Lisa Brackmann is a well traveled accomplished writer.
In this extremely interesting exchange, Lisa talks about her youthful experiences in a foreign culture that helped shape her own world view and creative vision, as well as how her she sublimates her personal life into her fiction.
There is one quote in particular that really resonated with me, but also surprised me, given her status as an award-winning, best-selling author. I’ll let you guess what it is, but here’s a clue: most writers do it for love, not money. I’m far from being alone in that respect.
I also relate to Lisa’s description of her series character, which sounds a lot like how I filter my sensibilities and idiosyncrasies through my own fictional doppelgänger, Vic Valentine…
So is your popular protagonist Ellie McEnroe in any way a reflection of you personally, and if so, how, and if not, why not?
All characters are a reflection of their authors in some ways. It’s impossible for them not to be.
Ellie is more like my younger self, but even then I’d be the more cautious older sister telling her to stop doing such dumbass, dangerous and destructive stuff – even though I have at times done some pretty dumb stuff myself.
I think in many ways writing is a way to explore who you are and what your life has been about, either literally or metaphorically. If I used myself as a main character, I’m still not sure who I would be. It’s almost easier to look at yourself through a kaleidoscope, broken down into different pieces and patterns.
You lived in China following the Cultural Revolution. Can you describe the impact of this experience on your work and world view?
I was this twenty-year-old from San Diego whose friend from high school had said, “Hey! Do you want to go to China to visit my parents with me?” (his parents were in the first group of Americans invited by the Chinese government to teach English since the Revolution). I said, “Hey, sure!” because why not? I didn’t really think a lot about what China was going to be like, which overall was probably a good thing, because I went without a lot of preconceptions. There’s really no way you can prepare yourself for an experience like that.
At the time, China was isolated from contemporary American and western culture. Bootleg tapes of “Sound of Music” were making the rounds, and that was a big deal. So there I was in a country with five thousand years of history, that had been through several hundred years of profound social disruption, foreign invasions and violence, where people were trying to rebuild after yet another round of chaos, and I was seen as this very strange and exotic emissary from the outside world. Everyone was still wearing the green and blue “Mao” suits. Signs in my classrooms (where I taught English conversation for a quarter) read: “Be Red AND Expert,” and “A Foreign Language Is A Weapon In The Struggle of Life.” When we traveled, people would literally fall off their bicycles, and crowds would form around us if we stayed still for long.
China has affected my work in that it profoundly affected my life. China was a complete break from everything I’d experienced before, and my life still divides into a “before China” and “after China.”
More concretely I learned at an early age that what I took for granted as being “normal” and “reality” was just one way of looking at the world, and that other people had very different experiences and perceptions of those things.
You’re also a musician and once pursued screenwriting as a career. Do you find writing fiction artistically fulfilling (and commercially rewarding) after your many adventures in the field(s)?
It’s very difficult for me to do something that isn’t artistically fulfilling. This might have something to do with why my career hasn’t been all that commercially rewarding.
(cough) What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
Lydia Davis, who was one of my college writing instructors. Ursula Le Guin. Talking Heads. Good TV shows. Joan Didion and Hemingway, for the prose style. Myself, mostly, for good or ill.
What’s next for you?
Good question! I’ve been doing a little spec TV work and am waiting to see how that plays out. Also waiting to see what kind of reaction my latest novel, BLACK SWAN RISING gets. Writing that book was a ton of work and I'm still kind of emotionally drained from it. In the meantime, I’m practicing my bass guitar and playing music with friends. I took a seventeen-year break from all that and it’s been a blast getting back into it. Singing and playing is a form of emotional expression for me that’s very different from writing. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it till I started up again.
Lisa Brackmann is the New York Times best-selling author of the Ellie McEnroe novels set in China and the thrillers Getaway and Go-Between. The first Ellie book, Rock Paper Tiger was one of Amazon Top 100 Books of the Year and a Top 10 Mystery/Thriller. Hour Of The Rat, the sequel, was shortlisted for Left Coast Crime’s international mystery award and was nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Audio Book. Dragon Day, the third novel in the Ellie McEnroe trilogy, was a Seattle Times Top 10 Mystery of 2015 and was short-listed for a Lefty award. Getaway was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a finalist for SCIBA’s T. Jefferson Parker award. Her latest novel is Go-Between, “a terrific noir tale that channels Richard Stark’s stories” and a “Hottest Summer Books” selection from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Black Swan Rising, her new book about misogyny, mass shootings, and polarized politics, launches Sept. 8, 2018. Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Travel+Leisure, Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books and CNET. She lives in San Diego with a cat, far too many books and a bass ukulele, and she’s playing in a band again after a 17-year break