Q&A With Suzanne Brockmann
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Q&A With Suzanne Brockmann
To start off this week is with New York Times Bestselling author of romantic suspense Suzanne Brockmann. Some of Suzanne’s work is Blame It on Rio, Tall Dark & Dangerous Series, King’s Ransom, Some Kind Of Hero, Ready to Roll, & Dangerous Destiny which she co-wrote with Melanie Brockmann.
Q: When did you discover your love of reading & writing romantic suspense? What is your advice to anyone wanting to write great romantic suspense?
A: That’s a bit of a funny story. I began my writing career assuming that I’d write contemporary romantic comedies. I’ve always been a fan of SF and mystery/thrillers, too, so for my first few tries at novel writing, I wrote a little bit of everything, just stretching my wings a bit as a new author. But the first book that sold to a major publisher (Silhouette Books) was a rom-suspense, and to my horrified amusement, they only wanted me to write more rom-suspense. (And believe me, I tried to sell them the stack of rom-coms I’d already written at that point. They were good books and I sold them later to a different publisher, but Silhouette turned them all down!)
It didn’t take me long to realize that my fate was sealed! I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, I’m a rom-suspense author,” and went to work.
I do put large amounts of humor into my books—I think a more accurate label for what I write is a dramady/romantic-adventure mash-up. Most of my books are less mystery and grim darkness and more high-speed, high-humor, high-adrenaline romp—more like a roller coaster ride where you see the big drop coming and have to hold on for dear life! I think that’s how I found a happy compromise between the rom-suspense genre that I didn’t quite fit into and my personal writing comfort zone!
To this day, I’m still known best for romantic suspense. In fact, my latest book, Blame It on Rio, is the final book in my long-running romantic suspense series called Tall, Dark & Dangerous, about a fictional team of Navy SEALs. I wanted to end this series with an exclamation point (and maybe some jazz hands, too!) and since I’m self-publishing now, I could deviate a bit more from the long-established rom-suspense rules/norms. In fact, with this book, I flipped the genre around a bit. Blame It on Rio’s a rom-com with suspense elements. (As opposed to most of the other books in the series which are rom-suspense with rom-com elements.)
Because of that, RIO was a fun book to write. I used the classic fake boyfriend trope, and spun it around a bit. Navy SEAL Rio Rosetti poses as his teammate and friend Dave’s boyfriend, because Dave’s gotta go to a wedding where he’ll come face-to-face with his hot-mess-of-an-ex, Jon. Rio ends up falling hard for a young woman named Casey, who is Jon’s sister and Dave’s best friend—but of course she thinks he’s dating Dave! So, you know, lotta highjinks ensue! (Along with a little rom-susp drama, because Jon’s hot-messiness includes some very bad people to whom he owes a lot of money.) This book was extra fun to write because I wanted to keep the rom-com elements going–even in the dramatic, danger-tinged moments. That was a fun tightrope to walk!
Q: When did you realize that your calling was to be an author?
A: It was the late 1980s, early 1990s. I was ridiculously young, living in the suburbs of NYC with two very small kids, and trying hard to write for TV. I was writing everything—lots of spec scripts for shows like Star Trek Next Gen, and the original Quantum Leap, along with screenplays. I got the best rejection ever when a Hollywood agent read one of my scripts and called me up and asked when was I moving to Los Angeles. He told me that I needed to be on the West Coast if I wanted him to rep me, and well… That wasn’t going to happen—my husband’s commute into NYC was already insanely long!
After that phone call—a big name agent wanted to rep me!!–I remember thinking, “You know who doesn’t have to be on the West Coast to get his movies made? Stephen King.” (Yup. I was so young, thinking “I know! I’ll be just like Stephen King!” Hahaha! But, sure kid, dream big!) That decision–to make my way into movies and TV by becoming an internationally known bestselling novelist—motivated me to try my hand at writing novels.
I decided to focus on writing genre fiction, since that seemed the closest that a novel came to the movies and TV scripts I truly wanted to write. I approached it scientifically. I did research on my three favorite genres: mystery, SF, and romance. The info I discovered made me believe there was room in the romance genre for me and my writing voice. (I was not wrong about that!)
I still remember sitting down to write the first few pages of my very first romance novel, and having a hard-core “Eureka!” moment. I ran to announce to my husband and kids, “I have found the perfect outlet for my writing voice!” (Another thing I got right!)
Q: Is it fair to say that the characters and places in your novels are taken from real people and places?
A: Absolutely not! Yikes! Hahaha!
As a fiction writer, my characters come directly from my imagination.
As for places, I write a mix of completely fictional locales and places I know well, like Boston or Sarasota or even Los Angeles. (All these years after that phone call with that long-retired agent, my filmmaker/actor son Jason T. Gaffney now lives in LA with his husband, and I’ve visited them often!)
I think there’s a long-standing myth that all novelists include loosely-concealed people from their past as characters in their books, and that’s simply not the case for me. But the rest of the world thinks it’s true!
I remember attending a book signing near the town where I grew up, and a woman I knew back when we were both kids showed up. With narrowed eyes she said, “So, this character you wrote named Mary Lou…” And I realized, whoopsie, I’d borrowed this woman’s name for a not-very-nice character, and truly it had nothing to do with the real life Mary Lou with whom I’d gone to school and been in Girl Scouts! Because of that well-known myth, I’m still not sure she believed me when I insisted that character only shared her name!
On the flip side of that, I do write a lot of rom-suspense with military or former military characters, and because I’ve never served, I’ve done a boatload of research to bring my characters to life. In truth, I research the crap out of any character I create who didn’t grow up in 1970’s rural Connecticut as a middle-class white girl who loved Star Trek, reading, and musical theatre. (At this point, that’s pretty much all of the characters in all my books!) It’s important to me to really understand the people I create, so that they ring true as they act and react to situations I throw at them in my stories. I want real life SEALs, for example, to see an accurate reflection of themselves in my SEAL characters, so I work hard to get it right.
Q: I know you produced Marriage of Inconvenience, does Hollywood have the rights to any of your work? The entertainment industry is in desperate need of original content again.
A: This is yet another oddly funny story! All that work I did early in my career with a goal to be recognized by Hollywood—and I only recently transitioned to making movies via my own production company, small or LARGE Productions, and my filmmaker son Jason’s production company, My Pet Hippo Productions.
Frankly, I discovered that I loved writing novels, and I really leaned into that for most of my career. But in 2016, after writing over sixty novels in under twenty-five years, I hit a big wall of burnout–aided by the fact that the US and the world had gone full dumpster-fire. I’ve spent the years since then volunteering for Democratic campaigns (I was a text-team moderator for the Biden/Harris campaign in 2020, and clocked many hours phone-banking for the Dems since then) and producing movies. And yes, our latest project is the new TV series Marriage of Inconvenience, a six-episode LGBTQ rom-comedy about two gay men who are total opposites who must pretend to be married when they enter witness protection. It’s a 2020’s version of The Odd Couple! It’s a lot of fun—and there’s a sweetness to it, too. It just dropped on the Dekkoo streaming channel. (Anyone interested can get Dekkoo as an add-on channel to Amazon Prime, or access a subscription directly from www.Dekkoo.com.)
I didn’t write Marriage of Inconvenience—but I was essentially in the “writing room” for the early brainstorming process, plus I had major jobs in all stages of production. (I was a Covid Compliance Officer during filming, and post-production supervisor during post.)
I did get a chance, a few years ago, to co-write a screenplay called Out of Body with Jason. That one’s a Halloween-set romantic dramady/paranormal feature-length film. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, and it’s available as a rental on Amazon, and Apple, too. After we finished writing the script for this story, I wrote a novelization that went on to become a RITA Award finalist in the paranormal category. That was a little backwards—usually you write a book that becomes a movie! It was another fun project, plus we got the two stars of the movie (Jason and a wonderful actor named Kevin Held) to record the audio book edition.
Q: How did you feel ending the series Tall Dark & Dangerous with the final book Blame It on Rio? I know some authors in the past were always sad to end a series and that they had to say goodbye.
A: Ah, this was a case of tying up the series with a big bow so that it no longer felt abandoned! See, I’d started writing TDD early in my career—the first book, Prince Joe was released in 1996. Over the next seven years, I wrote the first eleven books in that series—all stand-alones featuring members of the same SEAL Team. (So lots of recurring, familiar, fan-favorite characters!) But in the early 2000s my mainstream Troubleshooters series really took off and I focused
In 2018, after several years of not-writing, I decided to revisit the TDD series because I’d never really ended it—I’d just stopped writing it. So I wrote (very slowly!) the 12th TDD installment, SEAL Camp, which helped set up the book I thought would be the 13th and final, King’s Ransom. But it turned out that Navy SEAL Rio Rosetti, who was a secondary character in King’s Ransom, kept rattling around noisily in my head. I soon realized that his book, Blame It on Rio (TDD #14) would really be the perfect end to this series.
You see, back when I wrote Prince Joe (TDD #1) in the mid-1990s, I gave the heroine, Veronica, a gay brother whom she adored. And the publisher told me that even though this character never appeared on the page–he was just mentioned by his sister–his being gay was not okay. I was told that offended and disgruntled (and clearly virulently anti-gay!!) readers would “write letters.” (I kid you not!) It was a deal-breaker. If I wanted the contract, I had to lose the gay character.
As the mother of a gay son (Jason was just a little boy back then, but I saw him clearly!!), I made a vow to change the romance genre and stop the publishing gatekeepers from erasing the LGBTQ characters in our books. It became a motivating goal for me—to always push and include gay characters in my romance novels.
We’ve come a long, long way in genre romance since the 1990s! In 2007, my most popular character of all time, out gay FBI Agent Jules Cassidy, married the man of his dreams in my Troubleshooters novel, All Through the Night, which hit the NYTimes Hardcover list. (I gave and continue to give all of my author earnings from this book, advance, subrights, and royalties in perpetuity to the Massachusetts organization MassEquality, to defend LGBTQ rights.)
I’ve never forgotten how soul-crushing it was to be forced, as a new author with no power, to erase this minor but important gay character from Prince Joe, so when I had the idea for Blame It on Rio—the romance of a straight Navy SEAL who is an excellent ally and good friend to an out gay Navy SEAL, who has his own romantic story arc in the same book—it seemed fitting to end this long-running TDD series in this way.
Historical Sidebar: Back when I wrote Prince Joe, the horrible “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy was in place. There were no out gay Navy SEALs—they were all jammed hard in the closet. DADT ended in September 2011 and from that point forth, LGBTQ service-members could and can serve openly. Thank goodness (and about damn time)!
Q: I know you said in our email you have slowed down in recent years as a novelist. Do you still have ideas for future books that you would want to write again when the energy hits?
A: I’m working on a few things—including the next book in my Troubleshooters series–but I do write very slowly these days. Unfortunately, I got COVID early, before I had any protection from the vaccines, and I’ve been dealing with Long Covid ever since. (Three years now. Ugh.) It’s a real, awful, debilitating illness, and I’m being extremely careful not to catch the virus again. But I’ve found that these days I have about three to four hours of creative energy, tops, which is severely limiting.
Q: What was it like collaborating with Melanie Brockmann on Dangerous Destiny? What is your advice to anyone wanting to collaborate with someone else writing a novel?
A: My daughter Melanie and I wrote two books in a futuristic, paranormal YA series: Night Sky and Wild Sky, along with a prequel short called Dangerous Destiny. A few years earlier, I’d written a paranormal romance called Born to Darkness, and I always thought that the storyline and world-building in that book might’ve been better suited to the Young Adult genre. Mel’s a terrific writer, and she’s really got that YA voice, so I approached her about co-writing a short series.
Collaborating can be really great—especially after years of working in solitude. But when you throw mother-daughter dynamics into the mix, it can get a little complicated! It’s definitely not for everyone, but it worked for us. She brought incredible energy and brilliance to the project and to the books. (She recorded the audiobooks, too, which was fun!)
As far as our actual method went… I’m a detailed outliner from way back, so we sat down and outlined the entire book in advance—with the understanding that our outline wasn’t written in stone and we’d make adjustments as we went. Melanie wrote most of the first drafts, and we just kind of went back and forth with the revisions until the book was polished. I’m really proud of those books—and of Mel!
Thanks so much for inviting me to do this interview!
Here are some links that your readers might find useful:
Suz’s website: www.SuzanneBrockmann.com
My Pet Hippo Productions website: https://www.mypethippoproductions.com/ourmission
Marriage of Inconvenience
MOI trailer: https://youtu.be/1Dlz5fs7p00
Out of Body:
OOB trailer: https://vimeo.com/568163815
streaming on Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/Out-Body-Kevin-Held/dp/B09HMZ11DQ