A Chat with Suzanne Brockmann

(February 19, 2001)

“I think that men tend to be more romantic than women. When my guys fall, they fall incredibly hard. And they fall forever.”

To start with, why don’t you tell us something about yourself?

I’m a huge movie fan. Oscar night is my favorite holiday! I always try to see all the Oscar nominated films, and we always have a black tie formal party on Oscar night.

I’m also a musician. I currently sing in a rock band called “The Dick Mac Wedding Garage Band.” We’re a seven piece cover band, and we play music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and current stuff, too. My 16-year-old daughter, Melanie, is in the band with me – she’s an amazing singer and she also plays the alto sax better than most studio musicians. (Okay, yeah, I know, I sound like a mother, but seriously, this kid can sight read music that makes my eyes cross.)

Speaking of sounding like a mother, I have a 15-year-old son, Jason, as well. Jace is an actor – he spends a great deal of time on stage, doing musical theater. He did his first semi-pro show at age 8 – a 30-show run of Oliver! – and at this point has a longer resume than most actors twice his age.

I’m married (and have been for 17 years) to the nicest guy in the world. He’s self-employed (he’s a lawyer specializing in criminal appeals) and we both work at home, which is lots of fun.

I know you’ve got a new Tall, Dark & Dangerous SEAL book coming out soon, as well as another “hero” book, Can you tell us a little about them?

Right now I’m actively promoting The Defiant Hero, which is the second book in an ongoing series of single title contemporary romances I’m writing for Ballantine/Ivy. It’s the follow up to The Unsung Hero, which was recently voted RWA’s # 1 Favorite Book of the Year! The Defiant Hero features a heroine, Meg Moore, whose daughter has been kidnapped by terrorists. The hero is hunky and six-years-younger Navy SEAL languages specialist John Nilsson, who first met Meg three years ago, when she was married and working in a US Embassy overseas. As in the first book, there are a bunch of intertwined stories, including a WWII subplot, and a really hot love/hate relationship between two secondary characters who first appeared in TUH.

My next Tall, Dark & Dangerous book for Silhouette Intimate Moments will be out in July, 2001. It’s called Taylor’s Temptation and it features Chief Bobby Taylor – the first half of the Bobby and Wes team. This is a fun book. At the advice of my friend Scott (who reminded me after the last time I mentioned him in an interview, to let you all know that he was incredibly handsome and quite a hunk ) I decided to write a “Not with my sister, you don’t!!!” book. The sister in question is Colleen Skelly, Wes’s not-so-little sis, who’s had the hots for Bobby for years. When Bobby goes to Boston as a favor to Wes, to try to talk Colleen out of going to a dangerous third world country as part of an earthquake relief team, he gets way more than he bargained for.

After that, I’ve got the third book in my Troubleshooters series (started in The Unsung Hero and continuing with The Defiant Hero), Over the Edge, out in September 2001, from Ballantine/Ivy. This book features the SEAL Team’s senior chief, Stan Wolchonok, who is first introduced in The Defiant Hero.

Last thing I want to mention is my first venture into the world of e-publishing. I have an e-short story coming out on the www.mightywords.com website soon. It’s called Murphy’s Law and it’ll be available for a $3 download starting March 21st. It features a young man who wants two things from life: to become a Navy SEAL, and to win the heart of the girl he met the day before he left town.

How did you get into writing? Was this something you always did or was it an interest that grew later on? And, how long were you writing before you sold a book?

 I started reading when I was three (my first “real” book was Beverly Cleary’s Here Comes the Bus – I remember this because no one believed that I was really reading it and I got really upset when my older sister took it back to the school library before I’d finished it!!!) and I started writing not long after that. (One of my earliest masterpieces was a radio play called Mice on Mars.)

I wrote my first 200 page novel during my junior and senior years of high school – it was a Star Trek novel. I attended Boston University’s School of Broadcasting and Film as a film major with a minor in creative writing. I never graduated, because I dropped out to sing lead in a rock and roll band.

I didn’t start writing seriously until after Melanie and Jason were born. Then, I started writing screenplays and TV scripts, and also wrote a few more Star Trek novels in my “learning years.”

It wasn’t until June 1992 that I set a specific goal to get published in genre fiction and, after doing lots of research, set about writing romance novels. I sat down at the computer, and didn’t get up for a year – during which time I wrote ten manuscripts. The fourth book I wrote sold first (I later sold the second and third) – in December 1992, to Meteor’s Kismet line. The book was called Future Perfect and was published in August, 1993.

You’ve written for several lines during your writing career – aside from the basics of crafting plot and character, is there a different set of requirements that you must mold your story to?

Absolutely, and it’s important that a writer understands the specific needs of the line or publish she’s aiming to write for. I’ve spoken to so many beginning writers who tell me “I’m not sure what it’s going to be – a Silhouette Desire, a SuperRomance or a mainstream!”

There are huge differences between those three types of books. I don’t think I’ve ever read a manuscript that could be sold either as a mainstream or a short contemporary romance – they’re just too different. The differences between the lines of series romances are more subtle, but there are differences.

It’s important as a new writer to do two things. The first is to succeed at completing a manuscript. This means you sit down and write an entire book from page one/chapter one to “the end” on page 250 or 300 or 400 or 500. Often, to prove to herself that she can do it, a writer needs to write exactly what she wants to write – which sometimes isn’t what the publishers want to publish.

But after you’ve proven to yourself that you can write a complete book, then it’s time to focus and to write not just any book but a specific type of book. Decide what it is before you start to write – and do research! If you want to write for Silhouette Desire, then read 100 Desires. That’s the best way to learn exactly what types and styles of stories the editors are looking for.

I did this when I was starting out. I knew I wanted to start by writing contemporary series romance. I targeted both Silhouette Intimate Moments and Bantam Loveswept right from the start. I read a gazillion of each and really paid attention to the (slight but definite) differences between these two lines.

And I ended up selling to both.

Again, when I moved into single title contemporaries, I had to learn what made those books different from series. And it’s more than just the use of harsher or more realistic language. The stories are bigger, more complicated. Subplots and plot are more important. And there are lots of little differences as well, style and voice things that I find myself doing differently. (I don’t think I can explain other than to say that I write single titles quite a bit differently.)

Who do you enjoy reading? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

I enjoy both, but I love fiction. My favorite author of all time is Carla Kelly, who writes the most amazing Regency period books for Signet. I’m also a fan of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Julia Quinn, Judith Ivory, Connie Brockway, Mary Jo Putney, Susan Carroll, and Virginia Kantra.

In fact, I’m leaving on Friday for a desperately needed week on the beach, and I’m taking a pile of books with me. My Valentine’s Day present to myself will be SEP’s hardcover, This Heart of Mine. I can’t wait to read it!

What is it about military heroes that calls to you?

I’ve always been attracted to military heroes. When I was a kid, I read every book in the library about World War II – it just fascinated me, all those stories of heroism, both on a grand scale and on an individual scale. And I’m a patriot at heart.

What made you decide to write about Navy SEALS?

Frankly, I was looking for a good hook for a series romance mini-series. I wanted to write a trilogy of books for Silhouette Intimate Moments that, if they were popular, could be ongoing forever and ever. I knew I didn’t want to write about brothers, because there are only so many long lost brothers you can resurrect. And I was steering away from a location as the hook (like Rachel Lee’s Conard County series) since that had been done before, and so wonderfully well. My friend Eric saw an article on Hell Week (one of the intensive week-long phases of SEAL training) in a national magazine, and told me to run to the library to check it out. I did, and, well, right then I knew I had my hook. SEALs work in small teams – 7 or 8 men. They bond and are often closer than brothers – they trust each other completely. It seemed so perfect. My friend Jodie Kuhlman came up with the Tall, Dark & Dangerous name, and the rest is history.

How long does it take you to write each SEAL book? Aside from the shorter length, is it faster than the single title books because you already know the background for the characters?

Absolutely! I know these characters so well by now. It’s so much fun to visit with them. It takes me about two months to write books in the TDD series. My single title SEAL books and the book I just finished writing, Over the Edge) take much longer to write because they’re nearly twice as long, and they have three or four extremely major intertwining subplots.

With such a great group of guys to choose from, is it difficult to keep the rest in the background (so to speak) while you focus on the main one?

I make a point to only bring back a few at a time as major secondary characters. Others of the guys might have what I think of as a “cameo appearance” , but I’ll try to focus on just a few of the guys for each book. And Joe Cat wants to be in all of the books. He’s like “Here I am, ready for my close up!”

How does writing a series work, in the sense of keeping track of things that happened long ago, for example, in Prince Joe and that may impact what is happening in the current book – how do you keep track of stuff like that?

LOL! I know these people so well – they’re like my children. I remember. And every so often, I’ll go back and read their books again. Or I’ll ask my friend Patricia, who has the most astonishing memory.

I keep charts and lists. And sometimes I’ll try to sneak in changes. For example, Harvard started out as an Ensign in Prince Joe. I realized by the second book in the series that I wanted him to be a Chief, so he went from Officer to Enlisted – kind of a backwards jump there.

Silhouette is reissuing Prince Joe, Forever Blue, and Frisco’s Kid in 2002. I’m hoping that they’ll let me go back into PJ and change Harvard’s rank to chief. (Somehow I doubt that they will, though..

Something that has come up in discussions before is the extent of research you do for your SEAL books. How did you go about it and what kind of feedback have you had? What about other kind of research, such as Embassy security and terrorist operations in The Defiant Hero?

I’ve gone a great deal of reading on the subject. I also visited the UDT/SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Florida – a great place to visit if you’re ever down that way. I’ve watched videos about training and other aspects of SEAL ops. And I’ve spent quite a bit of time exchanging email and talking on the phone to a terrific guy who was a former SEAL. (He spends a lot of time laughing at me.)

He helped me enormously with Defiant. He helped me set up the rank and structure of my Team Sixteen, which I introduced in The Unsung Hero. These new single title books are far more realistic than my TDD series romances – when I first started writing this series, I had this impression that readers wouldn’t want to read about anyone who wasn’t an officer. And my knowledge of rank at the time came from (ahem) Star Trek where everyone is either a Captain or a Lieutenant. Okay, there’s Ensign Chekov in his Beatle wig – not exactly hero material! So I created a SEAL team of lieutenants, which is completely unrealistic. SEAL teams are mostly made up of enlisted men (Petty officers and chiefs).

It’s tough to research a covert group like the SEALs. I’ve been able to read plenty about their operations back in Vietnam, but that’s all outdated information. SEALs don’t talk about their operations or methods for a very good reason – they don’t want the bad guys to know the details of how they operate. I have a good imagination, though.

I tend to get really great feedback – although some of my details may not be exactly true, the response I’ve gotten is that I’ve successfully managed to capture the essence of what it’s like to be both in the Navy and a SEAL. Keeping in mind, of course, that I’m writing to entertain. Just as the way The Practice on television is far more dramatic and exciting than a usual lawyer’s life (I know because I live with one. ), I don’t tend to write about any of the normal, boring parts of being a SEAL.

As for the other research I did re: embassies and terrorist – I found a ton of information on the Internet. Go to a search engine and search for “Terrorist.” You can get some pretty intense information. I accessed one website that had a list and info bank for hundreds of terrorist organizations from all around the world.

I tend to write about fictional terrorists. I’m a little spooked when it comes to real terrorists – last thing I want to do is get on a real terrorist’s sh*t list. LOL!

Many readers really enjoyed the structure of Unsung, with three love stories going on simultaneously, particularly enjoyed the World War II stories. Would you ever consider writing a book set entirely in the past?

At one time, I would have answered that with an absolute yes. Now, I’m not so sure. I love having all those different storylines going on at the same time. I like the contrast of modern people vs. characters who lived sixty years ago.

But probably yes. I’m in love with that era. It was such an amazing time and there are so many fantastic stories still to be told.

Also, it’s important that we don’t forget. Hitler was real. He really came into power. I’ve been watching Saddam over there in Iraq out of the corner of my eye. He scares the hell out of me.

And anytime I hear news of Neo-Nazis in Germany, I’m flabbergasted.

How much has your interaction with readers changed throughout your career?

When I first started writing, no one knew who I was! So I didn’t have much contact. I stayed home and wrote, wrote, wrote. It was only later, when I started getting reader mail and had some name recognition that I came out of my office and started attending writers conferences and things like the Romantic Times Convention.

I’ve always tried to make myself accessible to readers – and the Internet has been an incredibly valuable tool for me. I try to respond personally to everyone who writes to me – although sometimes it might take me a month or so to get to it. Mail and email has a lower priority than writing the book.

But I have an email newsletter list that has close to 5000 names. I’ve corresponded personally with every one of those people on that list – or they’ve contacted me asking to be added to my list, which I administrate myself. (In which case I try to drop them a quick note saying hi.) (My list is actually kept in my AOL address book, believe it or not. It’s very low tech of me, I know.

These days, I generally spend three to four hours every day on promotion – whether it’s corresponding with readers, doing interviews like this one, or setting up booksignings so that I can meet my readers face to face.

I think one-on-one contact between a writer and readers is extremely important and I love the way the Internet makes that so easy. But I truly love being able to meet readers and booksellers in person, to shake their hands and look them in the eye and to listen to them. Everyone’s got a story, and I love talking to people whose lives I’ve touched through my books and getting a chance to hear their stories.

My husband has asked me what I’m going to do when I get so much email from readers that I can’t keep up, and I have to admit that, as nice as that would be to have that many fans, I dread that day.

How much has your interaction with readers changed throughout your career?

I think everyone has their own definition, and when I create characters, I need to think about what’s romantic to them.

Joe Catalanotto thought it was utterly romantic when Veronica danced for him – nearly naked. LOL! And it was, because she wouldn’t have done that for anyone else in the world. She knew he really wanted her to give her a very private dance recital, and she overcame any embarrassment she may have had, and did it. For him.

I personally think that’s very romantic. When you love and trust someone enough to let them see you dance naked – that’s symbolic of letting them see you at your most vulnerable, don’t you think?

I also think that men tend to be more romantic than women. When my guys fall, they fall incredibly hard. And they fall forever….

–Claudia Terrones

Suzanne Brockmann at AAR