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Thursday, December 15, 2011


I love research.

On my shelf are more than forty research books, everything from forensics to homicide investigation to criminal psychology. I have many books written for the masses—people interested in law enforcement issues, but not in the industry—as well as textbooks written for law enforcement.

Sometimes, in the name of research, I procrastinate. I tell myself I’m working (really, I am!) but then the morning I had set aside for research turns into two days because I found something interesting and wanted to follow up on it.

For example, when my publisher asked me for a proposal for my third trilogy, I was stumped. I wanted to write about Detective Will Hooper, one of the secondary characters in my No Evil trilogy. What story did he have to tell?

I began by re-reading my notes for SPEAK NO EVIL. In that book, Will had to travel testify on an appeals case for a murderer he put behind bars. All I had were some facts: Theodore Glenn was a killer on death row in San Quentin. He’d killed four strippers and Will had been the cop that put him behind bars.

That was it. I didn’t know anything else.

So I starting thinking about a prison break . . . but this is San Quentin, extremely difficult to break out of, and the plot point is over-done. To top it off, I needed an over-arching premise for the trilogy, so I needed at least three criminals to escape.

At that time (2007), the Governor of California announced a plan to transport criminals to other states for incarceration due to prison over-crowding (it has since been scrapped.) I thought, what if they were transporting a bus of prisoners? Naw, too much like The Fugitive. But I loved both the old series and the first movie with Harrison Ford, so it was on my mind.

With this killer, Theodore Glenn, on my mind, I researched San Quentin’s history, hoping for something to pop. And something did—a seismic report for San Quentin.


I needed to do a little more research to make sure the set-up worked. Like, when are death row prisoners in the exercise yard? What kind of security? What walls would need to come down? How would the prison respond? What if it was a big one?

I’ve experienced several big earthquakes. They’re unexpected, happen fast, and most of the destruction is after the initial quake through weakened structures, fires and injuries. I spoke to a former death row guard who helped with the details—like the razor wire in the walls—and ultimately, I had a dozen inmates escape. Most were recaptured immediately.

But Theodore Glenn made it to San Diego using the women who wrote to him in prison. (And that’s another research story!)

I met my primary FBI contact during research for my eighth book, TEMPTING EVIL, the second in the Prison Break trilogy. I had a secondary character, fugitive apprehension specialist in the FBI, Mitch Bianchi, who was tracking a convict who’d escaped during the earthquake that hit San Quentin in KILLING FEAR. Mitch tracked the fugitive to Montana. I was working on revisions and had a few questions that my regular contacts couldn’t seem to answer, so once Washington cleared me, I was given access to the media relations special agent (Steve) in the Sacramento FBI.

I sent him a long list of specific questions and learned real quick that my entire set-up was wrong! Mitch would never have tracked the fugitive through multiple jurisdictions. If he had information that the fugitive was in another state, he would contact that jurisdiction and they’d follow up.

This was not good news. I was on a tight deadline—I was working on editor revisions, the book was DONE, and I was just cleaning it up. I couldn’t change his character because that would change the whole book—and I’d introduced him in the first place because he was to be the hero of the next book and his obsession with tracking this specific fugitive was crucial to that story as well.

I asked Steve a bunch of questions, trying to dig myself out of the hole I’d written (thank you television—NOT!) and then hit on the right question.

“Well, if an agent disobeyed orders or broke the rules by tracking a fugitive into another jurisdiction without following established protocols, what would happen?”

The answer? Anything from a reprimand to termination.

I love shades of gray!

Now only did this work for the book (and saved me a major last minute rewrite) but it worked for my character. Mitch doesn’t play by the rules, he’s been reprimanded many times and gone before the Office of Professional Responsibility more than once. He’s also smart, dedicated, and decorated.

So at the beginning of PLAYING DEAD, Mitch is off the case because of his blatant disregard of direct orders in TEMPTING EVIL, and is confronted with another difficult choice—if he works the case, he’ll be fired. He’s run out of chances. I had not only established his character, but his primary conflict. It worked so well you’d have thought I’d planned it.

We are truly blessed writers to have so many resources at our fingertips. In the past three years, some of my research excursions included participating in several SWAT training exercises; touring the FBI Academy at Quantico (going back next Spring); visiting FBI Headquarters in DC; touring Folsom State Prison (with amazing bestselling thriller writer James Rollins); and two trips to the Sacramento County Morgue–once for a tour and to observe an autopsy, the second time to learn how they preserve evidence. I’ve been handcuffed and held at gun-point (real gun, unloaded); I’ve been a hostage, a bad guy, and a victim. In fact, being a non-ambulatory victim during SWAT training was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time . . . which shows you what a boring life I lead! Through my FBI contact, I participated in the eight-week FBI Citizens’ Academy offered by the Sacramento FBI.

In my latest book, IF I SHOULD DIE, I couldn’t visit the Adirondacks, so I used county, tourism, and historical websites plus Google Earth to learn more about the area. My husband, who used to vacation there as a child, was also of great help. I had a list of questions for my FBI friends about how law enforcement interacts with their Canadian counterparts; access to a crime writers loop for esoteric questions about frozen corpses and how temperature affects insect activity and decomposition; and of course my imagination.

With all the research I do—and I really love it—in the end, it’s all about the story and the characters. I don’t want my research to “show” on the page—my goal is always to entertain my readers first. All research is filtered, and I hope smoothly integrated into the story so no one notices.

Extra special thanks to Brianna the Book Vixen for hosting me today. I’m happy to answer any questions or chat.


Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of seventeen romantic thrillers and multiple short stories. Lisa Gardner says, “Brennan knows how to deliver,” and RT Book Reviews calls her, “A master of suspense.” The third book in her Lucy Kincaid series, If I Should Die, is available wherever books are sold. The fourth book, Silenced, will be out on 4.24.12. Visit AllisonBrennan.com for more information about her books and links to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Find the author online: website | twitter | facebook



Six years ago, Lucy Kincaid was attacked and nearly killed by an online predator. She survived. Her attacker did not. Now Lucy’s goal is to join the FBI and fight cyber-crime, but in the meantime, she’s volunteering with a victim’s rights group, surfing the Web undercover to lure sex offenders into the hands of the law. But when the predators she hunts start turning up as murder victims, the FBI takes a whole new interest in Lucy.

With her future and possibly even her freedom suddenly in jeopardy, Lucy discovers she’s a pawn in someone’s twisted plot to mete out vigilante justice. She joins forces with security expert and daredevil Sean Rogan, and together they track their elusive quarry from anonymous online chat rooms onto the mean streets of Washington, D.C. But someone else is shadowing them: A merciless stalker has his savage eye on Lucy. The only way for her to escape his brutality may be another fight to the death.



Thanks to Allison Brennan, one lucky winner will receive a print or eBook copy of Love Me to Death!!

Good luck to all who enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

13 People had something to say:

  1. Julie@My5monkeysDec 15, 2011 06:04 AM
    She is a local author to me. I have yet to meet her but she also has 5 kids like me ;)
  2. UnknownDec 15, 2011 08:52 AM
    Allison, did you follow a career in criminal justice/forensics or just become fascinated with it? Personally, I've always loved research, but never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, at 47 years of age, I'm engrossed in the ID channel and every type of forensics and criminal mystery discovery I can find. I know I will love your books!
    Thank you for such a great giveaway! I am a new fan!
    Gena Robertson
  3. NoraADec 15, 2011 09:06 AM
    I am a sucker for this type of story... aside from that we are a COP family. My niece just retired as a police sgt in IAD, my son in law is a street cop out in Queens NY, and my son is one of the coordinators at NYC Office of Emergency Management.

    I want this book! LOL
  4. Allison BrennanDec 15, 2011 09:24 AM

    Hi Gena! I have always loved reading mysteries and true crime. I thought I wanted to be a forensic pathologist when I grew up, but then after dissecting animals in school, I didn't think I could do that to a person. Ironically, when I viewed an autopsy, my mind "clicked" and I finally understood how cops compartmentalize their job. I probably could have been a forensic pathologist! But I'd much rather write :) ... I worked for 13 years in the legislature, nothing related to criminal justice, though I still read avidly.
  5. Allison BrennanDec 15, 2011 09:26 AM

    Thanks Nora! I'm always scared when "real" cops read my books, but so far, most of the comments have been positive. I take some liberties for entertainment (and no one wants to wait weeks or months for DNA in fiction!) but I try to keep the main plot points as close to real as possible. For LOVE ME TO DEATH, when I learned that the show TO CATCH A PREDATOR on Dateline had, at the time of my FBI briefing, hadn't resulted in any prosecutions, I was floored ... and that gave me the premise of the first Lucy book.
  6. Allison BrennanDec 15, 2011 09:27 AM

    Hi Julie! Good to "see" you here :)
  7. StacyDec 15, 2011 10:39 AM
    Thanks for sharing your research information with us. I'm so limited to the Internet as I'm located in the Midwest and don't have the contacts to participate in special trainings, etc., so this is a big help. It's amazing how many liberties television takes when it comes to police/FBI work, isn't it?
  8. Allison BrennanDec 15, 2011 10:47 AM

    Hi Stacy -- I totally agree. Some things I understand because of time constraints, but some shows are better than others. At least L&O makes you believe a bunch of things are happening off-scene. The writers of that show are AWESOME. But even they take a few liberties. And I love CASTLE, I just have to ignore the police procedure ... for me, that show is all about character and I love the dialogue. ... I did most of my research on-line and through people I personally knew until I was published.

    One more research story ... :) ... when I was researching my second book, I had no published novels out. I could have been anyone, right? But I need to know how to disable a car by pouring something into the gas tank. I had conflicting info from my on-line buddies, so I started calling up mechanics. NO ONE would help me. (I suppose they thought I wanted to kill my husband or something, but sheesh.) I ended up getting the information from a mechanic friend of my brother-in-law at a baptism for my niece. Thus, the killer puts molasses in the gas tanks of his victim's cars in THE HUNT.
  9. Alyssa KirkDec 15, 2011 02:22 PM
    Goodness, what a blast you've had with your hands-on research!
  10. alexabexDec 15, 2011 08:58 PM
    Those research excursions sound like a blast!
  11. NaDec 15, 2011 10:50 PM
    Your research sounds amazing and I do appreciate that they are filtered in your stories. I like them that way so the important things are noted but authors can use what they learn to create a scene and really build the experience for the reader.
  12. Allison BrennanDec 16, 2011 08:41 PM
    I'll be stopping by later this weekend if anyone has more questions! Thanks again to The Book Vixen for hosting this blog!
  13. MichelleK CanadaDec 29, 2011 10:18 AM
    I entered but it didnt have a spot for my name or email so I'll just put it here.

    another_look_book_reviews_ at hotmail dot ca

    Thanks for the excellent giveaway.

Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear what you have to say, so as long as you play nice. So be heard!

Happy Reading :)