Lisa Brackmann on Her New Thriller, GETAWAY: Interview and Giveaway – Part II

If you’re joining us today, I’m with NYT- and USA Today-bestselling author, Lisa Brackmann. In Part I of this interview, we talked about the professional writer’s mindset and Lisa’s suggestions on how to incorporate topical events into fiction. In this part of the interview: one of Lisa’s core themes and writing a potentially controversial ending. (No spoilers.)

Jan: As with your debut, I see the seeds of social commentary under GETAWAY’s thriller plot. Without getting into any spoilers, Michelle’s Mexican vacation is a last hurrah before she faces the consequences of her husband’s shoddy business practices. She seems a victim, but as events unfold, I begin to wonder about a pattern of willful blindness. Talk to me about ignorance, Lisa. Why is it important, and why does it get under your skin?

Lisa: I think, for one, life is short and unpredictable, and so many of us sleepwalk through our days. We don’t really live, and in materially wealthy societies, where most of us who are reading this have not had to contend with not having enough food to eat, or not having a place to sleep, or living in fear that armed gangs may threaten our lives, this just strikes me as terribly sad and so wasteful.

I don’t want to belittle the very real existential problems that people grapple with in wealthy countries, so-called “First World problems,” because a lot of those are very real. People are unhappy for real reasons. We live in societies, where, in my opinion, some things have gone terribly wrong. People work and work and work, for less financial reward, in more stressful environments, “doing more with less,” in communities where civic institutions have been defunded; they’re trying to send their kids to colleges where the tuitions have increased to levels where the kids graduate with crushing debt. We’re encouraged to value wealth and material success above all, and the professions that have somehow been deemed those most worthy of pursuit because of the money you can make from them are, to me, not all that valuable in any real positive sense. I mean, you’re telling me that options traders and mega-bank CEOs contribute more to society than teachers or firemen?

I realize that sounds like a tired progressive trope, but it’s true.

I think we Americans are living in a country where the wealthy and the powerful have manipulated our so-called democratic institutions and turned them into money-funnelling devices, where the wealth is taken out of the pockets of the poor and the working and middle-classes and redistributed upwards, where the very notion of “the Commons,” of the common good and communal institutions that are not profit-based have been devalued. I think that decades of very sophisticated propaganda have helped bring this about. And it’s trends like this that  require us to wake up and understand what’s really going on. I honestly don’t know how we bring about positive change in these circumstances, but I do know that said change is impossible if people are not awake to the conditions in which they actually live.

Now does this specifically relate to Michelle? 

Bringing it back to the book—because in spite of all this ranting, I really did try to write an entertaining thriller here—Michelle is a person who chose comfort over risk. I can’t condemn her for that. As a species, we are conditioned to seek comfort and to take advantage of that when we find it. But we also have the ability to evaluate our situation and ask ourselves if we’re making the best choices.

Michelle’s backstory is, she wasn’t happy in her marriage. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t satisfying. And she’s not sure how much of that is her relationship with her husband, Tom, and how much of that is her lack of challenge and engagement with her own life. She’s seeking some kind of passion, but isn’t sure where to find it. She knows that something is not quite right with what Tom is doing in his business, but she chooses not to press him about it. Because in spite of her vague discontent, she is living a comfortable life, materially. She’s able to do what she wants. If only she knew what it was that she wanted!

We all ask ourselves about the risks involved with making changes. What we tend not to ask about is the risk of not choosing. Of staying in the same place. In Michelle’s case, her comfortable life was built on sand, and she ends up in a far riskier place by not making a change before it all collapsed.

Michelle is forced to come to grips with her own culpability in her husband’s misdeeds, her enabling of his bad behaviour by pretending that nothing was wrong. Her challenge throughout the book is to understand the dangerous situation in which she’s landed, the reality of how things work. And the reality is not pretty. What her husband did wasn’t violent, but it was corrupt, and she’s now seeing how corruption can lead to violence, how they inevitably intertwine. She’s seeing that a lot of the comfort enjoyed by the wealthy is built on a foundation of poverty. And having lost her former position of privilege, she’s realizing just how disposable she is in this kind of system.

If you could have your wish, what concrete steps would individuals take to remain knowledgeable and engaged in the world’s issues?

 

First, we have to provide people with the analytical tools they need to be knowledgeable and engaged. I feel like there’s been a systematic dumbing down of culture, starting with public education, continuing onto what passes as public and political discourse. People need a knowledge base to work from. They also need to understand how to learn.

I used to have a job doing research. People would say to me, “you must know a lot of stuff.” And you know, I have a pretty broad, albeit shallow, knowledge base. But mainly what I learned in that job was how to find out the things I didn’t know. In other words, where to look for information. How to evaluate it. How to learn.

We also need to come up with some way to support a free and independent press and independent journalists. The concentration of ownership of media is a pretty scary thing in the US – I think we are down to six corporate entities that control the vast majority of media in this country. We’ve seen newspapers and magazines’ budgets slashed past the bone, in part because of the tremendous changes in how information is disseminated (the internet) but also because corporate owners insist on not just profits but growth of profits.

Democracy is impossible without an informed citizenry, and a watchdog press is essential for that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that public institutions that contribute to knowledge are under attack. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that public universities and colleges are so underfunded that kids are graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from increased tuition, or that public universities whore themselves out to private corporations for research money. I think there has been a systematic effort in this country over the last thirty plus years to devalue the very notion of the public and the Commons, to brainwash people into thinking that the marketplace is the only legitimate conferrer of value. And while the marketplace is great at a lot of things, without a balance of social justice and the common good, it becomes a tool of oppression that is highly vulnerable to manipulation by the wealthy and the powerful. Anyone who thinks that the prices we pay for things are set purely by the laws of supply and demand is incredibly naïve. The cynical part of me thinks that’s by design.

Lastly, I want to address the ending. You know there are readers who are going to struggle with it. Did you go through any personal or editorial soul-searching about the ending? How do you balance reader / writer/ industry expectations?

Truthfully? No. I felt like it was realistic – it answered the questions that could actually be answered at that point in the story, and it also concluded as much about Michelle’s future as could really be concluded. My agent and editors were really supportive and didn’t question it, although I did get a great suggestion from my agent to clarify Michelle’s emotional journey, which I implemented. And I think I was warned that some readers would have a problem with the ending, because there are a few things that are left open-ended. But basically everyone involved signed on and felt that it was an appropriate ending for the story. I thought that the ending wrapped up all of the thematic concerns rather neatly!—I have to admit that I’ve been a little surprised by the number of readers who characterized it as a “cliff-hanger” and want to know where the next book is.

Who knows, maybe I’ll write one!

Readers, thanks for being here today. There’s still time to comment to win a copy of Lisa Brackmann’s Getaway if you live within continental North America. Share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or in a blog post, then let me know of that in a separate comment. Each person can enter up to four times. Contest ends on May 23, winner to be selected by RNG.

You can find Lisa on Twitter (@otherlisa)Facebook, and her website.  

Please note we’ve covered some political ground today. While Lisa welcomes ongoing conversation, I am The Tart and will confine the discussion to respectful debate. 

Take it away, peeps. 

33 thoughts on “Lisa Brackmann on Her New Thriller, GETAWAY: Interview and Giveaway – Part II

  1. I’m almost tempted to get into a political discussion just to see what The Tart will do! But I happen to agree with all that Lisa has to say and glad she has the forum to say it, in both factual and fictional ways.

    I’m lucky to have read Getaway already and absolutely love this smart, highly entertaining book. Can’t wait for the sequel. ;)

  2. Great interview, Jan and Lisa! As an educator at a local college, I see first-hand some of the concerns Lisa raised in this interview. One of the most important things I teach in every course is: “Question everything. Don’t assume that simply because a professor or newspaper or TV star says something, that it is necessarily true or correct. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.”

    I almost always have at least a few shocked faces when I give this particular speech. Many of them have been conditioned to not think or question, but follow blindly. But they must question, if they are to develop strong foundations to actually add to that knowledge base. It’s a process, though. Some times are slower than others, but we inch forward. Hopefully, some of them actually learn that “how to learn” process you were mentioning.

  3. Jan and Lisa,
    Great interview — you cover so much important ground in a short piece. Lisa, I respect you so much for your political beliefs and voice — I’m looking forward to reading Getaway even more after this interview. I so agree with you on the importance of a free, independent press, and I worry that news is becoming ‘marketing’ at a high level.

    Jan, as always, you ask questions that make your interviewee and your readers think. Thanks for jolting my brain cells on this rainy day!

  4. So insightful. Thanks for spilling. In many ways my journalism career has been blessed, but I confess I never was as daring as some. Even so, you’re right–it amazes me how little people research.

  5. Pingback: Lisa Brackmann on Her New Thriller, GETAWAY: Interview and Giveaway – Part I « Tartitude: Jan O'Hara's Blog

  6. I was very fortunate to go to college years ago when the prices were less. I got a government loan the first year, and after that received Illinois state grants with the only stipulation being to keep a C average. After I graduated, I could pay back the loan within 9 months interest free!

  7. When I went to college, two years at a private school and the remainder at the University of California, I received scholarships and low interest student loans. My parents helped me some during the private school part but I had a part-time work/study job during the year and a full-time job during the summer. I was able to pay my own way through UC and graduated with a small amount of student loans debt, at a low interest rate, that I paid off a few years after graduating. It is appalling to me that we are weighing down kids who are trying to better themselves with debt that they may never be able to repay. We used to have a name for this back in the Colonial days — indentured servitude.

  8. Looking forward to reading Getaway, though to be honest I hope it is skewed more toward entertaining commentary than political diatribe…

  9. Cher, to be honest, most readers have not remarked upon the politics. They’re taking it as a beach read. And I do want to write an entertaining book–I don’t care for didactic, preachy fiction in the least. However, I am not writing purely to entertain; I am writing because there are things that I want to express about how the world works, and besides, writing books is a lot of work! I can’t see spending all that effort on something that isn’t meaningful to me. I hope you read the book and I hope you enjoy it, but I hope it makes you think about some things as well.

    • I’m looking forward to both Getaway and Rock Paper Tiger (just started). I definitely look for thought provoking material within my entertainment- thanks for the feedback!

  10. *waves hello to everyone* I’m here, reading all your comments. I’m letting Lisa do all the heavy lifting while I lounge around PJs, sipping martinis.

    One part of that last sentence is even true, though it’s neither the bit about the booze nor attire. Alas. ;)

    To chime in with reassurance, if you’re concerned you’ll be clobbered with political ideology in Lisa’s fiction, the answer would be “no.” At least not from this person’s perspective, and you all know how picky I am.

  11. Lisa, as usual, you give a lot of info to chew on and I agree with much of what you’ve said in this interview. Without a doubt, this background played into Getaway and Rock Paper Tiger too. Your thoughts and observations add a foundation on which the fictional stories are written. For a certainty, these beliefs and observations add depth to your stories and characters. Your stories remain entertaining and don’t beat the reader with political diatribes. Ever.

    Funny thing about foundations; rarely does anyone see, much less pay attention to, the foundations on which anything thing is built–be it physical or ideological. The finished product is the focus. You show the results of the status quo politics without actually saying anything about it. It’s show and tell at it finest.

    I will say, being an observer and although I didn’t take Maer’s classes :-), I do question what I read, hear, see and what I learn. I appreciate the skill to find answers to my questions. I agree we do need independent sources of information and yet people have been subtly trained to distrust those sources. And even with these independent news sources and journalists, we still have to pay attention to what is the truth.

    Moving along back to your book, lolol! I never thought of the ending of Getaway as a cliff hanger and I’ve seen mention of the cliff hanger aspect. I think part of that is the way Hollywood presents dangerous situations–all the bad guys die, H/h get away scot-free and never have to look over their should for evermore. Not realistic, but people like it. If every detail isn’t tied up with a bow, then there must be a sequel in the works. Honestly, I felt the ending of Getaway fit the circumstances–especially with the drug cartel and government agents. It was satisfying. Nothing ambiguous about it. It gave me reason to cheer. :-)

    Madam Tart, I enjoyed this interview. You did a fine job with questions and bringing the thoughts expressed right back to the book. Well done.

    Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

  12. Thank you Lisa. I appreciate the compliment. I do like to get authors, writers and readers,chatting and that is why I appreciate finding Jan’s blog. Some books and authors make it easier than others.

  13. Lisa, I completely agree with you that fiction has to be meaningful to you in order for it to be worth writing. Part of the reason I’m leaving philosophy to pursue fiction is that I believe that fiction allows you to address many important philosophical questions that Philosophy as a discipline is impotent to do.

    I am glad that you have enough hope in humanity to believe that with diligence and public activism, we can change much of what is wrong about the world. I’m not sure that I share your optimism, but I do think that fiction can help create an emotional involvement with people we normally wouldn’t know enough about to be able to care for. I still have strong feelings about the Democratic Republic of the Congo from when I read The Poisonwood Bible five or six years ago. It made what I read in the newspapers about the mass rapes and violence that much more real and that much more painful to look upon with apathy.

  14. Well, Jenny, I’m not always an optimist — I have my up and down days. But I know we have the CAPACITY for positive change. Whether we do it or not…that’s the question.

    Speaking of the power of fiction, did you all hear about the recent study showing that fictional characters have the power to affect real-life changes in readers? That empathy you talked about is very real…

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm

  15. I suppose that I knew that you weren’t quite an optimist. I read ROCK, PAPER, TIGER (and loved it); and it’d be hard to believe that the person who wrote that book could be entirely optimistic.

    I hadn’t heard about that study. Thank you for directing me to it. I do believe that fiction creates empathy, but that can also be a bad thing. In Philosophy departments, you will often hear professors make fun of Ayn Rand activists–those who have read a few of her books and are convinced that the situations Rand describes are close enough to reality that the conclusions drawn in her books should hold in real life (A very entertaining read making fun of such people can be found here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/our-daughter-isnt-a-selfish-brat-your-son-just-hasnt-read-atlas-shrugged ). I mention this only to point out that the empathy-creating power of fiction has its downsides, too.

    If I am reading the Sisters in Crime LA website correctly, you are speaking at the meeting in a couple of months (I’m assuming that’s you, though they spelled your name wrong). I would love to chat with you more then.

    Thanks for the great discussion.

    • Hahah, yes, that’s me. It’s how they are spelling my name in the UK (as mentioned) and maybe this is why — one “n” is easier to remember? I’ve been sadly MIA at the SinC meetings this year and will miss June as well — but I will be there in July. :)

  16. Thanks, Jan. And thanks for hosting this wonderful discussion.

    Lisa, only one ‘n’ in the UK? I hope they don’t make me switch to only one ‘r’ if I ever publish there. In any case, I look forward to seeing you at the SinC meeting in July.

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