Special to The Big Thrill: Domestic Suspense
Spouses Andrew Grant and Tasha Alexandra’s Separate Roads to the Bestseller List
By Dawn Ius
One can only image the murder, betrayal, and intrigue that goes on in the home of Andrew Grant and his wife Tasha Alexander. Luckily, and to the delight of their legions of fans, all of it occurs on the page.
Bestselling author Grant was a precocious six-year-old when he penned his first thriller—a riveting tale about giant tortoises escaping from the Dudley Zoo in what proved to be a vain attempt to rally the British people in ousting Queen Elizabeth II, and insisting on republic, rather than monarchy.
Quite a complicated story for a first grader—and, completely untrue, a humorous anecdote made up by Grant’s wife of four years, New York Times bestselling author, Tasha Alexander.
While it’s conceivable Grant may have once imagined monstrous turtles, the references to history are more likely to come from Alexander (backed by a full black Moleskine notebook’s worth of research, of course)—which is why the couple is happy to share individual successful writing careers, but perhaps never the same story.
“Ha! That is something that would never happen,” says Alexander. “Though it could be hysterical. Contemporary thriller hero meets Victorian lady?”
True, the two aren’t likely to split a byline any time soon, but the power couple will celebrate two book launches this month—Grant with his latest thriller, RUN, and Alexander with the ninth novel in her Lady Emily series, THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS.
RUN, a calculated deviation from Grant’s “secret agent” David Trevellyan series, is a high-octane thriller that, in part, explores the scary side of telecommunications. For instance, when you send an email, do you know who will read it aside from the addressee? Makes you think, right?
Over the course of a fictional week, Grant puts his protagonist through hell—he’s stalked, ambushed, wiretapped, arrested, duped, and triple crossed, until he can no longer tell his enemies from his allies.
The inspiration for the novel stemmed from the idea of taking an ordinary guy and seeing what happens when “his safe and familiar world is dismantled piece by agonizing piece.”
“My favorite part of creating a new character is adding the little details that make him human and distinctive,” says Grant. “In Marc Bowman’s case, it’s his love of Lichtenstein, and the way he ends up drawing a parallel between art and computer code.”
For Alexander, the challenge is less about developing new characters, but rather, coming up with thrilling adventures that keep fans interested in reading more about her wildly popular Victorian heroine, Lady Emily.
“I remember reading an interview the über-talented Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters, gave about her wonderful Amelia Peabody series. She said that had she known the first installment would have led to a series, she would never have said how old Amelia was,” Alexander says. “I took that advice to heart, and have been careful never to give any specific information about Emily’s age. Likewise, I have done my best to set her up in a situation that allows me to avoid the pitfalls that can come from writing a series.”
Lady Emily travels widely, enjoys a circle of friends that serve as an ensemble cast, and her husband, Colin Hargreaves, is an agent of the Crown, giving her access to official channels of information and legitimacy as required.
In THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS, inspired by the life story of Huguette Clark,
Lady Emily really hits her stride, and while she investigates the crime with confidence, she realizes that uncovering the truth isn’t always enough.
“Writing this book was an absolute joy,” Alexander says. “The idea had percolated in my brain for years, so by the time I had finished doing the necessary research and sat down to start writing, the story felt fully formed. I had been terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do the idea justice.”
Clearly she has, since her adoring husband lists this, along with DEATH IN THE FLOATING CITY, as two of her best works. Though, it’s evident he’d be hard pressed to find fault in her writing—even though their creative processes are as opposite as, well, night and day.
While Grant tends to write after sunset and requires a caffeine IV—or an entire pot of Starbucks House Blend Medium—to keep his creative juices adrenalized, Alexander needs only to open her eyes. And since she prefers writing in bed than at a desk, one might get the impression that she simply sits upright and begins typing at breakneck pace. Grant says that isn’t far off the mark.
“Tasha has the most amazing ability to be fast asleep one moment, and working at full capacity the next,” he says. “We can write together in the same place if necessary, but I prefer not to because Tasha works so much faster than me I find it dispiriting! It’s much better to plug away on my own, and not to be distracted by the smoke rising from Tasha’s keyboard as she types like a woman possessed.”
This borderline jealousy could create marital conflict—if the couple wasn’t so obviously proud of each other and grateful for the perks that come with a shared passion for writing.
“It’s easy to play hooky, especially when your favorite person is just on the other side of the apartment, so we have to be disciplined,” says Alexander.
“Toward the end of a manuscript you develop a kind of tunnel vision where all you can think about is finishing the book,” Grant adds. “So, on the occasions where our deadlines have coincided, there’s been a danger that without the other to remember to cook or fetch water, we could both starve or die of dehydration. As for a solution—we’re still working on that.”
For now, their staggered writing schedules appear to do the trick, even if that means some days they’re merely passing each other in the hallway on the way to—or from—bed.
“Tasha used to be night owl, but during her second, month-long research trip to Venice while writing DEATH IN THE FLOATING CITY, she turned into a morning bird. I’m still waiting for her to switch back,” Grant says.
Though the suggestion is a bit tongue in cheek since Grant says he has tremendous respect for his wife’s discipline and work ethic, a lesson reinforced by Grant’s brother, New York Times bestselling author, Lee Child.
“The principal lesson I’ve learned from watching Lee work is about setting priorities,” Grant says. “For him, it’s all about his readers. They come first, second, and third. And there isn’t a fourth. He always strives to deliver the highest-quality work he’s capable of, and never forgets why he’s writing and who he’s doing it for: Not to look good to his friends, not to impress other authors, and not to please himself. It’s for the people who buy his books.”
Although his brother’s success wasn’t the reason Grant wanted to write novels, Child did help him realize that writing books was a possible—although maybe not sensible—way to make a living.
“His success may also have appealed to the side of me that can’t resist a challenge,” he says. “The odds of one brother becoming a successful novelist are pretty low, so for two to do it? As far as I know, we’re the only two brothers to be independently published in the same genre at the same time.”
Despite his circle of influence and support, Grant’s first call isn’t his brother when he’s hashing through a story idea. Instead, he likes to allow the ideas to percolate, and when the book is complete, his wife gets first read.
Grant is Alexander’s beta, as well, though she retains a group of readers she leans on for feedback.
“My process hasn’t changed since we got married, but I have refined it over the years,” she says.
Grant agrees, noting that the industry is continually evolving and changing, creating unique challenges—and opportunities—for both seasoned and aspiring authors.
“There have been many changes in the industry, and the danger for writers is allowing these to become a distraction,” he says. “The potential to debate the relative merits of eReaders over paper or online marketing over personal events is endless, but behind all this, the writer’s job has remained the same: write the best book you’re capable of. The rest will take care of itself.”
For Grant and Alexander, a couple of those “best books” hit the shelves this month, where the couple who share so much plan to resume their traditional launch celebration—twice.
“We like to go to one of our favorite restaurants in Chicago—Topolobompo—for lunch and margaritas, then continue the celebrations at home with a bottle of champagne,” Grant says. “The only difference this time is that we’ll be doing it twice in two weeks. It’s a dirty job…”
If there’s anything Tasha and Andrew are more passionate about than writing, it’s each other. We couldn’t resist firing off a few “How Well Do You Know Your Spouse?” questions. Turns out, this literary duo are primed for Happily Ever After.
If Andrew were to create a playlist for RUN, what one song might be on it?
Tasha: This is tough. I think what he would be more likely to do is come up with a video trailer for RUN, and that would have to include a clip from the movie Om Shanti Om, showing Shah Rukh Kahn in a rather spectacular costume fake running in slow motion and shouting “Run!” over and over in Hindi.
If the “muse” was a physical being, who would be Andrew’s?
Tasha: Does coffee count as a physical being? Because if it does, it would definitely be coffee. Although if we are considering beverages, I would also have to say Dom Perignon. Can a person have two muses?
Complete this sentence: Andrew would give up writing for…
Tasha: …producing plays. But, really, he should be doing both.
Blue ink or black?
Tasha: Black. Which is not to say that he doesn’t also have red and green.
What authors have inspired Andrew?
Tasha: Alistair MacLean, Len Deighton, John le Carré, Douglas Reeman, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver.
Name three things on Tasha’s desk. Describe the significance of one item.
Andrew: The three things she’ll always have with her are a giant stack of research books; her login details for the online OED; and a notebook full of the notes she takes on research trips. Tasha is a trained historian and she’s fanatical about the accuracy of everything that goes into her books, from the primary source material she includes to the authenticity of the language she uses to the physical and geographical details of the locations she visits.
Does Tasha tackle revisions in red pen, pencil, or…?
Andrew: A whole rainbow of colored pens! A new set for each new book. It’s a very special ritual…
Does Tasha prefer to write in complete silence…or to music? If music, what song might be on her playlist?
Andrew: Normally she writes in silence, but she’s trained herself to be able to write under any conditions, over the years. If she did listen to music, it would be hard to predict her playlist as she likes everything from Pearl Jam to Puccini.
When Tasha wants to decompress, what TV show will she watch?
Andrew: Firefly. The entire season in a day. With popcorn.
If you were going to surprise Tasha with a literary gift, what would it be?
Andrew: A first edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
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