Guest Blogger: Allison Brennan
Tonight, I’m touring famous Los Angeles crime scenes with none other than James Ellroy.
The talented and intriguing Ellroy has a new show with the Discovery Channel called L.A.: City of Demons that premieres January 19. I was thrilled to be invited on a bus tour hosted by Ellroy himself (author of THE BLACK DAHLIA), along with a few other writers and bloggers and press types. I am very excited!
I’m never truly at a loss for ideas—they are everywhere, but mostly in my head. Everywhere, because I’m pulling in information all around me, from who I meet to what I see to what I read in the news. I don’t consciously think when I see a news story that I want to write about it, but I absorb it and when a variety of different snippets of information merge together in my head, a story idea pops out—often without me consciously thinking about it.
I’ve always found setting the hardest part of writing. My descriptions tend to be simple and functional—I personally don’t like reading long narrative about what a room looks like or what a character is wearing. If my character is driving through a wealthy neighborhood, it seems sufficient to me to write, “She drove through an affluent neighborhood with established trees and long driveways.” If it’s important that she drove through the neighborhood in the first place.
At the same time, I know that atmosphere is crucial especially in suspense. To be able to drive through some of these crime scenes with Ellroy at the helm talking about what happened, the visual plus auditory stimulation will be awesome. I’ll still write brief descriptions—because that’s part of my writer’s voice—but I hope to make those descriptions more powerful and evocative by experiencing setting myself.
As a full-time writer, I do a lot of research. A few years ago, I participated in the FBI Citizens Academy in Sacramento. The 8-week course has been one of the highlights of my many research excursions. Every week we had new speakers, from our ninth district U.S. Attorney to FBI SWAT to experts across all FBI squads.
It’s easy to research Quantico—the FBI’s training academy on the Quantico Marine Base—there is a wealth of information on the FBI website. And the Media Relations agent distributed DVDs of their recruiting video, so we can visually see what new agents go through during their 21-week training.
But nothing was as helpful to me as going to Quantico myself, walking through the halls, walking through Hogan’s Alley, eating in the cafeteria, sitting in the auditorium where they hold the graduation ceremony—experiencing a day in the life of an FBI recruit was far more helpful to me, as a writer, than reading about Quantico, or even talking to those who’d gone through the program.
Lucy Kincaid, the main character of my new series, dreams of being an FBI agent. Everything she’s done in the last six years has led her to where she is today—waiting to hear from the FBI if her application has been accepted. Her sister-in-law Kate teaches at Quantico, and her “office”—essentially a room full of computers and equipment because Kate’s a cybercrimes instructor—is based on a room I glanced in while on my Quantico tour. I don’t know if the room was used in part as an office, but I could imagine that a computer guru might feel more comfortable there with all the machines than in a typical office.
Before Lucy ends up at Quantico herself, I hope to return. I have more questions and more places I want to see—like I didn’t get into a dorm room, and that’s a must next time.
Though I’m traveling today, I’ll have computer access on and off and I’ll pop in several times if anyone has any questions! (I love Q&A.) But I want to ask, what do you think of setting? How much or how little do you like in your romantic thrillers?
Two commenters will win a complete, signed FBI Trilogy: SUDDEN DEATH, FATAL SECRETS and CUTTING EDGE. So even if you don’t have a question, say Hi! Thank you again, Janice, for letting me spend the day with you and your crew!
Allison Brennan is the NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author of fifteen romantic thrillers. LOVE ME TO DEATH launches her Lucy Kincaid series. She lives in northern California with her husband and five children.
Be sure to check out Allison’s latest thriller LOVE ME TO DEATH, on sale now, and leave a comment to win her signed FBI Trilogy. Winners picked on 1/11/11.