Author Exclusive: Allison Brennan talks with Carla Neggers
Take Carla Neggers and Allison Brennan, for example. The two met years ago at a writers’ conference and have been friends ever since. They’re both prolific, award-winning, New York Times bestselling authors of romantic suspense/romantic thrillers featuring FBI agents as lead characters, write two different series and share a friendship with Mariah Stewart. But that’s where the similarities end.
Carla has two grown children and two grandchildren; Allison is still raising her five offspring. Carla lives in Vermont; Allison, in California. Carla has a journalistic background; Allison served as a legislative consultant for the California State Assembly before launching her author career. But both enjoy sharing the challenges—and the fun—of being an author and look forward to chatting over a glass of wine at conferences.
Carla’s new novel in her Sharpe & Donovan series set in Boston, Ireland and the rocky coast of Maine, HARBOR ISLAND, goes on sale today. Sales of Allison’s latest release, DEAD HEAT, Book 8 in her Lucy Kincaid series set in San Antonio, are still swift.
Today they catch up with one another on their writing life, their latest novels—and life!
ALLISON: I can’t believe summer is almost over! Were you writing all the time, or did you and Joe get a chance to get away? You know I’m always jealous when I hear about your trips to Ireland!
CARLA: Ireland’s an easy flight from Boston and I love to visit whenever I can sneak away. Once a guy at Irish customs asked me why I don’t buy a house there! I’ve done personal writing retreats and research, but Joe and I enjoy getting time together off on our own. We’re just back from a month in southwest Ireland with a few days at the end in Dublin. I couldn’t help but think of Matt Yankowski, Emma and Colin’s by-the-book (or so he thinks) boss, navigating the one-way streets of Dublin as he worries about his missing wife early on in HARBOR ISLAND. One day, Allison, you and I are going to have to enjoy a pint in a real Irish pub. What about you? Do you like to travel?
ALLISON: I lead a very boring life. The kids and I have gone on a couple day trips, but they’re all in sports and started practice mid-July. The “big” trip was taking my #2 daughter, Kelly, to Ashland, Oregon to register for college. We spent an extra day checking out the town. Oh! And the Romance Writers of America conference was in San Antonio this summer—where DEAD HEAT takes place. I explored a bit, checked out a restaurant Sean and Lucy will eat at in the next book, and absorbed the atmosphere (heat!) I would have explored more if it wasn’t so dang hot.
CARLA: San Antonio sure can get hot, but what a great city. So what was the toughest part of writing DEAD HEAT?
ALLISON: Honestly, DEAD HEAT was one of those rare books that practically wrote itself. I’d had three hard books in a row—I was happy to take the “easy” book when it came. I think maybe because I know Sean and Lucy so well, getting into their heads wasn’t as hard as in the past. And how about you and HARBOR ISLAND?
CARLA: I love when a story comes together in a “whoosh.” That’s what happened for me with HARBOR ISLAND, I think because it had a lot of time to “simmer” before I put pen to paper—and fingers to keyboard. One thing I’ve never asked you is why San Antonio?
ALLISON: Last year, I ran a Facebook contest. I asked my readers where Lucy should be assigned when she graduated from Quantico, and then offered four choices. San Antonio won by more than two-to-one over the next location (Hawaii!). It was fun to do, and my readers were right—San Antonio really works for the stories I want to write for Sean and Lucy. I know you get away to Ireland every chance you can get. (Want to adopt me?) Is there any other reason you set part of your Sharpe & Donovan books there?
CARLA: Emma’s octogenarian grandfather, a world-renowned private art detective, is based in Dublin, and, of course, he’s not one to stay on the sidelines. After leaving the convent as a novice, Emma was tempted to work for Sharpe Fine Art Recovery, but she joined the FBI instead. It makes for some interesting twists and turns in her work and with her relationship with Colin. By the way, do you ever get mail from FBI types about Lucy Kincaid?
ALLISON: I participated in the FBI citizens academy in Sacramento. I found out that the wife of the SWAT team leader is a huge fan of mine, so I gave him a bunch of signed books for her. I learned through the grapevine that I have a lot of fans in law enforcement, which is nice to hear! What about you and Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan?
CARLA: I have readers in (or married to) law enforcement officers, and then there’s my good friend the judge … he’s kept me out of trouble multiple times. Fictional trouble, of course! And my cousin, a detective, who is great at listening to my scenarios, although sometimes he’ll sigh and say, “Carla, now we’re in the land of fiction.” Of course, that’s the point.
ALLISON: Have you ever wanted to be an FBI agent?
CARLA: I won’t say never, but I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wasn’t sure I could make a living at it (I’m very practical!), so I started college as a music major (okay, maybe I’m not that practical!). I switched to journalism and kept writing fiction. What if I’d switched to law enforcement? Interesting thought, but I’ve no regrets. Did you always know what you wanted to be when you “grew up?”
ALLISON: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, because I can be anyone I want through the research and writing—without actually being shot at. I live vicariously through my characters.
You know how readers tend to ask the same questions, like where do you get your ideas? The one question no one has ever asked me—and I wish they would—is what I admire most about my characters.
CARLA: That’s a great question. I know what I (and probably many readers) admire most about Sean and Lucy in particular. They’re so engaging, and they don’t take the easy way out, even when they can. What would your answer be?
ALLISON: I admire that both Lucy and Sean will do what is right, even when it gets them into trouble. That they’re willing to stand up and fight for the underdog even if they put themselves in danger or risk their careers.
Here’s one for you: What’s something your readers don’t know about you? Something fun and juicy. Don’t hold back!
CARLA: (Waving to waitress) This calls for another glass of wine. Most readers probably don’t know about my very first trip to Maine, where Emma and Colin are from. Joe and I went to Acadia National Park on our honeymoon. And I got sick. Barfed so badly I ended up in the ER. Quite the honeymoon, huh? But we fell in love with Maine, and we went back … and we’ve kept going back. Colin’s and Emma’s hometowns of Rock Point and Heron’s Cove—both of which play a role in HARBOR ISLAND—are fictional, but they’re based on my personal relationship with this beautiful part of our world.
ALLISON: I think all authors agree that there’s a little bit of us in every one of our female lead characters. How about you and Emma Sharpe?
CARLA: (Laughing) Well, it’s not that she’s a former nun, although I have cousins who are former nuns. Emma also has a close relationship with her grandfather, and all my grandparents were gone before I was born. (I learned about them through stories my parents told us as kids!) I share Emma’s love of family and her journey to be “fully present” and get outside of her thoughts. It’s easy for me to get lost in a story idea. That’s how I once ended up on the road to Buffalo instead of to Baltimore! I corrected myself before too many miles went by…
ALLISON: Emma’s an art crimes expert. Ever dabbled in that specialty—or—ha ha!—stolen any art?
CARLA: (Again, laughing.) I’ve been fascinated by the famous and very mysterious theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. It must have been in the back of my mind when Emma came to life in my head. I love art. When I was in college, my roommates were art majors, and my daughter’s godmother is a graphic designer.
Now, what about you? Do you share Lucy Kincaid’s background in counseling? Or has your counseling experience come strictly from raising those five great kids of yours?
ALLISON: All counseling experience comes from mediating a household of loud, opinionated, Irish-Catholic children!
What’s up after HARBOR ISLAND? As you know, both my mom and I are HUGE fans of your books. In fact, my mom “introduced” you to me.
CARLA: I love your mom! Tell her hi for me. Next up for me is my first-ever Christmas story, an e-novella original called “Christmas at Carriage Hill,” part of my Swift River Valley contemporary romance series. I just finished the next novel in the series, ECHO LAKE, due out in February. Now I’m working on KEEPER’S REACH, #5 in my Sharpe & Donovan series. What about you? Another Lucy Kincaid? Or a Max Revere?
ALLISON: Next up is COMPULSION, book two in the Max Revere thriller series, then I’ll have two Lucy Kincaids out next fall—I’ll be busy writing for the next year! In fact, I should be writing now—deadline’s calling. But how about asking the Romance@Random readers to name what their favorite book of ours is.
CARLA: Great idea! And we’ll each send a signed copy of our latest release (HARBOR ISLAND for me and DEAD HEAT for you) to one reader—oh, heck, let’s send them to two readers!