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Interview: April 10, 2009

April 10, 2009

Lisa Jackson's latest installment in her New Orleans series, MALICE, finds Detective Rick Bentz literally haunted by ghosts from his past. In this interview with's Stephen Hubbard, Jackson describes what inspired the plot of this story and explains why her protagonist always seems to be down on his luck. She also discusses what prompted the book's change of scenery from Louisiana to California, reveals how she unwinds after writing particularly intense and "creepy" scenes, and shares details about some of her future projects --- both solo efforts and collaborations with her sister, author Nancy Bush. Dead ex-wife who cheated repeatedly, a daughter who’s not really his, shooting a child who had a toy gun, a drinking problem, a coma, a spinal problem, paralysis. You've certainly put New Orleans detective Rick Bentz through the wringer. And that's before you assault him with the events in MALICE. Have you ever thought "man, this guy deserves a break"?

Lisa Jackson: Wow! No. To tell you the truth, I didn't think about it. Bentz is a little older than most of my heroes and with age comes baggage, I guess. Besides, who wants to read about a guy who’s got it all, who has no challenges? Bentz wouldn't be who he is without his life being in turmoil!

BRC: In MALICE you have a multitude of characters, some half a continent away. How challenging is it working them in and giving them their due time in the story?

LJ: Keeping everyone straight is a bit of a problem, not just in place but in time. (Geez, do I sound like a writer for "Lost"?) But it's true. I have to remember where everyone is and when everyone is. I do have a synopsis to work from, and as I write, I feel a rhythm to the book. I kind of sense when I need to tap into a character who isn't directly in the action. I'd hate to leave any of my characters hanging!

BRC: As in your other work, MALICE has one sick villain, the Twenty-one Killer, roaming throughout. Do you ever creep yourself out with the level of depravity of some of these characters you write?

LJ: Oh, yeah! I think it's important to "feel" each character's emotions, especially when writing from his or her point of view. But the killers --- pretty intense. After a scene from a villain's eyes, it's time for me to take a long walk, a hot shower or toss back a stiff drink to shake the scene and the killer's wicked ways. I think it's necessary to creep myself out.

BRC: Where did the concept of the Twenty-one Killer come from?

LJ: I wish I knew. I was writing the synopsis of the story to send to my editor, and I can't remember if it was the first draft, or the second, but I decided I needed a cold case for Bentz to work in LA. Something he'd left when tragedy had struck, and the idea of the twenty-one came to mind. I wanted something that would be memorable for the reader. I'm not sure I'm done with Twenty-One. His MO really intrigues me.

BRC: Before MALICE begins, you have an author's note explaining that you've adjusted how the police departments work and that this story does not factually represent L.A. or N.O. departments. Do you ever get comments from officers who point out errors in procedure you use in your stories?

LJ: Not really. I do know that some of my "rogue" cops would probably be dismissed from a real department, but I just love their characters and the whole larger-than-life concept of my cops. I, personally, have tremendous respect for any policeman or woman. Thank God for them! However, when writing a story I have to undermine the cops to keep the action flowing. So I bend the rules. And I've never been on the force. I don't want to pretend to know the deep inner workings of any real police department, so I try to make the scenes with the PD authentic to the reader but not necessarily to a cop who works in that real department. I do have a couple of ex-cops with whom I'm in contact, so I don't go too far out of line, though.

BRC: Was swinging your story to Los Angeles for MALICE a way to "freshen up" the series a little bit and break out of the New Orleans mold? Or what prompted this?

LJ: Hmmm. I didn't think of it that way, but I guess you might think so. When I decided to write this ghost story, of a character literally being haunted by someone from his past, Rick Bentz came to mind. This was long after I'd written the first books in the New Orleans series. There were already unanswered questions about Bentz, and he had a really interesting, passionate and beautiful ex-wife who he'd buried years ago. He'd also left LA in disgrace, so the threads of a story were already in place --- just in L.A. Since he's being haunted by his ex-wife, a woman he buried in Southern California, it seemed a great place to set the book. Necessary to the plot. But yes, it was fun to head west to Los Angeles, and I think the west coast setting did give MALICE a very different feel from the books set in New Orleans.

BRC: When you first conceived of the character of Bentz, did you know from the outset that you would one day be utilizing the MALICE storyline, or was that something that popped up along the way?

LJ: Oh, I had NO idea. As I said, I came up with the haunting element of MALICE long before I considered Rick Bentz a candidate for this plot line. I'd done "his" story in COLD BLOODED, and I'd never thought about going back; but the more I considered Bentz, the more it seemed to click. There were just so many unanswered questions about his past. The more I thought about Bentz and what he was going through in his personal life, the more I believed it would be interesting to put a little pressure on his current marriage. Sure, he was happy in COLD BLOODED and SHIVER, but time takes its toll on all relationships, so I wanted to dig a little deeper into his. I loved plotting this book, and Bentz seemed the perfect character to propel the plot line.

BRC: In general, when you settle down to work on a book, do you go into it fully outlined, or do you simply sit down and let a story climb out of you and onto the page? How long does your process take?

LJ: I write a synopsis, the shortened form of the book, and that takes up to two months. (This is after I've knocked around several ideas and worked out the premise with my editor.) My synopses are between 25 and 75 pages depending upon how complete they are, and the length of the book on which I'm working --- its complexity. Once my editor reads the synopsis, gives suggestions and approves it, I stick to the main story, though of course I wander along the way. After the book is approved it takes another three or four months to write, give or take.

BRC: Over the years an endless line of authors have talked about the editing process and how savage it can be, with some of them having to remove whole chapters or plotlines. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to make such drastic cuts from your work?

LJ: In the past, I guess. I think because I write so much of the book in the synopsis, I don't have to do a lot of revisions. But I count on my sister, fellow author Nancy Bush, to pre-edit the book before it goes to the publisher. She's the second set of eyes to look at the finished product; there are others all along the way. I don't remember, at least recently, having to cut major parts of any book. (But, oh, it would probably kill me!)

BRC: Your author bio blurb on the back of MALICE makes mention of your "eighty-pound dog." As the owner of a rambunctious Siberian Husky, I just have to ask: What kind of dog do you have?

LJ: I co-own two dogs with one of my sons. The 80-pounder is a nine-year-old rescue dog my son adopted from a pound. He's a true mutt. We know he's part pitbull, and probably lab, boxer or ridgeback. Blond and beautiful, Bonzi is the biggest wuss on the planet. (He scares people when he "smiles," but he's such a chicken, it's a tad embarrassing.) There's a picture of him, and our crazy little pug on my MySpace page. I am writing about a Husky in CHOSEN TO DIE. Great dogs!

BRC: Any idea who will be in the forefront of your next New Orleans book? Will we be getting another Bentz drama, will Montoya step up, or do you have someone new to introduce?

LJ: Well, currently there aren't any more books planned for the New Orleans crew. That will probably change, but when I do write that book, it will be a new character, I think....but who knows? Certainly not the author! The next hardback, WITHOUT MERCY --- which will be out in April of next year --- is set in Southern Oregon with all new characters and a great new plot. I'm working on it now.

BRC: And what are you working on now? We read you are doing another book with your sister, Nancy Bush. Is that up next?

LJ: Ooops. Guess I jumped the gun telling you about WITHOUT MERCY. I've got several projects in the works. The sequel to WICKED GAME is being written with the working title of WICKED LIES; it will be in stores in February of 2011, and it, of course, is being written with my sister, Nancy Bush. WICKED LIES will be another one of "the colony" stories set around that secretive cult on the Oregon Coast. Nancy and I have several books already plotted out, including UNSEEN, her most recent book on sale now. Up next for me is CHOSEN TO DIE, a sequel to last year's LEFT TO DIE, which will be published in August. CHOSEN TO DIE is set in the Montana Bitterroot mountains and peppered with very quirky characters. I've already introduced the Star Crossed Killer in LEFT TO DIE, so CHOSEN TO DIE wraps up his part of the story. I've posted an excerpt about the book on my website,, so readers can get a sneak peek of the story there.

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