Thank you, Sandra, for taking the time to visit with Manic Readers.
For those who aren’t familiar with your Liv Bergen series can you please give a brief synopsis of IN THE BELLY OF JONAH,LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM, AND WIDOW’S MIGHT, the first three?
From many generations of miners, Liv Bergen manages one of the family-owned mines in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. When one of her employees is discovered gutted like a fish on the banks of a reservoir, Liv Bergen is launched into the world of investigations with IN THE BELLY OF JONAH, a fast paced suspense, in a race against time, where the killer is performing macabre murders so that life will imitate art. In LOT’S RETURN TO SODOM, Liv fights to find justice for her brother who is wrongly accused of his fiancé’s murder while dodging the unwelcome attentions of a motorcycle gang leader’s attentions during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In WIDOW’S MIGHT, a killer’s motivation leads him to attempt murder of an eighty year old woman who’s in hospice dying of cancer, a woman who has lost everyone she loves and refuses to lose her battle to the man who wants it all. I enjoy showcasing the power of every day heroes to overcome the evil that lurks in all our neighborhoods.
Did you ever imagine you’d be a writer? How did you come to create Liv and her world?
I suppose we all fancied ourselves writers when we were kids stapling all those scrap papers together and scribbling out brilliant prose in between Scooby Doo and the Brady Bunch, but it wasn’t until a high school English teacher pulled my nose out of my mathematics books long enough to award me a creative writing scholarship that I thought of anything besides getting an engineering degree with an MBA. If a teacher hadn’t seen it in me, I certainly would have never even tried. But the guilt of spending that $500 cash scholarship on Industrial Engineering proved too much as I aged and I decided consciously to create a strong protagonist who was both smart and feminine and subconsciously created (as one reviewer described) the accidental love child of Jack Reacher and Kinsey Milhone.
I love Kinsey Milhone..:) Why did you make Liv a miner?
I wrote ten novels before I was published and my first books bore no resemblance to my life or what I knew. And the best advice is most assuredly write what you know because only when I wrote Liv as a miner did the character become more authentic, since that’s the world from which I was born. I come from a long line of happy miners, limestone mining the generational family business I continue to love and where I work every day.
Can you sum up Liv and her world in twenty words or less?
Liv Bergen is the only fictional character worthy of making a monogamous man out of Travis McGee and winning the heart of Jack Reacher. Great question, by the way. My goal was most definitely to span generations of interest while remaining a character everyone felt was a true friend, someone to share a beer with. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response by women describing themselves when I first asked what Liv Bergen looked like, since I left her vague in the first book. That was the best compliment fans gave me.
Why the biblical nod in your titles? Was it an intentional theme?
I had always heard the publishers never kept the author’s titles, so I really didn’t expect them to keep mine. But they did. Having been through nine years of Catholic school, I swear the scariest stories I was ever told was by a nun in third grade. Those bible stories were freaking scary! So I decided to take those stories and give them a modern day twist, not to be preachy or to drag in the religious elements, but to highlight the strength and tragedy of those tales. For example, IN THE BELLY OF JONAH has Liv Bergen trapped in the belly of Jonah’s world for three days just as Jonah was trapped in the whale for three days and the reference to the belly is quite appropriate since chapter one has the center being cut out of Liv’s employee. If you don’t know the bible stories that I’m referencing, it really has no bearing on how much you will enjoy the plotting or pacing of the story. But if you do, it adds a more complex layer to what I was intending to highlight or use from those scary stories in the twisted modern version.
Your covers are stark and uniquely creepy. I’ve heard from many authors that they have little or no input in their covers but there’s an interesting story behind yours. Can you share it here with all the Manic Readers, please?
Fascinating to me how book covers are designed. For me, the cover reveal is the most exciting aspect of the writing journey since it becomes the tangible appearance of the imagined story in my head. I remember the woman at the publishing house who designed my first cover telling me that all she does is read the first chapter, maybe the last or a few pages of the last chapter, to design the cover. Throughout the long process that is book production, the only aspect we were behind on schedule for the first book was cover design. When she finally sent me some design choices to offer feedback, she apologized for being late, telling me she started reading and couldn’t put the book down. And when she did, she couldn’t get over the first chapter, it was so creepy. I asked her which cover was her favorite and she chose the one that is IN THE BELLY OF JONAH, which won the best book cover of 2010 from Southwest Print magazine.
You have an uncommon way of including your readers in your writing process. Can you tell us about your process, please?
I love my fans and they have been so good to me, sending me fan mail, inviting me to book clubs, blogging about my books, and providing reviews that I decided to include them in the process of writing. Every year I choose a book club to be my beta-readers before I turn my manuscript into my publisher, much to the chagrin of my editor, of course. Because the manuscript is in its most raw format, the book clubs get to add their input, improve the story or pacing or even characters before it ever gets turned in to the publisher and they get to see a year later how different the end product of the book becomes. For me, I get the most benefit out of the process since I learn what my fans love about the series and what they need or want to have happen. It’s humbling that an entire book club is willing to read all my books and critique my newest manuscript to help me get better as a writer. The level of detail and work the book clubs put in to my stories is mind-boggling. I love it!! For NOAH’S RAINY DAY, I had nearly four-dozen book clubs request to be my beta-readers. Humbling, indeed. And all I can do for them is recognize their efforts in the Acknowledgement section of my books and send them an autographed copy. I definitely get the best end of that deal!
You come from a large family, can you tell us a bit about what that’s like? Has that helped you as a writer, hindered you, or hasn’t mattered a whit?
I love my family! I have six sisters and two brothers who I consider my best friends. But if they were in the room, I’d blame my creepy, quirky mind on them locking me in a basement or hanging me from a tree branch (but it wouldn’t be true). We grew up in the woods next to the quarry, so my family’s idea of fun was encircling a skunk to see if we could catch it or jumping from the highest rock piles in the quarry (before MSHA rules). And when Mom and Dad weren’t looking, danger was our playmate for sure. It’s a wonder we all lived and no surprise we’ve all moved back to our hometown in the Black Hills from all over the world to be reunited as a family as we’ve grown older.
The strange part about my writing the Liv Bergen Mystery Series is that Liv only had two siblings when I first turned the stories into the publisher. After they met me, they asked to share more of me in the stories, so I gave Liv eight siblings, just like me, and it has been F-U-N making them into colorful characters whose good traits are most certainly my siblings’ and whose bad traits are totally fictional (I did mention I was 7th of 9 kids, didn’t I? Which means I most certainly will get the mess beat out of me if I made these ‘fictional’ characters any other way, right?)
I read that your family has many talented “right brained” thinkers while you’re left brained. You didn’t even tell them you’d secured a book contract. I think writing a successful mystery series is pretty flipping talented and creative. J How do you feel about it now?
I am SO ‘left brained’ it isn’t even funny. I love math, maps, atlases, spreadsheets, matrices, compasses, topos, algebra, computer programming… I am a permanent resident of geek city. When I die, my siblings will probably put ‘I <3 nerds!’ on my headstone. I have siblings who are so creative, so talented, that I feel really challenged with my right lobe. Artists, musicians, poets, dancers, master gardeners, opera singers, brew masters, bakers… you name it. Me? I never considered myself all that right-brained. Truly. About the only creative outlet I had was telling ghost stories around the campfire or creating a new trap to catch the latest animal. Before I had kids, what I loved to do was convert my house every year into a haunted mansion for my nieces and nephews. I guess it was then I found a passion for scaring the mess out of those I love, which is a natural transition to writing suspenseful mystery thrillers for fans, right?
Can you tell us about Liv’s first professional case and most recent release, NOAH’S RAINY DAY?
Home from Quantico as a new FBI Special Agent, Liv is a bit rusty with handling Beulah, her man trailing bloodhound, yet Streeter needs her expertise immediately to track a missing child from Denver International Airport who was traveling alone during the holidays. Holidays are tough enough when having to work and being away from family, but when Liv is searching for a five-year-old boy in mounds of strewn garbage, her holiday cheer evaporates completely. Emptiness turns to horror when Liv’s nephew Noah, a twelve year old with severe cerebral palsy, also falls prey to the man at the epicenter of evil in Noah’s rainiest day ever.
Are you able to give us any hints about what’s next?
Wouldn’t you start questioning your choices in careers if your family members seemed to get mixed up in every one of the cases you were investigating? After NOAH’S RAINY DAY, Liv questions her choice of leaving the family business to become an FBI agent because of the dangers. Streeter tries to convince her that her FBI work doesn’t always endanger her family by showing her how she can help her family with a cold case. Her niece who was killed and kidnapped seven years earlier. WRATH TO THE WICKED will be the fifth in the Liv Bergen Mystery Series.
Does your muse require anything special to visit? Music? Silence? Chocolate?
Time. Blocks of time.
Have you ever considered trying your hand at another genre?
Thrillers, suspense, and mystery come naturally to me as a writer because those are the books I most enjoy reading. I can’t imagine being very good at any other genre, although I love reading Young Adult or fun children’s books.
Are you a reader? If so do you have any favorites? Current reads?
Since I started publishing in 2010, I find the only downside is I don’t have as much time to read. I read a lot of books as a judge for associations or to endorse, but very little time to read as comfort food for my mind. What’s on my nightstand now is the last two Lee Child books, Michael Connelly, Meg Gardiner, Dan Brown, James Rollins, Gayle Lynds, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Lisa Lutz, Janet Evanovich, anything James Patterson (which is my mac and cheese books). I like finding new authors and enjoy reading exciting new stories, like by Reavis Wortham or J. M. LeDuc, yet I never tire of my favorites.
Can you describe your perfect day?
My perfect day starts when I wake up rested, get a good work out, a hot shower, and a few minutes on my prayer bench, then enjoy a cup of coffee with my husband as we watch the animals and birds come to life with the sunrise. When I know where each of my kids are, that they’re happy and healthy, and that they have the freedom to choose how to be productive for that day, I am in a great place.
Is there anything else you’d like to let us know?
Let me hijack your book club!! Love to visit your clubs in person when I can, but also happy to call in telephonically, via FaceTime or Skype. Book clubs have been very good to me, so I’ve been sending a crime scene kit as a thank you to the book clubs who choose to invite me. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please know how grateful I am to wonderful websites like Manic Readers for giving all us authors a forum to meet fans. So thankful.
That’s so sweet of you, Sandra. Thank you…I love helping writers and readers connect. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed your visit very much.
Thanks to Sami at JKS Communications we have a digital copy of NOAH’S RAINY DAY for one lucky reader. How do you like your heroines, conventional or a bit off beat & preferring to march to their inner drummer? Giveaway ends @ 12am est Sept.10th with winner announced shortly thereafter. Don’t forget Sandra’s invite to all those bookclubs out there!
Now, freshly returned from training at Quantico, FBI agent Liv Bergen is thrown into her first professional case. Working side by side with veteran agent Streeter Pierce, enigmatic agent and lover Jack Linwood, and her bloodhound Beulah, Liv must race to find five-year-old Max—last seen at the Denver International Airport—before this Christmastime abduction turns deadly.
Meanwhile Noah, housebound, becomes wrapped up in identifying the young face he sees watching him from his neighbor’s bedroom window, but he can neither describe nor inscribe what he knows. And his investigation may lead to Noah paying the ultimate price in fulfilling his dream.
Noah’s Rainy Day (the fourth novel in Brannan’s mystery series) combines classic Liv Bergen irreverence and brainpower with an unflinching look at the darkest of human motivations, all while a whirlpool of increasingly terrifying events threatens to engulf Liv and Noah both in one final rainy day
When aNew York millionaire businessman and an L.A. supermodel’s son goes missing during a plane change at Denver International Airport on Christmas Eve,still wet-behind-the-ears Liv Bergen is called in to work the kidnapping. Once again Liv becomes personally involved in the case via her family. Will the FBI find Max and affect a Christmas miracle for the families involved? I confess to being a little leery before starting NOAH’S RAINY DAY. It involves a kidnapped child and the involvement of another in solving the case. Some people’s no go zone is animals, mine is children. Thankfully Ms. Brannan never entered my zone.
NOAH’S RAINY DAY differs from the previous books in the Liv Bergen series in some crucial ways. Instead of segueing from Widow’s Might to NOAH’S RAINY DAY there’s a lapse of the months Liv spent at Quantico.
Liv’s relationship with Jack Linwood seems to have proceeded beyond the occasional date. She’s selling her house in Fort Collins while searching for an apartment in Denver. In the meantime she’s bunking with her sister Frances and her family. Some major Liv life happenings occurring off stage this time.
There are some developments surrounding Jack that have piqued my curiosity and he drops a bomb or two on Liv. There’s also a small reveal about Streeter’s wife, Paula. Slowly but surely details regarding both men are coming out and making them more complete, more interesting. Liv’s family is also being introduced, a few more in each book. I have to wonder if Liv will ever work on a case that doesn’t involve a family member or a connection to them in some shape, form, or fashion.
More of the agents Liv, Jack, and Streeter work with are also introduced giving us a better idea of the dynamics and flow in that quarter.
There are still several POV’s but Liv isn’t the star. Noah, her 12 yr old nephew with cerebral palsy, steals the book and the case from Liv. Noah and his sister, Emma, have created their own method of communication the adults haven’t/can’t master(ed) and she speaks for him when others aren’t “getting him”. Their love and caring is evident. Ms. Brannan does a marvelous job of bringing Noah’s reality to life, to be so intelligent and have your body refuse to co-operate. Noah’s chapters reveal a child wise beyond his years while still childlike in many ways. His concern for others, often putting them and their needs above his own, is beyond the abilities of some adults yet so much a part of who he is. It’s easy to see why, despite his condition, Noah’s family considers him such a blessing. Noah is flat out amazing and just steals your heart.
Max, the kidnapped boy, represents that magical time of innocence for me. His gleeful contagious laughter, easy happiness, and childish delight in the world around him is so bright and enchanting. You can’t help but love both boys.
Between Noah and Max Liv definitely takes a backseat this time out. The children are the focus and with Beulah(the bloodhound), the heroes of NOAH’S RAINY DAY.
Taut and compact with events occurring over a suspense filled two day period it’s really hard not to devour in one sitting. Can’t help but wonder what Liv and her kin are going to be up to next time we meet. Whatever it is NOAH’S RAINY DAY is gonna be one heck of a hard act to follow.