Suzanne Brockmann Interview by Malcolm Hillgartner
MALCOLM HILLGARTNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Malcolm Hillgartner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Suzanne Brockmann. Suzanne is a New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books and is widely recognized as one of the leading writers of romantic suspense. She is the winner of numerous awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s #1 Favorite Book of the Year, two RITA Awards for best novel, and several Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Suzanne is best known for her popular Troubleshooters series. Her work also includes co-writing and producing the independent feature-length movie The Perfect Wedding and co-writing the young-adult paranormal novel Night Sky. Blackstone Audio is publishing the audio format of Suzanne’s latest novel Do or Die, narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank, which will be available simultaneously with the hardcover book on February 4, 2014. Welcome Suzanne. Thanks for talking with us today.
SUZANNE BROCKMANN: Thank you so much for having me.
MH: Do or Die is book one in the Reluctant Heroes series, which is a spinoff of your very popular Troubleshooters series, and the new novel is already gaining a lot of attention. Tell us a little bit about what to expect in Do or Die.
SB: Well, first of all, I’ve got a former Navy SEAL for my hero. His name is Ian Dunn. He’s a handful and a half, and when the book starts, he’s serving an eighteen-month sentence in prison for playing demolition derby in a roadhouse parking lot. The heroine is a young lawyer named Phoebe, and she’s sent to represent Ian when the government comes calling with a deal. The FBI wants him to head up a politically tricky mission to rescue a pair of kidnapped kids in exchange for a get-out-of-jail-free card. To Phoebe’s surprise, Ian says no. He tells her and the government’s lawyer to find someone else to save the day. They spring him anyway, and, well, hijinks ensue.
MH: Your novels often tend to blend the romance with this sort of high-octane military action with characters like Ian Dunn—the Navy SEAL. What type of research do you do to get into that character’s background? Define the milieu that you’re putting this romantic suspense in.
SB: I’ve done a lot of research on Navy SEALs. I’ve been writing about SEAL heroes since the mid-1990s, and I found that while things like body armor, weaponry, and tactical methods are constantly changing and being updated, the personality type of a guy who wants to be a SEAL has remained pretty constant. As a romance writer, that’s really the most important thing to me. Whenever I get a chance to talk to real SEALs, I can see from their body language that they’re expecting me to ask about operations or weaponry, the typical questions that they get, but the questions that I ask them is how did you feel? How did you feel when you went through BUD/S training (BUD/S stands for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training)? How did you feel out on your first real-world operation? Most of the guys I talk to get this kind of dear in the headlight look in their eyes because that’s not the questions they are used to. Feelings? What? And I’ve got to be fair. SEALs tend to be pretty smart. I once had a really long fascinating conversation with a SEAL about his tendency to be—how did he put it—a little ADD, you know—distracted, just on any average given day. But he told me that if you toss him into a life-or-death situation, his focus suddenly becomes really sharp. The thing that got me is that he was so self-aware of it. I was so impressed. He described how colors became more intense as he goes into this place of extreme calm where he becomes super decisive. That was a really cool conversation. I had it years ago and I still drew from it when I wrote Do or Die. In fact, there’s a scene in the book that’s from Ian, the hero’s point of view, where he comes under fire. Someone’s shooting at him and the heroine, and I wrote from his point of view—how his focus intensifies and how his senses heighten. I do a lot of research just by surfing the internet and reading about SEALs, and reading about military operations, but whether I’m doing that type of research, or whether I’m having a conversation in a bar, it comes back to play in the book. It’s a pretty fascinating topic.
MH: Which came first, the desire to write romantic stories, or the interest in the action side of it? Or did they always come together?
SB: When I first started out, I considered myself to be more of a romantic comedy writer, and I was writing a mix of books early in my career. The one that really took off was the romantic suspense, and I suddenly found publishers wanting more romantic suspense from me. I had to reorganize the way I looked at myself because I really did consider comedy to be my strength. But these days, when you write about SEALs—I find one of the most attractive things about romance heroes is that they’re smart and they’re funny. To me, the ultimate hero has a really good sense of humor, so I get to use my comedic chops, if you will, even though there’s a lot of action and adventure in the books.
MH: Now we’ll back up a little bit. Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little about how you got into writing in the first place.
SB: Actually, I wanted to be a rock star. That was after my astronaut phase. I grew up in a time where I was a NASA kid, where I watched all the space launches. But I discovered that I had really bad eyesight, so fighter pilot and astronaut got crossed off the list pretty quickly. Music was always my real passion, and I did the singer/songwriter thing for a while. I had a band when I was nineteen years old, and we played in Boston. You probably remember the age of New Wave. The Cars had just come out and everybody was looking to Boston for new music. So I was in that music scene, and it was a real rough way to earn a living because you gigged all the time, you had to have a day job—it was exhausting. It wasn’t until I quit the band, got married, and settled down that I started writing and going from songs, which are the twitter version of a romance novel if you think about it that way, to writing novels. It was freeing. I started out writing TV scripts and screenplays, but didn’t break-in doing that. Then I aimed for genre fiction because I love entertaining people, and it seemed like genre fiction was where my writing voice would fit. I did a little research, found out about the romance publishing world, and just went from there. I started writing and had this eureka moment—actually shouted ‘eureka’—ran upstairs to tell my husband that I’d found the perfect outlet for my writing voice, and never looked back.
MH: Were you trained as a writer? Did you go to an MFA program? Or did you learn in the school of hard knocks?
SB: I studied broadcasting and film. Dropped out to sing in the rock band. But I was one of those kids who’s always reading. I started reading really early, and learned a lot from reading a ton of good fiction. I related to the whole storytelling aspect of being a writer. It just really clicked. It really fit.
MH: When you start with a story, what comes first to you—a cast of characters, or a setup, or a certain element of a plot line that you then work back from, or develop from? Which is it for you, or is it all of the above at times?
SB: It really is all of the above, but because I write books that tend to be connected—books that come in a series—there’s recurring characters. Very often I will start with a character who’s appeared in earlier books and who then becomes the hero of his own story. So I’ll know a lot about him. I’ll know where he’s been. The main question I ask myself is how do I torture this character the most? You want to really get under their skin. You want to show them to be vulnerable. You want to make it really hard for them. If you were writing a challenging story about a guy who was a mountain climber, you wouldn’t write a story where there’s a little girl stuck on a cliff with her father having a heart attack, and he’s got to climb up and save the day. Because he’s a mountain climber, that’s not going to be hard for him. But the perfect hero for that story is the guy who’s afraid of heights.
MH: Your novel, All Through the Night, has been described as one of the first mainstream romance novels with “a hero and a hero” to hit the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction. In this book, gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy wins and marries the man of his dreams. What brought you to writing that particular romance when you did, because it was kind of a breakthrough in some respects in romance literature I think?
SB: Well, the timing was really right. I had introduced Jules as a major secondary character in the Troubleshooter series way back in the second book of the series. With All Through the Night, I was really hoping to show that love is love and that love is a gift worthy of celebration. I wrote the book and I put my entire advance, and all royalties, into perpetuity to an organization called MassEquality. At the time, I was living in Massachusetts where we are fighting very hard for marriage equality, and we’d won those rights. Suddenly, this was back in 2007, we discovered that we were going to have to defend those rights. I’d gone on the candlelight vigils, the rallies, I worked the phone banks, knocked on doors. But I’m a writer. None of those things are my strengths. It suddenly occurred to me that what I do best is write. So I came up with the idea to write this book. It’s set in Boston and it features the legal marriage between two of my most popular characters, who happen to be gay. I came up with that idea with the goal of giving MassEquality every penny I earned from this book. So far, that’s over a quarter of a million dollars, and they used it for an educational outreach program. Obviously, we won. In February, MassEquality is celebrating ten years of equal marriage in Massachusetts, and I’m one of a group of activists being honored at the event that they’re holding for this celebration. It’s going to be so cool to reconnect with everybody who was involved all those years ago. I think we started something really wonderful, but of course, the fight is far from over yet.
MH: It must have been gratifying. I mean, just describing the amount of royalties you were able to give to that organization, that clearly your audience went with you on this, for the most part, and really accepted it and appreciated it. I gathered from reading your blog that not everybody was so willing to open up that way. How has it been dealing with some of the negative responses to some of that work?
SB: I know that I lost some readers when I took this journey. But because I introduced Jules very early in the Troubleshooter series, many of my readers got to know him slowly over the course of quite a number of books. He was their first “out” gay friend. I’m sure they have gay friends but maybe not out to them, and that’s how hearts and minds are changed. I know that there are some readers who simply could not take this journey with me, and I knew that going in. But it has been so gratifying to see how many people have been impacted by getting to know Jules, and seeing that he’s so much more like them then he is different. I would go out and do book signings in places in the country that you would not expect Jules to be welcomed. I’d go into these events and we’d hold a Q&A, and every single time one of the first questions would be, “Will we be seeing more of Jules Cassidy in your books?” I would get standing ovations from people in completely red-state zones, and I found that fascinating and wonderful because I really believe that’s how hearts and minds are changed—when you say look at me, get to know me, get to know Jules. You know, my son is gay. I’m the mother of a son who happens to be gay and our family is so much like your family. We love each other. Look at how similar we are. It’s just been a really cool experience. The negative stuff happens, but the positive has just overwhelmed it in the amount of email I get from readers who have had their hearts and minds changed. It’s cool.
MH: Let’s talk for a little bit about The Perfect Wedding, because you kind of made a little sidestep there or maybe found your way back to writing a screenplay and producing a film. Talk a little bit about that and how that came to be.
SB: The story idea came from my son, Jason. As a young gay man, he identified as gay when he was fifteen. The expression is “coming out,” but he never was really in, and we knew before him that he’s gay. So at fifteen, he realized this and our entire family greeted him with love and support, including his grandparents on both sides. He called me up one day—he’s twenty-eight years old now and this was a couple years ago—and he said, “I’m watching a lot of movies, and there’s a lot of really good LGBT movies out there, but there’s nothing that I can really relate to.” There’s a lot of angsty coming-out stories, which are important stories to tell, but he said the comedy in most of the movies he was watching came from having to be in the closet or having to go back in the closet because someone’s parents were coming to visit—those types of stories, and there’s a place for them as well. But for a, young man like Jason, he really didn’t relate to that because he’s not in that position. He wanted to tell a story about a sweet little boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, boy-wins-boy—the traditional romantic comedy with two young men who happen to be gay—where none of the conflict comes from the fact that they’re gay. We thought it was a really good idea and my husband, Ed, who’s also a writer, and I went for it, and we collaborated, the three of us, on a screenplay. When we were finished, we loved the screenplay so much we decided we’re going to produce this ourselves. We had done some producing in the past. We produced an off-Broadway play, so we knew something about producing, but we’d never done a film before. So, we connected with a director who had producing experience, a young man named Scott Gabriel, and together we set out to make a movie. We filmed the movie in the course of twenty days. We had a casting crew of over fifty people all working together to tell this story. It was a SAG, ultra low-budget, indie feature. We did the film festival circuit, picked up a distributor, Wolfe Distributing. The film is available via streaming, On Demand, and via DVD. It was a really interesting project—very different from writing a book. You actually have to put clothes on when you make a movie, and when you’re writing a book, you can be in your pajamas, in your office all day, and nobody sees you. It was a really intriguing and interesting experience.
MH: Your husband’s a writer. You’ve collaborated with him, you’ve collaborated with your son, and you’ve also collaborated with your daughter in a young adult novel. What’s it like working with your family and finding these collaborations?
SB: It’s a really cool thing. It’s a strange dynamic because as a parent, it’s really cool to be able to watch your kids be creative—that’s really exciting—to see them use their talents like that. My daughter, Melanie, has an amazing voice for YA, young adult books, and I had this idea for a story and approached her, thought—let’s give this a try. It’s a really unique experience because it’s like, okay, who am I? Am I mom or am I your writing partner? And then there’s the weirdness of like, okay, so I gave birth to two of my own writing partners. It’s a very strange dynamic. You have to be able to treat your kids as adults; I think that’s the first step, because when you’re in a partnership, it’s got to be a partnership.
MH: It will probably be, maybe with some regret, but a little relief when you go back to working on a solo project. Any ideas what the next one might be for you?
SB: I’m writing a book called All or Nothing. It’s the sequel of Do or Die, so it features many of the same characters. It’s another romantic suspense filled with action, adventure, and, of course, romance.
MH: Suzanne, thanks so much for talking with us today. Everyone here at Blackstone and Downpour.com is looking forward to the audiobook release of Do or Die. Best of luck.
SB: Thank you so much.
MH: Thank you for joining us for this Downpour.com interview with Suzanne Brockmann. You can find Do or Die and other Suzanne Brockmann audiobooks as well as all of Blackstone Audio’s titles at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in January 2014.
Disclaimer: This audio has been edited slightly from the original recording for quality.
Do or Die
Suzanne Brockmann’s seamless blend of heroic military action and intense passion inspired USA Today to call her “a superstar of romantic suspense”—and for years her award-winning Troubleshooters books have been must-reads for fans of sizzling stories of action and adventure. Now the New York Times bestselling author shoots to thrill again with Do or Die, an electrifying new novel that is certain to win Brockmann new readers and delight devotees.
Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs—or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the US government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission for reasons he will not—or cannot—reveal.
But saying no is not an option—especially not for Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s beautiful and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, Phoebe not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible–style operation, whether he likes it or not.
Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive Mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as he loves money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty—or die trying.