Q: Where do your story ideas come from? Do you start with a plot, a character, a conflict?
Suzanne Brockmann: Usually I start with something I call a "story seed," which is a question that holds the beginnings of both plot and characters (and sometimes even theme!). For THE UNSUNG HERO, which was released by Ballantine/Ivy this past June, and recently was voted the Romance Writers of America’s # 1 Favorite Romance of the Year, my initial story seed question was: What if a Navy SEAL spots an international terrorist in small-town New England while he’s home on leave? The next question I asked was: "What if the SEAL is on leave because he’s recently had a near-fatal career-threatening head injury?" Then, "What if he’s suddenly uncertain if he’s actually seen this terrorist, or if he’s suffering from some weird paranoia or hallucinations brought on by his head injury?" The theme became "things are not always as they seem," and the entire book was filled with characters who hid–intentionally or not–behind all types of facades and labels.
THE DEFIANT HERO started with the question, "What if a woman’s daughter is kidnapped by terrorists? How far would she go, what would she do to get her back?" Would she kill? Maybe. Would she lie? Definitely. And this book became one about deception in all it’s various forms.
Q: How much does the finished product differ from the book you set out to write?
SB: I work from a very detailed outline. Some writers feel out the story as they go and revise heavily after they finish writing, but I plan it all out in advance, before I sit down to write. As a result, I write a very clean first draft. And the final product is very similar to the ideas that were in my head.
Q: A lot of writers advise to "write what you know." Are your characters modeled after people that you know? Are you in your book?
SB: Hmmm. Well, I never was a Navy SEAL, that’s for sure! My father was in the Army, but that was years before I was born. I can tell you, though, that when I was about twelve years old, I became fascinated with the history of WWII–I read every book on the subject in my library. I read everything from detailed histories of great battles such as Midway and the Normandy Invasion, the "Battle of the Bulge," Anzio, the Philippines, Iwo Jima. And I also read the smaller, more personal stories of the people who were there on
the front lines and on the homefront. I’ve got a long-standing respect for the U.S. Military.
There are certainly bits and pieces of my life thrown in. I’m really into pop culture–music, movies, books–and references to that will show up from time to time.
Q: Do you know how this series will end?
SB: To be honest, I’m hoping this series will never officially end! With an entire team of SEALs, I’ll never run out of characters! If it proves to be popular, hey, I’ll just keep it going!
Q: How attached do you get to your characters? Do they remain in your consciousness after you’ve finished writing them?
SB: Absolutely! That’s what so much fun about writing an ongoing series like this one. The hero from THE UNSUNG HERO, Tom Paoletti, shows up in THE DEFIANT HERO and in September’s release, OVER THE EDGE. Two characters, Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke first appear in TUH, then have a major heatwave of a subplot in THE DEFIANT HERO. They’re part of the story again in OVER THE EDGE (although the main characters are the SEAL team’s senior chief and a female Navy Reserve helicopter pilot), but even then, their story is far from over.
Q: How do you know when a story is finished?
SB: That’s an easy one for me. I work off a detailed outline, and when I get to the last 200 or so pages of a book, the end of the story is so clear in my head, I make a list of scenes left to write. (It usually fills two pages of a legal pad, sometimes even more!)
When I’m planning the book, one of the first things I know is how it’s going to end!
Q: You characters take great risks–and sometimes these risks are for love. Does love require risk?
SB: I believe it does. Love and trust are so intensely intertwined. And anytime you trust someone, you’re taking a risk. Some people trust (and love) so effortlessly. For others, it’s not so easy. But either way, the risk is still there.
Q: How did you spend Valentine’s Day this year?
SB: This year I spent V-day furiously doing final revisions on the manuscript for OVER THE EDGE–which I promised to send to my editor before I left for a desperately needed vacation in mid-February. But my husband and I knew we’d be taking ourselves out to dinner in the very near future, so that was okay. (And our favorite restaurant in the world is down on Siesta Key, Florida, where we spent our vacation!)
Q: I read on your Web site that you are a singer and songwriter. How does this factor into your stories in the future? How does the fiction-writing process differ from song-writing? How are they similar?
SB: Music shows up in my stories in all kinds of ways. In THE DEFIANT HERO, there’s one point when the hero and heroine communicate through a folksong! (And the hero can’t sing to save his life!)
The most obvious difference between songwriting and novel writing is length! I’ve written some of my best songs in a matter of hours. My best books take just a little bit longer.
And then there’s the word length! With a book like THE DEFIANT HERO, I use 130,000 words to tell the story. In a song, you’ve got to be a LITTLE more concise!
As far as similarities go, both are an intensely creative process and
extremely satisfying on that level.
One thing I can tell you–I can’t listen to music while I write. I get
completely distracted by the music. But on the other hand, I’ve written a book after being inspired by a song!
Q: What songs have inspired you to write?
SB: There’s one in particular that comes to mind called "Softer than a Whisper" by country singer Hal Ketchum. It’s a song about the kind of love that grows on you, that kind of creeps up on you unaware (as opposed to bolt of lightning, love at first sight type love!). That song inspired me to write one of my Tall, Dark & Dangerous series romances called FOREVER BLUE.
Q: What are you working on now?
SB: Right now I’m plotting the fourth book in the Troubleshooters series, the follow up to OVER THE EDGE. And I’m also embarking on a publicity tour. I’m going to be in Memphis, Tampa, Sarasota, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Boston, giving writers workshops and doing booksignings. Check out my exact schedule on the Appearances page of my Web site at:
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
SB: Read. And really pay attention and learn to analyze every piece of fiction that you encounter — whether it’s a book, movie or TV show. Watch and read carefully and learn to identify why a certain book or movie worked for you. What did the author do so that you laughed or cried or got angry? In the same way, pay attention to books and movies that DON’T work for you. What did the writer do wrong?
And write. Write every day!