Suzanne Brockmann burst into the romance scene in the mid-nineties and has since shown herself to be an incredibly talented, versatile and prolific writer whose books regularly fly off shelves and climb most best seller lists. She's won a footlocker full of awards in both category and mainstream, including two prestigious RITA's. Her stories offer consistently pleasing characters who are as real as they come. Whether she's writing lighter contemporary romances or the immensely popular and exciting military adventure stories, aka the Troubleshooters series, her growing legion of fans will agree that nobody can write crackling adventure or sizzling romance quite like Suzanne Brockmann.
Q: You're a wife and the mom of two teens, you sing in a cappella group, participate in theatre and charity work, you keep what looks like a very hectic schedule of public appearances and book signings plus regular attendance at numerous romance conventions. With all those balls in the air where do you find the time to write so many books?
A: Actually, I don't have as much time to write as I did ten years ago, when I was first starting out. In fact, many of my musical activities have been put on hold, although I am hoping to audition this spring for a part in the chorus of a musical at the theater where my son works.
I spend far more time these days on promotion than I used to, that's for sure!
But I think every writer has his or her own pace when it comes to writing, and mine just happens to be at warp nine.
Seriously, though, there are numerous ways I make writing a book a more efficient process -- I outline extensively, in great detail. I work out all of the plot points way in advance, so there's never a time in which I'm sitting at the computer thinking, "Hmmm... What happens next?"
But even more seriously, I think author output can be a touchy subject. Writers can't and shouldn't compare themselves in this way. Writing is so personal -- you can't point at writer A and say, "Hey, you don't write fast enough," simply because their pace is slower than writer B. What writer B does has nothing whatsoever to do with writer A's creative process. And comparisons only give people complexes.
I happen to be pretty prolific. I like pushing myself to finish a book in the span of a few months. I write best when I'm living and breathing the story and characters, 24/7. But for another author, my methods would be unbearable punishment. And vice versa. When I'm in the middle of a book, if you tell me I have to take a weekend off, away from my office -- well, I'm going to be very unhappy about that!
Q: Military men have been popular characters in all genres across the board -- what is it about the military man and his mystique that draws and holds readers? Why are you drawn to them and why Navy SEALs? Why do you think military heroes, in particular those in your Troubleshooters series, are such reader favorites?
A: I think that military heroes are the closest we'll come in contemporary stories to the knight in shining armor of days past. Here's someone who's willing to give his life in service to his country. How can you not respect and admire that?
The SEALs and Special Operations warriors, in particular, can be easily romanticized -- these are the guys who risk their lives to prevent an all-out war.
I've always been a World War II history buff. I became fascinated with that era when I was a kid. I grew up during the Vietnam Conflict -- not a lot of clear cut black and white, wrong and right, in that war. But I understood the motives and reasons behind WWII. Axis = bad, Allies = good. The Nazis in particular were extremely dastardly villains -- no gray area there. I read every book about WWII in my town library. It fascinated me -- still does. I was particularly struck by the heroism -- huge acts of heroism and tiny acts of sacrifice from the folks on the home front. It was all remarkable.
So the idea of writing an ongoing series of books about a team of military heroes was a very comfortable fit.
As to why these books are such favorites? I think the secret behind any successful work of fiction always comes down to the characters. I work hard to try to make my characters real, living, breathing people that readers will care deeply about.
Q: Prince Joe was the first of your titles that I read and one of the major elements of the story that immediately captured me and kept me turning the pages was your realistic characterization. Even in your shorter more fast-paced Kismet and Loveswept romances, your characters lived and breathed and were very real to me. How do you get into your characters' heads so thoroughly and how important is this to the outcome of your stories?
A: Gee, here we are back at characters again. And thank you. That's a very kind comment -- I appreciate it!
It's my opinion that great, realistic characters is the number one most important element in any piece of fiction. I spend hours and hours thinking about my characters, writing character notes and, most importantly, backstory. I focus quite a bit on my adult characters' childhoods. I really, truly get to know my characters before I start writing the book.
Human nature is all about acting and reacting. If I really know my characters completely, if I know their system of beliefs and the priority order of their values, I will automatically also know exactly how they will act and react --realistically -- in any potential situation.
Q: Of all the characters you've introduced thus far, Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke take top marks as reader favorites. Can you explain their huge appeal -- why have readers taken them so close to their hearts and imaginations? Did you ever expect such huge reader reaction? Did they take on a dimension all their own, going way beyond what you'd initially planned for them? Yes, they're huge reader favorites, but are Sam and Alyssa your favorites too?
A: Ah, Sam and Alyssa. You know, I did a series of Q&A sessions during an 18 city booksigning tour last summer, and usually when I started out the crowd would be oh-so-polite and people would be shy about asking questions. So I would just look at them and say, "Okay. Sam and Alyssa. Who's going to ask me about Sam and Alyssa?" And then the questions would start!
When I sat down to write The Unsung Hero, I brought Sam and Alyssa into the book as relatively minor secondary characters. But even back then, I had plans for them. My idea was to write a somewhat typical romance -- hero and heroine have a "past" which includes a one-night-stand or two that didn't work out so well. They meet again and are forced to work in close quarters to achieve a mutual goal. There's a huge attraction and this love/hate relationship. Opposites attract, etc. etc.
Only my idea was to let the reader live through this couple's backstory as subplots in an ongoing series of books. In most books, the backstory (and backstory is a writing term used to describe everything that happened to these characters before page one, chapter one, so therefore it includes their past relationship) is revealed through conversation or flashback. But I wanted Sam and Alyssa's backstory to happen in real time. So to speak.
I'd originally envisioned a seven book story arc, starting with The Unsung Hero, the book wherein Sam and Alyssa work together for the first time.
In The Defiant Hero, they have their first stormy one night stand, and at the end of the book, they go their separate ways.
Now, this is not a traditional ending to a subplot in a romance novel. Most romance novels have what I call "Gilbert and Sullivan happy endings." This is where all the secondary characters end up neatly paired up with their own "perfect" partner. It's all so convenient and pat. (I've never been a big fan of G&S! )
I'd been thinking long and hard about the elements of literary "love stories" -- books (usually written by men!) like Bridges of Madison County, Message in a Bottle, Love Story. Books that don't have romance's required happily ever after ending.
I also started thinking long and hard about movies like Casablanca. This happens to be one of my favorite movies, and its bittersweet ending is so delicious. It's all about sacrifice and honor -- and just because Rick and Ingrid Bergman (I can never remember her character's name...) don't end up together, doesn't mean that the ending isn't deeply satisfying and wonderfully cathartic. It's a different kind of ending, evoking different emotions than a HEA. And it's something that romance readers have been missing out on because of that guaranteed, required HEA ending.
Now. I'm not crazy enough to try to write a romance novel in which the main characters don't end up happily ever after. Because then it wouldn't be a romance. But I decided that with my secondary characters -- anything goes.
I started playing around with this idea when I wrote Body Guard. There's a love triangle in that book between the hero's FBI partner, the partner's ex-wife and the partner's new girlfriend. None of those three characters deserve a happy ending (they each use and manipulate each other pretty horribly during the book), so at the end of the novel, they go in three different directions.
Well, I did that, and the sky didn't fall. In fact, that book received a RITA Award from RWA. I got a TON of reader email, though. "How could you do that to poor George?" Well, George didn't deserve a happy ending, that's how I could do it! Some readers didn't like the book because of the unfinished feel to the subplot. But all the mail I got was passionate! Boy, I knew I'd hit on something here.
Of course, before Body Guard came out, I'd already started work on The Unsung Hero, a book with a WWII flashback subplot that ends tragically.
So there comes Sam and Alyssa in The Defiant Hero. When their subplot ended (much the way George and Kim and Nicole's story ended in Body Guard) without conventional romance novel resolution, I expected similarly passionate email. Hoo, baby! Did I get it!
But then when Over the Edge came out, and it looked as if Sam and Alyssa were going to get their happy ending, only to have it disappear... Whoa. Extreme responses.
But again -- every piece of mail and email I received was passionate! It was clear that people were responding to these books with a great deal of emotion. As a writer, that was so unbelievably awesome.
One thing I didn't expect -- at the end of Over the Edge when Sam goes off to marry Mary Lou -- I got lots of email from readers thinking that was that. End of S&A's story.
To me it was so obvious that this was just more conflict and torture thrown in their direction. But there were some readers who really didn't get that.
It was after Over the Edge came out that my editor sat me down and gave me that little "we don't know if we're going to be able to keep you physically safe if you insist on stretching this story out over seven books" speech.
It was kind of a bummer because I'd been thinking all along in terms of seven books, and now I had to jam a whole lot of things into six books. I think it probably made Into the Night a weaker book. But 9/11 made ITN a harder book to write, too. It was a challenge for lots of reasons.
So, to answer your questions, yes, I expected reader reaction to Sam and Alyssa. I created their story with the purpose of getting reader reaction.
I love Sam and Alyssa -- Alyssa's been my favorite female character of all time. I just love writing from her point of view. And Sam... Don't get me started on Sam!
Gone Too Far was a fun book to write -- it was such a relief to be able to devote all those pages to these two characters that, up to this point, I've had to fight to keep from taking over the books.
I would say that I'm going to miss them, but just because this particular romantic story arc of theirs is over, that doesn't mean their story is over. They'll be back. Not right away. But they will be back.
Q: Sam and Alyssa's book is due out in the summer of 2003 ... finally! And yes, it's as if you've been teasing readers since you first introduced the sexy duo in Unsung Hero! Can you share the title of their book? Are you happy with the conclusion to their story? Anything more you can tell us that wouldn't be a spoiler?
A: As I mentioned above, their book is titled Gone Too Far. It will be in bookstores on June 24, 2003.
I'm very happy with the way their book turned out. (It came in at 700 manuscript pages, by the way.)
It's a little too early for me to release any information about this book. I just finished the final polish. But I'll probably be posting the cover blurb and an excerpt on my website (www.suzannebrockmann.com) in February.
There's so much anticipation for this book -- my editor and I have been joking about sending out the ARCs shrink wrapped!
As usual, when one of my mainstream books come out, I'll be hosting a countdown to the release date on my website. That'll start June 1st and end on the 24th, when the book hits the stores.
And I'll be doing a booksigning tour in July. There's also talk of some kind of book release party/event in late June. Readers can visit my website appearances page (www.suzannebrockmann.com/appearances.htm) for updates as those dates get closer.
Q: You've left the stories of various other characters introduced in the Troubleshooters series dangling -- (my favs are the inscrutable Max Bhagat; American missionary, Molly, and her mysterious ex-patriot lover, Jones; and from your latest, Into the Night, a brand new character, the very dark and intriguing Cosmo Richter) -- any plans on giving one or all of these more minor players major stories of their own?
A: Max will definitely be getting his own book, as will Cosmo. I have plans for Jazz, Jenk and Lopez, too.
This series is far from over.
My plan has been to have three pools of characters from which to take heroes and heroines. There's SEAL Team Sixteen, Max's FBI CT Team, and a third group of civilians -- a corporate and personal security company made up of former SEALs, former FBI and CIA, former Rangers, former PJs, etc. etc., and maybe even an ex-con or two. (Think of them as a kind of a Mission: Impossible team. They can go where the SEALs and the FBI can't go -- into countries where the U.S. Government won't or can't send the military.)
Q: Why did you decide to run various simultaneous plot lines throughout the series? For most writers juggling and choreographing that many characters might be impossible yet you seem to do so effortlessly and go on to seamlessly tie everything together by the end of the story -- or at least everything you'd planned on bringing to a final conclusion. How much actual planning and research goes into one of your Troubleshooters outlines before you even start the book?
A: I outline extensively. My outlines can run about 80 pages. Very detailed.
But I'm fascinated by fitting together three or four stories that seem separate. I like to watch the characters converging, until by the end of the book, the stories are all interconnected. It's so much fun to do. I use color coding -- every character with his or her own point of view gets their own color throughout the writing of the book. It's very much organized chaos. LOL! Don't ask me to explain how I do it ...
Why do it do it? Because I want to! I think I'm probably really a frustrated TV series writer. I would love to see these books as a cable miniseries. I think it would work.
Q: Post 9/11 ... for a time after that awful day all themes having to do with terrorism were a delicate and painful subject and understandably so. Was there ever a moment you or your publishers thought about deep-sixing all 'terror-themed' military stories already in the works or in the planning stages?
A: I had just finished writing Out of Control on 9/11. In fact, my editor and I had made an agreement that I would get OOC onto her desk on 9/10, and I did. And there it sat for quite a few weeks.
We spoke for maybe half a minute about making changes to OOC to reflect the post 9/11 world, but I didn't want to do that. This was the last book I wrote before that terrible day. I didn't want to change it at all. (The hero in OOC carries a pocket knife onto a commercial airplane. That would never happen now. But I just didn't want to change it. Out of Control takes place "before." Into the Night takes place "after." Enough said.)
We actually spoke, though, about the next book, about attempting to make it a lighter story. In hindsight, that was a mistake. I should have written a dark, kickass book with lots of action and adventure -- and a high terrorist body count. That would have been far more cathartic for me-the-writer.
Writing Into the Night was terribly hard. It took me three months before I started writing again.
I spent hours and hours watching CNN. And listening to Mozart's Requiem.
And eventually, I started writing again.
Ballantine never questioned my decision to continue with the Troubleshooters series. In fact, I think if I had suggested NOT continuing, they would have protested.
But Into the Night was a very hard book to write. Wild Wild Wes came much, much easier. (Wes will be out from Silhouette Intimate Moments in September.) And with Gone Too Far, I felt completely back to speed. Not back to normal though. I'll never be back to the pre-9/11 normal. That's gone forever.
Q: Do you see yourself going beyond the Troubleshooters series anytime soon -- perhaps going back in history and setting your story exclusively during one of the last World Wars or other conflicts like Korea or Vietnam?
A: I definitely have plans to write a book that is set entirely during World War II. Oh, yeah.
Q: It's no secret that you enjoy Science Fiction -- one of your early Loveswept releases -- Time Enough For Love -- involved time travel). How have SF books, movies and the genre itself influenced you? Do you ever see yourself wandering back into SF/fantasy/paranormal territory for any future books?
A: I'm a huge Star Trek fan. And Star Wars, too -- although only the original trilogy. The newer movies don't work for me. (Frankly, I think it's the severe lack of Han Solo!)
I learned so much about writing characters from watching Star Trek as a teenager. I learned that if you have great, compelling characters, it doesn't matter if your scenery includes styrofoam rocks!
I loved the hopefulness of Gene Roddenberry's future, too.
I could imagine writing an episode of Firefly -- Joss Whedon's new SF show. Except now it's been canceled -- what a shame.
I have a policy of never saying never, but that one time travel story was something I had kicking around inside of me for years and years.
I think it's pretty unlikely I'll return to that genre in the near future.
Q: What other books or writers have influenced you and the direction of your writing?
A: Right now my biggest heroes are Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon (I just finally started watching Buffy on DVD. Boy, Whedon can really write!), William Goldman, David Kelley ... TV and screen writers.
My all time favorite fiction writer is Carla Kelly -- she writes Regencies for Signet. She's amazing. She's got a book coming out this spring called Here's To The Ladies. It's a collection of short stories about women on the American frontier. It's fabulous. I read an advance copy and have the honor of giving her a cover quote. (Isn't that cool? She's my hero, and I'm giving her a cover quote!) I highly recommend this book.
Other romance authors I admire: Susan Elizabeth Philips, Jo Beverly, Julia Quinn, Virginia Kantra, Susan Carroll, Jennifer Cruisie ...
When I was growing up, I read everything Alistair MacLean wrote. (He's the author of The Guns of Navarone, among many others.) I would guess that he influenced me heavily. I also adored Donald Westlake. And PG Wodehouse. And Shakespeare.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was quite possibly the most influential piece of fiction I ever encountered. I first saw it right after The Sting came out, when I was in my early teens. It played at the local 99 cent theater, and I rode my bike downtown and saw it every night for the entire week. It's still on my top ten all time favorite movies list.
Star Trek really influenced me, too. The Kirk, Spock, McCoy friendship was amazing to me. And there's a little bit of Captain Kirk in all of my heroes!
Oh, and Shane. There's a book that I've always loved. It should be called "Shane, or the handbook to writing incredible heroes."
Q: Deadlines are certainly a good motivator to keep you writing and some of yours must be brutal considering the number of books you produce each year. How do you motivate yourself to keep creating stories -- ones that only get better and better? What's your typical work day like? Do you ever see yourself not including a big healthy dose of romance in your books?
A: I love writing. It's as simple as that. Yes, it can be hard, and there are times when I have to lock myself away from my friends and family to meet a deadline, and there are times when I curse the book I'm working on because every single page is like pulling teeth, but in the end it comes down to the fact that I love what I do.
How many people in this world get paid to do what they love? I'm one of a very few, I think. I know quite clearly that I am beyond lucky -- not only do I love to write, but large numbers of people love to read what I've written!
My personal goal -- from the very start of my career -- is to make each book better than the last. To improve, to stretch, to grow. I wake up each morning with that in mind.
My typical work day is insane. I'm a workaholic. Or maybe I'm a playaholic, because really my work is much more like play.
As for writing something that doesn't contain romance ... see my comment above re: never saying never. I'm still young. I've still got lots of stories to tell. Right now, to me, finding love is the most important, most breathtaking, most interesting story to tell.
Q: Can you give us a rundown of some of the titles your fans can expect to see in 2003? How many of these are reissues? Whose story is next in the Troubleshooters?
A: 2003 is going to be a big year for me in terms of releases.
Starting in February, I've got a reissue from Mira Books with Forever Blue. This was the second installment in my Tall, Dark & Dangerous series originally published by Silhouette Intimate Moments back in 1996. It's long out of print and the originals are very hard to find. The reissue has a new cover, but the same title. I really don't like it when books are reissued with a new title -- it's deceptive to the reading public! I object to that!
In April, I've got a book coming out from Silhouette Intimate Moments. It's called Letters to Kelly, and it's a book I originally wrote for Meteor's Kismet line back in 1994. Meteor published my very first series romance, a book called Future Perfect, and also bought two other of my books, but went out of business before those other titles were published. LTK was one of those books. I've revised it up and updated it a little. It's one of my mother's favorites of my books -- it features a hero who is a romance writer! LOL! It's kind of a quirky story.
June is reissue month. Frisco's Kid, TDD #3, will be reissued by Mira Books, and Ballantine will be reissuing both The Unsung Hero and The Defiant Hero, with shiny new covers. This is really neat -- a sign of true publisher support.
Because in July, Ballantine will be releasing Gone Too Far. They're expecting lots of readers to look for the earlier books in the Troubleshooters series -- hence the reissues of TUH and TDH in June. (Over the Edge, Out of Control, and Into the Night are all still widely available.)
Also in July, that other never-before-published former Meteor title will be released by Silhouette Desire. My original title was A Matter of Trust. Meteor changed it to Love Scenes. (The hero and heroine are both involved in community theater!) Desire changed the title again to Scenes of Passion. It's a short contemporary, and I've just completely revised/overhauled it. It's similar to the books I used to write for Loveswept.
Last but not least is September and the release of Wild, Wild Wes, a new book in the Tall, Dark & Dangerous series from Silhouette Intimate Moments. Wes is book # 11 in the ongoing series -- it's a fun one. (Wes sure knows how to get into trouble!)
I've also got a couple of Mira reissues lined up for 2004. Everyday Average Jones will be reissued in the spring of 2004 (maybe March?), and Harvard's Education has been scheduled for a July 04 release.
Q: You've been quoted as saying you're very 'goal-orientated'. Have you reached or perhaps even surpassed the goals you ve set yourself thus far? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now -- 10 years?
A: I'm a big fan of goal setting. Before I did a goal setting workshop in the early 1990s (I really got a lot out of Tony Robbin's goalsetting workshop from his Personal Power tapes!), I was a creative ping pong ball. I just kind of careened around the room, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, doing lots of different projects -- all creative -- but never moving forward.
With goal setting, I learned to focus, and oh, baby, did that ever work for me.
But goals -- like the rest of life -- need to be kept fluid. You have to keep making adjustments. My original goal was to become a published author to gain credibility as a screenwriter.
Well now. In the ten years since I set that goal, I've written exactly one (1) screenplay. I still have a long term goal to write for TV and the movies, but when I started writing romance novels and realized that I LOVED writing romance novels, I revised my goals.
Currently I have a goal to write and produce (and possibly even direct) an independent film by the time I turn 50. I'm 42 right now, so I've given myself a nice, solid block of time.
So how do I go about meeting that goal? Well, I also have a plan to move out to Hollywood after my son graduates from high school. In late 2004, early 2005 I'm planning to spend about 9 months on the West Coast. I'm still going to be writing books -- that's not going to change. But I'll probably try to write fewer books each year so that I have time to do some screenwriting.
I've also got plans to get a digital video camera.
I've already made a number of video productions with my son. Many of our friends are professional -- or at least high quality amateur -- actors.
But lately I've been fascinated by the idea of writing a series for TV. My goals could certainly change long before 2010! There's nothing wrong with that!
Q: If you decided to throw your computer in front of a tank tomorrow and give up writing, what career would you choose? What do you like doing during your 'downtime' when there aren't any family or professional obligations?
A: Oh, this is a fun question. Hmmm. I think I would probably become a Model Mugging instructor.
Last winter, my daughter and I took a women's self defense course called "Model Mugging." It's an excellent class that teaches women down and dirty street fighting. No rules. Just survival. As part of the class, a male instructor puts on tons of padding and the students fight with him. You learn what it feels like to not pull your punches. You learn how hard you need to kick someone to knock him down.
And they don't fool around either -- they knock you to the floor mats and try to intimidate you. It's such a rush see someone like my little tiny 5'2" daughter take on this big, hulking 6 and a half foot man, and successfully defend herself!
It was an amazing, wonderful class -- I recommend it highly for everyone!
So that's probably what I'd do. The instructors usually work in teams -- one or two men with one or two women.
Q: Any resolutions for 2003 -- other than giving Nora Roberts a run for most books on the New York Times best seller list at one time?
A: Nora Roberts is an extremely classy woman -- who is in a class all of her own. She's one of my personal heroes. I'm awed by her.
She's also like the unofficial ambassador of romance, isn't she? I celebrate whenever she hits the list -- which is every week! She's amazing. I believe when people look back at this period of time, Nora Roberts will be remembered as one of the most important authors of our age.
So no, there's no contest. It's NOT a contest. It makes me uncomfortable when people imply that there is!
As for resolutions -- my plan is to just keep writing! In fact, I better get back to it ... Suzanne Brockmann lives and writes west of Boston with her husband and two teenaged children. Find out more about the author by visiting her Website.
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