Allison Brennan, who worked in the Legislature for 13 years, balances her career as a successful mystery-romance novelist — she’s been on the New York Times best-seller list — with her family responsibilities to her husband and five children. It sounds busy and demanding — and it is — but somehow she makes it all work. Her latest offering, “Killing Fear,” was released this week. Capitol Weekly caught up with her one morning as she was working on a new book.
What’s your day like?
We have a small house. We’ve outgrown it and we’re going to be moving in five weeks. I don’t have my own office or my own desk, so I go to Starbucks to write. My day goes basically like this: I drop my kids off at 8, then I go to Starbucks between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and I write until about 2 p.m. Then I go get a quick bite to eat. I go get the kids by 3 p.m. When I’m on deadline, I write at night.
What is the process?
There are a lot of processes in publishing. First, I have to turn in my book. My editor reads it and gives me a revision letter, and we talk about it. She might say, “I don’t understand why the character did this or that,” and I might revise it. Once the revisions are done, it goes back to the editor, for what really is a line edit. … It goes to the copy editor, and when it comes back, it’s basically a marked-up manuscript with red pencil marks. Then I get to take another pass at it. I get one final time to do page proofs, and then I read the book as it is marked up, make any mother changes, make any edits, and it goes back and gets published.
Is there a contract?
Three a year. I felt I could handle three novels a year right now. I was comfortable with three.
How do you do it?
I gave up cleaning. I have somebody come in every Friday. The thing is, there are so many working moms in California, and I’m not unique. I was a working mom in the Legislature and nobody asked me, ‘How do you do it?’ I think I have the best of both worlds. When I’m on deadline, I rely on my older kids to help out. That’s maybe a couple of weeks every four months.
How do you handle the deadlines?
I get paid partly on getting the manuscript in. Deadlines don’t quite tax me as much as others. I make sure everything is done by deadline. I write a lot faster on deadline.
How much do you write a day?
I don’t know if there’s really an average, but probably I get done about 10 pages a day, about 2,000 words. Often I edit as I go, I make a lot of changes, but I want to net 10 pages a day. Yesterday, I did 32 pages — but I’m on deadline.
Did your years the Capitol affect your writing?
I think by understanding people and what their motivation is and why they do things, I learned a lot in the Capitol. Everybody is flawed, everybody has their own goals, they have their own history. … I sort of live by the 11th commandment, do unto others, but I have a feeling that a lot of the people in the Capitol don’t live by that.
Do politics get into your work?
I have an upcoming story this fall about a lobbyist murdered in the Capitol. In my first short story, the bad guy and the hero were both Democrats. In my second, they were both Republican. … I don’t really deal with politics at all in my books, but I will put in little things.
Do you get lost in your characters?
Not so much for me, although when I’m writing my stories, I really get involved with them. Once I start a next book, I have a lot of recurring characters so I’ll bring them back. I don’t think I have any alternate reality. It’s tough breaking into this business, but I decided I was going to stick with it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.