Lisa Brackmann Interview
Jon: It seems to me from reading your books that Ellie would just love to do her thing and be left alone to do it. And yet she keeps falling into these situations that just throw her life up in the air. Do you feel any guilt for doing this to her?
Lisa: I feel terrible about it! Especially because I really relate to this ambition, doing my thing and being left alone to do it. But if she didn’t have problems, there wouldn’t be books.
Jon: Sidney Cao seems like a new breed of Chinese, embracing capitalism and his kids fall right into it. While China has always had different classes do you think the amount of rapid growth they have seen has impact this in causing larger rifts?
Lisa:The gap between the rich and the poor in China has grown very wide, and it does cause a great deal of resentment among ordinary Chinese, the laobaixing, especially because there is an assumption that you can only get rich through connections and corruption. I don’t like to generalize too much, but I’d say that for most Chinese, they don’t resent the rich per se, they resent the unfair privilege that comes with wealth.
Jon: Are you a “hands on” researcher or more of a “Google it” researcher?
Lisa: Both. If I had my druthers, I would go to every location I use in my books, but sometimes it just isn’t possible, e.g., the Iraq War sequences in Rock Paper Tiger. But the great majority of the places I portray in my books are real or based on real places that I’ve visited. I don’t always know at the time that I’m going to use them, but I try to take advantage of likely opportunities. For example, I had a chance to visit the old municipal dump in Puerto Vallarta. I had to go – I had a feeling it would be a useful setting for Getaway, which I’d just started writing, and it very much was. So sometimes my research actually guides the story instead of just supporting a story I’ve already thought out. Another example of this came when I was developing Ellie’s character in the first book. I needed to give her a military specialty and decided she would be a medic, because I’d certified as an EMT years ago, and though I was far from expert, I felt that I at least had enough background to fake it credibly. Her being a medic ended up having a major impact on the story—I’d really had no idea when I’d made that decision how crucial it would end up being.
I was also a researcher for films and television for many years, and though I couldn’t control how productions would use the material I’d gather, I am a big believer in being thorough, particularly if it’s about a place you can’t go or an area you don’t know. I did a lot of background research on the Iraq War, on the experiences of Americans serving there, on the more specific topics that the book deals with; I looked at books, articles, soldiers’ blogs, documentaries, etc.. I don’t really think there’s such a thing as overkill when you’re researching things you haven’t experienced, and for me, it’s an important part of the development work as well as an ongoing process. I don’t know what I don’t know, and there are parts of the story or the character that will come out of what I’m learning.
Jon: Ellie having been a medic in the war in Iraq has obviously taught her to think fast on her feet and make rapid decisions. How are you with dealing with adversity and change?
Lisa: It depends on the type of adversity and change. Like Ellie, I do pretty well with unfamiliar environments, the ups and downs of travel, and certain kinds of emergencies. I don’t do as well with a frustrating routine and stress that continues over too much time, stress that I don’t have much control over. In some ways I’m a hedgehog—I just want to focus on my work and not be interrupted—and certain kinds of change I don’t like much at all. Being a working writer can be pretty stressful. You face a lot of rejection, a lot of things are out of your control, and the financial stress is huge. I’m still trying to figure out how to cope and adapt to all that.
Now that I’m older and know myself a little better, I think I probably should have been a foreign correspondent for my day gig. It fits my personality, but it’s taken me years to understand that.
Jon: In what ways are you and Ellie alike and how are you different?
Lisa: Well, to start with, Ellie is a lot younger than I am. If anything, she is more like my younger self than me today. At times I’ve referred to her as my “untrammeled id” – she doesn’t have a lot of filters. She’s also impatient, impulsive, brave and self-destructive. I’m steadier, more intellectual and analytical, somewhat more diplomatic, and patient enough to write novels. And it’s too hard to be self-destructive when you get into middle-age – nature will take care of that soon enough, so I’m quite a bit more disciplined than Ellie when it comes to taking care of myself. Also, I get along much better with my mom.
We are alike in that we’re both good observers. We do pretty well in unfamiliar cultures and situations. We both care about justice, though we express that differently. We both harbor fantasies of escape from routine, much of which we find boring. We both have a sense of adventure (though I’m not really into the kind that would end with me getting beaten up). And we both like beer and dumplings, a lot.
Jon: What’s your favorite thing to hear from readers?
Lisa: I think like most writers, I love it when I hear from readers that my work has touched them in some way, that it involved them, entertained them, made them think. It’s especially meaningful to me when I hear from people who are familiar with or who know better than I do regarding some of the things I’m writing about: Veterans who feel I’ve captured something about their experiences accurately, China residents who recognize the country they are living in when they read Ellie’s adventures.
Jon: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Lisa: I love to read. I love to travel. I love to take long walks through unfamiliar neighborhoods, or around neighborhoods I think I know but that still hold small discoveries and unfamiliar terrain. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that movement and exercise is absolutely essential—I’ve benefited a lot from weight training. I may not always like to do it, but once I’m there I enjoy it and I really like how it makes me feel. I like good food, good beer, good wine and good conversation. I like going to baseball games and watching good TV. I’m a bit of an introvert and a little socially awkward but I still enjoy going to conventions and meeting other writers and readers. I used to play in a band, and I kind of miss some of that. I especially miss singing. Anybody up for karaoke?
Jon: Any hints on what will happen with Ellie next?
Lisa: After a trilogy of adventures I think Ellie needs a break and deserves a rest, and I tried to wrap up a bunch of the continuing story threads from the first two books in Dragon Day to give readers a sense of completion. I’m not closing the door on writing more stories about her, but when you have a character who has had as much trauma as she has, I think it strains credibility to put her through the wringer in book after book. I have a non-Ellie book coming out next year, and I’m working on something very different right now that I hope will see print after that. When I have this current project in the can, who knows, it might be time to go back to Ellie. I do have an idea of where she ends up next. But I only want to write more books about her if her character can continue to grow in a realistic way and if I have something to say where she is the right person to say it.