Please welcome Lisa Brackmann to the blog today! Lisa is the author of the thrillers Rock Paper Tiger and (just out) Getaway, and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions!
Lisa, you’ve been writing since the age of five, and your first novel, Rock Paper Tiger, debuted with great reviews! Getaway, your 2nd novel just came out and is also getting great buzz. How did you celebrate when you found out that you’d sold Rock Paper Tiger to Soho? Was there squeeeing? Cake? Happy dancing? All of the above?
As I recall, I walked to a wine bar a couple blocks away, met a friend there and had a glass of champagne. I didn’t really have an overwhelming emotional response, I think in part because the book had been out on submission for a year. I’d come close at some houses but no one was willing to take the chance until Soho offered. I’d come close to giving up on the book, but thankfully, my agent at the time, Nathan Bransford, never gave up.
In general I’ve noticed that I don’t always react to the big moments nearly as much as I do to some random small ones. Maybe because the big ones are too hard to take in. Maybe because I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I just sort of figured, “okay, I’ve sold a book—that’s nice. It’ll get published, and that’s great, and I guess I should write another book now, but it’s not going to change my life all that much.”
Little did I know.
I’m assuming Rock Paper Tiger was influenced by your visit to China, of which you called “profoundly unsettling”. What was one of the most memorable things about that trip?
My first time in China was shortly after the Cultural Revolution, and I was quite young. I ended up staying there for six months. At the time, China was just beginning to emerge from decades of isolation and a prolonged national trauma. There was no American culture to speak of, and very few Americans or Westerners of any kind living there. I was an object of intense curiosity and scrutiny almost everywhere I went. Being that detached from my own culture, in a place whose every aspect was alien, it was life-changing. I spent many years afterwards trying to understand where I’d been and what I’d experienced. So it’s hard for me to pick one particular memorable thing! Maybe the total eclipse of the sun I saw while visiting the Stone Forest on my 21st birthday. Or the first time I ate a persimmon frozen from sitting out on a Beijing apartment balcony in winter. Or the Chinese professor who told me about his terrible experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and who hugged me goodbye when I left the country. I could go on and on.
Would you ever visit again if you had the chance?
I’ve been back at least once a year every year since 1999. I’d started studying Mandarin, which seemed to fill some kind of hole in my head, and returning to the country that had changed me so much feels like going home.
What made you decide to set Getaway in Puerto Vallarta?
I’d been to Puerto Vallarta a number of times and thought it was a really interesting setting with lots of contrasts—traditional Mexican town and resort, a beautiful place where a lot of foreigners come to vacation or to retire, but where there’s also a lot of poverty and a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. You have some expat retirees who want to make this Mexican city a cheaper version of the States rather than accepting it for what it is. And even though Vallarta itself is really a safe place to visit and to live, you do hear about corruption, with the drug trade always in the background.
Mainly, one of the things I really like dealing with in my fiction is setting, and it’s hard to do a credible job if you aren’t familiar with the location, and Puerto Vallarta was a place I felt I could depict believably.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I’m never good at answering these questions, because I have a terrible memory for lists, and also, I don’t think I ever set out to emulate anyone. But there are a few authors who stand out for me: Hemingway, even though I can’t even remember what it was I read of his that made such an impression (this would have been in high school) – it was more the precision of his prose, I think. Joan Didion, same thing. Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.” Ursula K. LeGuin’s work. With most of these authors, it’s about the fusion of precise, almost epigrammatic and frequently beautiful prose. And now that I think about it, most of these writers had larger political or social issues that they were talking about.
I also had a writing professor who influenced me a lot, Lydia Davis. She’s best known for her short stories and for her French translations. She taught me a way of seeing, a way of focusing on telling, sensory details.
Of course, I’m not writing literary fiction; I’m writing suspense, but I try to bring some of that clarity to the way I write. And I like using suspense/thrillers as a way of talking about larger social/political issues as well.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Way too many books! Tim Hallinan’s “The Fear Artist,” Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” and Jasper Fforde’s “Shades of Grey,” which I just bought, and someone asked me if it was related to “Fifty Shades of Gray.” (it’s not)
If you could pack your bags and travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I really love to travel, so I actually don’t care all that much. Anywhere different. I am overdue for a trip to China, though, and hope to go in the fall. I’d also really like to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Turkey.
Ok, I have to ask…you were in a rock band. Care to dish?
I was really influenced by Talking Heads when they came out – the music, the lyrics, the female bassist. I thought, hey, maybe this is something I could do too. I started and played in cover bands through college, and then when I moved to Los Angeles, eventually formed my own band. We were guitar, bass and drums, with an additional backup vocalist/percussionist. I was the singer/songwriter/bassist. The guys I played with are awesome musicians and we were together for over a decade. Name a dive bar, we played in it! We got some good reviews here and there but I was hopeless at marketing and eventually realized that I needed to focus on something creatively, and that “something” was the writing.
Would you still go to space if you had the chance and does anyone still call you “Lunar Lisa”?
Maybe, and no.
Quick! What’s something that makes you laugh out loud?
My cat—okay, that’s corny, but she does this yoga-like stretch and then collapses onto the ground, and it’s just ridiculously cute. Gets me every time. This may be why she does it.
And this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWMJwAdLrQI) — “Thirteen Bears and a News Reader on Marijuana.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I sold my third book, a sequel to “Rock Paper Tiger” tentatively called “Hour of the Rat,” which should be out around this time next year. Ellie’s back, and of course, she gets into a lot of trouble, but there’s some funny stuff in it too. And I’m really anxious to get going on my fourth book, which I’m not quite ready to talk about, mainly because I don’t have that little thing known as a “plot” yet. Event-wise, I have a few more appearances for the release of “Getaway” scheduled for the beginning of June, several in the Bay Area and one at Murder by the Book in Houston. Beyond that I’m not sure, but I will be at Bouchercon in October. Bouchercon for those unfamiliar is the biggest crime fiction convention in the world, held annually, this year in Cleveland. It’s a great opportunity for authors and readers to connect, and really a lot of fun!