Category Archives: Allison Brennan

Children & Pets

By Allison Brennan

After two weeks in New York and a week of late nights working on the copyedits from hell, I’m brain dead. I couldn’t write a coherent blog if I tried. So rather than embarrass myself in cyberspace where my words will stay around forever even if I delete this blog at a later date, I thought you might enjoy pictures of my pets.

Yesterday, we brought home our newest four-legged family member: Lewis.

Lewis is an 8-month-old black lab whose owner couldn’t keep him because she was working full-time and going to college, and as we all know, puppies need a lot of attention and supervision. An 8-month-old lab, I’m discovering, is like a toddler. We had to dog-proof the house because Lewis picks up everything in his mouth, including a Lego R2-D2, dirty socks, and doll shoes. The kids have closed off their bedrooms (thank God dogs don’t have thumbs and can’t turn knobs) and so we only have to keep the living areas free of small or precious items.

Lewis is very well-behaved and friendly — and extremely playful. Which is great with you have two acres and five kids, but not-so-great when you’re exhausted. The big plus of having a lab is the short hair (no shedding!); the big negative is the drool.

Nemo has been hiding out in my office all day, and I’m not surprised. He was here first. He saw Lewis through the french doors and every hair on body rose. Between his fear and banishment, he’s pretty damn pissed. We’re introducing the animals tonight (after my daughter’s volleyball tournament.) And we’re getting a trainer. As much for Lewis as for us 🙂

Nemo joined our family last year, as an 8-week-old kitten from the pound. He’s orange and white, which is my favorite coloring for cats. He was so teeny when he came home! Now he’s a big cat.

This is Nemo playing the role of Gulliver Kitty in my Snow Village when he was four months old.


This is Nemo with a stuffer reindeer he purloined from the Christmas box.


Nemo in the sink (this was taken in April. He’s bigger now, but cats bend pretty easy and he still fits. Though he fills it up now … )

Last month, I heard this low motor in my office, and realized that Nemo was snoring. He didn’t even wake up when the camera flashed.


I never thought I’d like chickens–other than baked, fried, or grilled–but these two hens have grown on me and it’s nice to never have to buy eggs from the store. Except–considering how much they eat, the coop we bought, and the fence my husband built to protect them from those higher in the food chain–our eggs are probably costing us $50 a dozen. 


Meet Daisy and Nugget. Nemo likes to watch them. We’ve told him they’re not his chickens; he doesn’t think it’s fair we don’t share.

Chickens actually make fun pets. They’re tame, we can pick them up, they look hilarious when they run, and they put themselves to bed every night. We let them roam our yard (we live in the country on 2 acres) until we brought home Lewis. Now they’re behind a new fence (not the one you see here.) Here they were eating squash. They also love cucumbers, watermelon, and raisins.

After all this, I don’t know what I’m going to do if we ever go on vacation! Well, my kids have enough friends, I’m sure we’ll find someone to house sit. Our pets tend to be very spoiled. 

And because I called this post “Children & Pets” I have one more picture for your enjoyment, taken nearly three years ago when my sons were 7 and 4. Right after we bought a new, front-loading washing machine …


I’m at a volleyball tournament all day and won’t be able to comment until tonight, but tell us about your newest addition to your family, canine, feline, fowl or human!


New York!

By Allison Brennan

First, for the fun part of this blog: winners. When I swapped blog days with David Corbett, I said I’d send five people a copy of my digital novella – in print because of a promotional thing I did for RWA and ITW. The winners are:

  1. Sandra K. Marshall
  2. Malcolm R. Campbell
  3. Karen S.
  4. Paty Jager
  5. Reine

If you live out of the USA or would prefer a digital copy, I’ll send you one. If you want it in print, I have one for you! Either way, I’ll take care of it when I get back from NYC on July 11. Email me at with your preferred format and snail mail address, if applicable.

Now, for the rest of the blog.

Again, Alex and I are connected by an unseen psychic chord because I, too, wanted to talk about e-books. (Alex, just stop getting inside my head! It’s getting REALLY creepy.) I could write thousands of words on this topic but decided that because I’m in New York City and in a fabulous mood, I’ll postpone it for another day.

So instead, about the Romance Writers of America conference.

No conference is perfect, but RWA comes pretty close. With over 2,200 published and unpublished writers in attendance (total membership tops 10,000, with 20% published,) RWA has been putting on huge conferences for years. We usually have a fantastic speaker for opening session (this time THREE fabulous authors in a panel—Steve Berry, our own Tess Gerritsen, and Diana Galbadon.) I missed it because I was having breakfast with my friend and mentor Carla Neggers, who’s among the smartest people I know.

I rarely go to workshops anymore, though there were some I wanted to hit—like my friend Candace Haven’s “Fast Draft: Writing the First Draft in Two Weeks” which MANY people told me was the best workshop they’d attended this year. (I used to write fast drafts, then would go back and edit. Now, I try but can’t. If I know there’s a problem, I can’t move forward. It’s driving me crazy.) We had authors from #1 NYT bestsellers down to aspiring writers giving workshops on pretty much anything, mixing genres, the business, e-publishing, craft, contracts, you name it. I missed them all. Time to order the audio disks for the car!

But the one thing I have always loved about RWA is the literacy signing.

This picture is less than half the room. 500 published authors selling books donated by publishers where all the proceeds go to a national literacy organization. The event is open to the public, so the authors usually send notice to all their fans. It’s vibrant and exciting and really neat to meet readers in the different cities RWA has their conferences. Thousands of readers waited in line for hours before the doors even opened. Until this year, we’ve raised over $690,000 for literacy. I suspect we raised over $75,000 this year alone.

I have always wished that ITW had a public signing event at Thrillerfest. Currently, we have small singings twice a day with the speakers/panelists from the morning/afternoon panels and events. That’s great—but no one from the public is allowed. (Largely because they’re generally pretty crowded.) A public event would not only give exposure to ITW and the attending authors, but promote the genre as a whole. Whether they model it after RWA or come up with their own unique program doesn’t really matter, I’m sure they’d do something equally as fabulous.

I’ve mentioned this desire to different people, and there have been differing levels of interest, and I’ll once again bring it up to someone, sometime next week as I roam the halls of the Grand Hyatt. Thrillerfest does a lot of things right and I love the conference; someday, I hope we have a signing open to the public.

Speaking of signings, as a mass market author I don’t do a lot of signings. Publishers rarely (if ever) pay for a mass market author to tour, and it’s not really cost effective to do it ourselves. But on occasion I sign locally, or with groups of authors. Or, sometimes I just attend author events, like when my daughter Kelly begged me to take her to San Francisco (2 hour drive) to hear three of her favorite authors (Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, and Maggie Stiefvater) speak and sign. She brought her favorite books with her, and bought a couple there, and even though Kelly is very shy and hates having her picture taken, I got her to pose with Libba Bray with the promise I wouldn’t post it on Facebook. So I’m posting it here:

Yesterday, I spent nearly five hours at the Algonquin Hotel—three short blocks from the Marriott where Toni and I stayed for the RWA conference—where I worked on my copyedits, had a bite to eat, and drank a glass or two of wine. I can see why it was a popular spot for writers–I could write at the Algonquin every day. Matilda is the resident cat—this is Matilda the Second.


After I posted this picture to Facebook, my cat Nemo sent me an email, hurt that I didn’t post a picture of him (even though he’s home and 3,000 miles away) and instead cooed over Matilda, so this is Nemo on my research shelf before my mom came over to organize my bookshelves:


And finally, here are a couple pictures from my field trip as a role player for SWAT training. Yes, we were tackled by SWAT. Yes, it was fun. Yes, I can’t wait to go back. But in addition to the “covered-pile” hostage exercise I was part of, I was able to observe live ammo drills/hostage rescue and close quarter drills from a catwalk, which was nearly as much fun. 


Toni and I are moving over to the Thrillerfest hotel today, but I’ll be back tonight to answer any questions you might have about RWA, Thrillerfest, book signings, or role playing with SWAT. Or anything else you feel like chatting about!

Field Trip!

By Allison Brennan

You’re probably here expecting David Corbett to challenge your mind with a smart and thoughtful essay, but we switched days because it’s his birthday and he’s out being happy. You can read his post from last Sunday here.

So you’re stuck with me today.

David is a recent addition to Murderati and after reading his first post, I emailed JT and said:

“Where’d you dig up the smart guy? Sheesh, I feel so inadequate. I think I’m going to have permanent blog-writer’s block :/”


So I’m not David, no great insights from me today! But I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: research.

I’m giddy about my next research trip. Tomorrow I’m participating in another FBI SWAT training session, this time as a hostage. I can’t tell you how exciting these things are for me. First, I lead a boring life. It’s all writing and kids. That’s it. So when I get to research in the field, I feel like I’ve been released from prison. But most important, there’s nothing like hands on research.

90% of my research comes from books and talking with experts—cops, feds, doctors, lawyers, private investigators, coroners, rape counselors, pilots, business owners, mechanics, you name it. For my upcoming book IF I SHOULD DIE (11.22.11) I contacted the press guy for Argus Thermal Imaging Products about air surveillance; my regular contact at the FBI for information about working with Canadian law enforcement; a trauma surgeon I met through one of the hands on training programs about triage in the field; and even my daughter’s boyfriend who rides dirt bikes to get his input about ATVs. I poured over brochures and online maps related to the Adirondacks, learned the make-up of St. Lawrence County, New York, and researched mining history in upstate New York. I even pulled out my criminal psychology books to make sure I understood the psychology behind not only my primary villain, but because there are a lot of people involved in keeping this criminal organization running, I wanted a better understanding of group psychology.

But in the end, research shouldn’t be visible in the story. I absorb what I read and hear, but I can’t put any of it on the page. Research works only in context to the story. My readers aren’t going to be impressed that I now know how to dress a wound in the field—they don’t need me describing it in detail. What they want to know is what my main character Lucy is thinking and feeling while she’s assessing how seriously Sean is hurt after falling down an abandoned mine shaft. Because she is trained in first aid, she’s not going to be thinking about step A, B, C … she’s just going to do it.

The other 10% of my research is field trips. Touring Quantico and Folsom State Prison. Being a victim in an active shooter situation. Playing hostage. Viewing an autopsy and asking questions. But my questions are different than others. I can look up the procedures of an autopsy, but I want to know what the pathologists are thinking. Do they talk about what they’re doing? Do they chit-chat? Are they formal? Do they joke? What do they do to unwind after a difficult case? Do they tease the newbies? What’s their background? What are the strange cases? What do they like best about their job? Least? Pet peeves? 

Or consider how different characters view the same scene. A pathologist is going to look at a corpse much differently than a jogger who stumbles across a body in a park, so I try to view every situation from a different perspective. What does the first responder think/feel? The untrained observer? The killer? The victim’s family? What do they notice that someone else might not?

This is where the field trips really help me. I’m lucky in that I can put myself in other people’s shoes, so-to-speak. I try to understand the world from different perspectives. When I play hostage tomorrow, it’ll be running the same scenario multiple times. I can “be” the hostage and imagine that it’s real (and they way they run these drills, it feels real—I’m hyper-alert.) I can also “be” the bad guy and watch and listen and imagine why is he doing thing? What made him snap? Is it emotional or calculating? Because he’s stressed or because he wants something? And one of the my favorite parts of these drills is when, after the fact, the trainer comes through with the team and analyzes the operation. I get to listen to why decisions were made, what they were thinking, all the information they have to process immediately. If I can understand a scene from all three viewpoints—cop, suspect, hostage—I can write it.

Don’t be surprised if a hostage situation shows up in one of my upcoming stories. 🙂

Too many beginning authors spend a lot of time researching, then dump their newfound knowledge in the middle of a scene. BORING! Okay, okay, there are some people who like all the technical detail, and there are some authors who have made a name for themselves with involved, elaborate, and accurate descriptions of technology or science or forensic investigation. And sometimes, a bit more detail is necessary for the story—but as Elmore Leonard advises, try to leave out the boring parts.

I confess, I’ve been guilty of research dumps, usually because I learned something really cool and I want to share. Fortunately, my editor usually stops me from going overboard. And I never forget the advice of a good friend of mine, Karin Tabke, who’s married to a retired cop. It’s the details that’ll hang you, especially when you’re not an expert, so only share what’s necessary for the immediate story and move on. (But then I remember two emails I received a week apart on my book THE HUNT—one cop wrote that I got everything wrong, another cop wrote that I must have worked in law enforcement because I got it all right. Go figure.)

In the end, research needs to serve the story, not the other way around. Raise the stakes, tighten the prose, maintain the proper pacing, and be true to each character. Incorporating research is just the window dressing.

Next week I’m off for a two week trip! Not a book tour or anything fancy like that (being a mass market original author, touring isn’t an option.) But I will be at RWA and Thrillerfest, both of which are in NYC back-to-back this year. Toni McGee Causey and I are rooming together and hopefully will have time to do tourist stuff between conferences. After six (seven?) trips to NY, I have yet to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, so that’s up this time. Any must-see Broadway shows? Go-to restaurants or shops? One of those “you have to do this before you die” experiences? Are you going to one of the conferences? Bouchercon? Maybe next year?

I printed up a promotional copy of my digital novella, Love is Murder, to give away at the conferences. Comment or say ‘hi’ and I’ll randomly send five people a copy (which also includes an excerpt of my upcoming book.)



By Allison Brennan


If you were on Twitter last night, you couldn’t have missed the slew of #YAsaves hashtags after the extremely biased and ignorant article on current YA novels came out in the Wall Street Journal. And I’m sure there will be a slew of blogs in cyberspace today and throughout the week about this article. Fortunately, it gave me a great subject for today, and something I feel passionate about.

The piece was essentially a criticism of the dark YA novels being published today, from THE HUNGER GAMES to THE OUTSIDERS, the latter which the author claims launched the current publishing preference of darker YA fiction.

I’m 41. Growing up I didn’t have this amazing selection of YA books. At the age of 13, I graduated from Judy Blume and Lois Duncan and Paula Danzinger and Nancy Drew right into Stephen King and John Saul. I read THE STAND during Christmas break when I was in 8th grade. It wasn’t a “YA” book, but it was certainly no “lighter” than most of what’s published today. I had no choice. There simply wasn’t the selection available. Most of the books that would be published in YA today were dubbed “literary fiction” in the 70s and 80s—hardly something I would have read if not forced to in school.

I am thrilled that my kids have choices in books today. I’m thrilled when they read. I love when they talk to me about their books.

I’m not one who believes the offensive article in the Wall Street Journal shouldn’t have been published. I don’t agree with it, but the author has every right to voice her opinion. When I was editor of an alternative college newspaper, our motto (attributed to Voltaire) was, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That didn’t stop people from picking up stacks of our monthly paper and tossing it into trash bins. I’m more frustrated that there was no counterpoint, that the WSJ didn’t solicit an alternative argument for such a blatantly pro-censorship piece.

I found it hugely ironic that an article broadly condemning contemporary YA novels to the extent of saying, “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship” recommended as “acceptable” Ray Bradbury’s brilliant FAHRENHEIT 451, which tells the story of a dystopian society which forbids reading and critical thought.

Hands down, Bradbury is one of my favorite authors and FAHRENHEIT 451 one of my favorite books. It illustrates what happens when censorship is taken to the extreme.

I’m coming out of the closet today. I am philosophically conservative. A classic liberal. I abhor censorship of all kinds. I believe in the free exchange of ideas, the right of parents to rear their children and decide whether something is inappropriate for their age or maturity level. I would never tell a parent they have to let their child read something, or tell them they shouldn’t let their child read something.

I censored my children’s reading material when they were younger because I felt some was inappropriate for their age or maturity level. When they reached 12 or 13, I stopped. If they asked my opinion, I would share it, but at 13 I felt they were mature enough to make their own reading decisions. I just wanted to know what they were reading just like I need to know who’s house they’re going to, if the parents are going to be there, when they’re going to be home, and what movie they’re planning to see at the mall.

My daughter Kelly reviews YA books for RT Book Reviews. Nearly every book she reads she discusses with me and shares her thoughts about not only the writing, but the story and message. She can be a harsh critic and a vocal advocate. Several of the books condemned by the WSJ article Kelly read, including SHINE by Lauren Myracle and RAGE by Jackie Morse Kessler (who’s also a writing friend of mine.)

Kelly was particularly incensed by the article’s comments on these books, both of which she enjoyed.  On RAGE, the article said:

“The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife. 

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”


Kelly read first HUNGER (about anorexia) then RAGE (about cutting.) She is neither anorexic or a cutter, and reading the books didn’t make her stop eating or start slicing up her arms and stomach. But the books made her think, and we talked about these very real disorders and what might cause them and what signs to look for.

I’ve written about serial killers and  rape survivors and vigilante killers. I don’t think that I’ve created a serial killer or a vigilante killer, but I’ve had dozens of emails from rape survivors thanking me for speaking out for them. 

Kelly was SO angry about the article that I suggested she blog for me today. She said she couldn’t, she was too mad, but she’s writing something for Murder She Writes that’ll go up on Thursday. I think it’s important to hear the YA perspective, so I’m going to nag her. (After all, what are moms for? We live to nag and embarrass our children.) It’s one thing for the YA authors to be angry; what about the readers they’re catering to?

Kelly read SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson the summer before 7th grade. It’s a book about rape in junior high. (She’s also read many of Laurie’s other novels, including WINTERGIRLS which she loved.) This was the same summer we watched all three seasons of VERONICA MARS with my oldest daughter, Katie, who then was about to start 9th grade. That show opened up important discussions that we still refer to now, three years later. About partying and drinking and date rape and cheating and being safe on-line and more. I am much more confident that my girls are prepared to face the challenges of high school and college because, though raised in a stable home with all that they need in a relatively sheltered middle class environment, they will be smart and cautious and sympathetic and empowered. I was so proud reading my oldest daughter’s yearbook that there was a consistent theme to the comments—that her peers admired her because she stands up for what she believes in. Not just because it’s an admirable trait, but because I know how hard some of her stands were, and that she didn’t always have universal support.

Not all kids are ready to read a book like SPEAK at the age of 12. No one should force them to read it. But SPEAK, and RAGE, and SHINE, and all the others, need to be available for those who are ready, who are mature enough or need the book.

And it’s not just teen “issue books” that are being targeting. It’s the entire genre of darker YA fiction that was essentially dissed. The individual books were highlighted because they are easy to categorize as being about cutting or rape, but make no mistake, the author of this article was targeting the entire YA genre that at this point in time is leaning dark and darker.

Ideas matter. Books matter. I’m not threatened by different ideas or philosophies or views. I may not agree with them—and I may not want my kids reading some books or watching some movies—but I would never tell you that your kids shouldn’t.

I write commercial fiction, specifically romantic thrillers. There is nothing in the WSJ article I haven’t heard before related to sex and violence in adult fiction. I have sex in my books; I have violence. I have foul language. I don’t write for everyone. One of the hardest lessons to learn as a writer is also a hard lesson to learn as a human being: you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try.

Growing up, there were several books that impacted me and have stayed with me for life.

One book I can’t remember the title (I always thought it was Judy Blume, but now I can’t find it) but I read it in fifth grade. It was about a girl whose mother never married—just like mine. I can remember reading it because there was a father-daughter dance at my school—and in the book. My grandpa took me to mine, and if I’m not confusing fiction with reality, the heroine in the book had a grandfather who took her to her dance as well. Trust me, there weren’t a lot of kids in the 1970s whose parents had never married (or at least, hadn’t known or admitted it.)

I read Flowers for Algernon and Harrison Bergeron when I was in seventh grade, and those two stories have stayed with me ever since.

And sometimes, I don’t remember how powerful something was for me … until my kids read it and it brings back memories. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which I read in 8th grade and then recently re-read when my daughter read it for school. Or Huckleberry Finn. Or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Like I said, there wasn’t a lot out there for YA readers.

Censorship is bad news all around. If I teach my kids anything, it’s that they have the right to speak, to have an opinion, to even have a differing opinion (though as the mom, I have veto power, and they just have to live with that.) I want them to challenge and question. Some of my strongest held beliefs today are the ones I challenged the most. Because they withstood my rigorous tests, they are my foundation. If I’ve tested my faith and it survived, no one else can shake it. If I’ve tested my philosophies and opinions and they survived, no one else can shake it. I have to have faith in my kids that they, too, can challenge themselves and be better people, better human beings, as a result.

On Twitter, the YA authors are asking people to share which YA book has most impacted them and why (in 140 characters or less!) with the hashtag #YAsaves. What would you say? And if you’re on Twitter, say it here and there!


Help Fix My Website

By Allison Brennan

I didn’t think I had to write a blog for today because the world was supposed to end … but at 12:02 a.m. I realized that I was still on the hook for a blog.

Just kidding. 🙂

If you read Alex’s post yesterday, you know that I had a very busy Saturday — soccer game, school fair, 22 kids at my house to meet for the prom, and then the problem I have with the ending of my book.

Here are the kids in my family room. Aren’t they lovely? (Mine is the fourth girl from the right in blue standing in front of the white tux.) It was a good day for the school: girls varsity soccer team won their third straight championship and the boys varsity baseball won the first game of the playoffs. Half the boys here were playing baseball only hours before; ditto for the girls playing soccer!)

But back to my problem ending …

I’ve written the last 40 pages six times. Or started to. I write, get to the pivotal climax, and realize that it’s not working. Back track, delete 2-3K words, write, think I’ve nailed it, then it fizzles. I *think* the sixth time is the charm. I’ve gotten farther into the final scene than in my previous attempts last night, and would have (hopefully) finished this afternoon except for all the activities. 

Ironically, I had an ending pictured–not really any details, just the location. As the story progressed, I didn’t think that original location would work–I thought I’d have to jump through hoops to get all the players to the same spot. So I tried this and that and another thing and they fizzled. It was my fifth attempt that I incorporated the original location into the ending and that lightbulb went off.  I had my missing ingredient. It tied everything together. Now I have everyone at the right place at the right time and it’s not contrived–as if my subconscious already knew there was no other option for these characters at this moment in time.

I’m off to write those final pages while I wait for the teenagers to come safety home from prom, then back from the after prom party nearby. (Which I know will be monitored to keep everyone in line. Not that I don’t trust them. But I was 17 once. A long, long time ago …)

I need your help. I updated my website last summer and really like it … but I think there are some issues. For years, my web hits have steadily increased, but now they’re stagnant and have been since the change, except for the week or two after a new book comes out. Unfortunately, I can’t really see what the problems are. Like why I need an editor–sometimes I know there’s a problem with a scene, but I can’t figure out what it is.

My web designer put the site together so that the main launch page would be easy to change, to incorporate my new release. We’ll be updating the launch page late this summer prior to the release of IF I SHOULD DIE on 11.22.11. But now’s the time to also incorporate any other changes to make the page stronger.

Please visit my website and help me fix it by answering the following questions:

1) What do you like BEST about my website.

2) What do you like LEAST about my website.

3) Is there any information you’d expect on an author site that you couldn’t find or was difficult to find?

Thank you in advance for your help!


By Allison Brennan


It’s not a secret that I love television.


I gave it up for three years when I first started seriously writing. At the time, I had three kids and a full-time job—the only time in the day to write was after the kids went to bed. The only time I watched television was what the kids were watching. Rugrats, Spongebob, Lizzie McGuire, and whatever was on the now-defunct TV Land. (My two oldest, now 15 and 17, were probably the only kids in their generation who’ve seen most episodes of Little House on the Prairie, the Brady Bunch, and Bewitched.)


When I started watching tv again, I was highly selective. First, I couldn’t stand to sit through commercials. Other than during the Super Bowl, I don’t think I’ve watched a commercial – unless it was something on a kids show. I started buying DVD sets, then got an Apple TV when I moved and love it.


TV has gotten so much better over the last few years. I recently blogged about the BBC program LUTHER which I loved. Edgy, different, with fantastic characters. They only had six episodes, but each was riveting. They’re producing two two-hour episodes for the fall.


It’s no secret that I love JUSTIFIED, another amazing show with a cast full of talented actors who bring these flawed characters to life. The season finale? Wow. Just … Wow. I am so frustrated that I have to wait nine months for Season Three . . . but I’m thrilled to get a third season, especially since LIFE (another favorite show) was cancelled after only two.


I can’t remember where I heard the recommendation, but I decided to buy season one of THE KILLING.


I don’t know whether I love it or hate it.


With LUTHER, I had a complex, character-driven police procedural in an unfamiliar world (the UK) that tackled the issues of justice vs vengeance. John Luther himself is an intriguing character who bends (and breaks) the law for justice. Lots of shades of gray.


With JUSTIFIED, I had an over-the-top adventure with a hero you love and criminals you both love and hate. Boyd Crowder is one of the greatest characters created, a villain who was redeemed in so many ways that we begin to root for him, so when he starts down the dangerous road, we’re still on his side.


LUTHER made me think; JUSTIFIED kept me on the edge of my seat.


THE KILLING made me cry.


My crying in movies isn’t new—FINDING NEMO at both the beginning where the mother clown fish and all her eggs are eaten by a shark, except for Nemo who Marlin protects to the extreme until Nemo rebels and Marlin’s worst fears are realized. And again at the end when Marlin finds Nemo again and thinks he’s dying. I cried in TOY STORY 3 at the beginning when the mom sees Andy’s empty room and tears up because he’s going to college … and again at the end when he gives his toys to another child as he’s leaving for college. But I never, if ever, cry in television shows. They don’t seem to have that power over me . . . until THE KILLING.


It’s a crime show like the others. It had complex and very real characters. More real than the others in so many ways. It’s edgy. It has a political component I spent 13 years working in the California State Legislature, and the nuances of the political subplot are so true-to-life I suspect one of the writers has worked in politics as well. I’ve only watched the first two episodes (so far six have aired) but I couldn’t turn away. Even when I wanted to.


It’s not graphic or violent like JUSTIFIED. It’s not even that fast-paced. In fact, it’s quite methodical. I’m not saying it’s slow, because it’s not, but it doesn’t rely on the “high stakes” speed that other crime shows incorporate.


What captured me—and repelled me—is the emotion. There is so much emotion in each scene that I can’t turn away. But the emotion that hits me isn’t a feeling I want to have.


Fear. Grief. Heartache.


The victim is a 17 year old girl, Rosie Larsen. She goes missing on a Friday night. Her parents are on a camping trip, she’s a good kid and they trust her. They thought she was staying with a friend. No one realizes she’s missing until after school starts on Monday.


The parents begin to expect something when the detective, Sarah Linden, finds the father’s credit card near the victim’s bloody sweater. She doesn’t yet know the identity or fate of the victim, but pretty quickly realizes that it’s Rosie, and she’s likely not alive.


Starting with the parents absolutely believable reaction—worry and anger—followed by the father seeking answers, starting with Rosie’s ex-boyfriend and going to his house to drag Rosie home, only to learn the woman in the ex’s bed isn’t his daughter. I could see me playing out the same reactions, inwardly scared to death that something happened but holding onto the hope and anger. 


But what really did it to me emotionally was when Stan the dad turns up at the location where Rosie’s body is found (through his own, increasingly frantic search) and while talking on the phone with his wife when a car is pulled out of the lake he demands answers. He’s nearly arrested until Sarah comes over and she doesn’t have to tell him the person in the car is Rosie. She turns and walks back and he breaks down sobbing in rage and pain while his wife is on the phone hearing it.


The opening to episode two has the parents identifying the body and that scene also had me in tears even though there was no rage or tantrums, just a quiet truth and grief. The parents, played by Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton (from JUSTIFIED) made me believe that was their daughter in the morgue. That was followed by separate interviews where they are in shock, particularly the mother, speaking in monotones, knowing the truth but still not believing it.


Worry. Anger. Pain. Grief. Guilt. Sorry. None of these are violent, but they are all powerful emotions.


THE KILLING is one of the best shows on television today because it taps into the deepest fears a parent can have. And it probably affected me more than the average viewer because I have a seventeen year old daughter.


And because it explores these raw fears so truthfully, I almost hate the show. Almost. I can’t stop watching, but I can’t watch one episode after another. I need a break to recover. Maybe watch an episode of JUSTIFIED. Just as riveting, without the emotional pain.


Has a television show, movie or book ever affected you so deeply that you were emotionally wrung out after the experience?






Find a Happy Place

By Allison Brennan


It’s Easter Sunday, but I wanted to do a bit more than simply wish everyone a lovely and safe holiday. 

I don’t want this to be a religious message, but considering the day I hope you’ll indulge me a little. I’m not seeking to convert anyone, only to share one point I think we can all agree on.

Jesus said in Matthew, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Sometimes, I think that if everyone followed that one dictum, the world would be a much happier, peaceful place.

I know, it’s a rather Pollyanna thought, and considering that I write rather dark crime fiction, it may surprise some people that I’m generally an optimist. (Picture the starfish Peach in Finding Nemo: “Find a happy place! Find a happy place!”)

I don’t think it’s surprising, however, that even in all its darkness, crime fiction is at its root optimistic. Heroes risking their lives and making sacrifices to save others, even if they’re not paid to do so. And because justice isn’t always served on earth, it’s cathartic to deliver justice in fiction. It’s the hope that stories give—that there are people who care enough to do the right thing, people willing to fight evil, people who show their love of humanity through their actions. People who love their neighbor.

The last two or three years, I’ve reflected on the similarities between Catholics and our Jewish brothers and sisters. It started while researching my Seven Deadly Sins series and reading Jewish fairy tales and folklore. It’s not that I had any issues with Judaism, it was more that since I was born and raised Catholic, I couldn’t relate. And I realized that for all the differences we have, we have far more in common than I knew or understood. The similarities between the traditional Seder meal and the Last Supper are the most obvious, but the foundation of Catholicism rises out of Judaism. I found I could relate. So when my kids wanted to learn more about Passover this year and celebrate it, I was all for it. (We did more of the learning this year; next year we have plans for a traditional Seder meal.)

I think that not only is it important for my kids to respect and appreciate different faiths, but it’s crucial in our world today to understand those who may not agree with us. I’m extremely opinionated about many things, and believe my views are correct (who doesn’t, right?) But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from or appreciate differing opinions. Again, perhaps a bit naïve, but it’s a philosophy that has helped me get through life. As Voltaire has been credited with saying, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

If I can teach my kids to love others, they’ll not only be happier people, but also more productive citizens. They’ll find that happy place.

I would love for people to share something positive and reflective today, to illustrate the maxim, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Maybe something you witnessed, or something you did, or something you read about. Toni sent me a link last month about the Japanese man who, after the tsunami, searched for his wife and mother. After finding them, he went back to search for others.

Or maybe a story closer to home. A simple act of love that showed you there is hope.

Have a blessed day.




One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

By Allison Brennan

I am traveling home today from the RT Book Lovers Convention, where I hooked up with fellow Murderati members and alumni: Rob, Brett, Stephen, and Alex. I haven’t been to RT in three years, and while the last one I was at in Houston left a sour taste in my mouth, this one was so wonderful it more than made up for it. I also brought my book lover daughter, my 15 year-old RT book reviewer, who took my credit card and stocked up on enough books to get her through the next few months . . .

Speaking of reading, I was lucky enough to get an advanced reading copy of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s ONE WAS A SOLDIER, on sale this Tuesday. This is the 7th book in her Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series, and while it was the first I’d read, I didn’t feel lost. There’s a lot of backstory that I assume was in other books, beautifully woven in for us new readers so that the parts relevant to the current mystery and character arc were all there. Julia said, “I trust my readers to follow along without a road map. They don’t need all the hand-holding we authors sometimes think they do.” I, as a reader, greatly appreciated that level of intelligence!

I read virtually every page on Julia’s website (which is a terrific site, BTW, easy to navigate with lots of information) and asked her a bunch of questions as well in preparation for this article. I was tickled to learn that Julia and I are a lot alike—like me, she’s an organic writer (that means she doesn’t plot – yeah!) and her favorite quote is one of my favorite quotes: “I can fix anything except a blank page.” — Nora Roberts. Among her many favorite childhood books was the Narnia series, which I loved when I was a kid and reading them again to my children. But in one of those little twists of fate, I picked up One Was a Soldier not knowing it was set in a small, depressed Adirondack town . . . and I just turned in my next Lucy Kincaid book, set in the Adirondacks. Needless to say, I was hooked on page one!

On a warm September evening in the Millers Kill community center, five veterans sit down in rickety chairs to try to make sense of their experiences in Iraq. What they will find is murder, conspiracy, and the unbreakable ties that bind them to one other and their small Adirondack town.

The Rev. Clare Fergusson wants to forget the things she saw as a combat helicopter pilot and concentrate on her relationship with Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne. MP Eric McCrea needs to control the explosive anger threatening his job as a police officer. Will Ellis, high school track star, faces the reality of life as a double amputee. Orthopedist Trip Stillman is denying the extent of his traumatic brain injury. And bookkeeper Tally McNabb wrestles with guilt over the in-country affair that may derail her marriage.

But coming home is harder than it looks. One vet will struggle with drugs and alcohol. One will lose his family and friends. One will die.

Since their first meeting, Russ and Clare’s bond has been tried, torn, and forged by adversity. But when he rules the veteran’s death a suicide, she violently rejects his verdict, drawing the surviving vets into an unorthodox investigation that threatens jobs, relationships, and her own future with Russ. As the days cool and the nights grow longer, they will uncover a trail of deceit that runs from their tiny town to the upper ranks of the U.S. Army, and from the waters of the Millers Kill to the unforgiving streets of Baghdad.


Doesn’t that teaser make you want to read the book?

I love Julia’s heroine Clare Fergusson. The Reverend at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Clare is complex, wounded, matter-of-fact, and facing very real personal and professional conflicts that have no easy or one “right” answer.

“Clare was created originally out of my desire to look at crime from the point of view of someone whose job was to repair the torn social fabric, rather than bring down the bad guys,” Julia said. “At the beginning of In the Bleak Midwinter, she is the very definition of the classic story idea ‘Someone Comes to Town.’ Everything and everyone is new to her – and her role as parish priest is also brand new. So she has a lot of connections to make.”

Keeping a character arc moving forward from book to book is not easy, something I’ve grappled with in my own series as I’m three books in. When I asked Julia how she keeps Clare fresh and growing as a character, she said, “The most surprising way Clare has grown has been in her questioning of, and experience with her ministry. She starts out very unsure of herself, bluffing her way through on her Army leadership skills and a (usually unsuccessful) determination to play the role of “priest” to perfection. As she grows throughout the books, her ability to confidently lead and guide her parish develops, but her self-doubts about her fitness for the priesthood does as well.”

To me, this conflict is so natural and organic that it made Clare real to me as a reader, someone I could see walk off the page living and breathing. And isn’t that the sign of an amazing writer? It’s no wonder that One Was a Soldier has received so many outstanding reviews, included starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist.

“If you allow the characters to be changed by the events that unfold around them, they’ll stay fresh,” Julia said. “I think series characters stagnate when they stop being affected by crime and murder (or vampire slaying, or planetary conquest) like real humans would be. Series characters can’t be stones in the stream of story. They have to be boats, constantly moving forward through a changing emotional landscape.”

Because I’m always curious if a protagonist reflects an author in any way, I asked Julia how she was most like and most different from Clare.

“The way in which we are most alike is probably our sense of humor. Snarky, with a side of wry,” Julia said. “The way in which we’re most different? Clare is almost boundary-free; open to everyone, willing to help everyone. I’m a great deal more tightly buttoned. I wish I could reach out to others the way she can.”

One other thing I loved about the series was the very real relationship between Clare and the Police Chief, Russ Van Alstyne. While not a “romantic mystery,” the interaction between these two characters and the depth of their feelings enhanced the story and the suspense. Since I write romantic thriller, I really appreciate when other mystery/thriller writers create a wonderful hero/heroine who I can root for and respect. In addition, the characters relationships not only with each other but everyone else in Millers Kill created a very real world.

The setting for Julia’s series, Millers Kill, NY, was a character in itself: beautifully described without the description being set-aside and separate from the story—the town came alive through the eyes of the characters and lyrical word choice of the author. I asked Julia whether Millers Kill was based on a real place.

“It’s based physically on the town of Hudson Falls, NY, relocated to the far northwestern corner of Washington County. I get a lot of the details from neighboring North Country towns and villages. I go back several times a year to soak up the atmosphere and take lots of mental notes. I also get a lot of detail from the small town I live in in Maine and the nearby rural area. Like Tolstoy’s happy families, all small towns are essentially alike.

“My home town, Argyle, NY, is the basis for Cossayuharie in my books – rolling hills and dairy farms. The difference is the real Washington County has something like one murder every decade or so—while the homicide rate in Millers Kill is considerably higher!”

Julia is currently researching her eighth book, Seven Whole Days, and I was thrilled to learn that St. Martin’s signed up for three more Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne books!

Julia’s road to publication was a bit different than most–shortly after the birth of her third child, she sent her recently finished manuscript to the St. Martin’s Press Best First Novel contest. She soon after got a call from legendary mystery editor Ruth Cavin informing her In the Bleak Midwinter had beaten out over two hundred and thirty other manuscripts to win the 2001 Best First Traditional Mystery Award. 

How cool is that?

I asked Julia some fun questions, but please ask her some more yourself! She’s going to try and visit us today to answer them for you.

Dog person or cat person?

J: Dog person, though we also have two sister-cats who are very sweet. My current Big Dog, Marvin, is a lab-husky mutt who likes to sprawl next to my chair as I work.

Favorite book(s) as a child?

J: It’s a toss up between the “color” Fairy Books, the Narnia series, and Walter Brooks’ Freddie the Pig stories. I believe “Freddie the Detective” was my introduction to the world of crime fiction.

Favorite classic movie?

J: Christmas in Connecticut

Favorite movie you’ve seen in the last year?

J: Julie and Julia. We got it on DVD so we could watch only the Julia parts.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing or reading?

J: What is this strange space/time anomaly you speak of?

Favorite vacation spot?

J: I’m living in it – the beautiful state of Maine.

One fact about you that most people don’t know …

J: I wore an eye patch to correct amblyopia when I was a kid.

Now the bio . . .
Julia Spencer-Fleming is the Agatha and Anthony-award-winning author of the upcoming One Was A Soldier, the seventh Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.   One Was A Soldier is available for preorder at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders. Powell’s Books and your locally owned independent bookstore.

Start at the beginning of the story with In the Bleak Midwinter, now only $2.99 as an ebook. And don’t miss Letters to a Soldier, a free ebooklet with exclusive content and an excerpt from One Was A Soldier.

On her website, Julia ponders an oft-asked question about whether her books are “cozies” or “hard-boiled.” As a reader, I find them neither, but with elements of both, making the books an original voice that I very much enjoyed. If you don’t have a question for Julia, maybe we can discuss labels — whether labels hurt or hinder an author, books that transcend labels, or books that are called one thing but are really something very different.


By Allison Brennan

No matter how well I plan, my book deadlines always overlap other major events.

For example, PLAYING DEAD was due when I was in the middle of moving. FEAR NO EVIL was due between Thanksgiving and Christmas–a hectic time for normal people, and an insane time for people with kids (school Christmas plays, choir performances, family events, shopping, and the kids are out of school!)

Birthday GirlThis month, things crept up on me . . . My daughter’s 8th birthday (Friday the 25th); my husband’s 50th birthday (Wednesday the 30th–he shares his birthday with Eric Clapton–and we had the party last night); two volleyball tournaments (last weekend and this weekend); the Dreamin’ in Dallas conference where I’m the keynote speaker next Saturday (and yes, I need to write a speech . . . or at least have some notes!); the RT conference starting on the 6th (and all the prep before then); and then the Thriller 3 anthology, of which I’m the managing editor. 

Usually, I can juggle pretty well, but when everything happens at the same time, I get a little stressed :/

This time, however, I’m not as stressed as usual. My frustration is that I know exactly where the story is going, yet can’t sit down for 5 days straight and write. A week ago, I hit a major turning point, saw that I’d laid the ground work for something pretty cool (no, I didn’t plan it, it just happened that way) and now I want to write non-stop . . . but with kids and responsibilities, I can’t. This is one of the few times I wished I lived alone in a cabin in the woods (with running hot water, electricity, and food) and not have anything else to do but write. Not just because of the pending deadline, but because I’m loving where the story is going and I don’t want to lose the momentum. I want to get into the zone and never leave it.

Every book seems to be a little different–some start “easy” and get harder; others start hard and get easier; but inevitably, I have two major turning points: the beginning of act two when I get stuck (always) and go back and write and rewrite and rewrite, constantly thinking that the book sucks, I can’t write, I should be flipping burgers, everything is total garbage . . . then something clicks and I can move on. Then, at the beginning of act three,  I “see” the book as a whole, have (usually) figured out the ending, and all I want to do is write 24/7. 

My zone is focus plus excitement. I am so in-tune with the story, that I can’t NOT write it. Being torn away from the book is emotionally painful. I stop writing not because I can’t think or get stuck or reach the end of a scene, but because I’m literally falling asleep at my computer. And the first thing I do in the morning is rush to the computer and start writing. 

So really, I’m not at all upset that I needed to be up at 6 a.m. on Sunday for a volleyball tournament 45 minutes away . . . I’ve already mapped out the two closest Starbucks.

Last Thursday, Zoe and I spoke and signed books at M is for Mystery. The crowd was small, but very interested — I think because Zoe is so entertaining! She’s smart and funny, my two favorite traits in a person. 

Me, Ed Kaufman, and Zoe Sharp at M is for Mystery

And I have some good news . . . LOVE ME TO DEATH is a finalist for best romantic suspense in the RITA award. The winners will be announced at the RWA conference in NYC at the end of June.

Apologies for the short blog — that deadline thing! So I’ll leave you with a question.

I often buy books that final in contests like the RITAs and Edgars and Thrillers, especially debut novels and books that are nominated in my own category. For example, this year I’ve read 5 of the other 7 nominees; I just ordered the two I haven’t read. Do you use contests as a shopping list? Do you find that you’ve already read them before they were nominated? Have you found any favorite author because you bought them after they won or was nominated for a writing award?


The Bitter End

By Allison Brennan


I’m not talking about typing THE END—one of my favorite moments of writing. I’m talking about the final end, the end of days: death.

Or in the timeless words of John Cleese in Monty Python’s skit:

He’s not pining! He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he 
rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the 
bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!


Apparently, Alex and I are on the same psychic wavelength once again because while I planned on writing about death, she was planning on making me an ex-writer. All I ask is that she waits until I’m done with my current book!

My mom has been organizing my office for me and last week she found hidden in my bookshelves a morbid little book called THE WHOLE DEATH CATALOG. My editor sent it to me because I’m a fan of Harold Schechter, who wrote one of my favorite research books, THE SERIAL KILLER FILES.

In college, I took a Philosophy class to fulfill a requirement, and I absolutely hated the segment on Death and Dying. Odd, perhaps, because I write about murder and criminal psychology and a lot of people die in my books. I’m more interested in the whys of death—homicide or natural—than in the process of dying. This probably explains my fears as well—death (as in the final outcome) doesn’t bother me. It’s the path to being dead that I don’t like to think about.

So I’d forgotten about THE WHOLE DEATH CATALOG until my mom found it. I picked it up and flipped through it. There’s a lot of interesting, albeit morbid, trivia and a lot of research about how people viewed dying across time. What makes it almost fun is the author’s voice, illustrated well in this paragraph from the introduction:

“Concerned that you lack the necessary skills to throw a truly memorable funeral, one that expresses the unique, inimitable (albeit now defunct) you? Not to worry. A new branch of the mortuary business has lately sprung up, composed of experts who, taking their cue from professional party planners, will help you arrange the perfect going-away-forever affair, complete with specialty catering, appropriate music, and even giveaway “funeral favors.” Sort of like a really top-flight wedding or bar mitzvah, only with a cadaver as the guest of honor.”


Some of the fun tidbits from the book:

The motorcycle hearse. Schechter’s research uncovered that the first known biker burial was in the UK immediately after WWII. Now, the practice has spread to the US and if this is the way you want to go to your grave, check out Biker Burials.

Then the question: To Burn or Not to Burn? The history of cremation. The different types of caskets explained, including some of the not-so-successful ideas in coffin-making: the glass coffin, the cement coffin, and the rubber coffin. I really didn’t need to read the history of embalming; however, I did have a spark of an idea for a future book. 

One of my favorite stories was about (surprise) serial killers William Burke and William Hare. Prior to 1830, it was extremely difficult for medical schools to obtain cadavers for anatomical study, according to Schechter. Some people became grave robbers, digging up freshly buried corpses and selling them to “anatomy schools.”

Not so for Burke and Hare. When an elderly lodger of Hare’s died owing money, Hare sold the corpse to an anatomist. When he saw how much money he could make, and disliking the “difficult, dirty, and dangerous business of grave robbing,” Hare and Burke opted to create their own cadavers. First hastening the deaths of the elderly in Hare’s boarding house, until they were all dead, they next preyed on prostitutes and the homeless. Fifteen people died this way before they were caught.

There is even a chapter on Death in the Movies and another on Death Lit 101, perhaps of more interest to Murderati readers.

For example, the “Most Emotionally Satisfying Death” according to Schechter?

Dirty Harry (1971). Few, if any, other moments in cinematic history are as profoundly gratifying as the climax of this two-fisted classic, when Clint Eastwood’s heroic police officer puts a well-deserved .44 Magnum slug into the worthless carcass of the sniveling long-haired psycho killer after asking, “Are you feeling lucky, punk?”

 “Most Shocking Death in a Classic Film Noir”

Kiss of Death (1947). In a scene that still shocks with its brutality (even in our age of Saw, Hostel, and other works of cinematic “torture porn”), a cackling psychopath named Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) ties a crippled old lady to her wheelchair and hurls her down a flight of steps—basically just for the fun of it.


And in “Death Lit?” Most of us have probably read many of the entries: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved Ones”, and Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Schechter also writes about W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw” (one of the scariest stories I have ever read!):

“Playing on a proverbial theme—be careful what you wish for—this classic tale of terror (arguably the scariest ever written) serves as an effective reminder that the very human impulse to pray for the return of a deceased loved one might not be such a hot idea.”


Season 6 ArtIn SUPERNATURAL, one of my favorite television shows, it would have done the Winchester Brothers (and their dad) some good to read “The Monkey’s Paw.” In the season two opener, the dad John agrees to exchange his life to save his son Dean. At the end of Season Two, Dean makes a deal with the crossroads demon and gets Sam’s life back (he’d been dead a couple days, but didn’t seem to suffer the decomposition process—I had to put aside the disbelief on that one) in exchange for his own. Dean has one year, then he’s going to Hell. Season Three is spent trying to get Dean out of his deal, but to no avail. He goes to Hell. (He comes back in Season Four.) And one of my favorite characters, who’s only been in two or three episodes, is Death (played by Julian Richings.) Creepy and perfect for the role. A lot of death and afterlife (afterdeath?) in this television show!

Julian Richings as “Death” one of the Four HorsemanWhat is one of your favorite movies or books with death as a central theme? Something that made you laugh or reflect—or both. And if you can’t think of one, what kind of funeral celebration do you want? Somber and traditional, a lively wake, or maybe hire a party planner so your friends and relatives will talk about your funeral for years?