Interview: March 30, 2007
March 30, 2007
Lisa Jackson is the bestselling author of more than 75 novels, including FATAL BURN, SHIVER, DEEP FREEZE and THE MORNING AFTER. Her latest work, ABSOLUTE FEAR, marks the return of popular protagonist Detective Reuben Montoya.
In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Stephen Hubbard, Jackson talks about why she chose to reprise this character and how he has developed over the course of several previous books. She also explains how she is able to get inside the minds of both her heroes and villains, reveals the real reason she began writing at the start of her career and shares details about plans to co-author a novel with her sister, Nancy Bush.
Bookreporter.com: With ABSOLUTE FEAR you return once again to New Orleans. Where did this fascination for the city come from, considering that you live in the Northwest?
Lisa Jackson: Actually, New Orleans was my editor John Scognamiglio's idea, years ago when I penned the first of the series, HOT BLOODED. We, of course, didn't know HOT BLOODED would be the start of a series that included COLD BLOODED, SHIVER and ABSOLUTE FEAR. But we both love the city. I'd been there often as it truly is a unique area and may be even more intriguing to me as I am from so far away. New Orleans has everything I need to backdrop a scary plot: the varied history, sultry climate and rich culture. There's also just a hint of creep factor with talk of ghosts and such. To me, it seems New Orleans hides a story around every corner.
BRC: Detective Reuben Montoya returns to play a role in ABSOLUTE FEAR, as he has in several other works. How does he continue to grow as a character for you and stay interesting enough that you want to keep writing about him? Are you including him because of fan attraction or because he continues to surprise you?
LJ: You know, Montoya is a character who leaped off the pages, starting in HOT BLOODED. Yes, fans went wild. Many asked about "his story," but I thought he was too young and green to have a complete book dedicated to him. Eventually, along came SHIVER and enough years had passed; he'd had his own share of heartaches, and seen enough of the bad side of life to hone down his cockiness and become a little jaded. I knew the story was his. I think everyone loves Montoya because of his passion. Though he tries to walk the thin and narrow line, it's hard for him. I love writing about him, and yeah, just when I think I know him, he comes up with another little personality twist. I hope to write about him for years. He also has his own webpage at myspace.com!
BRC: Your villain in ABSOLUTE FEAR is nicknamed "The Reviver," and he's a fairly creepy psychopath. How much research do you do into the lives and backgrounds of serial killers to use as the basis for your own murderous cache of characters? Do you ever base your murderers on actual case studies?
LJ: My murderers are complete fiction. No case studies are used. I always try to give my killer a motive, and oftentimes, real serial killers don't have the kind of agenda I ascribe to my villains. I've researched many murderers, and though I suppose there is a little of some of them in my bad guys, I create my own characters. I think creating the villain is the most difficult of all. He needs to be interesting, repulsive yet intriguing.
BRC: You write scenes in which you see through the eyes of the criminal. How do you put yourself into such a dark and dangerous mindset?
LJ: Well, that IS difficult. As my books are written from multiple viewpoints, I have to see through the eyes of all the characters, wear many different hats. I suppose it's kind of like being cast as the villain and trying to make him real in a movie. It is a dark place I travel to, but it's all fiction. I try to create tension and thrills, and so I attempt to scare myself. I need to feel all the emotions of the characters --- just as the reader does, or as does the viewer of the movie. So, in order for the book to work, it's necessary for me to understand my killer, as well as my hero and heroine. (Yes, and even the sidekick.) So, when I scare myself, I know I'm in the right mindset.
BRC: Another element at play within ABSOLUTE FEAR is the psychological effect, particularly on Eve following her harrowing ordeal in the opening chapter. How much research have you done regarding the psychological impact of near-death experiences on victims?
LJ: I haven't researched that area per se, but I've done a lot of research on psychoses and neuroses. Ultimately, when I write, I try to figure out how I would feel in the bizarre situation. Come to think of it, most of my characters deal with what I put them through a whole lot better than I would. So I use my own senses rather than something I've read to fill the pages, and let the reader know what the heroine --- Eve, in the case of ABSOLUTE FEAR --- is feeling.
BRC: Genres have been colliding and becoming more intertwined over the past few years, making it more difficult to give a clear-cut tag on them, such as Romance or Mystery. You continue to write what are strict romance titles, while also penning suspense/thrillers with romance webbed inside. How challenging is it to switch from one genre to another? How do you modify the pace or layout of the novel depending on your selected genre?
LJ: My first love is suspense. Even as a child, I zeroed in on mysteries and thrillers. However, even when writing "straight romance," I pepper in some suspense. It's my nature. I think the blending of suspense and romance heightens each emotion. Of course, I enjoy romance and history and adventure, even the paranormal. I try to plot out each novel according to genre, then pace it and flavor it accordingly, always with a little suspense in mind. My main course is romantic suspense --- heavy on the suspense, as in such books as SHIVER and ABSOLUTE FEAR --- but sometimes it's nice to change things up and have a little dessert, or as I think of it, the spoon of sorbet between courses as I write something else. You can see the difference in the excerpts posted on my website, www.lisajackson.com.
BRC: You started as a mom writing romance novels, and now you write suspense/thrillers that are topping the New York Times bestseller list. Did you ever think you would achieve this level of success? At what point in your journey did you finally realize this was going to be a lucrative career?
LJ: Truth to tell, I was always just trying to feed my family. I know it sounds corny, but it's true. It was important that I support them. I had no fantasies about "hitting the lists." I tried to write bigger and more intricate and creepier books as the years passed, but all I wanted to do was make a decent living by writing. So, no, I never thought I'd reach this level of success. Really. It simply astounds me. As for the lucrative part of the question, I've always felt lucky, maybe even blessed, that I could support myself writing. To do what I love to do while supporting myself and my family is absolutely astounding, as I spent quite a few years beating back the wolf who was forever at the door. Actually, come to think of it, the wolf slipped inside the house a time or two. So this recent success is unbelievable and very, very nice.
BRC: You have a memo in ABSOLUTE FEAR stating that the events of the novel occur before the tragic devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Do you intend to write any future thrillers set either during or after Katrina?
LJ: Yes, my next hardback for Kensington Books which is as yet untitled --- we call it "The Kristi Bentz" story --- is actually set after Hurricane Katrina. SHIVER and ABSOLUTE FEAR were already plotted before Katrina hit, so I wasn't able to rework the hurricane, devastating as it was, into the plot line. The storm was so intense and horrific and did such damage, there was no way to do its aftermath and horror justice. In the next story, I'll tackle some of those tough issues; characters will definitely be affected by Katrina.
BRC: What are you working on now? Are there any future plans to perhaps co-author something with your sister, Nancy Bush?
LJ: Funny you should mention it. Nancy Bush and I are cooking up a story together that we hope will be available in early 2009. It's not completely plotted yet, nor does it have a title, but as soon as it does, I'll mention it at www.lisajackson.com, and Nancy will also have info on it at www.nancybush.net. It's going to be fun, I think, one novel written by two authors, in the same vein as MOST LIKELY TO DIE --- the recent book I wrote with my friends and New York Times bestselling authors Wendy Corsi Staub and Beverly Barton.