Fish Out Of Water

By Allison Brennan

I’ll admit, I’m nervous to be here. Okay, we’ll say terrified.

I’ve been a regular visitor and fan of Murderati for a couple years. I met JT, Rob, Brett and Toni at Thrillerfest in 2006 and we hung out. We were in Arizona and there was something about that first ITW conference that was intoxicating. Not just the drinks, but the atmosphere. I mean where else could a newly published author like myself walk into a bar and see Lee Child hanging out? Or share a ride with the classy and smart and talented Tess Gerritsen? I felt out of my element. I wasn’t a real thriller writer, after all. I write romantic suspense. A little sex, a little violence, and the guarantee that my hero and heroine are going to survive and be together at the end of the book.

I felt far more comfortable with the Killer Year gang–the soon-to-be-published thriller writers of 2007. Sure, I had three books out in 2006, but they didn’t really count as three because they came out bang-bang-bang in consecutive months. It was *like* having just one book release.

Today, I feel just like I did two years ago when I stepped into the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. A bit in awe, shocked I’m here, happy as a clam, and feeling a bit unworthy. (Four cliches in one sentence! How about that.)

I rarely write anything profound. Occasionally, I can turn a phrase and impress myself, but usually I write how I talk–too long with lots of tangents. One thing I love about writing novels over short stories is that I have 100,000 words to play with. I can throw out all these threads and have plenty of time to tie them together. When I write short, it’s painful. Agonizing. My high school American History teacher gave me an “A-” on my final essay because I, “So eloquently said in ten pages what could easily have been said in five.”

The other bloggers here at Murderati have backgrounds that are professional, interesting or fun. Doctors, attorneys, executives, business owners. They’re smart, profound, and probably read all those intelligent literary books that make them even smarter and more profound. They care about the words, what they mean, and how they look and sound together. They anguish over making a sentence just right, to leave just the right image in the reader’s mind. Don’t try to deny it, I’ve read your blog posts, I know this about you.

I envy you. Sure, I get excited when I come up with something that sounds so good I can’t believe I wrote it. Those are the sentences that usually get deleted during revisions. I recently had one of those, “Wow, I can’t believe I wrote that” moments.

Okay, tangent time . . . I don’t plot. Ever. Even when I think I know where the story is going, it doesn’t go there. For example, I just finished writing SUDDEN DEATH (4/09). About two weeks before I was done, my editor needed a synopsis for the two books that follow it (for sales, art and the copy editors.) They had to know what the books were about so they could write cover copy. (Okay, tangent again — I wrote a synopsis for SD before I wrote the book because they needed it . . . I didn’t expect the cover copy so soon, and I sort of forgot to tell my editor that the story wasn’t what I said it would be. The cover copy sounded terrific–except I hadn’t written that book. We fixed it.) Anyway, back to the first tangent . . . I still had 100 or so pages to write for SUDDEN DEATH and I wrote a new synop and figured I knew how the book was going to end, I was so close to the climax, right? I finished the book Thursday. It didn’t end anything like I thought it would. You can see that writing a synopsis is paralyzing for me because NEVER has a book turned out remotely like the synopsis.

I wrote a brief synopsis (about 3 paragraphs each) for FATAL SECRETS and CUTTING EDGE, books 2 and 3 of my FBI trilogy. Immediately, I knew book 2 wasn’t going to work. The characters were wrong, the premise was great–but the story would be boring. I could see it. I put myself to sleep just thinking about it. And then woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat fearing I was stuck writing a boring book. So I emailed my editor and said, um, don’t send FS to copy because I’m not going to write that book. It doesn’t work.

But I’m getting excited about book 3 because already I can see all the possible threads and potential outcomes. Within the short synopsis I laid out I can go in infinite directions. I like my characters, they’ve walked right in and made themselves at home. I see them. My villain creeps me out, always a good sign. The story doesn’t have to go the way I think it might, because the set-up works. I have many paths my characters can choose.

My “wow” moment came Thursday when my editor sent me the draft back cover copy. I read it and loved it. I wanted to read the book! Well, first I have to write it, but still, I couldn’t believe they extracted that cool story out of my pathetic synopsis. The copy is going to be hard to live up to.

I get thrilled very easily. I lead a very boring life. When you get excited about touring the morgue or going to the gun range to shoot guns you can’t buy in California (but it was okay, because they were cops letting us shoot them–I wasn’t breaking any laws, so please don’t turn me in. Okay, I did break one law last week when I talked on my cell phone not using the hands free device that I hate, but the kids were in the car and the story I was hearing was not fit for their ears . . . )

So, anyway, I’m rather simple. You probably won’t get any brilliant commentary from my blog posts or find me as crafty as Alex or laugh-out-loud funny as Toni or as poignant as Pari. I love wine like JT, but for me it’s either, “This is really good” or “This is crap.” I often start talking about one thing, and end on a completely different note . . . for example, I originally planned to introduce myself here on Murderati with a post about why I love to write romantic suspense. I even talked out my blog while driving home after dropping the kids off at school Friday morning. You can see from my opening, where I mention I write romantic suspense, that I did intend to come back to that at some point. But this is already running long and — wait!! I now have a blog topic next time. Woo hoo, I’m already ahead of the game. 🙂 And I didn’t even plan it.

I thought I would share a couple facts about me you may or may not know:

** I have five kids. (Yes, I know where babies come from and how they are made.)

** I’m a college drop-out. UC Santa Cruz. Yes, our mascot was the banana slug. . . . okay, stop laughing. Seriously. It’s not that funny. It’s actually quite weird and disturbing. But . . . I suppose I saw this fate in my future. When I was 10, a columnist for the San Mateo Times, John Horgan (who was my uncle’s college roommate,) wrote a column titled, “Allison and the Banana Slug.” Yeah, I was THAT Allison. The rest is history. Please rewrite it.

** I love video games. It’s sad. I’m going to be 39 this month.

** I wrote a gushing fan letter to Stephen King when I was 13 and he wrote me back.

** When I was a kid, I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. Why? Because Quincy was my favorite tv show. (Yes, I know it’s not realistic. There was never any blood.) When I did my morgue tour last year and observed an autopsy, I realized that I wasn’t as squeamish as I thought. Maybe I should have pursued that career path . . . naw.

In light of my virgin post here at Murderati, I’m going to give away some books. Why not, right? And I’m being perfectly selfish in my gift-giving. The last book of my prison break trilogy comes out at the end of the month. I want to suck you in with the first two books so you’ll run out and buy PLAYING DEAD on September 30th. See, I’m really not a nice person . . . just ask my fourteen year old daughter who thinks I’m evil, don’t care, don’t understand, and just plain mean because I won’t let her date until she’s 16. And sometimes I think it’s odd that my agent has to preface any conversation about me with, “Allison is really very nice, honest . . . “

To win, all you have to do is comment. And maybe tell us one thing we don’t know about you. I’ll randomly pick five winners over the course of the week and ask Toni (please!) to post them next Sunday.

Thanks, gang, for having me. I’m truly honored to be here.

44 thoughts on “Fish Out Of Water

  1. Rob Flumignan

    I’m currently in the process of writing a novel without any pre-plotting. It’s freaking me out a bit, but some of the stuff I’ve come up with I never would have put in an outline. I don’t know if it’s going to work. I have very little idea where it’s all headed (except in the most general terms). This writing without a plot is scary, but kinda fun, too. Whether I end up with a readable novel or not…guess we’ll see in a few months.

    Welcome to Murderati!

  2. spyscribbler

    Yes, a big AMEN to Tess’s post! DEFINITELY! I’m giving it a standing applause.

    And ya’ know, you guys might want to consider signing your posts at the top for the benefit of those who read by feed. 🙂

    Welcome to Murderati!

  3. Kaye Barley

    Allison, I’m so glad you’re here and I think you are brilliant! Loved your post and will enjoy reading lots more to come. As one who also can’t seem to talk without going off onto a tangent, or two, think of them as a dear friend of mine described them for me – “lovely little meanderings.”Welcome, and I think you’re going to be a lovely addition to a wonderful group.

  4. Kathleen

    Ha! Your American history teacher must have been related to my 11th grade American lit teacher, Mrs. Webb who gave me the Webb Award that year for my “Ability to say in twenty words what could otherwise be said in ten.” Welcome to the ‘rati.

  5. billie

    Welcome, Allison!

    Looking forward to reading your blog posts here – I haven’t been able to comment much recently b/c our miniature donkey broke his leg. Crazy week.

    I’m amazed that you can write books with FIVE children!

    I was going to say that I can barely do it with two, but then realized I probably need to count all the animals, of which there are 13, so… maybe I should cut myself some slack. 🙂

  6. Rob Gregory Browne

    Don’t sell yourself short, Allison. You’re a great writer and you’ll always be my go-to gal when it comes to figuring out how this industry works.

    By the way, I never plot anything either. I hate when I have to do a proposal because I usually have nothing more than a very basic premise and a handful of characters when I start a book.

    I think there are a few of us here.

    Welcome to the monkey house.

  7. Jason

    Don’t be ashamed of being a gamer. I’m 37 and love games — though it is an occupational hazard for me as I work in the games industry 🙂

    You and I represent the “typical gamer” especially in the casual space.

    Moreover, games can always use writers who love games and understand them. I have a great time working with writers who write for games.

    I look forward to checking out your books.



  8. J.D. Rhoades

    ” smart, profound, and probably read all those intelligent literary books that make them even smarter and more profound.”

    Yeah, that’s me all over.

    *giggle* *snort*

    Welcome, Allison! Glad to have another seat of the pants plotter here.

    You know about the initiation ceremony, right? You remembered to bring the jello, I hope. I got the duct tape. The goat’s going to be dropped off later, and then we can get started.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Um, don’t know! But Tess blogs on Tuesday, so I’m sure she will return then 🙂

    Rob, welcome to the insanity. I do think non-plotters are not quite all there. (I hate the term “pantzer”–it might be an RWA exclusive adjective, but it means writing by the seat of your pants. I like organic writer, but insane works to.) The thing is, I can’t write any other way. I think I commented in one of Alex’s posts about this–if I try to plot, I can’t write. I once had an idea for the major turning point in the book, something at the midpoint that would turn everything upside down on its head. I was so excited–it was cool 🙂 . . . thing is, when I got there (which was a struggle), the entire book fell apart. I was writing toward a gimmick, but didn’t see it, and ended up deleting more than 100 pages. In the synop I did for SUDDEN DEATH, I only had 100 dang pages to write and I thought the story was going to end up back in Sacramento where it started. I even had my heroine at the airport waiting to get on the plane . . . but it wouldn’t have worked for the story.

  10. Stacey Cochran

    Welcome, Allison. Murderati just keeps getting classier and classier. (When is JT gonna sign up a loser like me to balance things out here, folks?)

    Seriously, I look forward to reading your posts. Welcome!

    And way to go, JT, for getting Allison to join in the discussion here…

    Y’all rock!

  11. Allison Brennan

    Hi Spy! You over here too? Wow 🙂 JT TOLD me to sign my post at the top. I forgot. I just edited it and hope I did it right, because everyone else has one space between their title and name, and I have two, and I have no idea why . . .

    Thanks so much, Kaye! I often come up with my best ideas 10 tangents later . . .

    Kathleen, we must have been separated at birth 🙂

    Thanks for the warm welcome, Tess! I’m happy (and scared) to be here too!

    Billie, animals count. My kids sometimes act like animals. At least, they make enough noise for a kennel . . . at least I can send my kids to school. It’s a state law. They HAVE to go. One of my kids asked why I don’t home school them (we have good friends who home school) and I just started laughing. I might have said something like I didn’t want to go to prison for homicide or hell for suicide . . . sorry about your donkey 🙁

  12. Jake Nantz

    Well, color me a gamer too. For me, it’s just another escape into a wonderful world, just the way books are. Sure, the occasional fighting/shoot ’em up, but for the most part my wife and I like the games with a storyline (go figure). Nothing to be ashamed of, unless you’re like me and you can finish a game in a few days over the summer, but that latest WIP is still a WIP….

    Welcome to the ‘Rati! (Oh, and don’t worry about the goat. It’s my understanding that initiation used to involve a bull, so you’re getting off lucky).

  13. Allison Brennan

    Hi Rob! One of my favorite people. Rob knows a lot more than he thinks he does. BTW, I have a workshop I give periodically called NO PLOTTERS ALLOWED. It’s a favorite of mine. 🙂

    Jason, my son (he’s 7) wants to create video games. He started playing when he was 4 and picked up on it instantly. I swear, he learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide playing Pikmin before he started kindergarden. It’s still one of our favorite games. Right now, he’s writing a script where he wants all of us to play Pikmin (he gets to be Olimar, the alien in charge.)

    Initiation. Right. That was vodka with the jello. I’ll need it by the time we get to the goat . . .

    BG, I got the donuts, but the kids ate them. Sorry! 🙂

  14. Allison Brennan

    Thanks Stacey! I don’t know about classy . . . but I pretend real good in public. I’m scared to death of all those bloggers lurking in the shadows of conferences like paparazzi waiting to get me saying/doing something that’ll embarrass me for the rest of my life . . .

    Jake, video games are a huge procrastination tool for me, so I don’t have any boxes in my office. I have a tv, but I don’t have a problem turning it off. I gave up television for three years when I started seriously writing, and I have an iPod, AppleTV and can get almost any show I want to watch whenever I want. (I’m very spoiled.) We have the Wii in the family room (need the space to play!) and PS2 and the original game cube (still my favorite for kids games) in the den. I like the story games as well–Pikmin and Pikmin2; Lego Star Wars (really, a brilliant concept and well-down in the execution). Yeah, I know, they’re kids games . . . but I was holding off on the violent games until Brennan #3 was older. Ironically, my older girls don’t love the games, and my 5 year old wants to play but doesn’t have the patience and hates to lose. My 7 year old loves, loves, loves playing and has huge patience and is one of the best winners and losers in any game. My husband doesn’t play video games, and doesn’t understand why I like them. He’s a bit older than me, and I think it’s because I was 11, 12, 13 when all the great classics were out. PacMan, Ms PacMan, Centipede . . .

  15. pari

    Me? Poignant? Huh?

    Allison,We’re delighted to have you. I’m the one who’s starting to feel outclassed!

    Great post.

    I do have a question: how do you remember what you wrote earlier in the book if you don’t plot/outline? I don’t do it either, but I’m finding that I forget the beginnings.

    Maybe it’s just early, um, well . . . let’s just say I’m older than you.

  16. JT Ellison

    Welcome to Murderati, Allison!!!! We are thrilled to pieces to have you here. Thank you for kicking off your run so beautifully. You’ve been one of my favorite writers for two years and you continually amaze me.

  17. Terri Molina

    Wonderful Post Allison, you’d never know it’s your official first.I love how you go off on tangents…I do too…I call it my Ellen Degeneres syndrome. ;-PHere’s a little known fact about me. In highschool I was in an all girl drum and bugle corp called the Hussars (and, yeah, they had some lovely names for that). I played a snare drum. On our kickoff performance for the school year I dropped my drum stick and had to do the whole five minute routine with my fingers.Anyway, great to see you here! And hope to see you in 2010 in Phoenix again. 😉


  18. Nancy Naigle

    You’re a great addition to this blog! Love the tangents and the fact that you’re getting all this done and being a mom to 5 kids .. good golly thanks for raising the bar for the rest of us!

    Best Wishes on the release of Playing Dead.Nancy

  19. Mary-Frances Makichen

    Hi Allison,Well you know I’m a fan so of course I’m delighted to see you here at one of my favorite blogs! I just don’t see how a mother of five can say they lead a boring life–your house must be a very busy one!

    Hmmm, something you don’t know about me. I’m a certified yoga teacher, although I haven’t taught in quite a while, or I live with champion Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

    Have a great week!

  20. toni mcgee causey

    So THRILLED you are here, Allison, and yep, that Thriller Fest was phenomenal, a one-of-a-kind. It was a blast hanging out with you and Rob, JT and the Killer Year group.

    And clearly, CLEARLY, you will be amazing here just because you’re you, with your insights into the business and the craft.

  21. ArkansasCyndi

    Allison – Welcome! I’m one of Murderati’s major readers and lurkers! 🙂 It is the coolest site – of course Murder She Writes is pretty great 🙂

    I really look forward to seeing you here.

  22. Fran

    We’ve been packing the house getting ready to move, and I currently have the attention span of a hyperactive five-year-old, but I laughed all the way through your post. Welcome, Allison!

    And for what it’s worth, in one of my stories (which will never see the light of day, but I have a blast with it), I had everything plotted out, and the bloody characters kept getting away from me and giving things away so I had to keep adding things. Silly characters.

  23. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I swear I thought Allison WAS on the ‘Rati masthead already. About time we made it official. HUZZAH!!!

    Now I can lean even further over your shoulder to see how the hell you do it! 😉 I swear I’m going to disguise myself and sneak into your “No Plotters Allowed” seminar one of these days.

  24. Tom

    Pari, there are indeed Bookie Monsters. You place a bet, lose more than you’ve got, and the Bookie Monster appears. Louie, Knuckles and Little Bruce are common names for them.

    Welcome, Allison! I like romantic mysteries, romantic thrillers and ‘shipper lit in general. I hope you do give us a blog on the topic soon. Other unknown fact; when I was thirteen, a woman on my paper route who worked for Bantam (I think it was Bantam, in Des Plaines, IL) gave me a huge bag full of mysteries. The books from Mrs. Berry and our good public library changed my life in many ways.

    Billie, sorry to hear about your donkey, and I trust the prognosis is good. It takes me half an hour each morning to care for just four critters here, so by all means cut yourself a half-a-bolt of slack if you care for thirteen.

  25. Tammy Cravit

    Your daughter sounds just like my almost-13-year-old, Allison. We keep telling her, “first finish school, then get a job, THEN start looking for romantic partners.” She just rolls her eyes and says, “Yeah, I’ll let you know how that works out.”

    Welcome to Murderati, by the way – I can only imagine how exciting it must be.

  26. Tom

    A small highjack – one week after its release, I found JT’s 14 on the bookrack at our favorite RiteAid pharmacy in Long Beach, CA. MIRA is getting the distribution job done for you, JT, and that has to bode well!

  27. Lori G. Armstrong

    Allison Brennan – one of my favorites – as a person and an author, and why in the hell aren’t you going to RT this year? No kids…lots of margaritas…I mean networking opportunities 🙂

    When we’re in Walmart, or Target, or at the Quickstop in Chugwater, WY, and your book, or should I say one of your many books are staring me in the face, my youngest always says, isn’t that your friend? I preen a bit.

    You are a great addition to Murderati and I look forward to your posts, especially on the subject near and dear to both our hearts, and that’s all I’m sayin’ 🙂

    Rock on, mama!

  28. Allison Brennan

    Yep, Pari, poignant (and I just looked it up to make sure I knew what it meant; I did.) I always find your posts interesting and astute. I never get that philosophical, unless I’ve had a couple glasses of wine or something . . .

    Thank you so much, JT. My mom just finished 14 and said that she really liked it. And she doesn’t just say that!

    Hey Gregg! One of the brilliant Killer Year guys. Hope you’re busy writing the next book, your fans are eagerly awaiting it.

    Hi Terri! You are certainly a trooper, the show must go on, right? LOL

    Thanks Nancy. Five kids are both fun and a challenge. But other writers have kids, they have parents they take care of, or siblings who need daily hand-holding or special needs kids. I’m not unique. But you can all think I’m a goddess if you want, I’ll try to live up to the image . . .

    Louise!! You were at TF and we didn’t meet? Wow. I wish we’d had. Or, if we did, and I forgot, please forgive me. (blushing.)

    Mary-Frances, great to see you here too! And I said boring, not lazy. I’m definitely busy . . . but most of it is driving, games (now that school has started this means volleyball and soccer . . . and my 7 year old has decided to take up golf. Seriously.) Cooking, writing, reading, and occasionally going to a movie. So yep, boring . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

  29. Allison Brennan

    Well, Toni, we’ll just have a mutual admiration society because I think you’re amazing too 🙂

    Hey Cyndi! Great that you’re over here too. MSW is still alive and kicking and we’re going to be making a few exciting changes as well . . . stay tuned. 🙂

    Fran, the characters have minds of their own. I’ve just had to learn to accept it and let them do what they want, for the most part. It’s the only way to keep moving forward. Sometimes they’re like stubborn kids, you know, like the toddler who goes boneless and you can’t get the to do anything. And, I just moved a few months ago, so I have major sympathy for your plight. I hate moving. I didn’t realize how much until this last time.

    Alex, now I have the topic for my next blog post! LOL. You’re welcome anytime. There’s only two workshops I really like to give, the No Plotters workshop (that I developed with Patti Berg and we sometimes still give it together, which is fun because she’s hilarious) and my Rule Breaking workshop.

  30. Allison Brennan

    A bookie monster. Hmm. That sounds like a toddler who eats books. Fortunately, my kids were pretty good with their books. Except for one pencil-drawing book that my son thought the artist had forgotten to color . . . so he took the liberty.

    Hi Tom! I loved my library when I was growing up. My mom was a single working mom and we were broke a lot of the time, and the library was my place for entertainment. Glad you like romantic thrillers. Since I was going to write about it this week, it’ll be next time (in two weeks.)

    Tammy, these girls . . . I mean, I’m not THAT old, I remember being a teenage girl. Why do they think that I don’t know anything? That I don’t know what it’s like to crush on a guy or want to date or that my mom didn’t understand ANYTHING. Jeez, you’d think they were the first generation of teenagers on the planet and we were all born in our thirties, already parents.

    Yeah spy! I did it! 🙂

    Oh, Lori, you’re going to get me in trouble one of these days . . . 🙂 . . . I’m planning on going to RT, though, is there a rumor I’m not? I just have to work out a few logistics . . .

  31. Laurie Wood

    Hi Allison,I’m thrilled to find another place to catch your blog posts. 🙂 Tangents? Where’d we get all our “wow” moments from if we didn’t head off on tangents? I think books show more strengths when it’s obvious the author hasn’t plotted the heck out of it. Things you don’t know about me…I’ve got a Governor-General’s Medal hanging on my wall – she’s our Queen’s representative up here in Canada 🙂 – for opening a crisis overnight shelter for street youth, and I’ve got two special needs kids who are the love of my life. It’s kind of like having seven-year-old twins all the time. 🙂 We stopped at two, for obvious reasons, although we wanted four as a nice, even number in the beginning.

    I love reading about how you write because it gives me hope that I’m on the right track!

  32. Becky Hutchison

    Thanks for the interesting blog, Allison. And count me in as a fellow tangent maker. (It drives my husband crazy, but I do it anyway.)

    I prefer thinking it’s because people like us are so smart, and information flashes through our brains so quickly, that we have to mention that important tangential thought right away so as not to lose it. Not a bad group to be in, I’d say.

  33. Allison Brennan

    Hi Laurie from way up north! 🙂 What an accomplishment, I’m thrilled you shared your commendation with us, and for such a necessary cause.

    Hi Becky, thanks for visiting! I like that–we’re just smarter than the average folks 🙂 . . . I can live with that. 😉

  34. Louise Pelzl

    I am a member of SVR and we haven’t meet because I live in Kansas. Enjoy your book and your blog is the first one I have ever read. Enjoyed it. Thanks


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