself writing something that does not deal with some larger political issues. I mean maybe some day I’ll do that quiet novel about a family or a relationship, but not now.
I do try very hard to make sure that the issues are buried somewhat and are a part of the substructure of the story, rather than a didactic rant throughout, which personally drives me crazy to read. So far, most readers seem to be reacting to the book primarily as a thriller, basically: “Everywoman on vacation invites the wrong guy to her hotel room and then must fight to survive.” So hopefully I succeeded.
Your main character Michelle Mason was she a character that you created before the story GETAWAY or did you have the plot and create her to fit it?
When I started GETAWAY, all I really knew was that I wanted to set something in Puerto Vallarta, because I’ve been there a bunch of times and think it’s a really interesting place. I had the image of Michelle sitting on the beach in my head. I knew that she’d been through some sort of trauma and was not in a particularly happy place. I didn’t really know much more than that, other than that I wanted to write a noir kind of story – “Woman/man in trouble meets man/woman who is trouble, and then everything spirals out of control.” I had a feeling that drugs would be involved given the Mexican setting, and also that whole gray area of Americans who might or might not be involved in the trade and who might or might not have government connections. Oh, and I knew that Michelle was from the Westside of Los Angeles. That’s really about all I knew to start. I wrote the first chapter pretty quickly and it wasn’t until I got to the point where Michelle breaks down and reveals that her husband has died recently that I really knew what her situation was. She evolved from there. I figured out a chapter or so later that she was an amateur photographer, and that also helped me figure out who she was.
If you had Michelle sitting in front of you right now, what would you like to ask her?
Why she settled for a marriage that was more comfortable than passionate, and why she so easily gave up any artistic ambitions she once had and never found any purpose to replace those. Was she afraid of failure? Not that committed to begin with? Just taking the path of least resistance, doing what was easiest? Gary pretty much asks her this question, near the beginning of the book: “What is it you’ve been doing the last ten years, Michelle? Entertaining? You’re capable of so much more.”
What character, other than Michelle in GETAWAY surprised you?
Probably most of them! As mentioned I tend to write pretty intuitively — at times I feel as if I’m observing my own characters, eavesdropping on their lives. It takes me some time to get to know them. And if I have characters that seem too one-dimensional or that lack surprise, I have to find something in them to surprise me.
Do you have any superstitions when you write?
Not really, but I definitely am a procrastinator and still tend to function best creatively late at night – a holdover from years of having a day job, I think. If I’m really stuck I find that taking a shower, going for a walk or getting some exercise helps un-stick me, as does a glass of good wine, which I’m drinking right now.
Your main character in ROCK PAPER TIGER Elle McEnroe vs. Michelle Mason, who would win in a fight?
Ooooh, tough call! Ellie has youth on her side – she’s a good dozen years younger than Michelle, and after the events of ROCK PAPER TIGER, she’s taken a self-defense class or two. But she has that leg injury, and she hasn’t gotten into the habit of taking very good care of herself. Michelle, on the other hand, is disciplined about what she eats and drinks (vacation margaritas aside) and has all those years of yoga and Pilates under her belt. She probably does the stairs in Santa Monica too. Ellie might win if it’s a short fight and she can do some damage right away. But if it goes on for any length of time, I’d have to give it to Michelle. While they’re both pretty tough, I think Michelle might also have the edge in suppressed, murderous rage.
If you had to put a soundtrack together for GETAWAY what songs would be included?
There are some artists and songs referenced in GETAWAY, including Steely Dan –a tune of theirs is playing in a beach bar popular with Danny’s group of expat friends – I’d go with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” because the lyrics juxtaposed with Michelle’s situation at the beginning of the book are too appropriate and pretty funny— basically the song warns not to lose that phone number, even if the relationship is maybe not so good for you.
Two songs mentioned are ring-tones—the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly” (that one’s on Danny’s phone), and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (used by the unsettling and manipulative Gary). Beyond that, I’d go for a combination of cross-border artists like Los Lobos, Calexico, and Café Tacuba, some traditional Mexican folk songs and corridos, and a few contemporary artists like Radiohead (“Backdrift” is particularly appropriate for its emotional desolation/desperation—people who fall into our arms because they have “nothing left to lose.”). I got a run date for that song list blog I’m going to do — it’s May 3. If you think it makes sense to include that last sentence in the song list question of your interview (“I coincidentally just wrote a long and more detailed post about a song list for GETAWAY, and you can read it here.”)
What is your least and your favorite word?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question, because my head just exploded. Too many words!!!
We would like to thank Lisa for her time in being interviewed. You can find out much more about Lisa and all her works and goings on by visiting her website. Her latest book GETAWAY is available May 1st.
Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010” lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for a Strand Magazine Critics Award. Her second novel is GETAWAY, a literary thriller set in Mexico, also from Soho. (both books to be published by HarperCollins in UK/Commonwealth)
Lisa is a California native who lives in Venice Beach. She worked in the film/TV industry and has lived and traveled extensively in China, the setting of ROCK PAPER TIGER, and of her third novel, in progress.