If you are a RBL or even just an occasional lurker on the RBL board, it won't be long before you'll hear a recommendation such as "Try Suz Brockmann's Navy SEALs series - you won't regret it!" I know it's the first place I heard about these books. Not only did I not "regret" it, but the first book in the series made me a Suz Brockmann fan for life!
Beaty: My first question for you, Suz, is when do you sleep? Somewhere between being a wife, mother of teenagers, prolific author, performing artist/director, music arranger/writer, and an actor mom, there must be time to relax, right?
Suz: Actually, I'm quite fond of sleeping. *G* During the winter I sleep quite a bit! I also find time to hang out with my friends. I'm a huge fan of going to the movies - I'm at the multiplex pretty regularly! But I've always got a project going - I'm always writing something. I tend to go from one book to the next with almost no down time in between. That's the secret behind my ability to be so prolific, by the way! Fifteen minute breaks between books! *G*
Seriously, though, there's a lot to be said for being organized and efficient with both work and play time. Needless to say, I don't spend much time channel surfing. I'm also very lucky - I have a husband who believes wholeheartedly in doing his share (or more!) of the household chores. I do laundry, he grocery shops. I cook, he drives the kids around ...
Beaty: Would you tell us a little about your family? I understand your children are busy in the acting profession. Is it something they've always wanted to do?
Suz: When my daughter was three years old, she looked at the framed STAR TREK poster that was hanging in our kitchen at the time and asked, "Mommy, is Captain Kirk real?" I explained that, no, he was a fictional character played by an actor named William Shatner. Several days later, she asked, "Mommy, are we fictional?" (Which rates as my all time favorite thing I've ever been asked by anyone! *G*) Several days after I answered that question as best I could, she told me, quite seriously, that she wanted to do "that" (pointing to the kids on Sesame Street. We talked about it a little, and she explained that her real goal was to be in a movie with John Travolta (LOOK WHO'S TALKING was one of her favorite movies at that time). I thought that was a pretty good goal.
She was persistent in her desire to act, and finally, when she was in fourth grade, we moved to the Boston area. I had a connection with a photographer who did actors' headshots. She gave us some tips, we connected with a modeling agency, and Melanie was on her way.
She's done quite a bit of modeling (textbook photo modeling, believe it or not! *G*), some commercials (all regional - she was edited out of her one national spot for Fig Newtons, sadly enough!), some industrial videos, an education video for PBS, lots of student films, and some indy films. Boston has a pretty active independent film community.
Jason is a year and a half younger than Mel and he wanted to do "that," too. He's done lots of textbook picture modeling, as well as some indy films and a voice over for the Cartoon Network. He got into stage acting when he was 8 and there was an audition at a local semi-pro theater for a production of OLIVER! Jace was this teeny little 8 year old, and he walked up on stage and belted out "Consider Yourself" and the rest was history. He was cast in the boys' chorus and did 30 performances of the show. I think he was too young to be nervous - I remember watching the show for the first time, in the audience, and realizing that instead of singing "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two," he sat on stage actually eating the apple he was given as a prop! *GGG* When I asked him about it later, he told me that he had been hungry. Ah. Of course. *G* He's been in about 8 musical theater performances since then - the kid's got a resume longer than most adult actors!
Both Mel and Jason have done the acting thing on their own. My husband and I just provide the rides to and from auditions and jobs. And we stay with them when they have a job. That's part of the deal. I've spent many long hours on many a film or video shoot. (That's why I was so excited to be able to write HEART THROB, which takes place on the set of a low budget indy movie! I've been there!!! *G*) And, by the way, actors work hard. There's endless waiting around for lights and camera angles, and then you've got to hit your mark, remember your lines, and be brilliant. Even though it's 10:30 at night and you've been on set since 6 a.m.! Melanie did a video shoot when she was 11, and I was astonished by her intensity. It was freezing outside, and they had to turn off the heat because it made too much noise. And directors always want to get in "one more shot" before lunch. I was freezing and starving to death, and she was working with the acting coach, getting her performance exactly right. Pretty impressive!
One last thing about the kids' acting - we have a rule in the family that helps them deal with the relentless rejection in this biz. Auditions have to be forgotten as soon as they're over. No waiting around for the call. If you get the job, you'll be completely surprised. And the number one, most important question asked of the kid coming out of the audition? "Did you have fun?" It has to be fun right then and there, or it's not worth the anxiety or pressure.
Beaty: I've always wondered how writers' families view their work. Is your family supportive? Do you worry about them reading the HOT scenes?
Suz: My husband loves my books! *G* My daughter's read a few of them (she really liked FOREVER BLUE). And my son's not old enough yet! I once gave him a copy of OTHERWISE ENGAGED because I based the heroine's son, Zander, on him. But I stapled together all of the pages that had sex scenes! LOL! He was like "Mo-om!"
Jason and I write together all the time. He's written a number of video scripts and I've helped him with things like structure and characters. It's fun writing with him. He's got a very fresh sense of humor! *G*
Beaty: Let's talk a little about your music. I've read that you perform in two musical groups - an a cappella group (Serious Fun) and a band (Dick Mac Wedding Garage Band). When did you know you wanted to be a musician and how did it actually happen?
Suz: When I was in 4th grade, I was cast as Ralph in the school production of HMS PINAFORE. (Yes, Ralph. Being exceptionally tall, and a tomboy with short hair, I was cast as the male romantic lead. *G*) Up until that time I was an incredibly shy kid. I would die before I spoke to anyone, but I found that I was able to stand on a stage in front of a crowd and sing. It's actually pretty addicting. *G*
Music has always moved me. I remember - clear as day - the first time I heard the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." I was a toddler. And I was standing on the neighbor's patio and the neighbor's daughter - a teenager - was playing the record with the windows open. Oh. My. God. The sound of those guitars still works for me. *G*
I learned to play the guitar (post toddler years *G*) and did the folk music/folk band thing for a few years. (Sang in my high school chorus and Madrigal singing group.) Finally, in college, I started a rock band - original new wave music. (Remember the Cars? They came out of Boston and took over the world. And for a few years after that, record companies were coming to Boston to check out the local music scene.)
We never got "discovered," and in 1983, I married my lead guitar player's former college roommate *G* and quit the band. After a few years, I missed being musical, so I started singing with a community chorus in Westchester County, New York. From there, I formed an a cappella group called "The OK Chorale." That was a great experience - I arranged nearly all the music for the group (we varied in size from 12 to about 20 voices). (I think I've done a cappella vocal arrangements for close to 50 songs - everything from folk music to swing and rock tunes!)
In 1993 (right when my very first book was released!), I moved back to Boston and formed a new a cappella group, called "Serious Fun." (I produced a CD for the group in 1998! That was Some Project, let me tell you!) Serious Fun is currently on hiatus!
Right now, I'm focusing my music energy on the Dick Mac Wedding Garage Band. This is a group that my former lead guitar player (and my husband's college roommate! *G*) formed to play at the wedding of a guy whose nickname is "Dick Mac." So naturally, we took his name as our own. LOL! And we rehearse in my garage, fulfilling my lifelong desire to have a "garage band."
We consist of seven extremely talented musicians - including my daughter Melanie, who can sing and play alto sax like you wouldn't believe. We do all kinds of fun party music, like "Respect" by Aretha Franklin and "Love Shack" by the B-52's. We've got three female vocalists and three male vocalists in the group, so there are always plenty of people around to sing backup. It's fun. If you live in the Boston area (or the Northeast!) and are looking for a band to play at a wedding or party for a loved one, email me! *G*
Beaty: According to a bio I once read, you've ridden with Butch and Sundance. Would you tell us a little about it?
Suz: Ah, yes. My days as bank robber. *G* BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (written by one of my all-time favorite writers, William Goldman) was and is my favorite movie. I got a lot of fantasy miles out of ol' Butch and Sundance, that's for sure! *G*
Do you remember the scene where Sundance and Butch are applying for honest jobs as guards for the payroll for a mine? And the crotchety old miner tells Sundance to shoot something (maybe a plug of tobacco) and Sundance tries to do his quick draw thing, and the old guy says "No, no, no, just *shoot* the damn thing." And Sundance stands there and shoots. And misses. And misses. And the old guy is disgusted and he starts to turn away. He's not interested in hiring these losers.
It's then that Sundance says, "Can I move? I can shoot better when I move."
The old guy doesn't believe him, but then Sundance moves. And it's poetry. And the plug of tobacco goes flying again and again and again.
When I first saw that scene, I was probably 12 years old. And I recognized it as being really great writing.
Now, at 12 years of age, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was not my first Newman and Redford movie. At 12, I'd gone to see THE STING. And as I sat there watching THE STING, I found myself gazing at Paul Newman and suddenly for the first time I understood - completely - the entire man/woman relationship thing. Up until that very moment in time (and it was the same kind of revelation as hearing the Beatles on my neighbor's patio! *G*), I was an asexual child. But I came out of that movie theater a woman. LOL! (I was 12, he was 40-something, but oh, my God, those eyes! *G*)
But I was still enough of a child to play what I called "people games," in which I took on the role of Butch or Sundance or some 12 year old tomboy that Butch would fall madly in love with *GGG*, put on my black cowboy jeans (straightlegs in the days of bellbottoms, just like the ones Butch wore in the movie), and crawled around on my stomach in the woods around my house, pretending to bust Butch and Sundance outta jail.
Other favorite people games involved Revolutionary War heroics. Usually I was the brave Rebel girl dressed in her brother's clothes who saved General Lafayette from the Redcoats.
I was a strange child ...
Beaty: Why do you write romance?
Suz: I write romance because, even 28 years later, I'm still completely intrigued by the man/woman relationship thing. Pick any two people, and there's so much story there to tell.
With that said, I have to confess that I also write romance because, back in 1992, when I did a Tony Robbins goal-setting workshop and decided to focus my writing efforts to getting published in the world of genre fiction (as opposed to screenwriting which I'd been doing futilely for several years!), I researched the market and discovered that more romance novels were published each month than SF or mystery. (I've always been a fan of all three genres - and actually probably more of a SF fan!)
I picked romance because the odds of my getting published were greatest. I did a ton of research, read hundreds of books, and sat down to write - and discovered something extremely exciting! I discovered that my writing voice and style was damn near perfect for romance. Writing romance came easily for me - and it was outrageously fun!
Beaty: As a reader, I picture authors sitting at the computer typing away - every word a gem. As a realistic woman, I understand that's probably not the way it happens. Please tell us, without puncturing all the fantasies we readers have, what the process is actually like for you?
Suz: I outline extensively before I start to write. I know every aspect of the story, every plot point, every major moment, every subplot. I write pages and pages of back story for each and every character. And then, only when I know these people as well as I know myself, do I sit down to write the book. I've written outlines that are 80 pages long!
So then, when I do sit down, the story is very clear in my head. As a result, I do write very clean first drafts. I write a certain number of pages a day, and I always start my day's work by going back and reading and revising yesterday's pages. I add little details and fix poor word choices. At that point it's pretty polished. I will go back and read the entire manuscript again, several times, before I submit it to my editor. And often I get revision notes - little things (hopefully only little things! *G*) to change.
I think, though, that when you picture me sitting at my computer, you really need to picture me in my pajamas and purple fleece robe, without any makeup on, with total bedhead. I'm talking about hair sticking straight up into the air. There are days when I'll come out for lunch, go into the bathroom and come face to face with my reflection in the mirror and I'll scream. And I'll run to find my husband (who also works at home) to ask him how the hell he could have had a fifteen minute conversation with me with a straight face. LOLOLOL!
Beaty: I love your characters. They are so real to me. Are they well behaved and always do as they're told? Or are they as I picture them - rascals?
Suz: Like I said, I know them so well before I start to write. And I know them better than they know themselves. I know where their personal journey throughout the course of the book is going to take them - I know where they're going to end up. They may come close to losing faith during the course of that journey, but I never do!
My stories are character driven. I create my characters at the same time or slightly before I create my plots. I also tend to put my characters into situations and let them react to that situation in character. As a writer, I think it's vital that you let your characters drive the plot, rather than forcing characters to act in an unbelievable way simply to move the plot in a certain direction.
So with that said, I have to answer no. They never do as they're told because I never tell them what to do! My stories all start with the characters - they come straight from the characters' hearts.
Beaty: You've written for many publishers. I understand most publishers have their own set of rules. Do you find some lines are harder to write for than others?
Suz: Series romance has restrictions. To be a successful series writer, you need to be able to deal with those restrictions. It's only as easy or hard as you-the-writer make it.
Beaty: You seem unafraid to tackle the rare elements in your stories. Some of your stories have the unusual, such as the age difference between the h/h in THE ADMIRAL'S BRIDE, and in HARVARD'S EDUCATION your h/h are African-American. Do you have more problems selling these stories to the publisher? Or, because they are such an integral part of the series, do they accept them as necessary?
Suz: I definitely think that having a series as popular as my "Tall, Dark & Dangerous" books has opened the door more readily to stories that might have otherwise been hard to sell. My editor at Silhouette, Gail Chasan, was on board for Harvard's story right from the start. And no one as much as blinked when I proposed THE ADMIRAL'S BRIDE. I don't think my editors saw anything unusual in this story.
Beaty: Why did you pick the Navy SEALs to write about instead of a different branch of the service?
Suz: It was fate. I was looking for a hook for a miniseries for Silhouette Intimate Moments. I wanted to do something similar to what Rachel Lee had done with her Conard County series, but I was looking for something different. Family ties had been done before (besides, a series of books about three or four of X brothers is finite - there are only so many times that a long lost or illegitimate brother can pop up! *G*), as had location. I was actively looking for something different, something that hadn't been done before.
And then my friend Eric read an article about Navy SEAL BUD/S training's Hell Week in some magazine, and he called me and told me to run to the library and read it. I did, and sure enough, it was exactly what I was looking for. Covert ops, small very closeknit teams, military action adventure. I sat there between the magazine stacks, and I knew I had my hook. I have to admit, I didn't look beyond SEALs to any other specwar group. (Although I've recently read a book about the Air Force PJs - ParaRescue Jumpers. Very cool!)
Beaty: How do you get the background information needed to write about the SEALs? Since it is such a covert group, is it hard to find out about them?
Suz: You bet it is! Covert means they don't talk about any current ops. Most of the books I found dated back to the Vietnam War. But I've read just about everything I can get my hands on. And I went into the project with a strong background in military history - particularly WWII. I'd read every book on WWII in my library when I was a kid - and I'm talking military non-fiction. Accounts of battles, and equipment and weapons, etc. I still find the subject fascinating. Oh, I also visited the UDT/SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Florida. That was a great source of info - lots of great videos and books available there.
I've also made friends with a former SEAL. There's still so much that he can't/won't tell me, but I tend to ask him questions that make him shake his head, like "But how did you feel when you showed up for BUD/S training?" "How did you feel during Hell Week?" *G*
Beaty: When I can, I enjoy following the TeamTen conversations. They do have fun. Would you tell us a little about them and maybe explain their contribution to the Thomas and Tasha story?
Suz: Team Ten is an egroups email discussion list that was created to talk about my Tall, Dark & Dangerous books featuring fictional SEAL Team Ten. They enjoy talking about all kinds of military romance - it's a really great, active, talkative group!
They're extremely vocal in their desire to read a TDD story featuring two characters introduced in earlier TDD books - Thomas King and Tasha Francisco. Thomas happens to be African American and Tasha is not. Thomas also happens to be twelve years older than Tasha - they were first introduced in FRISCO'S KID when Tash was 6 and Thomas was 18. (Tasha's got to grow up a whole lot more before I can write their book!)
Anyway, I cautioned some of the more exuberant fans who wrote begging for their story, because I thought H/S might not be ready to publish an interracial romance. Well, I was very wrong. The Team Ten list apparently sent a flood of email to H/S, begging for this story, and it wasn't long before I got a call from my editor, telling me that they were extremely interested in my writing this particular book.
Ah, the power of the pen ... (Or in this case the keyboard! *G*)
Beaty: A Suz Brockmann interview wouldn't be complete without asking about the GET LUCKY cover. I know you're probably tired of the subject, but do you think the cover (which was one of the worst I've ever seen) helped or hurt the story's sales? One of the most often discussed subjects on the reader boards is bookcovers and whether the right cover can help sales.
Suz: I honestly don't know yet. I've only received one royalty statement for this book so far and while the earnout (total amount of money earned for a book) seems to be significantly lower than any of my other TDD books, there are other variables to factor in - such as where the book fell in the January to June pay period (dead center in March - that shouldn't have anything to do with it, but who knows?), and whether or not H/S distribution has fallen off across the board.
For all I know, series romance might just not be selling as well as it was two or three or six years ago. If those numbers are down in general, then GET LUCKY could well earnout far less than my other TDD's and yet still have sold extremely well for the Intimate Moments line's current expectations.
Publishers give authors so little information - it's hard to make any kind of conclusive statement, especially from just one royalty statement. I'll know a little better after the next royalty statement comes in May. And I'll know even more in 2002, after I get a royalty statement or two for TAYLOR'S TEMPTATION (my next TDD book, which comes out in July, 2001). But I have to confess, I do believe that terrible cover affected the way this book sold. That sucks. I wrote a book that I was proud of - but ashamed to sell at booksignings because of the awful cover H/S slapped on the front. Sure, I made it into a joke and got a lot of buzz from it. I continue to laugh at it - you do the best you can, right? And RRWA did me proud by voting GET LUCKY onto their list of Top Ten Favorite Books of the Year (proving that they believe in the old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover."). But if TAYLOR'S TEMPTATION gets a cover like that (or like the hideous cover of Virginia Kantra's recent wonderful IM, MAD DOG AND ANNIE), I'm going to scream. *G* Really loudly! *GGG*
Beaty: I was surprised when your Ballantine/Ivy books started a new SEAL series. Does that mean we're going to see the end of Team Ten?
Suz: Gosh, no. I still have to write Wes Skelly's book. And I just introduced two new characters - Rio Rosetti and Mike Lee - and brought back Thomas King from FRISCO'S KID, all as new members of Alpha Squad. TAYLOR'S TEMPTATION (Bobby Taylor's story - it's a good one. The heroine is Colleen Skelly - his best friend Wes's little sister! LOL!) will be out in July 2001 (just in time for the RWA Conference in New Orleans). It's the first book in a six book contract, so there'll be at least five more TDD books coming. And we're (H/S and I) discussing the possibility of my writing a TDD novella for a military themed anthology. And there's a chance I'll do a TDD short e-story for the eharlequin.com website - one of those with daily or weekly installments. Sounds like it would be fun to write! (Check my website's TDD page for news, or sign up for my email newsletter by writing to me for emailed updates!)
More cool TDD news: I just found out that Silhouette will finally be reissuing the first three books in this series. PRINCE JOE, FOREVER BLUE and FRISCO'S KID will be re-released sometime in 2002. I don't know the details yet, if they'll come out as single books or a 3-in-1, but again, as soon as I know anything, I'll post the info on my website. They're also reissuing HARVARD'S EDUCATION in February, 2002, to celebrate Black History Month. I'm thrilled about that, too!
Beaty: When THE UNSUNG HERO came out, there were great discussions on your inclusion of more than one story in the book. In fact, the secondary characters are just as real and memorable as the h/h. As the series continues, are we going to see more of this type of story interaction?
Suz: Absolutely! THE DEFIANT HERO, the second book in this new series, has just as many subplots, including an older secondary character with a flashback World War II story! I intend to have a WWII subplot in each of these books.
Beaty: I read through the Awards Page on your site. It took me a while! *G* You've been awarded many different types of awards. We won't tell - which one is your favorite and why?
Suz: Hmm, that's tough question. Generally my favorite award is the last one I received! *G* And right now that would be having THE UNSUNG HERO voted the number one book on RWA's Top Ten Favorite Books of the Year list for 2000. That was one wicked cool phone call to receive. "And oh, by the way, you have a second book on the list this year, too." "I DO???" Excuse me while I scrape myself up off the floor! LOL! GET LUCKY, my other 2000 release, came in tied with two other books for slot number seven. That's very cool. Those Rita Awards I won last year sure were nice - a matched set! *G* But making the Top Ten list is the equivalent to the People's Choice Awards. I like that an awful lot.
And then there's an award that is very, very dear to me - the New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf Award for Best Long Contemporary, 1999. This went to HARVARD'S EDUCATION, a series romance that featured African American characters. This award wasn't based on the characters' ethnicity, however - the book won because it was a darn good book about two people who fell in love, forget about the color of their skin!
Beaty: Just for fun - which book has generated the most fan mail and why?
Suz: It's probably a tie between PRINCE JOE and BODY GUARD - a book in which I resolved one of the subplots with a non-happy ending! *G* I had a love triangle going between George (the hero's partner) and his ex and his new girlfriend. All three of these characters treated each other badly in the course of the book - none of them deserved a happy ending, so the book concluded with them going in three different directions.
Well, I heard about that from readers, that's for sure! *G* I got plenty of mail asking me to write George's story. The kicker is that half of the people who wrote to me want him to get back together with his ex-wife, and half want me to resolve his conflict with his girlfriend. LOL!
The other book that I get tons of mail about is PRINCE JOE. Every week, I field many requests from people looking for a copy of this OOP and hard-to-find book. And the good news is that Silhouette has agreed to reissue it, as I mentioned earlier!
Beaty: What's next in the two series?
Suz: First and foremost is THE DEFIANT HERO, which will be in stores at the end of February ! (I'm doing a huge amount of promotion for this book, hoping to get on some major lists! *G* I'll be doing booksignings in Memphis, Tampa, Sarasota, Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and St. Pete, Florida all throughout March and the beginning of April. Check out my website for times and dates! I hope to see many of you there!)
THE DEFIANT HERO is the story of a woman who finds herself ready to do damn near anything after her 10-year-old daughter is kidnapped by terrorists. It was a fun book to write (in a very masochistic way! *G*). I got to explore and dig into the emotions of what has to be one of the most powerful fears of any parent - a missing child.
The heroine, Meg Moore, is one smart, tough lady - I think you'll like her. And as for the book's hero, Lt. (jg) John Nilsson (nicknamed Nils) - I think you're going to like him, too. He first meets the heroine while she's working at an American embassy in a Third World country. She's married at the time, in her early 30's, with a small daughter. John comes in, seeking sanctuary with a team of Navy SEALs. He's barely 25 years old (3 years before the main action in the book), sparklingly handsome, exceedingly intelligent, and extremely ballsy! *G*
John Nilsson's the kind of guy who won't accept even the possibility of a no-win scenario.
The major theme of this book is deception. Each of the subplots touches on it in some way!
The World War II subplot in THE DEFIANT HERO is centered around the May 1940 evacuation of the BEF (British troops) from Dunkirk in the terrible aftermath of the Nazi blitz invasion of France. I don't know if you're familiar with the history, but most of the Allied troops in France were pushed to the northern coast, to Dunkirk, which is right across the English Channel from Great Britain. The British Navy was otherwise engaged and unable to come to the rescue of the troops who were trapped between the advancing Nazis and the water.
The British put out a call for help, and an armada of small boats gathered in Ramsgate Harbor, in England. Everything from ferries to pleasure yachts to merchant vessels to dingys went to the rescue of the stranded soldiers - many of them manned by civilians! The Germans were bombing and strafing the beaches. The channel was filled with U-boats and mines. Those people took their boats into the very teeth of the battle and over the coarse of about a week (and it was one HELL of a week!!!), over 338,000 British and French soldiers were rescued!
In the face of the crushing defeat in France, Winston Churchill was able to rally his country around the rousing "Victory at Dunkirk!" And it was a victory in the face of the certain death or imprisonment that had been in store for all those hundreds of thousands of men. It was, I'm certain, the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.
(Whew. I really dig that WWII history stuff! *G*)
Next up for my TDD series is TAYLOR'S TEMPTATION, a July 2001 Silhouette Intimate Moments. The book features Bobby Taylor - the first half of the Bobby & Wes team. Itís kind of funny, actually - Bobby and Wes started out as my "clowns." My comic relief, if you will. If I needed someone to say something stupid or do something stupid, well, cue Bobby and/or Wes! *G* But I realized as I was writing THE ADMIRALíS BRIDE that sooner or later (due to the popularity of the series), I was going to have to write Bobby's and Wesís stories. I was going to have to make my clowns the heroes of their own books.
So back around that time, I started fleshing out these two characters - making them into more realistic and heroic men. I did this throughout TAB, as well as IDENTITY: UNKNOWN and GET LUCKY. I purposely used Bobby and Wes heavily as secondary characters in these books, so the readers would get to know them a little better. (And so I could get to know them, too!)
Prior to these books, I would get email from people who would say, "Now, which one is Bobby and which one is Wes?" *G* Hopefully, during this third trio of TDD books, the hardcore TDD fan learned to tell the difference between the two of Ďem!
Anyway, Bobby Taylor gets his own book first. And - thanks to a brilliant idea from my friend Scott - this is a "Not with MY sister, you donít!!!" book. The sister in question is Wes Skellyís. Yes, Bobby gets tremendously entangled with his best friendís little sister, Colleen, much to his own disbelief and to Wesís intense outrage. (Thereís a great fight scene between the two - former??!! - best friends!)
Another note: This book is much hotter than most of my other TDDís. Bobby honestly doesnít mean to, but every time he turns around, he finds himself in bed with Colleen. (Of course, itís because Colleen wants him there, and she is, after all, a Skelly! *G*)
Another thing I wanted to mention: I've written a short story that's going to be offered for sale (as a download) from www.mightywords.com, starting March 21st. It's a 25 page story for mighywords.com's "Seven Deadly Sins" romance feature. (Follow the links to romance and then to Seven Deadly Sins.) My story has to do (loosely!) with pride. It's the story of a young man who's determined to become (what else? *G*) a Navy SEAL, and to win the heart of the woman of his dreams. The e-story will be available through both mightwords.com and bn.com. It's my first venture into the world of e-publishing!
Beaty: I know that you've done writer workshops. We have many RBLs who are beginning authors. Do you have any hints or recommendations that might encourage or help them?
Suz: The best advice I can give is to learn to analyze all kinds of fiction (books, movies, TV shows, etc.). Figure out why a certain book or movie works for you. What did the writer do right? And the same thing applies to the stories that donít work for you. What didnít work? Why? Pay attention all the time.
A second piece of advice is to learn to be honest about your own writing. And this means to learn to recognize what you do well, as well as identifying those areas in which you could use improvement!
Beaty: Through your newsletter, I know that you sometimes promote one of your favorite charities by auctioning off one of your impossible-to-find-and-if-you-could-you-wouldn't-be-able-to-afford-it-anyway LADIES' MAN books. Since it's probably the only way I'll ever get a chance to complete my Brockmann backlist, do you have plans to do it again?
Suz: Yes, actually, Iím planning to hold fundraising raffles for copies of LADIESí MAN several times this coming year! I donít have a whole lot of copies left, but Iíve got a few. And I love being able to raise money for a very worthy cause!
Beaty: Last question, Suz. And just for fun, I'm going to ask Joe Cat (my absolute fave) this one, if I may. So Joe, you've been around since the beginning of the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series. Please tell us - to what do you attribute the phenomenal success of the series?
Thank you, Suz, for a terrific interview. And thanks, too, for so much reading fun!
I was given the special request to find Suz and do a "ketchup" on the Sam and Alyssa debut. And, as always, Suz was excited about talking to the RBLers ...
Beaty: Were you planning on stretching out Sam and Alyssa's story from the beginning when you introduced the characters? Had you ALWAYS planned on torturing them like this (and with them - us)? *G*
Suz: Yes! I planned out the Sam and Alyssa story arc when I wrote THE UNSUNG HERO. And it was a seven book story arc back then, too. My editor at Ballantine asked me to shrink it down to six books - which I did. Except both INTO THE NIGHT and GONE TOO FAR ended up being really, really long! LOL!
My goal was to do something a little different from a traditional romance novel - most of which have what I call "Gilbert and Sullivan Happy Endings." See, at the end of a G&S operetta, nearly everyone on stage ends up neatly paired up. It can be really hokey if it's not done carefully. I didn't want to do that with my secondary characters. Life doesn't always work out so neatly, you know?
I also wanted to experiment further with blending the elements of a traditional romance (the HEA ending) with the bittersweet elements of non-genre "love stories" (like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, LOVE STORY, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE - even movies like "Casablanca"). It's my belief that the wonderful emotions we feel from a bittersweet story like "Casablanca" are ones that we genre romance readers miss out on because that non-happy ending is not an option in our books.
So my plan was to write books in which the main story always had a traditional romance HEA, but every other subplot could potentially end with the lovers going in different directions. (Or even dying!) The main romance acts as an anchor, as the spine of the story, while the subplots often take romance readers on a somewhat wild ride outside of the traditional romance genre.
I also wanted to write what would normally be back story in "real time." Let me explain - Sam and Alyssa's situation is not an unusual one. A man and a woman meet, fight, are attracted, have a coupla one night stands, and go their separate ways. The man marries someone else. Years later, the man's divorced and they are forced to work together to solve a mystery, and sparks fly and old feelings surface. It's a tried and true romance novel situation - I did that on purpose.
What I wanted to do that was different was, instead of having that backstory (those one night stands, their past relationship) told in flashback or revealed through dialogue or introspection, I wanted these two people's relationship to play out over the course of many books. I wanted my readers to live through the backstory with the characters.
Now this was a doubly tricky thing to do. Aside from breaking all of romance's rules (having Sam and Alyssa get together and go their separate ways at the end of the book not just once, in THE DEFIANT HERO, but also in OVER THE EDGE, where they even come close to beginning a real relationship!), I wanted each book in this series to be able to stand alone. In other words, if a reader picked up OVER THE EDGE and hadn't read THE UNSUNG HERO or THE DEFIANT HERO, I wanted Sam and Alyssa's story to make sense to them. So, to some degree, I had to include a certain amount of backstory in each of the new books to bring new readers up to speed. Yet I couldn't put in too much, because I didn't want to bore the readers who'd read the previous books. LOL! What a balancing act! (And I did the same thing for GONE TOO FAR! Everything that happened to Sam and Alyssa in THE DEFIANT HERO, OVER THE EDGE, OUT OF CONTROL, and INTO THE NIGHT was part of their backstory!)
It was remarkably fun to write - all six books. And the series is far from over. I'm working on a book called FLASH POINT right now that's due out in April 2004. (I can't tell you much more about it than that, though!)
Beaty: I've heard that this new story is coming out in hardcover. Was that your choice? If no - do you like it? If yes - WHY????
Suz: It wasn't my choice to go into hardcover, no. (My contract with Ballantine gives them the right to publish my books in whatever print format they want. I don't have any control over that.) I actually spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my editor, trying to talk her out of it. But the decision had been made by the publisher to take me in this new direction. Apparently the sales department thought that the leap to hardcover was long overdue.
After I realized that I wasn't going to be able to change their minds, I put in a very vocal request to keep the price of the hardcover as low as possible. I feel a very strong sense of loyalty to my readers, and I knew that some readers would be upset by the higher price of a hardcover.
Now, I don't know if you know this, but GONE TOO FAR came in at over 700 manuscript pages. This is one long book. The hardcover is going to be huge (physically, I mean - I hope it's also huge in other ways! LOL!), and yet Ballantine has kept the price down to $19.95. They're also offering a $5 rebate coupon, which - along with bookseller discounts (and both BN.com and Amazon.com are offering some pretty deep discounts!) will bring the price of the book down to well under that of a trade paperback. (You can get a copy of the coupon on line at www.brockmannrebate.com.)
And yes, I've gotten e-mail from readers who are dismayed at GONE TOO FAR coming out in hardcover. But, to be honest, I've gotten a huge response from readers who are extremely pleased about this. Hardcover books last far longer than paperbacks.
Frankly, I thought Ballantine had a great idea when they released a hardcover library edition of INTO THE NIGHT at the same time as the paperback release. One of the reasons authors like moving into hardcover is that it introduces a whole new readership to our books - through libraries. It's not cost effective for libraries to buy paperback books - they fall apart after a limited number of reads. Hardcovers, however, last for years and years.
Am I unhappy about going to hardcover? Yes and no. I would have liked it more if Ballantine had done the same simultaneous paper/hard release for GONE TOO FAR that they did for INTO THE NIGHT. But as soon as I realized I wasn't going to change their minds about that, I focused my attention on ways to make the hardcover more affordable, particularly for my long time readers. I was thrilled by the $5 rebate coupon.
Am I happy about going to hardcover? Yes. After I realized that it was going to happen whether I liked it or not, I figured I might as well embrace this extremely awesome milestone in my career. I mean, really, think about it. Going hardcover is a tremendously wonderful thing. Let's face it, hardcover authors are treated with more respect by the publishers (more money is spent on promotion and advertising!), by reviewers, by the world in general.
Am I writing something new that needs to be marketed in this hardcover format? No. GONE TOO FAR is the same kind of book as the five previous Troubleshooter titles. Well, hopefully it's a better book, because I strive always to be a better writer and make each book better than the last!
Beaty: Many of my favorite authors that moved into hardcover seemed to change their style of writing. I'm not sure if it was timing or on purpose, but does this move into hardcover indicate such a change for you? Or will romance continue to be the driving force for your stories?
Suz: Ah, see - I anticipated this next question, didn't I? Again, there's been no change in what I'm writing. The decision to publish GONE TOO FAR as a hardcover was made before anyone had read the book.
In a similar way, INTO THE NIGHT was published with "fiction" on the spine instead of "romance." That change was made to the cover before anyone at Ballantine had read the book. (I got a copy of the cover before I finished writing the manuscript!) Why did someone decide that ITN should be called "fiction" rather than "romance?" It wasn't based on my book, that's for sure. In my case, it was merely a marketing decision, merely an attempt to widen my subset of readers. Because, really, romance is a subset of fiction, right?
And you know, it worked. In many bookstores, INTO THE NIGHT was shelved in the military fiction section. I picked up a huge amount of male readers with that book. I also picked up a massive amount of fiction readers - who then went out and bought all of the previous books in this series. It was really interesting to see all the different types of readers who started e-mailing me after ITN came out!
You know, it's possible that all of the books in this series should have been listed as "fiction" when they first came out. As I said earlier, only the main story has the guaranteed HEA that genre romances require. There are and have been - ever since I wrote BODYGUARD, in fact! - elements of mainstream fiction in my romance novels. I've added that in on purpose because I happen to think there's room for that in genre romance. I happen to think I'm still writing romance - I love romance. I love writing stories about people who fall in love and will continue to do so for years to come.
Oh, and by the way, I'm still writing series romances, too! NIGHT WATCH (formerly titled WILD, WILD WES), book #11 in my Tall, Dark & Dangerous series about SEAL Team Ten for Silhouette Intimate Moments, will be out in September.
And I have a Silhouette Desire out in July called SCENES OF PASSION, an older title that I rewrote last summer, that got a Top Pick from RT.
Beaty: It seems like I've been waiting for Wes's story forever. Is the next Tall, Dark and Dangerous story going to take as long? (So I'm greedy! *G*)
Suz: Yes, I'm sorry to have to admit that the next TDD book, working title OPERATION: ASHLEY, isn't going to be available very soon. Please believe me when I say that I'm writing as fast as I can. But I need to schedule vacation time in, too. It's really important that I have time to recharge. So the TDD books are going to be coming at you at a slower pace.
Mira, however, is continuing with the reissues of the earlier TDD books, all of which are OOP and very hard to find. FRISCO'S KID is out right now, EVERYDAY AVERAGE JONES is scheduled for a March 2004 release, and HARVARD'S EDUCATION will be out in July 2004. (I can't wait to see the new cover for that one!)
Another reissue coming up: EMBRACED BY LOVE (formerly published by Pinnacle) is going to be available in paperback in January 2004 from Ballantine!
Oh, and Ballantine is reissuing both THE UNSUNG HERO and THE DEFIANT HERO right now, to celebrate the upcoming release of GONE TOO FAR. They've put out both of these books with new covers (more generically suspense-y looking) and a special $3.99 cover price - $5.99 in Canada.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for us again.
It's always fun to "ketchup" with Suz! We caught her at a busy time, so we kept it short. Besides - we figured most of the questions that we wanted to ask would be spoilers for the Max/Gina story coming out this month. We REALLY didn't want to do that! Please help us welcome Suzanne Brockmann back to RBL as we anxiously await Max and Gina's story (BREAKING POINT) due out on July 12th.
Leiha: Now that you've had a few books go hardcover, how do you feel about the change? I know you were reluctant at first. Has it turned out better or worse than you expected?
Suz: It's been better than I expected - especially when I see how deeply some bookstores discount hardcover books. Add that to the fact that being published in hardcover has introduced a huge new group of readers to my books. (And, let's face it - hardcover authors get more respect!)
And yes, I know there will always be readers who can't afford hardcovers, or who don't like hardcovers because they're too bulky. But in the same way, there are readers who don't like paperbacks, who only buy hardcover. Believe me - I've met all kinds of readers on the road. Diversity!!!
Leiha: How do you go about the process of deciding who is featured as the secondary and even the third storyline?
Suz: It's a complicated process, but I should probably start by explaining that I love writing an ongoing series because I'm interested in telling character-driven stories with huge, long-term story arcs that allow my characters to live and grow over a significant length of time. Because I tend to write individual books in which the action takes place in a short amount of time (over the course of mere days!), I like to use secondary characters to tell these longer stories. (Sam & Alyssa, Tom & Kelly, Max & Gina ...)
With that said, it's been something of a challenge deciding which characters appear in each book, since I'm now working with a cast of thousands. (Okay, exaggeration, but sometimes it seems that way!) Add into the chaos the fact that I'm constantly being petitioned by readers who want to see more of their favorite characters ... LOL!
Really, what it comes down to is the theme of the book - figuring out what (or whose) stories will fit with the main external conflict (plot) and internal conflict (romance) of the two main characters. I also want all of the various subplots to intertwine at the end of the book. One of my goals is to have each of the major secondary characters play an important role in the Big Dramatic Action Sequence at the end of each book.
Leiha: Did you always plan on revisiting Jones and Molly or was it due to fan reaction?
Suz: See comment above re: e-mail from readers! LOL! Truth is, I have a policy to never say never, but I really believed Molly and Jones's story was complete at the end of OUT OF CONTROL, the book in which they first appeared. Yes, there was definitely more to their story, but their path, although clearly destined to be bumpy, seemed obvious to me.
The huge reader response to both Molly and Jones (although, mostly to Jones! LOL!) surprised me.
Now, keep in mind that there are times when I refuse to listen to what readers claim they want. Take Mary Lou for example. I got a HUGE amount of "Kill off Mary Lou immediately!!!" e-mail after OVER THE EDGE came out. The hue and cry got louder after OUT OF CONTROL. But I took that as a challenge, because it was my intention all along to make Mary Lou not just a major secondary POV character, but (hopefully) a sympathetic character. POV = point of view - which meant that the readers were allowed inside of her head and would get at least an explanation of what she is thinking, and why she's done what she's done.
Some readers never warmed up to Mary Lou, but some warmed up so much that they started hating Sam! LOL! (What I was really trying to do with Mary Lou was step outside of the traditional romance novel world of black and white, wrong and right. Mary Lou sits solidly in the gray patch - as most of us real life folks do. She is flawed and selfish and incredibly damaged by her past. She's also eye-rollingly young ...)
I guess my reaction to all the e-mail clamoring for more Molly and Jones was to take another long look at those two characters. See, in their case, unlike with Mary Lou, I didn't have any plans for them. My original intention was to do nothing more with them. Still, it was clear to me that there could be more story to tell in terms of their relationship - enough, even, to fill an entire major subplot.
And then I started thinking. What if, in her quest to find meaning in her life, Gina goes to work for a Peace Corps type organization (similar to the one Molly worked for in OUT OF CONTROL), and what if Gina were to travel to Africa and meet Molly? Okay, too coincidental - Africa's a big place. But okay. What if Gina kept in touch with some of the SEALs who saved her life several years ago? What if she exchanged an occasional e-mail with Ken "WildCard" Karmody, who had also kept in touch with Molly, whom he'd met during his adventures in OUT OF CONTROL? What if Ken e-introduced the two women? And what if, after they became friends, Molly recruited Gina to come to Africa to help out with the AIDS education program she was currently working for ...?
It was when I asked myself the question, "How would Max feel if Gina went to Africa?" that I knew I was onto something. Not just Africa - Kenya.
Tooth enamel flew (poor Max!), and Gina was Kenya bound.
And all those readers had their wish - another Molly and Jones subplot!
Beaty: What decided you to move the SEALs series into a Troubleshooters Incorporated series?
Suz: I made the decision shortly after I crossed over from category romance into single titles. I was originally working on the idea of a new ongoing series about a non-SEAL team of counterterrorists, but I finally accepted the fact that I wanted to keep writing about SEALs! LOL! These guys fascinate me!
Also, by that time, it was clear that my SEAL Team Ten (Tall, Dark & Dangerous Series) wasn't entirely, uh, realistic. Obviously, there were language restrictions when writing category romance. But, more importantly, the research that I'd done when I started the TDD books was based on the SEAL teams during the Vietnam War. As more and more information was made available, I found myself wanting to create a new team.
And so I did!
Beaty: Is there ANY chance that anyone of the Team 10 characters will show up at TSI for a job?
Suz: So okay - that's an interesting idea ... See above, where I say "never say never ..." *g*
Beaty: Talking about Team 10 - when will we see the next one of their stories? Whose story will it be?
Suz: It's going to be a while, I'm afraid. I've outlined it - it's the story of the SEAL nicknamed "Spaceman," and Colleen Taylor's former roommate Ashley.
Beaty: Thanks for starting Julesís story! What kind of feedback are you getting on his character? Are the fans accepting it? Any unhappy feedback?
Suz: Most of the unhappy feedback I've seen has been the stuff posted to the online bookstores - lots of intolerance splattered there. And I don't really read it - I just kind of squint at it. I believe it's not healthy to put yourself in the path of hatred of any kind. As Buddha says, "I don't accept them apples." (Yes, I'm paraphrasing! *g*)
By the way, if you liked Jules's story and enjoyed HOT TARGET, feel free to post a reader review yourself - counteract some of that ugliness.
Truth is, I've received more positive reader mail about Jules Cassidy than any other character - ever. In fact, because I know that hatred can be very noisy, and that one shrill, angry voice often seems louder than a thousand quiet, approving voices, I made a point to compile hundreds of the pro-Jules e-mails I received (editing out any private information). I bound 'em all together and sent them to my publisher.
I received quite a bit of feedback, too, over my dedication in HOT TARGET. In the dedication, I tell how my son, Jason, came out at age fifteen. I'd known that it was highly likely Jason was gay for a long time - his coming out wasn't a shock. In fact, we'd worked hard to make sure he felt safe and loved - unconditionally. I mean, hello! It was so obvious, even back when he was a toddler, that he was gay. It was also clear that God made him that way.
Anyway, I included Jason's story in this book, because I believe wholeheartedly that hatred comes from ignorance and fear. The more of us who come out - as loving and supportive families and friends of gays and lesbians - the better for our country.
Because of the current political climate, there's been a rise in hate crimes against gays in America. There are people out there who want to hurt or even kill my son - simply because he's gay. Imagine that. They don't want to take the time to get to know him - to find out that he's funny and smart and kind and compassionate.
As a mother, as an American, as a patriot, I feel the need to speak out - and to try to put a name and a face on "those scary gay people," by giving my readers a gay friend - Jules Cassidy.
There are definitely people who are too afraid to read a gay romantic subplot - even a sweet one with no sex scenes. But I know for a fact that Jules and his romance in HOT TARGET helped open a lot of eyes.
I received one e-mail from a woman who had cut off her relationship with her niece who had come out as a lesbian. She told me she was going to call her niece and apologize - to try to set things right between them.
I got another e-mail from a woman who gave HOT TARGET to a friend who suspected his son was gay, but didn't know how to bring up the conversation. He left the book lying open to my dedication, in which I tell my response to Jason's coming out ("I love you - I'll always love you!"), and his son came out to him that week.
I've received more e-mail than I ever imagined that said, "I picked up HOT TARGET with trepidation because I wasn't sure I'd like the gay subplot, and you made me realize that people are people. Please tell me you'll continue Jules's story in future books ..."
Beaty: You're familiar with my character questions ( *G* ), so I'll just get right to it.
"Kelly, it took you a long time to decide to finally marry Tom. Do you like married life? Do you regret the decision?"
Kelly: Gee, I'm sorry, we seem to have a really terrible cell phone connection ... (sound of static that may or may not be real ...) I'm ... .orry, can... ...ear you ... (click).
You didn't really expect Kelly to speak openly about such a personal topic, did you? I think, however, it's safe to make some assumptions from her actions. When we last saw her (in HOT TARGET) she was extremely pregnant - and she seemed very happy about that!
Thanks for giving us this time out of your very busy schedule, Suz! You have no idea how much it's appreciated!
Index of Author Interviews.
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