Barbara Rogan’s brand new suspense novel, A DANGEROUS FICTION, just came out in July, and I got to grill her about the book, and much more!
Please welcome Barbara to the blog!
Barbara, will you tell us a bit about your brand new book, A Dangerous Fiction?
A DANGEROUS FICTION is a mystery set in the NYC publishing world, featuring a literary agent named Jo Donovan. Jo, the young widow of a famous writer, is living the life she dreamed of among the literati in New York City– but it’s all about to fall apart. When a writer she rejected turns stalker, Jo is more angry than shaken until her clients come under attack. Meanwhile, a biography of her husband is in the works and the author’s digging threatens to destroy the foundations of Jo’s carefully constructed life. As the web of suspicion grows wider and her stalker ups the ante to murder, the police get involved; and Jo finds herself face-to-face with an old flame, Detective Tommy Cullen, who may still be carrying a torch…or a grudge.
What did you enjoy most about writing your heroine, Jo Donovan, and why should we root for her?
Jo’s a complicated character. She’s tough, generous, resilient and loyal, all traits I particularly admire—but she is also flawed in important ways. For one thing, she has a dangerously selective memory, which plays into what happens to her. As I wrote, I kept resisting the impulse to soften her; and the result, I think, is the most interesting protagonist I’ve ever created. I rooted for her the way you root for someone you know and love in real life: not because she’s perfect, but because I care about the person she is. I hope readers will feel the same way.
You have a background as a literary agent, so the world of publishing is nothing new to you, but what made you decide to take the plunge into novel writing?
I always wanted to write. I got into publishing because every writer needs a day job, and I figured it would help if mine were in the book industry. I was a literary agent for 13 years, and during that period, my first two books came out. But once I had my first child, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do everything: raise a family, run a business (with all the traveling required), and write my own fiction.
I loved being an agent, but ultimately, when I had to choose, it wasn’t a hard choice. For me, nothing beats the satisfaction of writing. Whenever I sit down to write, I feel like I’m getting away with something.
What was it like revisiting the world of publishing in order to write A Dangerous Fiction?
It felt like going home. One of the great pleasures of writing the book was the opportunity to re-immerse myself in that fascinating industry, which, though very friendly and collegial from the inside, can seem opaque and forbidding from the outside. It’s a world full of rivalry and rejection, in which passions run deep and strong: fertile grounds for a novel.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Definitely a plotter. Especially with mysteries, where you really need to plan ahead, I couldn’t imagine jumping into writing before coming up with as detailed an outline as I can manage. I plot the whole novel loosely, and as I progress and can see further ahead, I plot each section in more detail. Then I put the outline aside and just write. The parameters of the scene have been defined by the outline, but a lot can change in the actual writing, and I’m totally open to that.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
That’s a tough question because there are so many writers I admire, and I’ve learned from all of them. In mysteries my favorites include Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosely, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Peter Dickinson, Dorothy Sayers…but I could go on and on. I don’t even have a favorite genre. I read a lot of mystery and literary fiction, but some of my favorite books of recent years have been fantasies and historical fiction.
What do you look for in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
The one thing the books I finish have in common is that they’re terrifically well-written. If the writing isn’t first-rate, I can’t enjoy the story, whatever it is. By well-written I mean language that is interesting on the sentence level, lines that are beautiful and make me wish I’d written them; but I also mean characters who jump off the page and invade your thoughts and emotions, and settings that are intrinsic to the story being told.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I teach fiction writing, really a labor of love, in my online school at www.nextlevelworkshop.com. I also blog about the business and craft of writing at www.barbararogan.com/blog. When I’m not writing, or writing about writing, I love watching plays, films, and dance, gardening, wandering through the woods with my German shepherd, and hanging out with friends and family.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to struggling writers?
Work on the craft. Celebrity writers aside, publishing is one of the last meritocracies, and exceptional work will be noticed and rewarded. Take classes, join crit groups, and get the most rigorous feedback you can. Be patient and do as many drafts as it takes. Revision is an essential part of the process.
What’s next for you?
I’m having a great time writing the next Jo Donovan mystery. Next month I’ll be teaching an online course on revising fiction. At some point, when I have time to put it together, I’m planning a book based on that course.
About A DANGEROUS FICTION:
Jo Donovan always manages to come out on top. From the backwoods of Appalachia, she forged a hard path to life among the literati in New York City. At thirty-five, she’s the widow of the renowned author Hugo Donovan and the owner of one of the best literary agencies in town. Jo is living the life she dreamed of but it’s all about to fall apart.
When a would-be client turns stalker, Jo is more angry than shaken until her clients come under attack. Meanwhile, a biography of Hugo Donovan is in the works and the author’s digging threatens to destroy the foundations of Jo’s carefully constructed life. As the web of suspicion grows wider and her stalker ups the ante, she’s persuaded by her client and friend—FBI profiler-turned-bestselling-thriller writer—to go to the police. There Jo finds herself face-to-face with an old flame: the handsome Tommy Cullen, now NYPD detective.