We are simply delighted to have New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan here with us at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. She’s a busy mom of five who also happens to write romantic thrillers with a suspenseful edge. Somehow in her “spare time,” she manages to inspire other writers with her commitment to her craft and her broad-based knowledge of the publishing industry. Thank you, Allison, for sharing a bit of yourself and your world with us today…
This article is like my life – cluttered and a bit unfocused, but with a purpose. I hope!
When Kieran asked me to write an article for this mommy-writer blog, I was excited—I’m a mommy and a writer! (well, not so much a “mommy” anymore – my kids call me “mom.”)
Then I realized, I have so many things I could talk about where writing and motherhood intersect, that I stared at my blank computer page and could think of nothing to say.
I think the powers that be call this “the paradox of choice.” I call it a brain fart.
First, my kids: I have five. Yes, five. Yes, I know how kids are made. Yes, I’m Catholic. (And yes, those are the two questions I get the most – the wannabe jokesters, “You know how that happens, right? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” And the 2.1 families (families with 2 or 3 kids) who think having 5 kids is straight out of the 50s, and tell me—I kid you not—“You must be Catholic or Mormon.”)
Katie — This was when she was homecoming queen last fall
photo credit: Allison Brennan
I’ll be 43 next month. I might as well get used to it now. Once you hit 40, age just doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. After all, I have five kids and my oldest, Katie, leaves for college tomorrow. I’m flying with her to Phoenix and we’re having a mother-daughter night before I leave her on campus and fly home, alone. Bittersweet for me, but I couldn’t be happier for her.
The thing is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Katie and her graduating glass of seniors. She went to a small school—58 in her graduating class. I worried a bit that we sheltered her too much—the high schools in our area have over 2,000 students, and the graduating seniors go to the pro basketball stadium for their graduation because they have so many people. We made the decision early on that our kids would go to a small, private school. We made a lot of sacrifices to pay for it, but it’s been worth it for us.
But the sheltered thing sometimes bothered me until I realized that Katie is as self-sufficient and knowledgeable about the dangers in the world as any senior from the bigger schools.
I write romantic thrillers, heavy on the suspense. I think this simply stems from my interest in crime and criminal psychology. But because of my knowledge, I always wonder how much I should tell my kids. I don’t want to scare them or coddle them, but I can’t lie to them, either.
I’ve always been blunt and matter-of-fact when talking about violence. When Katie wanted a MySpace when she was in middle school, I initially said no. I did a lot of research on social media—this was before Facebook (or, when Facebook was very, very small.) I then explained to her all the ramifications of having a social media page, and what she would need to do to be safe—primarily making the page private and only friending people she actually, personally, knew. I told her about girls who’d met with boys they didn’t know and learning they were grown men who wanted to have sex with them, or worse. I told her about the boy who stalked his ex-girlfriend through MySpace and found out when she was going to be at a friend’s house, from where he kidnapped, raped and killed her. I wanted my daughter to understand that when she had a social media page, she needed to realize that everything she posted was there forever, even if she deleted it. That an innocent picture of her in a bikini could be taken completely out of context and embarrass her in front of her friends, or worse.
Eventually, Katie got a MySpace page, but dumped it when Facebook became popular. And she’s been responsible with it. But I still send her articles I come across about smart, responsible teenagers who got sucked into something bad because they weren’t being careful enough.
I’m obviously proud of her. Katie’s the kid her friends call when they’ve been drinking and need a ride home. She’s the one who’ll be the first to tell her friends if they’re being stupid. I don’t think I’ve sheltered her, even with our choice to send her to a small parochial school. Because I have never lied to her about the dangers of her world.
Now, my 11-year-old son wants a Facebook page and this conversation is starting again. I think he’s too young, he doesn’t, and so the discussion goes … time to pull out my research and explain to him that it’s not just girls who can be vulnerable on-line, it’s boys, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about safety as I prepare to let my oldest little birdie fly 800 miles out of the nest. I’m not going to be there to
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tell Katie to be in her dorm by curfew, to walk with a friend across campus, to be careful what she drinks at parties because it may be spiked with alcohol or RHB, or not meet in person with someone she met on-line. One of the best things I did was watching VERONICA MARS with my girls, the summer before Katie started high school. Great show to open up discussion about anything from cheating to date rape to sexual harassment to online dangers.
In my 2007 thriller FEAR NO EVIL, my character Lucy Kincaid (who now stars in her own series) thought she was meeting a 19-year-old college sophomore … she didn’t realize he was a 38-year-old pervert. She met him—in public—but he drugged, kidnapped, and raped her. I got an email from a fan who was so upset that, as a mother, I could write something so awful. Maybe, because of my kids, I think about all the evil that could befall them—and that it’s my job, as a mom, to prepare them for the good, the bad and the ugly.
I don’t know what’s going to happen when Katie leaves home. I hope that I’ve prepared her to face the world and manage her newfound freedom. And really, isn’t all we can truly ask of ourselves as parents is to ensure that our kids have the life-skills necessary to get through good times and bad, to recognize dangers and how to avoid them? Because once they’re out of the nest, they have to be responsible for themselves, however much we want to protect them the rest of our lives.
I might have gone a bit overboard at times in teaching life-lessons.
For example, one late afternoon a couple years ago, I’d picked Katie up from volleyball or basketball practice. We were driving along a country highway and spotted a large dark green garbage bag in the gulley next to the vineyards. The way it was lying, with the shadows of the vines and trees that formed a windbreak, I thought, That looks like a body.
Just then, Katie said, “Mom, did you see that garbage bag? It looks like dead body.” Then she added, “Do you want to go check?”
Katie is majoring in Criminal Justice. She’s thinking of going into law enforcement. I’d be proud and honored if she did – and I’d have a resource on speed dial!
Now I turn my attention to my other four kids. Next out of the nest is my 16 year old junior. Kelly is an avid reader and a talented artist. In fact, she reviewed YA books for RT Book Reviews for a couple of years. She’s the type of kid who excels in English and struggles in Math. She wants to go to art school on the East Coast.
Oh, speaking of avid readers, you’ve all heard that theory that if you read to your kids and if your kids see you reading that you’ll raise readers?
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I am an avid reader. Our house is filled with books, and always has been. I read to my kids every night until they were six, and sometimes when they were older. All but one was reading fluently by the end of kindergarten. They always see me reading, and I’ve never said no to books. (And yes, I let my kids stay up as late as they want if they’re in bed reading—as long as they get up on time for school. So, sue me.)
The thing is, I have two kids (my 16 and 9 year old daughters) who love, love, love reading. They read every day for fun. And I have two kids, my 18 and 11 year olds, who hate reading. They only read when they have to. (Well, my 11 year-old son will read science magazines and anything to do with video games, he just says that fiction is “stupid.” Yet, he has straight-As. Go figure.) My youngest, 8, goes back and forth. Sometimes he’ll read on his own, but it has to be because HE wants to. If I ask, he won’t do it.
I did say we were Irish Catholic, right? I have five very stubborn kids.
Seven years ago, I quit my day job to be a full-time writer. I’d sold my first book and took a huge leap of faith that the book would be successful enough that I wouldn’t have to beg for my old job back. It was a stressful year—I pulled my three youngest from day care because I could no longer afford it (they were 4, 2, and 1 at the time) and still wrote every night because there was no way they’d let me write during the day. I worried about the kids, the books, making ends meet because I’d always been the major breadwinner… but I was also living my dream. I was a full-time author.
I thought I was so stressed, the kids would notice, but it was my oldest Katie, 11 at the time, who told me, “Mom, I’ve never seen you happier.”
That alone made taking the leap of faith worth it.
I’m not an overly strict mom, or an overly lenient mom. I think it just depends on the situation. There are some things my kids know
Mark is one of the little guys in purple (the kid on the right) — he was 7 at the time!
photo credit: Allison Brennan
not to push on, and other things I say fine, and other mom’s look at me as if I’ve grown a third eye. One of my big no-no’s is that when my kids make a commitment, they can’t quit just because it’s hard or they decide they don’t like it. For example, my oldest son started tackle football four years ago. He hated it (well, he kept getting in trouble for talking, and that meant running laps) and wanted to quit. I told him he had to go to his coach and tell him he wanted to quit and why. Luke wouldn’t do it. He stuck with it, and now is starting offensive tight end for the Pee Wee team. My youngest son, wanting to do everything his big brother does, played on the Mighty-Mites last year (6-8 year olds.) Mark loved it – until he had to put on the equipment. My youngest is very small for his age, still one of the smallest 8 year olds on the team. But I wouldn’t let him quit. I thought for sure he would never play again (because he told me) but surprise on me: he asked to play again this year.
I think that is the best lesson we can teach our children, the type of lesson that lasts beyond the home. Dream big, work hard, don’t quit, make smart choices, and sometimes, take a leap of faith. Our happiness depends on it.
photo credit: Jessica Hills Photography
New York Times and USA Today bestseller Allison Brennan is the author of eighteen novels and several short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband Dan and their five children.
Crime fiction, mysteries, and romantic suspense have always been Allison’s favorites, so it’s no surprise that her romantic thrillers have a dark suspense edge. Reviewers have called her books “terrifying,” “mesmerizing,” “fast-paced,” “pulse-pounding,” “wonderfully complex,” “layered,” and “a master of suspense – tops in the genre.” Lee Child called LOVE ME TO DEATH, “A world-class nail-biter” and Lisa Gardner says, “Brennan knows how to deliver.”
Writing three books a year is more than a full-time job, and so is raising five kids, but Allison believes life is too short to be bored. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing video games, watching old movies or new television shows, driving to or attending volleyball / basketball / football / soccer games, and on occasion even makes it to the gym where she enjoys people-watching more than exercise.
Allison is currently writing the Lucy Kincaid series about an FBI recruit. SILENCED is out now. STALKED will be out on 10.30.12 and STOLEN in spring 2013.
Allison can be reached through her website.