Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Only Fear and Anne Marie Becker

Good morning, Five Scribes Readers. Today you’re in for a treat! Anne Marie Becker, the 2009 Golden Heart WINNER of ONLY FEAR, book one in the Mindhunters series, joins us today to talk about her thrilling romance. All I can say after reading it, is move over Lisa Gardner and Tami Hoag. Don’t worry, you’re still in control…after all, it’s ONLY FEAR. Please welcome Carina Press Author, Anne Marie Becker.

D.B.: Okay, Anne, how was that for a nice intro? And, readers, I meant every word. But I do have a bone to pick with Anne. I hope she’s satisfied, because not once, but several times in this book she had me holding my breath. Now, a title like ONLY FEAR should have clued me in. But, Anne, I know you. You’re a mom, wife, president of your local RWA chapter--the proverbial girl next door. How in the world did you come up with such a devious, page turning plot?

A.B.: Wow, thanks, Donnell for the fabulous intro! And thank you for having me here today.

I think it’s because I’m a mom, wife, and president that I have such a devious mind. Nothing like screaming kids and trying to juggle it all to make you want to kill someone (in a book, of course!).

The plot of ONLY FEAR was a blending of ideas… My heroine, Maggie, was born of my counselor background, when I wondered what could happen if my boundaries weren’t firmly in place.
The seed for the entire Mindhunters series (which centers around a private organization that hunts serial killers) was a show I saw on the Vidocq Society, which is a group of specialists who meet once a month in Philadelphia to discuss cold cases. I was hooked on the idea of a similar group who hunted killers.

D.B: I’m NOT going to give the entire plot away, but the protagonists in the book are Dr. Margaret Levine, a psychiatrist, university lecturer and radio talk show host and former Secret Service Agent Ethan Townsend. The story takes place when Margaret (Maggie) inherits a stalker who challenges Maggie when she tells listeners to get past their fears and not let it take over their lives. From that point, FEARMONGER comes on scene determined to prove to Maggie that fear is what drives the human condition. Any corrections to my brief synopsis, Anne?

A.B.: No, that sounds like what I remember, too. *grin*

D.B.: Maggie is such an intelligent woman, three-dimensional and well-drawn. What more, if I carried her baggage, forget therapy, I’d check myself into an institution. What brought Maggie to life, Anne? And I know you have a similar educational background. How similar are you to your protagonist and then tell us in what ways are you different?

A.B.: I have a Masters in Counselor Education, and learned SO much about myself in the process of earning the degree. You soon find out in the story that Maggie suffers from an anxiety disorder and struggles with panic attacks. While I haven’t had to endure that experience, I know people who have. I was intrigued with the idea of a heroine who was not only a psychiatrist, but struggled with psychological issues herself. Kind of a “doctor, heal thyself” scenario. I’d like to think I’m also similar in that we can both handle whatever life throws at us (although some days I wonder).

How am I different? Well, I’ve never been stalked. And I’m not a redhead. ;)

D.B.: And then there’s Ethan, a man with his own tortured past and a team member of SSAM, the Society for the Study of the Aberrant Mind. He’s a fantastic character, and as I read, I found myself wishing there really was such an agency as SSAM. What brought Ethan to life? Did you take any special training to create him?

A.B.: Ethan is totally my imagination come to life. Originally, he was FBI, but I wanted someone who had the protective instinct through-and-through and thought, who better than the Secret Service? It must be an interesting job to protect the same people week in, week out, let alone that those people are important to our country. I would imagine there’s a lot of stress in that, and a need for boundaries in his career, just as their would in a psychiatrist’s. I also wanted him to have something to prove, not just to others, but to himself, so he’s kind of a wounded hero, having to overcome a past mistake.

D.B.: Your secondary characters are exceptional as well. I found myself empathizing so much with SSAM Founder Damian Manchester. A man who lost his daughter to a serial killer, he has spent his life avenging her death and trying to put these monsters away. Even the acronym for SSAM has to do with his beautiful little girl. I found Damian a totally empathetic character, and hope you have big plans for his happiness some day. Are there organizations like SSAM, or is this a total figment of your imagination?

A.B.: Oh, yes! I definitely have plans for Damian. I was thrilled that Carina is interested in more from the series, as I want to develop Damian slowly, over the course of several books, and eventually give him the happily-ever-after he so deserves. That man has been through some serious pain, and I admire him for surviving it and making something positive out of it. But he still has some healing to do, and readers will see him evolve in his relationships and eventually solve the murder of his daughter (Samantha).

When I did research on serial killers for the background of the Mindhunters series, I read several of John Douglas’ books. He was one of the founders of the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit. I seem to remember he does consulting now (don’t quote me – I can’t find my notes at the moment!), which encouraged the idea of a SSAM group that does this full time.

D.B.: I learned something real quick in this book. One that Anne Marie Becker is a pro, and there’s not anything in this book that doesn’t belong in its pages. Typical mystery/thriller writer, I found myself second-guessing you, thinking I knew where you were going, and then, darn, if you didn’t trip me up. Everyone is a suspect in this book. You finesse the storyline from start to finish. Talk about writing a mystery and creating suspects. Is that an intrinsic gift? Do you labor over your plotline?

A.B.: Oh, how I’d love to see what you think of the second book, Donnell! I was surprised at who the killer turned out to be. LOL

And how I wish it were a gift! I’ve always been told I have great pacing (which I believe comes naturally now, but only after A LOT of reading within the genre). I think pacing is like a cadence in poetry. It’s something that just starts to feel right over time and influences the way the writer/artist composes a piece.

But when it comes to plot, I’ve had to struggle (like the rest of us writers, I assume) to figure out every twist. It can be a frustrating process, but when I figure out a new twist or turn, it’s a fabulous feeling—probably similar to getting a runner’s high in a marathon.

D.B.: I don’t think I’ll give anything away if I mention there are a few dead bodies. And here’s where you got me. Just when I KNEW who the victim was, you stumped me there, too. Have readers mentioned you keep them guessing, Anne? Was this a process after several drafts? I think you may just enjoy bamboozling your audience--True? False?

A.B.: One of the side effects of a serial killer as a villain is that they tend to generate dead bodies. And I admit that I just may enjoy the fact that I stumped you a couple times… but I enjoyed figuring out those twists just as much as readers do, which is why I try to include them. I’ve watched so much T.V. and movies that I typically can figure out twists long before they happen. Which makes it such a pleasant surprise when they throw me for a loop! I try to add some of that into my books. After all, I want readers to enjoy reading my books, no matter how dark and gritty the material may be.

D.B.: The antagonist is indeed aberrant in his behavior. He has an insecurity that drives him, which I will not give away. How would you classify FEARMONGER?

A.B.: Hmm…. Well the mindhunters at SSAM (short for the Society for the Study of the Aberrant Mind) would say he’s an organized killer, which means he’s careful, plans things meticulously, and can pass in society as one of us sane people. As a counselor, I would say he has “serious issues.” One of the things we took a long, hard look at in my counseling courses was our own beliefs about what shapes behavior. I’m a strong believer that past shapes our present, and a look at family relationships is key in figuring out why one acts the way one does. Fearmonger was born of the environment he grew up in.

D.B: As I mentioned, you have a gift for setting up suspects and making readers think someone is no longer with us. I fell in love with one particular female secondary character, and then thought that perhaps she was in with the bad guy. As a matter of fact, three-quarters through, I thought everyone was in with the bad guy. Then you deviously make my favorite secondary character appear to be a victim. If I wasn’t such a satisfied reader, I would lodge a formal complaint with the SSAM’s complaint department. How fun/hard/ is this and which of these characters will we see in future books?

A.B.: Can I say “all of them”? I love this series, and have such plans in mind.

For now, though, I have Detective Noah Crandall starring in Book 2, which is set in the melee of the art world of New York City. (He’s a secondary character in Book 1.)

I don’t want to give away which secondary female character you’re talking about, but yes, she will get her own book… one day. She’s a bit young, and I want her to do some growing first. She’s a secondary character again in Book 2, where she has a love interest brewing, but she won’t get her happily-ever-after for a few more books.

As I mentioned above, I have big plans for Damian, too… eventually. He’ll be in each book, and the reader will gradually get a full picture of Damian Manchester.

I had so many SSAM secondary characters in the original ONLY FEAR manuscript that I had to cut several for this final version. But those people (um… characters) keep talking to me. They will each have their stories told eventually, if I have anything to say about it.

D.B.: The romance is great in ONLY FEAR. I think this read is capable of satisfying both romance and thriller readers alike. What appeals to you more: the romance or the thriller aspects of novels? Name some authors who influenced you.

A.B.: That’s a tough one. I like both. Romance is probably key for me, but I love being surprised and thrilled. My favorite authors are able to do both: Suzanne Brockmann, Cindy Gerard, Brenda Novak, and Christy Reece to name a few.

But the thriller part of me has been greatly influenced by Stephen King.
My world has also been colored by historical and contemporary authors, since I read widely within the romance world. I’m currently reading books by Sherryl Woods and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

D.B.: As you know Five Scribes is a blog for writers. Tell us about your writing process? What length of time went into creating this novel?

A.B.: ONLY FEAR won the Golden Heart for Best Romantic Suspense in 2009, so it was a work in progress for a while. I wrote it in 2007/2008 over about an 8-month period. But it was edited many times between 2009 and 2011 so that my agent could market it in various places (different word counts, audiences, etc.), and then for my editor at Carina. During those years, I was working on a couple other projects as well.

I’ve completed seven manuscripts, so I think I’m starting to get a handle on my writing process. I tend to get a seed of an idea, let it germinate over several months while I finish up whatever I’m working on at the moment, and generate a sketch of a plot (with as many twists as I can think up, though many of the better ideas come later, as I come to know my characters and plot) over about a two-week period. Then, I write like mad whenever I can. I can’t always write every day, and have noticed I tend to write best in 2-3 week “spurts” of creative energy. But I like to think those non-creative weeks are still productive. The story is marinating in the back of my mind as I run kids to school and clean the house and leap tall buildings in a single bound…until I can get back to my computer again.

D.B.: I understand that Carina Press has named this the Mindhunters series. What’s next for Anne Marie Becker?

A.B.: I’m working on getting the second book in the series to my editor. It’s tentatively titled “Avenging Angel.” I’ve got about 4-6 more books in mind, but who knows how far I can take the series? I’d like everyone to have the chance to have his/her story told.

I’m also working on a different series – this time it’s a trilogy that I’m really excited about. It’s centered around three sisters in the Las Vegas area, and a secret from their family’s past that their father buried a long time ago. Of course, that secret is about to come back and bite them all.

And I’ve got one year left in my term as President of Northern Arizona Romance Writers of America. I’m hoping to dedicate even more time to writing after that ends.

D.B.: Finally, what advice would you give today’s aspiring authors?

A.B.: The people who say persistence is the key to the business are so right! Keep writing, every day. Try to find at least twenty minutes a day. That’s what I did when my kids were tiny. Now that they’re only “little,” there are still days that finding writing time is a struggle. But I find I can do twenty minutes.

Oh, and set goals and deadlines for yourself. Use rewards to inspire and encourage yourself.

D.B.: Anne, I suppose one day I will forgive you for scaring me to death, but probably not until the next book in your series comes out. Any closing thoughts?

A.B: Thank you for having me here today, Donnell. I’m thrilled that I thrilled you. *grin* And I hope you’ll forgive me. Would giving away a free copy of ONLY FEAR to one of your commenters help land me in your good graces again?

D.B.: Wellllll, I suppose ;)

There you have it, Readers. If you like unputdownable suspense and keep you guessing reads, I think you'll love ONLY FEAR. Anne Marie, thanks! Questions? Comments? We'll draw for a winner on Friday night, September 23rd. To learn more about Anne Marie Becker, check out her web page at http://www.annemariebecker.com/

Congratulations to Na! You have run Anne Marie Becker's ONLY FEAR!


E. B. Davis said...

I have to laugh when books are catagorized "romance," "mystery," "suspense," etc. because few books are ever one thing. My friends are snobs about reading romance, but I've found that many romance books have more substance than those other categories. Your series sounds intriguing.

My daughter is on the same educational path that you took. I've often thought that she would have the background and education to write a great YA series. We'll see on that one.

Great interview, Donnell. Thanks for presenting another author that I haven't YET read.

Donnell said...

Thanks, E.B. It's such a subjective business, isn't it. I'm of the mind if you hit the reader over the head with too much of anything, you'll lose them. Readers need to take a breath, and in a thriller or horror novel, one of the best ways to lessen the criminal tension is to include romantic tension. Notice I didn't say take the tension away. It always has to be there.

Anne did a great job! Thanks for stopping by today!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Hi, E.B., and thank you for stopping by today. I love romance for the very reason you said... you get books of substance as well as a happy ending. Love it! AND, since it's a popular genre, I like to think that the books out there are the cream of the crop, since there's such competition to be published.

Good luck to your daughter! It's an interesting path, and I've never once regretted it.

Donnell - thanks again for having me today!

Dale Mayer said...

hi Ladies,

I'm the queen of crossing the genres. I didn't know how to color in the lines when young and I never did learn. I think it's sad that we have to 'categorize' at all. I understand we have to be able to market our books somehow, but my 'romance' books cross every other genre possible. Not sure I'm interested in changing at this point either!

Gwynlyn said...

Another great interview!

Gwynlyn said...

Another great interview, ladies!

Donnell said...

Thanks Gwynlyn!

Dale, so interesting a comment. As I read Only Fear, it reminded me of Harlen Coben and some of the bestselling thriller writers I love. These mixing genres I think are a problem for marketing departments. Thank goodness most readers don't have that problem making the transition. We're sharp like that, right? :)

Shelley said...

Great interview, Anne Marie! I'm intrigued by your trilogy about the Las Vegas sisters with the family secret. LV is one of those towns where just about anything can (and probably does) happen. Lots of dark, ugly stories hiding in the shadows made by those bright lights. Happy writing!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Dale, thanks for stopping by. I love that writers are able to cross genres more than ever before. I think, with e-books allowing more out-of-the-box authors to get their books out to the world without the big publishers taking a risk, we'll hopefully see more of that.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Hi, Gwynlyn!! Thanks for stopping by. :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Shelley - thanks! I'm eager to get back to that book. It was my NaNo book last year, so I have about 60,000 words, but it's been sitting dormant so long as I went back to edit other books that it'll take me a week to get back into that world... I'm hoping next week! LOL

Autumn Jordon said...

Great interview, Ladies. I have Only Fear downloaded and can't wait to start it--even more so now that I've read this interview.

Wishing you mega sales, Anne.



Anne Marie Becker said...

Ah, thanks, Autumn. Hugs right back at ya! :) (Hope you enjoy the book!)

Na said...

An organization that hunts serial killers definitely brings to mind a lot of danger and action. I like it even more that you have introduced characters to balance this out, and a counselor works. That's sort of how I like my storeis, to be dark but sprinkled with lighter moments to ease the tension. "Only Fear" looks like a great read.

Maria said...

This sounds like an intriguing series! I love books where the main character has some psychological issues and while I don't read a lot of thrillers, this sounds like something I would enjoy! The cover looks sufficiently creepy too...

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thanks, Na - I like those kinds of stories too. :)

Maria - didn't they do a great job with the cover? I love it! And once you read the story, you understand the background in the cover. (Hint, hint)

Thanks to both of you for stopping by!