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Interview: April 7, 2006

April 7, 2006's Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub and Wiley Saichek interviewed acclaimed suspense novelist Lisa Jackson about her latest release, SHIVER. Jackson describes how she creates such "chilly" atmospheres and explains why her protagonist, Detective Reuben Montoya, is one of her favorite characters. She also details how and why she chooses her novels' settings and shares her excitement over her #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. The prologue of SHIVER made us, well, shiver as we were reading it. Chilling stuff! How much time do you spend on getting opening scenes like this "just right?" For SHIVER did you write this opener when you first started the book, or did it develop as the plot developed?

Lisa Jackson: Oh, glad you felt the chill! I always write the first scene first, but I do labor over it and often rewrite it as I write the rest of the story. I rework it just to make certain all the facts are straight and the "feel" is right. Sometimes, midway through a book, I get an inspiration for a plot twist. At that point, I return to the beginning, again, to make certain the story flows evenly.

BRC: The plot of SHIVER, which involves Our Lady of Virtues Hospital, explores events that went on in a mental institution where Abby's mother was living. This gives SHIVER an air of psychological, as well as romantic, suspense. The scenes there are very creepy. When writing portions of the book like this, do you ever find yourself in a place where even the hairs on the back of your own neck are standing up?

LJ: Absolutely! I scare myself all the time and have to take breaks after particularly tense scenes. If I don't feel the fear, how can I expect the reader to be scared? I know when I've got it right, when I'm deep into a scene, someone in another part of the house shuts a door, and I jump!

BRC: The "pair killings" definitely added to the suspense in this book. Trying to figure out the relationship between those killed --- and anticipate the next killing --- added to the tension. Was writing these a challenge, either in coming up with the pairs or in pacing the book?

LJ: I really liked the "killing in pairs" idea as I'd never done it before. Yes, there was a new challenge in creating pairs that fit the MO of the killer, but it was an intriguing puzzle and one I'd worked out before writing the book. I always work from a fairly detailed synopses of the plot, so that I can straighten out the kinks in the story before I actually start to write the first draft. I try to plot out the scenes so that the pacing is brisker as the story unfolds.

BRC: For readers who may be new to your work, could you please share some background on Detective Reuben Montoya?

LJ: Detective Montoya first strutted onto the pages in HOT BLOODED and quickly followed in COLD BLOODED and THE NIGHT BEFORE. He is one of those characters who walk onto the page and just fill a scene. I saw him as clearly in my head as any hero I'd ever written, and the fan mail on him was incredible. I can't tell you how many letters and e-mails were sent to me asking for his story. So...he evolved --- from the cocky, green cop in HOT BLOODED, to a more mature, still sexy as all get-out detective who has experienced his own tragedy before appearing in SHIVER, which seemed a natural for him. It's funny, really, when I was plotting SHIVER, Montoya was right there! Ready. I didn't have to craft the story around him, it was more the other way around. Because of him, the story really flowed. Personally, I think he's one of my strongest heroes.

BRC: You created your own police department for SHIVER. What was the most challenging aspect of putting together a fictional police force? Who was your inspiration for characters like Bonita Washington?

LJ: That's a great question. I had always "seen" the police department in my head. I viewed the offices, reception area, homicide department and knew that my vision wouldn't dovetail perfectly with the true New Orleans Police Department. I also felt my officers had to bend the rules a bit, so I created an environment where they could be themselves. Bonita Washington, like Montoya and Bentz, just surfaced. She's probably not one but pieces of several strong, no-nonsense African-American women whom I've met. As with my other characters, Washington is totally fictitious and a woman I would like to know.

BRC: You wrote SHIVER prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and it is set in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Were there any concerns about making changes to the manuscript or delaying the publication? What are your plans for using New Orleans as a site for future novels, with Reuben Montoya or otherwise? Will you address Hurricane Katrina in the plot of a future novel set in New Orleans?

LJ: I think at some point, I will address Katrina. As horrible as it is/was, the storm is a fact of life and now a very defining moment in history, not only to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. The entire world was affected by the fury and destruction of Katrina, so it would be impossible and ridiculous to ignore it. I do plan to use New Orleans as a setting in my books again as I just love that city and the characters I've created. Unfortunately the books in the works were all plotted before the hurricane hit and can't be replotted at this point; but in future books, and after I spend some time in the reconstructed city to get the feel of it, I hope to set a book in post-Katrina New Orleans.

BRC: HOT BLOODED, COLD BLOODED, and THE NIGHT BEFORE are Reuben Montoya books. HOT BLOODED, COLD BLOODED, and now SHIVER are set in New Orleans, while THE NIGHT BEFORE was set in Savannah, GA. Do you have any plans to return Montoya to Savannah, or perhaps travel to San Francisco --- another locale you favor for your books? And do you plan to perhaps bring Montoya into contact with some of your other, established characters?

LJ: Montoya did come into contact with another couple of my favorite characters, Detective Pierce Reed and Sylvie Morrisette of the Savannah Police Department in THE NIGHT BEFORE and THE MORNING AFTER. I hope to set more books in Savannah because, like New Orleans, I absolutely love that town! I'm not certain Montoya will travel to San Francisco, as I've got Anthony Paterno on that side of the Rockies. However, I do plan another book --- perhaps a sequel to IF SHE ONLY KNEW --- in the near future, which would be set in San Francisco, with or without Montoya. I get a kick out of having the characters from one book jump into another one. In fact, I even have a "graveyard" on my website,, that shows which books are connected. Many of my readers have commented about seeing "an old friend" in a new book.

BRC: SHIVER marks your hardcover publication debut. Does the fact that this novel will be published in hardcover instead of paperback have any special meaning to you?

LJ: Oh, yes. There has been talk of "going to hardcover" for quite a while. It was decided that this book, because of its scope and feel, would be best. As for me, I was all for it as I absolutely love this book. It was just so much fun to write and it didn't hurt that Montoya was the hero, either.

BRC: Recently your previous book, FATAL BURN, hit number one on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. Since this is your first "number one" with the Times, can you share your reaction as your learned this news?

LJ: I was blown away! Never in my wildest dreams had I aspired to the number one position on the New York Times. But, hey, it's fantastic! I love it! I've been celebrating with friends and family ever since!

BRC: You have published a voluminous body of work in several different genres. Could you share your work schedule with us? How has it developed over time? Do you find that you are constantly changing and adapting it, or has it remained the same over the years?

LJ: My schedule varies. When my children were young I worked while they were in school or at night. Now my hours are more flexible. I'm pretty much a morning person, so most of my best writing is done in the predawn hours. I spend a lot of time "thinking" about a story --- muddling it around before I actually write it, and then I write day in and day out. My sister, author Nancy Bush, writes 10 pages a day no matter what. I tried that and failed miserably, so I just do what is best for me, which is writing long hours one day and slacking off a little the next. When I'm inspired, watch out, the pages fly. When not...I'm checking out "Oprah" on television!

BRC: You have an extremely ambitious book tour scheduled to coincide with the publication of SHIVER. Do you write at all when you are touring?

LJ: Unfortunately, I cannot write when I'm on tour. It's just too many days of airports, speaking engagements, meals on the run and pure exhaustion. I've attempted writing on tour, and what came out was pure garbeldy gook; so now, I don't even try. The best I do is think about an upcoming plot, but as for actually writing a book, no.

BRC: What authors, if any, have influenced your work? And who do you read for pleasure?

LJ: Oh, I don't know. I read a lot of Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, and Mary Stewart growing up. Then I went through a spate of the classics and eventually read mainly the most popular books. I read an author until I can't see straight and then go onto the next. I've read Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Nelson DeMille, Harlan Coben, Steve Martini, William Lashner and, of course, Nancy Bush, to name a few. However, if a book has a lot of popularity, no matter what the genre or who the author, I'll give it a whirl.

BRC: You have written more than 50 books. We know it's difficult for authors to pick out a clear favorite book from their own backlist, but could you share with us several of your titles that you are the most proud of, and why?

LJ: Man, that's a tough one. I love the story and feel of SHIVER. It's unique because of the connection of all the characters, those living as well as those dead. I fell in love with the McKenzie brothers in FINAL SCREAM, I enjoyed the villains of HOT BLOODED and COLD BLOODED --- wow, were they nut cases! I couldn't get enough of the smell and feel of Savannah in THE NIGHT BEFORE and THE MORNING AFTER. Oh, and let's not forget DEEP FREEZE because of the characters and the wintry location of the Columbia River Gorge, the river chasm that's the divide between the states of Oregon and Washington.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

LJ: I'm working on the sequel to SHIVER, as yet untitled. It should be on the stands in April 2007.