Please welcome new Mysterista Peg Brantley, author of the Aspen Falls Thriller series and The Sacrifice.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
This question made me think. Is my perfect day one where my plan is achieved? One where I put a line through everything on my list? I hear from loved ones? I meet my word count? The truth is, regardless of what happens, every day is perfect. I might not recognize it at first (because I can be stubborn like that) but given time I’ll see that my plan isn’t always the best plan. So today? Whatever happens, it will be perfect. I just have to trust the process. (Sometimes easier said than done.)
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Oh, please. I’m not special enough to have a “signature” anything. Yellow makes me happy. Does that count? Alien (a fragrance… isn’t that a lousy name?) is one I currently like. I also have a liquid potpourri thing in my kitchen. It ranges from linen or lavender or rose to cinnamon, depending on the time of year. With respect to phrases or expressions I’m usually about three behind whatever’s current and I’ve learned to live with that. Meals? Are you kidding? Wow. I wish I could be known for something special. My husband would say I’m pretty good with soups and meatloaf, but the truth is I think he says these things just to encourage me to continue cooking. He likes to eat regularly, and although he could probably do better himself, we’re traditional that way.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Once again I’m not true to form. My favorite books have nothing to do with what I write. My top faves are Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (the movie was nice but it didn’t come close to the words in the book); Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (ditto); and A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (a big book that reads quick). These stories depicted characters and locations in amazing ways. Between you and me I’m afraid to re-read these books for fear I won’t love them as much. Does anyone else feel this way?
I also love the way Dean Koontz can build tension and anxiety with a piece of trash or a leaf cascading down a street on one hand, and then on the other create an entire picture in eight words. And then there’s the way Stephen King takes an ordinary element and twists it into something sinister. And the way Timothy Hallinan brings a foreign locale so close I can smell it and taste it, not to mention his amazing character development.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes. I used to shy away from anything with a lyric. Not anymore. My current musical muses include Seal, Nora Jones, and Katie Melua. If I’m editing, all sounds are off. And (I hate to admit it) sometimes when I’m writing you’ll be able to hear whatever is on the television at the moment. I blame my mother. She had the local talk radio stations on all day long when I was a kid. They became background noise. As long as I can take or leave the subject matter on Dr. Phil (and I’m not editing), he might be blathering away in the background. It’s like comfort food. (Please don’t tell Dr. Phil I used the word “blathering” in connection with him.)
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
This is probably a bad thing to admit to, but if my latest book were chocolate it would be that old yucky chocolate that’s been in a drawer far too long. I struggled for over two years with this one manuscript. It simply wasn’t ready for my readers. I was rewriting it for the fourth time even while trusted friends told me to walk away. For any number of reasons I was determined to stick it out. Finally I got to a place where I acknowledged their wisdom and boxed up everything related to the story. Overnight I went from stale chocolate to a rich dark chocolate, one filled with layers and promises of something special.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The story I’m researching now is both exciting and incredibly sad. I try to find something in each of my books that can resonate with readers. Something that can get people talking. This one is perhaps one of the most horrible I’ve attempted, only because it’s so prevalent. Human trafficking. I’ve learned it isn’t “there,” it’s right here. That’s not only a huge opportunity but a huge responsibility. Part of me is terrified I won’t do the reality of this subject justice, but I’ve got to try.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
While I try to pull the lantern over to shed light on a topic I think we should talk about (undocumented immigrants, organ donation, depression, now trafficking) what consistently comes up is how all of us deal with our challenges. We’re both fallible and voracious. We stumble and overcome. We are, each of us, the least and best among us on any given day—sometimes both in the same day. What I try to do is take those pieces that make us all human and incorporate them into a story that can provide a few hours of escape, even if it comes with an opportunity for introspection.
Tell us about your main character.
In Red Tide (the first in the Aspen Falls Thriller series), there are a couple of characters who are paramount. If I had to pick one, I’d pick Jamie Taylor. She’s made terrible decisions in her past regarding men but her dogs are a different matter entirely. I love her strength. I love how she marches on.
In The Missings (the second in the Aspen Falls Thriller series), Detective Chase Waters is trying to do his job and hold on to his family. He’s honorable and vulnerable. Gotta love that. This story also introduces us to a character named Mex Anderson. When Mex showed up in an incredibly minor role, he threatened to derail the whole story before I could finish. We made a deal. If he’d shut up I’d write a book just for him.
The Sacrifice is Mex Anderson’s book. He’s a man fighting depression and seeking revenge. Initially he does the right thing for the wrong reason and ultimately gets answers he hadn’t bargained for.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Jamie Taylor: George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), Sandra Bullock (in almost every role she’s had), Your Best Friend who’s chosen the wrong guy more than once
Chase Waters: Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner (Criminal Minds), George Bailey (okay, I’m a little infatuated), Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue)
Mex Anderson: Jesse Stone, Philip Marlowe, and okay… George Bailey
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Only six? Anne Rivers Siddons, Rebecca Wells, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner, Dean Koontz
What’s next for you?
Left Coast Crime in Phoenix February 25-28! I hope to catch up with friends, both readers and authors, and meet more of both!
Peg Brantley spent over 25 years in corporate America, many of them running her own businesses. At any given time she could have helped you finance some real estate or sold you a bag of popcorn or a tube of lipstick. She’s unabashedly happy to have those years behind her. A Colorado native, she and her husband (who wishes she wrote romance rather than thrillers) make their home southeast of Denver, where they have shared their space with the occasional pair of mallard ducks named Raymond and Deborah and their ducklings, snapping turtles, peacocks, assorted other birds, foxes, a deer named Cedric, and a bichon named McKenzie. You can find her at pegbrantley.com, suspensenovelist.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/PegBrantleyAuthorPage, and on Twitter at @PegBrantley.