I’m calling today’s guest “a writer of thrillers with a thrilling career.” Since last year’s interview on Writer Unboxed, Lisa Brackmann’s had a few adventures. Her debut, Rock Paper Tiger was nominated for the Strand Fiction award and hit the NYT’s and USA Today’s bestseller list. Already picked to be an Amazon Best Book of May, Lisa’s latest thriller, Getaway, promises an equally impressive trajectory.
Getaway’s blurb: 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 banker husband, who’s left behind a scandal and a pile of debt. The trip was already paid for, and it beats crashing in her sister’s spare room. When a good-looking man named Daniel approaches her on the beach, the margaritas have kicked in and she decides: why not?
But the date doesn’t go as either of them planned. An assault on Daniel in her hotel room is only the beginning of the peril Michelle faces. As the conflict escalates, she’ll need to fight smart if she wants to survive her getaway.
Jan: Any other career highlights I missed?
Lisa: It’s been quite a ride! Rock Paper Tiger and Getaway both sold to Harper Collins UK. They’re using different names (and different cover art), Year of the Tiger and Day of the Dead, respectively. Year of the Tiger published April 26 of this year, and Day of the Dead will come out in the fall. The team at Harper UK have been awesome to work with—I’ve had a lot of interaction with them via email and hope I have the opportunity to meet them in person soon.
I just sold a third book to Soho Press, a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger tentatively called Hour of the Rat, that should be published in the first part of 2013.
Right now I’m preoccupied with Getaway, which pubbed May. I’m also thinking a lot about the book that comes next. I’m still not sure what that’s going to be, but I’ve learned that in this business, you always have to think ahead, at least you do if you’re a writer at the point I’m at in the kind of career that I seem to be having.
Skulls are a traditional motif in Mexican culture and Mexican art. They don’t have the negative connotation that they do in Anglo culture. Skulls are frequently associated with the Day of the Dead, which is held November 1—2. It’s a holiday to celebrate the spirits of the departed, to remember them and honour them. There’s also a sense, I think, that all of us are close to death. So we should be on familiar and comfortable terms with mortality.
That said, it’s an awesomely creepy cover, isn’t it? I love it!
You’re a professional novelist, meaning your income is derived from your writing career. Waiting for inspiration is no longer an option, even if you’d ever worked that way. Tell me about the quality of your writing. Is there any demonstrable difference between the days you’re “feeling it” and those you’re not?
I think the only real difference is that I am more productive when I’m “feeling it”—I’m able to get more words out, more quickly—than I am when I’m not. I don’t think there’s all that much difference in quality, to be honest. Generally the times when writing is harder for me are when I’m trying to figure out what’s next, or when I’m trying to set a new scene—that latter one is always tricky because I want to capture a place accurately, but succinctly, and it just seems to take a lot of brain power, as well as research. But I’ve always done better when I write regularly, like every day. If I take a few days off on a project, it can really be a bear getting back into it sometimes.
I have also found that this was not as tough a transition in some ways as you might think—well, once I made it past the dreaded “Second Book Syndrome.” The way that I was able to approach putting my writing out there without wanting to crawl into a hole, as well as writing more fearlessly in the first place, was by looking at my writing as a job. Being able to detach myself—as in “my self” from the product somewhat, helped lessen the horrible self-consciousness and shyness I had about my work. Which is not to say I still don’t have plenty of cringe-worthy moments, but the work’s out in the world now, so I try to maintain some professionalism about it.
I’ve always been a horrible procrastinator, and as much as I love writing in some ways, I’m not really someone who has to write. But writing was always the thing I was best at, so it’s more like, I have to do something. Now I’ve put myself in the position where I really do have to write, so overall it works better for me.
You seem to have the ability to anticipate the world’s interest in particular international events. For example, your debut, Rock Paper Tiger, is a thriller set in China. It was published at a time when the world seemed to freshly thirst for stories about that nation. Now there’s GETAWAY, which you began two years ago, but which has a storyline that feels as if it might have been ripped from today’s headlines about Mexico. To what do you attribute this ability to anticipate trends? Is it luck?
I actually used to be a lot better at spotting trends ahead of time. For example, at a relatively young age, I was frightened by malls. Meaning that, I could see the homogenization of commercial culture and the way that large corporations would drive out smaller, “Main Street” businesses was coming, years before it happened. Reality TV was another one I saw ahead of time (I wrote a rather elaborate film/TV project about, well, a big blimp in some future post-economic collapse America that was the setting for a reality TV show way back in the 80s, before even “Real World”).
When I was in China for the first time in 1979, I had a vision (I might have been high), about how the US and China were these polar opposites that would be inevitably intertwined, you know, your basic yin/yang kind of thing, and that both were developing these mass networks of control—I think my shorthand at the time was “NBC and People’s Daily,” because this was pre-cable—but how all of us individuals in both countries had the ability to somehow develop our own networks, our own ways of speaking to each other, and this was how we could eventually triumph against overwhelming, massive forces that were way more powerful than we were. It was about progressive individuals somehow banding together, no matter where we were, what countries we lived in, what our citizenship was, to work toward a better world. And you know, I still believe that.
But I digress.
I was just about to mention that. I love a self-correcting guest.
I really think being able to anticipate trends is just about being open to your environment, to paying attention to what’s around you. Also reading a crap-ton of news and analysis and letting it simmer on some backburner of your brain.
I think, now, that things are changing so quickly, and that we really are at a place in history where we are faced with so many turning points, things like global climate change, for example, the potential collapse of the global economic system (or at least the necessity for it to radically change), the endgame of the oligarchs in many different countries, who in my opinion have manipulated democratic (and non-democratic) institutions to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority of us and are busily looting everything they can before it all falls apart. I think we’ve entered a state of chaos, and predicting outcomes becomes extremely difficult because so many things could go either way.
The positive in all of this is that unstable systems are the ones where individuals who aren’t necessarily billionaires can affect things, because it doesn’t take as much to push an unstable system in a different direction. Which can also be pretty scary, because those are the kinds of scenarios where fascism happens, too. But I have to hope for the best, and throw my shoulder to the wheel and push for that better future. I think there are many of us who feel the same. We all just need to keep pushing.
Readers, this concludes Part I of our interview. Curious to see a politically unplugged Lisa Brackmann? Tune in for Part II!
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