An interview with Allison Brennan

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Allison Brennan is the author of thirteen novels and three short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband Dan and their five children.

Writing three books a year is more than a full-time job, and so is raising five kids, but Allison believes life is too short to be bored. When she's not writing, she's reading, playing video games, watching old movies or new television shows, driving to or attending volleyball / basketball / football / soccer games, and on occasion even makes it to the gym where she enjoys people-watching more than the exercise.

Allison kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review's Snjezana Bobic in July 2010.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

“Yes, ever since I was young I've written stories. It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I seriously pursued publication. That meant first finishing one of the over 100 books I'd started!”


Where do you get your ideas?

“I get this questions more than any other, and it's the most difficult to answer. There's never simply one idea that goes into a book. Every story is a compilation of different ideas, different triggers. All stem from what if? What if the Seven Deadly Sins were actually incarnate demons? What if a killer is using a crime writers stories as blueprints for murder? What if a woman is the sole survivor of a serial killer who is still out there? What if a group of angry, troubled teenagers meet up online to right their perceived wrongs? What if there was an earthquake at San Quentin?

My prison break trilogy began when I was doing research, trying to come up with an idea. I was thinking about a prison break type story, but it had been overdone. I heard a news clip that the California Legislature was planning on transporting prisoners out of state. The same day I read or heard that the Legislature was looking into selling San Quentin State Prison, which sits on over 600 acres of prime San Francisco Bay real estate. I was curious about the history of the prison, so did a Google search and a seismic report popped up on the first page. I clicked through and skimmed the report and wondered what would happen if there were an earthquake under San Quentin. What if a bunch of death row inmates escaped after an earthquake?

Original Sin began with a scene of a teenager running through the woods, chased by something she couldn't see but she knew it was dangerous. As I wrote the scene, I started thinking about a supernatural world, that maybe it wasn't something human chasing her. A few weeks later, I went back to the story and pictured a group of witch's mostly young women with good intentions, and one very evil leader who accidentally unleashed a demon during a supposedly commonplace ritual. But when I wrote that scene, I realized that their motivation of unleashing the demon was far darker, and they all wanted something from it. I could picture my heroine someone who had once been possessed by a demon and was now tied inexplicably to the underworld.

But the story really didn't take shape until I started writing a story about Max Revere, a true crime writer, who was chasing his own personal demons. Max wasn't a very nice guy, but his drive to find answers, to help those who can't help themselves, made him a very interesting character. He walked onto the page fully formed, and I started writing a story of him writing true crime stories based on the seven deadly sins as he worked on finding his way back to his estranged wife.

Then it clicked. What if the Seven Deadly Sins were actually demons? What if they were released from Hell because the coven wanted something from them? The rest of the story came from there instead of one demon, the Seven Deadly Sins were released incarnate, fallen angels (spirits) instead of cursed souls (humans) and when they touch you, your conscience is stripped away and you act on your worst sin with deadly results.”

Which is your favourite book or hero that you've written?

“That's like asking me which of my five children is my favourite!”

Why do you write such dark stories?

“I suppose I don't think they are that dark. Writing about justice being served that the bad guy is stopped and the good guys win helps me cope with the tragedies in the world. There is so much violence, lies, manipulation, scams write about them to make sense of them. At the same time, there are real-life heroes in law enforcement, in hospitals, in our neighbours, and sometimes even within ourselves. I like writing about the everyday, unsung heroes and why they do what they do, even more than writing about the villains and why they do the evil that they do. And finally, I want a happy ending because real-life doesn't always have them”

Who is your favourite author?

“I have too many to name. THE STAND by Stephen King is one of the few books I've read cover-to-cover twice, and remains among my favourite books.”

How did you find an agent?

“The old-fashioned way. I wrote a book, sent out query letters, was soundly rejected. Wrote another book, sent out more query letters, had a few bites, and then was soundly rejected. After two years, five books and over 100 rejections, I found an agent who sold my debut novel The Prey to Ballantine. I've been with her ever since. I have notes from my speech on finding an agent available here.”

Would you would write a Vampire Tale, since it's all the rage, or would you try to stay away from that genre because it has been 'milked' like no tomorrow.

“I don't have any vampire ideas, and if I did they'd all be evil vampires, which has been done many, many times. If I came up with something I felt was a fresh take on the genre, I'd write it. But I'd have to really love the idea.”

Also, with the deadly sins, what do you think people should learn from the series?

“I write primarily to entertain, not to educate. However, if people took anything from the over-arcing moral questions posed by the idea of the seven deadly sins as personal moral roadblocks on the path to leading a positive life, it would be to look at how each of us can better ourselves and our lives through our actions, stop casting blame on others or the ethereal "fate" for problems we encounter, and find ways to be the "good Samaritan" and help those who can't help themselves.”

What do you expect as a writer to achieve from the series?

“I think I've become a stronger storyteller by writing something outside my comfort zone, by exploring philosophical questions of good vs evil in the most basic sense. I don't really hope to achieve anything specific, except to give readers a few hours of heart-pounding supernatural suspense.”

And how on earth do you write such great books with the limited amount of time you have?

Trick question! :) . . . I've been thinking about this series for years, and I'm not joking! I came up with the concept in 2003, before I sold my first romantic thriller, and it's been on my mind ever since. So even though I wrote the books in four to five months, I had a sense of the story for much longer. I also have a fantastic editor who asks the right questions to help me deepen the story, while not interfering with my natural voice.

Do you hope the Original Sin series will be made into feature films or a television series?

“Absolutely! What author wouldn't? :) . . . I think it would make a great television series, but it could work as a feature film, too. There's a large cast of characters, which can work really well in an ensemble series. But the first book, ORIGINAL SIN, would work also as a stand-alone.”

And if it were made into features or a series, whom would you have played the characters?

That's a tough question. I don't really see actors or actresses as my characters, but if pushed . . . I would love Nicole Kidman to play Fiona. She's beautiful, talented, and I would love to see her play a truly evil villainess. Since Fiona has a deeply personal, believable, and universal motivation for her actions (releasing the Seven Deadly Sins from Hell in order to gain eternal youth and beauty), I think she makes a particularly compelling bad character.

For Rafe? Maybe Milo Ventimiglia. He'd have to grow his hair a bit--but he does angst so well! Or Keanu Reeves or Cillian Murphy . . . I could see Viggo Mortensen or Liam Neeson playing Anthony Zaccardi. Moira is impossible for me. I'd love do see a big name male actor for Rafe and Anthony, Nicole Kidman for Fiona and an up and coming or unknown actress for Moira.”