Hello, everyone, Heather here again with another TLC Book Tour Stop. Please help me welcome New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan, author of Love Me To Death(My review here), her first Lucy Kincaid series book which was just released on December 28, 2010. Allison is also the author of thirteen novels and three short stories.
My readers ask a lot of fun and interesting questions, but the most common is where do I get my ideas.
The short answer? Everywhere and nowhere.
Everywhere, because I’m pulling in information all around me, from who I meet to what I see to what I read in the news. I don’t consciously think when I see a news story that I want to write about it, but I absorb it and when a variety of different snippets of information merge together in my head, a story idea pops out—often without me consciously thinking about it.
Ideas are like grains of sand caught in an oyster. The layers that build the pearl are placed over time, until that small, common irritant is formed into a natural pearl. One idea needs time to grow and develop, adding layers into the initial spark. It’s why you can give a hundred authors the exact same premise and have a hundred completely different and unique stories.
I also play the “What if” game all the time. For example, several years ago I read about the tragic story of Taylor Behl, a seventeen-year-old college freshman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Taylor had a sexy blog called tiatliaj (jailbait backwards) and her ex-boyfriend (if I dare call him that) was a photographer twice her age. He joined the search for Taylor, passed out flyers, and claimed he knew nothing about her disappearance. After her body was found he pled no contest to her murder.
Taylor’s story haunted me. Perhaps because at the time, my two oldest were pre-teens asking for MySpace accounts and email addresses. I realized how the Internet, while wonderful on so many levels, also made it easier for predators to find their victims. Often, young people don’t realize how vulnerable they are when they expose their most intimate secrets to strangers—or people they think they know—over the Internet. Or, they don’t comprehend that one naked or sexy picture can be replicated a million times and never removed from cyberspace.
Perhaps this is why many of my books focus on the theme of cybercrime. Taylor story was the seed that grew into my book SPEAK NO EVIL, where a college student had an anonymous sexually explicit website, but someone found out her identity. Her much-older boyfriend was the primary suspect, and his brother—a cop—set out to prove his innocence, butting heads with the detective who was certain the man was guilty. The only similarity to Taylor’s real story was the blog and older ex-boyfriend. All the other ideas came from my head and a variety of other snippets I’ve heard about over the years. (If you want to read more about the Taylor Behl tragedy, the best history I’ve read is at http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/forensics/taylor_behl/index.html)
The heroine of SPEAK NO EVIL is Detective Carina Kincaid, and Lucy Kincaid—who launches her own series with LOVE ME TO DEATH–had a small walk-in part. Then, she was a happy-go-lucky high school senior waiting to hear about college acceptances. Now, she’s a resolute graduate waiting to hear if she’s been accepted into the FBI Academy at Quantico, haunted by the events in FEAR NO EVIL—where she was kidnapped right before her high school graduation.
Lucy Kincaid, though a secondary character in FEAR NO EVIL, has been a favorite of mine since she first walked on the page. I have wanted to write a series around her, and was thrilled when my publisher agreed to let Lucy have a series. So many series begin with an established detective or FBI Agent in the middle of their career; with Lucy, I start at the beginning, before she’s in the FBI Academy. She’s weeks away from her 25th birthday when LOVE ME TO DEATH begins.
This book started with the character—I knew I was writing Lucy’s story. I also knew that while I wanted it to tie into her past, I also needed to make sure that the story stood on its own. I could have gone in a love of directions, but I focused on who Lucy is and what she might be doing now that would lend itself to a fast-paced, suspenseful storyline.
I wondered what Lucy would be doing now, six years after she was raped and almost killed by an online predator. She went onto college, but instead of studying international relations, she studied computers and psychology. She was so diligent, she also got her masters in Criminal Psychology. She decided she wanted to be an FBI agent, and because they require three years of full-time employment, she worked as a paid intern—first for the Senate Judiciary Committee, then for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department, and now as an assistant pathologist in the DC Medical Examiners Office. All the while, she volunteered for a victim rights group where she spends hours every week stopping online sexual predators.
It’s this volunteer job that lands her in serious trouble at the beginning of LOVE ME TO DEATH when she learns that the predators she thinks she’s helping send to prison are ending up dead.
As a full-time writer, I do a lot of research. A few years ago, I participated in the FBI Citizens Academy in Sacramento. The 8-week course has been one of the highlights of my many research excursions. Every week we had new speakers, from our ninth district U.S. Attorney to FBI SWAT to experts across all FBI squads.
One of the most interesting–and depressing–presentations was from the Supervisory Special Agent in charge of battling child pornography. And it is a battle. The Internet has made child pornography so widespread and virtually unstoppable. If every cop in the country—local, state, and federal—spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week pursuing on-line predators for a full year, they wouldn’t be able to stop even ten percent of these horrid crimes. And this only includes crimes against children under 14.
The SSA told us that no one lured in by Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” program, at that point in 2008, had been arrested or convicted as a result of being “caught” on the show.
And I wondered, what if? What if Lucy found herself in a “catch a predator” type plan . . . but the predators ended up dead? What would she do? I began to think about vigilantism in general, and motivation in particular. The idea opened up more research into average sentences for sex offenders, recidivism rates, and statistic on early release programs. No one thing gave me the story—it was a variety of threads I spun together in what I hope is a unique, exciting, and provocative story.
My research for LOVE ME TO DEATH was extensive, and I’m still researching for the series. I traveled to Georgetown and D.C. with my FBI Citizens Academy, toured Quantico, and talked with experts on cybercrime. For the second book in the series, KISS ME, KILL ME, I interviewed a photojournalist in New York City about abandoned warehouses and underground parties. And now, for book three in the series, I’m researching closed mines in upstate New York. While I can’t travel to the Adirondacks before the book is due to my publisher, I’ve made contact with the owner of a mine here in California to help me with some of the details.
Research lets me live vicariously through others, while also developing a healthy respect and appreciation for people across the country in a wide variety of occupations. I try to get things right—especially for the plot critical points–but in the end, it’s all about the story.
Tomorrow, I’ll be touring famous Los Angeles crime scenes led by none other than the amazing and talented James Ellroy! I don’t know what, if anything, will give me that grain of sand I can digest into a story, but I’ll be keeping all my senses open.
I’ll be popping in throughout the day if anyone has any questions! Thank you again for letting me spend the day with you all.
Thank you, Allison for the great post giving us insight into your process. I’ve visited Quantico myself for work and it is quite interesting and a very different environment. A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for letting the Bewitched Bookworms kick off Allison’s blog tour for Love Me To Death.
And as an added bonus, we are giving away a copy of Love Me To Death. Contest is open to US/Canada residents only. To enter, just leave a comment with your email address on this post by midnight central time, January 17, 2011. A winner will be picked at random and the winner will be notified in an email and a blog post right here on Bewitched Bookworms. Good luck and good reading.