Interview: Lisa Brackman

Please welcome guest Lisa Brackman, author of Black Swan Rising!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Several things. I’d recently moved back to my hometown San Diego. I live in what was a few years ago a swing Congressional district. Because of gerrymandering in many parts of the country, actual swing districts are rare in the U.S., but California has a panel of retired judges who draw districts, so we do have some competitive ones.

Black Swan Rising CoverThe amount of money poured into this race was astounding. At the time it was the most money ever spent on a congressional contest. Much of it was dark money from out of state – money where you do not know who the donors are. There are no limits on this type of spending. As a consequence, every time I turned on the TV I’d see attack ads. It got to the point where you just wanted to take a shower after seeing them.

I was also just very interested in the changes in my hometown in the years I’d lived away. San Diego had become a much more diverse and in many ways more interesting city than the Navy town of my childhood. And you tend to think of the place where you grew up as “ordinary.” It’s what you know from childhood. So to me, San Diego was always baseline “normal.” But go to other parts of the world, and Southern California is an exotic, strange place. I wanted to bring both perspectives to the city as a setting – what makes it “normal” and what makes it unique.

One of the smaller changes that I really enjoyed was the growth of the craft beer industry. San Diego can make a strong case for being the craft beer capital of the country (maybe even the world). We have something like 152 operational brewhouses here. Brewery tasting rooms have become real community gathering places—craft beer culture is lot of fun, and it gets people to other parts of the city they wouldn’t necessarily think to visit otherwise. I don’t know many other places where you will have random conversations about hop varieties with so many different people.

I had also been following something called GamerGate. In case you missed it, “GamerGate” was ostensibly about ethics in journalism covering the online gaming industry. What it really was about was attacking and shaming women involved in that industry who advocated for more inclusive and more women-friendly games or who examined the kinds of sexist and racist tropes common in gaming. These attacks ranged from constant online harassment of women, people of color and at times, their male allies to doxing, “swatting” (calling in a fake police report to provoke a SWAT team response on a target) and real-life death threats.

Most of the attackers were young men who objected to what they saw as encroachments on “their” territory.

Finally, I’d been thinking about mass shootings. They literally happen every day in our country, and it’s very easy to be shocked and appalled by a particular incident at the time it happens, and then that incident quickly recedes from public consciousness, to be replaced by the next slaughter.

There’s a common theme with mass shooters that at the time was not much discussed. They are mostly white men, and the great majority of them have expressed or acted upon misogynist sentiments. Most shootings are in fact “domestics,” with the majority of victims being the male shooter’s family. But look at almost every high-profile mass shooting and you will find anger towards women. Dig a little deeper and you will also find extremist political sentiments. Granted, these are often incoherently expressed but they are there. Christopher Harper Mercer, the killer behind the Umpqua Community College shooting, is an example who also provided partial inspiration for one of the killers in Black Swan Rising. Socially awkward, living with his mother, unemployed, no girlfriend, known to frequent “incel” chatboards, fascinated by Nazis and firearms. Angry at the world, convinced of his own victimhood.

After writing the first chapter and a basic pitch, I put Black Swan Rising aside to work on my fifth book, Go-Between. I ended up writing the bulk of BSR in 2016. The political climate at the time undoubtedly influenced the book, but since I finished it, I’ve watched more and more events unfold that feel like what I wrote. I’ve said that I feel a bit like Casey Cheng, one of the two leads in BSR, a reporter who fears that by giving something a name, she’s helped bring it about. I don’t actually think I have that kind of power, at all, but it’s definitely one of those times that I don’t much like being right.

Tell us about your main character.

Black Swan Rising has two protagonists, with a third POV character who is nearly as prominent. The first is Sarah Price, a young woman who is working on the reelection campaign of a San Diego congressman. She is very smart, very shy, even closed-off. She doesn’t trust and she doesn’t share. There are reasons for that—she has a secret past that won’t stay secret and threatens to engulf both her and the campaign she’s working for. You find out in the first sentence of the novel that she’s being harassed via email. The harassment is explicit and ugly. The question is, why is this happening to her? And also, what will she choose to do about it?

The second lead is Casey Cheng. Casey is a local television news reporter with ambitions far beyond the usual fires, crimes and surfing bulldog stories she generally is assigned to cover.  She gets her wish but not the way she would have liked or hoped when she’s seriously injured in a mass shooting incident. Casey pitches a series of stories about the long-term impact of these shootings—what happens to victims after the sorrow and outrage and public spotlight have moved on to the next slaughter. When she investigates the man who nearly killed her, she finds a connection to a group of online harassers called #TrueMen—and realizes her shooter may not be the only killer they have inspired.

Casey is very different than Sarah. She’s confident, outgoing and more at ease in the world. But she still has to overcome a significant trauma to get on with her life, and though she’s determined to do so, the trauma affects her far more than she would like to admit.

The third major POV character is Lindsey Cason. Lindsey is married to Representative Matt Cason, the congressman running for reelection. She’s a complicated and rather prickly character who is currently serving as the campaign’s finance director even though she doesn’t much like the work, because somebody has to do it, and she wholeheartedly supports Matt’s career. But meanwhile she’s been stifling her own ambitions, and she and Matt are not particularly happy in their marriage. When the campaign itself becomes a target of violence, she has some choices to make—and some danger to face.

How did you get started writing?

When I was five, I wanted to write an epic novel about cats who went camping. But I could not spell “tent,” and my mom was on the phone with her best friend and couldn’t help me. Thus, sadly, that work has been lost to the ages.

What do you think makes a good story, and how do you incorporate that into your books?

Compelling characters, conflict, real stakes (not artificially inflated ones), interesting, vivid settings.

For me, though I do think a lot about story and larger thematic elements, writing still exists on a sentence-by-sentence level.  I really care about the quality of my prose, and I aim to make every sentence tight and effective. On the Big Picture side, I also spend a lot of time just thinking about what I am writing, or want to write, and what that all means, and how I might bring more depth to it.

If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

I would do the other things that I do right now—play music (I sing and play bass guitar), take long walks, hang out with friends, pet my cat, read books, study foreign languages, travel the world. I just need to figure out how to fund all these activities. I’d maybe take up drawing and painting, something I used to do when I was a kid. I’d also want to be more involved in things that I think are important – urban transit, environmental causes in general.


Lisa Brackmann - hiresLisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Her debut novel Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world made several “Best of” lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was also nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Getaway, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Hour of the Rat, #2 in the Ellie McEnroe series, was short-listed for Left Coast’s World Mystery award, as was Ellie #3, Dragon Day (and was a Seattle Times Top 10 Mystery Pic). Lisa lives in San Diego with a couple of cats, far too many books and a bass ukulele.




NaNoWriMo: Update!

The stated goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in one month; essentially, a VERY rough draft of a novel. (See our previous posts on this event!) The volunteer cheerleaders from NaNoWriMo remind us that it only takes 1600 words/day to achieve this goal. The unstated goal is to build that oh-so-important writing habit. Writers love to talk about exercising their writing muscles, which is our way of saying that we’ve built a successful routine (habit), and it’s easier to get into the groove of writing when you can lean on that routine. Not to mention that fact that our writing gets better the more we exercise those writing muscles!

Sounds easy, right?

Hmph. Not so much. I struggle to prioritize my writing, to give myself permission to put the writing first – or at least second or third. Frankly, even fourth would be progress. (This might be why I haven’t published anything in three years.) But, for me, it’s also really hard to sit down and write when I have to re-read what I’ve already written each time to remind myself of where I’m at in the story – and more importantly, where I’m going. You’d think I’d learn!

Outlines have become this pantser’s friend, but even with an outline (mine are still very high-level), it’s hard to pick up the thread of where I left off, and rejoin the flow of thought I (hopefully) had going. In theory, NaNoWriMo is the perfect event to push me to prioritize my writing and build that routine.

Except, it requires me to prioritize my writing. Oops!

This month, I’ve written 4,199 words. That’s more than I’ve written in a while, and I love where my story is going. Those 4,199, added to the roughly 25,000 I had previously written, have allowed me to dive into this story in a meaningful and creative way. It would be lovely to say I’m going to crack that 50,000 target, and certainly the month is not over yet! (NaNoWriMo’s handy goal-tracker tells me that I only need to write 3,800 words/day to finish.) There are ideas bubbling, lots of threads in the story to tie off, and plenty of work to do.

I can do it.

Interview: John Stith

Read on to get to know John Stith, author of Pushback.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

In mystery my list would include Nelson DeMille (love everything he does), Thomas Perry (I love the trope inversion and the intelligence in the Jane Whitefield books), Linwood Barclay (I love the mix of humor and drama in his Zack Walker series), Lee Child (no explanation needed), and Robert B. Parker.

In SF it’s impossible to escape the influence of Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein but I also love Ray Bradbury, Daniel Galouye, Dean Koontz, Preston & Child, Robert Sheckley, and Clifford Simak (he shows that gentle stores can be filled with suspense).

Both lists omit dozens of brilliant, moving writers.

Tell us a bit about your new book.

PushbackPushback is a mystery-suspense novel. It begins with Dave, an investment counselor with PTSD, who survives a blowout accident that kills his fiancée, Allison.

A year later, Dave has found unexpected happiness with Cathy. At Dave’s high-school reunion, he is stunned that he doesn’t recognize anyone there. Cathy, who was previously victimized by a con man, breaks it off. And that night Dave gets a text: “How does it feel to be so quickly forgotten?” Apparently, someone close to Allison is angry that he has moved on so “soon.”

Dave’s PTSD symptoms make him avoid conflict, so he hopes this will pass. It doesn’t. His car is filled with cement. His house is razed. And now, someone is trying to kill him.

Dave’s only choices are to flee to Bolivia or stay and fight. He stays.

What inspired you to write it?

I typically start a book with an emotional issue, plus a vague idea of a plot that appeals to me, and a setting that fits both. One of the emotional triggers of the book was moving on after a huge loss. My wife of nearly 30 years died of cancer, and in the following year I happened to meet a new wonderful woman. But while I was feeling attracted and wanted, I was also feeling guilty that I was still around to experience life, while my former wife was not. I felt disloyal. Intellectually I knew that was wrong, partly because of two things my former wife had told me before she died. Her two greatest desires were to get through the dying process with dignity (she was a 10) and that I would find happiness after she was gone. In writing the novel, I jumped from those feelings to imagining a character who was moving on after a loss, and compounding the situation by adding a character who also felt my hero was moving on too quickly. Someone angry enough to do something about it.

How did you get started writing?

I spent years wishing I were a writer. And then finally I decided to spend a fixed time every day and do it. I started with 15 minutes a day, and that grew. Eventually I sold some non-fiction articles, then worked my way to short stories, and finally to novels. My first eight novels with Ace and Tor were all science fiction, but most with a strong mystery element (a private eye on a distant planet, an amnesia/murder tale aboard a space station, an undercover operative going back home again and finding an old flame in trouble, a starship hijacking, and an investigative reporter wondering why one news team is often the first to reach a new disaster).

If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

Kill myself. Just kidding. Writing is the most fulfilling work I know, so would feel incomplete without it. But I do suffer from having too many interests. If I had additional lifetimes, I would love to develop the skills to become a fine photographer. In another life, I’d love to compose music.


About the book:

At his ten-year high-school reunion, Colorado investment counselor Dave Barlow, who suffers from PTSD, finds he doesn’t know one person there, and soon realizes he must outwit an unknown antagonist before he winds up dead.

“Some people dream about going to their high-school reunion in their underwear. Dave Barlow goes to his and finds himself worse than naked — unrecognized. A lovely, twisty thriller that moves like a roller coaster — racheting up the suspense, then plunging into crisis, or doing a swift loop-the-loop through flashbacks of PTSD before the climb stars again.” — Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series.

“PUSHBACK is a fast-paced crime novel guaranteed to keep you reading into the night. Accelerating through enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, PUSHBACK ramps up to a heart-pounding ending that will leave you breathless. Stith, known for his award-winning science fiction, really brings it home in his debut mystery. Bring on the next installment!” — Chris Goff, author of RED SKY


John Stith HeadshotScience fiction and mystery author John E. Stith writes across many worlds. His books have been translated to French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian and are even available in braille for the sight-impaired.  His science fiction stories have been categorized as “Hard science fiction,” a label given to those stories thoroughly researched to play fair with the rules of science; something any die-hard SciFi fan can appreciate. PUSHBACK is his debut in

Stith holds a B.A. in physics from the University of Minnesota, has served as an Air Force Officer, where he worked at NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The passion for science runs in his family, as his father George worked at the White Sands Missile Range on such projects like the rocket sled.

He has appeared on a live nationwide PBS broadcast or Science-Fiction Science-Fact (SF2) and his work has also been sold to film and television. His novel Reckoning Infinity was chosen as one of Science Fiction Chronicle’s Best Science Fiction Novels,  Redshift Rendezvous was picked as a Nebula Award nominee and Manhattan Transfer received an honorable mention from the Hugo Awards and a nomination from the Seiun Award in Japan.

Stith is a member of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Writers Guild of America (WGA), International Thriller Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW), Colorado Author’s League and Mensa.  He currently lives in Colorado Springs.

Whale Watching

whale tailLast summer, the family and I traveled down the road to the sleepy port town of Seward for whale watching.

Seeing a gray whale is a mystical experience. Here you are in modern motor boat, drinking coffee from a paper cup and dressed to the gills in nylon rain gear, and just a few yards away are mammals that could well be 50-70 years old, cruising along doing exactly what whales have done since time immemorial, sentient and sensitive beings who well may be more intelligent than humans in different ways. It made me feel small, insignificant and very fortunate to share the planet with these creatures. There is something deeply peaceful about being in their presence.

Seward sits on Resurrection Bay, a fjord which is deep enough that migrating gray whales and orcas visit in the summer. It is the home of the Seward SeaLife Center, a research and public education facility that was funded by settlement proceeds from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The SeaLife Center also takes in orphaned sea animals that would not survive on their own.

One popular exhibit at the SeaLife Center is the stellar sea lion whicStellar sea lion and cute kidh is so big, I couldn’t get it all into the camera frame. Check out the Alaska SeaLife Center.

There are a variety of cruises that can be taken from Seward to view the whales and other sea creatures. You can go on a half-day cruise or a full day cruise. One of the cruises will take you to Fox Island for lunch at the day lodge so you can walk on the beach after feasting on prime rib, king salmon and king crab. I haven’t done that cruise but I hear the food is really good.

So here are some photos of wildlife we saw on the whale cruise: two orcas, a gray whale surfacing close to Seward (The locals go sit on the beach with a cup of coffee to watch the whales. Nice life!) and seals.

Question of the day: If you could spend a day in Seward, what animal would most like to see? The barking seals? Puffins, the sea parrots? Orca, the sea wolves? Or, the ancient and majestic whale? Me, I’m a whale person. 



The Legacy of the Flying Sidekick

Tomorrow I get a new hip.  I like to think it’s on account of many years of sports abuse, particularly those elusively troubling jump sidekicks that I’ve had to practice over and over in the martial arts.  The truth is much simpler and far less fun:  arthritis + an annoying injury (not from sidekicks).    

Still, it will be nice to regain some physical mobility, although probably the flying sidekicks will remain elusive.  

I’m completely inexperienced at anything surgical, but in my age group, everyone seems to be doing these hip replacements.  My sis just had hers done, and she tells me it’s an “easy” procedure.  


Then she told me that while she was laid up, resting for a couple of weeks, she got to read five books.   

Five books??  Somehow, this doesn’t sound so bad anymore.  

Usually my book choices are ruled by book clubs, research, and staying as current as I can with my community.  Choosing five “wild card” books overwhelms me with giddy delight, but also uncertainty.  I can’t just grab the first five off the TBR pile.  I have to plan this carefully.  Which should I choose first?  

I started organizing the possibilities by categories, such as books that make me laugh, classics that I’ve missed, books that are old comfortable friends, whimsical books, comfy cozies, filling in unread books from a beloved series, suspense books that will keep me turning pages, books about places I plan to visit, bestsellers, and so on.  In no time at all, the books on my list were soaring well beyond thirty in number.  I’m not going to be laid up long enough to read all of them!  

Ruthlessly, I narrowed down my list to ten.  Some of them are doorstoppers that could be dangerous to hold in bed.  I know I’m missing a lot of other compelling choices, but here they are:    

The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye


Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen


Fer-de-lance, by Rex Stout


The Chill, by Ross MacDonald


Wicked Autumn, by G.M. Malliet


The Glamorous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder, by Holly McQueen


The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly


The Return, by Victoria Hislop


The English Spy, by Daniel Silva


Origin, by Dan Brown

Help!  Any votes for one choice over another?  Anything else that I should consider adding to my list? 

Reading, reading, and more reading.

I am a reader, not a writer, and reading is essential for me. Reading a book is like visiting old friends and making new ones.  Books are good because the writing is good. I think that to be a good writer, one must be a good reader.

  • With that in mind, what are all you good writers reading right now, or have just finished?
  • What book could you read over and over again, and why did you make that choice?

Here is my list:

proofRight now, I am reading “Absolute Proof” by Peter James. It has an intriguing premise – what would absolutely prove the existence of God? An investigative reporter, Ross Hunter, is confronted with this question. He receives a phone call from an unusual man who says he has just such proof and will share it only with Hunter. The subsequent thrills, investigation, and mystery take Hunter all over the globe and put his life in jeopardy. Peter James a definitive storyteller and this book has me glued to the pages. One note, it is available in the U.S. only as an Audible audio book, but the owner of my local bookstore, The Book Carnival, ordered me a hard copy from England.


I also just finished “Six Four” by Hideo Yokoyama, with Japanese translation by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies. It is a l-o-n-g book, but every word contributes to the total picture. It is a universal story of crime, family, conflict, and duty all centering around one man who works in a police department in Japan. The pace is slow at first, but it comes to a frantic, desperate, and shocking end. I learned a lot about Japanese culture while reading, and my complete review is posted on “Looks at Books. ( )




The book I would read again and again is “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie. It is such a classic story with twists, turns, and surprises, even after eighty-four years.  Every time I read it, I find some new little detail that I had overlooked; it is Hercule Poirot after all.

Now, your turn — What are you reading and what are your  favorite books?

Interview: Carl Brookins

Get to know Carl Brookins, author of Grand Lac!

Grand LacWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Early rise, coffee, orange juice, cereal,(hot or cold) a serving of berries and yoghurt: daily newspapers, email, Internet news channels, TV news, 4 hours of work on one or two books in process, lunch with my wife, Internet mail, political discussions, a drink before dinner, research, TV news and more discussion and a good wine with dinner. Readings for the reviews I do.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?


Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Shakespeare, John Sandford, William Krueger, Richard Barre

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Sometimes. Jazz and/or classical, depending on my mood and the book I’m working on.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

M&Ms because various bits of evidence gradually melt together to form a tasty whole.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

A tale from my niece which is the genesis action of the novel.

 What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

People relating to and helping others out of fraught circumstances.

Tell us about your main character.

Two, in this case; both of retirement age, a man, Alan Lockem, formerly in Military Intelligence, and Marjorie (Kandy) Kane, ex-show-girl, a woman with experience on the runways of the world. Both are possessed of good hearts, honest attitudes and clear, balanced vision. They have seen the best and worst of people. My detective in the other series is a very short, very bright, urban fellow who works with cops and almost never shoots anybody although he’s good with all sorts of weapons. He wears bright red Keds.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Alan has elements of Travis McGee, Marjorie has some reflections of my niece, Theresa and V.I. Warshawski is in there, too.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

William K Krueger, John Sandford, Wm. Shakespeare, Ellen Hart, Monica Ferris, John D. McDonald

What’s next for you?

My current WIP is a political thriller, about the formation of a new political party, named the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP), a mysterious highly protected government enterprise and strange goings on in North Minneapolis, and murder most foul. This book will engage my detective, Sean NMI Sean, in a deep plunge into tangled and illegal political shenanigans.

At the same time, I’m working on the second about my two protagonists from GRAND LAC. Tentatively called TRACES, this one is focused on the movement of international spies through the transportation systems in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

How did you get started writing?

I have always been interested in writing and reading—as long as I can recall. As a child I sat beside my mother who would read from her own book, while I read from one I had chosen at the library. In spite of objections from some librarians, as a youngster I read a lot of adult fiction.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?

Sales work.

What do you think makes a good story?

Conflict, questions, tension between people and situations, danger.

How do you incorporate that into your books?

Observation, adaptation, organization, research and good use of language.

How long have you been writing?

My entire life. I was in the seventh grade when I won second prize-50 cents-for a short short Western story. Whenever possible I chose essay test questions in school and got better grades.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?

I learn new things and new ideas every day. My critique group, dubbed Crème de la Crime is a constant source of ideas and pointed positive criticism. I wish I’d been a part of them years earlier.

Has that changed the way you write or market your books?


About the marketing thing—love it, hate it?

I love being at conferences, making appearances, working with my PR firm, doing radio interviews and meeting people. Libraries are fun. Getting there is not half the fun, although when I traveled as a member of Minnesota Crime Wave, traveling was fun. A lot.

If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

Read more.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m old, I’ve done a lot of interesting things, have some interesting and unusual family members. I own two successful daughters of whom I am extremely proud. Associating with my very successful wife and girls has taught me a lot about people and attitudes and equality. I’ve worked as a TV Producer-director, film maker, writer, college faculty and student counselor, all careers that now invade my writing at various times.

Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I hope I’m still alive, mobile, writing better crime fiction, still reviewing crime fiction and living as independently as possible.


CBrookins2017Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.


Buy Grand Lac from Amazon

Buy Reunion from Amazon